THE WHITE MOLL
By Frank Packard
I. NIGHT IN THE UNDERWORLD
III. ALIAS GYPSY NAN
IV. THE ADVENTURER
V. A SECOND VISITOR
VI. THE RENDEZVOUS
VII. FELLOW THIEVES
VIII. THE CODE MESSAGE
IX. ROOM NUMBER ELEVEN
X. ON THE BRINK
XI. SOME OF THE LESSER BREED
XII. CROOKS vs. CROOKS
XIII. THE DOOR ACROSS THE HALL
XIV. THE LAME MAN
XV. IN THE COUNCIL CHAMBER
XVI. THE SECRET PANEL
XVII. THE SILVER SPHINX
XVIII. THE OLD SHED
XIX. BREAD UPON THE WATERS
XX. A LONE HAND
XXI. THE RECKONING
I. NIGHT IN THE UNDERWORLD
It was like some shadowy pantomime: The dark mouth of an alleyway thrown into murky relief by the rays of a distant street lamp...the swift, forward leap of a skulking figure...a girl's form swaying and struggling in the man's embrace. Then, a pantomime no longer, there came a half threatening, half triumphant oath; and then the girl's voice, quiet, strangely contained, almost imperious:
"Now, give me back that purse, please. Instantly!" The man, already retreating into the alleyway, paused to fling back a jeering laugh.
"Say, youse've got yer nerve, ain't youse!"
The girl turned her head so that the rays of the street lamp, faint as they were, fell full upon her, disclosing a sweet, oval face, out of which the dark eyes gazed steadily at the man.
And suddenly the man leaned forward, staring for an instant, and then his hand went awkwardly to touch his cap.
"De White Moll!" he mumbled deferentially. He pulled the peak of his cap down over his eyes in a sort of shame-faced way, as though to avoid recognition, and, stepping nearer, returned the purse.
"'Scuse me, miss," he said uneasily. "I didn't know it was youse—honest to Gawd, I didn't! 'Scuse me, miss. Good-night!"
For a moment the girl stood there motionless, looking down the alleyway after the retreating figure. From somewhere in the distance came the rumble of an elevated train. It drowned out the pound of the man's speeding footsteps; it died away itself—and now there was no other sound. A pucker, strangely wistful, curiously perturbed, came and furrowed her forehead into little wrinkles, and then she turned and walked slowly on along the deserted street.
The White Moll! She shook her head a little. The attack had not unnerved her. Why should it? It was simply that the man had not recognized her at first in the darkness. The White Moll here at night in one of the loneliest, as well as one of the most vicious and abandoned, quarters of New York, was as safe and inviolate as—as—She shook her head again. Her mind did not instantly suggest a comparison that seemed wholly adequate. The pucker deepened, but the sensitive, delicately chiseled lips parted now in a smile. Well, she was safer here than anywhere else in the world, that was all.
It was the first time that anything like this had happened, and, for the very reason that it was unprecedented, it seemed to stir her memory now, and awaken a dormant train of thought. The White Moll! She remembered the first time she had ever been called by that name. It took her back almost three years, and since that time, here in this sordid realm of crime and misery, the name of Rhoda Gray, her own name, her actual identity, seemed to have become lost, obliterated in that of the White Moll. A "dip" had given it to her, and the underworld, quick and trenchant in its "monikers," had instantly ratified it. There was not a crook or denizen of crimeland, probably, who did not know the White Moll; there was, probably, not one to-day who knew, or cared, that she was Rhoda Gray!
She went on, traversing block after block, entering a less deserted, though no less unsavory, neighborhood. Here, a saloon flung a sudden glow of yellow light athwart the sidewalk as its swinging doors jerked apart; and a form lurched out into the night; there, from a dance-hall came the rattle of a tinny piano, the squeak of a raspy violin, a high-pitched, hectic burst of laughter; while, flanking the street on each side, like interjected inanimate blotches, rows of squalid tenements and cheap, tumble-down frame houses silhouetted themselves in broken, jagged points against the sky-line. And now and then a man spoke to her—his untrained fingers fumbling in clumsy homage at the brim of his hat.
How strange a thing memory was! How strange, too, the coincidences that sometimes roused it into activity! It was a man, a thief, just like the man to-night, who had first brought her here into this shadowland of crime. That was just before her father had died. Her father had been a mining engineer, and, though an American, had been for many years resident in South America as the representative of a large English concern. He had been in ill health for a year down there, when, acting on his physician's advice, he had come to New York for consultation, and she had accompanied him. They had taken a little flat, the engineer had placed himself in the hands of a famous specialist, and an operation had been decided upon. And then, a few days prior to the date set for the operation and before her father, who was still able to be about, had entered the hospital, the flat had been broken into during the early morning hours. The thief, obviously not counting on the engineer's wakefulness, had been caught red-handed. At first defiant, the man had finally broken down, and had told a miserable story. It was hackneyed possibly, the same story told by a thousand others as a last defense in the hope of inducing leniency through an appeal to pity, but somehow to her that night the story had rung true. Pete McGee, alias the Bussard, the man had said his name was. He couldn't get any work; there was the shadow of a long abode in Sing Sing that lay upon him as a curse—a job here to-day, his record discovered to-morrow, and the next day out on the street again. It was very old, very threadbare, that story; there were even the sick wife, the hungry, unclothed children; but to her it had rung true. Her father had not placed the slightest faith in it, and but for her intervention the Bussard would have been incontinently consigned to the mercies of the police.
Her face softened suddenly now as she walked along. She remembered well that scene, when, at the end, she had written down the address the man had given her.
"Father is going to let you go, McGee, because I ask him to," she had said. "And to-morrow morning I will go to this address, and if I find your story is true, as I believe it is, I will see what I can do for you."
"It's true, miss, so help me God!" the man had answered brokenly. "Youse come an' see. I'll be dere-an'-an'-God bless youse, miss!"
And so they had let the man go free, and her father, with a whimsical, tolerant smile, had shaken his head at her. "You'll never find that address, Rhoda-or our friend the Bussard, either!"
But she had found both the Bussard and the address, and destitution and a squalor unspeakable. Pathetic still, but the vernacular of the underworld where men called their women by no more gracious names than "molls" and "skirts" no longer strange to her ears, there came to her again now the Bussard's words in which he had paid her tribute on that morning long ago, and with which he had introduced her to a shrunken form that lay upon a dirty cot in the barefloored room:
"Meet de moll I was tellin' youse about, Mag. She's white—all de way up. She's white, Mag; she's a white moll—take it from me."
The White Moll!
The firm little chin came suddenly upward; but into the dark eyes unbidden came a sudden film and mist. Her father's health had been too far undermined, and he had been unable to withstand the shock of the operation, and he had died in the hospital. There weren't any relatives, except distant ones on her mother's side, somewhere out in California, whom she had never seen. She and her father had been all in all to each other, chums, pals, comrades, since her mother's death many years ago. She had gone everywhere with him save when the demands of her education had necessarily kept them apart; she had hunted with him in South America, ridden with him in sections where civilization was still in the making, shared the crude, rough life of mining camps with him—and it had seemed as though her life, too, had gone out with his.
She brushed her hand hastily across her eyes. There hadn't been any friends either, apart from a few of her father's casual business acquaintances; no one else—except the Bussard. It was very strange! Her reward for that one friendly act had come in a manner little expected, and it had come very quickly. She had sought and found a genuine relief from her own sorrow in doing what she could to alleviate the misery in that squalid, one-room home. And then the sphere of her activities had broadened, slowly at first, not through any preconceived intention on her part, but naturally, and as almost an inevitable corollary consequent upon her relations with the Bussard and his ill-fortuned family.
The Bussard's circle of intimates was amongst those who lay outside the law, those who gambled for their livelihood by staking their wits, to win against the toils of the police; and so, more and more, she had come into close and intimate contact with the criminal element of New York, until to-day, throughout its length and breadth, she was known, and, she had reason to believe, was loved and trusted by every crook in the underworld. It was a strange eulogy, self-pronounced! But it was none the less true. Then, she had been Rhoda Gray; now, even the Bussard, doubtless, had forgotten her name in the one with which he himself, at that queer baptismal font of crimeland, had christened her—the White Moll. It even went further than that. It embraced what might be called the entourage of the underworld, the police and the social workers with whom she inevitably came in contact. These, too, had long known her as the White Moll, and had come, since she had volunteered no further information, tacitly to accept her as such, and nothing more.
Again she shook her head. It wasn't altogether a normal life. She was only a woman, with all the aspirations of a woman, with all the yearning of youth for its measure of gayety and pleasure. True, she had not made a recluse of herself outside her work; but, equally, on the other hand, she had not made any intimate friends in her own station in life. She had never purposed continuing indefinitely the work she was doing, nor did she now; but, little by little, it had forced its claims upon her until those claims were not easy to ignore. Even though the circumstances in which her father had left her were barely more than sufficient for a modest little flat uptown, there was still always a little surplus, and that surplus counted in certain quarters for very much indeed. But it wasn't only that. The small amount of money that she was able to spend in that way had little to do with it. The bonds which linked her to the sordid surroundings that she had come to know so well were stronger far than that. There wasn't any money involved in this visit, for instance, that she was going now to make to Gypsy Nan. Gypsy Nan was...
Rhoda Gray had halted before the doorway of a small, hovel-like, two-story building that was jammed in between two tenements, which, relatively, in their own class, were even more disreputable than was the little frame house itself. A secondhand-clothes store occupied a portion of the ground floor, and housed the proprietor and his family as well, permitting the rooms on the second floor to be "rented out"; the garret above was the abode of Gypsy Nan.
There was a separate entrance, apart from that into the secondhand-clothes store, and she pushed this door open and stepped forward into an absolutely black and musty-smelling hallway. By feeling with her hands along the wall she reached the stairs and began to make her way upward. She had found Gypsy Nan last night huddled in the lower doorway, and apparently in a condition that was very much the worse for wear. She had stopped and helped the woman upstairs to her garret, whereupon Gypsy Nan, in language far more fervent than elegant, had ordered her to begone, and had slammed the door in her face.
Rhoda Gray smiled a little wearily, as, on the second floor now, she groped her way to the rear, and began to mount a short, ladder-like flight of steps to the attic. Gypsy Nan's lack of cordiality did not absolve her, Rhoda Gray, from coming back to-night to see how the woman was—to crowd one more visit on her already over-expanded list. She had never had any personal knowledge of Gypsy Nan before, but, in a sense, the woman was no stranger to her. Gypsy Nan was a character known far and wide in the under-world as one possessing an insatiable and unquenchable thirst. As to who she was, or what she was, or where she got her money for the gin she bought, it was not in the ethics of the Bad Lands to inquire. She was just Gypsy Nan. So that she did not obtrude herself too obviously upon their notice, the police suffered her; so that she gave the underworld no reason for complaint, the underworld accepted her at face value as one of its own!
There was no hallway here at the head of the ladder-like stairs, just a sort of narrow platform in front of the attic door. Rhoda Gray, groping out with her hands again, felt for the door, and knocked softly upon it. There was no answer. She knocked again. Still receiving no reply, she tried the door, found it unlocked, and, opening it, stood for an instant on the threshold. A lamp, almost empty, ill-trimmed and smoking badly, stood on a chair beside a cheap iron bed; it threw a dull, yellow glow about its immediate vicinity, and threw the remainder of the garret into deep, impenetrable shadows; but also it disclosed the motionless form of a woman on the bed.
Rhoda Gray's eyes darkened, as she closed the door behind her, and stepped quickly forward to the bedside. For a moment she stood looking down at the recumbent figure; at the matted tangle of gray-streaked brown hair that straggled across a pillow which was none too clean; at the heavy-lensed, old-fashioned, steel-bowed spectacles, awry now, that were still grotesquely perched on the woman's nose; at the sallow face, streaked with grime and dirt, as though it had not been washed for months; at a hand, as ill-cared for, which lay exposed on the torn blanket that did duty for a counterpane; at the dirty shawl that enveloped the woman's shoulders, and which was tightly fastened around Gypsy Nan's neck-and from the woman her eyes shifted to an empty bottle on the floor that protruded from under the bed.
"Nan!" she called sharply; and, stooping over, shook the woman's shoulder. "Nan!" she repeated. There was something about the woman's breathing that she did not like, something in the queer, pinched condition of the other's face that suddenly frightened her. "Nan!" she called again.
Gypsy Nan opened her eyes, stared for a moment dully, then, in a curiously quick, desperate way, jerked herself up on her elbow.
"Youse get t'hell outer here!" she croaked. "Get out!"
"I am going to," said Rhoda Gray evenly. "And I'm going at once." She turned abruptly and walked toward the door. "I'm going to get a doctor. You've gone too far this time, Nan, and—"
"No, youse don't!" Gypsy Nan s voice rose in a sudden scream. She sat bolt upright in bed, and pulled a revolver out from under the coverings. "Youse don't bring no doctor here! See! Youse put a finger on dat door, an' it won't be de door youse'1l go out by!"
Rhoda Gray did not move.
"Nan, put that revolver down!" she ordered quietly. "You don't know what you are doing."
"Don't!" leered Gypsy Nan. The revolver held, swaying a little unsteadily, on Rhoda Gray. There was silence for a moment; then Gypsy Nan spoke again, evidently through dry lips, for she wet them again and again with her tongue: "Say, youse are de White Moll, ain't youse?"
"Yes," said Rhoda Gray.
Gypsy Nan appeared to ponder this for an instant.
"Well den, come back here an' sit down on de foot of de bed," she commanded finally.
Rhoda Gray obeyed without hesitation. There was nothing to do but humor the woman in her present state, a state that seemed one bordering on delirium and complete collapse.
"Nan," she said, "you—"
"De White Moll!" mumbled Gypsy Nan. "I wonder if de dope dey hands out about youse is all on de level? My Gawd, I wonder if wot dey says is true?"
"What do they say?" asked Rhoda Gray gently.
Gypsy Nan lay back on her pillow as though her strength, over-taxed, had failed her; her hand, though it still clutched the revolver, seemed to have been dragged down by the weapon's weight, and now rested upon the blanket.
"Dey say," said Gypsy Nan slowly, "dat youse knows more on de inside here dan anybody else—t'ings youse got from de spacers' molls, an' from de dips demselves when youse was lendin' dem a hand; dey say dere ain't many youse couldn't send up de river just by liftin' yer finger, but dat youse're straight, an' dat youse've kept yer map closed, an' dat youse' re safe."
Rhoda Gray's dark eyes softened, as she leaned forward and laid a hand gently over the one of Gypsy Nan that held the revolver.
"It couldn't be any other way, could it, Nan?" she said simply.
"Wot yer after?" demanded Gypsy Nan, with sudden mockery. "De gun? Well, take it!" She let go her hold of the weapon. "But don't kid yerself dat youse're kiddin' me into givin' it to youse because youse have got a pretty smile an' a sweet voice! Savvy? I"—she choked suddenly, and caught at her throat—"I guess youse're de only chance I got-dat's all."
"That's better," said Rhoda Gray encouragingly. "And now you'll let me go and get a doctor, won't you, Nan?"
"Wait!" said Gypsy Nan hoarsely. "Youse're de only chance I got. Will youse swear youse won't t'row me down if I tells youse somet'ing? I ain't got no other way. Will youse swear youse'll see me through?"
"Of course, Nan," said Rhoda Gray soothingly. "Of course, I will, Nan. I promise."
Gypsy Nan came up on her elbow.
"Dat ain't good enough!" she cried out. "A promise ain't good enough! For Gawd's sake, come across all de way! Swear youse'll keep mum an' see me through!"
"Yes, Nan"—Rhoda Gray's eyes smiled reassurance—"I swear it. But you will be all right again in the morning."
"Will I? You think so, do you? Well, I can only say that I wish I did!"
Rhoda Gray leaned sharply forward, staring in amazement at the figure on the bed. The woman's voice was the same, it was still hoarse, still heavy, and the words came with painful effort; but the English was suddenly perfect now.
"Nan, what is it? I don't understand!" she said tensely. "What do you mean?"
"You think you know what's the matter with me." There was a curious mockery in the weak voice. "You think I've drunk myself into this state. You think I'm on the verge of the D.T.'s now. That empty bottle under the bed proves it, doesn't it? And anybody around here will tell you that Gypsy Nan has thrown enough empties out of the window there to stock a bottle factory for years, some of them on the flat roof just outside the window, some of them on the roof of the shed below, and some of them down into the yard, just depending on how drunk she was and how far she could throw. And that proves it, too, doesn't it? Well, maybe it does, that's what I did it for; but I never touched the stuff, not a drop of it, from the day I came here. I didn't dare touch it. I had to keep my wits. Last night you thought I was drunk when you found me in the doorway downstairs. I wasn't. I was too sick and weak to get up here. I almost told you then, only I was afraid, and—and I thought that perhaps I'd be all right to-day."
"Oh, I didn't know!" Rhoda Gray was on her knees beside the bed. There was no room to question the truth of the woman's words, it was in Gypsy Nan's eyes, in the struggling, labored voice.
"Yes." Gypsy Nan clutched at the shawl around her neck, and shivered. "I thought I might be all right to-day, and that I'd get better. But I didn't. And now I've got about a chance in a hundred. I know. It's my heart."
"You mean you've been alone here, sick, since last night?" There was anxiety, perplexity, in Rhoda Gray's face. "Why didn't you call some one? Why did you even hold me back a few minutes ago, when you admit yourself that you need immediate medical assistance so badly?"
"Because," said Gypsy Nan, "if I've got a chance at all, I'd finish it for keeps if a doctor came here. I—I'd rather go out this way than in that horrible thing they call the 'chair.' Oh, my God, don't you understand that! I've seen pictures of it! It's a horrible thing—a horrible thing—horrible!"
"Nan"—Rhoda Gray steadied her voice—"you re delirious. You do not know what you are saying. There isn't any horrible thing to frighten you. Now you just lie quietly here. I'll only be a few minutes, and—" She stopped abruptly as her wrists were suddenly imprisoned in a frantic grip.
"You swore it!" Gypsy Nan was whispering feverishly. "You swore it! They say the White Moll never snitched. That's the one chance I've got, and I'm going to take it. I'm not delirious—not yet. I wish to God it was nothing more than that! Look!"
With a low, startled cry, Rhoda Gray was on her feet. Gypsy Nan was gone. A sweep of the woman's hand, and the spectacles were off, the gray-streaked hair a tangled wig upon the pillow—and Rhoda Gray found herself staring in a numbed sort of way at a dark-haired woman who could not have been more than thirty, but whose face, with its streaks of grime and dirt, looked grotesquely and incongruously old.
For a moment neither spoke, then Gypsy Nan broke the silence with a bitter laugh. She threw back the bedclothes, and, gripping at the edge of the bed, sat up.
"The White Moll!" The words rattled in her throat. A fleck of blood showed on her lips. "Well, you know now! You're going to help me, aren't you? I—I've got to get out of here—get to a hospital."
Rhoda Gray laid her hands firmly on the other's shoulders.
"Get back into bed," she said steadily. "Do you want to make yourself worse? You'll kill yourself!"
Gypsy Nan pushed her away.
"Don't make me use up what little strength I've got left in talking," she cried out piteously, and suddenly wrung her hands together. "I'm wanted by the police. If I'm caught, it's—it's that 'chair.' I couldn't have a doctor brought here, could I? How long would it be before he saw that Gypsy Nan was a fake? I can't let you go and have an ambulance, say, come and get me, can I, even with the disguise hidden away? They'd say this is where Gypsy Nan lives. There's something queer here. Where is Gypsy Nan? I've got to get away from here—away from Gypsy Nan—don't you understand? It's death one way; maybe it is the other, maybe it'll finish me to get out of here, but it's the only thing left to do. I thought some one, some one that I could trust, never mind who, would have come to-day, but-but no one came, and—and maybe now it s too late, but there's just the one chance, and I've got to take it." Gypsy Nan tore at the shawl around her throat as though it choked her, and flung it from her shoulders. Her eyes were gleaming with an unhealthy, feverish light. "Don't you see? We get out on the street. I collapse there. You find me. I tell you my name is Charlotte Green. That's all you know. There isn't much chance that anybody at the hospital would recognize me. I've got money. I take a private room. Don't you understand?"
Rhoda Gray's face had gone a little white. There was no doubt about the woman's serious condition, and yet—and yet—She stood there hesitant. There must be some other way! It was not likely even that the woman had strength enough to walk down the stairs to begin with. Strange things had come to her in this world of shadow, but none before like this. If the law got the woman it would cost the woman her life; if the woman did not receive immediate and adequate medical assistance it would cost the woman her life. Over and over in her brain, like a jangling refrain, that thought repeated itself. It was not like her to stand hesitant before any emergency, no matter what that emergency might be. She had never done it before, but now...
"For God's sake," Gypsy Nan implored, "don't stand there looking at me! Can't you understand? If I'm caught, I go out. Do you think I'd have lived in this filthy hole if there had been any other way to save my life? Are you going to let me die here like a dog? Get me my clothes; oh, for God's sake, get them, and give me the one chance that's left!"
A queer little smile came to Rhoda Gray's lips, and her shoulders straightened back.
"Where are your clothes?" she asked.
"God bless you!" The tears were suddenly streaming down the grimy face. "God bless the White Moll! It's true! It's true—all they said about her!" The woman had lost control of herself.
"Nan, keep your nerve!" ordered Rhoda Gray almost brutally. It was the White Moll in another light now, cool, calm, collected, efficient. Her eyes swept Gypsy Nan. The woman, who had obviously flung herself down on the bed fully dressed the night before, was garbed in coarse, heavy boots, the cheapest of stockings which were also sadly in need of repair, a tattered and crumpled skirt of some rough material, and, previously hidden by the shawl, a soiled, greasy and spotted black blouse. Rhoda Gray's forehead puckered into a frown. "What about your hands and face-they go with the clothes, don't they?"
"It'll wash off," whispered Gypsy Nan. "It's just some stuff I keep in a box-over there—the ceiling-" Her voice trailed off weakly, then with a desperate effort strengthened again. "The door! I forgot the door! It isn't locked! Lock the door first! Lock the door! Then you take the candle over there on the washstand, and—and I'll show you. You—you get the things while I'm undressing. I—I can help myself that much."
Rhoda Gray crossed quickly to the door, turned the key in the lock, and retraced her steps to the washstand that stood in the shadows against the wall on the opposite side from the bed, and near the far end of the garret. Here she found the short stub of a candle that was stuck in the mouth of a gin bottle, and matches lying beside it. She lighted the candle, and turned inquiringly to Gypsy Nan.
The woman pointed to the end of the garret where the roof sloped sharply down until, at the wall itself, it was scarcely four feet above the floor.
"Go down there. Right to the wall—in the center," instructed Gypsy Nan weakly. And then, as Rhoda Gray obeyed: "Now push up on that wide board in the ceiling."
Rhoda Gray, already in a stooped position, reached up, and pushed at a rough, unplaned board. It swung back without a sound, like a narrow trap-door, until it rested in an upright position against the outer frame of the house, disclosing an aperture through which, by standing erect, Rhoda Gray easily thrust her head and shoulders.
She raised the candle then through the opening—and suddenly her dark eyes widened in amazement. It was a hiding place, not only ingenious, but exceedingly generous in expanse. As far as one could reach the ceiling metamorphosed itself into a most convenient shelf. And it had been well utilized! It held a most astounding collection of things. There was a cashbox, but the cashbox was apparently wholly inadequate—there must have been thousands of dollars in those piles of banknotes that were stacked beside it! There was a large tin box, the cover off, containing some black, pastelike substance—the "stuff," presumably, that Gypsy Nan used on her face and hands. There was a bunch of curiously formed keys, several boxes of revolver cartridges, an electric flashlight, and a great quantity of the choicest brands of tinned and bottled fruits and provisions—and a little to one side, evidently kept ready for instant use, a suit of excellent material, underclothing, silk stockings shoes and hat were neatly piled together.
Rhoda Gray took the clothing, and went back to the bedside. Gypsy Nan had made little progress in disrobing. It seemed about all the woman could do to cling to the edge of the cot and sit upright.
"What does all this mean, Nan," she asked tensely; "all those things up there—that money?"
Gypsy Nan forced a twisted smile.
"It means I know how bad I am, or I wouldn't have let you see what you have," she answered heavily. "It means that there isn't any other way. Hurry! Get these things off! Get me dressed!"
But it took a long time. Gypsy Nan seemed with every moment to grow weaker. The lamp on the chair went out for want of oil. There was only the guttering candle in the gin bottle to give light. It threw weird, flickering shadows around the garret; it seemed to enhance the already deathlike pallor of the woman, as, using the pitcher of water and the basin from the washstand now, Rhoda Gray removed the grime from Gypsy Nan's face and hands.
It was done at last—and where there had once been Gypsy Nan, haglike and repulsive, there was now a stylishly, even elegantly, dressed woman of well under middle age. The transformation seemed to have acted as a stimulant upon Gypsy Nan. She laughed with nervous hilarity she even tried valiantly to put on a pair of new black kid gloves, but, failing in this, pushed them unsteadily into the pocket of her coat.
"I'm—I'm all right," she asserted fiercely, as Rhoda Gray, pausing in the act of gathering up the discarded garments, regarded her anxiously. "Bring me a package of that money after you've put those things away—yes, and you'll find a flashlight there. We'll need it going down the stairs."
Rhoda Gray made no answer. There was no hesitation now in her actions, as, to the pile of clothing in her arms, she added the revolver that lay on the blanket, and, returning to the little trap-door in the ceiling, hid them away; but her brain was whirling again in a turmoil of doubt. This was madness, utter, stark, blind madness, this thing that she was doing! It was suicide, literally that, nothing less than suicide for one in Gypsy Nan's condition to attempt this thing. But the woman would certainly die here, too, with out medical assistance—only there was the police! Rhoda Gray's face, as she stood upright in the little aperture again, throwing the wavering candle-rays around her, seemed suddenly to have grown pinched and wan. The police! The police! It was her conscience, then, that was gnawing at her—because of the police! Was that it? Well, there was also, then, another side. Could she turn informer, traitor, become a female Judas to a dying woman, who had sobbed and thanked her Maker because she had found some one whom she believed she could trust? That was a hideous and an abominable thing to do! "You swore it! You swore you'd see me through!"—the words came and rang insistently in her ears. The sweet, piquant little face set in hard, determined lines. Mechanically she picked up the flashlight and a package of the banknotes, lowered the board in the ceiling into place, and returned to Gypsy Nan.
"I'm ready, if there is no other way," she said soberly, as she watched the other tuck the money away inside her waist. "I said I would see you through, and I will. But I doubt if you are strong enough, even with what help I can give you, to get down the stairs, and even if you can, I am afraid with all my soul of the consequences to you, and—"
Gypsy Nan blew out the candle, and staggered to her feet.
"There isn't any other way." She leaned heavily on Rhoda Gray's arm. "Can't you see that? Don't you think I know? Haven't you seen enough here to convince you of that? I—I'm just spilling the dice for—for perhaps the last time—but it's the only chance—the only chance. Go on!" she urged tremulously. "Shoot the glim, and get me to the door. And—and for the love of God, don't make a sound! It's all up if we're seen going out!"
The flashlight's ray danced in crazy gyrations as the two figures swayed and crept across the garret. Rhoda Gray unlocked the door, and, as they passed out, locked it again on the outside.
"Hide the key!" whispered Gypsy Nan. "See—that crack in the floor under the partition! Slip it in there!"
The flashlight guiding her, Rhoda Gray stooped down to where, between the rough attic flooring and the equally rough boarding of the garret partition, there was a narrow space. She pushed the key in out of sight; and then, with her arm around Gypsy Nan's waist, and with the flashlight at cautious intervals winking ahead of her through the darkness, she began to descend the stairs.
It was slow work, desperately slow, both because they dared not make the slightest noise, and because, too, as far as strength was concerned, Gypsy Nan was close to the end of her endurance. Down one flight, and then the other, they went, resting at every few steps, leaning back against the wall, black shadows that merged with the blackness around them, the flashlight used only when necessity compelled it, lest its gleam might attract the attention of some other occupant of the house. And at times Gypsy Nan's head lay cheek to Rhoda Gray's, and the other's body grew limp and became a great weight, so heavy that it seemed she could no longer support it.
They gained the street door, hung there tensely for a moment to make sure they were not observed by any chance passer-by, then stepped out on the sidewalk. Gypsy Nan spoke then:
"I—I can't go much farther," she faltered. "But—but it doesn't matter now we're out of the house—it doesn't matter where you find me—only let's try a few steps more."
Rhoda Gray had slipped the flashlight inside her blouse.
"Yes," she said. Her breath was coming heavily. "It's all right, Nan. I understand."
They walked on a little way up the block, and then Gypsy Nan's grasp suddenly tightened on Rhoda Gray's arm.
"Play the game!" Gypsy Nan's voice was scarcely audible. "You'll play the game, won't you? You'll—you'll see me through. That's a good name—as good as any—Charlotte Green—that's all you know—but—but don't leave me alone with them—you—you'll come to the hospital with me, won't you—I—"
Gypsy Nan had collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk.
Rhoda Gray glanced swiftly around her. In the squalid tenement before which she stood there would be no help of the kind that was needed. There would be no telephone in there by means of which she could summon an ambulance. And then her glance rested on a figure far up the block under a street lamp—a policeman. She bent hurriedly over the prostrate woman, whispered a word of encouragement, and ran in the officer's direction.
As she drew closer to the policeman, she called out to him. He turned and came running toward, and, as he reached her, after a sharp glance into her face, touched his helmet respectfully.
"What's wrong with the White Moll to-night?" he asked pleasantly.
"There's—there's a woman down there"—Rhoda Gray was breathless from her run—"on the sidewalk. She needs help at once."
"Drunk?" inquired the officer laconically.
"No, I'm sure it's anything but that," Rhoda Gray answered quickly. "She appears to be very sick. I think you had better summon an ambulance without delay."
"All right!" agreed the officer. "There's a patrol box down there in the direction you came from. We'll have a look at her on the way." He started briskly forward with Rhoda Gray beside him. "Who is she d'ye know?" he asked.
"She said her name was Charlotte Green," Rhoda Gray replied. "That's all she could, or would, say about herself."
"Then she ain't a regular around here, or I guess you'd know her!" grunted the policeman.
Rhoda Gray made no answer.
They reached Gypsy Nan. The officer bent over her, then picked her up and carried her to the tenement doorway.
"I guess you're right, all right! She's bad! I'll send in a call," he said, and started on the run down the street.
Gypsy Nan had lost consciousness. Rhoda Gray settled herself on the doorstep, supporting the woman's head in her lap. Her face had set again in grim, hard, perplexed lines. There seemed something unnatural, something menacingly weird, something even uncanny about it all. Perhaps it was because it seemed as though she could so surely foresee the end. Gypsy Nan would not live through the night. Something told her that. The woman's masquerade, for whatever purpose it had been assumed, was over. "You'll play the game, won't you? You'll see me through?" There seemed something pitifully futile in those words now!
The officer returned.
"It's all right," he said. "How's she seem?"
Rhoda Gray shook her head.
A passer-by stopped, asked what was the matter—and lingered curiously. Another, and another, did the same. A little crowd collected. The officer kept them back. Came then the strident clang of a gong and the rapid beat of horses' hoofs. A white-coated figure jumped from the ambulance, pushed his way forward, and bent over the form in Rhoda Gray's lap. A moment more, and they were carrying Gypsy Nan to the ambulance.
Rhoda Gray spoke to the officer:
"I think perhaps I had better go with her."
"Sure!" said the officer.
She caught snatches of the officer's words, as he made a report to the doctor:
"Found her here in the street...Charlotte Green...nothing else...the White Moll, straight as God makes 'em...she'll see the woman through." He turned to Rhoda Gray. "You can get in there with them, miss."
It took possibly ten minutes to reach the hospital, but, before that time, Gypsy Nan, responding in a measure to stimulants, had regained consciousness. She insisted on clinging to Rhoda Gray's hand as they carried in the stretcher.
"Don't leave me!" she pleaded. And then, for the first time, Gypsy Nan's nerve seemed to fail her. "I—oh, my God—I—I don't want to die!" she cried out.
But a moment later, inside the hospital, as the admitting officer began to ask questions of Rhoda Gray, Gypsy Nan had apparently recovered her grip upon herself.
"Ah, let her alone!" she broke in. "She doesn't know me any more than you do. She found me on the street. But she was good to me, God bless her!"
"Your name's Charlotte Green? Yes?" The man nodded. "Where do you live?"
"Wherever I like!" Gypsy Nan was snarling truculently now. "What's it matter where I live? Don't you ever have any one come here without a letter from the pastor of her church!" She pulled out the package of banknotes. "You aren't going to get stuck. This'll see you through whatever happens. Give me a—a private room, and"—her voice was weakening rapidly—"and"—there came a bitter, facetious laugh—"the best you've got." Her voice was weakening rapidly.
They carried her upstairs. She still insisted on clinging to Rhoda Gray's hand.
"Don't leave me!" she pleaded again, as they reached the door of a private room, and Rhoda Gray disengaged her hand gently.
"I'll stay outside here," Rhoda Gray promised. "I won't go away without seeing you again."
Rhoda Gray sat down on a settee in the hall. She glanced at her wrist watch. It was five minutes of eleven. Doctors and nurses came and went from the room. Then a great quiet seemed to settle down around her. A half hour passed. A doctor went into the room, and presently came out again. She intercepted him as he came along the corridor.
He shook his head.
She did not understand his technical explanation. There was something about a clot and blood stoppage. But as she resumed her seat, she understood very fully that the end was near. The woman was resting quietly now, the doctor had said, but if she, Rhoda Gray, cared to wait, she could see the other before leaving the hospital.
And so she waited. She had promised Gypsy Nan she would.
The minutes dragged along. A quarter of an hour passed. Still another. Midnight came. Fifteen minutes more went by, and then a nurse came out of the room, and, standing by the door, beckoned to Rhoda Gray.
"She is asking for you," the nurse said. "Please do not stay more than a few minutes. I shall be outside here, and if you notice the slightest change, call me instantly."
Rhoda Gray nodded.
"I understand," she said.
The door closed softly behind her. She was smiling cheerily as she crossed the room and bent over Gypsy Nan.
The woman stretched out her hand.
"The White Moll!" she whispered. "He told the truth, that bull did—straight as they make 'em, and—"
"Don't try to talk," Rhoda Gray interrupted gently. "Wait until you are a little stronger."
"Stronger!" Gypsy Nan shook her head. "Don't try to kid me! I know. They told me. I'd have known it anyway. I'm going out."
Rhoda Gray found no answer for a moment. A great lump had risen in her throat. Neither would she have needed to be told; she, too, would have known it anyway—it was stamped in the gray pallor of the woman's face. She pressed Gypsy Nan's hand.
And then Gypsy Nan spoke again, a queer, yearning hesitancy in her voice:
"Do—do you believe in God?"
"Yes," said Rhoda Gray simply.
Gypsy Nan closed her eyes.
"Do—do you think there is a chance—even at the last—if—if, without throwing down one's pals, one tries to make good?"
"Yes," said Rhoda Gray again.
"Is the door closed?" Gypsy Nan attempted to raise herself on her elbow, as though to see for herself.
Rhoda Gray forced the other gently back upon the pillows.
"It is closed," she said. "You need not be afraid."
"What time is it?" demanded Gypsy Nan.
Rhoda Gray looked at her watch.
"Twenty-five minutes after twelve," she answered.
"There's time yet, then," whispered Gypsy Nan. "There's time yet." She lay silent for a moment, then her hand closed tightly around Rhoda Gray's. "Listen!" she said. "There's more about—about why I lived like that than I told you. And—and I can't tell you now—I can't go out like a yellow cur—I'm not going to snitch on anybody else just because I'm through myself. But—but there's something on to-night that I'd—I'd like to stop. Only the police, or anybody else, aren't to know anything about it, because then they'd nip my friends. See? But you can do it—easy. You can do it alone without anybody knowing. There's time yet. They weren't going to pull it until halfpast one—and there won't be any danger for you. All you've got to do is get the money before they do, and then see that it goes back where it belongs to-morrow. Will you? You don't want to see a crime committed to-night if—if you can stop it, do you?"
Rhoda Gray's face was grave. She hesitated for a moment.
"I'll have to know more than that before I can answer you, Nan," she said.
"It's the only way to stop it!" Gypsy Nan whispered feverishly. "I won't split on my pals—I won't—I won't! But I trust you. Will you promise not to snitch if I tell you how to stop it, even if you don't go there yourself? I'm offering you a chance to stop a twenty-thousand-dollar haul. If you don't promise it's got to go through, because I've got to stand by the ones that were in it with me. I—I'd like to make good—just—once. But I can't do it any other way. For God's sake, you see that, don't you?"
"Yes," said Rhoda Gray in a low voice; "but the promise you ask for is the same as though I promised to try to get the money you speak of. If I knew what was going on, and did nothing, I would be an accomplice to the crime, and guilty myself."
"But I can't do anything else!" Gypsy Nan was speaking with great difficulty. "I won't get those that were with me in wrong—I won't! You can prevent a crime to-night, if you will—you—you can help me to—to make good."
Rhoda Gray's lips tightened, "Will you give me your word that I can do what you suggest—that it is feasible, possible?"
"Yes," said Gypsy Nan. "You can do it easily, and—and it's safe. It—it only wants a little nerve, and—and you've got that."
"I promise, then," said Rhoda Gray.
"Thank God!" Gypsy Nan pulled fiercely at Rhoda Gray's wrist. "Come nearer-nearer! You know Skarbolov, old Skarbolov, who keeps the antique store—on the street—around the corner from my place?" Rhoda Gray nodded.
"He's rich!" whispered Gypsy Nan. "Think of it! Him—rich! But he gets the best of the Fifth Avenue crowd just because he keeps his joint in that rotten hole. They think they're getting the real thing in antiques! He's a queer old fool. Afraid people would know he had money if he kept it in the bank—afraid of a bank, too. Understand? We found out that every once in a while he'd change a lot of small bills for a big one—five-hundred-dollar bills—thousand-dollar bills. That put us wise. We began to watch him. It took months to find where he hid it. We've spent night after night searching through his shop. You can get in easily. There's no one there—upstairs is just a storage place for his extra stock. There's a big padlock on the back door, but there's a false link in the chain—count three links to the right from the padlock—we put it there, and—"
Gypsy Nan's voice had become almost inaudible. She pulled at Rhoda Gray's wrist again, urging her closer.
"Listen—quick! I—my strength!" she panted. "An antique he never sells—old escritoire against rear wall—secret drawer—take out wide middle drawer—reach in and rub your hand along the top—you'll feel the spring. We waited to—to get—get counterfeits—put counterfeits there—understand? Then he'd never know he'd been robbed—not for a long time anyway—discovered perhaps when he was dead—old wife—suffer then—I—got to make good—make good—I—" She came up suddenly on both her elbows, the dark eyes staring wildly. "Yes, yes!" she whispered. "Seven-three-nine! Look out!" Her voice rang with sudden terror, rising almost to a scream. "Look out! Can't you understand, you fool! I've told you! Seven-three-nine! Seven-three..."
Rhoda Gray's arms had gone around the other's shoulders. She heard the door open-and then a quick, light step. There wasn't any other sound now. She made way mechanically for the nurse. And then, after a moment, she rose from her knees. The nurse answered her unspoken question.
"Yes; it's over."
III. ALIAS GYPSY NAN
Rhoda Gray went slowly from the room. In a curiously stunned sort of way she reached the street, and for a few blocks walked along scarcely conscious of the direction she was taking. Her mind was in turmoil. The night seemed to have been one of harrowing hallucination; it seemed as though it were utterly unreal, like one dreaming that one is dreaming. And then, suddenly, she looked at her watch, and the straight little shoulders squared resolutely back. The hallucination, if she chose to call it that, was not yet over! It was twenty minutes of one, and there was still Skarbolov's—and her promise.
She quickened her pace. She did not like this promise that she had made; but, on the other hand, she had not made it either lightly or impulsively. She had no regrets on that score. She would make it again under the same conditions. How could she have done otherwise? It would have been to stand aside and permit a crime to be committed which she was assured was easily within her power to prevent. What excuse could she have had for that? Fear wasn't an excuse. She did not like the thought of entering the back door of a store in the middle of the night like a thief, and, like a thief, taking away that hidden money. She knew she was going to be afraid, horribly afraid—it frightened her now—but she could not let that fear make a moral coward of her.
Her hands clenched at her sides. She would not allow herself to dwell upon that phase of it! She was going to Skarbolov's, and that was all there was to it. The only thing she really had to fear was that she should lose even a single unnecessary moment in getting there. Halfpast one, Gypsy Nan had said. That should give her ample time; but the quicker she went, the wider the margin of safety.
Her thoughts reverted to Gypsy Nan. What had the woman meant by her last few wandering words? They had nothing to do with Skarbolov's, that was certain; but the words came back now insistently. "Seven-three-nine." What did "seven-three-nine" mean? She shook her head helplessly. Well, what did it matter? She dismissed further consideration of it. She repeated to herself Gypsy Nan's directions for finding the spring of the secret drawer. She forced herself to think of anything that would bar the entry of that fear which stood lurking at the threshold of her mind.
From time to time she consulted her watch—and each time hurried the faster.
It was five minutes past one when, stealing silently along a black lane, and counting against the skyline the same number of buildings she had previously counted on the street from the corner, she entered an equally black yard, and reached the back door of Skarbolov's little store. She felt out with her hands and found the padlock, and her fingers pressed on the link in the chain that Gypsy Nan had described. It gave readily. She slipped it free, and opened the door. There was faint, almost inaudible, protesting creak from the hinges. She caught her breath quickly. Had anybody heard it? It—it had seemed like a cannon shot. And then her lips curled in sudden self-contempt. Who was there to hear it?
She stepped forward, closed the door silently behind her, and drew out her flashlight. The ray cut through the blackness. She was in what seemed like a small, outer storeroom, that was littered with an untidy collection of boxes, broken furniture, and odds and ends of all sorts. Ahead of her was an open door, and, through this, the flashlight disclosed the shop itself. She switched off the light now as she moved forward-there were the front windows, and, used too freely, the light might by some unlucky chance be noticed from the street.
And now, in the darkness again, she reached the doorway of the shop. She had not made any noise. She assured herself of that. She had never known that she could move so silently before—and—and—Yes, she would fight down this panic that was seizing her! She would! It would only take a minute now—just another minute—if—if she would only keep her head and her nerve. That was what Gypsy Nan had said. She only needed to keep her nerve. She had never lost it in the face of many a really serious danger when with her father—why should she now, when there was nothing but the silence and the darkness to be afraid of!
The flashlight went on again, its ray creeping inquisitively now along the rear wall of the shop. It held finally on an escritoire over in the far corner at her right.
Once more the light went out. She moved swiftly across the floor, and in a moment more was bending over the escritoire. And now, with her body hiding the flashlight's rays from the front windows, she examined the desk. It was an old-fashioned, spindle-legged affair, with a nest of pigeonholes and multifarious little drawers. One of the drawers, wider than any of the others, and in the center, was obviously the one to which Gypsy Nan referred. She pulled out the drawer, and in the act of reaching inside, suddenly drew back her hand. What was that? Instinctively she switched off the flashlight, and stood tense and rigid in the darkness.
A minute passed-another. Still she listened. There was no sound—unless—unless she could actually hear the beating of her heart. Fancy! Imagination! The darkness played strange tricks! It—it wasn't so easy to keep one' s nerve. She could have sworn that she had heard some sort of movement back there down the shop.
Angry with herself, she thrust her hand into the opening now and felt hurriedly around. Yes, there it was! Her fingers touched what was evidently a little knob or button. She pressed upon it. There was a faint, answering click. She turned on the flashlight again. What had before appeared to be nothing but one of the wide, pearl inlaid partitions between two of the smaller drawers, was protruding invitingly outward now by the matter of an inch or so. Rhoda Gray pulled it open. It was very shallow, scarcely three-quarters of an inch in depth, but it was quite long enough, and quite wide enough for its purpose! Inside, there lay a little pile of banknotes, banknotes of very large denomination—the one on top was a thousand-dollar bill.
She reached in and took out the money-and then from Rhoda Gray's lips there came a little cry, the flashlight dropped from her hand and smashed to the floor, and she was clinging desperately to the edge of the escritoire for support. The shop was flooded with light. Over by the side wall, one hand still on the electric-light switch, the other holding a leveled revolver, stood a man.
And then the man spoke—with an oath—with curious amazement:
"My God—a woman!"
She did not speak, or stir. It seemed as though not fear, but horror now, held her powerless to move her limbs. Her first swift brain-flash had been that it was one of Gypsy Nan's accomplices here ahead of the appointed time. That would have given her cause, all too much of cause, for fear; but it was not one of Gypsy Nan's accomplices, and, far worse than the fear of any physical attack upon her, was the sense of ruin and disaster that the realization of a quite different and more desperate situation brought her now. She knew the man. She had seen those square, heavy, clamped jaws scores of times. Those sharp, restless black eyes under over-hanging, shaggy eyebrows were familiar to the whole East Side. It was Rorke—"Rough" Rorke, of headquarters.
He came toward her, and halfway across the room another exclamation burst from his lips; but this time it held a jeer, and in the jeer a sort of cynical and savage triumph.
"The White Moll!"
He was close beside her now, and now he snatched from her hand the banknotes that, all unconsciously, she had still been clutching tightly.
"So this is what all the sweet charity's been about, eh?" he snapped. "The White Moll, the Little Saint of the East Side, that lends a helping hand to the crooks to get 'em back on the straight and narrow again! The White Moll-hell! You crooked little devil!"
Again she did not answer. Her mind was clear now, brutally clear, brutally keen, brutally virile. What was there for her to say? She was caught here at one o'clock in the morning after breaking into the place, caught red-handed in the very act of taking the money. What story could she tell that would clear her of that! That she had taken it so that it wouldn't be stolen, and that she was going to give it back in the morning? Was there anybody in the world credulous enough to believe anything like that! Tell Gypsy Nan's story, all that had happened to-night? Yes, she might have told that to-morrow, after she had returned the money, and been believed. But now-no! It would even make her appear in a still worse light. They would credit her with being a member of this very gang to which Gypsy Nan belonged, one in the secrets of an organized band of criminals, who was trying to clear her own skirts at the expense of her confederates. Everything, every act of hers to-night, pointed to that construction being placed upon her story, pointed to duplicity. Why had she hidden the identity of Gypsy Nan? Why had she not told the police that a crime was to be committed, and left it to the police to frustrate it? It would fit in with the story, of course—but the story was the result of having been caught in the act of stealing twenty thousand dollars in cash! What was there to say—and, above all, to this man, whose reputation for callous brutality in the handling of those who fell into his hands had earned him the sobriquet of "Rough" Rorke? Sick at heart, desperate, but with her hands clenched now, she stood there, while the man felt unceremoniously over her clothing for a concealed weapon.
Finding none, he stooped, picked up the flashlight, tested it, and found it broken from its fall.
"Too bad you bust this, we'll have to go out in the dark after I switch off the light," he said with unpleasant facetiousness. "I didn't have one with me, or time to get one, when I got tipped off there was something doing here to-night." He caught her ungently by the arm. "Well, come along, my pretty lady! This'll make a stir, this will! The White Moll!" He led her to the electric-light switch, turned off the light, and, with his grasp tight upon her, made for the front door. He chuckled in a sinister manner. "Say, you're a prize, you are! And pretty clever, too, aren't you? I wasn't looking for a woman to pull this. The White Moll! Some saint!"
Rhoda Gray shivered. Disgrace, ruin, stared her in the face. A sea of faces in a courtroom, morbid faces, hideous faces, leered at her. Gray walls rose before her, walls that shut out sunshine and hope, pitiless, cold things that seemed to freeze the blood in her veins. And to-night, in just a few minutes more—a cell!
From the street outside came the sound of some one making a cheery, but evidently a somewhat inebriated, attempt to whistle some ragtime air. It seemed to enhance her misery, to enhance by contrast in its care-free cheeriness the despair and misery that were eating into her soul. Her hands clenched and unclenched. If there were only a chance—somewhere—somehow! If only she were not a woman! If she could only fight this hulking form that gripped so brutally at her arm!
Rough Rorke opened the door, and pulled her out to the street. She shrank back instinctively. It was quite light here from a nearby street lamp, and the owner of the whistle, a young man, fashionably dressed, decidedly unsteady on his legs, and just opposite the door as they came out, had stopped both his whistle and his progress along the street to stare at them owlishly.
"'Ullo!" said the young man thickly. "What'sh all this about—eh? What'sh you two doing in that place this time of night—eh?"
"Beat it!" ordered Rough Rorke curtly.
"That'sh all right." The young man came nearer. He balanced himself with difficulty, but upon him there appeared to have descended suddenly a vast dignity. "I'm—hic—law—'biding citizen. Gotta know. Gotta show me. Damn funny—coming out of there this time of night! Eh—what'sh the idea?"
Rough Rorke, with his free hand, grabbed the young man by the shoulder angrily.
"Mind your own business, or you'll get into trouble!" he rasped out. "I'm an officer, and this woman is under arrest. Beat it! D'ye hear? Beat it—or I'll run you in, too!"
"Is that'sh so!" The young man's tones expressed a fuddled defiance. He rocked on his feet and stared from one to the other. "Shay, is that'sh so! You will—eh? Gotta show me. How do I know you're—hic—officer? Eh? More likely damned thief yourself! I—"
The young man lurched suddenly and violently forward, breaking Rough Rorke's grip on Rhoda Gray—and, as his arms swept out to grasp at the detective in an apparently wild effort to preserve his balance, Rhoda Gray felt a quick, significant push upon her shoulder.
For the space of time it takes a watch to tick she stood startled and amazed, and then, like a flash, she was speeding down the street. A roar of rage, a burst of unbridled profanity went up from Rough Rorke behind her; it was mingled with equally angry vituperation in the young man's voice. She looked behind her. The two men were swaying around crazily in each other's arms. She ran on—faster than she had ever run in her life. The corner was not far ahead. Her brain was working with lightning speed. Gypsy Nan's house was just around the corner. If she could get out of sight—hide—it would...
She glanced behind her again, as her ears caught the pound of racing feet. The young man was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, shaking his fist; Rough Rorke, perhaps a bare fifty yards away, was chasing her at top speed.
Her face set hard. She could not out-run a man! There was only one hope for her—just one—to gain Gypsy Nan's doorway before Rorke got around the corner.
A yard—another—still another! She swerved around the corner. And, as she turned, she caught a glimpse of the detective. The man was nearer—much nearer. But it was only a little way, just a little way, to Gypsy Nan's—not so far as the distance between her and Rorke—and—and if the man didn't gain too fast, then—then—A little cry of dismay came with a new and terrifying thought. Quite apart from Rorke, some one else might see her enter Gypsy Nan's! She strained her eyes in all directions as she ran. There wasn't any one—she didn't see any one—only Rorke, around the corner there, was bawling out at the top of his voice, and—and...
She flung herself against Gypsy Nan's door, stumbled in, and, closing it, heard Rorke just swinging around the corner. Had he seen her? She didn't know. She was panting, gasping for her breath. It seemed as though her lungs would burst. She held her hand tightly to her bosom as she made for the stairs—she mustn't make any noise—they mustn't hear her breathing like that—they—they mustn't hear her going up the stairs.
How dark it was! If she could only see—so that she would be sure not to stumble! She couldn't go fast now—she would make a noise if she did. Stair after stair she climbed stealthily. Perhaps she was safe now—it had taken her a long time to get up here to the second floor, and there wasn't any sound yet from the street below.
And now she mounted the short, ladder-like steps to the attic, and, feeling with her hand for the crack in the flooring under the partition, reached in for the key. As her fingers closed upon it, she choked back a cry. Some one had been here! A piece of paper was wrapped around the key. What did it mean? What did all these strange, yes, sinister, things that had happened to-night mean? How had Rorke known that a robbery was to be committed at Skarbolov's? Who was that man who had effected her escape, and who, she knew now, was no more drunk than she was? Fast, quick, piling one upon the other, the questions raced through her mind.
She fought them back. There was no time for speculation now! There was only one question that mattered: Was she safe?
She stood up, thrust the paper for safe-keeping into her bosom, and unlocked the door. If—if Rorke did not know that she had entered this house here, she could remain hidden for a few hours; it would give her time to think, and...
It came this time, no strength of will would hold it back, a little moan. The front door below had opened, a heavy footstep sounded in the lower hall. She couldn't see, of course. But she knew. It was Rorke! She heard him coming up the stairs.
And then, in a flash, it seemed, her brain responded to her despairing cry. There was still a way—a desperate one—but still a way—if there was time! She darted inside the garret, locked the door, found the matches and candle, and, running silently to the rear wall, pushed up the board in the ceiling. In frantic haste she tore off her outer garments, her stockings and shoes, pulled on the rough stockings and coarse boots that Gypsy Nan had worn, slipped the other's greasy, threadbare skirt over her head, and pinned the shawl tight about her shoulders. There was a big, voluminous pocket in the skirt, and into this she dropped Gypsy Nan's revolver, and the paper she had found wrapped around the key.
She could hear a commotion from below now. It was the one thing she had counted upon. Rough Rorke might know she had entered the house, but he could not know whereabouts in the house she was, and he would naturally search each room as he came to it on the way up. She fitted the gray-streaked wig of tangled, matted hair upon her head, plunged her hand into the box that Gypsy Nan used for her make-up and daubed some of the grime upon both hands and face, adjusted the spectacles upon her nose, hid her own clothing, closed the narrow trap-door in the ceiling, and ran back, carrying the candle, to the washstand.
Here, there was a small and battered mirror, and more coolly, more leisurely now, for the commotion still continued from the floor below, she spread and rubbed in, as craftily as she could, the grime streaks on her face and hands. It was neither artistic nor perfect, but in the meager, flickering light now the face of Gypsy Nan seemed to stare reassuringly back at her. It might not deceive any one in daylight—she did not know, and it did not matter now—but with only this candle to light the garret, since the lamp was empty, she could fairly count on her identity not being questioned.
She blew out the candle, left it on the washstand, because, if she could help it, she did not want to risk having it lighted near the bed or door, and, tiptoeing now, went to the door, unlocked it, then threw herself down upon the bed.
Possibly a minute went by, possibly two, and then there was a quick step on the ladder-like stairs, the door handle was rattled violently, and the door was flung open and slammed shut again.
Rhoda Gray sat upright on the bed. It was her wits now, her wits against Rough Rorke's; nothing else could save her. She could not even make out the man's form, it was so dark; but, as he had not moved, she was quite well aware that he was standing with his back to the door, evidently trying to place his surroundings.
It was Gypsy Nan, not Rhoda Gray, who spoke.
"Who's dere?" she screeched. "D'ye hear, blast youse, who's dere?"
Rough Rorke laughed gratingly.
"That you, Nan, my dear?"
"Who d'youse t'ink it is-me gran'mother?" demanded Rhoda Gray caustically. "Who are youse?"
"Rorke," said Rorke shortly. "I guess you know, don't you?"
"Is dat so?" snorted Rhoda Gray. "Well den, youse can beat it—hop it—on de jump! Wot t'hell right have youse got bustin' into me room at dis time of night—eh? I ain't done nothin'!"
Rough Rorke, his feet scuffling to feel the way, came forward.
"Cut it out!" he snarled. "I ain't the only visitor you've got! It's not you I want; it's the White Moll."
"Wot's dat got to do wid me?" Rhoda Gray flung back hotly. "She ain't here, is she?"
"Yes, she's here!" Rough Rorke's voice held an ugly menace. "I lost her around the corner, but a woman from a window across the street, who heard the row, saw her run into this house. She ain't downstairs—so you can figure the rest out the same way I do."
"De woman was kiddin' youse!" Rhoda Gray, alias Gypsy Nan, cackled derisively. "Dere ain't nobody here but me."
"We'll see about that!" said Rough Rorke shortly. "Strike a light!"
"Aw, strike it yerself!" retorted Rhoda Gray. "I ain't yer servant! Dere's a candle over dere on de washstand against de wall, if youse wants it."
A match crackled and spurted into flame; its light fell upon the lamp standing on the chair beside the bed. Rough Rorke stepped toward it.
"Dere ain't any oil in dat," croaked Rhoda Gray. "Didn't I tell youse de candle was over dere on de washstand, an'—"
The words seemed to freeze in her throat, the chair, the lamp, the shadowy figure of the man in the match flame to swirl before her eyes, and a sick nausea to come upon her soul itself. With a short, triumphant oath, Rough Rorke had stopped suddenly and reached in under the chair. And now he was dangling a new, black kid glove in front of her. Caught! Yes, she was caught! She remembered Gypsy Nan's attempt to put on her gloves—one must have fallen to the floor unnoticed by either of them when Gypsy Nan had thought to put them in her pocket! The man's voice came to her as from some great distance:
"So, she ain't here—ain't she! I'll teach you to lie to me! I'll—" The match was dying out. Rorke raised it higher, and with the last flicker located the washstand, and made toward it, obviously for the candle.
Her wits against Rough Rorke's! Nothing else could save her! Failing to find any one here but herself, certain now that the White Moll was here, only a fool could have failed in his deduction—and Rough Rorke was not a fool. Her wits against Rough Rorke's! There was the time left her while the garret was still in darkness, just that, no more!
With a quick spring she leaped from the bed, seized the chair, sending the lamp to the floor, and, dragging the chair after her to make as much noise and confusion as she could, she rushed for the door, screeching at the top of her voice:
"Run, dearie, run! Run!" She was scuffling with her feet, clattering the chair, as she wrenched the door open. And then, in her own voice: "Nan, I won't! I won't let you stand for this, I—"
Then as Gypsy Nan again: "Run, dearie! Don't youse mind old Nan!" She banged the door shut, locked it, and whipped out the key. It had taken scarcely a second. She was still screeching at the top of her voice to cover the absence of flying footers on the stairs. "Run, dearie, run! Run!"
And then, in the darkness, the candle still unlighted, Rough Rorke was on her like a madman. With a sweep of his arm he sent her crashing to the floor, and wrenched at the door. The next instant he was on her again.
"The key! Give me that key!" he roared.
For answer she flung it from her. It fell with a tinkle on the floor at the far end of the garret. The man was beside himself with rage.
"Damn you, if I had time, I'd wring your neck for this, you she-devil!" he bawled-and raced back, evidently for the candle on the washstand.
Rhoda Gray, sprawled on the floor where he had thrown her, did not move-except to take the revolver from the pocket of her dress. She was crooning queerly to herself, as she watched Rough Rorke light the candle and grope around on the floor:
"She was good to me, de White Moll was. Jellies an' t'ings she brought me, she did. An' Gypsy Nan don't ferret. Gypsy Nan don't—"
She sat up suddenly, snarling. Rorke had found the key, left the bottle with the short stub of guttering candle standing on the floor, and was back again.
"By God!" he gritted through his teeth, as he jabbed the key with frantic haste into the lock. "I'll fix you for this!" He made a clutch at her throat, as he swung the door open.
She jerked herself backward, eluding him, her revolver leveled.
"Youse keep yer dirty paws off me!" she screamed. "Yah, wot can youse do! Wot do I care! She was good to me, she was, an—"
Rough Rorke was gone-taking the stairs three and four at a time. Then she heard the street door slam.
She rose slowly to her feet—and suddenly reached out, grasping at the door to steady herself. It seemed as though every muscle had gone limp, as though her limbs had not strength to support her. And for a moment she hung there, then she locked the door, staggered back, sank down on the edge of the bed, and, with her chin in her hands, stared at the guttering stub of candle. And presently, in an almost aimless, mechanical way, she felt in her pocket for the piece of paper that she had found wrapped around the key, and drew it out. There were three figures scrawled upon it—nothing else.
7 3 9
She dropped her chin in her hands again, and stared again at the candle. And after a while the candle went out.
IV. THE ADVENTURER
Twenty-Four hours had passed. Twenty four hours! Was it no more than that since—Rhoda Gray, in the guise of Gypsy Nan, as she sat on the edge of the disreputable, poverty-stricken cot, grew suddenly tense, holding her breath as she listened. The sound reached the attic so faintly that it might be but the product solely of the imagination. No—it came again! And it even defined itself now—a stealthy footstep on the lower stairs.
A small, leather-bound notebook, in which she had been engrossed, was tucked instantly away under the soiled blanket, and she glanced sharply around the garret. A new candle, which she had bought in the single excursion she had ventured to make from the house during the day, was stuck in the neck of the gin bottle, and burned now on the chair beside her. She had not bought a new lamp—it gave too much light! The old one, the pieces of it, lay over there, brushed into a heap in the corner on the floor.
The footstep became more audible. Her lips tightened a little. The hour was late. It must be already after eleven o'clock. Her eyes grew perturbed. Perhaps it was only one of the unknown tenants of the floor below going to his or her room; but, on the other hand, no one had come near the garret since last night, when that strange and, yes, sinister trick of fate had thrust upon her the personality of Gypsy Nan, and it was hoping for too much to expect such seclusion to obtain much longer. There were too many who must be interested, vitally interested, in Gypsy Nan! There was Rough Rorke, of headquarters; he had given no sign, but that did not mean he had lost interest in Gypsy Nan. There was the death of the real Gypsy Nan, which was pregnant with possibilities; and though the newspapers, that she, Rhoda Gray, had bought and scanned with such tragic eagerness, had said nothing about the death of one Charlotte Green in the hospital, much less had given any hint that the identity Gypsy Nan had risked so much to hide had been discovered, it did not mean that the police, with their own ends in view, might not be fully informed, and were but keeping their own counsel while they baited a trap.
Also, and even more to be feared, there were those of this criminal organization to which Gypsy Nan had belonged, and to which she, Rhoda Gray, through a sort of hideous proxy, now belonged herself! Sooner or later, they must show their hands, and the test of her identity would come. And here her danger was the greater because she did not know who any of them were, unless the man who had stepped in between Rough Rorke and herself last night was one of them—which was a question that had harassed her all day. The man had been no more drunk than she had been, and he had obviously only played the part to get her out of the clutches of Rough Rorke; but, against this, he had seen her simply as herself then, the White Moll, and what could the criminal associates of Gypsy Nan have cared as to what became of the White Moll?
A newspaper, to procure which had been the prime motive that had lured her out of her retreat that afternoon, caught her eye now, and she shivered a little as, from where it lay on the floor, the headlines seemed to leer up at her, and mock, and menace her. "The White Moll....The Saint of the East Side Exposed....Vicious Hypocrisy....Lowly Charity for Years Cloaks a Consummate Thief..." They had not spared her!
Her lips firmed suddenly, as she listened. The stealthy footfall had not paused in the hall below. It was on the short, ladder-like steps now, leading up here to the garret—and now it had halted outside her door, and there came a low, insistent knocking on the panels.
"Who's dere?" demanded Rhoda Gray, alias Gypsy Nan, in a grumbling tone, as, getting up from the bed, she moved the chair noiselessly a few feet farther away, so that the bed would be beyond the immediate radius of the candle light. Then she shuffled across the floor to the door. "Who's dere?" she demanded again, and her hand, deep in the voluminous pocket of Gypsy Nan's greasy skirt, closed tightly around the stock of Gypsy Nan's revolver.
The voice that answered her expostulated in a plaintive whisper:
"My dear lady! And after all the trouble I have taken to reach here without being either seen or heard!"
For an instant Rhoda Gray hesitated—there seemed something familiar about the voice—then she unlocked the door, and retreated toward the bed.
The door opened and closed softly. Rhoda Gray, reaching the edge of the bed, sat down. It was the fashionably-attired, immaculate young man, who had saved her from Rough Rorke last night. She stared at him in the faint light without a word. Her mind was racing in a mad turmoil of doubt, uncertainty, fear. Was he one of the gang, or not? Was she, in the role of Gypsy Nan, supposed to know him, or not? Did he know that the real Gypsy Nan, too, had but played a part, and, therefore, when she spoke must it be in the vernacular of the East Side—or not? And then sudden enlightenment, with its incident relief, came to her.
"My dear lady"—the young man's soft felt hat was under his arm, and he was plucking daintily at the fingers of his yellow gloves as he removed them—"I beg you to pardon the intrusion of a perfect stranger. I offer you my very genuine apologies. My excuse is that I come from a—I hope I am not overstepping the bounds in using the term—mutual friend." Rhoda Gray snorted disdainfully.
"Aw, cut out de boudoir talk, an' get down to cases!" she croaked. "Who are youse, anyway?"
The young man had gray eyes—and they lighted up now humorously.
"Boudoir? Ah—yes! Of course! Awfully neat!" His eyes, from the chair that held the candle, strayed around the scantily furnished, murky garret as though in search of a seat, and finally rested inquiringly on Rhoda Gray.
"Youse can put de candle on de floor, if youse like," she said grudgingly. "Dat's de only chair dere is."
"Thank you!" he said.
Rhoda Gray watched him with puckered brow, as he placed the gin bottle with its candle on the floor, and appropriated the chair. He might, from his tone, have been thanking her for some priceless boon. He wore a boutonniere. His clothes fitted him like gloves. He exuded a certain studied, almost languid fastidiousness—that was wholly out of keeping with the quick, daring, agile wit that he had exhibited the night before. She found her hand toying unconsciously with the weapon in her pocket. She was aware that she was fencing with unbuttoned foils. How much did he know—about last night?
"Well, why don't youse spill it?" she invited curtly. "Who are youse?"
"Who am I?" He lifted the lapel of his coat, carrying the boutonniere to his nose. "My dear lady, I am an adventurer."
"Youse don't say!" observed Rhoda Gray, alias Gypsy Nan. "An' wot's dat w' en it's at home?"
"In my case, first of all a gentleman, I trust," he said pleasantly; "after that, I do not quarrel with the accepted definition of the term—though it is not altogether complimentary."
Rhoda Gray scowled. As Rhoda Gray, she might have answered him; as Gypsy Nan, it was too subtle, and she was beyond her depth.
"Youse look to me like a slick crook!" she said bluntly.
"I will admit," he said, "that I have at times, perhaps, taken liberties with the law."
"Well, den," she snapped, "cut out de high-brow stuff, an' come across wid wot brought youse here. I ain't holdin' no reception. Who's de friend youse was talkin' about?"
The Adventurer looked around him, and lowered his voice.
"The White Moll," he said.
Rhoda Gray eyed the man for a long minute; then she shook her head.
"I take back wot I said about youse bein' a slick crook," she announced coolly. "I guess youse're a dick from headquarters. Well, youse have got de wrong number—see? Me fingers are crossed. Try next door!"
The Adventurer's eyes were fixed on the newspaper headlines on the floor. He raised them now significantly to hers.
"You helped her to get away from Rough Rorke last night," he said gently. "Well, so did I. I am very anxious to find the White Moll, and, as I know of no other way except through you, I have got to make you believe in me, if I can. Listen, my dear lady—and don't look at me so suspiciously. I have already admitted that I have taken liberties with the law. Let me add now that last night there was a little fortune of quite a few thousand dollars that I had already made up my mind was as good as in my pocket. I was on my way to get it—the newspaper will already have given you the details—when I found that I had been forestalled by the young lady, who, the papers say, is known as the White Moll." He smiled whimsically. "Even though one might be a slick crook as you suggest, it is no reason why he should fail in his duty to himself—as a gentleman. What other course was open to me? I discovered a very charming young lady in the grip of a hulking police brute. She also, apparently, took liberties with the law. There was a bond between us. I—er—took it upon myself to do what I could. And, besides, I was not insensible to the fact that I was under a certain obligation to her, quixotic as it may sound, in view of the fact that we were evidently competitors after the same game. You see, if she had not forestalled me and been caught herself, I should most certainly have walked into the trap that our friend of headquarters had prepared. I—er—as I say, did what I could. She got away; but somehow Rough Rorke later discovered her here in this room, I understand that he was not happy over the result; that, thanks to you, she escaped again, and has not been heard of since."
Rhoda Gray dropped her chin in her grime-smeared hand, staring speculatively at the other. The man sat there, apparently a self-confessed crook and criminal, but, also, he sat there as the man to whom she owed the fact that at the present moment she was not behind prison bars. He proclaimed himself in the same breath both a thief and a gentleman, as far as she could make out. They were characteristics which, until now, she had never associated together; but now, curiously enough, they did not seem so utterly at variance. Of course they were at variance, must of necessity be so; but in the personality of this man the incongruity seemed somehow lost. Perhaps it was a sense of gratitude toward him that modified her views. He looked a gentleman. There was something about him that appealed. The gray eyes seemed full of cool, confident, self-possession; and, quiet as his manner was, she sensed a latent dynamic something lurking near the surface all the time—that she was conscious she would much prefer to have enlisted on her behalf than against her. The strong, firm chin bore this out. He was not handsome, but—with a sort of mental jerk, she forced her mind back to the stark realities of her surroundings. She could not thank him for what he had done last night. She could not tell him that she was the White Moll. She could only play out the role of Gypsy Nan until—until—Her hand tightened with a fierce, involuntary pressure upon her chin until it brought a physical hurt. Until what? God alone knew what the end of this miserable, impossible horror, in which she found herself engulfed, would be!
Her eyes sought his face again. The Adventurer was tactfully engaged in carefully smoothing out the fingers of his yellow gloves. Thief and gentleman, whatever he might be, whatever he might choose to call himself, what, exactly, was it that had brought him here to-night? The White Moll, he had said; but what did he want with the White Moll?
He answered her unspoken question now, almost as though he had read her thoughts.
"She is very clever," he said quietly. "She must be exceedingly clever to have beaten the police the way she has for the last few years; and—er—I worship at the shrine of cleverness—especially if it be a woman's. The idea struck me last night that if she and I should—er—pool our resources, we should not have to complain of the reward."
"Oh, so youse wants to work wid her, eh?" sniffed Rhoda Gray. "So dat's it, is it?"
"Partially," he said. "But, quite apart from that, the reason I want to find her is because she is in very great danger. Clever as she is, it is a very different matter to-day now that the police have found her out. She has been forced into hiding, and, if alone and without any friend to help her, her situation, to put it mildly, must be desperate in the extreme. You befriended her last night, and I honor you for the unselfishness with which you laid yourself open to the future attentions of that animal Rorke, but that very fact has deprived her of what might otherwise have been a refuge and a quite secure retreat here with you. I do not wish to intrude, or force myself upon her, but I believe I could be of very material help, and so I have come to you, as I have said, because you are the only source through which I can hope to find her, and because, through your act of last night, I know you to be a trustworthy, and, perhaps, even an intimate, friend of hers."
"Aw, go on!" said Rhoda Gray, alias Gypsy Nan, deprecatingly. "Dat don't prove nothin'! I'd have done as much for a stray cat if de bulls was chasm' her. See? I told youse once youse had de wrong number. She didn't leave no address. Dat's flat, an' dat's de end of it."
"I'm sorry," said the Adventurer gravely. "Perhaps I haven't made out a good enough case. Or perhaps, even believing me, you consider that the White Moll, and not yourself, should be the judge as to whether my services are acceptable or not?"
"Youse can dope it out any way youse likes," said Rhoda Gray indifferently. "Me t'roat's gettin' hoarse tellin' youse dere's nothin' doin'!"
"I'm sorry," said the Adventurer again. He smiled suddenly, and tucking his gloves into his pocket, leaned forward and tore off a small piece from the margin of the newspaper on the floor—but his head the while was now cocked in a curious listening attitude in the direction of the door. "You will pardon me, my dear lady, if I confess that, in spite of what you say, I still harbor the belief that you know where to reach the White Moll; and so—" He stopped abruptly, and she found his glance, sharp and critical, upon her. "You are expecting a visitor, perhaps?" he inquired softly.
Rhoda Gray stared in genuine perplexity.
"Wot's de answer?" she demanded.
"There is some one on the stairs," replied the Adventurer.
Rhoda Gray listened—and her perplexity deepened. She could hear nothing.
"Youse must have good ears!" she scoffed.
"I have," returned the Adventurer coolly. "My hearing is one of the resources that I wanted to pool with the White Moll."
"Well, den, mabbe it's Rough Rorke." Her tone still held its scoffing note; but her words voiced the genuine enough, that had come flashing upon her. "An' if it is, after last night, an' he finds youse an' me together, dere'll be—"
"My dear lady," interposed the Adventurer calmly, "if there were the remotest possibility that it could be Rough Rorke, I would not be here."
"Wot do youse mean?" She had unconsciously towered her voice.
The Adventurer shrugged his shoulders whimsically. He had laid the piece of paper on his knee, and, with a small gold pencil which he had taken from his pocket, was writing something upon it.
"The fact that I can assure you that, whoever else it may be, the person outside there cannot be Rough Rorke, is simply a proof that, if I had the opportunity, I could be of real assistance to the White Moll," he said imperturbably. "Well"—a grim little smile flickered suddenly across his lips—"do you hear any one now?"
Quite low, but quite unmistakably, the short, ladder-like steps just outside the door were voicing a creaky protest now as some one mounted them. Rhoda Gray did not move. It seemed as though she could hear the sudden thumping of her own heart. Who was it this time? How was she to act? What was she to say? It was so easy to make the single little slip of word or manner that would spell ruin and disaster.
"Rubber heels and rubber soles," murmured the Adventurer. "But, at that, it is extremely well done." He held out the torn piece of paper to Rhoda Gray.
"If"—he smiled significantly—"if, by any good fortune, you see the White Moll again, please give her this and let her decide for herself. It is a telephone number. She can always reach me there by asking for—the Adventurer." He was still extending the piece of paper. "Quick!" he whispered, as the door knob rattled.
V. A SECOND VISITOR
Mechanically Rhoda Gray thrust the paper into the pocket of her skirt. The door swung open. A tall man, well dressed, as far as could be seen in the uncertain light, a slouch hat pulled far down over his eyes, stood on the threshold, surveying the interior of the garret.
The Adventurer rose composedly to his feet—and moved slightly back out of the direct radius of the candlelight.
There was silence for a moment, and then the man in the doorway laughed unpleasantly.
"Hello!" he flung out harshly. "Who's the dude, Nan?"
Rhoda Gray, on the edge of the bed, shrugged her shoulders. The Adventurer was standing quite at his ease, his soft hat tucked under his right arm, his hand thrust into the side pocket of his coat. She could no longer see his face distinctly.
"Well?" There was a snarl in the man's voice as he advanced from the doorway. "You heard me, didn't you? Who is he?"
"Why don't youse ask him yerself?" inquired Rhoda Gray truculently. "I dunno."
"You don't, eh?" The man had halted close to where the candle stood on the floor between himself and the Adventurer. "Well, then, I guess we'll find out!" He was peering in the Adventurer's direction, and now there came a sudden savage scowl to his face. "It seems to me I've seen those clothes somewhere before, and I guess now we'll take a look at your face so that there won't be any question about recognition the next time we meet."
The Adventurer laughed softly.
"There will be none on my part," he said calmly. "It's Danglar, isn't it? I am surely not mistaken. Parson Danglar, alias—ah! Please don't do that!"
It seemed to Rhoda Gray that it happened in the space of time it might take a watch to tick: The newcomer stooping to the floor, and lifting the candle with the obvious intention of thrusting it into the Adventurer's face—a glint of metal, as the Adventurer whipped a revolver from the side pocket of his coat—and then, how they got there she could not tell, it was done so adroitly and swiftly, the thumb and forefinger of the Adventurer's left hand had closed on the candle wick and snuffed it out, and the garret was in darkness.