It was more than I at first meant to say. I was treading on delicate ground, and I knew it.
'Brains! Well, there it is! There's where my "education," as you say, stands in the way. It's no use, Masters, our points of view are not the same. To understand mine you must know what my past has been. That would convince you how little my brain could be relied upon to stand me in lieu of a fortune in this pushing, rushing, electric America of yours. And my story—well, if I am to tell it, I must tell it to her first, and—good heavens!' he groaned, 'when I have told it, I shall seem to her more like a fortune-hunter than even now.'
He was in the depths, and if I meant to speak first, now was my time. I tossed my cigarette into the water, and sat erect and facing him.
'What would you give,' I asked slowly, 'if I could show you a way out—a safe and right and happy way?'
'Give! Man alive! I'd give you my gratitude all my life long, first, and after that anything you could ask and I could grant. But—pshaw!—I know you're immensely clever, Masters, and I know you're my friend, but——'
'There, don't say anything that you will have to retract; and now, I won't presume to advise you, sir,' very respectfully, 'but if I were in your place I would either go to June Jenrys and tell her my whole story, or else let me tell it to her.'
'And in going, to pave the way, if I were you, I would send in my card, and that card should read, "Sir Carroll Rae."'
The murder was out now, and before he could recover from his surprise I launched into my story, telling of my chief's letter, and of the one from Sir Hugo Rae which accompanied it, also of the vivid description which set me to staring at all good-looking blonds.
'My meeting with you in Midway, when you inquired after Miss Jenrys so anxiously, was my first clue,' I said. 'On that occasion I noted that you answered the description very well, also that you were not an American.' He looked at me surprised. 'Oh, your English is perfect; but it's neither Yankee nor yet Mason and Dixon's English. It's very fine and polished, but it's different. Oh, I never mistook you for an American, Sir Carroll Rae; but I might not have given heed to that first clue, had I not read Miss Jenrys' letter to Hilda O'Neil; then I said, "Suppose the good-looking guard is this Mr. Lossing, and that Lossing is Rae?" And then I began to cultivate you.'
'Ah! I begin to understand.'
'Then,' I went on, 'came other tests. Rae was an athlete; Lossing knocked out a lunch-room beat scientifically, Rae possessed a high and rich tenor voice; so, I found, did Lossing.'
'When?' he interposed.
'On the night you—ahem—fell into the lagoon. I heard you near the band-stand singing in the chorus.'
'Then Rae was a fine rider. Lossing can ride also, even a British cavalry nag. In fine, I studied you from first to last, supposing you to be Rae, a member of the English aristocracy.'
'Oh, I say!'
'There you go! An American never would say that. Every word of yours, every act pointed to the same conclusion. You were all that a young Englishman of good family and fortune should be; and so, Sir Carroll——'
'Stop! It gives me actual pleasure to find one flaw in your wonderful summing-up. I am not Sir Carroll. Sir Hugo, my half-brother, bears the title, and Sir Hugo and I saw little of each other and were never warm friends.'
'One moment, Sir Carroll. Since that first letter from England, my chief has received another. Sir Hugo is dead.'
* * * * *
When he had recovered somewhat from the surprise and shock—for a shock it was, in truth—he told how, being left to the guardianship of his elder brother—Sir Hugo was fifteen years the elder—he had yet seen little of him, Sir Hugo being seldom at home for long.
'Sir Hugo's mother, the first Lady Rae, died when he was a lad, and there were no other children by that marriage,' he said. 'My mother inherited consumption, and three sisters, all my elders, died in childhood. My mother died when I was a babe, and I was given to the care of Lady Lossing, my mother's elder and favourite sister. I grew to manhood in her house at Dulnith Hall, or in London. When Sir Hugo took possession at last he developed a tyrannical temper. He did not choose to marry, and so I must do so. He selected a wife for me, an heiress, of course, and not too young nor pretty, though an English gentlewoman, and a fit wife for a king, if he loved her, which I did not.
'Well, we quarrelled bitterly. I threatened to come to America, and he bade me go and never to return while he lived. Now, my father had left me nothing, only commending me to Sir Hugo's generosity, which, so long as I consulted his wishes, was free enough. Of my own I had a few hundred pounds left me by my mother. I took that and came to this country. I was introduced into society by a fellow-countryman, who thought my change of name a mere lark, and who soon went home, and then straightway I fell in love with June Jenrys.'
'Well,' I said, after signalling one of the gondoliers to row us to shore, 'I have showed you the way out; have I earned my reward, Sir Carroll Rae?'
With a swift movement he caught my hand between both his own.
'Best of friends,' he exclaimed, 'you can never ask of me a favour that I will not grant, if given the ability to do so; and now——'
'And now,' I echoed as our boat came to the landing, 'there is yet time for you to make that delayed call upon the ladies.'
On the morning of the second day after the publication of the letter signed E. Roe, I awoke at an early hour, after a night passed, for the most part, in thinking and planning.
As the small hours began once more to grow long, and I had reached at last some definite conclusions, I had fallen asleep, but not for long. Sunrise found me awake and astir.
Dave had been out all night, and I was eager for his return. I wanted his co-operation and his encouragement. I wanted to tell him my plans and to hear the result of his night's reconnaissance in the vicinity of the suspected houses.
But whatever his success or lack of it, my morning's programme was laid out. I should 'let no grass grow beneath my feet' until I had taken out warrants of arrest for the 'gang.'
Of charges against them there were enough and to spare; but to make my final success more sure, it would be best, I knew, not to alarm them to the extent of letting them see that their deepest and wickedest game was known. For this purpose it would be well, I knew, to take them first upon separate charges.
Greenback Bob, I decided, should be arrested upon the charge of counterfeiting, with no specified dates or names. Delbras we would charge with an attempt to pass counterfeit money, or with the attempt to swindle Farmer Camp. Smug should figure as a confidence man. And the brunette, whether appearing as man or woman, should be accused of masquerading. And to complete the list, I would also procure a warrant which should charge Monsieur Voisin with an assault upon Sir Carroll Rae.
Smiling at the thought of the surprise this last name would occasion, I closed my door and was turning the key in the lock when Brainerd came hastily up the stairs and toward me.
'Masters,' he said hurriedly, 'you're wanted at once. Come along!' And turning, he ran back down the stairs, and awaited me at the foot.
'What's up?' I asked, when I had reached his side.
'Dead man,' was his laconic answer as he caught my arm and hurried me along. 'Found this morning. I want you to take a look at him.'
'Why must I look at him?' I persisted.
'See if you know him, of course!' and to prevent any further inquisitiveness on my part he began to tell me how the body had been found at early dawn by two 'honest and early-rising Columbian Guards,' lying in the mouth of an alley upon Stony Island Avenue.
'Shot?' I ventured.
'Not much! Strangled!' He glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. 'And the queer thing is, Murphy and I were through that same alley, from end to end, after midnight. He was not there then. There were four of us within a block of that place all night. Neither he nor his assailants could have passed by on the street.'
'Ergo?' I queried.
'Ergo, being out all night, and so near, Murphy and I were the first persons the guards met after finding the body. So, while one of them ran to the station we went to the alley, where the other stood on guard. The body lay upon ground where ashes had been thrown, and thickly too. We could see his footprints plainly. Small they were, and others—two others—one long and slim, the other shorter and broader. They're covered at this moment with dry-goods boxes, open end down, with a big policeman sitting upon them. They couldn't take a cast in those soft ashes.'
'Has the body been identified?'
'There was nothing upon the body by which to identify, but it had not been robbed. There was money and valuables in a pocket, and—a belt.'
I saw that, for some reason, Dave did not want to give me further information, even if he possessed it. And knowing him too well to press my questions, I remained silent until we had reached our destination.
When we were in the presence of the dead, and the covering was about to be lifted from the face, a sudden shock and thrill came over me, and I hesitated for just an instant, feeling a sudden dread and reluctance at the thought of what I might see, yet neither knowing nor guessing.
Then slowly the officer drew away the covering, and I moved a step nearer.
'Good heavens!' There was that natty suit of dark blue, the slight and short figure, the olive-skin and close-cropped hair that I had seen often.
'Do you know him?' asked Dave.
'Not by name,' I replied, and then I turned away to collect my thoughts.
It was the brunette who lay there before me, clad now as when last we met at the Ferris Wheel, in the garb of a man.
There he lay, slender and youthful of face and form, with the small, clean-cut features that had made it so easy to masquerade as a dashing brunette; the keen black eyes, seen through half-closed lids, were staring and inscrutable, and the black marks where something had been drawn so tightly about his neck as almost to cut into the flesh were horrible to see.
'I do not know his name,' I again assured the officer in charge. 'I have seen him several times disguised as a woman, and once only in the attire in which he now lies dead. I have taken note of him as a suspected person, and I have believed him to be a man since June 7,' and I related briefly my reasons for this belief. But I did not make known my belief in the dead man's connection with a gang of dangerous criminals. There was time enough for that. Nor did I give voice to the belief, swiftly taking shape in my mind, that he had met his death at the hands of his comrades, and because of the letter I had caused to appear in the morning papers two days before—the letter of 'E. Roe, On the Square.'
The body of course must go to the Morgue and the coroner, and I told the officer where I might be found or heard of, if wanted for the inquest, and then we withdrew.
'I was quite sure it was your brunette,' declared Dave, now grown communicative. 'Not by recognition; you know, I only saw "her" once and then at some distance, but thanks to the honest guards and ourselves—Murphy and I, that is—the body was not rifled, and I myself helped to search the pockets, at the sergeant's orders, and to examine the belt he wore. That gave me my clue; in it were half a dozen more of Lausch's dew-drop sparklers, unless I am much mistaken, and two more of the pink topaz lot. He seemed to vary in his way of carrying his treasures.'
'I think I can explain that,' I said. 'When he carried that chamois bag, while disguised as a woman, he meant, no doubt, before laying aside the disguise, to negotiate the sale of them, and so had them in readiness. He carried the emerald, you remember, and the other things he sold and tried to sell, in a little bag, so the tradesman said.'
'Well!' said Dave ruefully; 'one of the gang has slipped through our fingers in a way we did not look for. Have you a theory that will account for this, Carl?'
I turned upon him almost fiercely.
'I have, and so have you, Dave Brainerd. I don't for one moment doubt that my mistaken policy has brought this murder about, and you can see how it has complicated things. When I found through the brunette's note—I can't seem to find any other name for him—that in all probability we knew the men who had made away with Trent, I thought the game was almost in our hands, and now——' I dropped my head dejectedly.
'And now we're a good deal mixed,' supplemented Dave dryly. 'We're in a dilemma!'
It was indeed a dilemma, if no worse.
When Miss Jenrys had put that note from the 'little brunette' into my hand, I had opened it with scant interest, for I only desired through this medium to keep, if possible, some trace of her—or him. When I opened the letter and saw the small, sharp, and much-slanted handwriting, I almost exclaimed aloud in my surprise.
The writing was the counterpart of that of the letter written to Mr. Trent, and opened by his daughter and Hilda O'Neil—the letter proposing a way to liberate Gerald Trent!
I could hardly wait until I could compare the two, and verify my belief, and then I had at once told my discovery to Brainerd.
If the brunette were indeed one of the 'clique' who had kidnapped or murdered Trent, then that clique was composed of the very men we were hunting down, and we were nearer to the truth concerning Gerald Trent than we had dared to hope or dream.
It was a great discovery. It put a new face upon everything. And then the question arose: How could we best make use of this new knowledge? How quickest secure the miscreants, fasten this last, worst crime upon them, and rescue Trent, if he yet lived?
And then the previously discussed project of making public the brunette's letter—for the handwritings were identical, and we never doubted that the brunette and 'E. Roe' were one and the same—was again canvassed.
'It's the thing to do!' Dave had declared. 'We are close upon the scent, and what we now want is a clue, just that. They are so secure now, they go and come so seldom, and with such system! And if we make a dash and do go wrong, they are warned; and now that we know our men, we know that rather than be taken tamely, or be betrayed by the presence of a prisoner, they would resort to desperate measures. Let's advertise this Mr. Roe and his letter; it will show them that they have an enemy at home, it will disturb their fancied security; they will begin to quarrel among themselves and forget their caution. Some of them will show themselves and show us the way to the rest.'
What I had counted on was the clause referring to the young ladies, which I had published after much hesitation. This, more than all else, would tell the man I believed to be at the head of this scoundrel band that he was known. He would understand the meaning of that particular sentence. He might see in it and the rest an actual bid for a compromise, and so become less cautious and vigilant. In fact, as Dave declared, 'the publication of the letter and its attendant statements was meant for a bait.'
Having decided upon this course, we had agreed to keep our discovery a secret until we had made this first experiment; and while awaiting results we would not discontinue our efforts to locate our party, by which we meant to make sure that our attack, when made, would find them all, or at least the chief personages, under one roof; for my belief that by devious ways this 'clique' came together regularly, if not nightly, with their headquarters under one roof, and that roof not far away, was strong.
The fact that we were about to exploit the Roe letter had in itself aroused fresh hopes in the hearts of Hilda O'Neil and the father of Gerald Trent, and we decided to keep the important fact that the letter had revealed to us between ourselves.
For a few days it should be known to none but our two selves; meantime, from those few days we hoped for much.
We had hoped much; and, after two days of waiting, something had happened indeed! The little brunette who had been so mysteriously interested in June Jenrys, who had shown herself, and himself, an active member of the 'clique,' lay dead at the Morgue, murdered—by whom?
'I can't look at it as an unmitigated misfortune,' declared Dave, in reply to some of my self-condemnatory moralizing. 'Let us admit that the fellow's letter did cause his death. Wasn't it because he wrote it quite as much or more than because you printed it? And even grant you it was your deed, all of it, haven't you been labouring to get that chap where he could do no more harm? Mark me! if we ever learn who that lad is, he will prove to be one of the outlaws that the gaol and the halter were especially meant for.'
This I could not doubt, and I took such comfort in it as I might.
Of course the detective who had been in search of the brunette was at once summoned, through Dave and myself, and the only information brought out by the inquest was that which, between us, we gave. He was a 'crook,' and would have been arrested by myself, had he lived, upon a charge of masquerading in woman's dress while carrying out illegal schemes. Corey, the only name I shall dare give the clever Chicago detective, declared the body to be that of a person, name unknown, for whom he held a warrant upon a charge of robbery; and, lying dead in the Morgue, the 'little brunette' was arraigned and proven guilty of participating in the Lausch diamond robbery, of World's Fair fame, and a portion of the spoil was produced as having been found upon his person. The jewels were duly turned over to Monsieur Lausch, who had now recovered nearly, if not quite, half of the jewels he had lost, these all having been in the possession of the brunette.
Between the event of the morning and the hour of the inquest I had been busy, and when it was over I hastened to my room to arm myself with certain papers and intent upon securing the warrants, all save one, for which I had so lately planned.
At the door of my room a tall figure awaited me, and when I recognised it as that of one of my chief's most trusted 'stand-bys,' who seldom left New York, I began to wonder.
He had been directed to my quarters, he said, and finding the surroundings to his liking, had awaited me there. He was not slow in making known his business, and he began with the query:
'Have you got Delbras?'
I had, of course, sent regular reports to my chief, and a week previous had informed him that we were on the trail of the Frenchman, and I answered:
'Not yet; but I mean to have a warrant out for him within an hour.'
'Don't waste your time,' advised Jeffrys. 'I have a warrant and all the necessary extras in my pocket. I have been in Chicago long enough for that.' And he made haste to tell me how our chief had lately received from France papers authorizing the arrest of Delbras, wherever found, upon the charge of murder. The French police had worked out, at last, a solution to the mysterious murder in the Rue de Grammont.
The victim, one Laure Borin, was found in her apartment stabbed in half a dozen places, and a tall, dark man, name unknown, was searched for in vain for many weeks.
At last the crime was traced to Delbras, through the revelations of a second woman, who, finding that the man she had believed in hiding had really crossed the ocean and left her behind, had at once avenged herself by putting into the hands of the police the means by which they had traced the crime home to Delbras.
'You must not arrest the fellow,' Jeffrys had said. 'Leave that to me. I have everything—extradition and all—and in Paris they'll not fail to execute him.'
This last argument had its weight. I could not speak with equal certainty of the formality which we call 'trial by jury,' but I began to feel that the fate of the 'clique,' in one way or another, was being rapidly taken out of our hands.
One thing was assured; Jeffrys must wait and move with us; any effort of his to secure Delbras alone would endanger our chances for securing the rest.
Before going further with Jeffrys I felt that I must consult Dave. He had left me at noon to go back to Stony Island Avenue, where half a dozen places, each more or less 'shady,' were being constantly watched. Leaving Jeffrys to look at the wonders nearest at hand for an hour, and this he was quite ready to do, I set out in search of my friend and fellow-worker, wondering a little what he would think and say of this new turn of affairs.
'A MERCYFUL DISPENSAYSHUN.'
As I left the Exposition grounds and came out upon Stony Island Avenue I looked at my watch, for I had in mind much that I wished to accomplish before night came on. It was nearing three o'clock, and I hastened my steps.
Glancing about as I put away my watch, in the hope that I might see Billy or Dave, as they from time to time shifted their place of observation, I saw, to my annoyance, on the opposite side, but coming toward me almost directly across the street, Mrs. Camp. Her eyes were fixed upon me, and when she had reached the middle of the highway she waved her arm in frantic gesture, which, in spite of my haste, brought me to an instant standstill, knowing as I did that she was quite capable of shouting out my name should her signal be ignored.
As she came nearer I saw that her eyes were staring wildly, and her face wore a look so strange and excited that for a moment I feared that the marvels of Chicago and the Fair had unsettled her reason, and her first words did not altogether reassure me.
'If this ain't a mercyful dispensayshun,' she panted, stopping squarely before me, 'then I don't know what is! I was goin' to hunt ye up jest as fast as feet c'd travel, an' I never spected to be so thankful for knowin' a perlece officer ez I be ter-day. My!' catching her breath and hurrying on; 'if I couldn't 'a' seen to gittin' them wretches arristed afore night, I'd 'a' had a nightmare sure, an' never slep' a wink!'
'Mrs. Camp,' I broke in, 'not so loud, please.'
'Ugh!' The woman suddenly dropped her loud tone and looked nervously around. She was trembling with excitement, and the colour came and went in her tanned cheeks.
And now, to my surprise, I noted dangling from her arm beneath the loose wrap, which she wore very much askew, a black something, which, as she lifted her arm to pass her hand across her twitching lips, I perceived was an ear-trumpet attached to a long black tube such as is used by the deaf, and my fears for her sanity were increased.
'Mrs. Camp,' I said, in a soothing tone, 'you seem exhausted; let me take you to your rooms, if they are not too far, and you can talk after resting.'
Something in my tone or look must have enlightened her as to my thoughts, for she suddenly broke into a short, nervous laugh.
'Oh, I ain't crazy! Though I don't blame ye if ye thought so,' she said, with an attempt at composure. 'I was comin' to see ye, and it's important. I was goin' to that Miss Jenrys, but I forgot the number her aunt give me, and so I struck right out for that office where Adam and me met ye that first time when I wanted ye arristed right off, ye know. But, land! I be actin' like a plum fool. Come right along!' She caught my arm and turned me about. 'My place ain't fur, and I s'pose we can't talk in the streets.'
I began to fear that I should not easily escape her, and moved on beside her, her hand still gripped upon my arm as if for support.
'I shan't open my head ag'in,' she said as we went, 'till we git there.' And she did not, but when we had reached her door and I was about to make an excuse, and after seeing her safe indoors hasten on in my search for Dave, she said, much more like her usual self:
'Come right in now and find out what kind of a detective I'd make if I had a chance. It's your business, too, I guess;' and then, as I seemed to hesitate, 'an' it's about that counterfittin' man.'
Suddenly, somehow, the notion of her insanity vanished from my mind, and I followed her into the house.
She opened a door near the entrance, and, after peeping in, threw it wide.
'It's the parlour of the hull fambily,' she explained as I entered, 'and I'm thankful it ain't ockerpied jest now, for our room ain't more'n half as big.'
It was the tiniest of parlours, but not ill-furnished, and the moment she had dragged forward a chair for me, after the manner of the country hostess, and had made sure that the door was close shut, she drew a small 'rocker' close to my own seat and began eagerly:
'I've had an adventer to-day, a reg'lar story-book sort of one. It's made me pretty nervous and excited like, and I hope you'll excuse that; but I'm going to tell it to you the quickest way, for, 'nless I'm awful mistook, them folks'll git out quick's they find out who I be, or who I ain't, one or t'other.'
'My time——' I began, hoping to hasten her story, but she went on hurriedly:
'Ye see, Camp has got so sot and took up with them machines, and windmills, and dead folks, and dry bones down to'rds that south pond that he ain't no company for nobody no more; so this afternoon—we didn't neither one go out this mornin', for we'd been to see Buffaler Bill las' night, and we was tuckered all out—so this afternoon I went with Camp down street instead of goin' the t'other way, for he thought 'twould be a good idee to go in a new gate; but somehow when we got there I didn't feel much like goin' in, seemed like 'twould be sich a long tramp, and I jest left him at the gate and sa'ntered back, thinkin' I'd rest like an' be fresh for a good long day to-morrer.'
'Yes,' I said, as she seemed waiting for my comment, 'I see.'
'Wal, I come along slow, and right down by—wall, I'll show you the place, I'm awful bad 'bout rememberin' names; but when I'd got more'n half-way home, an' was 'most up to a house that stood close to the street, I see the door begin to open, real careful at first, an' then quick; an' then out of the house came a tall man. He didn't look back, but I c'd see there was some one behind him, an' then the door shet. The man come down the steps, an' then he seemed to see me, an' a'most stopped. I tell ye I was glad then that I had on these.'
She thrust her hand into her pocket and drew out a pair of those smoked-glass spectacles so much affected by sight-seers at the Fair, and I was forced to smile at the strange metamorphosis of her face when she put them on and turned it toward me. With the small, sharp eyes, her most characteristic feature, concealed, the face became almost a nonentity.
'Would you 'a' knowed me?' she demanded.
'I think not.'
'Wal, I guess he didn't; anyhow, he give me a sort of inquirin' look an' started off ahead of me. An' who d'ye s'pose he was?'
I shook my head, anxious only that she should get on with the story.
'Wal, as sure as my name's Hanner Camp, 'twas that feller 't changed the money fer Camp; the furriner one that I see in that Cayrow house; the one with the hands!'
'Yes, I know I did; but I studied it all over, an' I wa'n't mistook, not a mite! That feller jest went through an' out the back door, and changed his clo's somewhar, an' came back playin' gentleman. But, I tell ye, I knowed them hands! 'Twas him I seen come out of that door to-day.'
'Are you sure?'
'Then—wait one moment. Did you see him go far? Where did you see him last?'
'Wal, there—there was an alley next to the house, and acrost that was another house, and then a saloon. He went into the saloon.'
'Oh!' This was the answer I had hoped for. 'Pray go on, Mrs. Camp.'
'I'm goin' to. You know I said there was a man come and shet the door; wal, I got jest a glimpse of him at the door, and it kind o' started me, and I came by real slow, a-lookin' at the house. I noticed that every winder in the front was shet, and the curtains down, all but one, and that was the front one next the alley; that was open half-way and the curtain was up. I couldn't see inside, but jest as I came oppersite the winder a man's face popped right out of it for jest a minit, lookin' the way the other feller went, and then it popped out o' sight ag'in; but I had seen it square!'
'Who was it?' I demanded, now thoroughly aroused.
'It was that feller that was so perlite to Camp and me the time you was arristed; the Sunday-school feller.'
I started to my feet, and sat down again. She had been doing detective work indeed! I thought I could understand it all. This was the house we had for days suspected and watched, but the only one ever seen to enter it had been Greenback Bob. Doubtless the murder of the brunette made them so uneasy that, contrary to custom, Delbras had ventured out by day, probably to learn what he could of the movements of the officers. I turned to Mrs. Camp.
'Mrs. Camp,' I began earnestly, 'I am going to confide in you. Those men belong to a gang of robbers and murderers; we have been watching them for weeks. Fortunately, you have come upon them in such a way as to locate their hiding-place; you can help us very much if you will try to recall everything just as you saw it there, and will answer a few questions, when you have told your story. Or—is this all?'
'All! I guess it ain't all; an' I guess you won't need to ask many questions when I get through!' I nodded, and she went on rapidly:
'When I see that feller dodge back and shet the winder, I remembered what you had said about him and the others, and 'bout their tellin' me, to that office, how you was a detective yourself; and I jest sez to myself, says I, "I'm goin' to try an' git another look at that house;" so I went on past it till I come to a little store, and I went in an' bought ten cents' worth of green tea, and when I comes out I goes back, jest as if I was going home with my shoppin'. By the way, you ain't seemed to notice these new clo's.'
I had noted the black gown and cape-like mantle she wore, both plain, but neat and not an ill fit; and I had also wondered how she had happened to discard her old straw hat with the lopping green bows for the simple dark bonnet she wore, but she did not wait for my criticism.
'I'll tell you how't come,' she went on. 'I ain't blind, and I'd been a-noticin' the difference 'twixt my clo's and some of the rest of 'em; and I was specially took with them plain gownds them ladies wore that you interduced me to that day; an' I jest studied on it, and sort o' calkalated the expense, and then went up to the stores. I wanted a gray rig, like that Miss Ross had on, but I couldn't get none to fit, an' the young lady told me 't black was dredful fash'nable now, so I got this rig; an' 'twas lucky I did ter-day.'
What could she mean by this diversion? I was growing uneasy when she uttered the last words. 'Yes?' I said feebly.
'I s'pose you wonder what I'm drivin' at?' she queried. 'Well, it's comin'. Ye see, I was wearin' these clo's, and the goggles, as I call 'em, when I went sa'nterin' past that house; but I hadn't got to it, nor even to the s'loon yet, when a cab—one of them two-wheeled things, you know, with the man settin' up behind to drive.'
'Wal, it drove up, an' the man opened the door, right in front of that house, an' out got a woman; she was bigger than me, and all drest in black, an' she looked sort of familiar, an' jest as I was wonderin' who she made me think of, an' she was a-paying the driver, up comes another cab, tearin', and out hopped two fat, red-faced perlecemen, an' there was a little squabble like, an' the woman flung herself round so't I could see her face, an' then I knew her.'
She paused as if for comment, but I was now too much amazed for words.
'I knew her in a minit,' she resumed, 'an' it was that woman that come stridin' into that rug place in Cayrow Street that day. She hadn't no long swingin' veil on this time, and she didn't look nigh so big 'longside them big perlecemen. She had give up quiet enough when she seen she had to; an' they put her into the cab an' drove away, with t'other one behind 'em. I walked pretty slow, so as not to come right into the rumpus, an' I thought, as I come acrost the alley, that I see somethin' a-layin' by the side-walk on the outside. I looked round, and seein' that every last winder was as dark as black, I stooped down to look at the things, an' here they air.' And she shook out with one hand a long black veil which she had drawn from her pocket, and held out with the other the snake-like speaking-tube.
'I c'n see you're in a hurry,' she said, dropping the veil and tube into her lap, 'an' I'll git to the pint now, right off. I wa'n't never no coward, and I jest ached to find out what them fellows was up to. Mebbe if I'd stopped to think I wouldn't have run the risk, but while I stood there with them things in my hand a idee popped into my mind. I looked round; there wasn't a soul near me, an' the winders was all dark, so't nobody could see me from the house, and of course they hadn't seen the woman git arristed an' took away. We didn't look much alike, but I thought mebbe they'd let me in, thinkin' 'twas her; and when I got in I'd tell 'em I'd found the trumpet at their door, and p'r'aps, if I felt like it, I'd say I'd seen a gentleman to the winder that I was 'quainted with; that is if he didn't come to the door. Anyhow, I thought I'd try to make sure it 'twas him I see at the winder.'
I shuddered at her cool recital of such a daring venture; and yet I could see how, with her country training, she would see nothing so very serious or dangerous in thus thrusting herself into a strange house, gossip-like, 'to find out what was goin' on.' She took up the trumpet.
'I was used to these things,' she said, 'for my aunt on my mother's side used to live with me; she was a old maid an' she used one. Stone-deef she was, a'most, but I didn't think then o' usin' this. When I got onto the top step I felt 'most like runnin' off all of a sudden, but I set my teeth and give the bell a jerk. 'Twa'n't long before the door opened jest a crack, and I see an eye lookin' out. I meant to git inside before I said anything, so I kind o' give the speakin' trumpet, hangin' over my arm, a shake; it was 'most hid under the veil, you know; and then the door opened wider, and I see a woman. My! the palest, woe-begon'dest woman I'd ever see, 'most. "Oh!" she says, in a shaky, scairt sort o' voice, "come in quick." She looked so peaked and strange I jest stood starin' at her a minit, and all to once she reached out her hand and motioned to me; and as I stepped in she caught hold of the big end of the speakin' trumpet, and then I see that she thought I was deef; and quick as a wink it come to me to play deef 's long as I could—deef folks are allus makin' blunders—and then to 'polergize an' git out. So I stuck the tube to my ear.
'"You're the nurse?" she says through it, but not very loud, for a deef person, that is. "Louder," sez I. So she sed it real loud, an' I nodded.
'Then she motioned me to come into the room to the front, that I had seen the man look out of. It was 'most dark there, only there was a winder on the alley that 'peared to be all boarded up, only jest a slit to the top to let a little streak of light in. "Set down a minit," she says; an' when she let go of the trumpet her hand shook so't I could see it. She opened the door in the back of the room, an' I see there was a screen on the other side so I couldn't see the room, but I got up an' tiptoed to the door. The carpet was awful thick there an' in the hall, though it was old enough too.
'She hadn't shet the door tight, an' I heard her say, "Wake up, Bob." An' then a sort of question; an' she says ag'in, "The nurse has come after all, and you can go and sleep now." Then I heard a man say, "What made the old gal so late, blast her eyes! I'd go an' give her a good old blessin' if she wasn't sech a crank-mouthed jade." An' then he seemed to be stirrin', an' I 'most thought he was comin' in; but then he says, "Git her in here, an' then git me somethin' ter eat. I can't sleep when I'm so holler." "Won't you come in an' speak to her, Bob?" says the woman, "an' tell her 'bout the med'cin'; I'm so tired."
'Then I was scairt ag'in, though I declare I felt sorry fer that poor crittur of a woman.
'But the man snarled at her, and says, "Naw, I won't; I'm tired's you be. Hustle now, an' bring me the grub mighty quick."
'I scooted back to my chair then, and in a minit or so she come in an' motioned me to come into the other room. I see they had mistook me for some deef nurse, an' I begun to think I'd grabbed more'n I could hold, an' to wish I was out. But I went in, an' if ever a woman was struck all of a heap, 'twas me.'
She paused as if mentally reviewing the scene once more, and I fairly quivered with anticipation and anxiety for what the next words might develop.
'I had noticed that there was three winders on the alley side of the house,' she resumed, 'an' there bein' only one in the front room, of course I looked to see one sure in this, an' mebbe two, but there wasn't a winder; the wall on that side was smooth, only at the winder place was a kind of cubbard arrangement like, an' the room was lit by a kerosene lamp. It was furnished quite good, too; but in a corner on the bed laid a young man, as good-lookin' about as they make 'em; only he was dretful pale an' thin, an' he 'peared to be sleepin'.
'"There's yer patient," says the woman, through the tube. "There ain't nothin' to do now only ter give him drink, an' not let him talk if he wakes. He sleeps a good deal, an' when he wakes up he's out of his head, an' 'magines he's somebody else, an' ain't in his own house, an' all sorts of nonsense." She went to the bed an' stood lookin' at the sick man in a queer sort of way, an' she give a big long breath, as if she felt awful bad, an' then went out by a door that I knew went to the hall, an' I heard noises in a minit more, as if they come from the kitchin stove.
'Now I knowed she took me for a nurse and all that, but all the same I begun to think I'd better git out. I couldn't play nurse an' ask about that Sunday-school feller too, an' I thought I'd jest made a big blunder, an' I'd better git out 'thout waitin' for her to come back; an' jest then I heard a little noise, an' I looked round, an' the sick man had rolled over an' was lookin' at me straight, an' when he ketched my eye, he says, "Come here, madam, please." 'Twas a real pleasant voice, though weak, an' I went right up to the bed. He looked at me real sharp, an' sort of wishful, and then he says, "You look like a good woman."
'I didn't say nothin', an' he kep' right on, sort of hurried like. "I was not asleep when you entered," he says, "and I heard that poor woman. I am not insane, and this is not my home. You have come here to nurse me, but if you want money you can earn a hundred nurses' fees by going to a telegraph office and telegraphin' to——"
'Jest then there was a noise in the hall, an' he stopped, an' I picked up a fan an' stood as if I was a-fannin' away a couple of little moths that the lamp had drawed.
'Nobody came in, so I went to the door an' listened. Seemed as if I heard a door shet upstairs, an' I guessed the woman was taking up the cross man's dinner. So I went back to the bed. He laid still for a bit, and seemed listenin'; then he says:
'"I am a prisoner, and have been half-killed first, an' then drugged to keep me so. My people are wealthy. They will pay you royally if you'll help me; if you'll go to the nearest police-station an' give 'em a paper I will give yer, with my father's name, an'——" He stopped ag'in, an' shet his eyes quick as lightnin'; an' the next minit the pale woman came in quick, an' lookin' awful anxious. She went to the bed an' looked at the sick young feller, an' then she took hold of the trumpet and motioned me to listen. "Can you hear?" she says into it, not very loud. I nodded, an' looked to'rds the bed. "He sleeps real sound," she says, "and won't be likely to wake up, anyhow; I can't leave him alone to talk to you in another room. There's somethin' I forgot, an' some of them may come in any time now. Will you do a wretched woman a small kindness?" She looked at me awful wishful when she said that, an' I nodded my head ag'in.
'"They told me not to let you in unless you gave me a card, and I—I am so troubled I forgot to ask you for it at the door. Will you give me the card now, an' please not give me away to the boys? I can't stand no more trouble. I—I think it was your being so late made me forget. Why was it?"
'For a minit I was stumped, an' then an idee come to me. "Ter tell the truth," I says, as bold as you please, "I've been in a little trouble, an' I forgot that card. You see, I had to put off comin' here on account of a couple of perlecemen that was on the look-out fer me. I've only jest give 'em the slip." You see I thought when she heard that she'd make 'lowance fer the card, an' I wanted to talk more with that sick boy, fer I b'leeved he was tellin' the truth. But, my! she jumps up, lookin' scairt to pieces, an' she says:
'"The perlece! Do you think they will follow you? can they? Merciful goodness! we can't risk it. I'm almost broke down, but I'll call up Bob, an' you must go right away. Don't you see it won't do?" She snatched a key out of her pocket. "Come," she says. "Mercy, what a risk!" I had took off my glasses and laid 'em down on the table by the bed. I picked up the black veil I had dropped on the chair, and jest as she went to take the key out of the hall-door—she had to turn her back to do it—I went to the table and took up my glasses, and tried to ketch that poor boy's eye and make him a sign; but, my! he laid there with his eyes shet, an' sech a look of misery upon his poor face, an' all at once it struck me that I hadn't spoke once, an' that he hadn't noticed the trumpet till the woman come in, and then he thought he'd been a-beggin' help of a deef woman. But I hadn't no chance then, an' as soon as she'd picked out the key, she says, "I'll have to let yer out front. It won't do to risk your being seen coming out by any other way."
'The way was clear when I got out; but I most dreaded meeting one of them men som'ers, and I jest started straight to find you.'
'One moment,' I said hurriedly, as she now ceased. 'You spoke of Miss Jenrys—why did you think of going to her?'
'Why, she was nearest of anybody, an' I thought you was as likely as not to be there.'
AT twelve o'clock p.m. a party of men had gathered not far from the house where Mrs. Camp had made her singular discoveries; they came singly and by twos, from various directions, and their movements were so quiet as not to have disturbed the lightest of sleepers, however near, for with one exception all were trained to the business in hand.
When two of the party had made a careful reconnaissance of the premises they returned to the waiting group.
'There's the door and two windows at the front,' said one, 'and three windows on the alley, the middle one, as we know, boarded on the inside. At the back is a door opening upon a sort of shed, and a window in the same; and in the angle formed by the shed and the rear of the house proper is another window; on the inner side, opposite the alley, the wall is blank. There's no bed in the front room,' the speaker went on rapidly, 'though someone may bunk there. Of course there's a watcher in his room. Two of you must patrol the alley while Brainerd cuts out a pane or two of that closed-up alley window, to see if anything can be heard through the cracks of those inside boards, though it's probable they are padded to deaden sound. As for the upper rooms, they're sleeping there doubtless, and——'
'Don't forget,' interposed Brainerd in a low half-whisper, 'about those iron hooks outside those back windows. They're for something more than signalling; they're stout enough to support a rope with a man at the end, and the rope and the man are both inside, no doubt.'
'Four to the back then,' I said, 'and you, Jeffrys, take the lead; three to the alley, you and two others, Dave. If the thing's not accessible, divide to back and front. Lossing, can you and Murphy hold me on your shoulders while I try that window? Now, all to our places; and there ought to be a train soon over there; let's do our cutting under cover of its noise.'
The Illinois Central Railway was but a little distance from us, and we took our places to await the sound of its first train. But fortune, having baffled and hindered us again and again, seemed now to have relented toward us.
Before trying the window I crept up the steps to examine the lock of the door, and judge, if I could, of its security. Lossing, as he still preferred to be called, and Murphy, the policeman, were standing below me, one on either side of the steps, and as I stood at the door above them I turned and looked about me. All seemed quiet up and down that often unquiet street, and the lights from either direction hardly served their purpose there, a fact which had been considered, doubtless, in making choice of this place.
It was after midnight now, and as I heard, far away yet, the first faint rumble of the train, I put my hand upon the handle of the door.
Was it imagination, or did I feel a responsive touch upon the other side? I let my hand rest lightly upon the knob, and waited; then, suddenly, as the rumble of the train came nearer, I sprang down the steps, and, crouching at the side of Lossing, whispered across to Murphy, 'Lay low and be ready; someone's coming out.' There was no time for more words, but I never doubted the readiness of my two helpers, nor their quick comprehension of the situation.
As the rumble of the train came nearer, the door opened, almost without noise, and shut again; and softly, slowly, looking up and down the street, but not below him, almost within reach, a man came down the steps, paused an instant, and stood upon the pavement, to feel, before he could turn his head, a hard grip upon either arm, a cold pressure at the back of his neck, and simultaneously a low whisper:
'One sound and you are a dead man.'
It was all the work of an instant, and so quickly and quietly done that our friends in the alley were not aware of our capture until we had secured our prisoner and Lossing had gone to summon Dave.
Then, still in utter silence, we led our first capture across the alley, and Murphy flashed a dark-lantern in his face.
It was a pallid and cowardly countenance that the light revealed, and I was not surprised to recognise the man I had dubbed 'Smug' upon the day of my arrival at the World's Fair. He was trembling violently, and thoroughly cowed.
We had no difficulty in searching his pockets; he did not so much as remonstrate—perhaps because of the pistol I had now transferred to the hand of Lossing. By the light of the dark-lantern I selected from among a number of keys taken from his pocket a slender one, which, as it only needed the look upon his face to tell me, was the key to the street-door.
'Listen!' I said to him, holding the lantern high. 'It will be to your interest to help us, and you will find it so if you help to make what we are about to do as easy and quiet as possible. We know who are in that house, and if we can take them without noise and trouble, so much the better for them. The place is surrounded; they can't escape alive. Is anyone in the front room, lower floor?'
He shook his head sullenly.
'You were put there on guard—is it not so?' He blinked under the lantern's rays, and I saw that I was right. 'And you thought it would be quite safe to slip out for an hour or two; and so it would have been last night or the one before. Now, is Delbras on the second-floor front? You had better tell me!' He nodded sullenly. 'And Bob? Remember, your answers can't injure their case and will benefit yours. My word is good. Is Greenback Bob there?' Again the sullen fellow bowed his head. 'And how many more, exclusive of your prisoner?' The rascal started, and seemed taken with a new panic. 'You had better be quite frank,' I admonished. 'How many?'
He held up three fingers as well as the handcuffs would permit, and a moment later we had left him at the mouth of the alley, guarded by two officers, while we arranged for our attack.
One man was left to guard the rear, with full instructions covering any and all possible emergencies, and one was told off to guard the front entrance, while the remaining six were paired: Lossing with myself, at his own request; Dave and one officer, and Jeffrys with another. Murphy we had left with Smug, and in charge of the party without.
'Masters,' Lossing said, 'I want to be with the man that attacks Delbras. I owe it to him.' When Jeffrys had heard him he declared Delbras his prey. But I also had my word to say. Jeffrys might serve his warrant and bear off the captive from the city, but he could only take him when I had failed; and so it was arranged.
When all was ready we waited, six of us, upon the steps of the gloomy house, until after what seemed an hour, and was in reality ten minutes, had passed, and then a long freight train came rumbling cityward. As it came near I inserted the key in the lock carefully and turned it slowly, and without noise; and while the sound still covered our careful movements, we entered the hall, leaving the officer in charge of the door.
Then, when Dave and his companion had entered the front room and stood ready to move upon the watcher through the door behind the screen, trusting the other door to the watchful eye of the guard at the front, we crept upstairs, with that sidewise movement which insures one who has the patience to try it a silent if slow passage, to the top, in single file.
At the top we separated, and while we—Lossing and myself—took our places at the door near the front, Jeffrys listened at the two rear doors, to make sure of the location of his prey, and at a signal which the guard below passed on to Dave we moved, each armed with a dark-lantern, to the attack.
I could hear Lossing's breath close beside me as I carefully and slowly tried the knob of the door and found that it yielded silently.
The house was an old one, and we saw as we slowly opened the door that the lock was only a fragmentary one; there was on the other side only a handle like that without. Holding our lanterns low we glided in, and were half-way across the room when I raised the lantern and turned its light carefully toward the bed, from whence long guttural breathing told of a sleeper unconscious of our nearness. With lantern in one hand and pistol in the other, I made a forward step as I saw by the ray thrown across the bed the form and face of Delbras; and then, suddenly, beneath my foot, something cracked and burst with a sharp explosion.
Only a parlour match, but it brought the sleeper to a sitting posture, and broad awake in a moment. He did not seem to so much as have seen me, but his eyes and Lossing's appeared to meet and challenge each other, and quicker than I can tell it he had bounded from his bed, snatching something from under the pillow as he sprang—something that glittered in his hand as he hurled himself upon Lossing, and the two grappled and swayed, with the knife gleaming above their heads, held thus by the strong hand of the English athlete.
As I sprang to place my lantern upon the table at the bed's head, that it might help me to see and to aid Lossing, a shriek rang from the room at the rear, and the next moment I saw the knife sent flying from the hand of Delbras, and the two go down, still struggling. A moment I watched them struggling there, and then somehow the villain wrenched one hand free and gripped it with an awful clutch upon Lossing's throat; the next there arose from below a succession of screeches that might have issued from the throat of a bedlamite.
Once and again I had tried to interfere in Lossing's behalf, but the effort seemed useless, until, as the screams from below ceased suddenly, I sprang past the two, and, turning suddenly, struck at Delbras with my clubbed pistol. I had aimed at the arm clutching at my friend's throat, but a sudden movement brought the villain's head in sharp contact with the butt of the pistol, and his hold suddenly relaxed, and he lay stunned and at our mercy.
When Lossing, not much the worse for his tussle but somewhat short of breath, had risen and shaken himself together, I said: 'He's only stunned and will soon come to. Shoot him if he stirs before I come back.' And I ran to the room in the rear.
What had happened there can be soon told.
When Jeffrys opened the door of the rear room, which did not boast a lock, he saw a lamp burning dimly upon a shelf in a corner; upon the bed opposite a woman and a man, both sleeping, and under the one window a coil of rope ladder, as if ready for use.
The face of the woman was ghastly pale, and her sleep must have been very light, for suddenly she opened her eyes, and seeing the officers, uttered the cry, which at first only caused her lord and master to growl out an oath and turn over; whereupon she clutched at him wildly and cried to the men to leave them; they would give themselves up if only the officers would withdraw and permit them to rise and dress.
The man, meantime, seemed to awaken slowly, and to be dazed and stupid, and he paid little heed to his wife's cries as he dragged himself to a sitting posture.
'You'd better get up,' said Jeffrys sternly, 'and give up. You're all in for it.'
Possibly the shrieks that came from below at that moment convinced him, for he answered with a scowling face: 'I guess I know when I'm beat. If you'll shet the door, or turn yer backs so my wife can get up, I'll be quiet enough. Shet up, Sue!'
'All right,' said Jeffrys; and the two officers drew back from the door, and Jeffrys, drawing it half-shut, said, with his eye upon the man, 'Now, the lady first,' and pistol in hand he waited.
The one window was opposite the door and the bed close beside it, so that the half-closed door concealed from Jeffrys both window and woman. He heard her spring up, and at the instant, almost, a slight scraping sound, then suddenly, at the very moment when I stepped from the farther room, the light went out—there was a bound, an oath, a shrill whistle, and, as I reached the door, the flash of a bull's eye, and two pistol-shots came close together.
As I sprang into the room the light revealed an open window, with the rope ladder half out, half in, and upon the floor beneath it Greenback Bob, with Jeffrys kneeling upon his breast, and the attendant officer, with pistol aimed and bull's-eye in hand, at his head. Upon the bed, weeping and moaning piteously, lay the woman, her face buried in the pillow. I went to her and put a hand upon her arm; she lifted toward me the most woeful face it has ever been my lot to see, and said, with mournful apathy:
'Don't fear—I don't want to escape! I knew the end must be near.' And she dropped back with an air of utter exhaustion upon her pillow.
I turned to assist Jeffrys in securing Greenback Bob, who, now that his pretence of stolid apathy had failed him, was an ugly customer to deal with, and who was resisting with all his strength and filling the air with blasphemy. It was necessary to secure him hand and foot, and we had but just completed the task when Dave came bounding up the stairs.
'Eureka!' he cried. 'It's a complete catch; and Trent's alive, and the happiest man in Chicago, or the world. Hello!'
He had glanced at the prostrate counterfeiter, and his last exclamation was in answer to a voice from the room where I had left Lossing guarding the senseless Delbras.
Following Dave's significant gesture, I went with him to the door of the room, where, to my surprise, Delbras, his face quite bloodless with rage and weakness together, was slowly dressing himself under the sternly watchful eye and steadily aimed pistol of Sir Carroll Rae.
The latter had gathered the garments together while Delbras lay unconscious, keeping a watchful eye and ready weapon the while, and had placed them close at his side, first removing from a pocket a small sheathed knife. And now, with his own weapon in hand and those of Delbras collected on the table at his side, he was compelling the Frenchman to make his toilet at the point of the pistol, and his set face left in the mind of the enraged and baffled rascal no room to doubt him when he said:
'Unless you have put on those garments within a reasonable time I will call a pair of policemen to dress you; and if you make one sound or movement other than in obedience I will shoot every bullet in this weapon into your body, and do it with pleasure.'
'How was it?' I asked Dave while this toilet was proceeding, and we stood ready for the trick or attempt at resistance we more than half expected from the Frenchman.
'I guess you heard it about all. Trent lay there wide awake, mighty blue, and too weak to lift his head; and a big negress was half-dozing in her chair by the bedside, with a pistol at her elbow. She made a grab for it, and yelled, as you probably heard. Trent was assaulted and half-killed, nursed back to life for what there was in it, and has just come to his senses, awfully weak, but game enough to resist their efforts to make him appeal to his father for a big ransom. That's all I've had time to hear.'
Trent, of course, was not strong enough to be moved, and that and the late, or rather the early, hour, it being now almost two o'clock a.m., decided us to camp down in the house until morning. So the men outside with Smug in charge were called in, and with our prisoners securely guarded, we passed the few hours before daylight in conversation, Dave, Jeffrys, Lossing, and myself, in Trent's room.
I was doctor enough to see that the poor fellow had been sufficiently startled by our appearance and the events of the night, and so, eager as we were to hear and he to tell his story, we imposed silence upon him until he could be seen by a physician—at least comparative silence; and as he declared himself 'all right' except for his weakness, and finding that he was, very naturally, unable to sleep, or even to rest quietly, we told him briefly the story of our search for him, and in telling it led him slowly to the knowledge of his father's presence in the city and the nearness of his betrothed.
More than once his fine eyes filled with tears and his lips trembled as we told of his sweetheart's telegrams and his father's anxiety; and when he had heard it all, he lay a long time silent but wakeful, and evidently thinking, and at last, just as the first faint streak of gray became tinged with a beam of red in the east, he fell asleep, with a smile upon his pale lips.
When the negress had been removed from the room, she had begged to be taken to her 'dear Missis Susie,' who, she declared, was 'sick enough to die'; and I led her upstairs to the room where the pale, worn woman still lay, in the room from which her husband had been removed.
As the negress entered the room the woman lifted her head, and with an inarticulate cry threw herself into her servant's arms; there was a moment of wild sobbing, and then, as I was about to set a guard at the door and withdraw, the negress uttered a shrill cry, caught the slender form in her stout arms and laid her upon the bed, and I saw a thin stream of blood trickle from between the white lips.
Restoratives were at hand, for this was not the first attack, the negress said; and when the woman had been cared for, and at last lay sleeping from exhaustion and, I fancied, the help of an opiate, I questioned the servant.
Her mistress, she said, was a southern woman, and she had been her servant since 'befo' the war,' when that mistress was a child of six.
An orphan with a small fortune, 'Mistress Susie' had married Greenback Bob, 'Master Robert,' she called him, and had followed him and clung to him through all his downward career of crime, as the big, heavy-featured coloured woman had clung to 'Missis Susie.' When prosperous, Bob was kind; when unlucky or drunk, he was cruel and coarse. 'Missis Susie' had inherited consumption, and that and trouble and danger had 'wo'n her life away,' as the woman said, with big tears dropping upon her dark cheeks.
'This las',' she concluded, 'hit's been the wo'st of all. An' that sick boy! Missis Susie prayed 'em to let him go away to the hospital, when he was hurt and couldn't give anyone away. But they nuver heard to Missis Susie—nuver! They wouldn't have been trapped like this if they had.'
It was by my proposal to bring the physician—whom at an early morning hour I had summoned to see Trent—to pass judgment upon 'Missis Susie' also, that I won the negress to tell me something about Trent; how at early evening he was brought in by Bob and Delbras, whom she called Hector, and whom she evidently both feared and hated; how a physician was called, as the young man was insensible, and how, fortunately for them, he continued delirious for three weeks and more while the two wounds on his head, both serious ones, were healing; how the 'gang' had deliberately taken the risk of keeping him until he had so far recovered as to be beyond the danger-line, knowing that they could not safely negotiate the return to his family of a prisoner who might die perhaps while the negotiations were pending.
She told how some one of the gang proper was always on guard in the sick-room by day, and often by night, and that it was only since the going away of one of the gang, Harry by name, that they had entrusted the prisoner to her care alone.
It did not take me long to find out that the person she called Harry was the brunette, now lying dead at the Morgue, and I saw, too, that she did not dream of the fate that had overtaken him, although I felt sure that the woman Susie did.
At early dawn the three men, Delbras, Bob, and Smug, or Harris, as his companions called him, were taken away under charge of Dave Brainerd and Jeffrys, to be locked up and safely kept until Jeffrys should take Delbras to New York, and thence to France. The others would await our appearance against them.
When the physician came, I took him from young Trent's bedside to that of 'Missis Susie.'
Of Trent he had spoken only words of cheer. His wounds were healing, had healed in fact healthily, and with no danger of after-trouble, mental or other; and now he needed only good nursing, good food, tonics, stimulants, and for a little longer quiet and not too much company. He might be moved, he told us, upon a cot, and for a short distance, that afternoon; and he commended us for our wisdom in not following up the excitement of the previous hours with an instant meeting between the invalid and his father and sweetheart. Now, 'after a light breakfast and good nerve tonic,' he might see his friends, when they had been prepared and warned against unduly taxing the patient's nerves and strength.
Of the sick woman above stairs there was a different tale to tell. She might linger for weeks, but for her there was no recovery.
When the negress—Hat, her mistress called her—heard this she was inconsolable, and when I had promised her that, if possible, she should remain with her mistress to the end, she was ready to be my slave; and knowing that nothing could help or hurt her mistress more, she was willing to tell me what she could about the gang and their methods.
She had no love for her mistress's husband, and she seemed to have remembered against him every unkind deed or word spoken or done to her 'Missis Susie.' Delbras she had ever feared and hated, and Smug she despised as the coward decoy of the gang. For Harry she expressed a liking. 'He was bad, that's true,' she declared; 'sharp as you please and tricky; but he was good to my mistress when the others forgot her. He was good to her always, and he bought her books and fruit. When he dressed in woman's clothes she would help him, and he never forgot to thank her. But they quarrelled, Harry and Bob and the Frenchman, and he left night before last.'
I told her of Harry's fate, and she cursed his slayers with oaths like a man's; and after that her testimony was ready, and it helped us much. As for Susan Kendricks, for this was the name by which the poor soul had wedded Greenback Bob, there came a time when she told me her story, and a sad, sad page it was, with little light anywhere upon it. She had taken little part in their dangerous enterprises, only now and then appearing somewhere with Harry when he was masquerading as a girl, in order to mislead the officers or the neighbours in their estimate of the number and sex of the gang; or to play a part, as on the night when she personated June Jenrys in order to entrap Lossing.
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But when the ship's in port who cares to wait for the furling of the sails? The journey ended, we go ashore.
Little need to describe the meeting between Gerald Trent and his friends, which occurred shortly after the going away of the 'gang' and the visit of the doctor.
He told them the story of his 'disappearance,' and the manner of it was briefly thus:
At one of the small tables in the Public Comfort Cafe he had dined opposite Smug, whose confiding and kindly obliging manner and general air of being a good but rather slow young man made him an invaluable decoy for the gang. Here Trent's rather careless display of a well-filled purse, together with the fine watch he carried and his valuable diamonds, quietly but mistakenly worn, had no doubt attracted Smug, who had made himself agreeable, but not obtrusively so, and had contrived to meet him again and yet again. The last meeting was at evening, when, while chatting easily, he had expressed a desire to visit Buffalo Bill, and Smug, claiming to be a near resident, very modestly offered his escort, and was so unobtrusive and so eminently proper while confessing to a weakness for 'horse shows,' that Trent had been quite disarmed.
At the close of the entertainment, the Elevated trains being overcrowded, Smug had carelessly recommended the Central, alleging that one of its suburban stations was little more than two blocks away, and proffered himself as guide, as an afterthought, and because he could show him a short cut.
'He showed me several,' concluded Trent, with a grimace; 'for, having lured me away from the crowd and into an almost deserted and ill-lighted street, we were suddenly attacked, and my "short cuts" were administered upon my crown.'
Some hazy remembrance caused him to believe that they had taken him to their lair, half-carrying and half-dragging him, and representing him to an inquiring policeman as being a victim of too much brandy and beer.
Then came his illness, a dream of fever, pain, and delirium, and a slow return to reason, to find himself a prisoner, too weak to lift head or tend, and yet fully determined not to help his rapacious captors to a fortune at his father's cost.
Since his return to reason he had, as much as possible, rejected what he believed to be opiates, and had feigned sleep to avoid their threats and importunities, and to meet cunning with cunning.
While thus sleeping (?) he had heard some of their whispered plotting, and he was able to explain how it was that Mrs. Camp had succeeded in carrying out her wild but successful adventure.
Among Smug's acquaintances was a certain widow, or a woman who passed for such, who called herself a nurse, and whose services 'came high.' However, she was 'one of the right sort,' who 'asked no questions,' and 'always obeyed orders.' Upon the night of Harry's disappearance there had been an unusual commotion in the house, and a recklessness of speech quite uncommon; and before morning it was decided that Smug should secure the services of this valuable nurse at an early hour, as they must have 'another hand.'
Before noon Smug had reported the arrival of the nurse at an early hour, and the fact that she was 'hard of hearing' was counted in her favour. Smug had further said, to the satisfaction of Delbras—who by-the-bye had never entered Trent's room without first assuming the disguise of an elderly foreigner—that the woman was especially willing to come because of a little difficulty with 'the cops,' who were 'too attentive for comfort.'
Thanks to the successful attention of these same 'cops,' the woman had left in Mrs. Camp's hands the means whereby she might penetrate this stronghold of iniquity, and so be enabled to do what we had schemed and planned to accomplish, and but for her might have made only a partial success.
Mrs. Camp was the heroine of the hour, and we bent to her our diminished heads, and willingly declared her a detective indeed; for, while we had fathomed the disguises of the gang and tracked them home, it was her masterly coup that had made of our raid the assured success which it was.
To say that Mrs. Camp was made much of by Hilda O'Neil, June Jenrys, and Miss Ross is to put it mildly, and the good woman cared far more for the petting and praise of the two pretty girls than for the gratitude and congratulations of all the rest of us; and the friends she has found through her singular raid upon Smug and company will be her friends for all the years to come.
How I first established a connection between the crook Delbras and the fine gentleman who had taken New York society by storm as Monsieur Maurice Voisin was a wonder to many, until I had laid before them the process of reasoning by which it was done.
I had entered the classic Fair-grounds intent upon searching among the many faces for two, one a blond young Englishman, the other a dark and handsome Frenchman, and a letter picked up in the crowd had given me a mental photograph of these two, though I knew it not.
Before I had ever seen Voisin I had said of him, mentally, 'I believe he has tricked Miss June Jenrys and young Lossing.' Then I saw him in company with Miss Jenrys that day before our meeting, and I could not help seeing how perfectly he answered the description of Delbras. Next we met, and I could not believe in him; and the glimpses of Greenback Bob's disguised companion in Midway, as agent and fakir, all were wonderfully like Monsieur Voisin, man of fashion; and so from day to day I had watched him as he sought to dazzle the eyes of sweet June Jenrys, hoping for the time when I might unmask him before her.
Then came the attack upon Lossing at the bridge, in which we both saw the hand of Voisin. Mrs. Camp, too, added her quota to the solution of this riddle when she recognised in Voisin the swindler of the Turkish Bazaar, and identified the hand of Voisin as the hand which had held out the Spurious bank-notes to Camp; and, finally, there came his second attempt to destroy Lossing in the Cold Storage fire, ending as it did in his own disaster and in revealing to me the scar upon the temple so minutely described in the chiefs letter as belonging to Delbras.
The man had maintained a stolid indifference and a stubborn silence after his arrest, even when he learned how complete was his exposure both as Voisin and Delbras.
Before his departure for New York a complete record of his misdeeds, so far as we knew them, was made and put into the hands of Jeffrys. The man Smug, or Harris, as might have been expected, was willing to betray his companions in crime, now that he knew himself safe from such vengeance as had been meted out to Harry, the brunette, and in the hope of such measure of immunity as is sometimes bestowed upon the rascal who 'confesses' the evil deeds of his associates. It was by his testimony that we fixed the theft of Monsieur Lausch's diamonds upon the gang, and the attack upon Lossing, or Sir Carroll Rae, upon Delbras and Bob; and it was through Hat, the negress, first, and then from Smug, when sharply questioned, that we learned of their last and vilest plot, which was to obtain the ransom for Trent, if possible, or to 'put him out of the way' if this failed, and then, with their hands free, to purchase a small yacht and to kidnap Miss Jenrys, keeping her out in the lake until she should buy her release by marrying Delbras.
The only time when Delbras was seen to blench or to appear other than the stolid, sullen, and silent criminal was when Miss Jenrys, accompanied by her aunt, was obliged to appear and identify him as the man who had masqueraded as Monsieur Voisin.
Then, indeed, his dark face paled, his eyes fell before hers, and he turned away with bowed head.
Clearly such love as such a man can feel had been laid at the feet of queenly June Jenrys, who had learned the truth concerning him with amazement, horror, and loathing.
While the body of 'the brunette,' Harry, lay at the Morgue, a tramp, strange to the police and to the city, viewed it with the many others who gloat over the horrors of life, and who, having looked long, and with a startled face, pronounced the body to be that of a professional thief long wanted by the authorities 'out West.'
'He wuz a born bad un,' the man declared, 'an' a born thief. He couldn't stay anywhere long on that ercount. I'll bet he's picked more pockets than any lag at the Fair. He was a slick one. Liked the women, and most generally had a lot of friends 'mong 'em wherever he was; but he most generally left 'em the poorer when he got ready to quit. "Little Kid," that's what they used ter call him, 'cause he was little an' good-lookin'; but there wasn't a decent hair in his head.' And the tramp turned away with a malevolent look at the dead man.
And that was all we could learn about 'Harry,' for Smug, ready to talk on all other subjects, would utter no word as to the manner of Harry's death. 'He had left them,' that was all he would say; and by this we knew that Smug was doubtless the decoy who had lulled the suspicions of the victim and made it possible for the bolder spirits to do the deed of death.
Delbras was taken to France, and before the closing of the great Fair had met his fate at the hands of the French executioner.
Greenback Bob and Smug might have spent all their days in prison if they had possessed three lives apiece, so many were the counts against them. Their trials were separate, and came about after weeks of delay. There were no friends with long purses to 'influence' the jury, and unless that elastic pardoning power is stretched for their benefit, as has sometimes happened in similar cases, Greenback Bob and Smug will employ their future time honestly and for the good of the race.
Sir Carroll Rae had a very fair reason for remaining in America for a time; and so, placing the business of his newly acquired estates in the hands of the London solicitor who had been Sir Hugo's legal adviser, he remained in the World's Fair City, where, with minds unburdened, the entire party, with at first the exception of Gerald Trent, who was rapidly recovering in spite of the overwhelming attentions of his friends, took up the much-interrupted and pleasant employment of seeing the World's Fair, with eyes that saw no flaws, even in the Government Building.
The Trents did not linger when the invalid was well enough to travel, but hastened to the home where Mrs. Trent, an invalid still, but a happy one, awaited her son's return impatiently, after the long weeks of suspense.
There are no weddings in this tale of strange happenings, which, nevertheless, are not more strange than many of the unwritten annals of the Fair. But when the early autumn came, two pairs of lovers, chaperoned by a discreet little Quakeress, renewed their acquaintance with the Court of Honour, loitered in the shadows of the Peristyle, drifted upon the Lagoon, and, pacing its length, recalled anew the strange adventures and experiences of that wonderful, impossible, kaleidoscopic, yet utterly and charmingly real Midway Plaisance.
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BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
1. Shadowed by Three. 2. The Rival Detectives. 3. The Diamond Coterie. 4. The Detective's Daughter. 5. Out of a Labyrinth. 6. A Mountain Mystery. 7. Moina. 8. A Slender Clue. 9. A Dead Man's Step. 10. The Lost Witness.
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WARD, LOCK & BOWDEN, LTD.
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