Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesскачать книгу бесплатно
With a mocking laugh he turns, and pausing at the corner to wave his hand in farewell, he darts away in the direction whence he came.
Puzzled, chagrined, his brain teeming with strange thoughts, Alan Warburton turns homeward.
What is it that has come upon him this night? Less than two hours ago, an aristocrat, proud to a fault, with an unblemished name, and with nothing to fear or to conceal. Now, stealing through the dark streets like an outcast, his pride humbled to the dust, his breast burdened with a double secret, accused of murder, creeping from the police, a hunted man! To-morrow the town will be flooded with descriptions of this escaped sailor. To-morrow he must change his appearance, must flee the city.
And all because of his zeal for the family honor; all because of his brother’s wife, and her horrible secret! To-night charity hath no place in Alan Warburton’s heart.
Meanwhile, Van Vernet, covered with rags and dust, sickened by the foul smell of the vault into which he has been precipitated, and boiling over with wrath, is being rescued from his absurd and uncomfortable position by three policemen, who, being sent forward to ascertain if possible the cause of their leader’s prolonged absence, have stumbled upon him in the very nick of time.
As he emerges from the trap, by the aid of the same rope with which not long before he had secured Alan Warburton’s feet, he presents a most ludicrous appearance. His hat has been lost in the darkness of the cellar, and his head is plentifully decorated with rags and feathers, which have adhered tenaciously to his disarranged locks. He is smeared with dirt, pallid from the stench, nauseated, chagrined, wrathful.
Instinctively he comprehends the situation. The simpleton has played him false, the prisoner has escaped.
On the floor lie the handcuffs which Alan Warburton has shaken off as he fled. He picks them up and examines them eagerly. Then an imprecation breaks from his lips. They have been unlocked! And by whom? Not by the man who wore them; that was impossible.
Suddenly, flinging down the handcuffs, he turns to the policemen.
“Two men have escaped from this house, after throwing me into that cellar,” he says rapidly. “They must be overtaken – a sailor and a pretended simpleton tricked out in rags and tinsel. After them, boys; out by that door. They can’t be far away. Capture them alive or dead!”
The door by which Alan and his rescuer made their exit stands invitingly open, and the three officers, promptly obeying their leader, set off in pursuit of the sailor and the simpleton.
Left alone, Van Vernet plucks the extempore adornments from his head and person, and meditates ruefully, almost forgetting the original Raid in the chagrin of his present failure.
He goes to the side of the murdered man, who still lies as he had fallen, and looks down upon him.
“Ah, my fine fellow,” he mutters, “you give me a chance to redeem myself.
If I have been outwitted to-night by a sailor and a fool, you and I will have fine revenge. A sailor! Ah, it was no common sailor, if I may trust my eyes and my senses. The hands were too white and soft; the feet too small and daintily clad; the face, in spite of the low-drawn cap and the tattooing, was too aristocratic and too clean
. And the fool! Ah, it is no common fool who carries keys that unlock our new patent handcuffs, and who managed this rescue so cleverly. For once, Van Vernet has found his match! But the scales shall turn. The man who killed you
, my lad, and the man who outwitted me
, shall be found and punished, or Van Vernet will have lost his skill!”
While the discomfited Vernet kept watch alone with the dead, his men were running up and down the alleys, listening, peering, searching in by-places, in the hope of finding the hiding-place, or to overtake the flight, of the fugitive sailor and his idiot guide.
More than an hour they consumed in this search, and then they returned to their superior officer to report their utter failure.
“It is what I expected,” said Vernet, with severe philosophy. “Those fellows are no common rascals. They have spoiled our Raid; before this, every rogue in the vicinity has been warned. I would not give a copper for all we can capture now.”
And Vernet was right, the Raid was a failure. Mustering his men, he made the tour of the streets and alleys, but everywhere an unnatural silence reigned. The Thieves’ Tavern was fast shut and quite silent; the drinking dens, the streets and cellars, where riot and infamy reigned, were under the influence of a silent spell.
It was only the yelp of a dog, heard here and there as Silly Charlie and Alan Warburton sped through the streets and lanes, but its effect was magical. It told the rioters, the crooks and outlaws in hiding, that there was danger abroad, – that the police were among them. And their orgies were hushed, their haunts became silent and tenantless; while every man who had anything to fear from the hands of justice – and what man among them had not? – slunk away to his secret hiding-place, and laid a fierce clutch upon revolver or knife.
The Raid was an utter failure; and Van Vernet, as he led his men ruefully homeward, little dreamed of the cause of the failure.
This night’s work, which had been pre-supposed a sure success, had been spoiled by a fool. A most unusual fool, – of that Vernet was fully aware; only a fool as he played his part. But he had played it successfully.
Vernet had been duped by this seeming idiot, and foiled by the sailor-assassin. Of this he savagely assured himself, in the depths of his chagrin.
But, shrewd man as he was, he never once imagined that under the rags and tinsel, the dirt and disfigurement of the fool, the strong will and active brain of Richard Stanhope were arrayed against him; nor dreamed that “Warburton, the aristocrat,” the man who had wounded his pride and looked down upon him as an inferior, had escaped from his clutches in the garb of a common sailor.
Arrived at head-quarters, Vernet laid before his Chief a full report of the night’s misadventures, and concluded his narrative thus:
“It has never before been my misfortune to report so complete a failure. But the affair shall not end here. I have my theory; I intend to run down these two men, and I believe they will be worth the trouble I shall take on their account. They were both shams, I am sure. The sailor never saw a masthead; he could not even act his part. The other – well, he played the fool to perfection, and – he outwitted me.”
One thing troubled Vernet not a little. Richard Stanhope did not make a late appearance at the Agency. He did not come at all that night, or rather that morning. And Vernet speculated much as to the possible cause of this long delay.
It was late in the day when Stanhope finally presented himself, and then he entered the outer office alert, careless, debonnaire as usual; looking like a man with an untroubled conscience, who has passed the long night in peaceful repose.
Vernet, who had arrived at the office but a moment before, lifted his face from the newspaper he held and cast upon his confrere an inquiring glance.
But Dick Stanhope was blind to its meaning. With his usual easy morning salutation to all in the room, he passed them, and applied for admittance at the door of his Chief’s private office. It was promptly opened to him, and he walked into the presence of his superior as jauntily as if he had not, by his unaccountable absence, spoiled the most important Raid of the season.
It was a long interview, and as toward its close the sounds of uproarious laughter penetrated to the ears of the loungers in the outer room, Van Vernet bit his lip with vexation. Evidently the Chief was not visiting his displeasure too severely upon his dilatory favorite.
Vernet’s cheeks burned as he realized how utterly he had failed. Not only had he heaped confusion upon himself, but he had not succeeded in lessening Stanhope’s claim to favoritism by bringing upon him the displeasure of the Agency.
While he sat, still tormented by this bitter thought, Stanhope re-entered the room, and walking straight up to Vernet brought his hand down upon the shoulder of that gentleman with emphatic heartiness, while he said, his eyes fairly dancing with mischief, and every other feature preternaturally solemn:
“I say, Van, old fellow, how do you like conducting a Raid?”
It was a moment of humiliation for Van Vernet. But he, like Stanhope, was a skilled actor, and he lifted his eyes to the face of his inquisitor and answered with a careless jest, while he realized that in this game against Richard Stanhope he had played his first hand, and had lost.
“It shall not remain thus,” he assured himself fiercely; “I’ll play as many trumps as Dick Stanhope, before our little game ends!”
When Walter Parks returned from his two days’ absence, and called at the office to receive the decisions of the two detectives, the Chief said:
“You may consider yourself sure of both men, after a little. Dick Stanhope, whose case promised to be a very short one, has asked for more time. And Van Vernet is in hot chase after two sly fellows, and won’t give up until they are trapped. You may be sure of them both, however. And in order that they may start fair, after their present work is done, I have arranged that you meet them here to-night, and let them listen together to your statement.”
“I like the idea,” said Walter Parks earnestly, “and I will be here at the appointed time.”
That evening, Vernet and Stanhope, – the former grave, courteous, and attentive; the latter cool, careless, and inconsequent as usual, – sat listening to the story of Arthur Pearson’s mysterious death, told with all its details.
As the tale progressed, Van Vernet became more attentive, more eager, his eyes, flashing with excitement, following every gesture, noting every look that crossed the face of the narrator. But Dick Stanhope sat in the most careless of lounging attitudes; his eyes half closed or wandering idly about the room; his whole manner that of an individual rather more bored than interested.
“It’s a difficult case,” said Van Vernet, when the story was done. “It will be long and tedious. But as soon as I have found the man or men I am looking for, I will undertake it. And if the murderer is above ground, I do not anticipate failure.”
But Stanhope only said:
“I don’t know when I shall be at your disposal. The affair I have in hand is not progressing. Your case looks to me like a dubious one, – the chances are ninety to one against you. But when I am at liberty, if Van here has not already solved the mystery, I’ll do my level best for you.”
CALLED TO ACCOUNT
It was a long road for a woman to travel at that unconventional hour, but Leslie Warburton was fleet-footed, and fear and excitement lent her strength.
Necessity had taught her how to enter and escape from the dangerous maze where the people who claimed a right in her existence dwelt. And on being forced to flee by her haughty brother-in-law, she bowed her head and wrapping herself in her dark cloak sped away through the night.
She had little fear of being missed by her guests, – a masquerade affords latitude impossible to any other gathering, and contrary to the usual custom, the maskers were to continue their incognito until the cotillion began. If her guests missed her, she would be supposed to be in some other apartment. If she were missed by Winnie, that little lady would say: “She is with Archibald, of course.”
Nevertheless, it was an unsafe journey. But she accomplished it, and arrived, panting, weary, and filled with a terrible dread at the thought of the exposure that must follow her encounter with Alan.
They were dancing still, her light-hearted guests, and Leslie resumed her Sunlight robes, and going back to her place among them forced herself to smile and seem to be gay, while her heart grew every moment heavier with its burden of fear and dire foreboding.
Anxiously she watched the throng, hoping, yet dreading, to see the sailor costume of Alan, fearing lest, in spite of his high courage, disaster had overtaken him.
It was in the grey of morning, and her guests were dispersing, when Alan Warburton reappeared. He was muffled as at first, in the black and scarlet domino, and he moved with the slow languor of one utterly exhausted or worn with pain.
At length it was over; the last guest had departed, the house was silent, and Leslie and Alan stood face to face under the soft light of the library chandelier.
During the ceremonies of departure, he had remained constantly near her. And when they were left, at last, with only Winnie French beside them, Leslie, seeing that the interview was inevitable, had asked Winnie to look in upon little Daisy, adding, as the girl, with a gay jest, turned to go:
“I will join you there soon, Winnie, dear; just now Alan and I have a little to say about some things that have occurred to-night.”
Tossing a kiss to Leslie, and bestowing a grimace upon Alan as he held open the door for her exit, Winnie had pirouetted out of the room, and sped up the broad stairway as fleetly as if her little feet were not weary with five hours’ dancing.
Then Leslie, with a stately gesture, had led the way to the library.
Silently, and as if by one accord, they paused under the chandelier, and each gazed into the face of the other.
His eyes met hers, stern, accusing, and darkened with pain; while she – her bearing was proud as his, her face mournful, her eyes resolute, her lips set in firm lines. She looked neither criminal nor penitent; she was a woman driven to bay, and she would fight rather than flee.
Looking him full in the face, she made no effort to break the silence. Seeing which, Alan Warburton said:
“Madam, you play your part well. You are not now the nocturnal wanderer menaced by a danger – ”
“From which you rescued me,” she interrupts, her face softening. “Alan, it was a brave deed, and I thank you a thousand times!”
“I do not desire your gratitude, Madam. I could have done no less, and would do yet more to save from disgrace the name we bear in common. Was your absence noted? Did you return safely and secretly?”
“I have not been missed, and I returned as safely and as secretly as I went.”
Her voice was calm, her countenance had hardened as at first.
“Madam, let us understand each other. One year ago the name of Warburton had never known a stain; now – ”
He let the wrath in his eyes, the scorn in his face, finish what his lips left unsaid.
But the eyes of his beautiful opponent flashed him back scorn for scorn.
“Now,” she said, with calm contempt in her voice, “now, the proudest man of the Warburton race has stepped down from his pedestal to play the spy, and upon a woman! I thank you for rescuing me, Alan Warburton, but I have no thanks to offer for that!”
“A spy!” He winced as his lips framed the word. “We are calling hard names, Mrs. Warburton. If I was a spy in that house, what were you! I have been a spy upon your actions, and I have seen that which has caused me to blush for my brother’s wife, and tremble for my brother’s honor. More than once I have seen you leave this house, and return to it, clandestinely. It was one of these secret expeditions, which I discovered by the merest chance, that aroused my watchfulness. More than once have letters passed to and fro through some disreputable-looking messenger. To-night, for the first time, I discovered where you paid your visits, but not to whom. To-night I traced you to the vilest den in all the city. Madam, this mystery must be cleared up. What wretched secret have you brought into my brother’s house? What sin or shame are you hiding under his name? What is this disgrace that is likely to burst upon us at any moment?”
Slowly she moved toward him, looking straight into his angry, scornful face. Slowly she answered:
“Alan Warburton, you have appointed yourself my accuser; you shall not be my judge. I am answerable to you for nothing. From this moment I owe you neither courtesy nor gratitude. I have a secret, but it shall be told to my husband, not to you. If I have done wrong, I have wronged him, not you. You have insulted me under my own roof to-night, for the last time. I will tell my story to Archibald now; he shall judge between us.”
She turned away, but he laid a detaining hand upon her arm.
“Stop!” he said, “you must not go to Archibald with this; you shall not!”
“Shall not!” she exclaimed scornfully; “and who will prevent it?”
“I will prevent it. Woman, have you neither heart nor conscience? Would you add murder to your list of transgressions?”
“Let me go, Alan Warburton,” she answered impatiently; “I have done with you.”
“But I have not done with you! Oh, you know my brother well; he is trusting, confiding, blind where you are concerned. He believes in your truth, and he must continue so to believe. He must not hear of this night’s work.”
“But he shall; every word of it.”
“Every word! Take care, Mrs. Warburton. Will you tell him of the lover who was here to-night, disguised as a woman, the better to hover about you?”
“You wretch!” She threw off his restraining hand and turned upon him, her eyes blazing. Then, after a moment, the fierce look of indignation gave place to a smile of contempt.
“Yes,” she said, turning again toward the door, “I shall tell him of that too.”
“Then you will give him his death-blow; understand that! Yesterday, when his physician visited him, he told us the truth. Archibald’s life is short at best; any shock, any strong emotion or undue excitement, will cause his death. Quiet and rest are indispensable. To-morrow – to-day, you were to be told these things. By Archibald’s wish they were withheld from you until now, lest they should spoil your pleasure in the masquerade.”
The last words were mockingly uttered, but Leslie paid no heed to the tone.
“Are you telling me the truth?” she demanded. “Must I play my part still?”
“I am telling you the truth. You must continue to play your part, so far as he is concerned. For his sake I ask you to trust me. You bear our name, our honor is in your keeping. Whatever your faults, your misdeeds, have been, they must be kept secrets still. I ask you to trust me, – not that I may denounce you, but to enable me to protect us all from the consequences of your follies.”
If the words were conciliatory, the tone was hard and stern. Alan Warburton could ill play the role he had undertaken.
The look she now turned upon him was one of mingled wonder and scorn.
“You are incomprehensible,” she said. “I am gratified to know that it was not my life nor my honor, but your own name, that you saved to-night, – it lessens my obligation. Being a woman, I am nothing; being a Warburton, disgrace must not touch me! So be it. If I may not confide in my husband, I will keep my own counsel still. And if I cannot master my trouble alone, then, perhaps, as a last resort, and for the sake of the Warburton honor, I will call upon you for aid.”
There was no time for a reply. While the last words were yet on her lips, the heavy curtains were thrust hastily aside and Winnie French, pallid and trembling, stood in the doorway.
“Leslie! Alan!” she cried, coming toward them with a sob in her throat, “we have lost little Daisy!”
Alan Warburton uttered the two words as one who does not comprehend their meaning. But Leslie stood transfixed, like one stunned, yet not startled, by an anticipated blow.
“We have hunted everywhere,” Winnie continued wildly. “She is not in the house, she is not – ”
She catches her breath at the cry that breaks from Leslie’s lips, and for a moment those three, their festive garments in startling contrast with their woe-stricken faces, regard each other silently.
Then Leslie, overcome at last by the accumulating horrors of this terrible night, sways, gasps, and falls forward, pallid and senseless, at Alan Warburton’s feet.
BETRAYED BY A PICTURE
Little Daisy Warburton was missing. The blow that had prostrated Leslie at its first announcement, struck Archibald Warburton with still heavier force. It was impossible to keep the truth from him, and when it became known, his feeble frame would not support the shock. At day-dawn, he lay in a death-like lethargy. At night, he was raving with delirium. And on the second day, the physicians said:
“There is no hope. His life is only a thing of days.”
Leslie and Alan were faithful at his bedside, – she, the tenderest of nurses; he, the most sleepless of watchers. But they avoided an interchange of word or glance. To all appearance, they had lost sight of themselves in the presence of these new calamities – Archibald’s hopeless condition, and the loss of little Daisy.
No time had been wasted in prosecuting the search for the missing child. When all had been done that could be done, – when monstrous rewards had been offered, when the police were scouring the city, and private detectives were making careful investigations, – Leslie and Alan took their places at the bedside of the stricken father, and waited, the heart of each heavy with a burden of unspoken fear and a new, terrible suspicion.скачать книгу бесплатно