It was a chance. She poised herself on tiptoe, half undecided, and—the rustling of paper as O'Hagan opened the parcel afforded her an opportunity to escape, by drowning the noise of her movements.
For two eternal seconds she was edging stealthily down toward the outer door; then, in no time at all, found herself on the landing and—confronted by a fresh complication, one unforeseen: how to leave the house without being observed, stopped, and perhaps detained until too late? There would be men at the door, beyond doubt; possibly police, stationed there to arrest all persons attempting to leave....
No time for weighing chances. The choice of two alternatives lay before her: either to return to the alcove or to seek safety in the darkness of the upper floors—untenanted, as she had been at pains to determine. The latter seemed by far the better, the less dangerous, course to pursue. And at once she took it.
There was no light on the first-floor landing—it having presumably been extinguished by the janitor early in the evening. Only a feeble twilight obtained there, in part a reflected glow from the entrance hall, partly thin and diffused rays escaping from Maitland's study. So it was that the first few steps upward took the girl into darkness so close and unrelieved as to seem almost palpable.
At the turn of the staircase she paused, holding the rail and resting for an instant, the while she listened, ere ascending at a more sedate pace to a haven of safety more complete in that it would be more remote from the battle-ground below.
And, resting so, was suddenly chilled through and through with fear, sheer childish dread of the intangible and unknown terrors that lurked in the blackness above her. It was as if, rendered supersensitive by strain and excitement, the quivering filaments of her subconsciousness, like spiritual tentacles feeling ahead of her, had encountered and recoiled from a shape of evil, a specter of horror obscene and malign, crouching, ready to spring, there, in the shadow of night. . . .
And her breath was smothered in her throat and her heart smote so madly against the frail walls of its cage that they seemed like to burst, while she stood transfixed, frozen in inaction, limbs stiffening, roots of her hair stirring, fingers gripping the banister rail until they pained her; and with eyes that stared wide into the black heart of nothingness, until the night seemed pricked with evanescent periods of dim fire, peopled with monstrous and terrible shadows closing about her. . . .
Yet—it was absurd! She must not yield to such puerile superstitions.
There was nothing there. . . .
There was something there . . . something that like an incarnation of hatred was stalking her. . . .
If only she dared scream! If only she dared turn and fly, back to the comfort of light and human company!...
There arose a trampling of feet in the hallway; and she heard Maitland's voice like a far echo, as he bade the police good night. And distant and unreachable as he seemed, the sound of his words brought her strength and some reassurance, and she grew slightly more composed. Yet, the instant that he had turned away to talk to the cabman, her fright of that unspeakable and incorporeal menace flooded her consciousness like a great wave, sweeping her—metaphorically—off her feet. And indeed, for the time, she felt as if drowning, overwhelmed in vast waters, sinking, sinking into the black abyss of syncope....
Then, as a drowning person—we're told—clutches at straws, she grasped again at the vibrations of his voice.... What was he saying?
"You will wait outside, please, until I come out or send somebody, whom you will take wherever directed...."
——Speaking to the cabman, thinking of her, providing for her escape! Considerate and fore-sighted as always! How she could have thanked him! The warmth of gratitude that enveloped her almost unnerved her; she was put to it to restrain her impulse to rush down the stairs and....
But no; she must not risk the chance of rebuff. How could she foretell what was in his mind and heart, how probe the depths of his feeling toward her? Perhaps he would receive her protestations in skeptic spirit. Heaven knew he had cause to! Dared she.... To be repulsed!...
But no. He had provided this means for flight; she would advantage herself of it and ... and thank him by letter. Best so: for he must ever think the worst of her; she could never undeceive him—pride restraining and upholding her.
Better so; she would go, go quickly, before he discovered her absence from the flat.
And incontinently she swung about and flew down the stairs, silently, treading as lightly on the heavily padded steps as though she had been thistledown whirled adrift by the wind, altogether heedless of the creeping terror she had sensed on the upper flight, careless of all save her immediate need to reach that cab before Maitland should discover that she had escaped.
The door was just closing behind the cabby as she reached the bottom step; and she paused, considering that it were best to wait a moment, at least, lest he should be surprised at the quickness with which his employer found work for him; paused and on some mysterious impulse half turned, glancing back up the stairs.
Not a thought too soon; another instant's hesitation and she had been caught. Some one—a man—was descending; and rapidly. Maitland? Even in her brief glance she saw the white shield of a shirt bosom gleam dull against the shadows. Maitland was in evening dress. Could it be possible...?
No time now for conjecture, time now only for action. She sprang for the door, had it open in a trice, and before the cabby was really enthroned upon his lofty box, the girl was on the step, fair troubled face upturned to him in wild entreaty.
"Hurry!" she cried, distracted. "Drive off, at once! Please—oh, please!"
Perhaps the man had expected something of the sort, analyzing Maitland's words and manner. At all events he was quick to appreciate. This was what he had been engaged for and what he had been paid for royally, in advance.
Seizing reins and whip, he jerked the startled animal between the shafts out of its abstraction and——
"I say, cabby! One moment!"
The cabman turned; the figure on the stoop of the house was undoubtedly Maitland's—Maitland as he had just seen him, with the addition of a hat. As he looked the man was at the wheel, clambering in.
"Changed my mind—I'm coming along, cabby," he said cheerfully. "Drive us to the St. Luke Building, please and—hurry!"
Bitter as poverty the cruel lash cut round the horse's flanks; and as the hansom shot out at break-neck speed toward Fifth Avenue, the girl cowered back in her corner, shivering, staring wide-eyed at the man who had so coolly placed himself at her side.
This, then, was that nameless danger that had stalked her on the staircase, this the personality whose animosity toward her had grown so virulent that, even when consciously ignorant of its proximity, she had been repelled and frightened by its subtle emanations! And now—and now she was in his power!
Dazed with fear she started up, acting blindly on the primitive instinct to fly; and in another moment, doubtless, would have thrown herself boldly from the cab to the sidewalk, had her companion not seized her by the forearm and by simple force compelled her to resume her seat.
"Be still, you little fool!" he told her sharply. "Do you think that I'm going to let you go a third time? Not till I'm through with you.... And if you scream, by the powers, I'll throttle you!"
She sank back, speechless. Anisty glanced her up and down without visible emotion, then laughed unpleasantly,—the hard and unyielding laugh of brute man brutishly impassioned.
"This silly ass, Maitland," he observed, "isn't really as superfluous as he seems. I find him quite a convenience, and I suppose that ought to be totted up to his credit, since it's because he's got the good taste to resemble me.... Consider his thoughtfulness in providing me this cab! What'd I've done without it? To tell the truth I was quite at a loss to frame it up, how to win your coy consent to this giddy elopement, back there in the hall. But dear kind Mis-ter Maitland, bless his innocent heart! fixes it all up for me.... And so," concluded the criminal with ironic relish,—"and so I've got you, my lady."
He looked at her in sidelong fashion, speculative, calculating, relentless. And she bowed her head, assenting, "Yes—"
"You're dead right, little woman. Got you. Um-mmm."
She made no reply; she could have made none aside from raising an outcry, although now she was regaining something of her shattered poise, and with it the ability to accept the situation quietly, for a little time (she could not guess how long she could endure the strain), pending an opportunity to turn the tables on this, her persecutor.
"What is it," she said presently, with some effort—"what is it you wish with me?"
"I have my purpose," with a grim smile.
"You will not tell me?"
"You've guessed it, my lady; I will not—just yet. Wait a bit."
She spurred her flagging spirit until it flashed defiance. "Mr. Anisty!"
"Yes?" he responded with a curling lip, cold eyes to hers.
"No you don't!" he cut her short with a snarl. "You're not in a position to demand anything. Maybe it would be as well for you to remember who you're dealing with."
"And——?"—heart sinking again.
"And I've been made a fool of just as long as I can stand for it. I'm a crook—like yourself, my lady, but with more backbone and some pride in being at the head of my profession. I'm wanted in a dozen places; I'll spend the rest of my days in the pen, if they ever get me. Twice today I've been within an ace of being nabbed—kindness of you and your Maitland. Now—I'm desperate and determined. Do you connect?"
"What—?" she asked breathlessly.
"I can make you understand, I fancy. Tonight, instead of dropping to the back yard and shinning over the fences to safety, I took the fire escape up to the top flat—something a copper would never think of—and went through to the hall. Why? Why, to interrupt the tender tete-a-tete Maitland had planned. Why again? Because, for one thing, I've never yet been beaten at my own game; and I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks. Moreover, no man yet has ever laid hands on me in anger and not regretted it." The criminal's voice fell a note or two, shaking with somber passion. "I'll have that pup's hide yet!" he swore.
The girl tried to nerve herself. "It—it doesn't seem to strike you," she argued, controlling her hysteria by sheer strength of purpose, "that I have only to raise my voice to bring all Broadway to my rescue."
For by now the cab had sheered off into that thoroughfare, and was rocking rapidly south, between glittering walls of light. A surface car swooped down upon them, and past, making night hideous with gong and drumming trucks, and drowning Anisty's response. For which reason he chose to repeat it, with added emphasis.
"You try it on, my lady, and see what happens."
She had no answer ready, and he proceeded, after waiting a moment: "But you're not going to be such a fool. You have no pleasure in the prospect of seeing the inside of the Tombs, yourself; and, besides, you ought to know me well enough to know...."
"What?" she breathed, in spite of herself.
Anisty folded his arms, thrusting the right hand beneath his coat.
"Maitland got only one of my guns," he announced ironically. "He'd've got the contents of the other, only he chose to play the fool and into my hands. Now I guess you understand,"—and turning his head he fixed her with an inflexible glare, chill and heartless as steel,—"that one squeal out of you will be the last. Oh, I've got no scruples; arrest to me means a living death. I'll take a shorter course, by preference, and—I'll take you with me for company."
"You—you mean you would shoot me?" she whispered, incredulous.
"Like a dog," he returned with unction.
"You, a man, would—would shoot a woman?"
"You're not a woman, my lady: you're a crook. Just as I'm not a man: I'm a crook. We're equals, sexless, soulless. You seem to have overlooked that. Amateurs often do.... To-night I made you a fair proposition, to play square with me and profit. You chose to be haughty. Now you see the other side of the picture."
Bravado? Or deadly purpose? How could she tell? Her heart misgave her; she crushed herself away from him as from some abnormally vicious, loathly reptile.
He understood this; and regarded her with a confident leer, inscrutably strong and malevolent.
"And there is one other reason why you will think twice before making a row," he clinched his case. "If you did that, and I weakly permitted the police to nab and walk us off, the business would get in the papers—your name and all; and—what'd Maitland think of you then, my lady? What'd he think when he read that Dan Anisty had been pinched on Broadway in company with the little woman he'd been making eyes at—whom he was going, in his fine manlike way, to reach down a hand to and yank up out of the gutter and redeem and—and all that slush? Eh?"
And again his low evil laugh made her shudder. "Now, you won't risk that. You'll come with me and behave, I guess, all right."
She was dumb, stupefied with misery.
He turned upon her sharply.
Her lips moved in soundless assent,—lips as pallid and bloodless as the wan young face beneath the small inconspicuous hat.
The man grunted impatiently; yet was satisfied, knowing that he had her now completely under control: a condition not hard to bring about in a woman who, like this, was worn out with physical fatigue and overwrought with nervous strain. The conditions had been favorable, the result was preeminently comfortable. She would give him no more trouble.
The hansom swerved suddenly across the car-tracks and pulled up at the curb. Anisty rose with an exclamation of relief and climbed down to the sidewalk, turning and extending a hand to assist the girl.
"Come!" he said imperatively. "We've no time to waste."
For an instant only she harbored a fugitive thought of resistance; then his eyes met hers and held them, and her mind seemed to go blank under his steadfast and domineering regard. "Come!" he repeated sharply. Trembling, she placed a hand in his and somehow found herself by his side. Regardless of appearances the man retained her hand, merely shifting it beneath his arm, where a firm pressure of the elbow held it as in a vise.
"You needn't wait," he said curtly to the cabby; and swung about, the girl by his side.
"No nonsense now," he warned her tensely, again thrusting a hand in his breast pocket significantly.
"I understand," she breathed faintly, between closed teeth.
She had barely time to remark the towering white facade of upper Broadway's tallest sky-scraper ere she was half led, half dragged into the entrance of the building.
The marble slabs of the vestibule echoed strangely to their footsteps—those slabs that shake from dawn to dark with the tread of countless feet. They moved rapidly toward the elevator-shaft, passing on their way deserted cigar- and news-stands shrouded in dirty brown clothes. By the dark and silent well, where the six elevators (of which one only was a-light and ready for use) stood motionless as if slumbering in utter weariness after the gigantic exertions of the day, they came to a halt; and a chair was scraped noisily on the floor as a night-watchman rose, rubbing his eyes and yawning, to face them.
Anisty opened the interview brusquely. "Is Mr. Bannerman in now?" he demanded.
The watchman opened his eyes wider, losing some of his sleepy expression; and observed the speaker and his companion—the small, shrinking, frightened-looking little woman who bore so heavily on her escort's arm, as if ready to drop with exhaustion. It appeared that he knew Maitland by sight, or else thought that he did.
"Oh, ye're Mister Maitland, ain't yous?" he said. "Nope; if Misther Bannerman's in his offis, I dunno nothin' about it."
"He was to meet me here at two," Anisty affirmed. "It's a very important case. I'm sure he must be along, immediately, if he's not up-stairs. You're sure—?"
"Nah, I ain't sure. He may've been there all night, f'r all I know. But I'll take yous up 'f you want," with a doubtful glance at the girl.
"This lady is one of Mr. Bannerman's clients, and in great trouble." The self-styled Maitland laid his hand in a protecting gesture over the fingers on his arm; and pressed them cruelly. "I think we will go up, thank you. If Bannerman's not in, I can 'phone him. I've a pass-key."
The watchman appeared satisfied: Maitland's social standing was guaranty enough.
"All right, sir. Step in."
The girl made one final effort to hang back. Anisty's brows blackened. "By God!" he told her in a whisper. "If you dare...!"
And somehow she found herself at his side in the steel cage, the gate's clang ringing loud in her ears. The motion of the car, shooting upwards with rapidly increasing speed, made her slightly giddy. Despite Anisty's supporting arm she reeled back against the wall of the cage, closing her eyes. The man observed this with covert satisfaction.
As the speed decreased she began to feel slightly stronger; and again opened her eyes. The floor numbers, black upon a white ground, were steadily slipping down; the first she recognized being 19. The pace was sensibly decreased. Then with a slight jar the elevator stopped at 22.
"Yous know the way?"
"Perfectly," replied Anisty. "Two flights up—in the tower."
"Right. When yous wants me, ring."
The car dropped like a plummet, leaving them in darkness—or rather in a thick gloom but slightly moderated by the moonlight streaming in at windows at either end of the corridor. Anisty gripped the girl more roughly.
"Now, my lady! No shennanigan!"
A futile, superfluous reminder. Temporarily at least she was become as wax in his hands. So complex had been the day's emotions, so severe her nervous tension, so heavy the tax upon her stamina, that she had lapsed into a state of subjective consciousness, in which she responded without purpose, almost dreamily, to the suggestions of the stronger will.
Wearily she stumbled up the two brief flights of stairs leading to the tower-like cupola of the sky-scraper: two floors superimposed upon the roof with scant excuse save that of giving the building the distinction of being the loftiest in that section of the city—certainly not to lend any finishing touch of architectural beauty to the edifice.
On the top landing a door confronted them, its glass panel shining dimly in the darkness. Anisty paused, unceremoniously thrusting the girl to one side and away from the head of the staircase; and fumbled in a pocket, presently producing a jingling bunch of keys. For a moment or two she heard him working at the lock and muttering in an undertone,—probably swearing,—and then, with a click, the door swung open.
The man thrust a hand inside, touched an electric switch, flooding the room with light, and motioned the girl to enter. She obeyed passively, thoroughly subjugated: and found herself in a large and well-furnished office, apparently the outer of two rooms. The glare of electric light at first partly blinded her; and she halted instinctively a few steps from the door, waiting for her eyes to become accustomed to the change.
Behind her the door was closed softly; and there followed a thud as a bolt was shot. An instant later Anisty caught her by the arm and, roughly now and without wasting speech, hurried her into the next room. Then, releasing her, he turned up the lights and, passing to the windows, threw two or three of them wide; for the air in the room was stale and lifeless.
"And now," said the criminal in a tone of satisfaction, "now we can talk business, my dear."
He removed his overcoat and hat, throwing them over the back of a convenient chair, drew his fingers thoughtfully across his chin, and, standing at a little distance, regarded the girl with a shadow of a saturnine smile softening the hard line of his lips.
She stood where he had left her, as if volition was no longer hers. Her arms hung slack at her sides and she was swaying a trifle, her face vacant, eyes blank: very near the breaking-down point.
The man was not without perception; and recognized her state—one in which, he felt assured, he could get very little out of her. She must be strengthened and revived before she would or could respond to the direct catechism he had in store for her. In his own interest, therefore, more than through any yielding to motives of pity and compassion, he piloted her to a chair by a window and brought her a glass of clear cold water from the filter in the adjoining room.
The cold, fresh breeze blowing in her face proved wonderfully invigorating. She let her head sink back upon the cushions of the easy, comfortable leather chair and drank in the clean air in great deep draughts, with a sense of renewing vigor, both bodily and spiritual. The water helped, too: she dabbled the tip of a ridiculously small handkerchief in it and bathed her throbbing temples. The while, Anisty stood over her, waiting with discrimination if with scant patience.
What was to come she neither knew nor greatly cared; but, with an instinctive desire to postpone the inevitable moment of trial, she simulated deadly languor for some moments after becoming conscious of her position: and lay passive, long lashes all but touching her cheeks,—in which now a faint color was growing,—gaze wandering at random out over a dreary wilderness of flat rectangular roofs, livid in the moonlight, broken by long, straight clefts of darkness in whose depths lights gleamed faintly. Far in the south the sky came down purple and black to the horizon, where a silver spark glittered like a low-swung star: the torch of Liberty.
"I think," Anisty's clear-cut tones, incisive as a razor edge, crossed the listless trend of her thoughts: "I think we will now get down to business, my lady!"
She lifted her lashes, meeting his masterful stare with a look of calm inquiry. "Well?"
"So you're better now? Possibly it was a mistake to give you that rest, my lady. Still, when one's a gentleman-cracksman——!" He chuckled unpleasantly, not troubling to finish his sentence.
"Well?" he mocked, seating himself easily upon an adjacent table. "We're here at last, where we'll suffer no interruptions to our little council of war. Beyond the watchman, there's probably not another soul in the building; and from that window there it is a straight drop of twenty-four stories to Broadway, while I'm between you and the door. So you may be resigned to stay here until I get ready to let you go. If you scream for help, no one will hear you."
"Very well," she assented mechanically, turning her head away with a shiver of disgust. "What is it you want?"
"The jewels," he said bluntly. "You might have guessed that."
"And have saved yourself and me considerable trouble by speaking ten minutes ago."
"Yes," she agreed abstractedly.
"Now," he continued with a hint of anger in his voice, "you are going to tell."
She shook her head slightly.
"Oh, but you are, my lady." And his tone rasped, quickened with the latent brutality of the natural criminal. "And I know that you'll not force me to extreme measures. It wouldn't be pleasant for you, you know; and I promise you I shall stop at nothing whatever to make you speak."
No answer; in absolute indifference, she felt, lay her strongest weapon. She must keep calm and self-possessed, refusing to be terrified into a quick and thoughtless answer. "This afternoon," he said harshly, "you stole from me the Maitland jewels. Where are they?"
"I shall not tell."
He bent swiftly forward and took one of her hands in his. Instinctively she clenched it; and he wrapped his strong hard fingers around the small white fist, then deliberately inserted a hard finger joint between her second and third knuckles, slowly increasing the pressure. And watched with absolute indifference the lines of agony grave themselves upon her smooth unwrinkled forehead, and the color leave her cheeks, as the pain grew too exquisite. Then, suddenly discontinuing the pressure, but retaining her hand, he laughed shortly.
"Will you speak, my lady, or will you have more?"
"Don't," she gasped, "please...!"
"Where are the jewels? Will you?"
"Have you given them to Maitland?"
"Where are they?"
"I don't know."
"Stop that nonsense unless.... Where did you leave them?"
"I won't tell—I won't.... Ah, please, please!"
An abrupt and resounding hammering at the outer door forced him to leave off. He dropped her hand with an oath and springing to his feet drew his revolver; then, with a glance at the girl, who was silently weeping, tears of pain rolling down her cheeks, mouth set in a thin pale line of determination, strode out and shut the door after him.
As it closed the girl leaped to her feet, maddened with torture, wild eyes casting about the room for a weapon of some sort, of offense or defense; for she could not have endured the torture an instant longer. If forced to it, to fight, fight she would. If only she had something, a stick of wood, to defend herself with.... But there was nothing, nothing at all.
The room was a typical office, well but severely furnished. The rug that covered the tile floor was of rich quality and rare design. The neutral-tinted walls were bare, but for a couple of steel engravings in heavy wooden frames. There were three heavily upholstered leather arm-chairs and one revolving desk-chair; a roll-top desk, against the partition wall, a waste-paper basket, and a flat-topped desk, or table. And that was all.
Or not quite all, else the office equipment had not been complete. There was the telephone!
But he would hear! Or was the partition sound-proof?
As if in contradiction of the suggestion, there came to her ears very clearly the sound of the hall door creaking on its hinges, and then a man's voice, shrill with anger and anxiety.
"You fool! Do you want to ruin us both? What do you mean——"
The door crashed to, interrupting the protest and drowning Anisty's reply.
"I was passing," the new voice took up its plaintive remonstrance, "and the watchman called me in and said that you were telephoning for me——"
"Damn the interfering fool!" interrupted Anisty.
"But what's this insanity, Anisty? What's this about a woman? What——" The new-comer's tones ascended a high scale of fright and rage.
"Lower your voice, you ass!" the burglar responded sternly. "And——"
He took his own advice; and for a little time the conference was conducted in guarded tones that did not penetrate the dividing wall save as a deep rumbling alternating with an impassioned squeak.
But long ere this had come to pass the girl was risking all at the telephone. Receiver to ear she was imploring Central to connect her with Ninety-eighty-nine Madison. If only she might get Maitland, tell him where the jewels were hidden, warn him to remove them—then she could escape further suffering by open confession..
"What number?" came Central's languid query, after a space. "Did you say Nine-ought-nine-eight?"
"No, no, Central. Nine-o-eight-nine Madison, please, and hurry——— hurry!"
"Ah, I'm ringin' 'em. They ain't answered yet. Gimme time.... There they are. Go ahead."
"Pwhat is ut?"
Her heart sank: O'Hagan's voice meant that Maitland was out.
"O'Hagan—is that you?... Tell Mr. Maitland———"
"He's gawn out for the noight an'———"
"Tell him, please———"
"But he's out. Ring up in the marnin'."
"But can't you take this message for him? Please...."
The door was suddenly jerked open and Anisty leaped into the room, face white with passion. Terrified, the girl sprang from the desk, carrying the instrument with her, placing the revolving chair between her and her enemy.
"The brass bowl, please,—tell him that," she cried clearly into the receiver.
And Anisty was upon her, striking the telephone from her grasp with one swift blow and seizing her savagely by the wrist. As the instrument clattered and pounded on the floor she was sent reeling and staggering half-way across the room.
As she brought up against the flat-topped desk, catching its edge and saving herself a fall, the burglar caught up the telephone.
"Who is that?" he shouted imperatively into the transmitter.
Whatever the reply, it seemed to please him. His brows cleared, the wrath that had made his face almost unrecognizable subsided; he even smiled. And the girl trembled, knowing that he had solved her secret; for she had hoped against hope that the only words he could have heard her speak would have had too cryptic a significance for his comprehension.
As, slowly and composedly, he replaced the receiver on its hook and returned the instrument to the desk, a short and rotund figure of a man, in rumpled evening dress and wearing a wilted collar, hopped excitedly into the room, cast at the girl one terrified glance out of eyes that glittered with excitement like black diamonds, set in a face the hue of yeast, and clutched the burglar's arm.
"Oh, Anisty, Anisty!" he cried piteously. "What is it? What is it? Tell me!"
"It's all right," returned the burglar. "Don't you worry, little man. Pull yourself together." And laughed.
"But what—what——" stammered the other.
"Only that she's given herself away," chuckled Anisty: "beautifully and completely. 'The brass bowl,' says she,—thinking I never saw one on Maitland's desk!—and 'O'Hagan, and who the divvle are you?' says the man on the other end of the wire, when I ask who he is."
"And? And?" pleaded the little man, dancing with worry.
"And it means that my lady here returned the jewels to Maitland by hiding them under a brass ash-receiver on his desk—ass that I was not to know!... You are 'cute, my lady!" with an ironic salute to the girl, "but you've met your match in Anisty."
"And," demanded the other as the burglar snatched up his hat and coat, "what will you do, Anisty?"
"Do?"—contemptuously. "Why, what is there to do but go and get them? We've risked too much and made New York too hot for the two of us, my dear sir, to get out of the game without the profits."
"But I beg of you——"
"You needn't,"—grimly. "It won't bring you in any money."
"Is out. O'Hagan answered the 'phone. Don't you understand?"
"But he may return!"
"That's his lookout. I'm sorry for him if he does." Anisty produced the revolver from his pocket, and twirled the cylinder significantly. "I owe Mr. Maitland something," he said, nodding to the white-faced girl by the table, "and I shouldn't be sorry to——"
"And what," broke in the new-comer, "what am I going to do meanwhile?"
"Devil the bit I care! Stay here and keep this impetuous female from calling up Police Headquarters, for a good guess.... Speaking of which, I think we had best settle this telephone business once and for all."
The burglar turned again to the desk and began to work over the instrument with a small screwdriver which he produced from his coat pocket, talking the while.
"Our best plan, my dear Bannerman, is for you to come with me, at least as far as the nearest corner. You can wait there, if you're too cowardly to go the limit, like a man.... I'll get the loot and join you, and we can make a swift hike for the first train that goes farthest out of town.... A pity, for we've done pretty well, you and I, old boy: you with your social entree and bump of locality to locate the spoils, me with my courage and skill to lift 'em, and an equitable division.... Oh, don't worry about her, Bannerman! She's as deep in it as either of us, only she happens to be sentimental, and an outsider on this deal. She won't blab. Besides, you're ruined anyway, as far as New York's concerned.... Come along. That's finished: she won't send any important messages over that wire to-night, I guess."
"My dear young lady!" Rising and throwing the overcoat over his arm, he waved his hat at her in sardonic courtesy. "I can't say it has been a pleasure to know you but—you have made it interesting, I admit. And I bid you a very good night. The charwoman will let you out when she comes to clean up in the morning. Adieu, my dear!"
The little man bustled after him, bleating and fidgeting; and the lock clicked.
She was alone ... utterly and forlornly alone ... and had lost ... lost all, all that she had prized and hoped to win, even ... even him....
She raised fluttering, impotent white hands to her temples, trying to collect herself. In the outer room a clock was ticking. Unconsciously she moved to the doorway and stood looking for a time at the white, expressionless dial. It was some time—a minute or two—before she deciphered the hour.
Ten minutes past two!... Ah, the lifetime she had lived in the past seventy minutes! And the futility of it all!
Slowly Maitland returned to the study and replaced the lamp upon his desk; and stood briefly in silence, long fingers stroking his well-shaped chin, his face a little thin and worn-looking, a gleam of pain in his eyes. He sighed.
So she was gone!
He laughed a trace harshly. This surprise was nothing more than he might have discounted, of course; he had been a fool to expect anything else of her, he was enjoying only his just deserts both for having dared to believe that the good in human nature (and particularly in woman's nature) would respond to decent treatment, and for having acted on that asinine theory.
So she was gone, without a word, without a sign!...
He sat down at the desk, sidewise, one arm extended along its edge, fingers drumming out a dreary little tune on the hard polished wood; and thought it all over from the beginning. Nor spared himself.
Why, after all, should it be otherwise? Why should she have stayed? Why should he compliment himself by believing that there was aught about him visible through the veneer acquired in a score and odd years of purposeless existence, to attract a young and pretty woman's heart?
He enumerated his qualities specifically; and condemned them all. Imprimis, he was a conceited ass. A fascinating young criminal had but to toss her head at him to make him think that she was pleased with him, to make him forget that she was what she was and believe that, because he was willing to stoop, she was willing to climb. And he had betrayed himself so mercilessly! How she must have laughed in her sleeve all the time, while he pranced and bridled and preened himself under her eyes, blinded to his own idiocy by the flame of a sudden infatuation—how she must have laughed!
Undoubtedly she had laughed; and, measuring his depth,—or his shallowness,—had determined to use him to her ends. Why not? It had been her business, her professional duty, to make use of him in order to accomplish her plundering. And because she had not dared to ask him for the jewels when he left her in the morning, she had naturally returned in the evening to regain them, very confident, doubtless, that even if surprised a second time, she would get off scot-free. Unfortunately for her, this fellow Anisty had interfered. Maitland presumed cynically that he ought to be grateful to Anisty.... The unaccountable scoundrel! Why had he returned?
How the girl had contrived to escape was, of course, more easy to understand. Maitland recalled that sudden clatter of hoofs in the street, and he had only to make a trip to the window to verify his suspicion that the cab was gone. She had simply overheard his concluding remarks to the cabby, and taken pardonable advantage of them. Maitland had footed the bill.... She was welcome to that, however. He, Maitland, was well rid of the whole damnable business.... Yes, jewels and all!
What were the jewels to him?... Beyond their sentimental associations, he did not hold them greatly in prize. Of course, since they had been worn by his mother, he would spare no expense or effort to trace and re-collect them, for that dim sainted memory's sake. But in this case, at least, the traditional usage of the Maitland's would never be carried out. It had been faithfully observed when, after his mother's death, the stones had been removed from their settings and stored away; but now they would never be reset, even should he contrive to reassemble them, to adorn the bride of the Maitland heir. For he would never marry. Of course not....
Maitland was young enough to believe, and to extract a melancholy satisfaction from this.
Puzzled and saddened, his mind harked back for ever to that carking question: Why had she returned? What had brought her back to the flat? If she and Anisty were confederates, as one was inclined at times to believe,—if such were the case, Anisty had the jewels, and there was nothing else of any particular value so persistently to entice such expert and accomplished burglars back to his flat. What else had they required of him? His peace of mind was nothing that they could turn into cash; and they seemed to have reaved him of nothing else.
But they had that; unquestionably they had taken that.
And still the riddle haunted him: Why had she come back that night? And, whatever her reason, had she come in Anisty's company, or alone? One minute it seemed patent beyond dispute that the girl and the great plunderer were hand-in-glove; the next minute Maitland was positively assured that their recent meeting had been altogether an accident. From what he had heard over the telephone, he had believed them to be quarreling, although at the time he had assigned to O'Hagan the masculine side to the dispute. But certainly there must have arisen some difference of opinion between Anisty and the girl, to have drawn from her that frantic negative Maitland had heard, to have been responsible for the overturning of the chair,—an accident that seemed to argue something in the nature of a physical struggle; the chair itself still lay upon its side, mute witness to a hasty and careless movement on somebody's part....
But it was all inexplicable. Eventually Maitland shook his head, to signify that he gave it up. There was but one thing to do,—to put it out of mind. He would read a bit, compose himself, go to bed.
Preliminary to doing so, he would take steps to insure the flat against further burglarizing, for that night, at least. The draught moving through the hall stirred the portiere and reminded him that the window in the trunk-room was still open, an invitation to any enterprising sneak-thief or second-story man. So Maitland went to close and make it fast.
As he shut down the window-sash and clamped the catch he trod on something soft and yielding. Wondering, he stooped and picked it up, and carried it back to the light. It proved to be the girl's hand-bag.
"Now," admitted Maitland in a tone of absolute candor, "I am damned. How the dickens did this thing get there, anyway? What was she doing in my trunk-closet?"
Was it possible that she had followed Anisty out of the flat by that route? A very much mystified young man sat himself down again in front of his desk, and turned the bag over and over in his hands, keenly scrutinizing every inch of it, and whistling softly.
That year the fashion in purses was for capacious receptacles of grained leather, nearly square in shape, and furnished with a chain handle. This which Maitland held was conspicuously of the mode,—neither too large, nor too small, constructed of fine soft leather of a gun-metal shade, with a framework and chain of gun-metal itself. It was new and seemed well-filled, weighing a trifle heavy in the hand. One face was adorned with a monogram of cut gun-metal, the initials "S" and "G" and "L" interlaced. But beyond this the bag was irritatingly non-committal.
Undoubtedly, if one were to go to the length of unsnapping the little, frail clasp, one would acquire information; by such facile means would much light be shed upon the darkness. But Maitland put a decided negative to the suggestion.
No. He would give her the benefit of the doubt. He would wait, he would school himself to patience. Perhaps she would come back for it,—and explain. Perhaps he could find her by advertising it,—and get an explanation. Pending which, he could wait a little while. It was not his wish to pry into her secrets, even if—even if....
It was something to be smoked over.... Strange how it affected him to have in his hands something that she had owned and touched!
Opening a drawer of the desk, Maitland produced an aged pipe. A brazen jar, companion piece to the ash receiver, held his tobacco. He filled the pipe from the jar, with thoughtful deliberation. And scraped a match beneath his chair and ignited the tobacco and puffed in contemplative contentment, deriving solace from each mouthful of grateful, evanescent incense. Meanwhile he held the charred match between thumb and forefinger.
Becoming conscious of this fact, he smiled in deprecation of his absent-minded mood, looked for the ash-receiver, discovered it in place, inverted beneath the book; and frowned, remembering. Then, with an impatient gesture,—impatient of his own infirmity of mind: for he simply could not forget the girl,—he dropped the match, swept the book aside, lifted the bowl....
After a moment of incredulous awe, the young man rose, with eyes a-light and a jubilant song in the heart of him. Now he knew, now understood, now believed, and now was justified of his faith!
After which depression came, with the consciousness that she was gone, for ever removed beyond his reach and influence, and that by her own wilful act. It was her intelligible wish that they should never meet again, for, having accomplished her errand, she had flown from the possibility of his thanks.
It was so clear, now! He perceived it all, plainly. Somehow (though it was hard to surmise how) she had found out that Anisty had stolen the jewels; somehow (and one wondered at what risk) she had contrived to take them from him and bring them back to their owner. And Anisty had followed.
Poor little woman! What had she not suffered, what perils had she not braved, to prove that there was honor even in thieves! It could have been at no inconsiderable danger,—a danger not incommensurate with that of robbing a tigress of her whelps,—that she had managed to filch his loot from that pertinacious and vindictive soul, Anisty!
But she had accomplished it; and all for him!
If only he could find her, now!
There was a clue to his hand in that bag, of course, but by this act she had for ever removed from him the right to investigate that.
If he could only find that cabby.
Perhaps if he tried at the Madison Square rank, immediately....
Besides, it was clearly his duty not to remain in the flat alone with the jewels another night. There was but one attainable place of safety for them; and that the safe of a reputable hotel. He would return to the Bartholdi at once, merely pausing on his way to inquire of the cabmen if they could send their brother-nighthawk to him.
Maitland shook himself into his topcoat, jammed hat upon head, dropped the jewels into one pocket, the cigarette case into another, and—on impulse—Anisty's revolver, with its two unexploded cartridges, into a third; and pressed the call button for O'Hagan, not waiting, however, for that worthy to climb the stairs, but meeting him in the entry hall.
"I'm going back to the Bartholdi, O'Hagan, for the night. You may bring me my letters and any messages in the morning. I should like you to sleep in the flat to-night and answer any telephone calls."
"Yiss, Misther Maitland, sor."
"Have the police gone, O'Hagan?"
"There's a whole bottle full yet, sor."
"You've not been drinking, I trust?"
The Irishman shuffled. "Shure, sor, an' wud that be hosphitible?"
Laughing, Maitland bade him good night and left the house, turning west to gain Fifth Avenue, walking slowly because he was a little tired, and enjoying the rather unusual experience of being abroad at that hour without company. The sky seemed cleaner than ordinarily, the city quieter than ever he had known it, and in the air was a sweet smell, reminiscent of the country-side ... reminding one unhappily of the previous night when one had gone whistling to one's destiny along a perfumed country road....
"Good 'eavings, Mister Maitland, sir! It carn't be you!"
Maitland looked up, bewildered for the instant. The voice that hailed him out of the sky was not unfamiliar....
A cab that he had waited on the corner to let pass, was reined back suddenly. The driver leaned down from the box and in a thunderstruck tone advertised his stupefaction.
"It aren't in nature, sir—if yer'll pardon my mentionin' it. But 'ere I leaves you not ten minutes ago at the St. Luke Building and finds yer 'ere, when you 'aven't 'ad time—"
Maitland woke up. "What's that?" he questioned sharply. "You left me where ten minutes—?"
"St. Luke Buildin', corner Broadway an'—."
"I know it," excited, "but—"
"—'avin' took yer there with the young lady—"
"—that comes outer the 'ouse with yer, sir—"
"The devil!" Maitland hesitated no longer: his foot was on the step as he spoke. "Drive me there at once, and drive for all you're worth!" he cried. "If there's an ounce of speed in that plug of yours and you don't get it out—"
"Never fear, sir! We'll make it in five minutes!"
"It'll be worth your while."
Maitland dropped into his seat, dumbfounded. "Good Lord!" he whispered; and then savagely: "In the power of that infamous scoundrel———!" And felt of the revolver in his pocket.
The cab had been headed north; the St. Luke rears its massive bulk south of Twenty-third Street. The driver expertly swung his vehicle almost on dead center. Simultaneously it careened with the impact of a heavy bulk landing upon the step and falling in a heap on the deck.
"My worrd, what's that?" came from aloft. Maitland was altogether too startled to speak.
The heap sat up, resolving itself into the semblance of a man; who spoke in decisive tones:
"If yeh're goin' there, I'm goin' with yeh, 'r yeh don't go—see?"
"The sleuth!" gasped Maitland, astounded.
"Ah, cut that, can't yeh?" Hickey got on all fours, found his cigar, stuck it in his mouth, and fell into place at Maitland's side.
"Hickey, I mean. But how—"
"If yeh're Maitland, 'nd Anisty's at the St. Luke Buildin', tell that fool up there to drive!"
Maitland had no need to lift the trap; the cabby had already done that.
"All right," the young man called. "It's Detective Hickey. Drive on!"
The lash leaped out over the roof—cr-rack!—and the horse, presumably convinced that no speed other than a dead-run would ever again be demanded of it, tore frantically down the Avenue, the hansom rocking like a topsail-schooner in a heavy gale.
Maitland and the detective were battered against the side and back of the vehicle and slammed against one another with painful regularity. Under such circumstances speech was difficult; yet they managed to exchange a few sentences.
"Yeh gottuh gun?"
"Anisty's—two good cartridges."
"Jus' as well I'm along, I guess."
And again: "How'd yeh s'pose Anisty got this cab?"
"I don't know—must've been in the house—I told cabby to wait—Anisty seems to have walked out right on your heels."
"Hell!" And a moment later: "What's this about a woman in the case?"
Maitland took swift thought on her behalf.
"Too long to go into now," he parried the query. "You help me catch this scoundrel Anisty and I'll put in a good word for you with the deputy commissioner."
"Ah, yeh help me nab him," grunted the detective, "'nd I won't need no good word with nobody."
The hansom swung into Broadway, going like a whirlwind; and picked up an uniformed officer in front of the Flatiron Building, who, shouting and using his locust stridently, sprinted after them. A block further down another fell into line; and he it was who panted at the step an instant after the cab had lurched to a stop before the entrance to the St. Luke Building.
Hickey had rolled out before the policeman had a chance to bluster.
"'Lo, Bergen," he greeted the man. "Yeh know me—I'm Hickey, Central Office. Yeh're jus' in time. Anisty's in this buildin'—'r was ten minutes ago. We want all the help we c'n get."
By way of reply the officer stooped and drummed a loud alarm on the sidewalk with his night-stick.
"Say," he panted, rising, "you're a wonder, Hickey—if you get him."
"Uh-huh," grunted the detective with a sidelong glance at Maitland. "C'm 'long."
The lobby of the building was quite deserted as they entered, the night-watchman invisible, the night elevator on its way to the roof—as was discovered by consultation of the indicator dial above the gate. Hickey punched the night call bell savagely.
"Me 'nd him," he said, jerking the free thumb at Maitland, "'ll go up and hunt him out. Begin at th' top floor an' work down. That's th' way, huh? 'Nd," to the policeman, "yeh stay here an' hold up anybody 't tries tuh leave th' buildin'. There ain't no other entrance, I s'pose, what?"
"Basement door an' ash lift's round th' corner," responded the officer. "But that had ought tuh be locked, night."
"Well, 'f anybody else comes along yeh put him there, anyway, for luck.... What 'n hell's th' matter with this elevator?"
The detective settled a pudgy index-finger on the push button and elicited a far, thin, shrill peal from the annunciator above. But the indicator arrow remained as motionless as the car at the top of the shaft. Another summons gained no response, in likewise, and a third was also disregarded.
Hickey stepped back, face black as a storm-cloud, summed up his opinion of the management of the building in one soul-blistering phrase, produced his bandana and used it vigorously, uttered a libel on the ancestry of the night-watchman and the likes of him, and turned to give profane welcome to the policeman who had noticed the cab at Twenty-third Street and who now panted in, blown and perspiring.
Much to his disgust he found himself assigned to stand guard over the basement exits, and waddled forth again into the street.
Meanwhile the first officer to arrive upon the scene was taking his turn at agitating the button and shaking the gates; and with no more profit of his undertaking than Hickey. After a minute or two of it he acknowledged defeat with an oath, and turned away to browbeat the straggling vanguard of belated wayfarers,—messenger-boys, slatternly drabs, hackmen, loafers, and one or two plain citizens conspicuously out of their reputable grooves,—who were drifting in at the entrance to line the lobby walls with blank, curious faces. Forerunners of that mysterious rabble which is apparently precipitated out of the very air by any extraordinary happening in city streets, if allowed to remain they would in five minutes have waxed in numbers to the proportions of an unmanageable mob; and the policeman, knowing this, set about dispersing them with perhaps greater discretion than consideration. They wavered and fell back, grumbling discontentedly; and Maitland, his anxiety temporarily distracted by the noise they made, looked round to find his erstwhile cabby at his elbow. Of whom the sight was inspiration. Ever thoughtful, never unmindful of her whose influence held him in this coil, he laid an arresting hand on the man's sleeve.
"You've got your cab—?"
"Yessir, right houtside."
"Drive round the corner, away from the crowd, and wait for me. If she—the young lady—comes without me, drive her anywhere she tells you and come to my rooms to-morrow morning for your pay."
Maitland turned back, to find the situation round the elevator shaft in status quo. Nothing had happened, save that Hickey's rage and vexation had increased mightily.
"But why don't you go up after him?"
"How 'n blazes can I?" exploded the detective. "He's got th' night car. 'F I takes the stairs, he comes down by th' shaft, 'nd how'm I tuh trust this here mutt?" He indicated his associate but humbler custodian of the peace with a disgusted gesture.
"Perhaps one of the other cars will run—" Maitland suggested.
"Ah, they're all dead ones," Hickey disagreed with disdain as the young man moved down the row of gates, trying one after another. "Yeh're only wastin'—"
He broke off with a snort as Maitland, somewhat to his own surprise managing to move the gate of the third shaft from the night elevator, stepped into the darkened car and groped for the controller. Presently his fingers encountered it, and he moved it cautiously to one side. A vicious blue spark leaped hissing from the controller-box and the cage bounded up a dozen feet, and was only restrained from its ambition to soar skywards by an instantaneous release of the lever.
By discreet manipulation Maitland worked the car down to the street floor again, and Hickey with a grunt that might be interpreted as an apology for his incredulity, jumped in.
"Let 'er rip!" he cried exultantly. "Fan them folks out intuh th' street, Bergen, 'nd watch ow-ut!"
Maitland was pressing the lever slowly wide of its catch, and the lighted lobby dropped out of sight while the detective was still shouting admonitions to the police below. Gradually gaining in momentum the car began to shoot smoothly up into the blackness, safety chains clanking beneath the floor. Hickey fumbled for the electric light switch but, finding it, immediately shut the glare off again and left the car in darkness.
"Safer," he explained, sententious. "Anisty'll shoot, 'nd they says he shoots straight."
Floor after floor in ghostly strata slipped silently down before their eyes. Half-way to the top, approximately, Hickey's voice rang sharply in the volunteer operator's ear.
"Stop 'er! Hold 'er steady. T'other's comin' down."
Maitland obeyed, managing the car with greater ease and less jerkily as he began to understand the principle of the lever. The cage paused in the black shaft, and he looked upward.
Down the third shaft over, the other cage was dropping like a plummet, a block of golden light walled in by black filigree-work and bisected vertically by the black line of the guide-rail.
"Stop that there car!"
Hickey's stentorian command had no effect; the block of light continued to fall with unabated speed.
The detective wasted no more breath. As the other car swept past, Maitland was shocked by a report and flash beside him. Hickey was using his revolver.
The detonation was answered by a cry, a scream of pain, from the lighted cage. It paused on the instant, like a bird stricken a-wing, some four floors below, but at once resumed its downward swoop.
"Down, down! After 'em!" Hickey bellowed. "I dropped one, by God! T'other can't—"
"How many in the car?" interrupted Maitland, opening the lever with a firm and careful hand. "Only two, same's us, I hit th' feller what was runnin' it—"
"Steady!" cautioned Maitland, decreasing the speed, as the car approached the lower floor.
The other had beaten them down; but its arrival at the street level was greeted by a short chorus of mad yells, a brief fusillade of shots— perhaps five in all—and the clang of the gate. Then, like a ball rebounding, the cage swung upwards again, hurtling at full speed.
Evidently Anisty had been received in force which he had not bargained for.
Maitland instinctively reversed the lever and sent his own car upward again, slowly, waiting for the other to overtake it. Peering down through the iron lattice-work he could indistinctly observe the growing cube of light, with a dark shape lying huddled in one corner of the floor. A second figure, rapidly taking shape as Anisty's, stood by the controller, braced against the side of the car, one hand on the lever, the other poising a shining thing, the flesh-colored oval of his face turned upwards in a supposititious attempt to discern the location of the dark car.
Hickey, by firing prematurely, lent him adventitious aid. The criminal replied with spirit, aiming at the flash, his bullet spattering against the back wall of the shaft. Hickey's next bullet rang with a bell-like note against the metal-work, Anisty's presumably went wide—though Maitland could have sworn he felt the cold kiss of its breath upon his cheek. And the lighted cage rocketed past and up.
Maitland needed no admonition to pursue; his blood was up, his heart singing with the lust of the man-hunt. Yet Anisty was rapidly leaving them, his car soaring at an appalling pace. Towards the top he evidently made some attempt to slow up, but either he was ignorant of the management of the lever, or else the thing had got beyond control. The cage rammed the buffers with a crash that echoed through the sounding halls like a peal of thunder-claps; it was instantaneously plunged into darkness. There followed a splintering and rending sound, and Maitland, heart in mouth, could make out dimly a dark, falling shadow in the further shaft. Yet ere it had descended a score of feet the safety-clutch acted and, with a third tremendous jar, shaking the building, the car halted.
Hickey and Maitland were then some five floors below. "Stop 'er at Nineteen," ordered the detective. There was a lilt of exultancy in his voice. "We got him now, all right, all right. He'll try to get down by— There!" Overhead the crash of a gate forced open was followed by a scurry of footsteps over the tiling. "Stop 'er and we'll head him off. So now— eeeasy!"
Maitland shut off the power as the car reached the nineteenth floor. Hickey opened the gate and jumped out. "Shut that," he commanded sharply as Maitland followed him, "in case he gets past us."
He paused a moment in thought, heavy head on bull-neck drooping forward as he stared toward the rear of the building. He was fearless and resourceful, for all his many deficiencies. Maitland found time, quaintly enough, to regard him with detached curiosity, a rare animal, illustrating all that was best and worst in his order. Endowed with unexceptionable courage, his address in emergencies seemed altogether admirable.
"Yeh guard them stairs," he decided suddenly. "I'll run through this hall, 'nd see what's doing. Don't hesitate to shoot if he tries to jump yeh." And was gone, clumping briskly down the corridor to the rear.
Maitland, yielding the initiative to the other's superior generalship, stood sentinel, revolver in hand, until the detective returned, overheated and sweating, from his tour, to report "nothin' doin'," with characteristic brevity. He had the same report to make on both the twentieth and twenty-first floors, where the same procedure was observed; but as the latter was reached unexpected and very welcome reinforcements were gained by the arrival of a third car, containing three patrolmen and one roundsman. Yet numbers created delay; Hickey was seized and compelled to pant explanations, to his supreme disgust.
And, suddenly impatient beyond endurance, Maitland left them and alone sprang up the stairs.
That this was simple foolhardiness may be granted without dispute. But it must be borne in mind that he was very young and ardent, very greatly perturbed on behalf of an actor in the tragedy in whom the police, to their then knowledge, had no interest whatsoever. And if in the heat of chase he had for an instant forgotten her, now he remembered; and at once the capture of Anisty was relegated to the status of a matter of secondary importance. The real matter at stake was the safety of the girl whom Anisty, by exercise of an infernal ingenuity that passed Maitland's comprehension, had managed to spirit into this place of death and darkness and whispering halls. Where she might be, in what degree of suffering and danger,—these were the considerations that sent him in search of her without a thought of personal peril, but with a sick heart and overwhelmed with a stifling sense of anxiety.
More active than the paunch-burdened detective, he had sprinted down and back through the hallway of the twenty-second floor, without discovering anything, ere the police contingent had reached an agreement and the stairhead.
There remained two more floors, two final flights. A little hopelessly he swung up the first. And as he did so the blackness above him was riven by a tongue of fire, and a bullet, singing past his head, flattened itself with a vicious spat against the marble dado of the walls. Instinctively he pulled up, finger closing upon the trigger of his revolver; flash and report followed the motion, and a panel of ribbed glass in a door overhead was splintered and fell in clashing fragments, all but drowning the sound of feet in flight upon the upper staircase.
A clamor of caution, warning, encouragement, and advice broke out from the police below. But Maitland hardly heard. Already he was again in pursuit, taking the steps two at a leap. With a hand upon the newel-post he swung round on the twenty-third floor, and hurled himself toward the foot of the last flight. A crash like a rifle-shot rang out above, and for a second he fancied that Anisty had fired again and with a heavier weapon. But immediately he realized that the noise had been only the slamming of the door at the head of the stairs,—the door whose glazed panel loomed above him, shedding a diffused light to guide his footsteps, its opalescent surface lettered with the name of
HENRY M. BANNERMAN Attorney & Counselor-at-Law
the door of the office whose threshold he had so often crossed to meet a friend and adviser. It was with a shock that he comprehended this, a thrill of wonder. He had all but forgotten that Bannerman owned an office in the building, in the rush, the urge of this wild adventure. Strange that Anisty should have chosen it for the scene of his last stand,— strange, and strangely fatal for the criminal! For Maitland knew that from this eyrie there was no means of escape, other than by the stairs.
Well and good! Then they had the man, and—
The thought was flashing in his mind, illumining the darkness of his despair with the hope that he would be able to force a word as to the girl's whereabouts from the burglar ere the police arrived; Maitland's foot was on the upper step, when a scream of mortal terror—her voice!—broke from within. Half maddened, he threw himself bodily against the door, twisting the knob with frantic fingers that slipped upon its immovable polished surface.
The bolt had been shot, he was barred out, and, with only the width of a man's hand between them, the girl was in deathly peril and terror.
A sob that was at the same time an oath rose to his lips. Baffled, helpless, he fell back, tears of rage starting to his eyes, her accents ringing in his ears as terribly pitiful as the cry of a lost and wandering soul.
"God!" he mumbled incoherently, and in desperation sent the pistol-butt crashing against the glass. It was tough, stout, stubborn; the first blow scarcely flawed it. As he redoubled his efforts to shatter it, Hickey's hand shot over his shoulder to aid him.... And with startling abruptness the barrier seemed to dissolve before their eyes, the glass falling inward with a shrill clatter.
Quaintly, with the effect of a picture cast by a cinematograph in a darkened auditorium, there leaped upon Maitland's field of vision the picture of Anisty standing at bay, face drawn and tense, lips curled back, eyes lurid with defiance and despair. He stood, poised upon the balls of his feet, like a cat ready to spring, in the doorway between the inner and outer offices. He raised his hand with an indescribably swift and vicious gesture, and a flame seemed to blaze out from his finger-tips.
At the same instant Hickey's weapon spat by Maitland's cheek; the young man felt the hot furnace breath of it.
The burglar reeled as though from a tremendous blow. His inflamed features were suddenly whitened, and his right arm dropped limply from the shoulder, revolver falling from fingers involuntarily relaxing.
Hickey covered him. "Surrender!" he roared. And fired again. For Anisty had gone to his knees, reaching for the revolver with his uninjured arm.
The detective's second bullet winged through the doorway, over Anisty's head, and bit through the outer window. As Anisty, with a tremendous strain upon his failing powers, struggled to his feet, Maitland, catching the murderous gleam in the man's eye, pulled trigger. The burglar's answering shot expended itself as harmlessly as Maitland's. Both went wide of their marks.
And of a sudden Hickey had drawn the bolt, and the body of police behind forced Maitland pell-mell into the room. As he recovered he saw Hickey hurling himself at the criminal's throat—one second too late. True to his pledge never to be taken alive, Anisty had sent his last bullet crashing through his own skull.
A cry of horror and consternation forced itself from Maitland's throat. The police halted, each where he stood, transfixed. Anisty drew himself up, with a trace of pride in his pose; smiled horribly; put a hand mechanically to his lips....
Hickey caught him as he fell, but Maitland, unheeding, leaped over the body that had in life resembled him so fatally, and entered Bannerman's private office.
The grey girl lay at length in a corner of the room, shielded from observation by one of the desks. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks wore the hue of death; the fair young head was pillowed on one white and rounded forearm, in an attitude of natural rest, and the burnished hair, its heavy coils slipping from their fastenings, tumbled over her head and shoulders in shimmering glory, like a splash of living flame.
With a low and bitter cry the young man dropped to his knees by her side. In the outer office the police were assembled in excited conclave, blind to all save the momentous fact of Anisty's last, supremely consistent act. For the time Maitland was utterly alone with his great and aching loneliness.
After a little while timidly he touched her hand. It lay upturned, white slender fingers like exotic petals curling in upon the rosy hollow of her palm. And it was soft and warm.
He lifted it tenderly in both his own, and so held it for a space, brooding, marveling at its perfection. And inevitably he bent and touched it with his lips, as if their ardent contact would warm it to sentience....
The fingers tightened upon his own, slowly, surely; and in the blinding joy of that moment he was made conscious of the ineffable sweetness of opening, wondering eyes.
"Hm, hrumm!" Thus Hickey, the inopportunely ubiquitous, lumbering hastily in from the other office and checking, in an extreme of embarrassment, in the middle of the floor.
Maitland glanced over his shoulder, and, subduing a desire to flay the man alive, released the girl's hand.
"I say, Hickey," he observed, carefully suppressing every vestige of emotion, "will you lend me a hand here? Bring a chair, please, and a glass of water."
The detective stumbled over his feet and brought the chair at the risk of his neck. Then he went away and returned with the water. In the meantime the girl, silently enough for all that her eyes were speaking, with Maitland's assistance arose and seated herself.
"You will have to stay here a few minutes," he told her, "until—er—"
"I understand," she told him in a choking tone.
Hickey awkwardly handed her the glass. She sipped mechanically.
"I have a cab below," continued Maitland. "And I'll try to arrange it so that we can get out of the building without having to force a way through the crowd."
She thanked him with a glance.
"There's th' freight elevator," suggested Hickey helpfully.
"Thank you.... Is there anything I can do for you, anything you wish?" continued Maitland to the girl, standing between her and the detective.
She lifted her face to his and shook her head, very gently. "No," she breathed through trembling lips.
"You—you've been—" But there was a sob in her throat, and she hung her head again.
"Not a word," ordered Maitland. "Sit here for a few minutes, if you can, drink the water and—ah—fix up your hat, you know," (damn Hickey! Why the devil did the fellow insist on hanging round so!) "and I will go and make arrangements."
"Th-thank you," whispered the small voice shakily.
Maitland hesitated a moment, then turned upon Hickey in sudden exasperation. His manner was enough; even the obtuse detective could not ignore it. Maitland had no need to speak.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, standing his ground manfully but with a trace more of respect in his manner than had theretofore characterized it, "but there's uh gentleman—uh—your fren' Bannerman's outside 'nd wants tuh speak tuh yeh."
"Tell him to—"
"Excuse me. He says he's gottuh see yeh. If yeh don't come out, he'll come after yeh. I thought yeh'd ruther—"
"That's kindly thought of," Maitland relented. "I'll be there in a minute," he added meaningly.
Hickey took an impassive face to the doorway, where, whether or not with design, he stood precisely upon the threshold, filling it with his burly shoulders. Maitland bent again over the girl, and took her hand.
"Dearest," he said gently, "please don't run away from me again."
Her eyes were brimming, and he read his answer in them. Quickly—it was no time to harry her emotions further; but so much he had felt he must say—. he brushed her hand with his lips and joined Hickey. Thrusting the detective gently into the outer room, with a not unfriendly hand upon his shoulder, Maitland closed the door.
"Now, see here," he said quietly and firmly, "you must help me arrange to get this lady away without her becoming identified with the case, Hickey. I'm in a position to say a good word for you in the right place; she had positively nothing to do with Anisty," (this, so far as he could tell, was as black a lie as he had ever manufactured under the lash of necessity), "and—there's a wad in it for the boys who help me out."
"Well...." The detective shifted from one foot to the other, eying him intently. "I guess we can fix it,—freight elevator 'nd side entrance. Yeh have the cab waitin', 'nd—"
"I'll go with the lady, you understand, and assume all responsibility. You can come round at your convenience and arrange the details with me, at my rooms, since you will be so kind."
"I dunno." Hickey licked his lips, watching with a somber eye the preparations being made for the removal of Anisty's body. "I'd 've give a farm if I could've caught that son of a gun alive!" he added at apparent random, and vindictively. "All right. Yeh be responsible for th' lady, if she's wanted, will yeh?"
"I gottuh have her name 'nd add-ress."
"Is that essential?"
"Sure. Gottuh protect myself 'n case anythin' turns up. Yeh oughttuh know that."
"I—don't want it to come out," Maitland hesitated, trying to invent a plausible lie.
"Well, any one can see how you feel about it."
Maitland drew a long breath and anticipated rashly. "It's Mrs. Maitland," he told the man with a tremor.
Hickey nodded, unimpressed. "Uh-huh. I knowed that all along," he replied. "But seein' as yeh didn't want it talked about...." And, apparently heedless of Maitland's startled and suspicious stare: "If yeh're goin' to see yer fren', yeh better get a wiggle on. He won't last long."
"Who? Bannerman? What the deuce do you mean?"
"He's the feller I plugged in the elevator, that's all. Put a hole through his lungs. They took him into an office on the twenty-first floor, right opp'site the shaft."
"But what in Heaven's name has he to do with this ghastly mess?"
Hickey turned a shrewd eye upon Maitland. "I guess he can tell yeh better'n me."
With a smothered exclamation, Maitland hurried away, still incredulous and impressed with a belief, firmer with every minute, that the wounded man had been wrongly identified.
He found him as Hickey had said he would, sobbing out his life, supine upon the couch of an office which the janitor had opened to afford him a place to die in. Maitland had to force a way through a crowded doorway, where the night-watchman was holding forth in aggrieved incoherence on the cruel treatment he had suffered at the hands of the lawbreakers. A phrase came to Maitland's ears as he shouldered through the group.
"....grabbed me an' trun me outer the cage, inter the hall, an' then the shootin' begins, an' I jumps down-stairs t' the sixteent' floor...."
Bannerman opened dull eyes as Maitland entered, and smiled faintly.
"Ah-h, Maitland," he gasped; "thought you'd ... come."
Racked with sorrow, nothing guessing of the career that had brought the lawyer to this pass, Maitland slipped into a chair by the head of the couch and closed his hand over Bannerman's chubby, icy fingers.
"Poor, poor old chap!" he said brokenly. "How in Heaven—"
But at Bannerman's look the words died on his lips. The lawyer moved restlessly. "Don't pity me," he said in a low tone. "This is what I might have ... expected, I suppose ... man of Anisty's stamp ... desperate character ... it's all right, Dan, my just due...."
"I don't understand, of course," faltered Maitland.
Bannerman lay still a moment, then continued: "I know you don't. That's why I sent for you.... 'Member that night at the Primordial? When the deuce was it? I ... can't think straight long at a time.... That night I dined with you and touched you up about the jewels? We had a bully salad, you know, and I spoke about the Graeme affair...."
"Well ... I've been up to that game for years. I'd find out where the plunder was, and ... Anisty always divided square.... I used to advise him.... Of course you won't understand,—you've never wanted for a dollar in your life...."
Maitland said nothing. But his hand remained upon the dying man's.
"This would never have happened if ... Anisty hadn't been impatient. He was hard to handle, sometimes. I wasn't sure, you know, about the jewels; I only said I thought they were at Greenfields. Then I undertook to find out from you, but he was restive, and without saying anything to me went down to Greenfields on his own hook—just to have a look around, he said. And so ... so the fat was in the fire."
"Don't talk any more, Bannerman," Maitland tried to soothe him. "You'll pull through this all right, and—You need never have gone to such lengths. If you'd come to me—"'
The ghost of a sardonic smile flitted, incongruously, across the dying man's waxen, cherubic features.
"Oh, hell," he said; "you wouldn't understand. Perhaps you weren't born with the right crook in your nature,—or the wrong one. Perhaps it's because you can't see the fun in playing the game. It's that that counts."
He compressed his lips, and after a moment spoke again. "You never did have the true sportsman's love of the game for its own sake. You're like most of the rest of the crowd—content with mighty cheap virtue, Dan.... I don't know that I'd choose just this kind of a wind-up, but it's been fun while it lasted. Good-by, old man."
He did not speak again, but lay with closed eyes.
Five minutes later Maitland rose and unclasped the cold fingers from about his own. With a heavy sigh he turned away.
At the door Hickey was awaiting him. "Yer lady," he said, as soon as they had drawn apart from the crowd, "is waitin' for yeh in the cab down-stairs. She was gettin' a bit highsteerical 'nd I thought I'd better get her away.... Oh, she's waitin' all right!" he added, alarmed by Maitland's expression.
But Maitland had left him abruptly; and now, as he ran down flight after echoing flight of marble stairs, there rested cold fear in his heart. In the room he had just quitted, a man whom he had called friend and looked upon with affectionate regard, had died a self-confessed and unrepentant liar and thief.
If now he were to find the girl another time vanished,—if this had been but a ruse of hers finally to elude him,—if all men were without honor, all women faithless,—if he had indeed placed the love of his life, the only love that he had ever known, unworthily,—if she cared so little who had seemed to care much....
But the cab was there; and within it the girl was waiting for him.
The driver, after taking up his fare, had at her direction drawn over to the further curb, out of the fringe of the rabble which besieged the St. Luke Building in constantly growing numbers, and through which Maitland, too impatient to think of leaving by the basement exit, had elbowed and fought his way in an agony of apprehension that brooked no hindrance, heeded no difficulty.
He dashed round the corner, stopped short with a sinking heart, then as the cabby's signaling whip across the street caught his eye, fairly hurled himself to the other curb, pausing at the wheel, breathless, lifted out of himself with joy to find her faithful in this ultimate instance.
She was recovering, whose high spirit and recuperative powers were to him then and always remained a marvelous thing; and she was bending forth from the body of the hansom to welcome him with a smile that in a twinkling made radiant the world to him who stood in a gloomy side street of New York at three o'clock of a summer's morning,—a good hour and a half before the dawn. For up there in the tower of the sky-scraper he had as much as told her of his love; and she had waited; and now—and now he had been blind indeed had he failed to read the promise in her eyes. Weary she was and spent and overwrought; but there is no tonic in all the world like the consciousness that where one has placed one's love, there love has burgeoned in response. And despite all that she had suffered and endured, the happiness that ran like soft fire in her Veins, wrapping her being with its beneficent rapture, had deepened the color in her cheeks and heightened the glamour in her eyes.
And he stood and stared, knowing that in all time to no man had ever woman seemed more lovely than this girl to him: a knowledge that robbed his mind of all other thought and his tongue of words, so that to her fell the task of rousing him.
"Please," she said gently—"please tell the cabby to take me home, Mr. Maitland."
He came to and in confusion stammered: Yes, he would. And he climbed up on the step with no other thought than to seat himself at her side and drive away for ever. But this time the cabby brought him to his senses, forcing him to remember that some measure of coherence was demanded even of a man in love.
"Where to, sir?"
"Eh, what? Oh!" And bending to the girl: "Home, you said—?"
She told him the address,—a number on Park Avenue, above Thirty-fourth Street, below Forty-second. He repeated it mechanically, unaware that it would remain stamped for ever on his memory, indelibly,—the first personal detail that she had granted him: the first barrier down.
He sat down. The cab began to move, and halted again. A face appeared at the apron,—Hickey's, red and moon-like and not lacking in complacency: for the man counted of profiting variously by this night's work.
"Excuse me, Mr. Maitland, 'nd"—touching the rim of his derby—"yeh, too, ma'am, f'r buttin' in—"
"Hickey!" demanded Maitland suddenly, in a tone of smoldering wrath, "what the—what do you want?"
"Yeh told me tuh call round to-morrow, yeh know. When'll yeh be in?"
"I'll leave a note for you with O'Hagan. Is that all?"
"Yep—that is, there's somethin' else...."
"Excuse me for mentionin' it, but I didn't know—it ain't generally known, yeh know, 'nd one uh th' boys might've heard me speak tuh yer lady by name 'nd might pass it on to a reporter. What I mean's this," hastily, as the Maitland temper showed dangerous indications of going into active eruption: "I s'pose yeh don't want me tuh mention't yeh're married, jes' yet? Mrs. Maitland here," with a nod to her, "didn't seem tuh take kindly tuh the notion of it's bein' known—"
"Ah, excuse me!"
"Drive on, cabby—instantly! Do you hear?"
Hickey backed suddenly away and the cab sprang into motion; while Maitland with a face of fire sat back and raged and wondered.
Across Broadway toward Fourth Avenue dashed the hansom; and from the curb-line Hickey watched it with a humorous light in his dull eyes. Indeed, the detective seemed in extraordinary conceit with himself. He chewed with unaccustomed emotion upon his cold cigar, scratched his cheek, and chuckled; and, chuckling, pulled his hat well down over his brows, thrust both hands into his trousers pockets, and shambled back to the St. Luke Building—his heavy body vibrating amazingly with his secret mirth.
And so, shuffling sluggishly, he merges into the shadows, into the mob that surges about the building, and passes from these pages.
In the clattering hansom, steadying herself with a hand against the window-frame, to keep from being thrown against the speechless man beside her, the girl waited. And since Maitland in confusion at the moment found no words, from this eloquent silence she drew an inference unjustified, such as lovers are prone to draw, the world over, and one that lent a pathetic color to her thoughts, and chilled a little her mood. She had been too sure....
But better to have it over with at once, rather than permit it to remain for ever a wall of constraint between them. He must not be permitted to think that she would dream of taking him upon his generous word.
"It was very kind of you," she said in a steady, small voice, "to pretend that we—what you did pretend, in order to save me from being held as a witness. At least, I presume that is why you did it? "—with a note of uncertainty.
"It is unnecessary that you should be drawn into the affair," he replied, with some resumption of his self-possession. "It isn't as if you were—"