Rhoda Gray took her revolver from her pocket. She was well armed—and in more than a material sense. The Adventurer did not know that she was aware of the Pug's identity. Her smile, still mirthless, deepened. She might even turn the tables upon them, and still secure the stolen stones. She had turned the tables upon Pinkie Bonn last night; to-night, if she used her wits, she could do it again!
And then, suddenly, she stifled an exclamation, as the Pug's voice reached her again:
"Wot are youse gapin' about? Dere ain't anything else worth pinchin' around here except wot's in de old gent's safety vault. Get a move on! We ain't got all night! It's de corner behind de washstand. Give us a hand to move de furniture!"
It wasn't here behind the cretonne hanging! Rhoda Gray bit her lips in a crestfallen little way. Well, her supposition had been natural enough, hadn't it? And she would have tried every corner before she was through if she had had the opportunity.
She moved now slightly, without a sound, parting the clothing away from in front of her, and moving the cretonne hanging by the fraction of an inch where it touched the side wall of the room. And now she could see the Pug, with his dirty and discolored celluloid eye-patch, and his ingeniously contorted face; and she could see Pinkie Bonn's pasty-white, drug-stamped countenance.
It was not a large room. The two men in the opposite corner along the wall from her were scarcely more than ten feet away. They swung the washstand out from the wall, and the Pug, going in behind it, began to work on one of the wall boards. Pinkie Bonn, an unlighted cigarette dangling from his lip, leaned over the washstand watching his companion.
A minute passed—another. It was still in the room, except only for the distant sounds of the world outside—a clatter of wheels upon the pavement, the muffled roar of the elevated, the clang of a trolley bell. And then the Pug began to mutter to himself. Rhoda Gray smiled a little grimly. She was not the only one, it would appear, who experienced difficulty with old Jake Luertz's crafty hiding place!
"Say, dis is de limit!" the Pug growled out suddenly. "Dere's more damned knots in dis board dan I ever save in any piece of wood in me life before, an'—" He drew back abruptly from the wall, twisting his head sharply around. "D'ye hear dat, Pinkie!" he whispered tensely. "Quick! Put out de light! Quick! Dere's some one down at de front door!"
Rhoda Gray felt the blood ebb from her face. She had heard nothing save the rattle and bump of a wagon along the street below; but she had had reason to appreciate on a certain occasion before that the Pug, alias the Adventurer, was possessed of a sense of hearing that was abnormally acute. If it was some one else—who was it? What would it mean to her? What complication here in this room would result? What...
The light was out. Pinkie Bonn had stepped silently across the room to the gas jet near the door. Her eyes, strained, she could just make out the Adventurer's form kneeling by the wall, and then—was she mad! Was the faint night-light of the city filtering in through the window mocking her? The Adventurer, hidden from his companion by the washstand, was working swiftly and without a sound—or else it was a phantasm of shadows that tricked her! A door in the wall opened; the Adventurer thrust in his hand, drew out a package, and, leaning around, slipped it quickly into the bottom of the washstand, where, with its little doors, there was a most convenient and very commodious apartment. He turned again then, seemed to take something from his pocket and place it in the opening in the wall, and then the panel closed.
It had taken scarcely more than a second.
Rhoda Gray brushed her hand across her eyes. No, it wasn't a phantasm! She had misjudged the Adventurer—quite misjudged him! The Adventurer, even with one of the gang present—to furnish an unimpeachable alibi for him!—was plucking the gang's fruit again for his own and undivided enrichment!
Pinkie Bonn's voice came in a guarded whisper from the doorway.
"I don't hear nothin'!" said Pinkie Bonn anxiously.
The Pug tiptoed across the room, and joined his companion. She could not see them now, but apparently they stood together by the door listening. They stood there for a long time. Occasionally she heard them whisper to each other; and then finally the Pug spoke in a less guarded voice.
"All right," he said. "I guess me nerves are gettin' de creeps. Shoot de light on again, an' let's get back on de job. An' youse can take a turn dis time pushin' de knots, Pinkie; mabbe youse'll have better luck."
The light went on again. Both men came back across the room, and now Pinkie Bonn knelt at the wall while the Pug leaned over the washstand watching him. Pinkie Bonn was not immediately successful; the Pug's nerves, of which he had complained, appeared shortly to get the better of him.
"Fer Gawd's sake, hurry up!" he urged irritably. "Or else lemme take another crack at it, Pinkie, an'..."
A low, triumphant exclamation came from Pinkie Bonn, as the small door in the wall swung suddenly open.
"There she is, my bucko!" he grinned. "Some nifty vault, eh? The old guy-" He stopped. He had thrust in his hand, and drawn it out again. His fingers gripped a sheet of notepaper—but he was seemingly unconscious of that fact. He was leaning forward, staring into the aperture. "It's empty!" he choked.
"Wot's dat?" cried the Pug, and sprang to his companion's side. "Youse're crazy, Pinkie!" He thrust his head toward the opening—and then turned and stared for a moment helplessly at Pinkie Bonn. "So help me!" he said heavily. "It's—it's empty." He shook his fist suddenly. "De Crab's handed us one, dat's wot! But de Crab'll get his fer—"
"It wasn't the Crab!" Pinkie Bonn was stuttering his words. He stood, jaws dropped, his eyes glued now on the paper in his hand.
The Pug, his face working, the personification of baffled rage and intolerance, leered at Pinkie Bonn. "Well, who was it, den?" he snarled.
Pinkie Bonn licked his lips.
"The White Moll!" He licked his lips again.
"De White Moll!" echoed the Pug incredulously.
"Yes," said Pinkie Bonn. "Listen to what's on this paper that I fished out of there I Listen! She's got all the nerve of the devil! 'With thanks, and my most grateful appreciation—the White Moll.'"
The Pug snatched the paper from Pinkie Bonn's hand, as though to assure himself that it was true. Rhoda Gray smiled faintly. It was good acting, very excellently done—seeing that the Pug had written the note and placed it in the hiding place himself!
"My God!" mumbled Pinkie Bonn thickly. "I ain't afraid of most things, but I'm gettin' scared of her. She ain't human. Last night you know what happened, and the night before, and—" He gulped suddenly. "Let's get out of here!" he said hurriedly. The Pug made no reply, except for a muttered growl of assent and a nod of his head.
The two men crossed the room. The light went out. Their footsteps echoed back as they descended the stairs, then died away.
And then Rhoda Gray moved for the first time. She brushed aside the cretonne hanging, ran to the washstand, possessed herself of the package she had seen the Pug place there, and then made her way, cautious now of the slightest sound, downstairs.
She tried the door that led into the secondhand shop from the hall, found it unlocked, and with a little gasp of relief slipped through, and closed it gently behind her. She did not dare risk the front entrance. Pinkie Bonn and the Pug were not far enough away yet, and she did not dare wait until they were. Too bulky to take the risk of attempting to conceal it about his person while with Pinkie Bonn, the Pug, it was obvious, would come back alone for that package, and it was equally obvious that he would not be long in doing so. There was old Luertz's return that he would have to anticipate. It would not take wits nearly so sharp as those possessed by the Pug to find an excuse for separating promptly from Pinkie Bonn!
Rhoda Gray groped her way down the shop, groped her way to a back door, unbolted it, working by the sense of touch, and let herself out into a back yard. Five minutes later she was blocks away, and hurrying rapidly back toward the deserted shed in the lane behind Gypsy Nan's garret.
Her lips formed into a tight little curve as she went along. There was still work to do to-night—if this package really contained the stolen legacy of gems left by Angel Jack. She had first of all to reach a place where she could examine the package with safety; then a place to hide it where it would be secure; and then—Danglar!
She gained the lane, stole along it, and disappeared into the shed through the broken door that hung, partially open, on sagging hinges. Here she sought a corner, and crouched down so that her body would smother any reflection from her flashlight. And now, eagerly, feverishly, she began to undo the package; and then, a moment later, she gazed, stupefied and amazed, at what lay before her. Precious stones, scores of them, nestled on a bed of cotton; they were of all colors and of all sizes—but each one of them seemed to pulsate and throb, and from some wondrous, glorious depth of its own to fling back from the white ray upon it a thousand rays in return, as though into it had been breathed a living and immortal fire.
And Rhoda Gray, crouched there, stared—until suddenly she grew afraid, and suddenly with a shudder she wrapped the package up again. These were the stones for whose fabulous worth the woman whose personality she, Rhoda Gray, had usurped, had murdered a man; these were the stones which were indirectly the instrumentality—since but for them Gypsy Nan would never have existed—that made her, Rhoda Gray, to-night, now, at this very moment, a hunted thing, homeless, friendless, fighting for her very life against police and underworld alike!
She rose abruptly to her feet. She had no longer any need of a flashlight. There was even light of a sort in the place—she could see the stars through the jagged holes in the roof, and through one of these, too, the moonlight streamed in. The shed was all but crumbling in a heap. Underfoot, what had once been flooring, was now but rotting, broken boards. Under one of these, beside the clothing of Gypsy Nan which she had discarded but a little while before, she deposited the package; then stepped out into the lane, and from there to the street again.
And now she became suddenly conscious of a great and almost overpowering physical weariness. She did not quite understand at first, unless it was to be attributed to the reaction from the last few hours—and then, smiling wanly to herself, she remembered. For two nights she had not slept. It seemed very strange. That was it, of course, though she was not in the least sleepy now—just tired, just near the breaking point.
But she must go on. To-night was the end, anyhow. To-night, failing to keep her appointment as "Bertha," the crash must come; but before it came, as the White Moll, armed with the knowledge of the crime that had driven Danglar's wife into hiding, and which was Danglar's crime too, and with the evidence in the shape of those jewels in her possession, she and Danglar would meet somewhere—alone. Before the law got him, when he would be close-mouthed and struggling with all his cunning to keep the evidence of other crimes from piling up against him and damning whatever meager chances he might have to escape the penalty for Deemer's murder, she meant—yes, even if she pretended to compound a felony with him—to force or to inveigle from him, it mattered little which, a confession of the authorship and details of the scheme to rob Skarbolov that night when she, Rhoda Gray, in answer to a dying woman's pleading, had tried to forestall the plan, and had been caught, apparently, in the very act of committing the robbery herself! With that confession in her possession, with the identity of the unknown woman who had died in the hospital that night established, her own story would be believed.
And so, if she were weary, what did it matter? It was only until morning. Danglar was at the Silver Sphinx now with the man he meant that she should help him murder, only—only that plan would fail, because there would be no "Bertha" to lure the man to his death, and she, Rhoda Gray, had only to keep track of Danglar until somewhere, where he lived perhaps, she should have that final scene, that final reckoning with him alone.
It was a long way to the Silver Sphinx, which she knew, as every one in the underworld, and every one in New York who was addicted to slumming knew, was a combination dance-hall and restaurant in the Chatham Square district. She tried to find a taxi, but with out avail. A clock in a jeweler's window which she passed showed her that it was ten minutes after eleven. She had had no idea that it was so late. At eleven, Danglar had said. Danglar would be growing restive! She took the elevated. If she could risk the protection of her veil in the Silver Sphinx, she could risk it equally in an elevated train!
But, in spite of the elevated, it was, she knew, well on towards half past eleven when she finally came down the street in front of the Silver Sphinx. From under her veil, she glanced, half curiously, half in a sort of grim irony, at the taxis lined up before the dancehall. The two leading cars were not taxis at all, though they bore the ear-marks, with their registers, of being public vehicles for hire; they were large, roomy, powerful, and looked, with their hoods up, like privately owned motors. Well, it was of little account! She shrugged her shoulders, as—she mounted the steps of the dance-hall. Neither "Bertha" nor Cloran would use those cars to-night!
XVII. THE SILVER SPHINX
A Bedlam of noise smote Rhoda Gray's ears as she entered the Silver Sphinx. A jazz band was in full swing; on the polished section of the floor in the center, a packed mass of humanity swirled and gyrated and wriggled in the contortions of the "latest" dance, and laughed and howled immoderately; and around the sides of the room, the waiters rushed this way and that amongst the crowded tables, mopping at their faces with their aprons. It seemed as though confusion itself held sway!
Rhoda Gray scanned the occupants of the tables. The Silver Sphinx was particularly riotous to-night, wasn't it? Yes, she understood! A great many of the men were wearing little badges. Some society or other was celebrating—and was doing it with abandon. Most of the men were half drunk. It was certainly a free-and-easy night! Everything went!
Danglar! Yes, 'there he was—quite close to her, only a few tables away—and beside him sat a heavy built, clean-shaven man of middle age. That would be Cloran, of course—the man who was to have been lured to his death. And Danglar was nervous and uneasy, she could see. His fingers were drumming a tattoo on the table; his eyes were roving furtively about the room; and he did not seem to be paying any but the most distrait attention to his companion, who was talking to him.
Rhoda Gray sank quickly into a vacant chair. Three men, linked arm in arm, and decidedly more than a little drunk, were approaching her. She turned her head away to avoid attracting their attention. It was too free and easy here to-night, and she began to regret her temerity at having ventured inside; she would better, perhaps, have waited until Danglar came out—only there were two exits, and she might have missed him—and...
A cold fear upon her, she shrank back in her chair. The three men had halted at the table, and were clustered around her. They began a jocular quarrel amongst themselves as to who should dance with her. Her heart was pounding. She stood up, and pushed them away.
"Oh, no, you don't!" hiccoughed one of the three. "Gotta see your—hic!—pretty face, anyhow!"
She put up her hands frantically and clutched at her veil—but just an instant too late to save it from being wrenched aside. Wildly her eyes flew to Danglar. His attention had been attracted by the scene. She saw him rise from his seat; she saw his eyes widen—and then, stumbling over his chair in his haste, he made toward her. Danglar had recognized the White Moll!
She turned and ran. Fear, horror, desperation, lent her strength. It was not like this that she had counted on her reckoning with Danglar! She brushed the roisterers aside, and darted for the door. Over her shoulder she glimpsed Danglar following her. She reached the door, burst through a knot of people there, and, her torn veil clutched in her hand, dashed down the steps. She could only run—run, and pray that in some way she might escape.
And then a mad exultation came upon her. She saw the man in the chauffeur's seat of the first car in the line lean out and swing the door open. And in a flash she grasped the situation. The man was waiting for just this—for a woman to come running for her life down the steps of the Silver Sphinx. She put her hand up to her face, hiding it with the torn veil, raced for the car, and flung herself into the tonneau.
The door slammed. The car leaped from the curb. Danglar was coming down the steps. She heard him shout. The chauffeur, in a startled way, leaned out, as he evidently recognized Danglar's voice—but Rhoda Gray was mistress of herself now. The tonneau of the car was not separated from the driver's seat, and bending forward, she wrenched her revolver from her pocket, and pressed the muzzle of her weapon to the back of the man's neck.
"Don't stop!" she gasped, struggling for her breath. "Go on! Quick!"
The man, with a frightened oath, obeyed. The car gained speed. A glance through the window behind showed Danglar climbing into the other car.
And then for a moment Rhoda Gray sat there fighting for her self-control, with the certain knowledge in her soul that upon her wits, and her wits alone, her life depended now. She studied the car's mechanism over the chauffeur's shoulder, even as she continued to hold her revolver pressed steadily against the back of the man's neck. She could drive a car—she could drive this one. The presence of this chauffeur, one of the gang, was an added menace; there were too many tricks he might play before she could forestall them, any one of which would deliver her into the hands of Danglar behind there—an apparently inadvertent stoppage due to traffic, for instance, that would bring the pursuing car alongside—that, or a dozen other things which would achieve the same end.
"Open the door on your side!" she commanded abruptly. "And get out—without slowing the car! Do you understand?"
He turned his head for a half incredulous, half frightened look at her. She met his eyes steadily—the torn veil, quite discarded now, was in her pocket. She did not know the man; but it was quite evident from the almost ludicrous dismay which spread over his face that he knew her.
"The—the White Moll!" he stammered. "It's the White Moll!"
"Jump!" she ordered imperatively—and her revolver pressed still more significantly against the man's flesh.
He seemed in even frantic haste to obey her. He whipped the door open, and, before she could reach to the wheel, he had leaped to the street. The car swerved sharply. She flung herself over into the vacated seat, and snatched at the wheel barely in time to prevent the machine from mounting the curb.
She looked around again through the window of the hood. The man had swung aboard Danglar's car, which was only a few yards behind.
Rhoda Gray drove steadily. Here in the city streets her one aim must be never to let the other car come abreast of her; but she could prevent that easily enough by watching Danglar's movements, and cutting across in front of him if he attempted anything of the sort. But ultimately what was she to do? How was she to escape? Her hands gripped and clenched in a sudden, almost panic-like desperation at the wheel. Turn suddenly around a corner, and jump from the car herself? It was useless to attempt it; they would keep too close behind to give her a chance to get out of sight. Well, then, suppose she jumped from the car, and trusted herself to the protection of the people on the street. She shook her head grimly. Danglar, she knew only too well, would risk anything, go to any length, to put an end to the White Moll. He would not hesitate an instant to shoot her down as she jumped and he would be fairly safe himself in doing it. A few revolver shots from a car that speeded away in the darkness offered an even chance of escape. And yet, unless she forced an issue such as that, she knew that Danglar would not resort to firing at her here in the city. He would want to be sure that was the only chance he had of getting her, before he accepted the risk that he would run of being caught for it by the police.
She found herself becoming strangely, almost unnaturally, cool and collected now. The one danger, greater than all others, that menaced her was a traffic block that would cause her to stop, and allow those in the other car behind to rush in upon her as she sat here at the wheel. And sooner or later, if she stayed in the city, a block such as that was inevitable. She must get out of the city, then. It was only to invite another risk, the risk that Danglar was in the faster car of the two but there was no other way.
She drove more quickly, made her way to the Bridge, and crossed it. The car behind followed with immutable persistence. It made no effort to close the short gap between them; but, neither, on the other hand, did it permit that gap to widen.
They passed through Brooklyn; and then, reaching the outskirts, Rhoda Gray, with headlights streaming into the black, with an open Long Island road before her, flung her throttle wide, and the car leaped like a thing of life into the night. It was a sudden start, it gained her a hundred yards but that was all.
The wind tore at her and whipped her face; the car rocked and reeled as in some mad frenzy. There was not much traffic, but such as there was it cleared away from before her as if by magic, as, seeking shelter from the wild meteoric thing running amuck, the few vehicles, motor or horse, that she encountered hugged; the edge of the road, and the wind whisked to her ears fragments of shouts and execrations. Again and again she looked back two fiery balls of light blazed behind her always those same two fiery balls.
She neither gained nor lost. Rigid, like steel, her little figure was crouched over the wheel. She did not know the road. She knew nothing save that she was racing for her life. She did not know the end; she could not see the end. Perhaps there would be some merciful piece of luck for her that would win her through a break-down to that roaring thing, with its eyes that were balls of fire, behind.
She passed through a town with lighted streets and lighted windows or was it only imagination? It was gone again, anyhow, and there was just black road ahead. Over the roar of the car and the sweep of the wind, then, she caught, or fancied she caught, a series of faint reports. She looked behind her. Yes, they were firing now. Little flashes leaped out above and at the sides of those blazing headlights.
How long was it since she had left the Silver Sphinx? Minutes or hours would not measure it, would they? But it could not last much longer! She was growing very tired; the strain upon her arms, yes, and upon her eyes, was becoming unbearable. She swayed a little in her seat, and the car swerved, and she jerked it back again into the straight. She began to laugh a little hysterically and then, suddenly, she straightened up, tense and alert once more.
That swerve was the germ of an inspiration! It took root swiftly now. It was desperate—but she was desperate. She could not drive much more, or much longer like this. Mind and body were almost undone. And, besides, she was not outdistancing that car behind there by a foot; and sooner or later they would hit her with one of their shots, or, perhaps what they were really trying to do, puncture one of her tires.
Again she glanced over her shoulder. Yes, Danglar was just far enough behind to make the plan possible. She began to allow the car to swerve noticeably at intervals, as though she were weakening and the car was getting beyond her control—which was, indeed, almost too literally the case. And now it seemed to her that each time she swerved there came an exultant shout from the car behind. Well, she asked for nothing better; that was what she was trying to do, wasn't it?—inspire them with the belief that she was breaking under the strain.
Her eyes searched anxiously down the luminous pathway made by her high-powered headlights. If only she could reach a piece of road that combined two things—an embankment of some sort, and a curve just sharp enough to throw those headlights behind off at a tangent for an instant as they rounded it, too, in following her.
A minute, two, another passed. And then Rhoda Gray, tight-lipped, her face drawn hard, as her own headlights suddenly edged away from the road and opened what looked like a deep ravine on her left, while the road curved to the right, flung a frenzied glance back of her. It was her chance—her one chance. Danglar was perhaps a little more than a hundred yards in the rear. Yes—now! His headlights were streaming out on her left as he, too, touched the curve. The right-hand side of her car, the right-hand side of the road were in blackness. She checked violently, almost to a stop, then instantly opened the throttle wide once more, wrenching the wheel over to head the machine for the ravine; and before the car picked up its momentum again, she dropped from the right-hand side, darted to the far edge of the road, and flung herself flat down upon the ground.
The great, black body of her car seemed to sail out into nothingness like some weird aerial monster, the headlights streaming uncannily through space—then blackness—and a terrific crash.
And now the other car had come to a stop almost opposite where she lay. Danglar and the two chauffeurs, shouting at each other in wild excitement, leaped out and rushed to the edge of the embankment. And then suddenly the sky grew red as a great tongue-flame shot up from below. It outlined the forms of the three men as they stood there, until, abruptly, as though with one accord, they rushed pell-mell down the embankment toward the burning wreckage. And as they disappeared from sight Rhoda Gray jumped to her feet, sprang for Danglar's car, flung herself into the driver's seat, and the car shot forward again along the road.
A shout, a wild chorus of yells, the reports of a fusillade of shots reached her; she caught a glimpse of forms running insanely after her along the edge of the embankment—then silence save for the roar of the speeding car.
She drove on and on. Somewhere, nearing a town, she saw a train in the distance coming in her direction. She reached the station first, and left the car standing there, and, with the torn veil over her face again, took the train.
She was weak, undone, exhausted. Even her mind refused its functions further. It was only in a subconscious way she realized that, where she had thought never to go to the garret again, the garret and the role of Gypsy Nan were, more than ever now, her sole refuge. The plot against Cloran had failed, but they could not blame that on "Bertha's" non-appearance; and since it had failed she would not now be expected to assume the dead woman's personality. True, she had not, as had been arranged, reached the Silver Sphinx at eleven, but there were a hundred excuses she could give to account for her being late in keeping the appointment so that she had arrived just in time, say, to see Danglar dash wildly in pursuit of a woman who had jumped into the car that she was supposed to take!
The garret! The garret again—and Gypsy Nan! Her surroundings seemed to become a blank to her; her actions to be prompted by some purely mechanical sense. She was conscious only that finally, after an interminable time, she was in New York again; and after that, long, long after that, dressed as Gypsy Nan, she was stumbling up the dark, ladder-like steps to the attic.
How her footsteps dragged! She opened the door, staggered inside, locked the door again, and staggered toward the cot, and dropped upon it; and the gray dawn came in with niggardly light through the grimy little window panes, as though timorously inquisitive of this shawled and dissolute figure prone and motionless, this figure who in other dawns had found neither sleep nor rest—this figure who lay there now as one dead.
XVIII. THE OLD SHED
Rhoda Gray opened her eyes, and, from the cot upon which she lay, stared with drowsy curiosity around the garret—and in another instant was sitting bolt upright, alert and tense, as the full flood of memory swept upon her.
There was still a meager light creeping in through the small, grimy window panes, but it was the light of waning day. She must have slept, then, all through the morning and the afternoon, slept the dead, heavy sleep of exhaustion from the moment she had flung herself down here a few hours before daybreak.
She rose impulsively to her feet. It was strange that she had not been disturbed, that no one had come to the garret! The recollection of the events of the night before were crowding themselves upon her now. In view of last night, in view of her failure to keep that appointment in the role of Danglar's wife, it was very strange indeed that she had been left undisturbed!
Subconsciously she was aware that she was hungry, that it was long since she had eaten, and, almost mechanically, she prepared herself something now from the store the garret possessed; but, even as she ate, her mind was far from thoughts of food. From the first night she had come here and self-preservation had thrust this miserable role of Gypsy Nan upon her, from that first night and from the following night when, to save the Sparrow, she had been whirled into the vortex of the gang's criminal activities, her mind raced on through the sequence of events that seemed to have spanned some vast, immeasurable space of time until they had brought her to—last night.
Last night! She had thought it was the end last night, but instead—The dark eyes grew suddenly hard and intent. Yes, she had counted upon last night, when, with the necessary proof in her possession with which to confront Danglar with the crime of murder, she could wring from the man all that now remained necessary to substantiate her own story and clear herself in the eyes of the law of that robbery at Skarbolov's antique store of which she was held guilty—and instead she had barely escaped with her life. That was the story of last night.
Her eyes grew harder. Well, the way was still open, wasn't it? Last night had changed nothing in that respect. To-night, as the White Moll, she had only to find and corner Danglar as she had planned to do last night. She had still only to get the man alone somewhere.
Rhoda Gray's hands clenched tightly. That was all that was necessary—just the substantiation of her own story that the plot to rob Skarbolov lay at the door of Danglar and his gang; or, rather, perhaps, that the plot was in existence before she had ever heard of Skarbolov. It would prove her own statement of what the dying woman had said. It would exonerate her from guilt; it would prove that, rather than having any intention of committing crime, she had taken the only means within her power of preventing one. The real Gypsy Nan, Danglar's wife, who had died that night, bad, even in eleventh-hour penitence, refused to implicate her criminal associates. There was a crime projected which, unless she, Rhoda Gray, would agree to forestall it in person and would give her oath not to warn the police about it and so put the actual criminals in jeopardy, would go on to its fulfillment!
She remembered that night in the hospital. The scene came vividly before her now. The woman's pleading, the woman's grim loyalty even in death to her pals. She, Rhoda Gray, had given her oath.
It became necessary only to substantiate those facts. Danglar could be made to do it. She had now in her possession the evidence that would convict him of complicity in the murder of Deemer, and for which murder the original Gypsy Nan had gone into hiding; she even had in her possession the missing jewels that had prompted that murder; she had, too, the evidence now to bring the entire gang to justice for their myriad depredations; she knew where their secret hoard of ill-gotten gains was hidden—here in this attic, behind that ingeniously contrived trap-door in the ceiling. She knew all this; and this information placed before the police, providing only it was backed by the proof that the scheme to rob Skarbolov was to be carried out by the gang, as she, Rhoda Gray, would say the dying woman had informed her, would be more than enough to clear her. She had not had this proof on that first night when she had snatched at the mantle of Gypsy Nan as the sole means of escape from Rough Rorke, of headquarters; she did not have it now—but she would have it, stake all and everything in life she had to have it, for it, in itself, literally meant everything and all—and Danglar would make a written confession, or else—or else—She smiled mirthlessly. That was all! Last night she had failed. To-night she would not fail. Before morning came, if it were humanly within her power, she and Danglar would have played out their game—to the end.
And now a pucker came and gathered her forehead into little furrows, and anxiety and perplexity crept into her eyes. Another thought tormented her. In the exposure that was to come the Adventurer, alias the Pug, was involved. Was there any way to save the man to whom she owed so much, the splendidly chivalrous, high-couraged gentleman she loved, the thief she abhorred?
She pushed the remains of her frugal meal away from her, stood up abruptly from the rickety washstand at which she had been seated, and commenced to pace nervously up and down the stark, bare garret. Where was the line of demarcation between right and wrong? Was it a grievous sin, or an infinitely human thing to do, to warn the man she loved, and give him a chance to escape the net she meant to furnish the police? He was a thief, even a member of the gang—though he used the gang as his puppets. Did ethics count when one who had stood again and again between her and peril was himself in danger now? Would it be a righteous thing, or an act of despicable ingratitude, to trap him with the rest?
She laughed out shortly. Warn him! Of course, she would warn him! But then—what? She shivered a little, and her face grew drawn and tired. It was the old, old story of the pitcher and the well. It was almost inevitable that sooner or later, for some crime or another, the man she loved would be caught at last, and would spend the greater portion of his days behind prison bars. That was what the love that had come into her life held as its promise to her! It was terrible enough without her agency being the means of placing him there!
She did not want to think about it. She forced her mind into other channels, though they were scarcely less disquieting. Why was it that during the day just past there had been not a sign from Danglar or any one of the gang, when every plan of theirs had gone awry last night, and she had failed to keep her appointment in the role of Danglar's wife? Why was it? What did it mean? Surely Danglar would never allow what had happened to pass unchallenged, and—was that some one now?
She halted suddenly by the door to listen, her hand going instinctively to the wide, voluminous pocket of her greasy skirt for her revolver. Yes, there was a footstep in the hall below, but it was descending now to the ground floor, not coming up. She even heard the street door close, but still she hung there in a strained, tense way, and into her face there came creeping a gray dismay. Her pocket was empty.
The revolver was gone! Its loss, pregnant with a hundred ominous possibilities, seemed to bring a panic fear upon her, holding her for a moment inert—and then she rushed frantically to the cot. Perhaps it had fallen out of her pocket during the hours she had lain there asleep. She searched the folds of the soiled and crumpled blanket, that was the cot's sole covering, then snatched the blanket completely off the cot and shook it; and then, down on her knees, she searched the floor under the cot. There was no sign of the revolver.
Rhoda Gray stood up, and stared in a stunned way about her. Was this, then, the explanation of her having seemingly been left undisturbed here all through the day? Had some one, after all, been here, and—? She shook her head suddenly with a quick, emphatic gesture of dissent. The door was still locked, she could see the key on the inside; and, besides, as a theory, it wasn't logical. They wouldn't have taken her revolver and left her placidly asleep!
The loss of the revolver was a vital matter. It was her one safeguard; the one means by which she could first gain and afterwards hold the whip-hand over Danglar in the interview she proposed to have with him; the one means of escape, the last resort, if she herself were cornered and fell into his power. It had sustained her more than once, that resolution to turn it against herself if she were in extremity. It meant everything to her, that weapon, and it was gone now; but the panic that had seized upon her was gone too, and she could think rationally and collectively again.
Last night, or rather this morning, when she had made her way back to the shed out there in the lane behind the garret, she had been in a state of almost utter exhaustion. She had changed from the clothes of the White Moll to those of Gypsy Nan, but she must have done so almost mechanically for she had no concrete recollection of it. It was quite likely then, even more than probable, that she had left the revolver in the pocket of her other clothes; for she had certainly had, not only her revolver, but her flashlight and her skeleton keys with her when she had visited old Luertz's place last night, and later on too, when she had jumped into that automobile in front of the Silver Sphinx, she had had her revolver, for she had used it to force the chauffeur out of the car—and she had no one of those articles now.
Of course! That was it! She stepped impulsively to the door, and, opening it, made her way quickly down the stairs to the street. The revolver was undoubtedly in the pocket of her other skirt, and she felt a surge of relief sweep upon her; but a sense of relief was far from enough. She would not feel safe until the weapon was again in her possession, and intuitively she felt that she had no time to lose in securing it. She had already been left too long alone not to make a break in that unaccountable isolation they had accorded her as something to be expected at any moment. She hurried now down the street to the lane that intervened between Gypsy Nan's house and the next corner, glanced quickly about her, and, seeing no one in her immediate vicinity, slipped into the lane. She gained the deserted shed some fifty yards along the lane, entered through the broken door that hung, half open, on sagging hinges, and, dropping on her knees, reached in under the decayed and rotting flooring. She pushed aside impatiently the package of jewels, at whose magnificence she had gazed awe-struck and bewildered the night before, and drew out the bundle that comprised her own clothing. Her hand sought the pocket eagerly. Yes, it was here—at least the flashlight was, and so were the skeleton keys. That was what had happened! She had been near utter collapse last night, and she had forgotten, and—Rhoda Gray, unconscious even that she still held the clothing in her hands, rose mechanically to her feet. There was a sudden weariness in her eyes as she stared unseeingly about her. Yes, the flashlight and the keys were here—but the revolver was not! Her brain harked back in lightning flashes over the events of the preceding night. She must have lost it somewhere, then. Where? She had had it in the automobile, that she knew positively; but after that she did not remember, unless—yes, it must have been that! When she had jumped from the car and flung herself down at the roadside! It must have fallen out of her pocket then.
Her heart seemed to stand still. Suppose they had found it! They would certainly recognize it as belonging to Gypsy Nan! They were not fools. The deduction would be obvious—the identity of the White Moll would be solved. Was that why no one had apparently come near her? Were they playing at cat-and-mouse, watching her before they struck, so that she would lead them to those jewels under the flooring here that were worth a king's ransom? They certainly believed that the White Moll had them. The Adventurer's note, so ironically true, that he had intended as an alibi for himself, and which he had exchanged for the package in old Luertz's place, would have left no doubt in their minds but that the stones were in her possession. Was that it? Were they—She held her breath. It seemed as though suddenly her limbs were refusing to support her weight. In the soft earth outside she had heard no step, but she saw now a shadow fall athwart the half-open door-way. There was no time to move, even had she been capable of action. It seemed as though even her soul had turned to stone, and, with the White Moll's clothes in her hands, she stood there staring at the doorway, and something that was greater than fear, because it mingled horror, ugly and forbidding, fell upon her. It was still just light enough to see. The shadow moved forward and came inside. She wanted to scream, to rush madly in retreat to the farthest corner of the shed; but she could not move. It was Danglar who was standing there. He seemed to sway a little on his feet, and the dark, sinister face seemed blotched, and he seemed to smile as though possessed of some unholy and perverted sense of humor.
She was helpless, at his mercy, unarmed, saved for her wits. Her wits! Were wits any longer of avail? She could believe nothing else now except that he had been watching her—before he struck.
"What are you doing here, and what are those clothes you've got in your hands?" he rasped out.
She could only fence for time in the meager hope that some loophole would present itself. She forced an assumed defiance into her tones and manner, that was in keeping with the sort of armed truce, which, from her first meeting with Danglar, she had inaugurated as a barrier between them.
"You have asked me two questions," she said tartly. "Which one do you want me to answer first?"
"Look here," he snapped, "you cut that out! There's one or two things need explaining—see? What are those clothes?"
Her wits! Perhaps he did not know as much as she was afraid he did! She seemed to have become abnormally contained, her mind abnormally acute and active. It was not likely that the woman, his wife, whom he believed she was, had worn her own clothes in his presence since the day, some two years ago, when she had adopted the disguise of Gypsy Nan; and she, Rhoda Gray, remembered that on the night Gypsy Nan, re-assuming her true personality, had gone to the hospital, the woman's clothes, like these she held now, had been of dark material. It was not likely that a man would be able to differentiate between those clothes and the clothes of the White Moll, especially as the latter hung folded in her hands now, and even though he had seen them on her at the Silver Sphinx last night.
"What clothes do you suppose they are but my own?—though I haven't had a chance to wear them much lately!" she countered crisply.
He scowled at her speculatively.
"What are you doing with them out here in this hole, then?" he demanded.
"I had to wear them last night, hadn't I?" she retorted. "I'd have looked well coming out of Gypsy Nan's garret dressed as myself if any one had seen me!" She scowled at him in turn. She was beginning to believe that he had not even an inkling of her identity. Her safest play was to stake everything on that belief. "Say, what's the matter with you?" she inquired disdainfully. "I came out here and changed last night; and I changed into these rags I'm wearing now when I got back again; and I left my own clothes here because I was expecting to get word that I could put them on again soon for keeps—though I might have known from past experience that something would queer the fine promises you made at Matty's last night! And the reason I'm out here now is because I left some things in the pocket, amongst them"—she stared at him mockingly—"my marriage certificate."
Danglar's face blackened.
"Curse you!" he burst out angrily. "When you get your tantrums on, you've got a tongue, haven't you! You'd have been wearing your clothes now, if you'd have done as you were told. You're the one that queered things last night." His voice was rising; he was rocking even more unsteadily upon his feet. "Why in hell weren't you at the Silver Sphinx?"
Rhoda Gray squinted at him through Gypsy Nan's spectacles. She knew an hysterical impulse to laugh outright in the sure consciousness of supremacy over him now. The man had been drinking. He was by no means drunk; but, on the other hand, he was by no means sober—and she was certain now that, though she did not know how he had found her here in the shed, not the slightest suspicion of her had entered his mind.
"I was at the Silver Sphinx," she announced coolly.
"You lie!" he said hoarsely. "You weren't! I told you to be there at eleven, and you weren't. You lie! What are you lying to me for—eh? I'll find out, you—you—"
Rhoda Gray dashed the clothes down on the floor at her feet, and faced the man as though suddenly overcome in turn herself with passion, shaking both closed fists at him.
"Don't you talk to me like that, Pierre Danglar!" she shrilled. "I lie, do I? Well, I'll prove to you I don't! You said you were going to have supper with Cloran at about eleven o'clock, and perhaps I was a few minutes after that, but maybe you think it's easy to get all this Gypsy Nan stuff off me face and all, and rig up in my own clothes that I haven't seen for so long it's a wonder they hold together at all. I lie, do I? Well, just as I got to the Silver Sphinx, I saw a woman breaking her neck to get down the steps with you after her. She jumped into the automobile it was doped out I was to take, and you jumped into the other one, and both beat it down the street. I thought you'd gone crazy. I was afraid that Cloran would come out and recognize me, so I turned and ran, too. The safest thing I could do was to get back into the Gypsy Nan game again, and that's what I did. And I've been lying low ever since, waiting to get word from some of you, and not a soul came near me. You're a nice lot, you are! And now you come sneaking here and call me a liar! How'd you get to this shed, anyway?"
Danglar pushed his hand in a heavy, confused way across his eyes.
"My God!" he said heavily. "So that's it, is it?" His voice became suddenly conciliating in its tones. "Look here, Bertha, old girl, don't get sore. I didn't understand, see? And there was a whole lot that looked queer. We even lost the jewels at old Luertz's last night. Do you know who that woman was? It was the White Moll! She led us a chase all over Long Island, and—"
"The White Moll!" ejaculated Rhoda Gray. And then her laugh, short and jeering, rang out. The tables were turned. She had him on the defensive now. "You needn't tell me I She got away again, of course! Why don't you hire a detective to help you? You make me weary! So, it was the White Moll, was it? Well, I'm listening—only I'd like to know first how you got here to this shed."
"There's nothing in that!" he answered impatiently. "There's something more important to talk about. I was coming over to the garret, and just as I reached the corner I saw you go into the lane. I followed you; that's all there is to that."
"Oh!" she sniffed. She stared at him for a moment. There was something in which there was the uttermost of irony now, it seemed, in this meeting between them. Last night she had striven to meet him alone, and she had meant to devote to-night to the same purpose; and she was here with him now, and in a place than which, in her wildest hopes, she could have imagined one no better suited to the reckoning she would have demanded and forced. And she was helpless, powerless to make use of it. She was unarmed. Her revolver was gone. Without that to protect her, at an intimation that she was the White Moll she would never leave the shed alive. The spot would be quite as ideal under those circumstances for him, as it would have been under other circumstances for her. She shrugged her shoulders. Danglar's continued silence evidently invited further comment on her part. "Oh!" she sniffed again. "And I suppose, then, that you have been chasing the White Moll ever since last night at eleven, and that's why you didn't get around sooner to allay my fears, even though you knew I must be half mad with anxiety at the way things broke last night. She'll have us down and out for keeps if you haven't got brains enough to beat her. How much longer is this thing going on?"
Danglar's little black eyes narrowed. She caught a sudden glint of triumph in them. It was Danglar now who laughed.
"Not much longer!" His voice was arrogant with malicious satisfaction. "The luck had to turn, hadn't it? Well, it's turned! I've got the White Moll at last!"
She felt the color leave her face. It seemed as though something had closed with an icy clutch upon her heart. She had heard aright, hadn't she?—that he had said he had got the White Moll at last. And there was no mistaking the mans s sinister delight in making that announcement. Had she been premature, terribly premature, in assuring herself that her identity was still safe as far as he was concerned? Did it mean that, after all, he had been playing at cat-and-mouse with her, as she had at first feared?
"You—you've got the White Moll?" She forced the words from her lips, striving to keep her voice steady and in control, and to infuse into it an ironical incredulity.
"Sure!" he said complacently. "The showdown comes to-night. In another hour or so we'll have her where we want her, and—"
"Oh!" She laughed almost hysterically in relief. "I thought so! You haven't got her yet. You're only going to get her—in another hour or so! You make me tired! It's always in 'another hour or so' with you—and it never comes off!"
Danglar scowled at her under the taunt.
"It'll come off this time!" he snarled in savage menace. "You hold that tongue of yours! Yes, it'll come off! And when it does"—a sweep of fury sent the red into his working face—"I'll keep the promise I made her once—that she'd wish she had never been born! D'ye hear, Bertha?"
"I hear," she said indifferently. "But would you mind telling me how you are going to do it? I might believe you then—perhaps!"
"Damn you, Bertha!" he exploded. "Sometimes I'd like to wring that pretty neck of yours; and sometimes!"—he moved suddenly toward her—"I would sell my soul for you, and—"
She retreated from him coolly.
"Never mind about that! This isn't a love scene!" she purred caustically. "And as for the other, save it for the White Moll. What makes you think you've got her at last?"
"I don't think—I know." He stood gnawing at his lips, eying her uncertainly, half angrily, half hungrily. And then he shrugged his shoulders. "Listen!" he said. "I've got some one else, too! And I know now where the leak that's queered every one of our games and put the White Moll wise to every one of our plans beforehand has come from. I guess you'll believe me now, won't you? We've got that dude pal of hers fastened up tighter than the night he fastened me with his cursed handcuffs! Do you know who that same dude pal is?" He laughed in an ugly, immoderate way. "You don't, of course, so I'll tell you. It's the Pug!" Rhoda Gray did not answer. It was growing dark here in the shed now—perhaps that was why the man's form blended suddenly into the doorway and wall, and blurred before her. She tried to think, but there seemed to have fallen upon her a numbed and agonized stupefaction. There was no confusing this issue. Danglar had found out that the Adventurer was the Pug. And it meant—oh, what did it mean? They would kill him. Of course, they would kill him! The Adventurer, discovered, would be safer at the mercy of a pack of starved pumas, and...
"I thought that would hold you!" said Danglar with brutal serenity. "That's why I didn't get around till now. I didn't get back from that chase until daylight—the she-fiend stole our car—and then I went to bed to get a little sleep. About three o'clock this afternoon Pinkie Bonn woke me up. He was half batty with excitement. He said he was over in the tenement in the Pug's room. The Pug wasn't in, and Pinkie was waiting for him, and then all of a sudden he heard a woman screaming like mad from somewhere. He went to the door and looked out, and saw a man dash out of a room across the hall, and burst in the door of the next room. There was a woman in there with her clothes on fire. She'd upset a coal-oil stove, or something. The man Pinkie had seen beats the fire out, and everybody in the tenement begins to collect around the door. And then Pinkie goes pop-eyed. The man's face was the face of the White Moll's dude pal—but he had on the Pug's clothes. Pinkie's a wise guy. He slips away to me without getting himself in the limelight or spilling any beans. And I didn't ask him if he'd been punching the needle again overtime, either. It fitted like a glove with what happened at old Luertz's last night. You don't know about that. Pinkie and this double-crossing snitch went there—and only found a note from the White Moll. He'd tipped her off before, of course, and the note made a nice little play so's he'd be safe himself with us. Well, that's about all. We had to get him—where we wanted him—and we got him. We waited until he showed up again as the Pug, and then we put over a frame-up deal on him that got him to go over to that old iron plant in Harlem, you know, behind Jake Malley's saloon, where we had it fixed to hand Cloran his last night—and the Pug's there now. He's nicely gagged, and tied, and quite safe. The plant's been shut down for the last two months, and there's only the watchman there, and he's 'squared.' We gave the Pug two hours of solitary confinement to think it over and come across. We just asked him for the White Moll's address, so's we could get her and the sparklers she swiped at Old Luertz's place last night."
Still Rhoda Gray did not speak for a moment. She seemed to be held in thrall by both terror and a sickening dismay. It did not seem real, her surroundings here, this man, and the voice that was gloatingly pronouncing the death sentence upon the man who had come unbidden into her life, and into her heart, the man she loved. Yes, she understood! Danglar's words had been plain enough. The Adventurer had been trapped—not through Danglar's cunning, or lack of cunning on the Adventurer's own part, but through force of circumstances that had caused him to fling all thought of self-consideration to the winds in an effort to save another's life. Her hands, hidden in the folds of her skirt, clenched until they hurt. And it was another self, it seemed, subconsciously enacting the role of Gypsy Nan, alias Danglar's wife, who spoke at last.
"You are a fool! You are all fools!" she cried tempestuously. "What do you expect to gain by that? Do you imagine you can make the Pug come across with any information by a threat to kill him if he doesn't? You tried that once. You had him cold, or at least you thought you had, and so did he, that night in old Nicky Viner's room, and he laughed at you even when he expected you to fire the next second. He's not likely to have changed any since then, is he?"
"No," said Danglar, with a vicious chuckle; "and that's why I'm not trying the same game twice. That's why we've got him over in the old iron plant now."
There was something she did not like in Danglar's voice, something of ominous assurance, something that startled her.
"What do you mean?" she demanded sharply.
"It's a lonely place," said Danglar complacently. "There's no one around but the watchman, and he's an old friend of Shluker's; and it's so roomy over there that no one could expect him to be everywhere at once. See? That let's him out. He's been well greased, and he won't know anything. Don't you worry, old girl! That's what I came here for—to tell you that everything is all right, after all. The Pug will talk. Maybe he wouldn't if he just had his choice between that and the quick, painless end that a bullet would bring; but there are some things that a man can't stand. Get me? We'll try a few of those on the Pug, and, believe me, before we're through, there won't be any secrets wrapped up in his bosom."
Rhoda Gray stood motionless. Thank God it had grown dark—dark enough to hide the whiteness that she knew had crept over her face, and the horror that had crept into her eyes. "You mean"—her voice was very low—"you mean you're going to torture him into talking?"
"Sure!" said Danglar. "What do you think!"
"And after that?"
"We bump him off, of course," said Danglar callously. "He knows all about us, don't he? And I guess we'll square up on what's coming to him! He's put the crimp into us for the last time!" Danglar's voice pitched suddenly hoarse in fury. "That's a hell of a question to ask! What do you think we'd do with a yellow cur that's double-crossed us like that?"
Plead for the Adventurer's life? It was useless; it was worse than useless—it would only arouse suspicion toward herself. From the standpoint of any one of the gang, the Adventurer's life was forfeit. Her mind was swift, cruelly swift, in its workings now. There came the prompting to disclose her own identity to tell Danglar that he need not go to the Adventurer to discover the whereabouts of the White Moll, that she was here now before him; there came the prompting to offer herself in lieu of the man she loved. But that, too, was useless, and worse than useless; they would still do away with the Adventurer because he had been the Pug, and the only chance he now had, as represented by whatever she might be able to do, would be gone, since she would but have delivered herself into their hands.
She drew back suddenly. Danglar had stepped toward her. She was unable to avoid him, and his arm encircled her waist. She shivered as the pressure of his arm tightened.
"It's all right, old girl!" he said exuberantly. "You've been through hell, you have; but it's all right at last. You leave it to me! Your husband's got a kiss to make up for every drop of that grease you've had to put on the prettiest face in New York."
It seemed as though she must scream out. It was hideous. She could not force herself to endure it another instant even for safety's safe. She pushed him away. It was unbearable—at any risk, cost what it might. Mind, soul and body recoiled from the embrace.
"Leave me alone!" she panted. "You've been drinking. Leave me alone!"
He drew back, and laughed.
"Not very much," he said. "The celebration hasn't started yet, and you'll be in on that. I guess your nerves have been getting shaky lately, haven't they? Well, you can figure on the swellest rest-cure you ever heard of, Bertha. Take it from me! We're going down to keep the Pug company presently. You blow around to Matty's about midnight and get the election returns. We'll finish the job after that by getting Cloran out of the road some way before morning, and that will let you out for keeps—there won't be any one left to recognize the woman who was with Deemer the night he shuffled out." He backed to the doorway. "Get me? Come over to Matty's and see the rajah's sparklers about midnight. We'll have 'em then—and the she-fiend, too. So long, Bertha!"
She scarcely heard him; she answered mechanically.
"Good-night," she said.
XIX. DREAD UPON THE WATERS
For a moment after Danglar had gone, Rhoda Gray stood motionless; and then, the necessity for instant action upon her, she moved quickly toward the doorway herself. There was only one thing she could do, just one; but she must be sure first that Danglar was well started on his way. She reached the doorway, looked out—and suddenly caught her breath in a low, quick inhalation, In the semi-darkness she could just make out Danglar's form, perhaps twenty-five yards away now, heading along the lane toward the street; but behind Danglar, at a well-guarded distance in the rear, hugging the shadows of the fence, she saw the form of another man. Her brows knitted in a perplexed and anxious frown. The second man was undoubtedly following Danglar. That was evident. But why? Who was it? What did it mean?
She retreated back into the shed, and commenced hastily to disrobe and dress again in her own clothes, which she had flung down upon the floor. In the last analysis, did it matter who it was that was following Danglar—even if it were one of the police? For, supposing that the man who was shadowing Danglar was a plain-clothes man, and suppose he even followed Danglar and the rest of the gang to the old iron plant, and suppose that with the necessary assistance he rounded them all up, and in that sense effected the Adventurer's rescue, it scarcely meant a better fate for the Adventurer! It simply meant that the Adventurer, as one of the gang, and against whom every one of the rest would testify as the sole means left to them of wreaking their vengeance upon one who had tricked and outwitted them again and again for his own ends, would stand his trial with the others, and with the others go behind prison bars for a long term of years.
She hurried now, completing the last touches that transformed her from Gypsy Nan into the veiled figure of the White Moll, stepped out into the lane, and walking rapidly, reached the street and headed, not in the direction of Harlem, but deeper over into the East Side. Even as Danglar had been speaking she had realized that, for the Adventurer's own sake, and irrespective of what any premature disclosure of her own identity to the authorities might mean to her, she could not call upon the police for aid. There was only one way, just one—to go herself, to reach the Adventurer herself before Danglar returned there and had an opportunity of putting his worse than murderous intentions into effect.
Well, she was going there, wasn't she? And if she lost no time she should be there easily ahead of them, and her chances would be excellent of releasing the Adventurer with very little risk. From what Danglar had said, the Adventurer was there alone. Once tied and gagged there had been no need to leave anybody to guard him, save that the watchman would ordinarily serve to keep any one off the premises, which was all that was necessary. But that he had been left at all worried her greatly. He had, of course, already refused to talk. What they had done to him she did not know, but the 'solitary confinement' Danglar had referred to was undoubtedly the first step in their efforts to break his spirit. Her lips tightened as she went along. Surely she could accomplish it! She had but to evade the watchman—only, first, the lost revolver, the one safeguard against an adverse turn of fortune, must be replaced, and that was where she was going now. She knew, from her associations with the underworld as the White Moll in the old days, where such things could be purchased and no questions asked, if one were known. And she was known in the establishment to which she was going, for evil days had once fallen upon its proprietor, one "Daddy" Jacques, in that he had incurred the enmity of certain of his own ilk in the underworld, and on a certain night, which he would not be likely to forget, she had stood between him and a manhandling that would probably have cost him his life, and—Yes, this was the place.
She entered a dirty-windowed, small and musty pawnshop. A little old man, almost dwarf-like in stature, with an unkempt, tawny beard, who wore a greasy and ill-fitting suit, and upon whose bald head was perched an equally greasy skull cap, gazed at her inquiringly from behind the counter.
"I want a gun, and a good one, please," she said, after a glance around her to assure herself that they were alone.
The other squinted at her through his spectacles, as he shook his head.
"I haven't got any, lady," he answered. "We're not allowed to sell them without—"
"Oh, yes, you have, Daddy," she contradicted quietly, as she raised her veil. "And quick, please; I'm in a hurry."
The little old man leaned forward, staring at her for a moment as though fascinated; and then his hand, in a fumbling way, removed the skull cap from his bead. There was a curious, almost wistful reverence in his voice as he spoke.
"The White Moll!" he said.
"Yes," she smiled. "But the gun, Daddy. Quick! I haven't an instant to lose."
"Yes, yes!" he said eagerly—and shuffled away.
He was back in a moment, an automatic in his hand.
"It's loaded, of course?" she said, as she took the weapon. She slipped it into her pocket as he nodded affirmatively. "How much, Daddy?"
"The White Moll!" He seemed still under the spell of amazement. "It is nothing. There is no charge. It is nothing, of course."
"Thank you, Daddy!" she said softly—and laid a bill upon the counter, and stepped back to the door. "Good-night!" she smiled.
She heard him call to her; but she was already on the street again, and hurrying along. She felt better, somehow, in a mental way, for that little encounter with the shady old pawnbroker. She was not so much alone, perhaps, as she had thought; there were many, perhaps, even if they were of the underworld, who had not swerved from the loyalty they had once professed to the White Moll.
It brought a new train of thought, and she paused suddenly in her walk. She might rally around her some of those underworld intimates upon whose allegiance she felt she could depend, and use them now, to-night, in behalf of the Adventurer; she would be sure then to be a match for Danglar, no matter what turn affairs took. And then, with an impatient shake of her head, she hurried on again. There was no time for that. It would take a great deal of time to find and pick her men; she had even wasted time herself, where there was no time to spare, in the momentary pause during which she had given the thought consideration.
She reached the nearest subway station, which was her objective, and boarded a Harlem train, satisfied that her heavy veil would protect her against recognition. Unobtrusively she took a window seat. No one paid her any attention. Hours passed, it seemed to her impatience, while the black walls rushed by, punctuated by occasional scintillating signal lights, and, at longer intervals, by the fuller glare from the station platforms.
In the neighborhood of 125th street she left the train, and, entering the first drug store she found, consulted a directory. She did not know this section of New York at all; she did not know either the location or the firm name of the iron plant to which Danglar, assuming naturally, of course, that she was conversant with it, had referred; and she did not care to ask to be directed to Jake Malley's saloon, which was the only clew she had to guide her. The problem, however, did not appear to be a very difficult one. She found the saloon's address, and, asking the clerk to direct her to the street indicated, left the drug store again.
But, after all, it was not so easy; no easier than for one unacquainted with any locality to find one's way about. Several times she found herself at fault, and several times she was obliged to ask directions again. She had begun to grow panicky with fear and dread at the time she had lost, before, finally, she found the saloon. She was quite sure that it was already more than half an hour since she had left the drug store; and that half an hour might easily mean the difference between safety and disaster, not only for the Adventurer, but for herself as well. Danglar might have been in no particular hurry, and he would probably have gone first to whatever rendezvous he had appointed for those of the gang selected to accompany him, but even to have done so in a leisurely way would surely not have taken more than that half hour!
Yes, that was Jake Malley's saloon now, across the road from her, but she could not recall the time that was already lost! They might be there now—ahead of her.
She quickened her steps almost to a run. There should be no difficulty in finding the iron plant now. "Behind Jake Malley's saloon," Danglar had said. She turned down the cross street, passed the side entrance to the saloon, and hastened along. The locality was lonely, deserted, and none too well lighted. The arc lamps, powerful enough in themselves, were so far apart that they left great areas of shadow, almost blackness, between them. And the street too was very narrow, and the buildings, such as they were, were dark and unlighted—certainly it was not a residential district!
And now she became aware that she was close to the river, for the sound of a passing craft caught her attention. Of course! She understood now. The iron plant, for shipping facilities, was undoubtedly on the bank of the river itself, and—yes, this was it, wasn't it?—this picket fence that began to parallel the right-hand side of the street, and enclose, seemingly, a very large area. She halted and stared at it—and suddenly her heart sank with a miserable sense of impotence and dismay. Yes, this was the place beyond question. Through the picket fence she could make out the looming shadows of many buildings, and spidery iron structures that seemed to cobweb the darkness, and—and—Her face mirrored her misery. She had thought of a single building. Where, inside there, amongst all those rambling structures, with little time, perhaps none at all, to search, was she to find the Adventurer?
She did not try to answer her own question—she was afraid that her dismay would get the better of her if she hesitated for an instant. She crossed the street, choosing a spot between two of the arc lamps where the shadows were blackest. It was a high fence, but not too high to climb. She reached up, preparatory to pulling herself to the top—and drew back with a stifled cry. She was too late, then—already too late! They were here ahead of her—and on guard after all! A man's form, appearing suddenly out of the darkness but a few feet away, was making quickly toward her. She wrenched her automatic from her pocket. The touch of the weapon in her hand restored her self-control.
"Don't come any nearer!" she cried out sharply. "I will fire if you do!"
And then the man spoke.
"It's you, ain't it?" he called in guarded eagerness. "It's the White Moll, ain't it? Thank God, it's you!"
Her extended hand with the automatic fell to her side. She had recognized his voice. It wasn't Danglar, it wasn't one of the gang, or the watchman who was no better than an accomplice; it was Marty Finch, alias the Sparrow.
"Marty!" she exclaimed. "You! What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to keep you from goin' in there!" he answered excitedly. "And—and, say, I was afraid I was too late. Don't you go in there! For God's sake, don't you go! They're layin' a trap for you! They're goin' to bump you off! I know all about it!"
"You know? What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "How do you know?"
"I quit my job a few days after that fellow you called Danglar tried to murder me that night you saved me," said the Sparrow, with a savage laugh. "I knew he had it in for you, and I guess I had something comm' to him on my own account too, hadn't I? That's the job I've been on ever since—tryin' to find the dirty pup. And I found him! But it wasn't until to-night, though you can believe me there weren't many joints in the old town where I didn't look for him. My luck turned to-night. I spotted him comin' out of Italian Joe's bar. See? I followed him. After a while he slips into a lane, and from the street I saw him go into a shed there. I worked my way up quiet, and got as near as I dared without bein' heard and seen, and I listened. He was talkin' to a woman. I couldn't hear everything they said, and they quarreled a lot; but I heard him say something about framin' up a job to get somebody down to the old iron plant behind Jake Malley's saloon and bump 'em off, and I heard him say there wouldn't be any White Moll by morning, and I put two and two together and beat it for here."
Rhoda Gray reached out and caught the Sparrow's hand.
"Thank you, Marty! You haven't got it quite right—though, thank Heaven, you got it the way you did, since you are here now!" she said fervently. "It wasn't me, it wasn't the White Moll, they expected to get here; it's the man who helped me that night to clear you of the Hayden-Bond robbery that Danglar meant to make you shoulder. He risked his life to do it, Marty. They've got him a prisoner somewhere in there; and they're coming back to—to torture him into telling them where I am, and—and afterwards to do away with him. That's why I'm here, Marty—to get him away, if I can, before they come back."
The Sparrow whistled low under his breath.
"Well, then, I guess it's my hunt too," he said coolly. "And I guess this is where a prison bird horns in with the goods. Ever since I've been looking for that Danglar guy, I've been carryin' a full kit—because I didn't know what might break, or what kind of a mess I might want to get out of. Come on! We ain't got no time. There's a couple of broken pickets down there. We might be seen climbin' the fence. Come on!"
Bread upon the waters! With a sense of warm gratitude upon her, Rhoda Gray followed the ex-convict. They made their way through the fence. A long, low building, a storage shed evidently, showed a few yards in front of them. It seemed to be quite close to the river, for now she could see the reflection of lights from here and there playing on the black, mirror-like surface of the water. Farther on, over beyond the shed, the yard of the plant, dotted with other buildings and those spidery iron structures which she had previously noticed, stretched away until it was lost in the darkness. Here, however, within the radius of one of the street arc lamps it was quite light.
Rhoda Gray had paused in almost hopeless indecision as to how or where to begin her search, when the Sparrow spoke again.
"It looks like we got a long hunt," whispered the Sparrow; "but a few minutes before you came, a guy with a lantern comes from over across the yard there and nosed around that shed, and acted kind of queer, and I could see him stick his head up against them side doors there as though he was listenin' for something inside. Does that wise you up to anything?"
"Yes!" she breathed tensely. "That was the watchman. He's one of them. The man we want is in that shed beyond a doubt. Hurry, Marty—hurry!"
They ran together now, and reached the double side-door. It was evidently for freight purposes only, and probably barred on the inside, for they found there was no way of opening it from without.
"There must be an entrance," she said feverishly—and led the way toward the front of the building in the direction away from the river. "Yes, here it is!" she exclaimed, as they rounded the end of the shed.
She tried the door. It was locked. She felt in her pocket for her skeleton keys, for she had not been unprepared for just such an emergency, but the Sparrow brushed her aside.
"Leave it to me!" he said quickly. "I'll pick that lock like one o'clock! It won't take me more'n a minute."
Rhoda Gray did not stand and watch him. Minutes were priceless things, and she could put the minute he asked for to better advantage than by idling it away. With an added injunction to hurry and that she would be back in an instant, she was already racing around the opposite side of the shed. If they were pressed, cornered, by the arrival of Danglar, it might well mean the difference between life and death to all of them if she had an intimate knowledge of the surroundings.
She was running at top speed. Halfway down the length of the shed she tripped and fell over some object. She pushed it aside as she rose. It was an old iron casting, more bulky in shape than in weight, though she found it none too light to lift comfortably. She ran on. A wharf projected out, she found, from this end of the shed. At the edge, she peered over. It was quite light here again; away from the protecting shadows of the shed, the rays of the arc lamp played without hindrance on the wharf just as they did on the shed's side door. Below, some ten or twelve feet below, and at the corner of the wharf, a boat, or, rather, a sort of scow, for it was larger than a boat though oars lay along its thwarts, was moored. It was partly decked over, and she could see a small black opening into the forward end of it, though the opening itself was almost hidden by a heap of tarpaulin, or sailcloth, or something of the kind, that lay in the bottom of the craft. She nodded her head. They might all of them use that boat to advantage!
Rhoda Gray turned and ran back. The Sparrow, with a grunt of satisfaction, was just opening the door. She stepped through the doorway. The Sparrow followed.
"Close it!" said Rhoda Gray, under her breath. She felt her heart beat quicken, the blood flood her face and then recede. Her imagination had suddenly become too horribly vivid. Suppose they—they had already gone farther than...
With an effort she controlled herself—and the round, white ray of her flashlight swept the place. A moment more, and, with a low cry, she was running forward to where, on the floor near the wall of the shed opposite the side door, she made out the motionless form of a man. She reached him, and dropped on her knees beside him. It was the Adventurer. She spoke to him. He did not answer. And then she remembered what Danglar had said, and she saw that he was gagged. But—but she was not sure that was the reason why he did not answer. The flashlight in her hand wavered unsteadily as it played over him. Perhaps the whiteness of the ray itself exaggerated it, but his face held a deathly pallor; his eyes were closed; and his hands and feet were twisted cruelly and tightly bound.
"Give me your knife—quick—Sparrow!" she called. "Then go and keep watch just outside."
The Sparrow handed her his knife, and hurried back to the door.
She worked in the darkness now. She could not use both hands and still hold the flashlight; and, besides, with the door partially open now where the Sparrow was on guard there was always the chance, if Danglar and those of the gang with him were already in the vicinity, of the light bringing them all the more quickly to the scene.
Again she spoke to the Adventurer, as she removed the gag—and a fear that made her sick at heart seized up on her. There was still no answer. And now, as she worked, cutting at the cords on his hands and feet, the love that she knew for the man, its restraint broken by the sense of dread and fear at his condition, rose dominant within her, and impulse that she could not hold in least took possession of her, and in the darkness, since he would not know, and there was none to see, she bent her head, and, half crying, her lips pressed upon his forehead.
She drew back startled, a crimson in her face that the darkness hid. What had she done? Did he know? Had he returned to consciousness, if he really had been unconscious, in time to know? She could not see; but she knew his eyes had opened.
She worked frantically with the bonds. He was free now. She cast them off.
He spoke then—thickly, with great difficulty.
"It's you, the White Moll, isn't it?"
"Yes," she answered.
He raised himself up on his elbow, only to fall back with a suppressed groan.
"I don't know how you found me, but get away at once—for God's sake, get away!" he cried. "Danglar'll be here at any minute. It's you he wants. He thinks you know where some—some jewels are, and that I—I—"
"I know all about Danglar," she said hurriedly. "And I know all about the jewels, for I've got them myself."
He was up on his knees now, swaying there. She caught at his shoulder to support him.
"You!" he cried out incredulously. "You—you've got them? Say that again! You—you've—"
"Yes," she said, and with an effort steadied her voice. He—he was a thief. Cost her what it might, with all its bitter hurt, she must remember that, even—even if she had forgotten once. "Yes," she said. "And I mean to turn them over to the police, and expose every one of Danglar's gang. I—you are entitled to a chance; you once stood between me and the police. I can do no less by you. I couldn't turn the police loose on the gang without giving you warning, for, you see, I know you are the Pug."
"Good God!" he stammered. "You know that, too?"
"Try and walk," she said breathlessly. "There isn't any time. And once you are away from here, remember that when Danglar is in the hands of the police he will take the only chance for revenge he has left, and give the police all the information he can, so that they will get you too."
He stumbled pitifully.
"I can't walk much yet." He was striving to speak coolly. "They trussed me up a bit, you know—but I'll be all right in a little while when I get the cramps out of my joints and the circulation back. And so, Miss Gray, won't you please go at once? I'm free now, and I'll manage all right, and—"
The Sparrow came running back from the door.
"They're comm'!" he said excitedly. "They're comm' from a different way than we came in. I saw 'em sway up there across the yard for a second when they showed up under a patch of light from an arc lamp on the other street. There's three of 'em. We got about a couple of minutes, and—"
"Get those side doors open! Quick! And no noise!"' ordered Rhoda Gray tersely. And then to the Adventurer: "Try—try and walk! I'll help you."
The Adventurer made a desperate attempt at a few steps. It was miserably slow. At that rate Danglar would be upon them before they could even cross the shed itself.
"I can crawl faster," laughed the Adventurer with bitter whimsicality. "Give me your revolver, Miss Gray, and you two go—and God bless you!"
The Sparrow was opening the side door, but she realized now that even if they could carry the Adventurer they could not get away in time. Her mind itself seemed stunned for an instant—and then, in a lightning flash, inspiration came. She remembered that iron casting, and the wharf, and the other side of the shed in shadow. It was desperate, perhaps almost hopeless, but it was the only way that gave the Adventurer a chance for his life.
She spoke rapidly. The little margin of time they had must be narrowing perilously.
"Marty, help this gentleman! Crawl to the street, if you have to. The only thing is that you are not to make the slightest noise, and—"
"What are you going to do?" demanded the Adventurer hoarsely.
"I'm going to take the only chance there is for all of us," she answered.
She started toward the front door of the shed; but he reached out and held her back.
"You are going to take the only chance there is for me!" he cried brokenly. "You're going out there—where they are. Oh, my God! I know! You love me! I—I was only half conscious, but I am sure you kissed me a little while ago. And but for this you would never have known that I knew it, because, please God, whatever else I am, I am not coward enough to take that advantage of you. But I love you, too! Rhoda! I have the right to speak, the right our love gives me. You are not to go—that way. Run—run through the side door there—they will not see you."
She was trembling. Repudiate her love? Tell him there could be nothing between them because he was a thief? She might never live to see him again. Her soul was in riot, the blood flaming hot in her cheeks. He was clinging to her arm. She tore herself forcibly away. The seconds were counting now. She tried to bid him good-by, but the words choked in her throat. She found herself running for the front door.
"Sparrow—quick! Do as I told you!" she half sobbed over her shoulder—and opening the door, stepped out and dosed it behind her.
XX. A LONE HAND
And now Rhoda Gray was in the radius of the arc lamp, and distinctly visible to any one coming down the yard. How near were they? Yes, she saw them now—three forms-perhaps a little more than a hundred yards away. She moved a few steps deliberately toward them, as though quite unconscious of their presence; and then, as a shout from one of them announced that she was seen, she halted, hesitated as though surprised, terrified and uncertain, and, as they sprang forward, she turned and ran—making for the side of the shed away from the side door.
A voice rang out—Danglar's:
"By God, it's the White Moll!"
It was the only way! She had the pack in cry now. They would pay no attention to the Adventurer while the White Moll was seemingly almost within their grasp. If she could only hold them now for a little while—just a little while—the Adventurer wasn't hurt—only cramped and numbed—he would be all right again and able to take care of himself in a little while—and meanwhile the Sparrow would help him to get away.
She was running with all her speed. She heard them behind her—the pound, pound, pound of feet. She had gained the side of the shed. The light from the arc lamp was shut off from her now, and they would only be able to see her, she knew, as a dim, fleeting shadow. Where was that iron casting? Pray God, it was heavy enough; and pray God, it was not too heavy! Yes, here it was! She pretended to stumble—and caught the thing up in her arms. An exultant cry went up from behind her as she appeared to fall—oaths, a chorus of them, as she went on again.
They had not gained on her before; but with the weight in her arms, especially as she was obliged to carry it awkwardly in order to shield it from their view with her body, she could not run so fast now, and they were beginning to close up on her. But she was on the wharf now, and there was not much farther to go, and—and surely she could hold all the lead she needed until she reached the edge.
The light from the arc lamp held her in view again out here on the wharf where she was clear of the shed; but she knew they would not fire at her except as a last resort. They could not afford to sound an alarm that would attract notice to the spot—when they had, or believed they had, both the Adventurer and the White Moll within their grasp now.
She was running now with short, hard, panting gasps. There were still five yards to go-three-one! She looked around her like a hunted animal at bay, as she reached the end of the wharf and stood there poised at the edge. Yes, thank God, they were still far enough behind to give her the few seconds she needed! She cried out loudly as though in despair and terror—and sprang from the edge of the wharf. And as she sprang she dropped the casting; but even as it struck the water with a loud splash, Rhoda Gray, in frantic haste, was crawling in through the little locker-like opening under the decked-over bow of the half scow, half boat into which she had leaped. And quick as a flash, huddled inside, she reached out and drew the heap of what proved to be sailcloth nearer to her to cover the opening-and lay still.
A few seconds passed; then she heard them at the edge of the wharf, and heard Danglar s voice.
"Watch where she comes up! She can't get away!"
A queer, wan smile twisted Rhoda Gray's lips. The casting had served her well; the splash had been loud enough! She listened, straining her ears to catch every sound from above. It was miserably small this hiding place into which she had crawled, scarcely large enough to hold her—she was beginning to be painfully cramped and uncomfortable already.
Another voice, that she recognized as Pinkie Bonn's now, reached her:
"It's damned hard to spot anything out there; the water's blacker'n hell."
Came a savage and impatient oath from Danglar.
"She's got to come up, ain't she—or drown!" he rasped. "Maybe she's swum under the wharf, or maybe she's swum under water far enough out so's we can't see her from here. Anyway, jump into that boat there, and we'll paddle around till we get her."
Rhoda Gray held her breath. The boat rocked violently as, one after another, the men jumped into it. Her right hand was doubled under her, it was hard to reach her pocket and her automatic. She moved a little; they were cursing, splashing with their oars, making too much noise to hear any slight rustle that she might make.
A minute, two, went by. She had her automatic now, and she lay there, grim-lipped, waiting. Even if they found her now, she had her own way out; and by now, beyond any question, the Adventurer and the Sparrow would have reached the street, and, even if they had to hide out there somewhere until the Adventurer had recovered the use of his limbs, they would be safe.
She could not see, of course. Once the boat bumped, and again. They were probably searching around under the wharf. She could not hear what they said, for they were keeping quiet now, talking in whispers—so as not to give her warning of their whereabouts undoubtedly!
The time dragged on. Her cramped position was bringing her excruciating agony now. She could understand how the Adventurer, in far worse case in the brutal position in which they had bound him, had fainted. She was afraid she would faint herself—it was not only the pain, but it was terribly close in the confined space, and her head was swimming.
Occasionally the oars splashed; and then, after an interminable time, the men, as though hopeless of success, and as though caution were no longer of any service, began to talk louder.
The third man was Shluker. She recognized his voice, too.
"It's no use!" he snarled. "If she's a good swimmer, she could get across the river easy. She's got away; that's sure. What the hell's the good of this? We're playing the fool. Beat it back! She was nosing around the shed. How do we know she didn't let the Pug loose before we saw her?"
Pinkie Bonn whined:
"If he's gone too, we're crimped! The whole works is bust up! The Pug knows everything, where our money is, an' everything. They'll have us cold!"
"Close your face, Pinkie!" It was Danglar speaking, his voice hoarse with uncontrollable rage. "Go on back, then, Shluker. Quick!"
Rhoda Gray heard the hurried splashing of the oars now; and presently she felt the bumping of the boat against the wharf, and its violent rocking as the men climbed out of it again. But she did not move—save with her hand to push the folds of sailcloth a cautious inch or two away from the opening. It did not ease the agony she was suffering from her cramped position, but it gave her fresher air, and she could hear better—the ring of their boot-heels on the wharf above, for instance.
The footsteps died away. There was silence then for a moment; and then, faintly, from the direction of the shed, there came a chorus of baffled rage and execration. She smiled a little wearily to herself. It was all right. That was what she wanted to know. The Adventurer had got away.
Still she lay there. She dared not leave the boat yet; but she could change her position now. She crawled half out from under the docking, and lay with her head on the sailcloth. It was exquisite relief! They could not come back along the wharf without her hearing them, and she could retreat under the decking again in an instant, if necessary.
Voices reached her now occasionally from the direction of the shed. Finally a silence fell. The minutes passed—ten—fifteen—twenty of them. And then Rhoda Gray climbed warily to the wharf, made her way warily past the shed, and gained the road—and three-quarters of an hour later, in another shed, in the lane behind the garret, she was changing quickly into the rags of Gypsy Nan again.
It was almost the end now. To-night, she would keep the appointment Danglar had given her—and keep it ahead of time. It was almost the end. Her lips set tightly. The Adventurer had been warned. There was nothing now to stand in the way of her going to the police, save only the substantiation of that one point in her own story which Danglar must supply.
Her transformation completed, she reached in under the flooring and took out the package of jewels—they would help very materially when she faced Danglar!—and, though it was somewhat large, tucked it inside her blouse. It could not be noticed. The black, greasy shawl hid it effectively.
She stepped out into the lane, and from there to the street, and began to make her way across town. She did not have to search for Danglar to-night. She was to meet him at Matty's at midnight, and it was not more than halfpast eleven now. Three hours and a half! Was that all since at eight o'clock, as nearly as she could place it, he had left her in the lane? It seemed as many years; but it was only twenty minutes after eleven, she had noticed, when she had left the subway on her return a few minutes ago. Her hand clenched suddenly. She was to meet him at Matty's—and, thereafter, if it took all night, she would not leave him until she had got him alone somewhere and disclosed herself. The man was a coward in soul. She could trust to the effect upon him of an automatic in the hands of the White Mall to make him talk.
Rhoda Gray walked quickly. It was not very far. She turned the corner into the street where Danglar's deformed brother, Matty, cloaked the executive activities of the gang with his cheap little notion store—and halted abruptly. The store was just ahead of her, and Danglar himself, coming out, had just closed the door.
He saw her, and stepping instantly to her side, grasped her arm roughly and wheeled her about.
"Come on!" he said—and a vicious oath broke from his lips.
The man was in a towering, ungovernable passion. She cast a furtive glance at his face. She had seen him before in anger; but now, with his lips drawn back and working, his whole face contorted, he seemed utterly beside himself.
"What's the matter?" she inquired innocently. "Wouldn't the Pug talk, or is it a case of 'another hour or so,' and—"
He swung on her furiously.
"Hold your cursed tongue!" he flared. "You'll snicker on the wrong side of your face this time!" He gulped, stared at her threateningly, and quickened his step, forcing her to keep pace with him. But he spoke again after a minute, savagely, bitterly, but more in control of himself. "The Pug got away. The White Moll queered us again. But it's worse than that. The game's up! I told you to be here at midnight. It's only half past eleven yet. I figured you would still be over in the garret, and I was going there for you. That's where we're going now. There's no chance at those rajah's jewels now; there's no chance of fixing Cloran so's you can swell it around in the open again—the only chance we've got is to save what we can and beat it!"
She did not need to simulate either excitement or disquiet.
"What is it? What's happened?" she asked tensely.
"The gang's thrown us down!" he said between his teeth. "They're scared; they've got cold feet—they're going to quit. Shluker and Pinkie were with me at the iron plant. We went back to Matty's from there. Matty's with them, too. They say the Pug knows every one of us, and every game we've pulled, and that in revenge for our trying to murder him he'll wise up the police—that he could do it easily enough without getting nipped himself, by sending them a letter, or even telephoning the names and addresses of the whole layout. They're scared—he curs! They say he knows where all our coin is too; and they're for splitting it up to-night, and ducking it out of New York for a while to get under cover." He laughed out suddenly, raucously. "They will—eh? I'll show them—the yellow-streaked pups! They wouldn't listen to me—and it meant that you and I were thrown down for fair. If we're caught, it's the chair. I'll show them! When I saw it wasn't any use trying to get them to stick, I pretended to agree with them. See? I said they could go around and dig up the rest of the gang, and if the others felt the same way about it, they were all to come over to the garret, and I'd be waiting for them,—and we'd split up the swag, and everybody'd be on his own after that." Again he laughed out raucously. "It'll take them half an hour to get together—but it won't take that long for us to grab all that's worth grabbing out of that trap-door, and making our getaway. See? I'll teach them to throw Pierre Danglar down! Come on, hurry!"