Beyond the party-colored lights of a drug-store window on Seventh Avenue, the electric arcs were casting a sickly radiance upon the dusty leaves of the tree-lined drive. The avenue itself was crowded with motor-cars and horse-drawn pleasure vehicles, mostly bound up-town, their occupants seeking the cooler airs and wider spaces to be found beyond the Harlem River and along the Speedway. A few blocks to the west Cathedral Heights bulked like a great wall, wrapped in purple shadows, its jagged contour stark against an evening sky of suave old rose.
The short and thick-set body, however, seemed to have no particular appreciation of the beauties of nature as exhibited by West One-hundred and Eighteenth Street on a summer's evening. If anything, he could apparently have desired a cooling breeze; for, after a moment's doubtful consideration, he unbuttoned his waistcoat and heaved a sigh of relief.
Then, carefully shifting the butt of a dead cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other, where it was almost hidden by the jutting thatch of his black mustache, and drawing down over his eyes the brim of a rusty plug hat, he thrust fat hands into the pockets of his shabby trousers and lounged against the polished pillar even more energetically than before: if that were possible. An unromantic, apathetic figure, fitting so naturally into his surroundings as to demand no second look even from the most observant; yet one seeming to possess a magnetic attraction for the eyes of the hall-boy of the apartment hotel (who, acquainted by sight and hearsay with the stout gentleman's identity and calling, bent upon him a steadfast and adoring regard), as well as for the policeman who lorded it on the St. Nicholas Avenue corner, in front of the real-estate office, and who from time to time shifted his contemplation from the infinite spaces of the heavens, the better to exchange a furtive nod with the idler in the hotel doorway.
Presently,—at no great lapse of time after the short and thick-set man had stowed away his watch,—out of the thronged sidewalks of Seventh Avenue a man appeared, walking west on the north side of the street and reviewing carelessly the numbers on the illuminated fanlights: a tall man, dressed all in grey, and swinging a thin walking stick.
The short, thick-set person assumed a mien of more intense abstraction than ever.
The tall man in grey paused indefinitely before the brownstone stoop of the house numbered 205, then swung up the steps and into the vestibule. Here he halted, bending over to scrutinize the names on the letter-boxes.
The short, thick-set man reluctantly detached himself from his polished pillar and waddled ungracefully across the street.
The policeman on the corner seemed suddenly interested in Seventh Avenue; and walked in that direction.
The grey man, having vainly deciphered all the names on one side of the vestibule, straightened up and turned his attention to the opposite wall, either unconscious of or indifferent to the shuffle of feet on the stoop behind him.
The short, thick-set man removed one hand from a pocket and tapped the grey man gently on the shoulder.
"Lookin' for McCabe, Anisty?" he inquired genially.
The grey man turned slowly, exhibiting a countenance blank with astonishment. "Beg pardon?" he drawled; and then, with a dawning gleam of recognition in his eyes: "Why, good evening, Hickey! What brings you up this way?"
The short, thick-set man permitted his jaw to droop and his eyes to protrude for some seconds. "Oh," he said in a tone of great disgust, "hell!" He pulled himself together with an effort. "Excuse me, Mr. Maitland," he stammered, "I wasn't lookin' for yeh."
"To the contrary, I gather from your greeting that you were expecting our friend, Mr. Anisty?" And the grey man smiled.
Hickey smiled in sympathy, but with less evident relish of the situation's humor.
"That's right," he admitted. "Got a tip from the C'miss'ner's office this evening that Anisty would be here at seven o'clock lookin' for a party named McCabe. I guess it's a bum tip, all right; but of course I got to look into it."
"Most assuredly." The grey man bent and inspected the names again. "I am hunting up an old friend," he explained carelessly: "a man named Simmons—knew him in college—down on his luck—wrote me yesterday. There he is: fourth floor, east. I'll see you when I come down, I hope, Mr. Hickey."
The automatic lock clicked and the door swung open; the grey man passing through and up the stairs. Hickey, ostentatiously ignoring the existence of the policeman, returned to his post of observation.
At eight o'clock he was still there, looking bored.
At eight-thirty he was still there, wearing a puzzled expression.
At nine he called the adoring hall-boy, gave him a quarter with minute instructions, and saw him disappear into the hallway of Number 205. Three minutes later the boy was back, breathless but enthusiastic.
"Missis Simmons," he explained between gasps, "says she ain't never heard of nobody named Maitland. Somebody rang her bell a while ago an' apologized for disturbin' her—said he wanted the folks on the top floor. I guess yer man went acrost the roofs: them houses is all connected, and yuh c'n walk clear from the corner here tuh half-way up tuh Nineteenth Street, on Sain' Nicholas Avenoo."
"Uh-huh," laconically returned the detective. "Thanks." And turning on his heel, walked westward.
The policeman crossed the street to detain him for a moment's chat.
"I guess it's all off, Jim," Hickey told him. "Some one must've tipped that crook off. Anyway, I ain't goin' to wait no longer."
"I wouldn't neither," agreed the uniformed member. "Say, who's yer friend yeh was talkin' tuh, 'while ago?"
"Oh, a frien' of mine. Yeh didn't have no call to git excited then, Jim. G'night."
And Hickey proceeded westward, a listless and preoccupied man by the vacant eye of him. But when he emerged into the glare of Eighth Avenue his face was unusually red. Which may have been due to the heat. And just before boarding a down-town surface car, "Oh," he enunciated with gusto, "hell!"
* * * * *
One A. M.
Not until the rich and mellow chime had merged into the stillness did the intruder dare again to draw breath. Coming as it had the very moment that the door had closed noiselessly behind her, the double stroke had sounded to her like a knell: or, perhaps more like the prelude to the wild alarum of a tocsin, first striking her heart still with terror, then urging it into panic flutterings.
But these, as the minutes drew on, marked only by the dull methodic ticking of the clock, quieted; and at length she mustered courage to move from the door, against which she had flattened herself, one hand clutching the knob, ready to pull it open and fly upon the first aggressive sound.
In the interval her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. The study door showed a pale oblong on her right; to her left, and a little toward the rear of the flat, the door of Maitland's bed-chamber stood ajar. To this she tiptoed, standing upon the threshold and listening with every fiber of her being. No sounds as of the regular respiration of a sleeper warning her, she at length peered stealthily within; simultaneously she pressed the button of an electric hand-lamp. Its circumscribed blaze wavered over pillows and counterpane spotless and undisturbed.
Then for the first time she breathed freely, convinced that she had been right in surmising that Maitland would not return that night.
Since early evening she had watched the house from the window of a top-floor hall bedroom in the boarding-house opposite. Shortly before seven she had seen Maitland, stiff and uncompromising in rigorous evening dress, leave in a cab. Since then only once had a light appeared in his rooms; at about half-after nine the janitor had appeared in the study, turning up the gas and going to the telephone.
Whatever the nature of the communication received, the girl had taken it to indicate that Maitland had decided to spend the night elsewhere; for the study light had burned for some ten minutes, during which the janitor could occasionally be seen moving mysteriously about; and something later, bearing a suitcase, he had left the house and shuffled rapidly eastward to Madison Avenue.
So she felt convinced that she had all the small hours before her, secure from interruption. And this time, she told herself, she purposed making assurance doubly sure....
But first to guard against discovery from the street.
Turning back through the hall, she dispensed with the hand-lamp, entering the darkened study. Here all windows had been closed and the outer shades drawn—O'Hagan's last act before leaving with the suit-case: additional proof that Maitland was not expected back that night. For the temperature was high, the air in the closed room stifling.
Crossing to the windows, the girl drew down the dark green inner shades and closed the folding wooden shutters over them. And was conscious of a deepened sense of security.
Next going to the telephone, she removed the receiver from the hook and let it hang at the full length of the cord. In the dead silence the small voice of Central was clearly articulate: "What number? Hello, what number?"—followed by the grumbling of the armature as the operator tried fruitlessly to ring the disconnected bell. The girl smiled faintly, aware that there would now be no interruption from an inopportune call.
There remained as a final precaution only a grand tour of the flat; which she made expeditiously, passing swiftly and noiselessly (one contemplating midnight raids does not attire one's self in silks and starched things) from room to room, all comfortably empty. Satisfied at last, she found herself again in the study, and now boldly, mind at rest, lighted the brass student lamp with the green shade, which she discovered on the desk.
Standing, hands resting lightly on hips, breath coming quickly, cheeks flushed and eyes alight with some intimate and inscrutable emotion, she surveyed the room. Out of the dusk that lay beyond the plash of illumination beneath the lamp, the furniture began to take on familiar shapes: the divans, the heavy leather-cushioned easy chairs, the tall clock with its pallid staring face, the small tables and tabourettes, handily disposed for the reception of books and magazines and pipes and glasses, the towering, old-fashioned mahogany book-case, the useless, ornamental, beautiful Chippendale escritoire, in one corner: all somberly shadowed and all combining to diffuse an impression of quiet, easy-going comfort.
Just such a study as he would naturally have. She nodded silent approbation of it as a whole. And, nodding, sat down at the desk, planting elbows on its polished surface, interlacing her fingers and cradling her chin upon their backs: turned suddenly pensive.
The mood held her but briefly. She had no time to waste, and much to accomplish.... Sitting back, her fingers sought and pressed the clasp of her hand-bag, and produced two articles—a golden cigarette case and a slightly soiled canvas bag. The Maitland jewels were returning by a devious way, to their owner.
But where to put them, that he might find them without delay? It must be no conspicuous place, where O'Hagan would be apt to happen upon them; doubtless the janitor was trustworthy, but still.... Misplaced opportunities breed criminals.
It was all a risk, to leave the treasure there, without the protection of nickeled-steel walls and timelocks; but a risk that must be taken. She dared not retain it longer in her possession; and she would contrive a way in the morning to communicate with Maitland and warn him.
Her gaze searched the area where the lamplight fell soft yet strong upon the dark shining wood and heavy brass desk fittings; and paused, arrested by the unusual combination of inverted bowl and super-imposed book. A riddle to be read with facility; in a twinkling she had uncovered the incriminating hand-print—incriminating if it could be traced, that is to say.
"Oh!" she cried softly. And laughed a little. "Oh, how careless!"
Fine brows puckered, she pondered the matter, and ended by placing her own hand over the print; this one fitted the other exactly.
"How he must have wondered! He is sure to look again, especially if...."
No need to conclude the sentence. Quickly she placed bag and case squarely on top of the impression, the bowl over all, and the book upon the bowl; then, drawing from her pocket a pair of long grey silk gloves, draped one across the book; and, head tilted to one side, admired the effect.
It seemed decidedly an artistic effect, admirably calculated to attract attention. She was satisfied to the point of being pleased with herself: a fact indicated by an expressive flutter of slim, fair hands.... And now, to work! Time pressed, and.... A cloud dimmed the radiance of her eyes; irresolutely she shifted in her chair, troubled, frowning, lips woefully drooping. And sighed. And a still small whisper, broken and wretched, disturbed the quiet of the study.
"I can not! O, I can not!... To spoil it all, now, when...."
Yet she must. She must forget herself and steel her determination with the memory that another's happiness hung in the balance, depended upon her success. Twice she had tried and failed. This third time she must succeed.
And bowing her head in token of her resignation, she turned back squarely to face the desk. As she did so the toe of one small shoe caught against something on the floor, causing a dull jingling sound. She stooped, with a low exclamation, and straightened up, a small bunch of keys in her hand: eight or ten of them dangling from a silver ring: Maitland's keys.
He must have dropped them there, forgetting them altogether. A find of value and one to save her a deal of trouble: skeleton keys are so exasperatingly slow, particularly when used by inexpert hands. But how to bring herself to make use of these? All's fair in war (and this was a sort of war, a war of wits at least); but one should fight with one's own arms, not pilfer the enemy's and turn them against him. To use these keys to ransack Maitland's desk seemed an action even more blackly dishonorable than this clandestine visit, this midnight foray.
Swinging the notched metal slips from a slender finger, she contemplated them: and laughed ruefully. What qualms of conscience in a burglar self-confessed! She was there for a purpose, a recognized, nefarious purpose. Granted. Then why quibble?... She would not quibble. She would be firm, resolute, determined, cold-blooded, unmindful of all kindness and courtesy and.... She would use them, accomplish her purpose, and have done, finally and for ever, with the whole hateful business!
There was a bright spot of color on either cheek and a hot light of anger in her eyes as she set about her task. It would never be less hideous, never less immediate.
The desk drawers yielded easily to the eager keys. One by one she had them open and their contents explored—vain repetition of yesterday afternoon's fruitless task. But she must be sure, she must leave no stone unturned. Maitland Manor was closed to her for ever, because of last night. But here she was safe for a few short hours, and free to make assurance doubly sure.
There remained the despatch-box, the black japanned tin box which had proved obdurate yesterday. She had come prepared to break its lock this time, if need be; Maitland's carelessness spared her the necessity.
She lifted it out of a lower drawer, and put it in her lap. The smallest key fitted the lock at the first attempt. The lid came up and....
Perhaps it is not altogether discreditable that one should temporarily forget one's compunctions in the long-deferred moment of triumph. The girl uttered a little cry of joy.
Crash!—the front door down-stairs had been slammed.
She was on her feet in a breath, faint with fear. Yet not so overcome that she forgot her errand, her success. As she stood up she dropped the despatch-box back into the drawer, without a sound, and, opening her hand-bag, stuffed something into it.
No time to do more: a dull rumble of masculine voices was distinctly, frightfully audible in the stillness of the house: voices of men conversing together in the inner vestibule. One laughed, and the laugh seemed to penetrate her bosom like a knife. Then both strode across the tiling and began to ascend, as was clearly told her by footsteps sounding deadened on the padded carpet.
Panic-stricken, she turned to the student lamp and with a quick twirl and upward jerk of the chimney-catch extinguished the flame. A reek of smoke immediately began to foul the close, hot air: and she knew that it would betray her, but was helpless to stop it. Besides, she was caught, trapped, damned beyond redemption unless ... unless it were not Maitland, after all, but one of the other tenants, unexpectedly returned and bound for another flat.
Futile hope. Upon the landing by the door the footsteps ceased; and a key grated in the wards of the lock.
Blind with terror, her sole thought an instinctive impulse to hide and so avert discovery until the last possible instant, on the bare chance of something happening to save her, the girl caught up her skirts and fled like a hunted shadow through the alcove, through the bed-chamber, thence down the hall toward the dining-room and kitchen offices.
The outer door was being opened ere she had reached the hiding-place she had in mind: the trunk-closet, from which, she remembered remarking, a window opened upon a fire-escape. It was barely possible, a fighting chance.
She closed the door, grateful that its latch slipped silently into place, and fairly flung herself upon the window, painfully bruising her soft hands in vain endeavor to raise the sash. It stuck obstinately, would not yield. Too late, she remembered that she had forgotten to draw the catch—fatal oversight! A sob of terror choked in her throat. Already footsteps were hurrying down the hall; a line of light brightened underneath the door; voices, excitedly keyed, bandied question and comment, an unmistakable Irish brogue mingling with a clear enunciation which she had but too great reason to remember. The pair had passed into the next room. She could hear O'Hagan announcing: "No wan here, sor."
"Then it's the dining-room, or the trunk-closet. Come along!"
One last, frantic attempt! But the window catch, rusted with long disuse, stuck. Panting, sick with fear, the girl leaped away and crushed herself into a corner, crouching on the floor behind a heavy box, her dark cloak drawn up to shield her head.
And the door opened.
A flood of radiance from the relighted student lamp fell athwart the floor. The girl lay close and still, holding her breath.
Ten seconds, perhaps, ticked on into Eternity: seconds that were in themselves eternities. Then: "No one here, O'Hagan."
The door was closed, and through its panels more faintly came: "Faith, and the murdhering divvle must've flew th' coop afore ye come in, sor."
The girl tried to rise, to make again for the window; but it was as though her limbs had turned to water; there was no strength in her; and the blackness swam visibly before her eyes, radiating away in whirling, streaky circles.
Even such resolution and strong will as was hers could not prevail against that numbing, deathly exhaustion. Her eyes closed and her head fell back against the wall.
It seemed but an instant (though it was in point of fact a full five minutes) ere the sound of a voice again roused her.
She looked up, dazzled by a gush of warm light.
He stood in the doorway, holding the lamp high above his head, his face pale, grave, and shadowed as he peered down at her.
"I have sent O'Hagan away," he said gently. "If you will please to come, now——"
The cab which picked Maitland up at his lodgings carried him but a few blocks to the club at which he had, the previous evening, entertained his lawyer. Maitland had selected it as the one of all the clubs of which he and Bannerman were members, wherein he was least likely to meet the latter. Neither frequented its sober precincts by habit. Its severe and classical building on a corner of Madison Avenue overlooking the Square, is but the outward presentment of an institution to be a member of which is a duty, but emphatically no great pleasure, to the sons of a New York family of any prominence.
But in its management the younger generation holds no suffrage; and is not slow to declare that the Primordial is rightly named, characterizing the individual members of the Board of Governors as antediluvians, prehistoric monsters who have never learned that laughter lends a savor to existence. And so it is that the younger generation, (which is understood to include Maitland and Bannerman), while it religiously pays its dues and has the name of the Primordial engraved upon its cards, shuns those deadly respectable rooms and seeks its comfort elsewhere.
Maitland found it dull and depressing enough, that same evening, something before seven. The spacious and impressive lounging-rooms were but sparsely tenanted, other than by the ennuied corps of servants; and the few members who had lent the open doors the excuse of their presence were of the elderly type that hides itself behind a newspaper in an easy chair and snorts when addressed.
The young man strolled disconsolately enough into the billiard-room, thence (dogged by a specter of loneliness) to the bar, and finally, in sheer desperation, to the dining-room, where he selected a table and ordered an evening paper with his meal.
When the former was brought him, he sat up and began to take a new interest in life. The glaring head-lines that met his eye on the front page proved as bracing as a slap in the face.
"'The Maitland Jewels,'" he read, half aloud: "'Daring Attempt at Burglary. "Mad" Maitland Catches "Handsome Dan" Anisty in the Act of Cracking His Safe at Maitland Manor. Which was Which? Both Principals Disappear.'"
A dull red glow suffused the reader's countenance; he compressed his lips, only opening them once, and then to emit a monosyllabic oath, which can hardly have proved any considerable relief to his surcharged emotional nature.
The news-story was exploited as a "beat"; it could have been little else, since nine-tenths of its "exclusive details" had been born full-winged from the fecund imagination of a busy reporter to whom Maitland had refused an interview while in his bath, some three hours earlier. Maitland discovered with relief that boiled down to essentials it consisted simply of the statement that somebody (presumably himself) had caught somebody (presumably Anisty) burglarizing the library safe at Maitland Manor that morning: that one of the somebodies (no one knew which) had overpowered the other and left him in charge of the butler, who had presently permitted his prisoner to escape and then talked for publication.
It was not to this so much that Maitland objected. It was the illustrations that alternately saddened and maddened the young man: the said illustrations comprising blurred half-tone reproductions of photographs taken on the Maitland estate; a diagram of the library, as fanciful as the text it illuminated, and two portraits, side by side, of the heroes, himself and Anisty, excellent likenesses both of the originals and of each other.
Mr. Maitland did not enjoy his dinner.
Anxious and preoccupied, he tasted the dishes mechanically; and when they had all passed before him, took his thoughts and a cigar to a gloomy corner of the smoking-room, where he sat for two solid hours, debating the matter pro and con, and arriving at no conclusion whatever, save that Higgins was doomed.
At ten-fifteen he began to contemplate with positive pleasure the prospect of discharging the butler. That, at least, was action, something that he could do; wherever else he thought to move he found himself baffled by the blank darkness of mystery, or by his fear of publicity and ridicule.
At ten-twenty he decided to move upon Greenfields at once, and telephoned O'Hagan, advising him to profess ignorance of his employer's whereabouts.
At ten-twenty-two, or in the midst of his admonitions to the janitor, he changed his mind and decided to stay in New York; and instructed the Irishman to bring him a suit-case containing a few necessaries; his intention being to stay out the night at the club, and so avoid the matutinal siege of his lodgings by reporters and detectives.
At ten-forty-five a club servant handed him the card of a representative of the Evening Journal. Maitland directed that the gentleman be shown into the reception-room.
At ten-forty-six he skulked out of the club by a side entrance, jumped into a cab and had himself driven to the East Thirty-fourth Street ferry, arriving there just in time to miss the last train for Greenfields.
Denied the shelter alike of his lodgings, his club, and his country home, the young man in despair caused himself to be conveyed to the Bartholdi Hotel, where, possessed of a devil of folly, he preserved his incognito by registering under the name of "M. Daniels." And straightway retired to his room.
But not to rest. The portion of the mentally harassed, sleeplessness, was his; and for an hour or more he tossed upon his bed (upon which he had thrown himself without troubling to undress), pondering, to no profit of his, the hundred problems, difficulties, and disadvantages suggested or created by the events of the past twenty-four hours.
The grey girl, Anisty, the jewels, himself: unflagging, his thoughts circumnavigated the world of his romance, touching only at these four ports, and returning always to linger longest in the harbor of sentiment.
The grey girl: strange that her personality should have come to dominate his thoughts in a space of time so brief! and upon grounds of intimacy so slender!... Who and what was she? What cruel rigor of circumstance had impelled her to seek a livelihood in ways so sinister? At whose door must the blame be laid, against what flaw in the body social should the indictment be drawn, that she should have been forced into the ranks of the powers that prey—a girl of her youth and rare fiber, of her cultivation, her charm, and beauty?
The sheer loveliness of her, her grace and gentleness, her ingenuous sensitiveness, her wit: they combined to make the thought of her, to him, at least, at once terrible and a delight. Remembering that once he had held her in his arms, had gazed into her starlit eyes, and inhaled the impalpable fragrance of her, he trembled, was both glad and afraid.
And her ways so hedged about with perils! While he must stand aside, impotent, a pillar of the social order secure in its shelter, and see her hounded and driven by the forces of the Law, harried and worried like an unclean thing, forced, as it might be, to resort to stratagems and expedients unthinkable, to preserve her liberty....
It was altogether intolerable. He could not stand it. And yet—it was written that their paths had crossed and parted and were never again to touch. Or was it?... It must be so written: they would never meet again. After all, her concern with, her interest in, him, could have been nothing permanent. They had encountered under strange auspices, and he had treated her with common decency, for which she had repaid him in good measure by permitting him to retain his own property. Their account was even, and she for ever done with him. That must be her attitude. Why should it be anything else?
"Oh, the devil!" exclaimed the young man in disgust. And rising, took his distemper to the window.
Leaning on the sill, he thrust head and shoulders far out over the garish abyss of metropolitan night. The hot breath of the city fanned up in stifling waves into his face, from the street below, upon whose painted pavements men crawled like insects—round moving spots, to each his romance under his hat.
The window was on the corner, overlooking the junction of three great highways of humanity: Twenty-third Street, with its booming crosstown cars, stretching away into the darkness on either hand; Broadway, forking off to the left, its distances merging into a hot glow of yellow radiance; Fifth Avenue, branching into the north with its desolate sidewalks oddly patterned in areas of dense shadow and a cold, clear light. Over the way the park loomed darkly, for all its scattered arcs, a black and silent space, a well of mystery....
It was late, quite late; the clock in front of Dorlon's (he craned his neck to see), made the hour one in the morning; the sidewalks were comparatively deserted, even the pillared portico of the Fifth Avenue Hotel destitute of loungers. A timid hint of coolness, forerunning the dawn, rode up on the breeze.
He looked up and away northward, for many minutes, over housetops stenciled black against the glowing sky, his gaze yearning into vast distances of space, melancholy tingeing the complexion of his mind. He fancied himself oppressed by a vague uneasiness, unaccountable as to cause, unless....
From the sublime to the ridiculous with a vengeance, his thoughts tumbled. Gone the glamour of Romance in a twinkling, banished by rank materialism. He could have blushed for shame; he got slowly to his feet, irresolute, trying to grapple with a condition that never before in his existence had he been called upon to consider.
He had just realized that he was flat-strapped for cash. He had given his last quarter to the cabby, hours back. He was registered at a strange hotel, under an assumed name, unable to beg credit even for his breakfast without declaring his identity and thereby laying himself open to suspicion, discourtesy, insult....
Of course there were ways out. He could telephone Bannerman, or any other of half a dozen acquaintances, in the morning; but that involved explanations, and explanations involved making himself the butt of his circle for many a weary day. There was money in his lodgings, in the Chippendale escritoire; but to get it he would have to run the gauntlet of reporters and detectives which had already dismayed him in prospect. O'Hagan—ah!
At the head of his bed was a telephone. Impulsively, inconsiderate of the hour, he turned to it.
"Give me Nine-o-eight-nine Madison, please," he said; and waited, receiver to ear.
There was a slight pause; a buzz; the voice of the switchboard operator below stairs repeating the number to Central; Central's appropriately mechanical reiteration; another buzz; a silence; a prolonged buzz; and again the sounding silence....
"Hello!" he said softly into the transmitter, at a venture.
Then Central, irritably: "Go ahead. You've got your party."
A faint hum of voices, rising and falling, beat against the walls of his understanding. Were the wires crossed? He lifted an impatient finger to jiggle the hook and call Central to order, when—something crashed heavily. He could have likened the sound, without a strain of imagination, to a chair being violently overturned. And then a woman's voice, clear, accents informed with anger and pain: "No!" and then....
"Say, that's my mistake. That line you had's out of order. I had a call for them a while ago, and they didn't answer. Guess you'll have to wait."
"Central! Central!" he pleaded desperately. "I say, Central, give me that connection again, please."
"Ah, say! what's the matter with you, anyway? Didn't I tell you that line was out of order? Ring off!"
Automatically Maitland returned the receiver to its rest; and rose, white-lipped and trembling. That woman's voice....
Breathing convulsively, wide eyes a little wildly fixed upon his face in the lamplight, the girl stumbled to her feet, and for a moment remained cowering against the wall, terribly shaken, a hand gripping a corner of the packing-box for support, the other pressed against the bosom of her dress as if in attempt forcibly to quell the mad hammering of her heart.
In her brain, a turmoil of affrighted thought, but one thing stood out clearly: now she need look for no mercy. The first time it had been different; she had not been a woman had she been unable then to see that the adventure intrigued Maitland with its spice of novelty, a new sensation, fully as much as she, herself, the pretty woman out of place, interested and attracted him. He had enjoyed playing the part, had been amused to lead her to believe him an adventurer of mettle and caliber little inferior to her own—as he understood her: unscrupulous, impatient of the quibble of meum-et-tuum, but adroit and keen-witted, and distinguished and set apart from the herd by grace of gentle breeding and chivalric instincts.
How far he might or might not have let this enjoyment carry him, she had no means of surmising. Not very far, not too far, she was inclined to believe, strongly as she knew her personality to have influenced him: not far enough to induce him to trust her out of sight with the jewels. He had demonstrated that, to her humiliation.
The flush of excitement waning, manlike soon had he wearied of the game—she thought: to her mind, in distorted retrospect, his attitude when leaving her at dawn had been insincere, contemptuous, that of a man relieved to be rid of her, relieved to be able to get away in unquestioned possession of his treasure. True, the suggestion that they lunch together at Eugene's had been his.... But he had forgotten the engagement, if ever he had meant to keep it, if the notion had been more than a whim of the moment with him. And O'Hagan had told her by telephone that Maitland had left his rooms at one o'clock—in ample time to meet her at the restaurant....
No, he had never intended to come; he had wearied; yet, patient with her, true to the ethics of a gentleman, he had been content to let her go, rather than to send a detective to take his place....
And this was something, by the way, to cause her to revise her theory as to the manner in which Anisty had managed to steal the jewels. If Maitland had gone abroad at one, and without intending to keep his engagement at Eugene's, then he must have been despoiled before that hour, and without his knowledge. Surely, if the jewels had been taken from him with his cognizance, the hue and cry would have been out and Anisty would not have dared to linger so long in the neighborhood!
To be just with herself, the girl had not gone to the restaurant with much real hope of finding Maitland there. Curiosity had drawn her,—just to see if.... But it was too preposterous to credit, that he should have cared enough.... Quite too preposterous! It was her cup, her bitter cup, to know that she had learned to care enough—at sight!... And she recalled (with what pangs of shame and misery begged expression!) how her heart had been stirred when she had found him (as she thought) true to his tryst: even as she recalled the agony and distress of mind with which she had a moment later fathomed Anisty's impersonation.
For, of course, she had known that Maitland was Maitland and none other, from the instant when he told her to make good her escape and leave him to brazen it out: a task to daunt even as bold and resourceful a criminal as Anisty, and more especially if he were called upon to don the mask at a minute's notice, as Maitland had pretended to. Or, if she had not actually known, she had been led to suspect: and it had hardly needed what she had heard him say to the servants, when he thought her flying hotfoot over the lawn to safety, to harden suspicion into certainty.
And now that he should find her here, a second time a trespasser, doubly an ingrate,—that he should have caught her red-handed in this abominably ungrateful treachery!... She could pretend, of course, that she had returned merely to restore the jewels and the cigarette case; and he would believe her, for he was generous.... She could, but—she could not. Not now. Yesterday, the excitement had buoyed her; she had gained a piquant enjoyment from befooling him, playing her part of the amateur crackswoman in this little comedy of the stolen jewels. But therein lay the difference: yesterday it had been comedy, but to-day—ah! to-day she could no longer laugh. For now she cared.
A little lie would clear her—yes. But it was not to be cleared that she now so passionately desired; it was to have him believe in her, even against the evidence of his senses, even in the face of the world's condemnation; and so prove that he, too, cared—cared for her as his attitude toward her had taught her to care....
Ever since leaving him in the dawn she had fed her starved heart with the hope, faint hope though it were, that he would come to care a little, that he would not utterly despise her, that he would understand and forgive, when he learned why she had played out her part, nor believe that she was the embodiment of all that was ignoble, coarse, and crude; that he would show a little faith in her, a little faith that like a flickering taper might light the way for ... Love.
But that hope was now dead within her, and cold. She had but to look at him to see how groundless it had been, how utterly unmoved he was by her distress. He waited patiently—that was all—seeming so very tall, a pillar of righteous strength, distinguished and at ease in his evening clothes: waiting, patient but cold, dispassionate and disdainful.
"I am waiting, you see. Might I suggest that we have not all week for our—our mutual differences?"
His tone was altogether changed; she would hardly have known it for his voice. Its incisive, clipped accents were like a knife to her sensitiveness.... She summoned the reserve of her strength, stood erect, unsupported, and moved forward without a word. He stood aside, holding the lamp high, and followed her, lighting the way down the hall to the study.
Once there, she sank quivering into a chair, while he proceeded gravely to the desk, put down the lamp,—superfluous now, the gas having been lighted,—and after a moment's thought faced her, with a contemptuous smile and lift of his shoulders, thrusting hands deep into his pockets.
"Well?" he demanded cuttingly.
She made a little motion of her hands, begging for time; and, assenting with a short nod, he took a turn up and down the room, then abstractedly reached up and turned out the gas.
"When you are quite composed I should enjoy hearing your statement."
"I ... have none to make."
"So!"—with his back to the lamp, towering over and oppressing her with the sense of his strength and self-control. "That is very odd, isn't it?"
"I have no—no explanation to give that would satisfy you, or myself," she said brokenly. "I—I don't care what you think," with a flicker of defiance. "Believe the worst and—and do what you will—have me arrested——"
He laughed sardonically. "Oh, we won't go so far as that, I guess; harsh measures, such as arrest and imprisonment, are so unsatisfactory to all concerned. But I am interested to know why you are here."
Her breathing seemed very loud in the pause; she kept her lips tight, fearing to speak lest she lose her mastery of self. And hysteria threatened: the fluttering in her bosom warned her. She must be very careful, very restrained, if she were to avert that crowning misfortune.
"I don't think I quite understand you," he continued musingly; "surely you must have anticipated interruption."
"I thought you safely out of the way——"
"One presumed that." He laughed again, unpleasantly. "But how about Maitland? Didn't you have him in your calculations, or—"
He paused, unfeignedly surprised by her expression. And chuckled when he comprehended.
"By the powers, I forgot for a moment! So you thought me Maitland, eh? Well, I'm sorry I didn't understand that from the first. You're so quick, as a rule, you know,—I confess you duped me neatly this afternoon,—that I supposed you were wise and only afraid that I'd give you what you deserve.... If they had sent any one but that stupid ass, Hickey, to nab me, I'd be in the cooler now. As it was, you kindly selected the very best kind of a house for my purpose; I went straight up to the roofs and out through a building round the corner...."
But the shock of discovery, with its attendant revulsion of feeling, had been too much for her. She collapsed suddenly in the chair, eyes half closed, face pallid as a mask of death.
Anisty regarded her in silence for a meditative instant, then, taking up the lamp, strode down the hall to the pantry, returning presently with a glass brimming with an amber-tinted, effervescent liquid.
"Champagne," he announced, licking his lips. "Wish I had Maitland's means to gratify my palate. He knows good wine.... Here, my dear, gulp this down," placing the glass to the girl's lips and raising her head that she might swallow without strangling.
As it was, she choked and gasped, but after a moment began to show some signs of having benefited by the draught, a faint color dawning in her cheeks.
"That's some better," commended the burglar, not unkindly. "Now, if you please, we'll stop talking pretty and get down to brass tacks. Buck up, now, and answer my questions. And don't be afraid; I'm holding no great grudge for what you did this afternoon. I appreciate pluck and grit as much as anybody, I guess, though I do think you ran it pretty close, peaching on a pal after you'd lifted the jewels. By the way, why did you do it?"
"Because.... But you wouldn't understand if I told you."
"I suppose not. I'm not much good splitting sentimental hairs. But Maitland must have been pretty decent to you to make you go so far.... Speaking of which, where are they?"
"Don't sidestep. We understand one another. I know you've brought back the jewels. Where have you stowed them?"
The wine had fulfilled its mission, endowed her with fresh strength and renewed spirit. She was thinking quickly, every wit alert.
"I won't tell you."
"Won't, eh? That's an admission that they're here, you know. And you may as well know I propose to have 'em. Fair means or foul, take your pick. Where are they?"
"I have told you I wouldn't tell."
"I've known pluckier women than you to change their minds, under pressure." He came nearer, bending over, face close to hers, eyes savage, and gripped her wrists none too gently. "Tell me!"
"Let me go."
He proceeded calmly to imprison both small wrists in one strong, bony hand. "Better tell."
"Let me go!" she panted, struggling to rise.
His voice took on an ugly tone. "Tell!"
She was a child in his hands, but managed nevertheless to rise. As he applied the pressure more cruelly to her arms she cried aloud with pain and, struggling desperately, knocked the chair over.
It went down with a crash appallingly loud in that silent house and at that hour; and taking advantage of his instant of consternation she jerked free and sprang toward the door. He was upon her in an instant, however, hard fingers digging into her shoulders. "You little fool!"
"No!" she cried. "No, no, no! Let me go, you—you brute!——"
Abruptly he thought better of his methods and released her, merely putting himself between her and the doorway.
"Don't be a little fool," he counseled. "You kick up that row and you'll have us both pinched inside of the next five minutes."
Defiance was on her tongue's tip, but the truth in his words gave her pause. Palpitating with the shock, every outraged instinct a-quiver, she subdued herself and fell back, eying him fixedly.
"They're here," he nodded thoughtfully. "You wouldn't have stood for that if they weren't. And since they are, I can find them without your assistance. Sit down. I shan't touch you again."
She had scant choice other than to obey. Desperate as she was, her strength had been severely overtaxed, and she might not presume upon it too greatly. Fascinated with terror, she let herself down into an easy chair.
Anisty thought for a moment, then went over to the desk and sat himself before it.
"Keys," he commented, rapidly inventorying what he saw. "How'd you get hold of them?"
"They are Mr. Maitland's. He must have forgotten them."
The burglar chuckled grimly. "Coincidences multiply. It is odd. That harp, O'Hagan, was coming in with a can of beer while I was picking the lock, and caught me. He wanted to know if I'd missed my train for Greenfields, and I gave him my word of honor I had. Moreover, I'd mislaid my keys and had been ringing for him for the past ten minutes. He swallowed every word of it.... By the way, here's a glove of yours. You certainly managed to leave enough clues about to insure your being nabbed even by a New York detective."
He faced about, tossing her the glove, and with it so keen and penetrating a glance that her heart sank for fear that he had guessed her secret. But as he continued she regained confidence.
"I could teach you a thing or two," he suggested pleasantly. "You make about as many mistakes as the average beginner. And, on the other hand, you've got the majority beaten to a finish for 'cuteness. You're as quick as they make them."
She straightened up, uneasy, oppressed by a vague surmise as to whither this tended.
"Thank you," she said breathlessly, "but hadn't you better——"
"Plenty of time, my dear. Maitland has gone to Greenfields and we've several hours before us.... Look here, little woman, why don't you take a tumble to yourself, cut out all this nonsense, and look to your own interests?"
"I don't understand you," she faltered, "but if——"
"I'm talking about this Maitland affair. Cut it out and forget it. You're too good-looking and valuable to yourself to lose your head just all on account of a little moonlight flirtation with a good-looking millionaire. You don't suppose for an instant that there's anything in it for yours, do you? You're nothing to Maitland—just an incident; next time he meets you, the baby-stare for yours. You can thank your lucky stars he happened to have a reputation to sustain as a village cut-up, a gay, sad dog, always out for a good time and hang the expense!—otherwise he'd have handed you yours without a moment's hesitation. I'm not doing this up in tin-foil and tying a violet ribbon with tassels on it, but I'm handing it straight to you: something you don't want to forget.... You just sink your hooks in the fact that you're nothing to Maitland and that he's nothing to you, and never will be, and you won't lose anything—except illusions."
She remained quiescent for a little, hands twitching in her lap, torn by conflicting emotions—fear of and aversion for the man, amusement, chill horror bred of the knowledge that he was voicing the truth about her, the truth, at least, as he saw it, and—and as Maitland would see it.
"Illusions?" she echoed faintly, and raised her eyes to his with a pitiful attempt at a smile. "Oh, but I must have lost them, long ago; else I shouldn't be...."
"Here and what you are. That's what I'm telling you."
She shuddered imperceptibly; looked down and up again, swiftly, her expression inscrutable, her voice a-tremble between laughter and tears: "Well?"
"Eh?" The directness of her query figuratively brought him up all standing, canvas flapping and wind out of his sails.
"What are you offering me in exchange for my silly dream?" she inquired, a trace of spirit quickening her tone.
"A fair exchange, I think ... something that I wouldn't offer you if you hadn't been able to dream." He paused, doubtful, clumsy.
"Go on," she told him faintly.... Since it must come, as well be over with it.
"See here." He took heart of desperation. "You took to Maitland when you thought he was me. Why not take to me for myself? I'm as good a man, better as a man, than he, if I do blow my own horn.... You side with me, little woman, and—and all that—and I'll treat you square. I never went back on a pal yet. Why," brightening with enthusiasm as his gaze appraised her, "with your looks and your cleverness and my knowledge of the business, we can sweep the country, you and I."
"Oh!" she cried breathlessly.
"We'll start right now," he plunged on, misreading her; "right now, with last night's haul. You'll chuck this addled sentimental pangs-of-conscience lay, hand over the jewels, and—and I'll hand 'em back to you the day we're married, all set and ... as handsome a wedding present as any woman ever got...."
She twisted in her chair to hide her face from him, fairly cornered at last, brain a-whirl devising a hundred maneuvers, each more helpless than the last, to cheat and divert him for the time, until ... until....
The consciousness of his presence near her, of the sheer strength and might of will-power of the man, bore upon her heavily; she was like a child in his hands, helpless.... She turned with a hushed gasp to find that he had risen and come close to her chair; his face was not a foot from hers, his eyes dangerous; in another moment he would have his strong arms about her. She shrank away, terrified.
"No, no!" she begged.
"Well, and why not? Well?"—tensely.
"How do I know?... This afternoon I outwitted you, robbed and sold you for—for what you call a scruple. How can I know that you are not paying me back in my own coin?"
"Oh, but little woman!" he laughed tenderly, coming nearer. "It is because you did that, because you could hold those scruples and make a fool of me for their sake, that I want you. Don't think I'm capable of playing with you—it takes a woman to do that. Don't you know,"—he bent nearer and his breath was warm upon her cheek,—"don't you know that you're too rare and fine and precious for a man to risk losing?... Come now!"
"Not yet." She started to her feet and away.
"Wait.... There's a cab!"
The street without was echoing with the clattering drum of galloping hoofs. "At this hour!" she cried, aghast. "Could it be—"
"No fear. Besides—there, it's stopped."
"In front of this house!"
"No, three doors up the street, at least. That's something you must learn, and I can teach you to judge distance by sound in the darkness—"
"But I tell you," she insisted, retreating before him, "it's a risk.... There, did you hear that?"
"That" was the dulled crash of the front door.
Anisty stepped to the table on the instant and plunged the room in darkness.
"Steady!" he told her evenly. "Steady. It can't be—but take no chances. Go to the trunk-closet and get that window open. If it's Maitland,"—grimly—"well, I'll follow."
"What do you mean? What are you going to do?"
"Leave that to me ... I've never been caught yet."
Cold fear gripped her heart as, in a flash of intuition, she divined his intention.
"Quick!" he bade her savagely. "Don't you want—"
"I can't see," she invented. "Where's the door? I can't see...."
Through the darkness his fingers found hers. "Come," he said.
Her hand closed over his wrist, and in a thought she had flung herself before him and caught the other. In the movement her hand brushed against something that he was holding; and it was cold and smooth and hard.
"Ah! no, no!" she implored. "Not that, not that!"
With an oath he attempted to throw her off, but, frail strength magnified by a fury of fear, she joined issue with him, clinging to his wrists with the tenacity of a wildcat, though she was lifted from her feet and dashed this way and that, brutally, mercilessly, though her heart fell sick within her for the hopelessness of it, though....
Leaving the hotel, Maitland strode quietly but rapidly across the car-tracks to the sidewalk bordering the park. A dozen nighthawk cabbies bore down upon him, yelping in chorus. He motioned to the foremost, jumped into the hansom and gave the fellow his address.
"Five dollars," he added, "if you make it in five minutes."
An astonished horse, roused from a droop-eared lethargy, was yanked almost by main strength out of the cab-rank and into the middle of the Avenue. Before he could recover, the long whip-lash had leaped out over the roof of the vehicle, and he found himself stretching away up the Avenue on a dead run.
Yet to Maitland the pace seemed deadly slow. He fidgeted on the seat in an agony of impatience, a dozen times feeling in his waistcoat pocket for his latch-keys. They were there, and his fingers itched to use them.
By the lights streaking past he knew that their pace was furious, and was haunted by a fear lest it should bring the police about his ears. At Twenty-ninth Street, indeed, a dreaming policeman, startled by the uproar, emerged hastily from the sheltering gloom of a store-entrance, shouted after the cabby an inarticulate question, and, getting no response, unsheathed his night-stick and loped up the Avenue in pursuit, making the locust sing upon the pavement at every jump.
In the cab, Maitland, turning to watch through the rear peep-hole, was thrown violently against the side as the hansom rocketed on one wheel into his street. Recovering, he seized the dashboard and gathered himself together, ready to spring the instant the vehicle paused in its headlong career.
Through the cabby's misunderstanding of the address, in all likelihood, the horse was reined in on its haunches some three houses distant from the apartment building. Maitland found himself sprawling on his hands and knees on the sidewalk, picked himself up, shouting "You'll wait?" to the driver, and sprinted madly the few yards separating him from his own front door, keys ready in hand.
Simultaneously the half-winded policeman lumbered around the Fifth Avenue corner, and a man, detaching himself from the shadows of a neighboring doorway, began to trot loutishly across the street, evidently with the intention of intercepting Maitland at the door.
He was hardly quick enough. Maitland did not even see him. The door slammed in the man's face, and he, panting harshly, rapped out an imprecation and began a frantic assault on the push-button marked "Janitor."
As for Maitland, he was taking the stairs three at a clip, and had his pass-key in the latch almost as soon as his feet touched the first landing. An instant later he thrust the door open and blundered blindly into the pitch-darkness of his study.
For a thought he stood bewildered and dismayed by the absence of light. He had thought, somehow, to find the gas-jets flaring. The atmosphere was hot and foul with the odor of kerosene, the blackness filled with strange sounds and mysterious moving shapes. A grunting gasp came to his ears, and then the silence and the night alike were split by a report, accompanied by a streak of orange flame shooting ceilingward from the middle of the room.
Its light, transient as it was, gave him some inkling of the situation. Unthinkingly he flung himself forward, ready to grapple with that which first should meet his hands. Something soft and yielding brushed against his shoulder, and subconsciously, in the auto-hypnosis of his excitement, he was aware of a man's voice cursing and a woman's cry of triumph trailing off into a wail of pain.
On the instant he found himself at grips with the marauder. For a moment both swayed, dazed by the shock of collision. Then Maitland got a footing on the carpet and put forth his strength; the other gave way, slipped, and went to his knees. Maitland's hands found his throat, fingers sinking deep into flesh as he bore the fellow backward. A match flared noiselessly and the gas blazed overhead. A cry of astonishment choked in his throat as he recognized his own features duplicated in the face of the man whose throat he was slowly and relentlessly constricting. Anisty! He had not thought of him or connected him with the sounds that had thrilled and alarmed him over the telephone wire coming out of the void and blackness of night. Indeed, he had hardly thought any coherent thing about the matter. The ring of the girl's "No!" had startled him, and he had somehow thought, vaguely, that O'Hagan had surprised her in the flat. But more than that....
He glanced swiftly aside at the girl standing still beneath the chandelier, the match in one hand burning toward her finger-tips, in the other Anisty's revolver. Their eyes met, and in hers the light of gladness leaped and fell like a living flame, then died, to be replaced by a look of entreaty and prayer so moving that his heart in its unselfish chivalry went out to her.
Who or what she was, howsoever damning the evidence against her, he would believe against belief, shield her to the end at whatever hazard to himself, whatever cost to his fortunes. Love is unreasoning and unreasonable even when unrecognized.
His senses seemed to vibrate with redoubled activity, to become abnormally acute. For the first time he was conscious of the imperative clamor of the electric bell in O'Hagan's quarters, as well as of the janitor's rich brogue voicing his indignation as he opened the basement door and prepared to ascend. Instantly the cause of the disturbance flashed upon him.
His strangle-hold on Anisty relaxed, he released the man, and, brows knitted with the concentration of his thoughts, he stepped back and over to the girl, lifting her hand and gently taking the revolver from her fingers.
Below, O'Hagan was parleying through the closed door with the late callers. Maitland could have blessed his hot-headed Irish stupidity for the delay he was causing.
Already Anisty was on his feet again, blind with rage and crouching as if ready to spring, only restrained by the sight of his own revolver, steady and threatening in Maitland's hand.
For the least part of a second the young man hesitated, choosing his way. Then, resolved, in accents of determination, "Stand up, you hound!" he cried. "Back to the wall there!" and thrust the weapon under the burglar's nose.
The move gained instant obedience. Mr. Anisty could not reasonably hesitate in the face of such odds.
"And you," Maitland continued over his shoulder to the girl, without removing his attention from the burglar, "into the alcove there, at once! And not a word, not a whisper, not a sound until I call you!"
She gave him one frightened and piteous glance, then, unquestioning, slipped quietly behind the portieres.
To Anisty, again: "Turn your pockets out!" commanded Maitland. "Quick, you fool! The police are below; your freedom depends on your haste." Anisty's hands flew to his pockets, emptying their contents on the floor. Maitland's eyes sought in vain the shape of the canvas bag. But time was too precious. Another moment's procrastination and——
"That will do," he said crisply, without raising his voice. "Now listen to me. At the end of the hall, there, you'll find a trunk-closet, from which a window——"
"Naturally you would. Now go!"
Anisty waited for no repetition of the permission. Whatever the madness of Mad Maitland, he was concerned only to profit by it. Never before had the long arm of the law stretched hungry fingers so near his collar. He went, springing down the hall in long, soundless strides, vanishing into its shadows.
As he disappeared Maitland stepped to the door, raised his revolver, and pulled the trigger twice. The shots detonated loudly in that confined space, and rang coincident with the clash and clatter of shivered glass. A thin cloud of vapor obscured the doorway, swaying on the hot, still air, then parted and dissolved, dissipated by the entrance of four men who, thrusting the door violently open, struggled into the hallway.
Blue cloth and brass buttons moved conspicuously in the van, a grim face flushed and perspiring beneath the helmet's vizor, a revolver poised menacingly in one hand, locust as ready in the other. Behind this outward and visible manifestation of the law's majesty bobbed a rusty derby, cocked jauntily back upon the red, shining forehead of a short and thick-set person with a black mustache. O'Hagan's agitated countenance loomed over a dusty shoulder, and the battered silk hat of the nighthawk brought up the rear.
"Come in, everybody," Maitland greeted them cheerfully, turning back into the study and tossing the revolver, shreds of smoke still curling up from its muzzle, upon a divan. "O'Hagan," he called, on second thought, "jump down-stairs and see that all New York doesn't get in. Let nobody in!"
As the janitor unwillingly obeyed, policeman and detective found their tongues. A volley of questions, to the general purport of "What's th' meanin' of all this here?" assailed Maitland as he rested himself coolly on an edge of the desk. He responded, with one eyebrow slightly elevated: "A burglar. What did you suppose? That I was indulging in target practice at this time of night?"
"Which way'd he go?"
"Back of the flat—through the window to the fire-escape, I suppose. I took a couple of shots after him, but missed, and inasmuch as he was armed, I didn't pursue."
Hickey stepped forward, glowering unpleasantly at the young man. "Yeh go along," he told the uniformed man, "'nd see 'f he's tellin' the truth. I'll stay here 'nd keep him company."
His tone amused Maitland. In the reaction from the recent strain upon his wits and nerve, he laughed openly.
"And who are you?" he suggested, smiling, as the policeman clumped heavily away. Hickey spat thoughtfully into a Satsuma jardiniere and sneered. "I s'pose yeh never saw me before?"
Maitland bowed affirmation. "I'm sorry to say that that pleasure has heretofore been denied me."
"Uh-huh," agreed the detective sourly, "I guess that's a hot one, too." He scowled blackly in Maitland's amazed face and seemed abruptly to swell with mysterious rage. "My name's Hickey," he informed him venomously, "and don't yeh lose sight of that after this. It's somethin' it won't hurt yeh to remember. Guess yer mem'ry's taking a vacation, huh?"
"My dear man," said Maitland, "you speak in parables and—if you'll pardon my noticing it—with some uncalled-for spleen. Might I suggest that you moderate your tone? For," he continued, facing the man squarely, "if you don't, it will be my duty and pleasure to hoist you into the street."
"I got a photergrapht of yeh doing it," growled Hickey. "Still, seeing as yeh never saw me before, I guess it won't do no harm for yeh to connect with this." And he turned back his coat, uncovering the official shield of the detective bureau.
"Ah!" commented Maitland politely. "A detective? How interesting!"
"Fire-escape winder's broke, all right." This was the policeman, returned. "And some one's let down the bottom length of ladder, but there ain't nobody in sight."
"No," interjected Hickey, "'nd there wouldn't 've been if you'd been waitin' in the back yard all night."
"Certainly not," Maitland agreed blandly; "especially if my burglar had known it. In which case I fancy he would have chosen another route—by the roof, possibly."
"Yeh know somethin' about roofs yehself, donchuh?" suggested Hickey. "Well, I guess yeh'll have time to write a book about it while yeh—"
He stepped unexpectedly to Maitland's side and bent forward. Something cold and hard closed with a snap around each of the young man's wrists. He started up, face aflame with indignation, forgetful of the girl hidden in the alcove.
"What the devil!" he cried hotly, jingling the handcuffs.
"Ah, come off," Hickey advised him. "Yeh can't bluff it for ever, you know. Come along and tell the sarge all about it, Daniel Maitland, Es-quire, alias Handsome Dan Anisty, gentleman burglar.... Ah, cut that out, young fellow; yeh'll find this ain't no laughin' matter. Yeh're foxy, all right, but yeh've pushed yer run of luck too hard."
Hickey paused, perplexed, finding no words wherewith adequately to voice the disgust aroused in him by his prisoner's demeanor, something far from seemly, to his mind.
The humor of the situation had just dawned upon Maitland, and the young man was crimson with appreciation.
"Go on, go on!" he begged feebly. "Don't let me stop you, Hickey. Don't, please, let me spoil it all.... Your Sherlock Holmes, Hickey, is one of the finest characterizations I have ever witnessed. It is a privilege not to be underestimated to be permitted to play Raffles to you.... But seriously, my dear sleuth!" with an unhappy attempt to wipe his eyes with hampered fists, "don't you think you're wasting your talents?"
By this time even the policeman seemed doubtful. He glanced askance at the detective and shuffled uneasily. As for the cabby, who had blustered in at first with intent to demand his due in no uncertain terms, apparently Maitland's bearing, coupled with the inherent contempt and hatred of the nighthawk tribe for the minions of the law, had won his sympathies completely. Lounging against a door-jamb, quite at home, he genially puffed an unspeakable cigarette and nodded approbation of Maitland's every other word.
But Hickey—Hickey bristled belligerently.
"Fine," he declared acidly; "fine and dandy. I take off my hat to yeh, Dan Anisty. I may be a bad actor, all right, but yeh got me beat at the post."
Then turning to the policeman, "I got him right. Look here!" Drawing a folded newspaper from his pocket, he spread it open for the officer's inspection. "Yeh see them pictures? Now, on the level, is it natural?"
The patrolman frowned doubtfully, glancing from the paper to Maitland. The cabby stretched a curious neck. Maitland groaned inwardly; he had seen that infamous sheet.
"Now listen," the detective expounded with gusto. "Twice to-day this here Maitland, or Anisty, meets me. Once on the stoop here, 'nd he's Maitland 'nd takes me to lunch—see? Next time it's in Harlem, where I've been sent with a hot tip from the C'mmiss'ner's office to find Anisty, 'nd he's still Maitland 'nd surprised to see me. I ain't sure then, but I'm doin' some heavy thinkin', all right. I lets him go and shadows him. After a while he gives me the slip 'nd I chases down here, waitin' for him to turn up. Coming down on the car I buys this paper 'nd sees the pictures, and then I'm on. See?"
"Uh-huh," grunted the patrolman, scowling at Maitland. The cabby caressed his nose with a soiled forefinger reflectively, plainly a bit prejudiced by Hickey's exposition.
"One minute," Maitland interjected, eyes twinkling and lips twitching. "How long ago was it that you began to watch this house, sleuth?"
"Five minutes before yeh come home," responded Hickey, ignoring the insult. "Now—"
"Took you a long time to figure this out, didn't it? But go on, please."
"Well, I picked the winner, all right," flared the detective. "I guess that'll be about all for yours."
"Not quite," Maitland contradicted brusquely, wearying of the complication. "You say you met me on the stoop here. At what o'clock?"
"One; 'nd yeh takes me to lunch at Eugene's."
"Ah! When did I leave you?"
"I leaves yeh there at two."
"Well, O'Hagan will testify that he left me in these rooms, in dressing-gown and slippers at about one. At four he found me on this divan, bound and gagged, by courtesy of your friend, Mr. Anisty. Now, when was I with you in Harlem?"
"At seven o'clock, to the minute, yeh comes—"
"Never mind. At ten minutes to seven I took a cab from here to the Primordial Club, where I dined at seven precisely."
"And what's more," interposed the cabman eagerly, "I took yer there, sir."
"Thank you. Furthermore, sleuth, you say that you followed me around town from seven o'clock until—when?"
"I said—" stammered the plain-clothes man, purple with confusion.
"No matter. I didn't leave the Primordial until a quarter to eleven. But all this aside, as I understand it, you are asserting that, having given you all this trouble to-day, and knowing that you were after me, I deliberately hopped into a cab fifteen minutes ago, came up Fifth Avenue at such breakneck speed that this officer thought it was a runaway, and finally jumped out and ran up-stairs here to fire a revolver three times, for no purpose whatsoever beyond bringing you gentlemen about my ears?"
Hickey's jaw sagged. The cabby ostentatiously covered his mouth with a huge red paw and made choking noises.
"Pass it up, sarge, pass it up," he whispered hoarsely.
"Shut yer trap," snapped the detective. "I know what I'm doin'. This crook's clever all right, but I got the kibosh on him this time. Lemme alone." He squared his shoulders, blustering to save his face. "I don't know why yeh done it——"
"Then I'll tell you," Maitland cut in crisply. "If you'll be good enough to listen." And concisely narrated the events of the past twenty-four hours, beginning at the moment when he had discovered Anisty in Maitland Manor. Save that he substituted himself for the man who had escaped from Higgins and eliminated all mention of the grey girl, his statement was exact and convincing. As he came down to the moment when he had called up from the Bartholdi and heard mysterious sounds in his flat, substantiating his story by indicating the receiver that dangled useless from the telephone, even Hickey was staggered.
But not beaten. When Maitland ceased speaking the detective smiled superiority to such invention.
"Very pretty," he conceded. "Yeh c'n tell it all to the magistrate to-morrow morning. Meantime yeh'll have time to think up a yarn explainin' how it come that a crook like Anisty made three attempts in one day to steal some jewels, 'nd didn't get 'em. Where were they all this time?"
"In safe-keeping," Maitland lied manfully, with a furtive glance toward the alcove.
"Whose?" pursued Mr. Hickey truculently.
"Mine," with equanimity. "Seriously—sleuth!—are you trying to make a charge against me of stealing my own property?"
"Yeh done it for a blind. 'Nd that's enough. Officer, take this man to the station; I'll make the complaint."
The policeman hesitated, and at this juncture O'Hagan put in an appearance, lugging a heavy brown-paper bundle.
"Beg pardon, Misther Maitland, sor——?"
"The crowd at the dure, sor, is dishpersed," the janitor reported. "A couple av cops kem along an' fanned 'em. They're askin' fer the two av yees," with a careless nod to the policeman and detective.
"Yeh heard what I said," Hickey answered the officer's look.
"I'm thinkin'," O'Hagan pursued, calmly ignoring the presence of the outsiders, "thot these do be the soot that domned thafe av the worruld stole off ye the day, sor. A la-ad brought ut at ayeleven o'clock, sor, wid particular rayquist thot ut be daylivered to ye at once. The paper's tore, an'——"
"O'Hagan," Maitland ordered sharply, "undo that parcel. I think I can satisfy you now, sleuth. What kind of a suit did your luncheon acquaintance wear?"
"Grey," conceded Hickey reluctantly.
"An' here ut is," O'Hagan announced, arraying the clothing upon a chair. "Iv'ry domn' thing, aven down to the socks.... And a note for ye, sor."
As he shook out the folds of the coat a square white envelope dropped to the floor; the janitor retrieved and offered it to his employer.
"Give it to the sleuth," nodded Maitland.
Scowling, Hickey withdrew the inclosure—barely glancing at the superscription.
"'Dear Mr. Maitland,'" he read aloud; "'As you will probably surmise, my motive in thus restoring to you a portion of your property is not altogether uninfluenced by personal and selfish considerations. In brief, I wish to discover whether or not you are to be at home to-night. If not, I shall take pleasure in calling; if the contrary, I shall feel that in justice to myself I must forego the pleasure of improving an acquaintance begun under auspices so unfavorable. In either case, permit me to thank you for the use of your wardrobe,—which, quaintly enough, has outlived its usefulness to me: a fat-headed detective named Hickey will tell you why,—and to extend to you expression of my highest consideration. Believe me, I am enviously yours, Daniel Anisty'—Signed," added Hickey mechanically, his face working.
By way of reply, but ungraciously, the detective stepped forward and unlocked the handcuffs.
Maitland stood erect, smiling. "Thank you very much, sleuth. I shan't forget you ... O'Hagan," Tossing the janitor the keys from his desk, "you'll find some—ah—lemon-pop and root-beer in the buffet, this officer and his friends will no doubt join you in a friendly drink downstairs. Cabby, I want a word with you.... Good morning, gentlemen, Good Morning, sleuth."
And he showed them the door. "I shall be at your service officer," he called over the janitor's shoulder, "at any time to-morrow morning. If not here, O'Hagan will tell you where to find me. And, O'Hagan!" The Janitor fell back. "Keep them at least an hour," Maitland told him guardedly, "and say nothing."
The Irishman pledged his discretion by a silent look. Maitland turned back to the cabby.
"You did me a good turn, just now," he began.
"Don't mention it, sir; I've carried you hoften before this evenin', and—excuse my sayin' so—I never 'ad a fare as tipped 'andsomer. It's a real pleasure, sir, to be of service."
"Thank you," returned Maitland, eying him in speculative wise. "I wonder—"
The man was a rough, burly Englishman of one of the most intelligent, if not intellectual, kind; the British cabby, as a type, has few superiors for sheer quickness of wit and understanding. This man had been sharpened and tempered by his contact with American conditions. His eyes were shrewd, his face honest if weather-beaten, his attitude respectful.
"I've another use for you to-night," Maitland decided, "if you are at liberty and—discreet?" The final word was a question, flung over his shoulder as he turned toward the escritoire.
"Yes, sir," said the man thoughtfully. "I allus can drive, sir, even when I'm drinkin' 'ardest and can't see nothink."
"Yes? You've been drinking to-night?" Maitland smiled quietly, standing at the small writing-desk and extracting a roll of bills from a concealed drawer.
"I'm fair blind, sir."
"Very well." Maitland turned and extended his hand, and despite his professed affliction, the cabby's eyes bulged as he appreciated the size of the bill.
"My worrd!" he gasped, stowing it away in the cavernous depths of a trousers pocket.
"You will wait outside," said Maitland, "until I come out or—or send somebody for you to take wherever directed. Oh, that's all right—not another word!"
The door closed behind the overwhelmed nighthawk, and the latch clicked loudly. For a space Maitland stood in the hallway, troubled, apprehensive, heart strangely oppressed, vision clouded by the memory of the girl as he had seen her only a few minutes since: as she had stood beneath the chandelier, after acting upon her primary clear-headed impulse to give her rescuer the aid of the light.
He seemed to recall very clearly her slight figure, swaying, a-quiver with fright and solicitude,—care for him!—her face, sensitive and sweet beneath its ruddy crown of hair, that of a child waking from evil dreams, her eyes seeking his with their dumb message of appeal and of.... He dared not name what else.
Forlorn, pitiful, little figure! Odd it seemed that he should fear to face her again, alone, that he should linger reluctant to cross the threshold of his study, mistrustful and afraid alike of himself and of her—a thief.
For what should he say to her, other than the words that voiced the hunger of his heart? Yet if he spoke ... words such as those to—to a thief ... what would be the end of it all?
What did it matter? Surely he, who knew the world wherein he lived and moved and had his being, knew bitter well the worth of its verdicts. The world might go hang, for all he cared. At least his life was his own, whether to make or to mar, and he had not to answer for it to any power this side of the gates of darkness. And if by any act of his the world should be given a man and a woman in exchange for a thief and an idler, perhaps in the final reckoning his life might not be accounted altogether wasted....
He set back his shoulders and inspired deeply, eyes lightening; and stepped into the study, resolved. "Miss—" he called huskily; and stopped, reminded that not yet did he even know her name.
"It is safe now," he amended, more clearly and steadily, "to come out, if you will."
He heard no response. The long gleaming folds of the portieres hung motionless. Still, a sharp and staccato clatter of hoofs that had risen in the street, might have drowned her voice.
"If you please—?" he said again, loudly.
The silence sang sibilant in his ears; and he grew conscious of a sense of anxiety and fear stifling in its intensity.
At length, striding forward, with a swift gesture he flung the hangings aside.
Gently but with decision Sergeant Hickey set his face against the allurement of the wine-cup and the importunities of his fellow-officers.
He was tired, he affirmed with a weary nod; the lateness of the hour rendered him quite indisposed for convivial dalliance. Even the sight of O'Hagan, seduction incarnated, in the vestibule, a bottle under either arm, clutching a box of cigars jealously with both hands, failed to move the temperate soul.
"Nah," he waved temptation aside with a gesture of finality. "I don't guess I'll take nothin' to-night, thanks. G'night all."
And, wheeling, shaped a course for Broadway.
The early morning air breathed chill but grateful to his fevered brow. Oddly enough, in view of the fact that he had indulged in no very violent exercise, he found himself perspiring profusely. Now and again he saw fit to pause, removing his hat and utilizing a large soiled bandana with grim abandon.
At such times his face would be upturned, eyes trained upon the dim infinities beyond the pale moon-smitten sky. And he would sigh profoundly—not the furnace sigh of a lover thinking of his mistress, but the heartfelt and moving sigh of the man of years and cares who has drunk deep of that cup of bitterness called Unappreciated Genius.
Then, tucking the clammy bandana into a hip pocket and withdrawing his yearning gaze from the heavens, would struggle on, with a funereal countenance as the outward and visible manifestation of a mind burdened with mundane concerns: such as (one might shrewdly surmise) that autographed portrait of a Deputy Commissioner of Police which the detective's lynx-like eyes had discovered on Maitland's escritoire, unhappily, toward the close of their conference, or, possibly, the mighty processes of departmental law, with its attendant annoyances of charges preferred, hearings before an obviously prejudiced yet high-principled martinet, reprimands and rulings, reductions in rank, "breaking," transfers; or—yet a third possibility—with the prevailing rate of wage as contrasted between detective and "sidewalk-pounder," and the cost of living as contrasted between Manhattan, on the one hand, and Jamaica, Bronxville, or St. George, Staten Island, on the other.
A dimly lighted side-entrance presently loomed invitingly in the sergeant's path. He glanced up, something surprised to find himself on Sixth Avenue; then, bowed with the fatigue of a busy day, turned aside, entering a dingy back room separated from the bar proper (at that illicit hour) by a curtain of green baize. A number of tables whose sloppy imitation rosewood tops shone dimly in the murky gas-light, were set about, here and there, for the accommodation of a herd of sleepy-eyed, case-hardened habitues.
Into a vacant chair beside one of these the detective dropped, and familiarly requested the lantern-jawed waiter, who presently bustled to his side, to "Back meh up a tub of suds, George.... Nah," in response to a concerned query, "I ain't feelin' up to much to-night."
Hat tilted over his eyes, one elbow on the chairback, another on the table, flabby jowls quivering as he mumbled the indispensable cigar, puffy hands clasped across his ample chest, he sat for many minutes by the side of his unheeded drink, pondering, turning over and over in his mind the one idea it was capable of harboring at a time.
"He c'u'd 've wrote that letter to himself.... He's wise enough.... Yeh can't fool Hickey all the time.... I'll get him yet. Gottuh make good 'r it's the sidewalks f'r mine.... Me, tryin' hard to make an 'onest livin'.... 'Nd him with all kinds of money!"
The fat mottled fingers sought a waistcoat pocket and, fumbling therein, touched caressingly a little pellet of soft paper. Its possessor did not require to examine it to reassure himself as to its legitimacy as a work of art, nor as to the prominence of the Roman C in its embellishment of engraved arabesques.
"A century," he reflected sullenly; "one lonely little century for mine. 'Nd he had a wad like a ham ... on him.... 'Nd I might've had it all for my very own if...." His brow clouded blackly.
"Sleuth!" Hickey ground the epithet vindictively between his teeth. And spat. "Sleuth! Ah hell!"
Recalled to himself by the very vehemence of his emotion, he turned hastily, drained to its dregs the tall glass of lukewarm and vapid beer which had stood at his elbow, placed a nickel on the table, and, rising, waddled hastily out into the night.
It was being borne in upon him with much force that if he wished to save his name and fame somethin' had got to be done about it.
"I hadn't oughtuh left him so long, I guess," he told himself; "but ... I'll get him all right."
And turning, lumbered gloomily eastward, rapt with vain imaginings, squat, swollen figure blending into the deeper, meaner shadows of the Tenderloin; and so on toward Maitland's rooms—morose, misunderstood, malignant, coddling his fictitious wrongs; somehow pathetically typical of the force he represented.
On the corner of Fifth Avenue he paused, startled fairly out of his dour mood by the loud echo of a name already become too hatefully familiar to his ears, and by the sight of what, at first glance, he took to be the beginning of a street brawl.
In the alcove the girl waited, torn in the throes of incipient hysteria: at first too weak from reaction and revulsion of feeling to do anything other than lean heavily against the wall and fight with all her strength and will against this crawling, shuddering, creeping horror of nerves, that threatened alike her self-control, her consciousness, and her reason.
But insensibly the tremor wore itself away, leaving her weary and worn but mistress of her thoughts and actions. And she dropped with gratitude into a chair, bending an ear attentive to the war of words being waged in the room beyond the portieres.
At first, however, she failed to grasp the import of the altercation. And when in time she understood its trend, it was with incredulity, resentment, and a dawning dread lest a worse thing might yet befall her, worse by far than aught that had gone before. But to be deprived of his protection, to feel herself forcibly restrained from the shelter of his generous care—!
A moment gone she had been so sure that all would now be well with her, once Maitland succeeded in ridding himself of the police. He would shut that door and——and then she would come forth and tell him, tell him everything, and, withholding naught that damned her in her own esteem, throw herself upon his mercy, bruised with penitence but serene in the assurance that he would prove kind.
She had such faith in his tender and gentle kindness now.... She had divined so clearly the motive that had permitted Anisty's escape in order that she might be saved, not alone from Anisty, not alone from the shame of imprisonment, but from herself as well—from herself as Maitland knew her. The burglar out of the way, by ruse, evasion, or subterfuge she would be secreted from the prying of the police, smuggled out of the house and taken to a place of safety, given a new chance to redeem herself, to clean her hands of the mire of theft, to become worthy of the womanhood that was hers....
But now—she thrust finger-nails cruelly into her soft palms, striving to contain herself and keep her tongue from crying aloud to those three brutal, blind men the truth: that she was guilty of the robbery, she with Anisty; that Maitland was—Maitland: a word synonymous with "man of honor."
In the beginning, indeed, all that restrained her from doing so was her knowledge that Maitland would be more pained by her sacrifice than gladdened or relieved. He was so sure of clearing himself.... It was inconceivable to her that there could be men so stupid and crassly unobservant as to be able to confuse the identity of the two men for a single instant. What though they did resemble each other in form and feature? The likeness went no deeper: below the surface, and rising through it with every word and look and gesture, lay a world-wide gulf of difference in every shade of thought, feeling, and instinct.
She herself could never again be deceived—no, never! Not for a second could she mistake the one for the other.... What were they saying?
The turmoil of her indignation subsided as she listened, breathlessly, to Maitland's story of his adventures; and the joy that leaped in her for his frank mendacity in suppressing every incident that involved her, was all but overpowering. She could have wept for sheer happiness; and at a later time she would; but not now, when everything depended on her maintaining the very silence of death.
How dared they doubt him? The insolents! The crude brutish insolence of them! Her anger raged high again ... and as swiftly was quenched, extinguished in a twinkling by a terror born of her excitement and a bare suggestion thrown out by Hickey.
"... explainin' how a crook like Anisty made three tries in one day to steal some jewels and didn't get 'em. Where were they, all this time?"
Maitland's cool retort was lost upon her. What matter? If they disbelieved him, persisted in calling him Anisty, in natural course they would undertake to search the flat. And if she were found.... Oh, she must spare him that! She had given him cause for suffering enough. She must get away, and that instantly, before.... From a distance, to-morrow morning,—to-night, even,—by telegraph, she could communicate with him.
At this juncture O'Hagan entered with his parcel. The rustle of the paper as he brushed against the door-jamb was in itself a hint to a mind keyed to the highest pitch of excitement and seeking a way of escape from a position conceived to be perilous. In a trice the girl had turned and sped, lightfooted, to the door opening on the private hall.
Here, halting for a brief reconnaissance, she determined that her plan was feasible, if hazardous. She ran the risk of encountering some one ascending the stairs from the ground floor; but if she were cautious and quick she could turn back in time. On the other hand, the men whom she most feared were thoroughly occupied with their differences, dead to all save that which was happening within the room's four walls. A curtain hung perhaps a third of the way across the study door, tempering the light in the hall; and the broad shoulders of the cabby obstructed the remainder of the opening.