The White Moll
Frank L. Packard
Part 2 out of 5
"Well, then, how did you expect me to know it?" demanded Rhoda Gray
heatedly. "And if the White Moll happens to know Gypsy Nan, as she
knows everybody else through her jellies and custards and fake
charity, and happens to be near here when she gets into trouble,
and beats it for here with the police on her heels, and asks for
help, what do you expect Gypsy Nan's going to do if she wants to
stand any chance of sticking around these parts - as Gypsy Nan?"
The man paused in his walk, and, jerking back his hat, drew his
hand nervously across his forehead.
"You make me tired!" said Rhoda Gray wearily. "Do you think you
could find the door without too much trouble?"
Danglar resumed his pacing back and forth, but more slowly now.
"Oh, I know! I know, Bertha!" he burst out heavily. "I'm talking
through my hat. You've got the roughest job of any of us, old girl.
Don't mind what I'm saying. Something's badly wrong, and I'm half
crazy. It's certain now that the White Moll's the one that's been
doing us, and what I really came down here for to-night was to tell
you that your job from now on was to get the White Moll. You helped
her last night. She doesn't know you are anybody but Gypsy Nan, and
so you're the one person in New York she'll dare try to communicate
with sooner or later. Understand? That's what I came for, not to
talk like a fool - but that fellow I found here started me off.
Who is he? What did he want?"
"He wanted the White Moll, too," said Rhoda Gray, with a short laugh.
"Oh, he did, eh!" Danglar's lips twisted into a sudden, merciless
smile. "Well, go on! Who is he?"
"I don't know who he is," Rhoda Gray answered a little impatiently.
"He said he was an adventurer - if you can make anything out of that.
He said he got the White Moll away from Rough Rorke last night, after
Rorke had arrested her; and then he doped the rest out the same as
you have - that he could find the White Moll again through Gypsy Nan.
I don't know what he wanted her for."
"That's better!" snarled Danglar, the merciless smile still on his
lips. "I thought she must have had a pal, and we know now who her
pal is. It's open and shut that she's sitting so tight she hasn't
been able to get into touch with him, and that's what's worrying
Rhoda Gray, save for a nod of her head, made no answer.
Danglar laughed suddenly, as though in relief; then, coming closer
to the bed, plunged his hand into his coat pocket, and tossed
handful of jewelry carelessly into Rhoda Gray's lap.
"I feel better than I did!" he said, and laughed again. "It's a
cinch now that we'll get them both through you, and it s a cinch
that the White Moll won't cut in to-night. Put those sparklers
away with the rest until we get ready to 'fence' them."
Rhoda Gray did not speak. Mechanically, as though she were living
through some hideous nightmare, she began to scoop up the gems from
her lap and allow them to trickle back through her fingers. They
flashed and scintillated brilliantly, even in the meager light.
They seemed alive with some premonitory, baleful fire.
"Yes, there's some pretty slick stuff there," said Danglar, with
an appraising chuckle; "but there'll be something to-night that'll
make all that bunch look like chicken-feed. The boys are at work
now, and we'll have old Hayden-Bond's necklace in another hour.
Skeeny's got the Sparrow tied up in the old room behind Shluker's
place, and once we're sure there's no back-fire anywhere, the
Sparrow will chirp his last chirp." He laughed out suddenly, and,
leaning forward, clapped Rhoda Gray exultantly on the shoulder. "It
was like taking candy from a kid! The Sparrow and the old man fell
for the sick-mother-needing-her-son-all-night stuff without batting
a lid; but the Sparrow hasn't been holding the old lady's hand at
the bedside yet. We took care of that."
Again Rhoda Gray made no comment. She wondered, as she gripped at
the rings and brooches in hand, so fiercely that the settings
pricked into the flesh, if her face mirrored in any way the cold,
sick misery that had suddenly taken possession of her soul. The
Sparrow! She knew the Sparrow; she knew the Sparrow's sick mother.
That part of it was true. The Sparrow did have an old mother who
was sick. A fine old lady - finer than the son - Finch, her name
was. Indirectly, she knew old Hayden-Bond, the millionaire, and
- Almost subconsciously she was aware that Danglar was speaking
"I guess luck's breaking our way again," he grinned. "The old boy
paid a hundred thousand cold for that necklace. You know how long
we've been waiting to get our hooks on it, and we've never had our
eyes off his house for two months. Well, it pays to wait, and it
pays to do things right. It broke our way at last to-night, all
right, all right! To-day's Saturday - and the safety deposit vaults
aren't open on Sunday. Mrs. Hayden-Bond's been away all week
visiting, but she comes back to-morrow, and there's some swell
society fuss fixed for to-morrow night, and she wants her necklace
to make a splurge, so she writes Mr. H-hyphen-B, and out it comes
from the safety deposit vault, and into the library safe. The old
man isn't long on social stunts, and he's got pretty well set in
his habits; one of those must-have-nine-hours'-sleep bugs, and he's
always in bed by ten - when his wife'll let him. She being away
to-night, the boys were able to get to work early. They ought to
be able to crack that box without making any noise about it in an
hour and a half at the outside." He pulled out his watch-and
whistled low under his breath. "It's a quarter after eleven now,"
he said hurriedly, and moved abruptly toward the door. "I can't
stick around here any longer. I've got to be on deck where they
can slip me the 'white ones,' and then there's Skeeny waiting for
the word to bump off the Sparrow." He jerked his hand suddenly
toward the jewels in her lap. "Salt those away before any
more adventurers blow in!" he said, half sharply, half jocularly.
"And don't let the White Moll slip you - at any cost. Remember!
She's bound to come to you again. Play her - and send out the
call. You understand, don't you? There's never been a yip out
of the police. Our methods are too good for that. Look at the
Sparrow to-night. Where there's no chance taken of suspicion
going anywhere except where we lead it, there's no chance of any
trouble - for us! But this cursed she-fiend's another story.
We're not planting plum trees for her to pick any more of the fruit.
She answered him mechanically.
"Yes," she said.
"All right, then; that end of it is up to you," he said significantly.
"You're clever, clever as the devil, Bertha. Use your brains now
- we need 'em. Good-night, old girl. See you later."
"Good-night," said Rhoda Gray dully.
The door closed. The short, ladder-like steps to the hallway below
creaked once, and then all was still. Danglar did have on
rubber-soled shoes. She sat upright, her hands, clenched now,
pressed hard against her throbbing temples. It wasn't true! None
of this was true - this hovel of a place, those jewels glinting
like evil eyes in her lap; her existence itself wasn't true; it was
only her brain now, sick like her soul, that conjured up these ugly
phantoms with horrible, plausible ingenuity. And then an inner
voice seemed to answer her with a calmness that was hideous in its
finality. It was true. All of it was true. Those words of Danglar,
and their bald meaning, were true. Men did such things; men made in
the image of their Maker did such things. They were going to kill
a man to-night - an innocent man whom they had made their pawn.
She swept the jewels from her lap to the blanket, and rising, seized
the candle, went to the door, looked out, and, holding the candle
high above her head, peered down the stairs. Yes, he was gone.
There was no one there.
She locked the door again, returned to the bed, set the candle down
upon the chair, and stood there, her face white and drawn, staring
with wide, tormented eyes about her. Murder. Danglar had spoken
of it with inhuman callousness - and had laughed at it. They were
going to take a man's life. And there was only herself, already
driven to extremity, already with her own back against the wall in
an effort to save herself, only herself to carry the burden of the
responsibility of doing something-to save a man's life.
It seemed to plumb the depths of irony and mockery. She could not
make a move as Gypsy Nan. It would only result in their turning
upon her, of the discovery that she was not Gypsy Nan at all, of
the almost certainty that it would cost her her own life without
saving the Sparrow's. That way was closed to her from the start.
As the White Moll, then? Outside there in the great city, every
plain-clothes man, every policeman on every beat, was staring into
every woman's face he met - searching for the White Moll.
She wrung her hands in cruel desperation. Even to her own problem
she had found no solution, though she had wrestled with it all last
night, and all through the day; no solution save the negative one
of clinging to this one refuge that remained to her, such as it
was, temporarily. She had found no solution to that; what solution
was there to this! She had thought of leaving the city as Gypsy Nan,
and then somewhere far away, of sloughing off the character of Gypsy
Nan, and of resuming her own personality again under an assumed name.
But that would have meant the loss of everything she had in life,
her little patrimony, the irredeemable stamp of shame upon the name
she once had owned; and also the constant fear and dread that at
any moment the police net, wide as the continent was wide, would
close around her, as, sooner or later, it was almost inevitable that
it would close around her. It had seemed that her only chance was
to keep on striving to play the role of Gypsy Nan, because it was
these associates of Gypsy Nan who were at the bottom of the crime
of which she, Rhoda Gray, was held guilty, and because there was
always the hope that in this way, through confidences to a supposed
confederate, she could find the evidence that would convict those
actually guilty, and so prove her own innocence. But in holding to
the role of Gypsy Nan for the purpose of receiving those criminal
confidences, she had not thought of this - that upon her would rest
the moral responsibility of other crimes of which she would have
knowledge, and, least of all, that she should be faced with what
lay before her now, to-night, at the first contact with those who
had been Gypsy Nan's confederates.
What was she to do? Upon her, and upon her alone, depended a man's
life, and, adding to her distraction, she knew the man - the Sparrow,
who had already done time; that was the vile ingenuity of it all.
And there would le corroborative evidence, of course; they would
have seen to that. If the Sparrow disappeared and was never heard
of again, even a child would deduce the assumption that the proceeds
of the robbery had disappeared with him.
Her brain seemed to grow panicky. She was standing here helplessly.
And time, the one precious ally that she possessed, was slipping
away from her. She could not go to the police as Gypsy Nan - and,
much less, as the White Moll! She could not go to the police in any
case, for the "corroborative" evidence, that obviously must exist,
unless Danglar and those with him were fools, would indubitably damn
the Sparrow to another prison term, even supposing that through the
intervention of the police his life were saved. What was she to do?
And then, for a moment, her eyes lighted in relief. The Adventurer!
She thrust her hand into the pocket of her skirt, and drew out the
torn piece of paper, and studied the telephone number upon it - and
slowly the hurt and misery came back into her eyes again. Who was
he? He had told her. An adventurer. He had given her to understand
that he, if she had not been just a few minutes ahead of him, would
have taken that money from Skarbolov's escritoire last night.
Therefore he was a crook. Danglar had said that some one had been
getting in ahead of them lately and snatching the plunder from under
their noses; and Danglar now believed that it had been the White
Moll. A wan smile came to her lips. Instead of the White Moll, it
appeared to be quite obvious that it was the Adventurer. It
therefore appeared to be quite as obvious that the man was a
professional thief, and an extremely clever one, at that. She dared
not trust him. To enlist his aid she would have to explain the
gang's plot; and while the Adventurer might go to the Sparrow's
assistance, he might also be very much more interested in the
diamond necklace that was involved, and not be entirely averse to
Danglar's plan of using the Sparrow as a pawn, who, in that case,
would make a very convenient scapegoat for the Adventurer - instead
of Danglar! She dared not trust the man. She could not absolve
her conscience by staking another's life on a hazard, on the
supposition that the Adventurer might do this or that. It was not
She was quick in her movements now. Subconsciously her decision
had been made. There was only one way - only one. She gathered up
the jewels from the bed and thrust them, with the Adventurer's torn
piece of paper, into her pocket. And now she reached for the
little notebook that she had hidden under the blanket. It contained
the gang's secret code, and she had found it in the cash box in
Gypsy Nan's strange hiding place that evening. Half running now,
carrying the candle, she started toward the lower end of the attic,
where the roof sloped down to little more than shoulder high.
"Seven-Three-Nine!" Danglar had almost decoded the message word for
word in the course of his conversation. In the little notebook, set
against the figures, were the words: "Danger. The game is off.
Make no further move." It was only one of many, that arbitrary
arrangement of figures, each combination having its own special
significance; but, besides these, there was the key to a complete
cipher into which any message might be coded, and - But why was her
brain swerving off at inconsequential tangents? What did a coder or
code book, matter at the present moment?
She was standing under the narrow trap-door in the low ceiling now,
and now she pushed it up, and lifting the candle through the
opening, set it down on the inner surface of the ceiling, which,
like some vast shelf, Gypsy Nan had metamorphosed into that
exhaustive storehouse of edibles, of plunder - a curious and sinister
collection that was eloquent of a gauntlet long flung down against
the law. She emptied the pocket of her skirt, retaining only the
revolver, and substituted the articles she had removed with the tin
box that contained the dark compound Gypsy Nan, and she herself, as
Gypsy Nan, had used to rob her face of youthfulness, and give it the
grimy, dissolute and haggard aspect which was so simple and yet so
efficient a disguise.
She worked rapidly now, changing her clothes. She could not go, or
act, as Gypsy Nan; and so she must go in her own character, go as
the White Moll - because that was the lesser danger, the one that
held the only promise of success. There wasn't any other way. She
could not very well refuse to risk her capture by the police, could
she, when by so doing she might save another's life? She could not
balance in cowardly selfishness the possibility of a prison term for
herself, hideous as that might be, against the penalty of death
that the Sparrow would pay if she remained inactive. But she could
not leave here as the White Moll. Somewhere, somewhere out in the
night, somewhere away from this garret where all connection with it
was severed, she must complete the transformation from Gypsy Nan to
the White Moll. She could only prepare for that now as best she
And there was not a moment to lose. The thought made her frantic.
Over her own clothes she put on again Gypsy Nan's greasy skirt, and
drew on again, over her own silk ones, Gypsy Nan's coarse stockings.
She put on Gypsy Nan's heavy and disreputable boots, and threw the
old shawl again over her head and shoulders. And then, with her
hat - for the small shape of which she breathed a prayer of
thankfulness! - and her own shoes under her arm and covered by the
shawl, she took the candle again, closed the trap-door, and stepped
over to the washstand. Here, she dampened a rag, that did duty as
a facecloth, and thrust it into her pocket; then, blowing out the
candle, she groped her way to the door, locked it behind her, and
without any attempt at secrecy made her way downstairs.
VI. THE RENDEZVOUS
Rhoda Gray's movements were a little unsteady as she stepped out
on the sidewalk. Gypsy Nan's accepted inebriety was not without
its compensation. It enabled her, as she swayed for a moment, to
scrutinize the street in all directions. Were any of Rough Rorke's
men watching the house? She did not know; she only knew that as
far as she had been able to discover, she had not been followed
when she had gone out that afternoon. Up the street, to her right,
there were a few pedestrians; to her left, as far as the corner,
the block was clear. She turned in the latter direction. She
had noticed that afternoon that there was a lane between Gypsy Nan's
house and the corner; she gained this and slipped into it unobserved.
And now, in the comparative darkness, she hurried her steps.
Somewhere here in the lane she would make the transformation from
Gypsy Nan to the White Moll complete; it required only some place
in which she could with safety leave the garments that she discarded,
and - Yes, this would do! A tumble-down old shed, its battered door
half open, ample proof that the place was in disuse, intersected
the line of high board fence on her right.
She stole inside. It was utterly dark, but she had no need for
light. It was a matter of perhaps three minutes; and then, the
revolver transferred to the pocket of her jacket, the stains removed
from her face by the aid of the damp cloth, her hands neatly gloved
in black kid, the skirt, boots, stockings, shawl, spectacles and
wig of Gypsy Nan carefully piled together and hidden in a hole under
the rotting boards of the floor, behind the door, she emerged as the
White Moll, and went on again.
But at the end of the lane, where it met a cross street, and the
street lamp flung out an ominous challenge, and, dim though it was,
seemed to glare with the brightness of daylight, she faltered for
a moment and drew back. She knew where Shluker's place was, because
she knew, as few knew it, every nook and cranny in the East Side,
and it was a long way to that old junk shop, almost over to the East
River, and - and there would be lights like this one here that barred
her exit from the lane, thousands of them, lights all the way, and
- and out there they were searching everywhere, pitilessly, for the
And then, with her lips tightened, the straight little shoulders
thrown resolutely back, she slipped from the lane to the sidewalk,
and, hugging the shadows of the buildings, started forward.
She was alert now in mind and body, every faculty strained and in
tension. It was a long way, and it would take a great while - by
wide detours, by lanes and alleyways, for only on those streets that
were relatively deserted and poorly lighted would she dare trust
herself to the open. And as she went along, now skirting the side
of a street, now through some black courtyard, now forced to take
a fence, and taking it with the agility born of the open, athletic
life she had led with her father in the mining camps of South
America, now hiding at the mouth of a lane waiting her chance to
cross an intersecting street when some receding footstep should have
died away, the terror of delay came gripping at her heart with an
icy clutch, submerging the fear of personal peril in the agony of
dread that, with her progress so slow, she would, after all, be too
late. And at times she almost cried out in her vexation and despair,
as once, when crouched behind a door-stoop, a policeman, not two
yards from her, stood and twirled his night stick under the street
lamp while the minutes sped and raced themselves away.
When she could run, she ran until it seemed her lungs must burst,
but it was slow progress at best, and always the terror grew upon
her. Had Danglar met the men yet who had looted the millionaire's
safe? Had he already joined Skeeny in that old room behind Shluker's
place? Had the Sparrow - She would not let her mind frame that
question in concrete words. The Sparrow! His real name was Martin,
Martin Finch - Marty, for short. Times without number she had
visited the sick and widowed mother - while the Sparrow had served
a two-years' sentence for his first conviction in safe-breaking.
The Sparrow, from a first-class chauffeur mechanic, had showed signs
of becoming a first-class cracksman, it was true; but the Sparrow
was young, and she had never believed that he was inherently bad.
Her opinion had been confirmed when, some six months ago, on his
release, listening both to her own pleadings and to those of his
mother, the Sparrow had sworn that he would stick to the "straight
and narrow." And Hayden-Bond, the millionaire, referred to by a
good many people as eccentric, had further proved his claims to
eccentricity in the eyes of a good many people by giving a prison
bird a chance to make an honest living, and had engaged the Sparrow
as his chauffeur. It was a vile and an abominable thing that they
were doing, even if they had not planned to culminate it with murder.
What chance would the Sparrow have had!
It had taken a long time. She did not know how long, as, at last,
she stole unnoticed into a black and narrow driveway that led in,
between two blocks of down-at-the-heels tenements, to a courtyard
in the rear. Shluker had his junk shop here. Her lips pursed up
as though defiant of a tinge of perplexity that had suddenly taken
possession of her. She did not know Shluker, or anything about
Shluker's place except its locality; but surely "the old room behind
Shluker's" was direction enough, and - She had just emerged from the
end of the driveway now, and now, startled, she turned her head
quickly, as she heard a brisk step turning in from the street behind
her. But in the darkness she could see no one, and satisfied,
therefore, that she in turn had not been seen, she moved swiftly
to one side, and crouched down against the rear wall of one of the
tenements. A long moment, that seemed an eternity, passed, and
then a man's form came out from the driveway, and started across
She drew in her breath sharply, a curious mingling of relief and a
sudden panic fear upon her. It was not so dark in the courtyard
as it had been in the driveway, and, unless she were strangely
mistaken that form out there was Danglar's. She watched him as he
headed toward a small building that loomed up like a black,
irregular shadow across the courtyard, and which was Shluker's shop
- watched him in a tense, fascinated way. She was in time, then
- only - only somehow now her limbs seemed to have become weak and
powerless. It seemed suddenly as though she craved with all her
soul the protecting shadows of the tenement, and that every impulse
bade her cling there, flattened against the wall, until she could
make her escape. She was afraid now; she shrank from the next step.
It wasn't illogical. She had set out with a purpose in view, and
she had not been blind to the danger that she ran, but the
prospective and mental encounter with danger did not hold the terror
that the tangible, concrete and actual presence of that peril did
- and that was Danglar there.
She felt her face whiten, and she felt the tremor of her lips,
tightly as they were drawn together. Yes, she was afraid, afraid
in every fiber of her being, but there was a difference, wasn't
there, between being afraid and being a coward? Her small, gloved
hands clenched, her lips parted slightly. She laughed a little
now, low, without mirth. Upon what she did or did not do, upon the
margin between fear and cowardice as applied to herself, there hung
a man's life. Danglar was disappearing around the side of Shluker's
shop. She moved out from the wall, and swiftly, silently, crossed
the courtyard, gained the side of the junk shop in turn, skirted it,
and halted, listening, peering around her, as she reached the rear
corner of the building. A door closed somewhere ahead of her; from
above, upstairs, faint streaks of light showed through the
interstices of a shuttered window.
She crept forward now, hugging the rear wall, reached a door-the
one, obviously, through which Danglar had disappeared, and which
she had heard as it was closed - tried the door, found it unlocked,
and, noiselessly, inch by inch, pushed it open; and a moment later,
stepping over the threshold, she closed it softly behind her. A
dull glow of light, emanating evidently from an open door above,
disclosed the upper portion of a stairway over on her left, but
apart from that the place was in blackness, and save that she knew,
of course, she was in the rear of Shluker's junk shop, she could
form no idea of her surroundings. But she could, at last, hear.
Voices, one of which she recognized as Danglar's, though she could
not distinguish the words, reached her from upstairs.
Slowly, with infinite care, she crossed to the stairs, and on hands
and knees now, lest she should make a sound, began to crawl upward.
And a little way up, panic fear seized upon her again, and her heart
stood still, and she turned a miserable face in the darkness back
toward the door below, and fought against the impulse to retreat
And then she heard Danglar speak, and from her new vantage point
his words came to her distinctly this time:
"Good work, Skeeny! You've got the Sparrow nicely trussed up, I
see. Well, he'll do as he is for a while there. I told the boys
to hold off a bit. It's safer to wait an hour or two yet, before
moving him away from here and bumping him off."
"Two jobs instead of one!" a surly voice answered. "We might just
as well have finished him and slipped him away for keeps when we
first got our hooks on him."
"Got a little sick of your wood-carving, while you stuck around by
your lonesome and watched him - eh?" Danglar's tones were jocularly
facetious. "Don't grouch, Skeeny! We're not killing for fun - it
doesn't pay. Supposing anything had broken wrong up the Avenue - eh?
We wouldn't have had our friend the Sparrow there for the next time
we tried it!"
There was something abhorrently callous in the laugh that followed.
It seemed to fan into flame a smoldering fire of passionate anger
in Rhoda Gray's soul. And before it panic fled. Her hand felt
upward for the next stair-tread, and she crept on again, as a face
seemed to rise before her - not the Sparrow's face - a woman's face.
It was a face that was crowned with very thin white hair, and its
eyes were the saddest she had ever seen, and yet they were brave,
steady old eyes that had not lost their faith; nor had the old,
care-lined face itself, in spite of suffering, lost its gentleness
and sweetness. And then suddenly it seemed to change, that face,
and become wreathed in smiles, and happy tears to run coursing down
the wrinkled cheeks. Yes, she remembered! It had brought the tears
to her own eyes. It was the night that the wayward Sparrow, home
from the penitentiary, on his knees, his head buried in his mother's
lap, had sworn that he would go straight.
Fear! It seemed as though she never had known, never could know
fear - that only a merciless, tigerish, unbridled fury had her in
its thrall. And she went on up, step after step, as Danglar spoke
"There's nothing to it! The Sparrow there fell for the telephone
when Stevie played the doctor. And old Hayden-Bond of course grants
his prison-bird chauffeur's request to spend the night with his
mother, who the doctor says is taken worse, because the old guy
knows there is a mother who really is sick. Only Mr. Hayden-Bond,
and the police with him, will maybe figure it a little differently
in the morning when they find the safe looted, and that the Sparrow,
instead of ever going near the poor old dame, has flown the coop
and can't be found. And in case there's any lingering doubt in
their minds, that piece of paper with the grease-smudges and the
Sparrow's greasy finger-prints on it, that you remember we copped
a few days ago in the garage, will set them straight. The Cricket
slipped it in among the papers he pulled out of the safe and tossed
around on the floor. It looks as though a tool had been wiped with
it while the safe was being cracked, and that it got covered over
by the stuff that was emptied out, and had been forgotten. I guess
they won't be long in comparing the finger-prints with the ones the
Sparrow kindly left with them when they measured him for his striped
suit the time they sent him up the river - eh?"
Rhoda Gray could see now. Her eyes were on a level with the landing,
and diagonally across from the head of the stairs was the open
doorway of a lighted room. She could not see all of the interior,
but she could see quite enough. Two men sat, side face to her,
one at each end of a rough, deal table - Danglar, and an ugly,
pock-marked, unshaven man, in a peaked cap that was drawn down over
his eyes, who whittled at a stick with a huge jack-knife. The
latter was Skeeny, obviously; and the jack-knife and the stick,
quite as obviously, explained Danglar's facetious reference to
wood-carving. And then her eyes shifted, and widened as they rested
on a huddled form that she could see by looking under and beyond the
table, and that lay sprawled out against the far wall of the room.
Skeeny pushed the peak of his cap back with the point of his
"What's the haul size up at?" he demanded. "Anything in the safe
besides the shiners?"
"A few hundred dollars," Danglar replied. "I don't know exactly
how much. I told the Cricket to divide it up among the boys who
did the rough work. That's good enough, isn't it, Skeeny? It
gives you a little extra. You'll get yours."
Skeeny grunted compliance.
"Well, let's have a look at the white ones, then," he said.
Rhoda Gray was standing upright in the little hallway now, and now,
pressed close against the wall, she edged toward the door-jamb.
And a queer, grim little smile came and twisted the sensitive lips,
as she drew her revolver from her pocket. The merciless, pitiless
way in which the newspapers had flayed the White Moll was not, after
all, to be wholly regretted! The cool, clever resourcefulness, the
years of reckless daring attributed to the White Moll, would stand
her in good stead now. Everybody on the East Side knew her by sight.
These men knew her. It was not merely a woman ambitiously attempting
to beard two men who, perhaps, holding her sex in contempt in an
adventure of this kind, might throw discretion to the winds and give
scant respect to her revolver, for behind the muzzle of that revolver
was the reputation of the White Moll. They would take her at face
value - as one who not only knew how to use that revolver, but as
one who would not hesitate an instant to do so.
From the room she heard Skeeny whistle low under his breath, as
though in sudden and amazed delight - and then she was standing full
in the open doorway, and her revolver in her outflung, gloved hand
covered the two men at the table.
There was a startled cry from Skeeny, a scintillating flash of light
as a magnificent string of diamonds fell from his hand to the table.
But Danglar did not move or speak; only his lips twitched, and a
queer whiteness came and spread itself over his face.
"Put up your hands-both of you!" she ordered, in a low, tense voice.
It was Skeeny who spoke, as both men obeyed her. "The White Moll,
so help me!" he mumbled, and swallowed hard.
Danglar's eyes never seemed to leave her face, and they narrowed
now, full of hatred and a fury that lie made no attempt to conceal.
She smiled at him coldly. She quite understood! He had already
complained that evening that the White Moll for the last few weeks
had been robbing them of the fruits of their laboriously planned
schemes. And now-again! Well, she would not dispel his illusion!
He had given the White Moll that role - and it was the safest role
She stepped forward now, and with her free hand suddenly pulled the
table toward her out of their reach; and then, as she picked up the
necklace, she appeared for the first time to become aware of the
presence of the huddled form on the floor near the wall. She could
see that the Sparrow was bound and gagged, and as he squirmed now
he turned his face toward her.
"Why, it's the Sparrow, isn't it?" she exclaimed sharply; then,
evenly, to the two men: "I had no idea you were so hospitable!
Push your chairs closer together - with your feet, not your hands!
You are easier to watch if you are not too far apart."
Dangler complied sullenly. Skeeny, over the scraping of his chair
legs, cursed in a sort of unnerved abandon, as he obeyed her.
"Thank you!" said Rhoda Gray pleasantly - and calmly tucked the
necklace into her bodice.
The act seemed to rouse Danglar to the last pitch of fury. The
blood rushed in an angry tide to his face, and, suffusing, purpled
"This isn't the first crack you've made!" he flung out hoarsely.
"You've been getting wise to a whole lot lately somehow, you and
that dude pal of yours, but you'll pay for it, you female devil!
Understand? By God, you'll pay for it! I promise you that you'll
pray yet on your bended knees for the chance to take your own life!
Do you hear?"
"I hear," said Rhoda Gray coldly.
She picked up the jack-knife from the table, and keeping both men
covered, stepped backward to the wall. Here, kneeling, she reached
behind her with her left hand, and felt for, and cut the heavy cord
that bound the Sparrow's arms; then, pushing the knife into the
Sparrow's hands that he might free himself from the rest of his
bonds, she stood up again.
A moment more, and the Sparrow, rubbing the circulation back into
his wrists, stood beside her. There was a look on the young, white
face that was not good to see. He circled dry lips with the tip of
his tongue and then his thumb began to feel over the blade of the
big jack-knife in a sort of horribly supercritical appraisal of its
edge. He spoke thickly for the gag that had been in his mouth.
"You dirty skates!" he whispered. "You were going to bump me off,
were you? You planted me cold, did you? Oh, hell!" His laugh,
like the laugh of one insane, jangling, discordant, rang through
the room. "Well, it's my turn now, and" - his body was coiling
itself in a slow, curious, almost snake-like fashion - "and you'll -"
Rhoda Gray laid her hand on the Sparrow's arm.
"Not that way, Marty," she said quietly. She smiled thinly at
Danglar, who, with genuinely frightened eyes now, seemed fascinated
by the Sparrow's movements. "I wouldn't care to have anything
happen to Mr. Danglar - yet. He has been invaluable to me, and I
am sure he will be again."
The Sparrow brushed his hands across his eyes, and stared at her.
He licked his lips again. He appeared to be obsessed with the
knife-blade in his hand - dazed in a strange way to all else.
"There's enough cord there for both of them," said Rhoda Gray
crisply. "Tie them in their chairs, Marty."
For a moment the Sparrow hesitated; and then, with a sort of queer
reluctancy, he dropped the knife on the table, and went and picked
up the strands of cord from the floor.
No one spoke. The Sparrow, with twitching lips as he worked, and
worked not gently, bound first Danglar and then Skeeny to their
respective chairs. Skeeny for the most part kept his eyes on the
floor, casting only furtive glances at Rhoda Gray's revolver muzzle.
But Danglar was smiling now. He had very white teeth. There was
something of primal, insensate fury in the hard-drawn, parted lips.
Somehow he seemed to remind Rhoda Gray of a beast, stung to madness,
but impotent behind the bars of its cage, as it showed its fangs.
"We'll go now, Marty," she said softly, as the Sparrow finished.
She motioned the Sparrow with an imperious little nod of her head
to the door. And then, following the other, she backed to the door
herself, and halted an instant on the threshold.
"It has been a very profitable evening, Mr. Danglar," she said
coolly. "I have you to thank for it. When your friends come, which
I think I heard you say would be in another hour or so, I hope you
will not fail to convey to them my -"
"You she-fiend!" Danglar had found his voice again. You'll crawl
for this! Do you understand? and I'll show you inside of
twenty-four hours what you're up against, you - you -" His voice
broke in its fury. The veins were standing out on the side of his
neck like whipcords. He could just move his forearms a little, and
his hands reached out toward her, curved like claws. "I'll -"
But Rhoda Gray had closed the door behind her, and, with the Sparrow,
was retreating down the stairs.
VII. FELLOW THIEVES
Reaching the courtyard, Rhoda Gray led the way without a word
through the driveway, and finding the street clear, hurried on
rapidly. Her mind, strangely stimulated, was working in quick,
incisive flashes. Her work was not yet done. The Sparrow was safe,
as far as his life was concerned; but her possession of even the
necklace would not save the Sparrow from the law. There was the
money that was gone from the safe. She could not recover that, but
- yes, dimly, she began to see a way. She swerved suddenly from
the sidewalk as she came to an alleyway - which had been her
objective - and drew the Sparrow in with her out of sight of the
The Sparrow gripped at her hand.
"The White Moll!" he whispered brokenly. "God bless the White
Moll! I ain't had a chance to say it before. You saved my life,
and I - I -"
In the semi-darkness she leaned forward and laid her fingers gently
over the Sparrow's lips.
"And there's no time to say it now, Marty," she said quickly. "You
are not out of this yet."
He swept his hand across his eyes.
"I know it," he said. "I got to get those shiners back up there
somehow, and I got to get that paper they planted on me."
She shook her head.
"Even that wouldn't clear you," she said. "The safe has been looted
of money, as well; and you can't replace that. Even with only the
money gone, who would they first naturally suspect? You are known as
a safe-breaker; you have served a term for it. You asked for a night
off to stay with your mother who is sick. You left Mr. Hayden-Bond's,
we'll say, at seven or eight o'clock. It's after midnight now. How
long would it take them to find out that between eight and midnight
you had not only never been near your mother, but could not prove an
alibi of any sort? If you told the truth it would sound absurd. No
one in their sober senses would believe you."
The Sparrow looked at her miserably.
"My God!" he faltered. He wet his lips. "That's true."
"Marty," she said quietly, "did you read in the papers that I had
been arrested last night for theft, caught with the goods on me,
but had escaped?"
The Sparrow hesitated.
"Yes, I did," he said. And then, earnestly: "But I don't believe
"It was true, though, Marty - all except that I wasn't a thief,"
she said as quietly as before. "What I want to know is, in spite
of that, would you trust me with what is left to be done to-night,
if I tell you that I believe I can get you out of this?"
"Sure, I would!" he said simply. "I don't know how you got wise
about all this, or how you got to know about that necklace, but
any of our crowd would trust you to the limit. Sure, I'd trust
you! You bet your life!"
"Thank you, Marty," she said. "Well, then, how do you get into Mr.
Hayden-Bond's house when, for instance, you are out late at night?"
"I've got a key to the garage," he answered. "The garage is
attached to the house, though it opens on the side street."
She held Out her hand.
The Sparrow fished in his pocket, and extended the key without
"It's for the small door, of course," he explained.
"You haven't got a flashlight, I suppose?" she smiled.
"Sure! There's plenty of 'em! Each car's got one with its tools
under the back seat."
"And now, the library," she said. "What part of the house is it
in? How is it situated?"
"It's on the ground floor at the back," he told her. "The little
short passage from the garage opens on the kitchen, then the pantry,
and then there's a little cross hallway, and the dining-room is on
the left, and the library on the right. But ain't I going with you?"
She shook her head again.
"You're going home, Marty - after you've sent me a taxicab. If you
were seen in that neighborhood now, let alone by any chance seen in
the house, nothing could save you. You understand that, don't you?
Now, listen! Find a taxi, and send it here. Tell the chauffeur to
pick me up, and drive me to the corner of the cross street, one block
in the rear of Mr. Hayden-Bond's residence. Don't mention Hayden-Bond's
name. Give the chauffeur simply street directions. Be careful that
he is some one who doesn't know you. Tell him he will be well paid
- and give him this to begin with." She thrust a banknote into the
Sparrow's hand. "You're sure to find one at some all-night cabaret
around here. And remember, when you go home afterward, not a word
to your mother! And not a word to-morrow, or ever-to any one!
You've simply done as you told your employer you were going to do
- spent the night at home."
"But you," he burst out, and his words choked a little. "I - I
can't let you go, and -"
"You said you would trust me, Marty," she said. "And if you want
to help me, as well, don't waste another moment. I shall need every
second I have got. Quick! Hurry!"
She pushed him toward the street.
"Run!" she said tensely. "Hurry, Marty, hurry!"
She drew back into the shadows. She was alone now. The Sparrow's
racing footsteps died away on the pavement. Her mind reverted to
the plan that she had dimly conceived. It became detailed, concrete
now, as the minutes passed. And then she heard a car coming along
the previously deserted street, and she stepped out on the sidewalk.
It was the taxi.
"You know where to go, don't you?" she said to the chauffeur, as
the cab drew up at the curb, and the man leaned out and opened the
"Yes'm," he said.
"Please drive fast, then," she said, as she stepped in.
The taxi shot out from the curb, and rattled forward at a rapid
pace. Rhoda Gray settled back on the cushions. A half whimsical,
half weary little smile touched her lips. It was much easier, and
infinitely safer, this mode of travel, than that of her earlier
experience that evening; but, earlier that evening, she had had no
one to go to a cab rank for her, and she had not dared to appear
in the open and hail one for herself. The smile vanished, and the
lips became, pursed and grim. Her mind was back on that daring,
and perhaps a little dangerous, plan, that she meant to put into
execution. Block after block was traversed. It was a long way
uptown, but the chauffeur's initial and generous tip was bearing
fruit. The man was losing no time.
Rhoda Gray calculated that they had been a little under half an
hour in making the trip, when the taxi finally drew up and stopped
at a corner, and the chauffeur, again leaning out, opened the door.
"Wait for me," she instructed, and handed the man another tip - and,
with a glance about her to get her location, she hurried around the
corner, and headed up the cross street.
She had only a block now to go to reach the Hayden-Bond mansion on
the corner of Fifth Avenue ahead - less than that to reach the
garage, which opened on the cross street here. She had little fear
of personal identification now. Here in this residential section
and at this hour of night, it was like a silent and deserted city;
even Fifth Avenue, just ahead, for all its lights, was one of the
loneliest places at this hour in all New York. True, now and then,
a car might race up or down the great thoroughfare, or a belated
pedestrian's footsteps ring and echo hollow on the pavement, where
but a few hours before the traffic-squad struggled valiantly, and
sometimes vainly, with the congestion - but that was all.
She could make out the Hayden-Bond mansion on the corner ahead of
her now, and now she was abreast of the rather ornate and attached
little building, that was obviously the garage. She drew the key
from her pocket, and glanced around her. There was no one in sight.
She stepped swiftly to the small door that flanked the big double
ones where the cars went in and out, opened it, closed it behind
her, and locked it.
For a moment, her eyes unaccustomed to the darkness, she could see
nothing; and then a car, taking the form of a grotesque, looming
shadow, showed in front of her. She moved toward it, felt her way
into the tonneau, lifted up the back seat, and, groping around,
found a flashlight. She meant to hurry now. She did not mean to
let that nervous dread, that fear, that was quickening her pulse
now, have time to get the better of her. She located the door that
led to the house, and in another moment, the short passage behind
her, she was in the kitchen, the flashlight winking cautiously
around her. She paused to listen here. There was not a sound.
She went on again - through a swinging pantry door with extreme
care, and into a small hall. "On the right," the Sparrow had said.
Yes, here it was; a door that opened on the rear of the library,
evidently. She listened again. There was no sound - save the
silence, that seemed to grow loud now, and palpitate, and make great
noises. And now, in spite of herself, her breath was coming in
quick, hard little catches, and the flashlight's ray, that she sent
around her, wavered and was not steady. She bit her lips, as she
switched off the light. Why should she be afraid of this, when in
another five minutes she meant to invite attention!
She pushed the door in front of her open, found it hung with a heavy
portiere inside, brushed the portiere aside, stepped through into
the room, stood still and motionless to listen once more, and then
the flashlight circled inquisitively about her.
It was the library. Her eyes widened a little. At her left, over
against the wall, the mangled door of a safe stood wide open, and
the floor for a radius of yards around was littered with papers and
documents. The flashlight's ray lifted, and she followed it with
her eyes as it made the circuit of the walls. Opposite the safe,
and quite near the doorway in which she stood, was a window recess,
portiered; diagonally across from her was another door that led,
presumably, into the main hall of the house; the walls were
tapestried, and hung here and there with clusters of ancient
trophies, great metal shields, and swords, and curious arms, that
gave a sort of barbaric splendor to the luxurious furnishings of
She worked quickly now. In a moment she was at the window portieres,
and, drawing these aside, she quietly raised the window, and looked
out. The window was on the side of the house away from the cross
street, and she nodded her head reassuringly to herself as she noted
that it gave on a narrow strip of grass, it could not be called lawn,
that separated the Hayden-Bond mansion from the house next door; that
the window was little more than shoulder-high from the ground; and
that the Avenue was within easy and inviting reach along that little
strip of grass between the two houses.
She left the window open, and retraced her steps across the room,
going now to the littered mass of papers on the floor near the safe.
She began to search carefully amongst them. She smiled a little
curiously as she came across the plush-lined jeweler's case that
had contained the necklace, and which had evidently been
contemptuously discarded by the Cricket and his confederates; but
it took her longer to find the paper for which she was searching.
And then she came upon it - a grease-smeared advertisement for some
automobile appliances, a well-defined greasy finger-print at one
edge - and thrust the paper into her pocket.
And now suddenly her heartbeat began to quicken again until its
thumping became tumultuous. She was ready now. She looked around
her, using the flashlight, and her eyes rested appraisingly on one
of the great clusters of shields and arms that hung low down on the
wall between the window and the door by which she had entered. Yes,
that would do. Her lips tightened. It would have been so easy if
there had not been that cash to account for! She could replace
the necklace, but she could not replace the cash - and one, as far
as the Sparrow was concerned, was as bad as the other. But there
was a way, and it was simple enough. She whispered to herself that
it was not, after all, very dangerous, that the cards were all in
her own hands. She had only to pull down those shields with a
clatter to the floor, which would arouse some one of the household,
and as that some one reached the library door and opened it, she
would be disappearing through the window, and the necklace, as
though it had slipped from her pocket or grasp in her wild effort
to escape, would be lying behind her on the floor. They would see
that it was not the Sparrow; and there would be no question as to
where the money was gone, since the money had not been dropped.
There was the interval, of course, that must elapse between the
accident that knocked the shields from the wall and the time it
would take any of the inmates to reach the library, an interval
in which a thief might reasonably be expected to have had time
enough to get away without being seen; but the possibility that
she had not fully accomplished her ends when the accident occurred,
and that she had stayed to make frantic and desperate efforts to
do so right up to the last moment, would account for that.
She moved now to an electric-light switch, and turned on the light.
They must be able to see beyond any question of doubt that the
person escaping through the window was not the Sparrow. What was
she afraid of now, just at the last! There was an actual physical
discomfort in the furious thumping of that cowardly little heart of
hers. It was the only way. And it was worth it. And it was not
so very dangerous. People, aroused out of bed, could not follow
her in their night clothes; and in a matter of but a few minutes,
before the police notified by telephone could become a factor in
the affair, she would have run the block down the Avenue, and then
the other block down the cross street, then back to the taxi, and
be whirling safely downtown.
Yes, she was ready! She nodded her head sharply, as though in
imperative self-command, and running back, her footfalls soundless
on the rich, heavy rug, she picked up the plush-lined necklace case.
She dropped this again, open, on the floor, halfway between the
safe and the window. With the case apparently burst open as it
fell, and the necklace also on the floor, the stage would be set!
She felt inside her bodice, drew out the necklace - and as she stood
there holding it, and as it caught the light and flashed back its
fire and life from a thousand facets, a numbness seemed to come
stealing over her, and a horror, and a great fear, and a dismay
that robbed her of power of movement until it seemed that she was
rooted to the spot, and a low, gasping cry came from her lips. Her
eyes, wide with their alarm, were fixed on the window. There was
a man's face there, just above the sill - and now a man's form
swung through the window, and dropped lightly to the floor inside
the room. And she stared in horrified fascination, and could not
move. It was the Adventurer.
"It's Miss Gray, isn't it? The White Moll?" he murmured amiably.
"I've been trying to find you all night. What corking luck! You
remember me, don't you? Last night, you know."
She did not answer. His eyes had shifted from her face to the
glittering river of gems in her hand.
"I see," he smiled, "that you are ahead of me again. Well, it is
the fortune of war, Miss Gray. I do not complain."
She found her voice at last; and, quick as a flash, as he advanced
a step, she dropped the necklace into her pocket, and her revolver
was in her hand.
"W - what are you doing here?" she whispered.
He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"I take it that we are both in the same boat," he said pleasantly.
"In the same boat?" she echoed dully. She remembered his
conversation with her a few hours ago, when he had believed he was
talking to Gypsy Nan. And now he stood before her for the second
time a self-confessed thief. In the same boat-fellow-thieves!
A certain cold composure came to her. "You mean you came to steal
this necklace? Well, you shall not have it! And, furthermore, you
have no right to class me with yourself as a thief."
He had a whimsical and very engaging smile. His eyebrows lifted.
"Miss Gray perhaps forgets last night," he suggested.
"No, I do not forget last night," she said slowly, "And I do not
forget that I owe you very much for what you did. And that is
one reason why I warn you at once that, as far as the necklace is
concerned, it will do you no good to build any hopes on the
supposition that we are fellow-thieves, and that I am likely either
to part with it, or, through gratitude, share it. In spite of
appearances last night, I was not a thief."
"And to-night, Miss Gray - in spite of appearances?" he challenged.
He was regarding her with eyes that, while they appraised shrewdly,
held a lurking hint of irony in their depths. And somehow, suddenly,
self-proclaimed crook though she held him to be, she found herself
seized with an absurd, unreasonable, but nevertheless passionate,
desire to make good her words.
"Yes, and to-night, too!" she asserted. "I did not steal this
necklace. I - never mind how - I - I got it. It was planned to
put the theft on an innocent man's shoulders. I was trying to
thwart that plan. Whether you believe me or not, I did not come
here to steal the necklace; I came here to return it."
"Quite so! Of course!" acknowledged the Adventurer softly. "I
am afraid I interrupted you, then, in the act of returning it.
Might I suggest, therefore, Miss Gray, that as it's a bit dangerous
to linger around here unnecessarily, you carry out your intentions
with all possible haste, and get away."
"And you?" she queried evenly.
"Myself, of course, as well." He shrugged his shoulders
philosophically. "Under the circumstances, as a gentleman - will
you let me say I prefer that word to the one I know you are
substituting for it - what else can I do?"
She bit her lips. Was he mocking her? The gray eyes were
"Then please do not let me detain you!" she said sharply. "And in
my turn, let me advise you to go at once. I intend to knock one of
those shields down from the wall before I go, in order to arouse the
household. I will, however, in part payment for last night, allow
you three full minutes from the time you climb out of that window,
so that you may have ample time to get away.
He stared at her in frank bewilderment.
"Good Lord!" he gasped. "You - you're joking, Miss Gray."
"No, I am not," she replied coolly. "Far from it! There was money
stolen that I cannot replace, and the theft of the money would be
put upon the same innocent shoulders. I see no other way than the
one I have mentioned. If whoever runs into this room is permitted
to get a glimpse of me, and is given the impression that the
necklace, which I shall leave on the floor, was dropped in my haste,
the supposition remains that, at least, I got away with the money.
I am certainly not the innocent man who has been used as the pawn;
and if I am recognized as the White Moll, what does it matter - after
He took a step toward her impetuously - and stopped quite as
impetuously. Her revolver had swung to a level with his head.
"Pardon me!" he said.
"Not at all!" she said caustically.
For the first time, as she watched him warily, the Adventurer
appeared to lose some of his self-assurance. He shifted a little
uneasily on his feet, and the corners of his eyes puckered into a
nest of perturbed wrinkles.
"I say, Miss Gray, you can't mean this!" be protested. "You're
"I have told you that I am," she answered steadily. "Those three
minutes that I gave you are going fast."
"Then look here!" he exclaimed earnestly. "I'll tell you something.
I said I had been trying to find you to-night. It was the truth.
I went to Gypsy Nan's - and might have been spared my pains. I
told her about last night, and that I knew you were in danger, and
that I wanted to help you. I mention this so that you will
understand that I am not just speaking on the spur of the moment,
now that I have an opportunity of repeating that offer in person."
She looked at him impassively for a moment. He had neglected to
state that he had also told Gypsy Nan he desired to enter into a
partnership with her - in
"It is very kind of you," she said sweetly. "I presume, then, that
you have some suggestion to make?"
"Only what any - may I say it? - gentleman would suggest under the
circumstances. It is far too dangerous a thing for a woman to
attempt; it would be much less dangerous for me. I realize that
you are in earnest now, and I will agree to carry out your plan in
every detail once I am satisfied that you are safely away."
"The idea being," she observed monotonously, "that, being safely
away, and the necklace being left safely on the floor, you are left
safely in possession of - the necklace. Well, my answer is - no!"
His face hardened a little.
"I'm sorry, then," he said. "For in that case, in so far as your
project is concerned, I, too, must say - no!"
It was an impasse. She studied his face, the strong jaw set a
little now, the lips molded in sterner lines, and for all her
outward show of composure, she knew a sick dismay. And for a moment
she neither moved nor spoke. What he would do next, she did not
know; but she knew quite well that he had not the slightest
intention of leaving her here undisturbed to carry out her plan,
unless - unless, somehow, she could outwit him. She bit her lips
again. And then inspiration came. She turned, and with a sudden
leap gained the wall, and the next instant, holding him back with
her revolver as she reached up with her left hand, she caught at
the great metal shield with its encircling cluster of small arms,
and wrenched it from its fastenings. It crashed to the floor with
a din infernal that, in the night silence, went racketing through
the house like the reverberations of an explosion.
"My God, what have you done!" he cried out hoarsely.
"What I said I'd do!" she answered. She was white-faced, frightened
at her own act, fighting to maintain her nerve. "You'll go now, I
imagine!" she flung at him passionately. "You haven't much time."
"No!" he said. His composure was instantly at command again. "No,"
he repeated steadily; "not until after you have gone. I refuse
- positively - to let you run any such risk as that. It is far too
"Yes, you will!" she burst out wildly. "You will! You must! You
shall! I - I -" The house itself seemed suddenly to have awakened.
From above doors opened and closed. Indistinctly there came the
sound of a voice. She clenched her hand in anguished desperation.
"Go, you - you coward!" she whispered frantically.
"Miss Gray, for God's sake, do as I tell you!" he said between his
teeth. "You don't realize the danger. It's not the pursuit. They
are not coming down here unarmed after that racket. I know that
you came in by that door there. Go out that way. I will play the
game for you. I swear it!"
There were footsteps, plainly audible now, out in the main hall.
"Quick!" he urged. "Are we both to be caught? See!" He backed
suddenly toward the window.
"See! I am too far away now to touch that necklace before they get
here. Throw it down, and get behind the portiere of the rear door!"
Mechanically she was retreating. They were almost at the other door
now, those footsteps outside in the main hall. With a backward
spring she reached the portiere. The door handle across the room
rattled. She glanced at the Adventurer. He was close to the window.
It was true, he could not get the necklace and at the same time hope
to escape. She whipped it from her pocket, tossed it from her to
the floor near the plush-lined case - and slipped behind the portiere.
The door opposite to her was wrenched violently open. She could
see through the corner of the portiere. There was a sharp, excited
exclamation, as a gray-haired man, in pajamas, evidently Mr.
Hayden-Bond himself, sprang into the room. He was followed by
another man in equal dishabille.
And the Adventurer was leaping for the window.
There was a blinding flash, the roar of a report, as the
millionaire flung up a revolver and fired; it was echoed by the
splatter and tinkle of falling glass. The Adventurer was astride
the window sill now, his face deliberately and unmistakably in view.
"A foot too high, and a bit to the right!" said the Adventurer
debonairly - and the window sill was empty.
Rhoda Gray stole silently through the doorway behind her. She could
hear the millionaire and his companion, the butler, probably, rush
across the library to the window. As she gained the pantry, she
heard another shot. Tight-lipped, using her flashlight, she ran
through the kitchen. In a moment more, she was standing at the
garage door, listening, peering furtively outside. The street
itself was empty; there were shouts, though, from the direction of
the Avenue. She stepped out on the side street, and walking
composedly that she might not attract attention, though very impulse
urged her to run with frantic haste, she reached the corner and the
waiting taxicab. She gave the chauffeur an address that would bring
her to the street in the rear of Gypsy Nan's and within reach of the
lane where she had left her clothes, and, with an injunction to
hurry, sprang into the cab.
And then for a long time she sat there with her hands tightly
clasped in her lap. Her mind, her brain, her very soul itself
seemed in chaos and turmoil. There was the Sparrow, who was safe;
and Danglar, who would move heaven and hell to get her now; and
the Adventurer, who - Her mind seemed to grope around in cycles;
it seemed to moil on and on and arrive at nothing. The Adventurer
had played the game - perhaps because he had had to; but he had
not risked that revolver shot in her stead because he had had to.
Who was he? How had he come there? How had he found her there?
How had he known that she had entered by that rear door behind
the portiere? She remembered how that he had offered not a single
Almost mechanically she dismissed the taxi when at last it stopped;
and almost mechanically, as Gypsy Nan, some ten minutes later, she
let herself into the garret, and lighted the candle. She was
conscious, as she hid the White Moll's clothes away, that she was
thankful she had regained in safety even the questionable sanctuary
of this wretched place; but, strangely, thoughts of her own peril
seemed somehow to be temporarily relegated to the background.
She flung herself down on the bed - it was not Gypsy Nan's habit to
undress - and blew out the light. But she could not sleep. And
hour after hour in the darkness she tossed unrestfully. It was very
strange! It was not as it had been last night. It was not the
impotent, frantic rebellion against the horrors of her own situation,
nor the fear and terror of it, that obsessed her to-night. It was
the Adventurer who plagued her.
VIII. THE CODE MESSAGE
It was strange! Most strange! Three days had passed, and to Gypsy
Nan's lodging no one had come. The small crack under the partition
that had been impressed into service as a letter-box had remained
empty. There had been no messages - nothing - only a sinister,
brooding isolation. Since the night Rhoda Gray had left Danglar,
balked, almost a madman in his fury, in the little room over
Shluker's junk shop, Danglar had not been seen - nor the Adventurer
- nor even Rough Rorke. Her only visitant since then had been an
ugly premonition of impending peril, which came and stalked like a
hideous ghost about the bare and miserable garret, and which woke
her at night with its whispering voice - which was the voice of
Rhoda Gray drew her shawl closer around her shoulders and shivered,
as now, from shuffling down the block in the guise of Gypsy Nan,
she halted before the street door of what fate, for the moment, had
thrust upon her as a home; and shivered again, as, with abhorrence,
she pushed the door open and stepped forward into the black,
unlighted hallway. Soul, mind and body were in revolt to-night.
Even faith, the simple faith in God that she had known since
childhood, was wavering. There seemed nothing but horror around
her, a mental horror, a physical horror; and the sole means of even
momentary relief and surcease from it had been a pitiful prowling
around the streets, where even the fresh air seemed to be denied to
her, for it was tainted with the smells of squalor that ruled,
rampant, in that neighborhood.
And to-night, stronger than ever, intuition and premonition of
approaching danger lay heavy upon her, and oppressed her with a
sense of nearness. She was not a coward; but she was afraid.
Danglar would leave no stone unturned to get the White Moll. He
had said so. She remembered the threat he had made - it had lived
in her woman's soul ever since that night. Better anything than
to fall into Danglar's hands! She caught her breath a little, and
shivered again as she groped her way up the dark stairs. But,
then, she never would fall into Danglar's power. There was always
an alternative. Yes, it was quite as bad as that - death at her
own hands was preferable. Balked, outwitted, the plans of the
criminal coterie, of which Danglar appeared to be the head, rendered
again and again abortive, and believing it all due to the White Moll,
all of Danglar's shrewd, unscrupulous cunning would be centered on
the task of running her down; and if, added to this, he discovered
that she was masquerading as Gypsy Nan, one of their own inner
circle, it mean that - She closed her lips in a hard, tight line.
She did not want to think of it. She had fought all day, and the
days before, against thinking about it, but premonition had crept
upon her stronger and stronger, until to-night, now, it seemed as
though her mind could dwell on nothing else.
On the landing, she paused suddenly and listened. The street door
had opened and closed, and now a footstep sounded on the stairs
behind her. She went on again along the hall, feeling her way; and
reaching the short, ladder-like steps to the garret, she began to
mount them. Who was it there behind her? One of the unknown
lodgers on the lower floor, or -? She could not see, of course.
It was pitch black. But she could hear. And as she knelt now on
the narrow landing, and felt with her fingers along the floor for
the aperture, where, imitating the custom of Gypsy Nan, she had left
her key when she went out, she heard the footsteps coming steadily
on, passing the doors below her, and making toward the garret ladder.
And then, stifling a startled little cry, her hand closed on the key,
and closed, as it had closed on that first night when she had
returned here in the role of Gypsy Nan, on a piece of paper wrapped
around the key. The days of isolation were ended with climacteric
effect; the pendulum had swung full the other way - to-night there
was both a visitor and a message!
The paper detached from the key and thrust into her bodice, she
stood up quickly. A form, looming up even in the darkness, showed
on the garret stairs. "Who's dere?" she croaked.
"It's all right," a voice answered in low tones. "You were just
ahead of me on the street. I saw you come in. It's Pierre."
Pierre! So that was his name! It was only the voice she recognized.
Pierre - Danglar! She fumbled for the keyhole, found it, and
inserted the key. "Well, how's Bertha to-night?"
There seemed to be a strange exhilaration in the man's voice. He
was standing beside her now, close beside her, and now his hand
played with a curiously caressing motion on her shoulder. The touch
seemed to scorch and burn her. Who was this Danglar, who was Pierre
to her, and to whom she was Bertha? Her breath came quickly in
spite of herself; there came, too, a frenzy of aversion, and
impulsively she flung his hand away, and with the door unlocked now,
stepped from him into the garret.
"Feeling a bit off color, eh?" he said with a short laugh, as he
followed her, and shut the door behind him. "Well, I don't know
as I blame you. But, look here, old girl, have a heart! It's not
my fault. I know what you're grouching about - it's because I
haven't been around much lately. But you ought to know well enough
that I couldn't help it. Our game has been crimped lately at every
turn by that she-devil, the White Moll, and that dude pal of hers."
He laughed out again - in savage menace now. "I've been busy.
Understand, Bertha? It was either ourselves, or them. We've got
to go under - or they have. And we won't! I promise you that!
Things'll break a little better before long, and I'll make it up to
She could not see him in the blackness of the garret. She breathed
a prayer of gratitude that he could not see her. Her face, in spite
of Gipsy Nan's disguising grime, must be white, white as death
itself. It seemed to plumb some infamous depth from which her soul
recoiled, this apology of his for his neglect of her. And then her
hands at her sides curled into tight-clenched little fists as she
strove to control herself. His words, at least, supplied her with
"Of course!" she said tartly, but in perfect English - the vernacular
of Gypsy Nan was not for Danglar, for she remembered only too well
how once before it had nearly tripped her up. "But you didn't come
here to apologize! What is it you want?"
"Ah, I say, Bertha!" he said appeasingly. "Cut that out! I couldn't
help being away, I tell you. Of course, I didn't come here to
apologize - I thought you'd understand well enough without that.
The gang's out of cash, and I came to tap the reserves. Let me have
a package of the long green, Bertha."
It was a moment before she spoke. Her woman's instinct prompted
her to let down the bars between them in no single degree, that her
protection lay in playing up to the full what Danglar, jumping at
conclusions, had assumed was a grouch at his neglect. Also, her
mind worked quickly. Her own clothes were no longer in the secret
hiding place here in the garret; they were out there in that old
shed in the lane. It was perfectly safe, then, to let Danglar go
to the hiding place himself, assuming that he knew where it was
- which, almost of necessity, he must.
"Oh!" she said ungraciously. "Well, you know where it is, don't
you? Suppose you go and get it yourself!"
"All right!" returned Danglar, a sullenness creeping into his voice.
"Have it your own way, Bertha! I haven't got time to-night to coax
you out of your tantrums. That's what you want, but I haven't got
time - to-night."
She did not answer.
A match crackled in Danglar's hand; the flames spurted up through
the darkness. Danglar made his way over to the rickety washstand,
found the candle that was stuck in the neck of the gin bottle,
lighted it, held the candle above his head, and stared around
"Why the devil don't you get another lamp?" he grumbled - and
started toward the rear of the garret.
Rhoda Gray watched him silently. She did not care to explain that
she had not replaced the lamp for the very simple reason that it
gave far too much light here in the garret to be safe - for her!
She watched him, with her hand in the pocket of her greasy skirt
clutched around another legacy of Gypsy Nan - her revolver. And
now she became conscious that from the moment she had entered the
garret, her fingers, hidden in that pocket, had sought and clung
to the weapon. The man filled her with detestation and fear; and
somehow she feared him more now in what he was trying to make an
ingratiating mood, than she had feared him in the full flood of
his rage and anger that other night at Shluker's place.
She drew back a little toward the cot bed against the wall, drew
back to give him free passage to the door when he should return
again, her eyes still holding on the far end of the garret, where,
with the slope of the roof, the ceiling was no more than shoulder
high. There seemed something horribly weird and grotesque in the
scene before her. He had pushed the narrow trap-door in the ceiling
upward, and had thrust candle and head through the opening, and the
faint yellow light, seeping back and downward in flickering,
uncertain rays, suggested the impression of a gruesome, headless
figure standing there hazily outlined in the surrounding murk. It
chilled her; she clutched at her shawl, drew it more closely about
her, and edged still nearer to the wall.
And then Danglar closed the trap-door again, and came back with the
candle in one hand, and one of the bulky packages of banknotes from
the hiding place in the other. He set the candle down on the
washstand, and began to distribute the money through his various
He was smiling with curious complacency.
"It was your job to play the spider to the White Moll if she ever
showed up again here in your parlor," he said. "Maybe somebody
tipped her off to keep away, maybe she was too wily; but, anyway,
since you have not sent out any word, it is evident that our little
plans along that line didn't work, since she has failed to come back
to pay a call of gratitude to you. I don't suppose there's anything
to add to that, eh, Bertha? No report to make?"
"No," said Rhoda Gray shortly. "I haven't any report to make."
"Well, no matter!" said Danglar. He laughed out shortly. "There
are other ways! She's had her fling at our expense; it's her turn
to pay now." He laughed again - and in the laugh now there was
something both brutal in its menace, and sinister in its suggestion
of gloating triumph.
"What do you mean?" demanded Rhoda Gray quickly. "What are you
going to do?"
"Get her!" said Danglar. The man's passion flamed up suddenly; he
spoke through his closed teeth. "Get her! I made her a little
promise. I'm going to keep it! Understand?"
"You've been saying that for quite a long time," retorted Rhoda
Gray coolly. "But the 'getting' has been all the other way so far.
How are you going to get her?"
Danglar's little black eyes narrowed, and he thrust his head forward
and out from his shoulders savagely. In the flickering candle
light, with contorted face and snarling lips, he looked again the
beast to which she had once likened him.
"Never mind how I'm going to get her!" he flung out, with an oath.
"I told you I'd been busy. That's enough! You'll see
Rhoda Gray, in the semi-darkness, shrugged her shoulders. Was the
man, prompted by rage and fury, simply making wild threats, or had
he at last some definite and perhaps infallible plan that he
purposed putting into operation? She did not know; and, much as it
meant to her, she did not dare take the risk of arousing suspicion
by pressing the question. Failing, then, to obtain any intimation
of what he meant to do, the next thing most to be desired was to
get rid of him.
"You've got the money. That's what you came for, wasn't it?" she
He stared at her for a moment, and then his face gradually lost its
"You're a rare one, Bertha!" he exclaimed admiringly. "Yes; I've
got the money - and I'm going. In fact, I'm in a hurry, so don't
worry! You got the dope, like everybody else, for to-night, didn't
you? It was sent out two hours ago."
The dope! It puzzled her for the fraction of a second - and then
she remembered the paper she had thrust into the bodice of her
dress. She had not read it. She lunged a little in the dark.
"Yes," she said curtly.
"All right!" he said-and moved toward the door. "That explains why
I'm in a hurry - and why I can't stop to oil that grouch out of you.
But I'll keep my promise to you, too, old girl. I'll make up the
last few days to you. Have a heart, eh, Bertha! 'Night!"
She did not answer him. It seemed as though an unutterable dread
had suddenly been lifted from her, as he passed out of the door
and began to descend the steps to the hall below. Her "grouch,"
he had called it. Well, it had served its purpose! It was just
as well that he should think so! She followed to the door, and
deliberately slammed it with a bang. And from below, his laugh,
more an amused chuckle, echoed back and answered her.
And then, for a long time she stood there by the door, a little
weak with the revulsion of relief upon her, her hands pressed hard
against her temples, staring unseeingly about the garret. He was
gone. He filled her with terror. Every instinct she possessed,
every fiber of her being revolted against him. He was gone. Yes,
he was gone - for the time being. But - but what was the end of
all this to be?"
She shook her head after a moment, shook it helplessly and wearily,
as, finally, she walked over to the washstand, took the piece of
paper from the bodice of her dress, and spread it out under the
candle light. A glance showed her that it was in cipher. There
was the stub of a pencil, she remembered, in the washstand drawer,
and, armed with this, and a piece of wrapping paper that had once
enveloped one of Gypsy Nan's gin bottles, she took up the candle,
crossed the garret, and sat down on the edge of the cot, placing
the candle on the chair in front of her.
If the last three days had been productive of nothing else, they
had at least furnished her with the opportunity of studying the
notebook she had found in the secret hiding place, and of making
herself conversant with the gang's cipher; and she now set to
work upon it. It was a numerical cipher. Each letter of the
alphabet in regular rotation was represented by its corresponding
numeral; a zero was employed to set off one letter from another,
and the addition of the numerals between the zeros indicated the
number of the letter involved. Also, there being but twenty-six
letters in the alphabet, it was obvious that the addition of three
nines, which was twenty-seven, could not represent any letter, and
the combination of 999 was therefore used to precede any of the
arbitrary groups of numerals which were employed to express phrases
and sentences, such as the 739 that she had found scrawled on the
piece of paper around her key on the first night she had come here,
and which, had it been embodied in a message and not preceded by
the 999, would have meant simply the addition of seven, three and
nine, that is, nineteen - and therefore would indicate the
nineteenth letter of the alphabet, S.
Rhoda Gray copied the first line of the message on the piece of
Adding the numerals between the zeros, and giving to each its
corresponding letter, she set down the result:
f a k e e v i d e n c e i n
It was then but a matter of grouping the letters into words; and,
decoded, the first line read:
Fake evidence in......
She worked steadily on. It was a lengthy message, and it took her
a long time. It was an hour, perhaps more, after Danglar had gone,
before she had completed her task; and then, after that, she sat
for still a long time staring, not at the paper on the chair before
her, but at the flickering shadows thrown by the candle on the
Queer and strange were the undercurrents and the cross-sections of
life that were to be found, amazingly contradictory, amazingly
incomprehensible, once one scratched beneath the surface of the
poverty and the squalor, and, yes, the crime, amongst the hiving
thousands of New York's East Side! In the days - not so very long
ago - when, as the White Moll, she had worked amongst these classes,
she had on one occasion, when he was sick, even kept old Viner in
food. She had not, at the time, failed to realize that the man
was grasping, rapacious, even unthankful, but she had little dreamed
that he was a miser worth fifty thousand dollars!
Her mind swerved off suddenly at a tangent. The tentacles of this
crime octopus, of which Danglar seemed to be the head, reached far
and into most curious places to fasten and hold and feed on the
progeny of human foibles! She could not help wondering where the
lair was from which emanated the efficiency and system that, as
witness this code message to-night, kept its members, perhaps widely
scattered, fully informed of its every movement.
She shook her head. That was something she had not yet learned;
but it was something she must learn if ever she hoped to obtain the
evidence that would clear her of the crime that circumstances had
fastened upon her. And yet she had made no move in that direction,
because - well, because, so far, it had seemed all she could do to
protect and safeguard herself in her present miserable existence
and surroundings, which, abhorrent as they were, alone stood between
her and a prison cell.
Her forehead gathered into little furrows; and, reverting to the
code message, her thoughts harked back to a well-known crime, the
authorship of which still remained a mystery, and which had stirred
the East Side some two years ago. A man - in the vernacular of the
underworld a "stage hand" - by the name of Kroner, credited with
having a large amount of cash, the proceeds of some nefarious
transaction, in his possession on the night in question, was found
murdered in his room in an old and tumble-down tenement of unsavory
reputation. The police net had gathered in some of the co-tenants
on suspicion; Nicky Viner, referred to in the code message, amongst
them. But nothing had come of the investigation. There had been
no charge of collusion between the suspects; but Perlmer, a shyster
lawyer, had acted for them all collectively, and, one and all, they
had been discharged. In what degree Perlmer's services had been of
actual value had never been ascertained, for the police, through
lack of evidence, had been obliged to drop the case; but the
underworld had whispered to itself. There was such a thing as
suppressing evidence, and Perlmer was known to have the cunning of
a fox, and a code of morals that never stood in the way, or
restricted him in any manner.
The code message threw a new light on all this. Perlmer must have
known that old Nicky Viner had money, for, according to the code
message, Perlmer prepared a fake set of affidavits and forged a
chain of fake evidence with which he had blackmailed Nicky Viner
ever since; and Nicky Viner, known as a dissolute, shady character,
innocent enough of the crime, but afraid because his possession of
money if made public would tell against him, and frightened because
he had already been arrested once on suspicion for that very crime,
had whimpered - and paid. And then, somehow, Danglar and the gang
had discovered that the old, seedy, stoop-shouldered, bearded,
down-at-the-heels Nicky Viner was not all that he seemed; that he
was a miser, and had a hoard of fifty thousand dollars - and Danglar
and the gang had set out to find that hoard and appropriate it.
Only they had not succeeded. But in their search they had stumbled
upon Perlmer's trail, and that was the key to the plan they had
afoot to-night. If Perlmer's fake and manufactured affidavits were
clever enough and convincing enough to wring money out of Viner for
Perlmer, they were more than enough to enable Danglar, employed as
Danglar would employ them, to wring from Nicky Viner the secret of
where the old miser hid his wealth; for Viner would understand that
Danglar was not hampered by having to safeguard himself on account
of having been originally connected with the case in a legal
capacity, or any capacity, and therefore in demanding all or nothing,
would have no cause for hesitation, failing to get what he wanted,
in turning the evidence over to the police. In other words, where
Perlmer had to play his man cautiously and get what he could,
Danglar could go the limit and get all. As it stood, then, Danglar
and the gang had not found out the location of that hoard; but they
had found out where Perlmer kept his spurious papers - stuffed in
at the back of the bottom drawer of his desk in his office,
practically forgotten, practically useless to Perlmer any more, for,
having once shown them to Viner, there was no occasion to call them
into service again unless Viner showed signs of getting a little
out of hand and it became necessary to apply the screws once more.
For the rest, it was a very simple matter. Perlmer had an office
in a small building on lower Sixth Avenue, and it was his custom
to go to his office in the evenings and remain there until ten
o'clock or so. The plan then, according to the code message, was
to loot Perlmer's desk some time after the man had gone home for
the night, and then, at midnight, armed with the false documents,
to beard old Nicky Viner in his miserable quarters over on the East
Side, and extort from the old miser the neat little sum that Danglar
estimated would amount to some fifty thousand dollars in cash.
Rhoda Gray's face was troubled and serious. She found herself
wishing for a moment that she had never decoded the message. But
she shook her head in sharp self-protest the next instant. True,
she would have evaded the responsibility that the criminal knowledge
now in her possession had brought her; but she would have done so,
in that case, deliberately at the expense of her own self-respect.
It would not have excused her in her own soul to have sat staring
at a cipher message that she was satisfied was some criminal plot,
and have refused to decode it simply because she was afraid a sense
of duty would involve her in an effort to frustrate it. To have
sat idly by under those circumstances would have been as
reprehensible - and even more cowardly - than it would be to sit
idly by now that she knew what was to take place. And on that
latter score to-night there was no argument with herself. She
found herself accepting the fact that she would act, and act
promptly, as the only natural corollary to the fact that she was
in a position to do so. Perhaps it was that way to-night, not only
because she had on a previous occasion already fought this principle
of duty out with herself, but because to-night, unlike that other
night, the way and the means seemed to present no insurmountable
difficulties, and because she was now far better prepared, and free
from all the perplexing, though enormously vital, little details
that had on the former occasion reared themselves up in mountainous
aspect before her. The purchase of a heavy veil, for instance, the
day after the Hayden-Bond affair, would enable her now to move about
the city in the clothes of the White Moll practically at will and
without fear of detection. And, further, the facilities for making
that change, the change from Gypsy Nan to the White Moll, were now
already at hand - in the little old shed down the lane.
And as far as any actual danger that she might incur to-night was
concerned, it was not great. She was not interested in the fifty
thousand dollars in an intrinsic sense; she was interested only in
seeing that old Nicky Viner, unappealing, yes, and almost repulsive
both in personality and habits as the man was, was not blackmailed
out of it; that Danglar, yes, and hereafter, Perlmer too, should
not prey like vultures on the man, and rob him of what was
rightfully his. If, therefore, she secured those papers from
Perlmer's desk, it automatically put an end to Danglar's scheme
to-night; and if, later, she saw to it that those papers came into
Viner's possession, that, too, automatically ended Perlmer's
persecutions. Indeed, there seemed little likelihood of any danger
or risk at all. It could not be quite ten o clock yet; and it was
not likely that whoever was delegated by Danglar to rob Perlmer's
office would go there much before eleven anyway, since they would
naturally allow for the possibility that Perlmer might stay later
in his office than usual, a contingency that doubtless accounted
for midnight being set as the hour at which they proposed to lay
old Nicky Viner by the heels. Therefore, it seemed almost a
certainty that she would reach there, not only first, but with
ample time at her disposal to secure the papers and get away again
without interruption. She might even, perhaps, reach the office
before Perlmer himself had left - it was still quite early enough
for that - but in that case she need only remain on watch until
the lawyer had locked up and gone away. Nor need even the fact
that the office would be locked dismay her. In the secret
hiding-place here in the garret, among those many other evidences
of criminal activity, was the collection of skeleton keys, and - she
was moving swiftly around the attic now, physically as active as her
It was not like that other night. There were few preparations to
make. She had only to secure the keys and a flashlight, and to
take with her the damp cloth that would remove the grime streaks
from her face, and the box of composition that would enable her to
replace them when she came back - and five minutes later she was
on the street, making her way toward the lane, and, specifically,
toward the deserted shed where she had hidden away her own clothing.
IX. ROOM NUMBER ELEVEN
Another five minutes, and in her own personality now, a slim, trim
figure, neatly gloved, the heavy veil affording ample protection to
her features, Rhoda Gray emerged from the shed and the lane, and
started rapidly toward lower Sixth Avenue. And as she walked, her
mind, released for the moment from the consideration of her
immediate venture, began again, as it had so many times in the last
three days, its striving and its searching after some loophole of
escape from her own desperate situation. But only, as it ever did,
confusion came - a chaos of things, contributory things and
circumstances, and the personalities of those with whom this
impossible existence had thrown her into contact. Little by little
she was becoming acquainted with the personnel of the gang - in an
impersonal way, mostly. Apart from Danglar, there was Shluker, who
must of necessity be one of them; and Skeeny, the man who had been
with Danglar in Shluker's room; and the Cricket, whom she had never
seen; and besides these, there were those who were mentioned in the
cipher message to-night, and detailed to the performance of the
various acts and scenes that were to lead up to the final climax
- which, she supposed, was the object and reason for the cipher
message, in order that even those not actually employed might be
thoroughly conversant with the entire plan, and ready to act
intelligently if called upon. For there were others, of course, as
witness herself, or, rather, Gypsy Nan, whose personality she had
so unwillingly usurped.
It was vital, necessary, that she should know them all, and more
than in that impersonal way, if she counted upon ever freeing
herself of the guilt attributed to her. For she could see no other
way but one - that of exposing and proving the guilt of this vile
clique who now surrounded her, and who had actually instigated and
planned the crime of which she was accused. And it was not an easy
And then there were those outside this unholy circle who kept
forcing their existence upon her consciousness, because they, too,
played an intimate part in the sordid drama which revolved around
her, and whose end she could not foresee. There was, for instance
- the Adventurer. She drew in her breath quickly. She felt the
color creep slowly upward, and tinge her throat and cheeks - and
then the little chin, strong and firm, was lifted in a sort of
self-defiant challenge. True, the man had been a great deal in
her thoughts, but that was only because her curiosity was piqued,
and because on two occasions now she had had very real cause for
gratitude to him. If it had not been for the Adventurer, she
would even now be behind prison bars. Why shouldn't she think of
him? She was not an ingrate! Why shouldn't she be interested?
There was something piquantly mysterious about the man - who called
himself an adventurer. She would even have given a good deal to
know who he really was, and how he, too, came to be so conversant
with Danglar's plans as fast as they were matured, and why, on
those two particular occasions, he had not only gone out of his
way to be of service to her, but had done so at very grave risk to
himself. Of course, she was interested in him - in that way. How
could she help it? But in any other way - the little chin was
still tilted defiantly upward - even the suggestion was absurd.
The man might be chivalrous, courageous, yes, outwardly, even a
gentleman in both manner and appearance; he might be all those
things, and, indeed, was - but he was a thief, a professional
thief and crook. It seemed very strange, of course; but she was
judging him, not alone from the circumstances under which they had
met and been together, but from what he had given her to understand
The defiance went suddenly from her face; and, for a moment, her
lips quivered a little helplessly. It was all so very strange, and
so forbidding, and - and, perhaps she hadn't the stout heart that
a man would have - but she did not understand, and she could not
see her way through the darkness that was like a pall wrapped about
her - and it was hard just to grope out amidst surroundings that
revolted her and made her soul sick. It was hard to do this and
- and still keep her courage and her faith.
She shook her head presently as she went along, shook it
reprovingly at herself, and the little shoulders squared resolutely
back. There must be, and there would be, a way out of it all, and
meanwhile her position, bad as it was, was not without, at least,
a certain compensation. There had been the Sparrow the other night
whom she had been able to save, and to-night there was Nicky Viner.
She could not be blind to that. Who knew! It might be for just
such very purposes that her life had been turned into these new
She looked around her sharply now. She had reached the lower
section of Sixth Avenue. Perlmer's office, according to the address
given, was still a little farther on. She walked briskly. It was
very different to-night, thanks to her veil! It had been horrible
that other night, when she had ventured out as the White Moll and
had been forced to keep to the dark alleyways and lanes, and the
And now, through a jeweler's window, she noted the time, and knew
a further sense of relief. It was even earlier than she had
imagined. It was not quite ten o'clock; she would, at least, be
close on the heels of Perlmer's departure from his office, if not
actually ahead of time, and therefore she would be first on the
scene, and - yes, this was the place; here was Perlmer's name
amongst those on the name-plate at the street entrance of a small
She entered the hallway, and found it deserted. It was a rather
dirty and unkempt place, and very poorly lighted - a single
incandescent alone burned in the hall. Perlmer's room, so the
name-plate indicated, was Number Eleven, and on the next floor.
She mounted the stairs, and paused on the landing to look around
her again. Here, too, the hallway was lighted by but a single
lamp; and here, too, an air of desertion was in evidence. The
office tenants, it was fairly obvious, were not habitual night
workers, for not a ray of light came from any of the glass-paneled
doors that flanked both sides of the passage. She nodded her head
sharply in satisfaction. It was equally obvious that Perlmer had
already gone. It would take her but a moment, then, unless the
skeleton keys gave her trouble. She had never used a key of that
sort, but - She moved quietly down the hallway, and, looking quickly
about her to assure herself again that she was not observed, stopped
before the door of Room Number Eleven.
A moment she hung there, listening; then she slipped the skeleton
keys from her pocket, and, in the act of inserting one of them
tentatively into the keyhole, she tried the door - and with a little
gasp of surprise returned the keys hurriedly to her pocket. The
door was unlocked; it had even opened an inch already under her hand.
Again she looked around her, a little startled now; and instinctively
her hand in her pocket exchanged the keys for her revolver. But she
saw nothing, heard nothing; and it was certainly dark inside there,
and therefore only logical to conclude that the room was unoccupied.
Reassured, she pushed the door cautiously and noiselessly open, and
stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. She stood still for
an instant, and then the round, white ray of her flashlight went
dancing inquisitively around the office. It was a medium-sized room,
far from ornate in its appointments, bare floored, the furniture of
the cheapest - Perlmer's clientele did not insist on oriental rugs
Her appraisal of the room, however, was but cursory. She was
interested only in the flat-topped desk in front of her. She
stepped quickly around it - and stopped-and a low cry of dismay came
from her as she stared at the floor. The lower drawer had been
completely removed, and now lay upturned beside the swivel chair,
its contents strewn around in all directions.
And for a moment she stared at the scene, nonplused, discomfited.
She had been so sure that she would be first - and she had not been
first. There was no need to search amongst those papers on the
floor. They told their own story. The ones she wanted were already
In a numbed way, mechanically, she retreated to the door; and, with
the flashlight playing upon it, she noticed for the first time that
the lock had been roughly forced. It was but corroborative of the
despoiled drawer; and, at the same time, the obvious reason why the
door had not been relocked when whoever had come here had gone out
Whoever had come here! She could have laughed out hysterically.
Was there any doubt as to who it was? One of Danglar's emissaries;
the Cricket, perhaps-or perhaps even Danglar himself! They had
seen to it that lack of prompt action, at least, would not be the
cause of marring their plans.
A little dazed, overwrought, confused at the ground being cut from
under her where she had been so confident of a sure footing, she
made her way out of the building, and to the street - and for a
block walked almost aimlessly along. And then suddenly she turned
hurriedly into a cross street, and headed over toward the East Side.
The experience had not been a pleasant one, and it had upset most
thoroughly all her calculations; but it was very far, after all,
from being disastrous. It meant simply that she must now find
Nicky Viner himself and warn the man, and there was ample time in
which to do that. The code message specifically stated midnight
as the hour at which they proposed to favor old Viner with their
unhallowed attentions, and as it was but a little after ten now,
she had nearly a full two hours in which to accomplish what should
not take her more than a few minutes.
Rhoda Gray's lips tightened a little, as she hurried along. Old
Nicky Viner still lived in the same disreputable tenement in which
he had lived on the night of that murder two years ago, and she
could not ward off the thought that it had been - yes, and was - an
ideal place for a murder, from the murderer's standpoint! The
neighborhood was one of the toughest in New York, and the tenement
itself was frankly nothing more than a den of crooks. True, she
had visited there more than once, had visited Nicky Viner there;
but she had gone there then as the White Moll, to whom even the
most abandoned would have touched his cap. To-night it was very
different - she went there as a woman. And yet, after all - she
amended her own thoughts, smiling a little seriously - surely she
could disclose herself as the White Moll there again to-night if
the actual necessity arose, for surely crooks, pokegetters,
shillabers and lags though they were, and though the place teemed
with the dregs of the underworld, no one of them, even for the
reward that might be offered, would inform against her to the police!
And yet - again the mental pendulum swung the other way - she was
not so confident of that as she would like to be. In a general way
there could be no question but that she could count on the loyalty
of those who lived there; but there were always those upon whom one
could never count, those who were dead to all sense of loyalty, and
alive only to selfish gain and interest - a human trait that, all
too unfortunately, was not confined to those alone who lived in that
shadowland outside the law. Her face, beneath the thick veil,
relaxed a little. Well, she certainly did not intend to make a test
case of it and disclose herself there as the White Moll, if she
could help it! She would enter the tenement unnoticed if she could,
and make her way to Nicky Viner's two miserable rooms on the second
floor as secretively as she could. And, knowing the place as she
did, she was quite satisfied that, if she were careful enough and
cautious enough, she could both enter and leave without being
seen by any one except, of course, Nicky Viner.
She walked on quickly. Five minutes, ten minutes passed; and now,
in a narrow street, lighted mostly by the dull, yellow glow that
seeped up from the sidewalk through basement entrances, queer and
forbidding portals to sinister interiors, or filtered through the
dirty windows of uninviting little shops that ran the gamut from
Chinese laundries to oyster dens, she halted, drawn back in the
shadows of a doorway, and studied a tenement building that was
just ahead of her. That was where old Nicky Viner lived. A smile
of grim whimsicality touched her lips. Not a light showed in the
place from top to bottom. From its exterior it might have been
uninhabited, even long deserted. But to one who knew, it was quite
the normal condition, quite what one would expect. Those who lived
there confined their activities mostly to the night; and their
exodus to their labors began when the labors of the world at large
ended - with the fall of darkness.
For a little while she watched the place, and kept glancing up and
down the street; and then, seizing her opportunity when for half a
block or more the street was free of pedestrians, she stole forward
and reached the tenement door. It was half open, and she slipped
quickly inside into the hall.
She stood here for a moment motionless; listening, striving to
accommodate her eyes to the darkness, and instinctively her hand
went to her pocket for the reassuring touch of her revolver. It
was black back there in the hallway of Gypsy Nan's lodging; she had
not thought that any greater degree of blackness could exist; but
it was blacker here. Only the sense of touch promised to be of any
avail. If one could have moved as noiselessly as a shadow moves,
one could have passed another within arm's-length unseen. And so
she listened, listened intently. And there was very little sound.
Once she detected a footstep from the interior of some room as it
moved across a bare floor; once she heard a door creak somewhere
upstairs; and once, from some indeterminate direction, she thought
she heard voices whispering together for a moment.
She moved suddenly then, abruptly, almost impulsively, but careful
not to make the slightest noise. She dared not remain another
instant inactive. It was what she had expected, what she had
counted upon as an ally, this darkness, but she was not one who
laughed, even in daylight, at its psychology. It was beginning
to attack her now; her imagination to magnify even the actual
dangers that she knew to be around her. And she must fight it off
before it got a hold upon her, and before panic voices out of the
blackness began to shriek and clamor in her ears, as she knew they
would do with pitifully little provocation, urging her to turn and
The staircase, she remembered, was at her right; and feeling out
before her with her hands, she reached the stairs, and began to
mount them. She went slowly, very slowly. They were bare, the
stairs, and unless one were extremely careful they would creak out
through the silence with a noise that could be heard from top to
bottom of the tenement. But she was not making any noise; she
dared not make any noise.
Halfway up she halted and pressed her body close against the wall.
Was that somebody coming? She held her breath in expectation.
There wasn't a sound now, but she could have sworn she had heard
a footstep on the hallway above, or on the upper stairs. She bit
her lips in vexation. Panic noises! That's what they were! That,
and the thumping of her heart! Why was it that alarms and
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