Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
And turning back the lapel of his coat he displays, on the inner side, the badge of an officer.
Silly Charlie comes close, peers eagerly at the badge, fingers it curiously, then, grasping it firmly, gives a tug at the lapel, saying:
“Gimme it. Gimme it.”
Van Vernet laughs good-naturedly.
“Don’t pull so hard, Charlie, or you’ll have off my entire uniform. Do you want to do a little police duty to-night?”
Silly Charlie nods violently.
“And you want my star, or one like it?”
“Um hum!” with sudden emphasis.
Van Vernet lays a hand on the shoulder of the idiot, and then says:
“Listen, Charlie. I want you to help me to-night. Wait,” for Charlie has doubled himself up in a convulsion of laughter. “Now, if you’ll stand right by me, and tell me what I want to know, you and I will do some splendid work, and both get promoted. You will get a new star, big and bright, and a uniform all covered with bright buttons. Hold on,” for Charlie is dancing in an ecstasy of delight. “What do you say? Will you come with me, and work for your star and uniform?”
Charlie’s enthusiastic gestures testify to his delight at this proposition.
“Um hum,” he cries gleefully; “Charlie go; Charlie be big p’liceman.”
And as if suddenly realizing the dignity of his new employment, he ceases his antics and struts sedately up and down before Vernet and his assistants. Then turning to the detective, with a doleful whine, he extends his hand, saying;
“Gimme star now.”
“Not now, Charlie; you must earn it first. I had to earn mine. Do you know the way to Devil’s alley?”
“Good: do you know where Black Nathan lives!”
“Can you take me to Nancy Kaiser’s lushing ken?”
“Um hum; Charlie knows.”
“Then, Charlie, you shall have that star soon.”
And Vernet turns to his men. “I will take this fellow for guide, and look up these places: they are most important,” he says rapidly. “I shall be less noticed in company with this fellow than if alone. Riley, I leave you in command until I return. Remain here, and keep the fellows all together; some of them are coming now.”
Riley’s quick ear detects the approach of stealthy feet, and as Vernet shuts his lantern, and utters a low “Come, Charlie,” the first installment of the Raiders appears, a few paces away.
Seizing Vernet by the arm, Silly Charlie lowers his head and glides down the alley, as stealthily as an Indian.
“Charlie,” whispers Vernet, imperatively, “you must be very cautious. I want you to take me first to where Black Nathan lives.”
“Hoop la!” replies Charlie in subdued staccato; “I’m takin’ ye; commalong.”
Cautiously they wend their way down the dark, narrow street, into a filthy alley, and through it to an open space laid bare by some recent fire.
Here they halt for a moment, Charlie peering curiously around him, and stooping to search for something among the loose stones.
Suddenly a shriek pierces the silence about them – a woman’s shriek, thrice repeated, its tones fraught with agony and terror!
Silly Charlie lifts himself suddenly erect, and turns his face toward a dark building just across the open space.
Then, as the third cry sounds upon the air, both men, as by one humane instinct, bound across the waste regardless of stones and bruises, Silly Charlie flying on before, as if acquainted with every inch of the ground, straight toward the dark and isolated building.
A PRETTY PLOT
In order to comprehend the cause of the alarm which stimulated to sudden action both the wise man and the fool, Van Vernet and Silly Charlie, let us turn back a little and enter the dark house at the foot of the alley.
It is an hour before midnight. The place is dark and silent; no light gleams through the tightly boarded windows, there is no sign of life about the dwelling. But within, as on a previous occasion, there is light, life, and a measure of activity. The light is furnished by a solitary tallow candle, and the life supplied by the same little old man who, on a former occasion, was thrown into a state of unreasonable terror at sight of a certain newspaper advertisement.
It is the same room, its appointments unchanged; the same squalor and dirt, the same bottle upon the same shelf, the same heap of rags in the corner, the same fragments of iron and copper on the floor. The same deal table and scrap of carpet are there, but not arranged as on a former occasion, for now the table is pushed back against the wall, the piece of carpet is flung in a wrinkled heap away from the place which it covered, exposing to view a dark gap in the floor, with a dangling trap-door opening downward. Beside this opening squats the little old man, his eyes as ferret-like and restless as usual, but his features more complacent and less apprehensive than when last we saw him.
By his side is the sputtering tallow candle, and in his hand a long hooked stick, with which he is lowering sundry bags and bundles down the trap, lifting the candle from time to time to peer into the opening, then resuming his work and muttering meanwhile.
“What’s this?” he soliloquizes, lifting a huge bundle and scrutinizing it carefully. “Ah-h! a gentleman’s fine overcoat; that must have a nice, safe corner. Ah-h! there you go,” lowering the bundle down the aperture and poking it into position with his stick. “It’s amazin’ what valuables my people finds about the streets,” he chuckles facetiously. “‘Ere’s a – a little silver tea-pot; some rich woman must a-throwed that out. I will put it on the shelf.”
Evidently the shelf mentioned is in the cellar below, for this parcel, like the first, is lowered and carefully placed by means of the stick. Other bundles of various sizes follow, and then the old man rests from his labor.
“What a nice little hole that is,” he mutters. “Full of rags – nothin’ else. Suppose a cop comes in here and looks down, what ’ud he see? Just rags. S’pose he went down, ha! ha! he’d go waist-deep in a bed of old rags, and he wouldn’t like the smell overmuch; such a nice smell – for cops. He couldn’t see anything, couldn’t feel anything but rags, just rags.”
A low tap at the street-door causes the old man to drop his stick and his soliloquy at once. He starts nervously, listens intently for a moment, and then rises cautiously. A long, low whistle evidently reassures him, for with suddenly acquired self-possession he begins to move about.
Swiftly and noiselessly he closes the trap, spreads down the bit of carpet, and replaces the table. Then he shuffles toward the entrance, pulls out the pin from the hole in the door, and peeps out. Nothing is visible but the darkness, and this, somehow; seems to reassure him, for with a snort of impatience he calls out:
“It’s Siebel,” replies a voice from without. “Open up, old Top.”
Instantly the door is unbarred and swung open, admitting a burly ruffian, who fairly staggers under the weight of a monstrous sack which he carries upon his shoulders.
At sight of this bulky burden the old man smiles and rubs his palms together.
“Ah! Josef,” he says, reaching out to relieve the new-comer, “a nice load that; a very nice load!”
But the man addressed as Josef retains his hold upon his burden, and, resting himself against it, looks distrustfully at his host.
“It’s been a fine evening, Josef,” insinuates the old man, his eyes still fixed upon the bag.
“Fair enough,” replies Josef gruffly, as he unties the bag and pushes it toward the old man. “Take a look at the stuff, Papa Francoise, and make a bid. I’m dead thirsty.”
Eagerly seizing the bag, Papa Francoise drags it toward the table, closely followed by Josef, and begins a hasty examination of its contents, saying:
“Rags is rags, you know, Josef Siebel. It’s not much use to look into ’em; there’s nothing here but rags, of course.”
“No, course not,” with a satirical laugh.
“That’s right, Josef; I won’t buy nothing but rags, —never. I don’t want no ill-gotten gains brought to me.”
Josef Siebel utters another short, derisive laugh, and discreetly turns his gaze toward the smoky ceiling while Papa begins his investigations. From out the capacious bag he draws a rich shawl, hurriedly examines it, and thrusts it back again.
“The rag-picker can be an honest man as well as another, Josef,” continues this virtuous old gentleman, drawing forth a silver soup-ladle and thrusting it back. “These are very good rags, Josef,” and he draws out a switch of blonde hair, and gazes upon it admiringly. Then he brings out a handful of rags, examines them ostentatiously by the light of the candle, smells them, and ties up the bag, seeing which Josef withdraws his eyes from the cobwebs overhead and fixes them on the black bottle upon the shelf.
Noting the direction of his gaze, Papa Francoise rests the bag against the table-leg, trots to the shelf, pours a scanty measure from the black bottle into a tin cup, and presents it to Josef with what is meant for an air of gracious hospitality.
“You spoke of thirst, Josef; drink, my friend.”
“Umph,” mutters the fellow, draining off the liquor at a draught. Then setting the cup hastily down; “Now, old Top, wot’s your bid?”
“Well,” replies Papa Francoise, trying to look as if he had not already settled that question with his own mind; “well, Josef I’ll give you – I’ll give you a dollar and a half.”
“The dickens you will!”
Josef makes a stride toward the bag, and lifts it upon his shoulder.
“Stop, Josef!” cries Papa, laying eager hands upon the treasure. “What do you want? That’s a good price for rags.”
“Bah!” snarls the burly ruffian, turning toward the door, “wot d’ye take me for, ye blasted old fence?”
But Papa has a firm clutch upon the bag.
“Stop, Josef!” he cries eagerly; “let me see,” pulling it down from his shoulder and lifting it carefully. “Why, it’s heavier than I thought. Josef, I’ll give you two dollars and a half, —no more.”
The “no more” is sharply uttered, and evidently Siebel comprehends the meaning behind the words, for he reseats himself sullenly, muttering:
“It ain’t enough, ye cursed cantin’ old skinflint, but fork it out; I’ve got to have money.”
At this instant there comes a short, sharp, single knock upon the street-door, and Papa hastens to open it, admitting a squalid, blear-eyed girl, or woman, who enters with reluctant step, and sullen demeanor.
“Oh, it’s you, Nance,” says Papa, going back to the table and beginning to count out some money, eyeing the girl keenly meanwhile. “One dollar, – sit down, Nance, – two dollars, fifty; there! Now, Nance,” turning sharply toward the girl, “what have you got, eh?”
“Nothin’,” replies Nance sullenly; “nothin’ that will suit you. I ain’t had no luck.”
“Nobody left nothin’ lyin’ round loose, I s’pose,” says Siebel with a coarse laugh, as he pockets the price of his day’s labor. “Wal, ye’ve come ter a poor place for sympathy, gal.” And he rises slowly and shuffles toward the door.
But Papa makes a gesture to stay him.
“Hold on, Josef!” he cries; “wait Nance!”
He seizes the bag, hurries it away into an inner room, and returns panting for breath. Drawing a stool toward the table, he perches himself thereon and leers across at the two sneak thieves.
“So ye ain’t had any luck, girl?” he says, in a wheedling tone, “and Josef, here, wants money. Do ye want more than ye’ve got Josef?”
“Ha ha! Do I?” And Josef slaps his pockets suggestively.
“Now listen, both of you. Suppose, I could help you two to earn some money easy and honest, what then?”
“Easy and honest!” repeats Siebel, with a snort of derision; “Oh, Lord!”
But the girl leans forward with hungry eyes, saying eagerly: “How? tell us how.”
“I’ll tell you. Suppose, just suppose, a certain rich lady —very rich, mind – being a little in my debt, should come here to-night to see me. And suppose she is very anxious not to be seen by any body – on account of her high position, you know – ”
“Oh, lip it livelier!” cries Siebel impatiently. “Stow yer swash.”
“Well; suppose you and Nance, here, was to come in sudden and see the lady face to face, why, for fear she might be called on by – say by Nance, she might pay a little, don’t you see – ”
But Siebel breaks in impatiently:
“Oh, skip the rubbish! Is there any body to bleed?”
“Is it a safe lay?” queries Nance.
“Yes, yes; it’s safe, of course,” cries Papa, thus compelled to come down to plain facts.
“Then let’s get down to business. Do you expect an angel’s visit here to-night?”
“Well, what’s yer plan? Out with it: Nance and I are with ye, if ye divvy fair.”
Beckoning them to come closer, Papa Francoise leans across the table, and sinking his voice to a harsh whisper, unfolds the plan by which, without danger to themselves, they are to become richer.
It is a pretty plan but – “Man sows; a whirlwind reaps.”
It is a half hour later. The light in the room is increased by a sputtering additional candle, and Papa Francoise, sitting by the deal table, is gazing toward the door, an eager expectant look upon his face.
“If that old woman were here!” he mutters, and then starts forward at the sound of a low hesitating tap.
Hurrying to the door he unbars it with eager haste, and a smile of blandest delight overspreads his yellow face as the new-comer enters.
It is a woman, slender and graceful; a lady, who holds up her trailing black garments daintily as she steps across the threshold, repulsing the proffered hand-clasp with a haughty gesture, and gliding away from him while she says in a tone of distressful remonstrance:
“Man, why have you sent for me? Don’t you know that there is such a thing as a last straw?”
“A last straw!” His voice is a doleful whine, his manner obsequious to servility. “Ah, my child, I wanted to see you so much; your poor mother wanted to see you so much!”
The woman throws back her veil with a gesture of fierce defiance, disclosing the face of Leslie Warburton pale and woe-stricken, but quite as lovely as when it shone upon Stanhope, surrounded by the halo of “Sunlight.”
“You hypocrite!” she exclaims scornfully. “Parents do not persecute their children as you and the woman you call my mother have persecuted me. You gave me to the Ulimans when I was but an infant, – that I know, – but the papers signed by you do not speak of me as your child. Besides, does human instinct go for nothing? If you were my father would I loathe these meetings? Would I shudder at your touch? Would my whole soul rise in rebellion against your persecutions?”
Her eyes flash upon him and the red blood mounts to her cheeks. In the excitement of the moment she has forgotten her fear. Her voice rises clear and ringing; and Papa Francoise, thinking of two possible listeners concealed not far away, utters a low “sh-h-h-h!”
“Not so loud, my child,” he says in an undertone; “not so loud. Ah! you ungrateful girl, we wanted to see you rich and happy, and this is how you thank us,” affecting profound grief. “These rich people have taught you to loathe your poor old father!”
He sinks upon the stool as if in utter dejection, wipes away an imaginary tear, and then resumes, in the same guarded tone:
“My dear child, when we gave you to the Ulimans we were very poor, and they were very rich, – a great deal richer than when they died, leaving you only a few thousands.”
“Which you have already extorted from me! I have given you every dollar I possess and yet you live like beggars.”
“And we are beggars, my child. Some unfortunate speculations have swept away all our little gains, and now – ”
“And now you want more money, – the old story. Listen: you have called me to-night from my husband’s home, forced me to steal away from my guests like the veriest criminal, threatening to appear among them if I failed to come. At this moment you, who call yourself my father, stand there gloating and triumphant because of the power you hold over me. I knew you were capable of keeping your word, and rather than have my husband’s home desecrated by such presence as yours, I am here. But I have come for the last time – ”
“No, my child, oh! – ”
But she pays no heed to his expostulations.
“I have come for the last time!” she says with fierce decision. “I have come to tell you that from this moment I defy you!”
“Softly, my dear; sh-h-h!”
His face, in spite of his efforts to retain its benign expression, is growing vindictive and cruel. He comes toward her with slow cat-like movements.
But she glides backward as he advances, and, putting the table between herself and him, she hurries on, never heeding that she has, by this movement, increased the distance from the outer door – and safety.
“You have carried your game too far!” she says. “When you first appeared before me, so soon after the loss of my adopted parents that it would seem you were waiting for that event – ”
“So we were, my child,” he interrupts, “for we had promised not to come near you during their lifetime.”
“You had promised never to approach me, never to claim me, as the documents I found among my mother’s – among Mrs. Uliman’s papers prove. Oh,” she cries, wringing her hands and lifting her fair face heavenward; “oh, my mother! my dear, sweet, gentle mother! Oh, my father! the truest, the tenderest a wretched orphan ever had on earth! that Death should take you, and Life bring me such creatures to fill your places! But they cannot, they never shall!”
“Oh, good Lord!” mutters Papa under his breath, “those fools upstairs will hear too much!”
But Leslie’s indignation has swallowed up all thought of caution, and her words pour out torrent-like.
“Oh, if I had but denounced you at the first!” she cries; “or forced you to prove your claim! Oh, if you had shown yourselves then in all your greed and heartlessness! But while I was Leslie Uliman, with only a moderate fortune, you were content to take what I could give, and not press what you are pleased to term your claim upon my affections. Affections! The word is mockery from your lips! In consideration of the large sums I paid you, you promised never to approach me in the future, and I, fool that I was, believing myself free from you, married David Warburton, only to find myself again your victim, to know you at last in all your baseness.”
Papa Francoise, unable to stem the tide of her eloquence, shows signs of anger, but she never heeds him.
“Since I became the wife of a rich man, you have been my constant torment and terror. Threatening and wheedling by turns, black-mailing constantly, you have drained my purse, you have made my life a burden. And I came here to-night to say, I will have no more of your persecution! All of my money has been paid into your hands, but not one dollar of my husband’s wealth shall ever come to you from me. I swear it!”
The old man again moves nearer.
“Ah, ungrateful girl!” he cries, feigning the utmost grief; “ah, unkind girl!”
And his affectation of sorrow causes two unseen observers to grin with delight, and brings to Leslie’s countenance an expression of intense disgust.
Moving back as he approaches, she throws up her head with an impatient gesture, and the veil which has covered it falls to her shoulders, revealing even by that dim light, the glisten of jewels in her ears – great, gleaming diamonds, which she, in her haste and agitation, has forgotten to remove before setting out upon this unsafe errand.
It is a most unfortunate movement, for two pair of eyes are peering down from directly above her, and two pair of avaricious hands itch to clutch the shining treasures.
Obeying Papa’s instructions, Josef Siebel and the girl Nance, had mounted the rickety stairway which they reached through a closet-like ante-room opening from the large one occupied by Papa and Leslie. And having stationed themselves near the top of the stairs they awaited there the coming of the lady who, surprised by their presence, was to proffer them hush-money with a liberal hand; but —
“The best-laid plans of men and mice gang aft agleg.”
And Papa Francoise has not anticipated the spirited outbreak with which Leslie has astonished him. Startled by this, and fearful that; by a false move, he should entirely lose his power over her, he has made feeble efforts to stay the flow of her speech and neglected to give the signal for which the concealed sneak thieves have waited, until it was too late.
Crouched on the floor near the stairway, the two thieves have heard the entrance of Leslie, heard the hum of conversation, low and indistinct at first, until the voice of Leslie, rising high and clear, startled Siebel into a listening attitude. Touching Nance on the arm, he begins slowly to drag himself along the floor to where a faint ray of light tells him there is a place of observation.
The floor is exceedingly dilapidated, and the ceiling below warped and sieve-like; and, having reached the chink in the floor, Siebel finds himself able to look directly down upon Leslie as she stands near the table.
In another moment Nance is beside him, and then the two faces are glued to the floor, their eyes taking in the scene below, their ears listening greedily.
At first they listen with simple curiosity; then with astonished interest; then with intense satisfaction at Papa’s evident discomfiture, for they hate him as the slave ever hates his tyrant.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî