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The White Moll
by Frank L. Packard
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It was not like that other night. There were few preparations to make. She had only to secure the keys and a flashlight, and to take with her the damp cloth that would remove the grime streaks from her face, and the box of composition that would enable her to replace them when she came back—and five minutes later she was on the street, making her way toward the lane, and, specifically, toward the deserted shed where she had hidden away her own clothing.



IX. ROOM NUMBER ELEVEN

Another five minutes, and in her own personality now, a slim, trim figure, neatly gloved, the heavy veil affording ample protection to her features, Rhoda Gray emerged from the shed and the lane, and started rapidly toward lower Sixth Avenue. And as she walked, her mind, released for the moment from the consideration of her immediate venture, began again, as it had so many times in the last three days, its striving and its searching after some loophole of escape from her own desperate situation. But only, as it ever did, confusion came—a chaos of things, contributory things and circumstances, and the personalities of those with whom this impossible existence had thrown her into contact. Little by little she was becoming acquainted with the personnel of the gang—in an impersonal way, mostly. Apart from Danglar, there was Shluker, who must of necessity be one of them; and Skeeny, the man who had been with Danglar in Shluker's room; and the Cricket, whom she had never seen; and besides these, there were those who were mentioned in the cipher message to-night, and detailed to the performance of the various acts and scenes that were to lead up to the final climax—which, she supposed, was the object and reason for the cipher message, in order that even those not actually employed might be thoroughly conversant with the entire plan, and ready to act intelligently if called upon. For there were others, of course, as witness herself, or, rather, Gypsy Nan, whose personality she had so unwillingly usurped.

It was vital, necessary, that she should know them all, and more than in that impersonal way, if she counted upon ever freeing herself of the guilt attributed to her. For she could see no other way but one—that of exposing and proving the guilt of this vile clique who now surrounded her, and who had actually instigated and planned the crime of which she was accused. And it was not an easy task!

And then there were those outside this unholy circle who kept forcing their existence upon her consciousness, because they, too, played an intimate part in the sordid drama which revolved around her, and whose end she could not foresee. There was, for instance—the Adventurer. She drew in her breath quickly. She felt the color creep slowly upward, and tinge her throat and cheeks—and then the little chin, strong and firm, was lifted in a sort of self-defiant challenge. True, the man had been a great deal in her thoughts, but that was only because her curiosity was piqued, and because on two occasions now she had had very real cause for gratitude to him. If it had not been for the Adventurer, she would even now be behind prison bars. Why shouldn't she think of him? She was not an ingrate! Why shouldn't she be interested? There was something piquantly mysterious about the man—who called himself an adventurer. She would even have given a good deal to know who he really was, and how he, too, came to be so conversant with Danglar's plans as fast as they were matured, and why, on those two particular occasions, he had not only gone out of his way to be of service to her, but had done so at very grave risk to himself. Of course, she was interested in him—in that way. How could she help it? But in any other way—the little chin was still tilted defiantly upward—even the suggestion was absurd. The man might be chivalrous, courageous, yes, outwardly, even a gentleman in both manner and appearance; he might be all those things, and, indeed, was—but he was a thief, a professional thief and crook. It seemed very strange, of course; but she was judging him, not alone from the circumstances under which they had met and been together, but from what he had given her to understand about himself.

The defiance went suddenly from her face; and, for a moment, her lips quivered a little helplessly. It was all so very strange, and so forbidding, and—and, perhaps she hadn't the stout heart that a man would have—but she did not understand, and she could not see her way through the darkness that was like a pall wrapped about her—and it was hard just to grope out amidst surroundings that revolted her and made her soul sick. It was hard to do this and—and still keep her courage and her faith.

She shook her head presently as she went along, shook it reprovingly at herself, and the little shoulders squared resolutely back. There must be, and there would be, a way out of it all, and meanwhile her position, bad as it was, was not without, at least, a certain compensation. There had been the Sparrow the other night whom she had been able to save, and to-night there was Nicky Viner. She could not be blind to that. Who knew! It might be for just such very purposes that her life had been turned into these new channels!

She looked around her sharply now. She had reached the lower section of Sixth Avenue. Perlmer's office, according to the address given, was still a little farther on. She walked briskly. It was very different to-night, thanks to her veil! It had been horrible that other night, when she had ventured out as the White Moll and had been forced to keep to the dark alleyways and lanes, and the unfrequented streets!

And now, through a jeweler's window, she noted the time, and knew a further sense of relief. It was even earlier than she had imagined. It was not quite ten o'clock; she would, at least, be close on the heels of Perlmer's departure from his office, if not actually ahead of time, and therefore she would be first on the scene, and—yes, this was the place; here was Perlmer's name amongst those on the name-plate at the street entrance of a small three-story building.

She entered the hallway, and found it deserted. It was a rather dirty and unkempt place, and very poorly lighted—a single incandescent alone burned in the hall. Perlmer's room, so the name-plate indicated, was Number Eleven, and on the next floor.

She mounted the stairs, and paused on the landing to look around her again. Here, too, the hallway was lighted by but a single lamp; and here, too, an air of desertion was in evidence. The office tenants, it was fairly obvious, were not habitual night workers, for not a ray of light came from any of the glass-paneled doors that flanked both sides of the passage. She nodded her head sharply in satisfaction. It was equally obvious that Perlmer had already gone. It would take her but a moment, then, unless the skeleton keys gave her trouble. She had never used a key of that sort, but—She moved quietly down the hallway, and, looking quickly about her to assure herself again that she was not observed, stopped before the door of Room Number Eleven.

A moment she hung there, listening; then she slipped the skeleton keys from her pocket, and, in the act of inserting one of them tentatively into the keyhole, she tried the door—and with a little gasp of surprise returned the keys hurriedly to her pocket. The door was unlocked; it had even opened an inch already under her hand.

Again she looked around her, a little startled now; and instinctively her hand in her pocket exchanged the keys for her revolver. But she saw nothing, heard nothing; and it was certainly dark inside there, and therefore only logical to conclude that the room was unoccupied.

Reassured, she pushed the door cautiously and noiselessly open, and stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. She stood still for an instant, and then the round, white ray of her flashlight went dancing inquisitively around the office. It was a medium-sized room, far from ornate in its appointments, bare floored, the furniture of the cheapest—Perlmer's clientele did not insist on oriental rugs and mahogany!

Her appraisal of the room, however, was but cursory. She was interested only in the flat-topped desk in front of her. She stepped quickly around it—and stopped-and a low cry of dismay came from her as she stared at the floor. The lower drawer had been completely removed, and now lay upturned beside the swivel chair, its contents strewn around in all directions.

And for a moment she stared at the scene, nonplused, discomfited. She had been so sure that she would be first—and she had not been first. There was no need to search amongst those papers on the floor. They told their own story. The ones she wanted were already gone.

In a numbed way, mechanically, she retreated to the door; and, with the flashlight playing upon it, she noticed for the first time that the lock had been roughly forced. It was but corroborative of the despoiled drawer; and, at the same time, the obvious reason why the door had not been relocked when whoever had come here had gone out again.

Whoever had come here! She could have laughed out hysterically. Was there any doubt as to who it was? One of Danglar's emissaries; the Cricket, perhaps-or perhaps even Danglar himself! They had seen to it that lack of prompt action, at least, would not be the cause of marring their plans.

A little dazed, overwrought, confused at the ground being cut from under her where she had been so confident of a sure footing, she made her way out of the building, and to the street—and for a block walked almost aimlessly along. And then suddenly she turned hurriedly into a cross street, and headed over toward the East Side. The experience had not been a pleasant one, and it had upset most thoroughly all her calculations; but it was very far, after all, from being disastrous. It meant simply that she must now find Nicky Viner himself and warn the man, and there was ample time in which to do that. The code message specifically stated midnight as the hour at which they proposed to favor old Viner with their unhallowed attentions, and as it was but a little after ten now, she had nearly a full two hours in which to accomplish what should not take her more than a few minutes.

Rhoda Gray's lips tightened a little, as she hurried along. Old Nicky Viner still lived in the same disreputable tenement in which he had lived on the night of that murder two years ago, and she could not ward off the thought that it had been—yes, and was—an ideal place for a murder, from the murderer's standpoint! The neighborhood was one of the toughest in New York, and the tenement itself was frankly nothing more than a den of crooks. True, she had visited there more than once, had visited Nicky Viner there; but she had gone there then as the White Moll, to whom even the most abandoned would have touched his cap. To-night it was very different—she went there as a woman. And yet, after all—she amended her own thoughts, smiling a little seriously—surely she could disclose herself as the White Moll there again to-night if the actual necessity arose, for surely crooks, pokegetters, shillabers and lags though they were, and though the place teemed with the dregs of the underworld, no one of them, even for the reward that might be offered, would inform against her to the police! And yet—again the mental pendulum swung the other way—she was not so confident of that as she would like to be. In a general way there could be no question but that she could count on the loyalty of those who lived there; but there were always those upon whom one could never count, those who were dead to all sense of loyalty, and alive only to selfish gain and interest—a human trait that, all too unfortunately, was not confined to those alone who lived in that shadowland outside the law. Her face, beneath the thick veil, relaxed a little. Well, she certainly did not intend to make a test case of it and disclose herself there as the White Moll, if she could help it! She would enter the tenement unnoticed if she could, and make her way to Nicky Viner's two miserable rooms on the second floor as secretively as she could. And, knowing the place as she did, she was quite satisfied that, if she were careful enough and cautious enough, she could both enter and leave without being seen by any one except, of course, Nicky Viner.

She walked on quickly. Five minutes, ten minutes passed; and now, in a narrow street, lighted mostly by the dull, yellow glow that seeped up from the sidewalk through basement entrances, queer and forbidding portals to sinister interiors, or filtered through the dirty windows of uninviting little shops that ran the gamut from Chinese laundries to oyster dens, she halted, drawn back in the shadows of a doorway, and studied a tenement building that was just ahead of her. That was where old Nicky Viner lived. A smile of grim whimsicality touched her lips. Not a light showed in the place from top to bottom. From its exterior it might have been uninhabited, even long deserted. But to one who knew, it was quite the normal condition, quite what one would expect. Those who lived there confined their activities mostly to the night; and their exodus to their labors began when the labors of the world at large ended—with the fall of darkness.

For a little while she watched the place, and kept glancing up and down the street; and then, seizing her opportunity when for half a block or more the street was free of pedestrians, she stole forward and reached the tenement door. It was half open, and she slipped quickly inside into the hall.

She stood here for a moment motionless; listening, striving to accommodate her eyes to the darkness, and instinctively her hand went to her pocket for the reassuring touch of her revolver. It was black back there in the hallway of Gypsy Nan's lodging; she had not thought that any greater degree of blackness could exist; but it was blacker here. Only the sense of touch promised to be of any avail. If one could have moved as noiselessly as a shadow moves, one could have passed another within arm's-length unseen. And so she listened, listened intently. And there was very little sound. Once she detected a footstep from the interior of some room as it moved across a bare floor; once she heard a door creak somewhere upstairs; and once, from some indeterminate direction, she thought she heard voices whispering together for a moment.

She moved suddenly then, abruptly, almost impulsively, but careful not to make the slightest noise. She dared not remain another instant inactive. It was what she had expected, what she had counted upon as an ally, this darkness, but she was not one who laughed, even in daylight, at its psychology. It was beginning to attack her now; her imagination to magnify even the actual dangers that she knew to be around her. And she must fight it off before it got a hold upon her, and before panic voices out of the blackness began to shriek and clamor in her ears, as she knew they would do with pitifully little provocation, urging her to turn and flee incontinently.

The staircase, she remembered, was at her right; and feeling out before her with her hands, she reached the stairs, and began to mount them. She went slowly, very slowly. They were bare, the stairs, and unless one were extremely careful they would creak out through the silence with a noise that could be heard from top to bottom of the tenement. But she was not making any noise; she dared not make any noise.

Halfway up she halted and pressed her body close against the wall. Was that somebody coming? She held her breath in expectation. There wasn't a sound now, but she could have sworn she had heard a footstep on the hallway above, or on the upper stairs. She bit her lips in vexation. Panic noises! That's what they were! That, and the thumping of her heart! Why was it that alarms and exaggerated fancies came and tried to unnerve her? What, after all, was there really to be afraid of? She had almost a clear two hours before she need even anticipate any actual danger here, and, if Nicky Viner were in, she would be away from the tenement again in another fifteen minutes at the latest.

Rhoda Gray went on again, and gaining the landing, halted once more. And here she smiled at herself with the tolerant chiding she would have accorded a child that was frightened without warrant. She could account for those whisperings and that footstep now. The door to the left, the one next to Nicky Viner's squalid, two-room apartment, was evidently partially open, and occasionally some one moved within; and the voices came from there too, and, low-toned to begin with, were naturally muffled into whispers by the time they reached her.

She had only, then, to step the five or six feet across the narrow hall in order to reach Nicky Viner's door, and unless by some unfortunate chance whoever was in that room happened to come out into the hall at the same moment, she would—Yes, it was all right! She was trying Nicky Viner's door now. It was unlocked, and as she opened it for the space of a crack, there showed a tiny chink of light, so faint and meager that it seemed to shrink timorously back again as though put to rout by the massed blackness—but it was enough to evidence the fact that Nicky Viner was at home. It was all simple enough now. Old Viner would undoubtedly make some exclamation at her sudden and stealthy entrance, but once she was inside without those in the next room either having heard or seen her, it would not matter.

Another inch she pushed the door open, another—and then another. And then quickly, silently, she tip-toed over the threshold and closed the door softly behind her. The light came from the inner room and shone through the connecting door, which was open, and there was movement from within, and a low, growling voice, petulant, whining, as though an old man were mumbling complainingly to himself. She smiled coldly. It was very like Nicky Viner—it was a habit of his to talk to himself, she remembered. And, also, she had never heard Nicky Viner do anything else but grumble and complain.

But she could not see fully into the other room, only into a corner of it, for the two doors were located diagonally across from one another, and her hand, in a startled way, went suddenly to her lips, as though mechanically to help choke back and stifle the almost overpowering impulse to cry out that arose within her. Nicky Viner was not alone in there! A figure had come into her line of vision in that other room, not Nicky Viner, not any of the gang—and she stared now in incredulous amazement, scarcely able to believe her eyes. And then, suddenly cool and self-possessed again, relieved in a curious way because the element of personal danger was as a consequence eliminated, she began to understand why she had been forestalled in her efforts at Perlmer's office when she had been so sure that she would be first upon the scene. It was not Danglar, or the Cricket, or Skeeny, or any of the band who had forestalled her—it was the Adventurer. That was the Adventurer standing in there now, side face to her, in Nicky Viner's inner room!



X. ON THE BRINK

Rhoda Gray moved quietly, inch by inch, along the side of the wall to gain a point of vantage more nearly opposite the lighted doorway. And then she stopped again. She could see quite clearly now—that is, there was nothing now to obstruct her view; but the light was miserable and poor, and the single gas-jet that wheezed and flickered did little more than disperse the shadows from its immediate neighborhood in that inner room. But she could see enough—she could see the bent and ill-clad figure of Nicky Viner, as she remembered him, an old, gray-bearded man, wringing his hands in groveling misery, while the mumbling voice, now whining and pleading, now servile, now plucking up courage to indulge in abuse, kept on without even, it seemed, a pause for breath. And she could see the Adventurer, quite unmoved, quite debonair, a curiously patient smile on his face, standing there, much nearer to her, his right hand in the side pocket of his coat, a somewhat significant habit of his, his left hand holding a sheaf of folded, legal-looking documents.

And then she heard the Adventurer speak.

"What a flow of words!" said the Adventurer, in a bored voice. "You will forgive me, my dear Mr. Viner, if I appear to be facetious, which I am not—but money talks."

"You are a thief, a robber!" The old gray-bearded figure rocked on its feet and kept wringing its hands. "Get out of here! Get out! Do you hear? Get out! You come to steal from a poor old man, and—"

"Must we go all over that again?" interrupted the Adventurer wearily. "I have not come to steal anything; I have simply come to sell you these papers, which I am quite sure, once you control yourself and give the matter a little calm consideration, you are really most anxious to buy—at any price.

"It's a lie!" the other croaked hoarsely. "Those papers are a lie! I am innocent. And I haven't got any money. None! I haven't any. I am poor—an old man—and poor."

Rhoda Gray felt the blood flush hotly to her cheeks. Somehow she could feel no sympathy for that cringing figure in there; but she felt a hot resentment toward that dapper, immaculately dressed and self-possessed young man, who stood there, silently now, tapping the papers with provoking coolness against the edge of the plain deal table in front of him. And somehow the resentment seemed to take a most peculiar phase. She resented the fact that she should feel resentment, no matter what the man did or said. It was as though, instead of anger, impersonal anger, at this low, miserable act of his, she felt ashamed of him. Her hand clenched fiercely as she crouched there against the wall. It wasn't true! She felt nothing of the sort! Why should she be ashamed of him? What was he to her? He was frankly a thief, wasn't he? And he was at his pitiful calling now—down to the lowest dregs of it. What else did she expect? Because he had the appearance of a gentleman, was it that her sense of gratitude for what she owed him had made her, deep down in her soul, actually cherish the belief that he really was one—made her hope it, and nourish that hope into belief? Tighter her hand clenched. Her lips parted, and her breath came in short, hard inhalations. Was it true? Was it all only an added misery, where it had seemed there could be none to add to her life in these last few days? Was it true that there was no price she would not have paid to have found him in any role but this abased one that he was playing now?

The Adventurer broke the silence.

"Quite so, my dear Mr. Viner!" he agreed smoothly. "It would appear, then, from what you say that I have been mistaken—even stupidly so, I am afraid. And in that case, I can only apologize for my intrusion, and, as you so delicately put it, get out." He slipped the papers, with a philosophic shrug of his shoulders, into his inside coat pocket, and took a backward step toward the door. "I bid you good-night, then, Mr. Viner. The papers, as you state, are doubtless of no value to you, so you can, of course, have no objection to my handing them over to the police, who—"

"No, no! Wait! Wait!" the other whispered wildly. "Wait!"

"Ah!" murmured the Adventurer.

"I—I'll"—the bent old figure was clawing at his beard—"I'll—"

"Buy them?" suggested the Adventurer pleasantly.

"Yes, I'll—I'll buy them. I—I've got a little money, only a little, all I've been able to save in years, a—a hundred dollars.

"How much did you say?" inquired the Adventurer coldly.

"Two hundred." The voice was a maudlin whine.

The Adventurer took another backward step toward the door.

"Three hundred!"

Another step.

"Five—a thousand!"

The Adventurer laughed suddenly.

"That's better!" he said. "Where you keep a thousand, you keep the rest. Where is the thousand, Mr. Viner?"

The bent figure hesitated a moment; and then, with what sounded like a despairing cry, pointed to the table.

"It's there," he whimpered. "God's curses on you, for the thief you are."

Rhoda Gray found her eyes fixed in sudden, strained fascination on the table—as, she imagined, the Adventurer's were too. It was bare of any covering, nor were there any articles on its surface, nor, as far as she could see, was there any drawer. And now the Adventurer, his right hand still in his coat pocket, and bulging there where she knew quite well it grasped his revolver, stepped abruptly to the table, facing the other with the table between them.

The bent old figure still hesitated, and then, with the despairing cry again, grasped at the top of the table, and jerked it toward him. The surface seemed to slide sideways a little way, a matter of two or three inches, and then stick there; but the Adventurer, in an instant, had thrust the fingers of his left hand into the crevice. He drew out a number of loose banknotes, and thrust his fingers in again for a further supply.

"Open it wider!" he commanded curtly.

"I—I'm trying to," the other mumbled, and bent down to peer under the table. "It's stuck. The catch is underneath, and—"

It seemed to Rhoda Gray, gazing into that dimly lighted room, as though she were suddenly held spellbound as in some horrible and amazing trance. Like a hideous jack-in-the-box the gray head popped above the level of the table again, and quick as a flash, a revolver was thrust into the Adventurer's face; and the Adventurer, caught at a disadvantage, since his hand in his coat pocket was below the intervening table top, stood there as though instantaneously transformed into some motionless, inanimate thing, his fingers still gripping at another sheaf of banknotes that he had been in the act of scooping out from the narrow aperture.

And then again Rhoda Gray stared, and stared now as though bereft of her senses; and upon her crept, cold and deadly, a fear and a terror that seemed to engulf her very soul itself. That head that looked like a jack-in-the-box was gone; the gray beard seemed suddenly to be shorn away, and the gray hair too, and to fall and flutter to the table, and the bent shoulders were not bent any more, and it wasn't Nicky Viner at all—only a clever, a wonderfully clever, impersonation that had been helped out by the poor and meager light. And terror gripped at her again, for it wasn't Nicky Viner. Those narrowed eyes, that leering, gloating face, those working lips were Danglar's.

And, as from some far distance, dulled because her consciousness was dulled, she heard Danglar speak.

"Perhaps you'll take your hand out of that right-hand coat pocket of yours now!" sneered Danglar. "And take it out—empty!"

The Adventurer's face, as nearly as Rhoda Gray could see, had not moved a muscle. He obeyed now, coolly, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Danglar appeared to experience no further trouble with the surface of the table now. He suddenly jerked it almost off, displaying what Rhoda Gray now knew to be the remainder of the large package of banknotes he had taken from the garret earlier in the evening.

"Help yourself to the rest!" he invited caustically. "There isn't fifty thousand there, but you are quite welcome to all there is—in return for those papers."

The Adventurer was apparently obsessed with an inspection of his finger nails; he began to polish those of one hand with the palm of the other.

"Quite so, Danglar!" he said coolly. "I admit it—I am ashamed of myself. I hate to think that I could be caught by you; but I suppose I can find some self-extenuating circumstances. You seem to have risen to an amazingly higher order of intelligence. In fact, for you, Danglar, it is not at all bad!" He went on polishing his nails. "Would you mind taking that thing out of my face? Even you ought to be able to handle it effectively a few inches farther away."

Under the studied insult Danglar's face had grown a mottled red.

"Damn you!" he snarled. "I'll take it away when I get good and ready; and by that time I'll have you talking out of the other side of your mouth! See? Do you know what you're up against, you slick dude?"

"I have a fairly good imagination," replied the Adventurer smoothly.

"You have, eh?" mimicked Danglar wickedly. "Well, you don't need to imagine anything! I'll give you the straight goods so's there won't be any chance of a mistake. And never mind about the higher order of intelligence! It was high enough, and a little to spare, to make you walk into the trap! I hoped I'd get you both, you and your she-pal, the White Moll; that you'd come here together—but I'm not kicking. It's a pretty good start to get you!"

"Is it necessary to make a speech?" complained the Adventurer monotonously. "I can't help listening, of course."

"You can make up your mind for yourself when I'm through—whether it's necessary or not!" retorted Danglar viciously. "I've got a little proposition to put up to you, and maybe it'll help you to add two and two together if I let you see all the cards. Understand? You've had your run of luck lately, quite a bit of it, haven't you, you and the White Moll? Well, it's my turn now! You've been queering our game to the limit, curse you!" Danglar thrust his working face a little farther over the table, and nearer to the Adventurer. "Well, what was the answer? Where did you get the dope you made your plays with? It was a cinch, wasn't it, that there was a leak somewhere in our own crowd?" He laughed out suddenly. "You poor fool! Did you think you could pull that sort of stuff forever? Did you? Well, then, how do you like the 'leak' to-night? You get the idea, don't you? Everybody, every last soul that is in with us, got the details of what they thought was a straight play to-night—and it leaked to you, as I knew it would; and you walked into the trap, as I knew you would, because the bait was good and juicy, and looked the easiest thing to annex that ever happened. Fifty thousand dollars! Fifty thousand—nothing! All you had to do was to get a few papers that it wouldn't bother any crook to get, even a near—crook like you, and then come here and screw the money out of a helpless old man, who was supposed to have been discovered to be a miser. Easy, wasn't it? Only Nicky Viner wasn't a miser! We chose Nicky because of what happened two years ago. It made things look pretty near right, didn't it? Looked straight, that part about Perlmer, too, didn't it? That was the come-on. Perlmer never saw those papers you've got there in your pocket. I doped them out, and we planted them nice and handy where you could get them without much trouble in the drawer of Perlmer's desk, and—"

"It's a long story," interrupted the Adventurer, with quiet insolence.

"It's got a short ending," said Danglar, with an ugly leer. "We could have bumped you off when you went for those papers, but if you went that far you'd come farther, and that wasn't the place to do it, and we couldn't cover ourselves there the way we could here. This is the place. We brought that trick table here a while ago, as soon as we had got rid of Nicky Viner. That was the only bit of stage setting we had to do to make the story ring true right up to the curtain, in case it was necessary. It wouldn't have been necessary if you and the White Moll had both come together, for then you would neither of you have got any further than that other room. It would have ended there. But we weren't taking any chances. I'll pay you the compliment of admitting that we weren't counting on getting you off your guard any too easily if, as it happened, you came alone, for, being alone, or if either of you were alone, there was that little proposition that had to be settled, instead of just knocking you on the head out there in the dark in that other room; and so, as I say, we weren't overlooking any bets on account of the little trouble it took to plant that table and the money. We tried to think of everything!" Danglar paused for a moment to mock the Adventurer with narrowed eyes. "That's the story; here's the end. I hoped I'd get you both together, you and the White Moll. I didn't. But I've got you. I didn't get you both—and that's what gives you a chance for your life, because she's worth more to us than you are. If you'd been together, you would have gone out-together. As it is, I'll see that you don't do any more harm anyway, but you get one chance. Where is she? If you answer that, you will, of course, answer a minor question and locate that 'leak', for me, that I was speaking about a moment ago. But we'll take the main thing first. And you can take your choice between a bullet and a straight answer. Where is the White Moll?"

Rhoda Gray's hand felt Out along the wall for support. Was this a dream, some ghastly, soul-terrifying nightmare! Danglar! Those working lips! That callous viciousness, that leer in the degenerate face. It seemed to bring a weakness to her limbs, and seek to rob her of the strength to stand. She could not even hope against hope; she knew that Danglar was in deadly earnest. Danglar would not have the slightest compunction, let alone hesitation, in carrying out his threat. Terrified now, her eyes sought the Adventurer. Didn't the Adventurer know Danglar as she knew him, didn't he realize that there was deadly earnestness behind Danglar's words? Was the man mad, that he stood there utterly unmoved, as though he had no consideration on earth other than those carefully manicured finger nails of his!

And then Danglar spoke again.

"Do you notice anything special about this gun I'm holding on you?" he demanded, in low menace.

The Adventurer did not even look up.

"Oh, yes," he said indifferently. "I fancy you got it out of a dime novel, didn't you? One of those silencer things."

"Yes," said Danglar grimly; "one of those silencer things. Where is she?"

The Adventurer made no answer.

The color in Danglar's face deepened.

"I'll make things even a little plainer to you," he said with brutal coolness. "There are two men in our organization from whom it is absolutely impossible that that leak could have come. Those two men followed you from Perlmer's office to this place. They are in the next room now waiting for me to get through with you, and ready for anything if they are needed. But they won't be needed. That's not the way it works out. This gun won't make much noise, and it isn't likely to arouse the inmates of this dive, but even if it does, it doesn't matter very much—we aren't going out by the front door. The two of them, the minute they hear the shot, slip in here, and lock the door—you see it's got a good, husky bolt on it—and then we beat it by the fire escape that runs past that window there. Get the idea? And don't kid yourself into thinking that I am taking any risk with the consequences on account of the coroner having got busy because a man was found here dead on the floor. Nicky Viner stands for that. It isn't the first time he's been suspected of murder. See? Nicky was easy. He'd crawl on his hands and knees from the Battery to Harlem any time if you held a little money in front of his nose. He's been fooled up to the eyes with a faked-up message that he's to deliver secretly to some faked-up crooks out West. He's just about starting away on the train now. And that's where the police nab him—running away from the murder he's pulled in his room here to-night. Looks kind of bad for Nicky Viner—eh? We should worry! It cost a hundred dollars and his ticket. Cheap, wasn't it? I guess you're worth that much to us."

A dull horror seized upon Rhoda Gray. It seemed to clog and confuse her mind. She fought it frantically, striving to think, and to think clearly. Every detail seemed to have been planned with Satanic foresight and ingenuity, and yet—and yet—Yes, in one little thing, Danglar had made a mistake. That was why she was here now; that was why those men in that next room had not been out in the hall on guard, or even out in the street on watch for her. Danglar had naturally gone upon the supposition that the Adventurer and herself worked hand in glove; whereas they were as much in the dark concerning each other's movements as Danglar himself was. Therefore Danglar, and logically enough from his viewpoint, had jumped to the conclusion that, since they had not come together, only one of them, the Adventurer, was acting in the affair to-night, and—Danglar's voice was rasping in her ears.

"I'm not going to stay here all night!" he snarled. "You've got one chance. I've told you what it is. You're lucky to have it. We'd sooner have you out of the way for keeps. I'd rather drop you in your tracks than let you live. Where is the White Moll?"

The Adventurer was side face to the doorway again, and Rhoda Gray saw him smile contemptuously at Danglar now.

"Really," he said blandly, "I haven't the slightest idea in the world."

Danglar laughed ironically.

"You lie!" he flung out hoarsely. "Do you think you can get away with that? Well, think again! Sooner or later, it will be all the same whether you talk or not. We caught you to-night in a trap; we'll catch her in another. Our hand doesn't show here. She'll think that Nicky Viner was a little too much for you, that's all. Come on, now—quick! Are you fool enough to misunderstand? The 'don't know' stuff won't get you by!"

"The misunderstanding seems to be on your side." There was a cold, irritating deliberation in the Adventurer's voice. "I repeat that I do not know where the young lady you refer to could be found; but I did not make that statement with any idea that you would believe it. To a cur, I suppose it is necessary to add that, even if I did know, I should take pleasure in seeing you damned before I told you."

Danglar's face was like a devil's. His revolver held a steady bead on the Adventurer's head.

"I'll give you a last chance." He spoke through closed teeth. "I'll fire when I count three. One!"

A horrible fascination held Rhoda Gray. If she cried out, it was more likely than not to cause Danglar to fire on the instant. It would not save the Adventurer in any case. It would be but the signal, too, for those two men in the next room to rush in here.

"Two!"

It seemed as though, not in the hope that it would do any good, but because she was going mad with horror, that she would scream out until the place rang and rang again with her outcries. Even her soul was in frantic panic. Quick! Quick! She must act! She must! But how? Was there only one way? She was conscious that she had drawn her revolver as though by instinct. Danglar's life, or the Adventurer's! But she shrank from taking life. Her lips were breathing a prayer. They had called her a crack shot back there in South America, when she had hunted and ridden with her father. It was easy enough to hit Danglar, but that might mean Danglar's life; it was not so easy to hit Danglar's arm, or Danglar's hand, or the revolver Danglar held, and if she risked that and missed, she...

"Thr—"

There was the roar of a report that went racketing through the silence like a cannon shot, and the short, vicious tongue-flame from Rhoda Gray's revolver muzzle stabbed through the black. There was a scream of mingled surprise and fury, and the revolver in Danglar's hand clattered to the floor. She saw the Adventurer spring, quick as a panther, at the other, and saw him whip blow after blow with terrific force full into Danglar's face; she heard a rush of feet coming from the corridor behind her; and she flung herself forward into the inner room, and, panting, snatched at the door and slammed it shut, and groping for the bolt, found it, and shot it home in its grooves.

And she stood there, weak for the moment, and drew her hand across her eyes—and behind her they pounded on the door, and there came a burst of oaths; and in front of her the Adventurer was smiling gravely as he covered Danglar with Danglar's own revolver; and Danglar, as though dazed and half stunned from the blows he had received, rocked unsteadily upon his feet. And then her eyes widened a little. The pounding on the door, the shouts, the noise, was beginning to arouse what inmates there were in the tenement, and there wasn't an instant to lose—but the Adventurer now was calmly gathering up, to the last one, and pocketing them, the banknotes with which Danglar had baited his trap. And as he crammed the money into his pockets, he spoke to her, with a curious softness, a great, strange gentleness in his voice:

"I owe you my life, Miss Gray. That was a wonderful shot. You knocked the revolver from his hand without even grazing his fingers. A very wonderful shot, and—will you let me say it?—you are a very wonderful woman."

"Oh, quick!" she whispered wildly. "I am afraid this door will not hold."

"There is the window, and the fire escape, so our friend here was good enough to inform me," said the Adventurer, as he composedly pocketed the last dollar. "Will you open the window, Miss Gray, if you please? I am afraid I hit Mr. Danglar a little ungently, and as he is still somewhat groggy, I fancy he will need a little assistance. I imagine"—he caught Danglar suddenly by the collar of his coat as Rhoda Gray ran to the window and flung it up, and rushed the man unceremoniously across the room—"I imagine it would be a mistake to leave him behind. He might open the door, or even be unpleasant enough to throw something down on us from above; also he should serve us very well as a hostage. Will you go first, please, Miss Gray?"

She climbed quickly over the sill to the iron platform. Danglar was dragged through by the Adventurer, mumbling, and evidently still in a half-dazed condition. Windows were opening here and there. From back inside the room, the blows rained more heavily upon the door—and now there came the rip and rend of wood, as though a panel had crashed in.

"Hurry, please, Miss Gray!" prompted the Adventurer.

It was dark, almost too dark to see her footing. She felt her way down. It was only one story above the ground, and it did not take long; but it seemed hours since she had fired that shot, though she knew the time had been measured by scarcely more than a minute. And now, on the lower platform, waiting for that queer, double, twisting shadow of the two men to join her, she heard the Adventurers s voice ring out sharply:

"This is your chance, Danglar! I didn't waste the time to bring you along because it afforded me any amusement. They've found their heads at last, and gone to the next window, instead of wasting time on that door. They can't reach the fire escape there, but if they fire a single shot—you go out! You'd better tell them so—and tell them quick!"

And then Danglar's voice shrieked out in sudden, "for God's sake, don't fire!"

They were all on the lower platform together now. The Adventurer was pressing the muzzle of his revolver into the small of Danglar's back, and was still supporting the man by the collar of his coat.

"I think," said the Adventurer abruptly, "that we can now dispense with Mr. Danglar's services, and I am sure a little cool night air out here on the fire escape will do him good. Miss Gray—would you mind?—there's a pair of handcuffs in my left-hand coat pocket."

Handcuffs! She could have laughed out idiotically. Handcuffs! They seemed the most incongruous things in the world for the Adventurer to have, and—She felt mechanically in his pocket, and handed them to him.

There was a click as a cuff was snapped over Danglar's wrist, another as the other cuff was snapped shut around the iron hand-railing of the fire escape. The act seemed to arouse Danglar, both mentally and physically. He tore and wrenched at the steel links now, and burst suddenly, raving, into oaths.

"Hold your tongue, Danglar!" ordered the Adventurer in cold menace; and as the other, cowed, obeyed, the Adventurer swung himself over the platform and dropped to the ground. "Come, Miss Gray. Drop! I'll catch you!" he called in a low voice. "One step takes us around the corner of the tenement into the lane, and Mr. Danglar won't let them fire at us before we can make that—when we could still fire at him!"

She obeyed him, swinging at arm's-length. She felt his hands fold about her in a firm grasp as she let go her hold, and she caught her breath suddenly, she did not know why, and felt the hot blood sweep her face—and then she was standing on the ground.

"Now!" he whispered. "Together!"

They sped around the corner of the tenement. A yell from Danglar followed them. An echoing yell from above answered—and then a fusillade of abortive shots, and the sound as of boot heels clattering on the iron rungs of the fire escape; and then, more faintly, for they were putting distance behind them as fast as they could run, an excited outburst of profanity and exclamations.

"They won't follow!" panted the Adventurer. "Those shots of theirs outdoors will have alarmed the police, and they'll try and get Danglar free first. It's lucky your shot inside wasn't heard by the patrolman on the beat. I was afraid of that. But we're safe now—from Danglar's crowd, at least."

But still they ran. They crossed an intersecting street, and continued on along the lane; then swerving into the next intersecting street, moderated their pace to a rapid walk—and stopped finally only as Rhoda Gray drew suddenly into the shadows of another alley-way, and held out her hand. They were both safe now, as he had said. And there were so many reasons why, though her resolution faltered a little, she should go the rest of the way alone. She was not sure that she trusted this strange "gentleman," who was a thief with his pockets crammed even now with the money that had lured him almost to his death; but, too, she was not altogether sure that she distrusted him. But all that was secondary. She must, as soon as she could, get back to Gypsy Nan's garret. Like that other night, she dared not take the risk that Danglar, by any chance, might return there—and find her gone after what had just happened. The man would be beside himself with fury, suspicious of everything-and suspicion would be fatal in its consequences for her. And so she must go. And she could not become Gypsy Nan again with the Adventurer looking on!

"We part here," she said a little unsteadily. "Good-night!"

"Oh, I say, Miss Gray!" he protested quickly. "You don't mean that! Why, look here, I haven't had a chance to tell you what I think, or what I feel, about what you've done to-night—for me."

She shook her head.

"There is nothing you need say," she answered quietly. "We are only quits. You have done quite as much for me."

"But, see here, Miss Gray!" he pleaded. "Can't we come to some understanding? We seem to have a jolly lot in common. Is it quite necessary, really necessary, that you should keep me off at arm's-length? Couldn't you let down the bars just a little? Couldn't you tell me, for instance, where I could find you in case of—real necessity?"

She shook her head again.

"No," she said. "It is impossible."

He drew a little closer. A sudden earnestness deepened his voice, made it rasp a little, as though it were not wholly within control.

"And suppose, Miss Gray, that I refuse to leave you, or to let you go, now that I have you here, unless you give me more of your confidence? What then?"

"The other night," she said slowly, "you informed me, among other things, that you were a gentleman. I believed the other things."

He did not answer for a moment—and then he smiled whimsically.

"You score, Miss Gray," he murmured.

"Good night, then!" she said again. "I will go by the alley here; you by the street."

"No! Wait!" he said gravely. "If nothing will change your mind—and I shall not be importunate, for, as we have met three times now through the same peculiar chain of circumstances, I know we shall meet again—I have something to tell you, before you go. As you already know, I went to Gypsy Nan's the night after I first saw you, because I felt you needed help. I went there in the hope that she would know where to find you, and, failing in that, I left a message for you in the hope that, since she had tricked Rorke in your behalf, you would find means of communicating with her again. But all that is entirely changed now. Your participation in that Hayden-Bond affair the other night makes Gypsy Nan's place the last in all New York to which you should go."

Rhoda Gray stared through the semi-darkness, suddenly startled, searching the Adventurer's face.

"What do you mean?" she demanded quickly.

"Just this," he answered. "That where before I hoped you would go there, I have spent nearly all the time since then in haunting the vicinity of Gypsy Nan's house to warn you away in case you should try to reach her."

"I—I don't understand," she said a little uncertainly.

"It is simple enough," he said. "Gypsy Nan is now one of those you have most to fear. Gypsy Nan is merely a disguise. She is no more Gypsy Nan than you are."

Rhoda Gray caught her breath.

"Not Gypsy Nan!" she repeated—and fought to keep her voice in control. "Who is she, then?"

The Adventurer laughed shortly.

"She is quite closely connected with that gentleman we left airing himself on the fire escape," he said grimly. "Gypsy Nan is Danglar's wife."

It was very strange, very curious—the alleyway seemed suddenly to be revolving around and around, and it seemed to bring her a giddiness and a faintness. The Adventurer was standing there before her, but she did not see him any more; she could only see, as from a brink upon which she tottered, a gulf, abysmal in its horror, that yawned before her.

"Thank you—thank you for the warning." Was that her voice speaking so calmly and dispassionately? "I will remember it. But I must go now. Good-night again!"

He said something. She did not know what. She only knew that she was hurrying along the alleyway now, and that he had made no effort to stop her, and that she was grateful to him for that, and that her composure, strained to the breaking point, would have given away if she had remained with him another instant. Danglar's wife! It was dark here in the alley-way, and she did not know where it led to. But did it matter? And she stumbled as she went along. But it was not the physical inability to see that made her stumble—it was a brain-blindness that fogged her soul itself. His wife! Gypsy Nan was Danglar's wife.



XI. SOME OF THE LESSER BREED

Danglar's wife! It had been a night of horror; a night without sleep; a night, after the guttering candle had gone out, when the blackness of the garret possessed added terrors created by an imagination which ran riot, and which she could not control. She could have fled from it, screaming in panic-stricken hysteria—but there had been no other place as safe as that was. Safe! The word seemed to reach the uttermost depths of irony. Safe! Well, it was true, wasn't it?

She had not wanted to return there; her soul itself had revolted against it; but she had dared to do nothing else. And all through that night, huddled on the edge of the cot bed, her fingers clinging tenaciously to her revolver as though afraid for even an instant to relinquish it from her grasp, listening, listening, always listening for a footstep that might come up from that dark hall below, the footstep that would climax all the terrors that had surged upon her, her mind had kept on reiterating, always reiterating those words of the Adventurer—"Gypsy Nan is Danglar's wife."

And they were still with her, those words. Daylight had come again, and passed again, and it was evening once more; but those words remained, insensible to change, immutable in their foreboding. And Rhoda Gray, as Gypsy Nan, shuddered now as she scuffled along a shabby street deep in the heart of the East Side. She was Danglar's wife—by proxy. At dawn that morning when the gray had come creeping into the miserable attic through the small and dirty window panes, she had fallen on her knees and thanked God she had been spared that footstep. It was strange! She had poured out her soul in passionate thankfulness then that Danglar had not come—and now she was deliberately on her way to seek Danglar himself! But the daylight had done more than disperse the actual, physical darkness of the past night; it had brought, if not a measure of relief, at least a sense of guidance, and the final decision, perilous though it was, which she meant now to put into execution.

There was no other way—unless she were willing to admit defeat, to give up everything, her own good name, her father's name, to run from it all and live henceforth in hiding in some obscure place far away, branded in the life she would have left behind her as a despicable criminal and thief. And she could not, would not, do this while her intuition, at least, inspired her with the faith to believe that there was still a chance of clearing herself. It was the throw of the dice, perhaps—but there was no other way. Danglar, and those with him, were at the bottom of the crime of which she was held guilty. She could not go on as she had been doing, merely in the hope of stumbling upon some clew that would serve to exonerate her. There was not time enough for that. Danglar's trap set for herself and the Adventurer last night in old Nicky Viner's room proved that. And the fact that the woman who had originally masqueraded as Gypsy Nan—as she, Rhoda Gray, was masquerading now—was Danglar's wife, proved it a thousandfold more. She could no longer remain passive, arguing with herself that it took all her wits and all her efforts to maintain herself in the role of Gypsy Nan, which temporarily was all that stood between her and prison bars. To do so meant the certainty of disaster sooner or later, and if it meant that, the need for immediate action of an offensive sort was imperative.

And so her mind was made up. Her only chance was to find her way into the full intimacy of the criminal band of which Danglar was apparently the head; to search out its lair and its personnel; to reach to the heart of it; to know Danglar's private movements, and to discover where he lived so that she might watch him. It surely was not such a hopeless task! True, she knew by name and sight scarcely more than three of this crime clique, but at least she had a starting point from which to work. There was Shluker's junk shop where she had turned the tables on Danglar and Skeeny on the night they had planned to make the Sparrow their pawn. It was obvious, therefore, that Shluker himself, the proprietor of the junk shop, was one of the organization. She was going to Shluker's now.

Rhoda Gray halted suddenly, and stared wonderingly a little way up the block ahead of her. As though by magic a crowd was collecting around the doorway of a poverty-stricken, tumble-down frame house that made the corner of an alleyway. And where but an instant before the street's jostling humanity had been immersed in its wrangling with the push-cart men who lined the curb, the carts were now deserted by every one save their owners, whose caution exceeded their curiosity—and the crowd grew momentarily larger in front of the house.

She drew Gypsy Nan's black, greasy shawl a little more closely around her shoulders, and moved forward again. And now, on the outskirts of the crowd, she could see quite plainly. There were two or three low steps that led up to the doorway, and a man and woman were standing there. The woman was wretchedly dressed, but with most strange incongruity she held in her hand, obviously subconsciously, obviously quite oblivious of it, a huge basket full to overflowing with, as nearly as Rhoda Gray could judge, all sorts of purchases, as though out of the midst of abject poverty a golden shower had suddenly descended upon her. And she was gray, and well beyond middle age, and crying bitterly; and her free hand, whether to support herself or with the instinctive idea of supporting her companion, was clutched tightly around the man's shoulders. And the man rocked unsteadily upon his feet. He was tall and angular, and older than the woman, and cadaverous of feature, and miserably thin of shoulder, and blood trickled over his forehead and down one ashen, hollow cheek—and above the excited exclamations of the crowd Rhoda Gray heard him cough.

Rhoda Gray glanced around her. Where scarcely a second before she had been on the outer fringe of the crowd, she now appeared to be in the very center of it. Women were pushing up behind her, women who wore shawls as she did, only the shawls were mostly of gaudy colors; and men pushed up behind her, mostly men of swarthy countenance, who wore circlets of gold in their ears; and, brushing her skirts, seeking vantage points, ragged, ill-clad children wriggled and wormed their way deeper into the press. It was a crowd composed almost entirely of the foreign element which inhabited that quarter—and the crowd chattered and gesticulated with ever-increasing violence. She did not understand. And she could not see so well now. That pitiful tableau in the doorway was being shut out from her by a man, directly in front of her, who had hoisted a half-naked tot of three or four to a reserved seat upon his head.

And then a young man, one whom, from her years in the Bad Lands as the White Moll, she recognized as a hanger-on at a gambling hell in the Chatham Square district, came toward her, plowing his way, contemptuous of obstructions, out of the crowd.

Rhoda Gray, as Gypsy Nan, hailed him out of the corner of her mouth.

"Say, wot's de row?" she demanded.

The young man grinned.

"Somebody pinched a million from de old guy!" He shifted his cigarette with a deft movement of his tongue from one side of his mouth to the other, and grinned again. "Can youse beat it! Accordin' to him, he had enough coin to annex de whole of Noo Yoik! De moll's his wife. He went out to hell-an'-gone somewhere for a few years huntin' gold while de old girl starved. Den back he comes an' blows in to-day wid his pockets full, an' de old girl grabs a handful, an' goes out to buy up all de grub in sight 'cause she ain't had none for so long. An' w'en she comes back she finds de old geezer gagged an' tied in a chair, an' some guy's hit him a crack on de bean an' flown de coop wid de mazuma. But youse had better get out of here before youse gets run over! Dis ain't no place for an old skirt like youse. De bulls'll be down here on de hop in a minute, an' w'en dis mob starts sprinklin' de street wid deir fleetin' footsteps, youse are likely to get hurt. See?" The young man started to force his way through the crowd again. "Youse had better cut loose, mother!" he warned over his shoulder.

It was good advice. Rhoda Gray took it. She had scarcely reached the next block when the crowd behind her was being scattered pell-mell and without ceremony in all directions by the police, as the young man had predicted. She went on. There was nothing that she could do. The man's face and the woman's face haunted her. They had seemed stamped with such abject misery and despair. But there was nothing that she could do. It was one of those sore and grievous cross-sections out of the lives of the swarming thousands down here in this quarter which she knew so intimately and so well. And there were so many, many of those cross-sections! Once, in a small, pitifully meager and restricted way, she had been able to help some of these hurt lives, but now—Her lips tightened a little. She was going to Shluker's junk shop.

Her forehead gathered in little furrows as she walked along. She had weighed the pros and cons of this visit a hundred times already during the day; but even so, instinctively to reassure herself lest some apparently minor, but nevertheless fatally vital, point might have been overlooked, her mind reverted to it again. From Shluker's viewpoint, whether Gypsy Nan was in the habit of mingling with or visiting the other members of the gang or not—a matter upon which she could not even hazard a guess—her visit to-night must appear entirely logical. There was last night—and, a natural corollary, her equally natural anxiety on her supposed husband's account, providing, of course, that Shluker was aware that Gypsy Nan was Danglar's wife. But even if Shluker did not know that, he knew at least that Gypsy Nan was one of the gang, and, as such, he must equally accept it as natural that she should be anxious and disturbed over what had happened. She would be on safe ground either way. She would pretend to know only what had appeared in the papers; in other words, that the police, attracted to the spot by the sound of revolver shots, had found Danglar handcuffed to the fire escape of a well-known thieves' resort in an all too well-known and questionable locality.

A smile came spontaneously. It was quite true. That was where the Adventurer had left Danglar—handcuffed to the fire escape! The smile vanished. The humor of the situation was not long-lived; it ended there. Danglar was as cunning as the proverbial fox; and Danglar, at that moment, in desperate need of explaining his predicament in some plausible way to the police, had, as the expression went, run true to form. Danglar's story, as reported by the papers, even rose above his own high-water mark of vicious cunning, because it played upon a chord that appealed instantly to the police; and it rang true, not only because what the police could find out about him made it likely, but also because it contained a modicum of truth in itself; and, furthermore, Danglar had scored on still another count in that his story must stimulate the police into renewed activities as his unsuspecting allies in the one thing, the one aim and object that, at that moment, must obsess him above all others—the discovery of herself, the White Moll.

It was ingeniously simple, Danglar's smooth and oily lie! He had been walking along the street, he had stated, when he saw a woman, as she passed under a street lamp, who he thought resembled the White Moll. To make sure, he followed her—at a safe distance, as he believed. She entered the tenement. He hesitated. He knew the reputation of the place, which bore out his first impression that the woman was the one he thought she was; but he did not want to make a fool of himself by calling in the police until he was positive of her identity, so he finally followed her inside, and heard her go upstairs, and crept up after her in the dark. And then, suddenly, he was set upon and hustled into a room. It was the White Moll, all right; and the shots came from her companion, a man whom he described minutely—the description being that of the Adventurer, of course. They seemed to think that he, Danglar, was a plain-clothes man, and tried to sicken him of his job by frightening him. And then they forced him through the window and down the fire escape, and fastened him there with handcuffs to mock the police, and the White Moll's companion had deliberately fired some more shots to make sure of bringing the police to the scene, and then the two of them had run for it.

Rhoda Gray's eyes darkened angrily. The newspapers said that Danglar had been temporarily held by the police, though his story was believed to be true, for certainly the man would make no mistake as to the identity of the White Moll, since his life, what the police could find out about it, coincided with his own statements, and he would naturally therefore have seen her many times in the Bad Lands when she was working there under cover of her despicable role of sweet and innocent charity. Danglar had made no pretensions to self-righteousness—he was too cute for that. He admitted that he had no "specific occupation," that he hung around the gambling hells a good deal, that he followed the horses—that, frankly, he lived by his wits. He had probably given some framed-up address to the police, but, if so, the papers had not stated where it was. Rhoda Gray's face, under the grime of Gypsy Nan's disguise, grew troubled and perplexed. Neither had the papers, even the evening papers, stated whether Danglar had as yet been released—they had devoted the rest of their space to the vilification of the White Moll. They had demanded in no uncertain tones a more conclusive effort on the part of the authorities to bring her, and with her now the man in the case, as they called the Adventurer, to justice, and...

The thought of the Adventurer caused her mind to swerve sharply off at a tangent. Where he had piqued and aroused her curiosity before, he now, since last night, seemed more complex a character than ever. It was strange, most strange, the way their lives, his and hers, had become interwoven! She had owed him much; but last night she had repaid him and squared accounts. She had told him so. She owed him nothing more. If a sense of gratitude had once caused her to look upon him with—with—She bit her lips. What was the use of that? Had it become so much a part of her life, so much a habit, this throwing of dust in the eyes of others, this constant passing of herself off for some one else, this constant deception, warranted though it might be, that she must now seek to deceive herself! Why not frankly admit to her own soul, already in the secret, that she cared in spite of herself—for a thief? Why not admit that a great hurt had come, one that no one but herself would ever know, a hurt that would last for always because it was a wound that could never be healed?

A thief! She loved a thief. She had fought a bitter, stubborn battle with her common sense to convince herself that he was not a thief. She had snatched hungrily at the incident that centered around those handcuffs, so opportunely produced from the Adventurer's pocket. She had tried to argue that those handcuffs not only suggested, but proved, he was a police officer in disguise, working on some case in which Danglar and the gang had been mixed up; and, as she tried to argue in this wise, she tried to shut her eyes to the fact that the same pocket out of which the handcuffs came was at exactly the same moment the repository of as many stolen banknotes as it would hold. She had tried to argue that the fact that he was so insistently at work to defeat Danglar's plans was in his favor; but that argument, like all others, came quickly and miserably to grief. Where the "leak" was, as Danglar called it, that supplied the Adventurer with foreknowledge of the gang's movements, she had no idea, save that perhaps the Adventurer and some traitor in the gang were in collusion for their own ends—and that certainly did not lift the Adventurer to any higher plane, or wash from him the stigma of thief.

She clenched her hands. It was all an attempt at argument without the basis of a single logical premise. It was silly and childish! Why hadn't the man been an ordinary, plain, common thief and criminal—and looked like one? She would never have been attracted to him then even through gratitude! Why should he have all the graces and ear-marks of breeding? Why should he have all the appearances of gentleman? It seemed a needlessly cruel and additional blow that fate had dealt her, when already she was living through days and nights of fear, of horror, of trepidation, so great that at times it seemed she would literally lose her reason. If he had not looked, yes, and at times, acted, so much like a thorough-bred gentleman, there would never have come to her this hurt, this gulf between them that could not now be spanned, and in a personal way she would never have cared because he was—a thief.

Her mental soliloquy ended abruptly. She had reached the narrow driveway that led in, between the two blocks of down-at-the-heels tenements, to the courtyard at the rear that harbored Shluker's junk shop. And now, unlike that other night when she had first paid a visit to the place, she made no effort at concealment as she entered the driveway. She walked quickly, and as she emerged into the courtyard itself she saw a light in the window of the junk shop.

Rhoda Gray nodded her head. It was still quite early, still almost twilight—not more than eight o'clock. Back there, on that squalid doorstep where the old woman and the old man had stood, it had still been quite light. The long summer evening had served at least to sear, somehow, those two faces upon her mind. It was singular that they should intrude themselves at this moment! She had been thinking, hadn't she, that at this hour she might naturally expect to find Shluker still in his shop? That was why she had come so early—since she had not cared to come in full daylight. Well, if that light meant anything, he was there.

She felt her pulse quicken perceptibly as she crossed the courtyard, and reached the shop. The door was open, and she stepped inside. It was a dingy place, filthy, and littered, without the slightest attempt at order, with a heterogeneous collection of, it seemed, every article one could think of, from scraps of old iron and bundles of rags to cast-off furniture that was in an appalling state of dissolution. The light, that of a single and dim incandescent, came from the interior of what was apparently the "office" of the establishment, a small, glassed-in partition affair, at the far end of the shop.

Her first impression had been that there was no one in the shop, but now, from the other side of the glass partition, she caught sight of a bald head, and became aware that a pair of black eyes were fixed steadily upon her, and that the occupant was beckoning to her with his hand to come forward.

She scuffled slowly, but without hesitation, up the shop. She intended to employ the vernacular that was part of the disguise of Gypsy Nan. If Shluker, for that was certainly Shluker there, gave the slightest indication that he took it amiss, her explanation would come glibly and logically enough—she had to be careful; how was she supposed to know whether there was any one else about, or not!

"'Ello!" she said curtly, as she reached the doorway of the little office, and paused on the threshold. Shifty little black eyes met hers, as the bald head fringed with untrimmed gray hair, was lifted from a battered desk, and the wizened face of an old man was disclosed under the rays of the tin-shaded lamp. He grinned suddenly, showing discolored teeth—and instinctively she drew back a little. He was an uninviting and exceedingly disreputable old creature.

"You, eh, Nan!" he grunted. "So you've come to see old Jake Shluker, have you? 'Tain't often you come! And what's brought you, eh?"

"I can read, can't I?" Rhoda Gray glanced furtively around her, then leaned toward the other. "Say, wot's de lay? I been scared stiff all day. Is dat straight wot de papers said about youse-know-who gettin' pinched?"

A scowl settled over Shluker's features as he nodded.

"Yes; it's straight enough," he answered. "Damn 'em, one and all! But they let him out again."

"Dat's de stuff!" applauded Rhoda Gray earnestly. "Where is he, den?"

Shluker shook his head.

"He didn't say," said Shluker.

"He didn't say?" echoed Rhoda Gray, a little tartly. "Wot d'youse mean, he didn't say? Have youse seen him?"

Shluker jerked his hand toward the telephone instrument on the desk.

"He was talkin' to me a little while ago."

"Well, den"—Rhoda Gray risked a more peremptory tone—"where is he?"

Shluker shook his head again.

"I dunno," he said. "I'm tellin' you, he didn't say."

Rhoda Gray studied the wizened and repulsive old creature, that, huddled in his chair in the dirty, boxed-in little office, made her think of some crafty old spider lurking in its web for unwary prey. Was the man lying to her? Was he in any degree suspicious? Why should he be? He had given not the slightest sign that her uncouth language was either unexpected or unnecessary. Perhaps to Shluker, and perhaps to all the rest of the gang—except Danglar!—Gypsy Nan was accepted at face value as just Gypsy Nan; and, if that were so, the idea of playing up a natural wifely anxiety on Danglar's behalf could not be used unless Shluker gave her a lead in that direction. But, all that apart, she was getting nowhere. She bit her lips in disappointment. She had counted a great deal on this Shluker here, and Shluker was not proving the fount of information, far from it, that she had hoped he would.

She tried again-even more peremptorily than before.

"Aw, open up!" she snapped. "Wot's de use bein' a clam! Youse heard me, didn't youse? Where is he?"

Shluker leaned abruptly forward, and looked at her in a suddenly perturbed way.

"Is there anything wrong?" he asked in a tense, lowered voice. "What makes you so anxious to know?"

Rhoda Gray laughed shortly.

"Nothin'!" she answered coolly. "I told youse once, didn't I? I got a scare readin' dem papers—an' I ain't over it yet. Dat's wot I want to know for, an' youse seem afraid to open up!"

Shluker sank back again in his chair with an air of relief.

"Oh!" he ejaculated. "Well, that's all right, then. You were beginning to give me a scare, too. I ain't playin' the clam, and I dunno where he is; but I can tell you there's nothing to worry you any more about the rest of it. He was after the White Moll last night, and it didn't come off. They pulled one on him instead, and fastened him to the fire escape the way the papers said. Skeeny and the Cricket, who were in on the play with him, didn't have time to get him loose before the bulls got there. So Danglar told them to beat it, and he handed the cops the story that was in the papers. He got away with it, all right, and they let go him to-day; but he phoned a little while ago that they were still stickin' around kind of close to him, and that I was to pass the word that the lid was to go down tight for the next few days, and—"

Shluker stopped abruptly as the telephone rang, and reached for the instrument.

Rhoda Gray fumbled unnecessarily with her shawl, as the other answered the call. Failure! A curious bitterness came to her. Her plan then, for to-night it least, was a failure. Shluker did not know where Danglar was. She was quite convinced of that. Shluker was—She glanced suddenly at the wizened little old man. From an ordinary tone, Shluker' s voice had risen sharply in protest about something. She listened now:

"No, no; it does not matter what it is!

"What?...No! I tell you, no! Nothing! Not to-night! Those are the orders....No, I don't know! Nan is here now....Eh?....You'll pay for it if you do!" Shluker was snarling threateningly now. "What?....Well, then, wait! I'll come over....No, you can bet I won't be long! You wait! Understand?"

He banged the receiver on the hook, and got up from his chair hurriedly.

"Fools!" he muttered savagely. "No, I won't be long gettin' there!" He grabbed Rhoda Gray's arm. "Yes, and you come, too! You will help me put a little sense into their heads, if it is possible—eh? The fools!"

The man was violently excited. He half pulled Rhoda Gray down the length of the shop to the front door. Puzzled, bewildered, a little uneasy, she watched him lock the door, and then followed him across the courtyard, while he continued to mutter constantly to himself.

"Wot's de matter?" she asked him twice.

But it was not until they had reached the street, and Shluker was hurrying along as fast as he could walk, that he answered her.

"It's the Pug and Pinkie Bonn!" he jerked out angrily. "They're in the Pug's room. Pinkie went back there after telephonin'. They've nosed out something they want to put through. The fools! And after last night nearly havin' finished everything! I told 'em—you heard me—that everybody's to keep under cover now. But they think they've got a soft thing, and they say they're goin' to it. I've got to put a crimp in it, and you've got to help me. Y'understand, Nan?"

"Yes," she said mechanically.

Her mind was working swiftly. The night, after all, perhaps, was not to be so much of a failure! To get into intimate touch with all the members of the clique was equally one of her objects, and, failing Danglar himself to-night, here was an "open sesame" to the re-treat of two of the others. She would never have a better chance, or one in which risk and danger, under the chaperonage, as it were, of Shluker here, were, if not entirely eliminated, at least reduced to an apparently negligible minimum. Yes; she would go. To refuse was to turn her back on her own proposed line of action, and on the decision which she had made herself.



XII. CROOKS Vs. CROOKS

It was not far. Shluker, hastening along, still muttering to himself, turned into a cross street some two blocks away, and from there again into a lane; and, a moment later, led the way through a small door in the fence that hung, battered and half open, on sagging and broken hinges. Rhoda Gray's eyes traveled sharply around her in all directions. It was still light enough to see fairly well, and she might at some future time find the bearings she took now to be of inestimable worth. Not that there was much to remark! They crossed a diminutive and disgustingly dirty backyard, whose sole reason for existence seemed to be that of a receptacle for old tin cans, and were confronted by the rear of what appeared to be a four-story tenement. There was a back door here, and, on the right of the door, fronting the yard, a single window that was some four or five feet from the level of the ground.

Shluker, without hesitation, opened the back door, shut it behind them, led the way along a black, unlighted hall, and halting before a door well toward the front of the building, knocked softly upon it—giving two raps, a single rap, and then two more in quick succession. There was no answer. He knocked again in precisely the same manner, and then a footstep sounded from within, and the door was flung open. "Fools!" growled Shluker in greeting, as they stepped inside and the door was closed again. "A pair of brainless fools!"

There were two men there. They paid Shluker scant attention. They both grinned at Rhoda Gray through the murky light supplied by a wheezy and wholly inadequate gas-jet.

"Hello, Nan!" gibed the smaller of the two. "Who let you out?"

"Aw, forget it!" croaked Rhoda Gray.

Shluker took up the cudgels.

"You close your face, Pinkie!" he snapped. "Get down to cases! Do you think I got nothing else to do but chase you two around like a couple of puppy dogs that haven't got sense enough to take care of themselves? Wasn't what I told you over the phone enough without me havin' to come here?"

"Nix on that stuff!" returned the one designated as Pinkie imperturbably. "Say, you'll be glad you come when we lets you in on a little piece of easy money. We ain't askin' your advice; all we're askin' you to do is frame up the alibi, same as usual, for me an' the Pug here in case we wants it."

Shluker shook his fist.

"Frame nothing!" he spluttered angrily. "Ain't I tellin' you that the orders are not to make a move, that everything is off for a few days? That's the word I got a little while ago, and the Seven-Three-Nine is goin' out now. Nan'll tell you the same thing."

"Sure!" corroborated Rhoda Gray, picking up the obvious cue. "Dat's de straight goods."

The two men were lounging beside a table that stood at the extreme end of the room, and now for a moment they whispered together. And, as they whispered, Rhoda Gray found her first opportunity to take critical stock both of her surroundings and of the two men themselves. Pinkie, a short, slight little man, she dismissed with hardly a glance; he was the common type, with low, vicious cunning stamped all over his face—an ordinary rat of the underworld. But her glance rested longer on his companion. The Pug was indeed entitled to his moniker! His face made her think of one. It seemed to be all screwed up out of shape. Perhaps the eye-patch over the right eye helped a little to put the finishing touch of repulsiveness upon a countenance already most unpleasant. The celluloid eye-patch, once flesh-colored, was now so dirty and smeared that its original color was discernible only in spots, and the once white elastic cord that circled his head and kept the patch in place was in equal disrepute. A battered slouch hat came to the level of the eye-patch in a forbidding sort of tilt. His left eyelid drooped until it was scarcely open at all, and fluttered continually. One nostril of his nose was entirely closed; and his mouth seemed to be twisted out of shape, so that, even when in repose, the lips never entirely met at one corner. And his ears, what she could see of them in the poor light, and on account of the slouch hat, seemed to bear out the low-type criminal impression the man gave her, in that they lay flat back against his head.

She turned her eyes away with a little shudder of repulsion, and gave her attention to an inspection of the room. There was no window, except a small one high up in the right-hand partition wall. She quite understood what that meant. It was common enough, and all too unsanitary enough, in these old and cheap tenements; the window gave, not on the out-of-doors, but on a light-well. For the rest, it was a room she had seen a thousand times before—carpetless, unfurnished save for the barest necessities, dirt everywhere, unkempt.

Pinkie Bonn broke in abruptly upon her inspection.

"That's all right!" he announced airily. "We'll let Nan in on it, too. The Pug an' me figures she can give us a hand."

Shluker's wizened little face seemed suddenly to go purple.

"Are you tryin' to make a fool of me?" he half screamed. "Or can't you understand English? D'ye want me to keep on tellin' you till I'm hoarse that there ain't nobody goin' in with you, because you am't goin' in yourself! See? Understand that? There's nothing doin' to-night for anybody—and that means you!"

"Aw, shut up, Shluker!" It was the Pug now, a curious whispering sibilancy in his voice, due no doubt to the disfigurement of his lips. "Give Pinkie a chance to shoot his spiel before youse injure yerself throwin' a fit! Go on, Pinkie, spill it."

"Sure!" said Pinkie eagerly. "Listen, Shluk! It ain't any crib we're wantin' to crack, or nothin' like that. It's just a couple of crooks that won't dare open their yaps to the bulls, 'cause what we're after 'll be what they'll have pinched themselves. See?"

Shluker's face lost some of its belligerency, and in its place a dawning interest came.

"What's that?" he demanded cautiously. "What crooks?"

"French Pete an' Marny Day," said Pinkie—and grinned.

"Oh!" Shluker's eyebrows went up. He looked at the Pug, and the Pug winked knowingly with his half-closed left eyelid. Shluker reached out for a chair, and, finding it suspiciously wobbly, straddled it warily. "Mabbe I've been in wrong," he admitted. "What's the lay?"

"Me," said Pinkie, "I was down to Charlie's this afternoon havin' a little lay-off, an'—"

"One of these days," interrupted Shluker sharply, "you'll go out like"—he snapped his fingers—"that!" "Can't you leave the stuff alone?"

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