The White Moll
Frank L. Packard
Part 3 out of 5
exaggerated fancies came and tried to unnerve her? What, after all,
was there really to be afraid of? She had almost a clear two hours
before she need even anticipate any actual danger here, and, if
Nicky Viner were in, she would be away from the tenement again in
another fifteen minutes at the latest.
Rhoda Gray went on again, and gaining the landing, halted once more.
And here she smiled at herself with the tolerant chiding she would
have accorded a child that was frightened without warrant. She
could account for those whisperings and that footstep now. The door
to the left, the one next to Nicky Viner's squalid, two-room
apartment, was evidently partially open, and occasionally some one
moved within; and the voices came from there too, and, low-toned to
begin with, were naturally muffled into whispers by the time they
She had only, then, to step the five or six feet across the narrow
hall in order to reach Nicky Viner's door, and unless by some
unfortunate chance whoever was in that room happened to come out
into the hall at the same moment, she would - Yes, it was all right!
She was trying Nicky Viner's door now. It was unlocked, and as she
opened it for the space of a crack, there showed a tiny chink of
light, so faint and meager that it seemed to shrink timorously back
again as though put to rout by the massed blackness - but it was
enough to evidence the fact that Nicky Viner was at home. It was
all simple enough now. Old Viner would undoubtedly make some
exclamation at her sudden and stealthy entrance, but once she was
inside without those in the next room either having heard or seen
her, it would not matter.
Another inch she pushed the door open, another - and then another.
And then quickly, silently, she tip-toed over the threshold and
closed the door softly behind her. The light came from the inner
room and shone through the connecting door, which was open, and
there was movement from within, and a low, growling voice, petulant,
whining, as though an old man were mumbling complainingly to himself.
She smiled coldly. It was very like Nicky Viner - it was a habit
of his to talk to himself, she remembered. And, also, she had never
heard Nicky Viner do anything else but grumble and complain.
But she could not see fully into the other room, only into a corner
of it, for the two doors were located diagonally across from one
another, and her hand, in a startled way, went suddenly to her lips,
as though mechanically to help choke back and stifle the almost
overpowering impulse to cry out that arose within her. Nicky Viner
was not alone in there! A figure had come into her line of vision
in that other room, not Nicky Viner, not any of the gang - and she
stared now in incredulous amazement, scarcely able to believe her
eyes. And then, suddenly cool and self-possessed again, relieved
in a curious way because the element of personal danger was as a
consequence eliminated, she began to understand why she had been
forestalled in her efforts at Perlmer's office when she had been so
sure that she would be first upon the scene. It was not Danglar,
or the Cricket, or Skeeny, or any of the band who had forestalled
her - it was the Adventurer. That was the Adventurer standing in
there now, side face to her, in Nicky Viner's inner room!
X. ON THE BRINK
Rhoda Gray moved quietly, inch by inch, along the side of the wall
to gain a point of vantage more nearly opposite the lighted doorway.
And then she stopped again. She could see quite clearly now - that
is, there was nothing now to obstruct her view; but the light was
miserable and poor, and the single gas-jet that wheezed and flickered
did little more than disperse the shadows from its immediate
neighborhood in that inner room. But she could see enough - she
could see the bent and ill-clad figure of Nicky Viner, as she
remembered him, an old, gray-bearded man, wringing his hands in
groveling misery, while the mumbling voice, now whining and pleading,
now servile, now plucking up courage to indulge in abuse, kept on
without even, it seemed, a pause for breath. And she could see the
Adventurer, quite unmoved, quite debonair, a curiously patient smile
on his face, standing there, much nearer to her, his right hand in
the side pocket of his coat, a somewhat significant habit of his,
his left hand holding a sheaf of folded, legal-looking documents.
And then she heard the Adventurer speak.
"What a flow of words!" said the Adventurer, in a bored voice.
"You will forgive me, my dear Mr. Viner, if I appear to be facetious,
which I am not - but money talks."
"You are a thief, a robber!" The old gray-bearded figure rocked on
its feet and kept wringing its hands. "Get out of here! Get out!
Do you hear? Get out! You come to steal from a poor old man, and -"
"Must we go all over that again?" interrupted the Adventurer wearily.
"I have not come to steal anything; I have simply come to sell you
these papers, which I am quite sure, once you control yourself and
give the matter a little calm consideration, you are really most
anxious to buy - at any price.
"It's a lie!" the other croaked hoarsely. "Those papers are a lie!
I am innocent. And I haven't got any money. None! I haven't any.
I am poor - an old man - and poor."
Rhoda Gray felt the blood flush hotly to her cheeks. Somehow she
could feel no sympathy for that cringing figure in there; but she
felt a hot resentment toward that dapper, immaculately dressed and
self-possessed young man, who stood there, silently now, tapping the
papers with provoking coolness against the edge of the plain deal
table in front of him. And somehow the resentment seemed to take a
most peculiar phase. She resented the fact that she should feel
resentment, no matter what the man did or said. It was as though,
instead of anger, impersonal anger, at this low, miserable act of
his, she felt ashamed of him. Her hand clenched fiercely as she
crouched there against the wall. It wasn't true! She felt nothing
of the sort! Why should she be ashamed of him? What was he to her?
He was frankly a thief, wasn't he? And he was at his pitiful
calling now - down to the lowest dregs of it. What else did she
expect? Because he had the appearance of a gentleman, was it that
her sense of gratitude for what she owed him had made her, deep
down in her soul, actually cherish the belief that he really was
one - made her hope it, and nourish that hope into belief? Tighter
her hand clenched. Her lips parted, and her breath came in short,
hard inhalations. Was it true? Was it all only an added misery,
where it had seemed there could be none to add to her life in these
last few days? Was it true that there was no price she would not
have paid to have found him in any role but this abased one that
he was playing now?
The Adventurer broke the silence.
"Quite so, my dear Mr. Viner!" he agreed smoothly. "It would appear,
then, from what you say that I have been mistaken - even stupidly so,
I am afraid. And in that case, I can only apologize for my intrusion,
and, as you so delicately put it, get out." He slipped the papers,
with a philosophic shrug of his shoulders, into his inside coat
pocket, and took a backward step toward the door. "I bid you
good-night, then, Mr. Viner. The papers, as you state, are doubtless
of no value to you, so you can, of course, have no objection to my
handing them over to the police, who -"
"No, no! Wait! Wait!" the other whispered wildly. "Wait!"
"Ah!" murmured the Adventurer.
"I - I'll" - the bent old figure was clawing at his beard - "I'll -"
"Buy them?" suggested the Adventurer pleasantly.
"Yes, I'll - I'll buy them. I - I've got a little money, only a
little, all I've been able to save in years, a - a hundred dollars.
"How much did you say?" inquired the Adventurer coldly.
"Two hundred." The voice was a maudlin whine.
The Adventurer took another backward step toward the door.
"Five - a thousand!"
The Adventurer laughed suddenly.
"That's better!" he said. "Where you keep a thousand, you keep the
rest. Where is the thousand, Mr. Viner?"
The bent figure hesitated a moment; and then, with what sounded like
a despairing cry, pointed to the table.
"It's there," he whimpered. "God's curses on you, for the thief
Rhoda Gray found her eyes fixed in sudden, strained fascination on
the table - as, she imagined, the Adventurer's were too. It was
bare of any covering, nor were there any articles on its surface,
nor, as far as she could see, was there any drawer. And now the
Adventurer, his right hand still in his coat pocket, and bulging
there where she knew quite well it grasped his revolver, stepped
abruptly to the table, facing the other with the table between them.
The bent old figure still hesitated, and then, with the despairing
cry again, grasped at the top of the table, and jerked it toward
him. The surface seemed to slide sideways a little way, a matter
of two or three inches, and then stick there; but the Adventurer,
in an instant, had thrust the fingers of his left hand into the
crevice. He drew out a number of loose banknotes, and thrust
his fingers in again for a further supply.
"Open it wider!" he commanded curtly.
"I - I'm trying to," the other mumbled, and bent down to peer under
the table. "It's stuck. The catch is underneath, and -"
It seemed to Rhoda Gray, gazing into that dimly lighted room, as
though she were suddenly held spellbound as in some horrible and
amazing trance. Like a hideous jack-in-the-box the gray head popped
above the level of the table again, and quick as a flash, a revolver
was thrust into the Adventurer's face; and the Adventurer, caught at
a disadvantage,, since his hand in his coat pocket was below the
intervening table top, stood there as though instantaneously
transformed into some motionless, inanimate thing, his fingers still
gripping at another sheaf of banknotes that he had been in the act
of scooping out from the narrow aperture.
And then again Rhoda Gray stared, and stared now as though bereft
of her senses; and upon her crept, cold and deadly, a fear and a
terror that seemed to engulf her very soul itself. That head that
looked like a jack-in-the-box was gone; the gray beard seemed
suddenly to be shorn away, and the gray hair too, and to fall and
flutter to the table, and the bent shoulders were not bent any more,
and it wasn't Nicky Viner at all - only a clever, a wonderfully
clever, impersonation that had been helped out by the poor and
meager light. And terror gripped at her again, for it wasn't Nicky
Viner. Those narrowed eyes, that leering, gloating face, those
working lips were Danglar's.
And, as from some far distance, dulled because her consciousness
was dulled, she heard Danglar speak.
"Perhaps you'll take your hand out of that right-hand coat pocket
of yours now!" sneered Danglar. "And take it out - empty!"
The Adventurer's face, as nearly as Rhoda Gray could see, had not
moved a muscle. He obeyed now, coolly, with a shrug of his
Danglar appeared to experience no further trouble with the surface
of the table now. He suddenly jerked it almost off, displaying
what Rhoda Gray now knew to be the remainder of the large package
of banknotes he had taken from the garret earlier in the evening.
"Help yourself to the rest!" he invited caustically. "There isn't
fifty thousand there, but you are quite welcome to all there is - in
return for those papers.
The Adventurer was apparently obsessed with an inspection of his
finger nails; he began to polish those of one hand with the palm
of the other.
"Quite so, Danglar!" he said coolly. "I admit it - I am ashamed
of myself. I hate to think that I could be caught by you; but I
suppose I can find some self-extenuating circumstances. You seem
o have risen to an amazingly higher order of intelligence. In fact,
for you, Danglar, it is not at all bad!" He went on polishing his
nails. "Would you mind taking that thing out of my face? Even you
ought to be able to handle it effectively a few inches farther away."
Under the studied insult Danglar's face had grown a mottled red.
"Damn you!" he snarled. "I'll take it away when I get good and
ready; and by that time I'll have you talking out of the other side
of your mouth! See? Do you know what you're up against, you slick
"I have a fairly good imagination," replied the Adventurer smoothly.
"You have, eh?" mimicked Danglar wickedly. "Well, you don't need
to imagine anything! I'll give you the straight goods so's there
won't be any chance of a mistake. And never mind about the higher
order of intelligence! It was high enough, and a little to spare,
to make you walk into the trap! I hoped I'd get you both, you and
your she-pal, the White Moll; that you'd come here together - but
I'm not kicking. It's a pretty good start to get you!"
"Is it necessary to make a speech?" complained the Adventurer
monotonously. "I can't help listening, of course."
"You can make up your mind for yourself when I'm through - whether
it's necessary or not!" retorted Danglar viciously. "I've got a
little proposition to put up to you, and maybe it'll help you to
add two and two together if I let you see all the cards. Understand?
You've had your run of luck lately, quite a bit of it, haven't you,
you and the White Moll? Well, it's my turn now! You've been
queering our game to the limit, curse you!" Danglar thrust his
working face a little farther over the table, and nearer to the
Adventurer. "Well, what was the answer? Where did you get the dope
you made your plays with? It was a cinch, wasn't it, that there was
a leak somewhere in our own crowd?" He laughed out suddenly. "You
poor fool! Did you think you could pull that sort of stuff forever?
Did you? Well, then, how do you like the 'leak' to-night? You get
the idea, don't you? Everybody, every last soul that is in with us,
got the details of what they thought was a straight play to-night
- and it leaked to you, as I knew it would; and you walked into the
trap, as I knew you would, because the bait was good and juicy, and
looked the easiest thing to annex that ever happened. Fifty thousand
dollars! Fifty thousand - nothing! All you had to do was to get a
few papers that it wouldn't bother any crook to get, even a near
- crook like you, and then come here and screw the money out of a
helpless old man, who was supposed to have been discovered to be a
miser. Easy, wasn't it? Only Nicky Viner wasn't a miser! We chose
Nicky because of what happened two years ago. It made things look
pretty near right, didn't it? Looked straight, that part about
Perlmer, too, didn't it? That was the come-on. Perlmer never saw
those papers you've got there in your pocket. I doped them out,
and we planted them nice and handy where you could get them without
much trouble in the drawer of Perlmer's desk, and -"
"It's a long story," interrupted the Adventurer, with quiet
"It's got a short ending," said Danglar, with an ugly leer. "We
could have bumped you off when you went for those papers, but if
you went that far you'd come farther, and that wasn't the place to
do it, and we couldn't cover ourselves there the way we could here.
This is the place. We brought that trick table here a while ago,
as soon as we had got rid of Nicky Viner. That was the only bit of
stage setting we had to do to make the story ring true right up to
the curtain, in case it was necessary. It wouldn't have been
necessary if you and the White Moll had both come together, for
then you would neither of you have got any further than that other
room. It would have ended there. But we weren't taking any chances.
I'll pay you the compliment of admitting that we weren't counting on
getting you off your guard any too easily if, as it happened, you
came alone, for, being alone, or if either of you were alone, there
was that little proposition that had to be settled, instead of just
knocking you on the head out there in the dark in that other room;
and so, as I say, we weren't overlooking any bets on account of the
little trouble it took to plant that table and the money. We tried
to think of everything!" Danglar paused for a moment to mock the
Adventurer with narrowed eyes. "That's the story; here's the end.
I hoped I'd get you both together, you and the White Moll. I didn't.
But I've got you. I didn't get you both - and that's what gives you
a chance for your life, because she's worth more to us than you are.
If you'd been together, you would have gone out-together. As it is,
I'll see that you don't do any more harm anyway, but you get one
chance. Where is she? If you answer that, you will, of course,
answer a minor question and locate that 'leak', for me, that I was
speaking about a moment ago. But we'll take the main thing first.
And you can take your choice between a bullet and a straight answer.
Where is the White Moll?"
Rhoda Gray's hand felt Out along the wall for support. Was this a
dream, some ghastly, soul-terrifying nightmare! Danglar! Those
working lips! That callous viciousness, that leer in the degenerate
face. It seemed to bring a weakness to her limbs, and seek to rob
her of the strength to stand. She could not even hope against hope;
she knew that Danglar was in deadly earnest. Danglar would not have
the slightest compunction, let alone hesitation, in carrying out his
threat. Terrified now, her eyes sought the Adventurer. Didn't the
Adventurer know Danglar as she knew him, didn't he realize that
there was deadly earnestness behind Danglar's words? Was the man
mad, that he stood there utterly unmoved, as though he had no
consideration on earth other than those carefully manicured finger
nails of his!
And then Danglar spoke again.
"Do you notice anything special about this gun I'm holding on you?"
he demanded, in low menace.
The Adventurer did not even look up.
"Oh, yes," he said indifferently. "I fancy you got it out of a dime
novel, didn't you? One of those silencer things."
"Yes," said Danglar grimly; "one of those silencer things. Where is
The Adventurer made no answer.
The color in Danglar's face deepened.
"I'll make things even a little plainer to you," he said with brutal
coolness. "There are two men in our organization from whom it is
absolutely impossible that that leak could have come. Those two
men followed you from Perlmer's office to this place. They are in
the next room now waiting for me to get through with you, and ready
for anything if they are needed. But they won't be needed. That's
not the way it works out. This gun won't make much noise, and it
isn't likely to arouse the inmates of this dive, but even if it
does, it doesn't matter very much - we aren't going out by the front
door. The two of them, the minute they hear the shot, slip in here,
and lock the door - you see it's got a good, husky bolt on it - and
then we beat it by the fire escape that runs past that window there.
Get the idea? And don't kid yourself into thinking that I am taking
any risk with the consequences on account of the coroner having got
busy because a man was found here dead on the floor. Nicky Viner
stands for that. It isn't the first time he's been suspected of
murder. See? Nicky was easy. He'd crawl on his hands and knees
from the Battery to Harlem any time if you held a little money in
front of his nose. He's been fooled up to the eyes with a faked-up
message that he's to deliver secretly to some faked-up crooks out
West. He's just about starting away on the train now. And that's
where the police nab him - running away from the murder he's pulled
in his room here to-night. Looks kind of bad for Nicky Viner - eh?
We should worry! It cost a hundred dollars and his ticket. Cheap,
wasn't it? I guess you're worth that much to us."
A dull horror seized upon Rhoda Gray. It seemed to clog and confuse
her mind. She fought it frantically, striving to think, and to
think clearly. Every detail seemed to have been planned with Satanic
foresight and ingenuity, and yet - and yet - Yes, in one little
thing, Danglar had made a mistake. That was why she was here now;
that was why those men in that next room had not been out in the hall
on guard, or even out in the street on watch for her. Danglar had
naturally gone upon the supposition that the Adventurer and herself
worked hand in glove; whereas they were as much in the dark
concerning each other's movements as Danglar himself was. Therefore
Danglar, and logically enough from his viewpoint, had jumped to the
conclusion that, since they had not come together, only one of them,
the Adventurer, was acting in the affair to-night, and - Danglar's
voice was rasping in her ears.
"I'm not going to stay here all night!" he snarled. "You've got
one chance. I've told you what it is. You're lucky to have it.
We'd sooner have you out of the way for keeps. I'd rather drop you
in your tracks than let you live. Where is the White Moll?"
The Adventurer was side face to the doorway again, and Rhoda Gray
saw him smile contemptuously at Danglar now.
"Really," he said blandly, "I haven't the slightest idea in the
Danglar laughed ironically.
"You lie!" he flung out hoarsely. "Do you think you can get away
with that? Well, think again! Sooner or later, it will be all the
same whether you talk or not. We caught you to-night in a trap;
we'll catch her in another. Our hand doesn't show here. She'll
think that Nicky Viner was a little too much for you, that's all.
Come on, now - quick! Are you fool enough to misunderstand? The
'don't know' stuff won't get you by!"
"The misunderstanding seems to be on your side." There was a cold,
irritating deliberation in the Adventurer's voice. "I repeat that
I do not know where the young lady you refer to could be found; but
I did not make that statement with any idea that you would believe
it. To a cur, I suppose it is necessary to add that, even if I did
know, I should take pleasure in seeing you damned before I told you."
Danglar's face was like a devil's. His revolver held a steady bead
on the Adventurer's head.
"I'll give you a last chance." He spoke through closed teeth.
"I'll fire when I count three. One!"
A horrible fascination held Rhoda Gray. If she cried out, it was
more likely than not to cause Danglar to fire on the instant. It
would not save the Adventurer in any case. It would be but the
signal, too, for those two men in the next room to rush in here.
It seemed as though, not in the hope that it would do any good, but
because she was going mad with horror, that she would scream out
until the place rang and rang again with her outcries. Even her
soul was in frantic panic. Quick! Quick! She must act! She
must! But how? Was there only one way? She was conscious that she
had drawn her revolver as though by instinct. Danglar's life, or
the Adventurer's! But she shrank from taking life. Her lips were
breathing a prayer. They had called her a crack shot back there
in South America, when she had hunted and ridden with her father.
It was easy enough to hit Danglar, but that might mean Danglar's
life; it was not so easy to hit Danglar's arm, or Danglar's hand,
or the revolver Danglar held, and if she risked that and missed,
There was the roar of a report that went racketing through the
silence like a cannon shot, and the short, vicious tongue-flame
from Rhoda Gray's revolver muzzle stabbed through the black. There
was a scream of mingled surprise and fury, and the revolver in
Danglar's hand clattered to the floor. She saw the Adventurer
spring, quick as a panther, at the other, and saw him whip blow
after blow with terrific force full into Danglar's face; she heard
a rush of feet coming from the corridor behind her; and she flung
herself forward into the inner room, and, panting, snatched at the
door and slammed it shut, and groping for the bolt, found it, and
shot it home in its grooves.
And she stood there, weak for the moment, and drew her hand across
her eyes - and behind her they pounded on the door, and there came
a burst of oaths; and in front of her the Adventurer was smiling
gravely as he covered Danglar with Danglar's own revolver; and
Danglar, as though dazed and half stunned from the blows he had
received, rocked unsteadily upon his feet. And then her eyes
widened a little. The pounding on the door, the shouts, the noise,
was beginning to arouse what inmates there were in the tenement, and
there wasn't an instant to lose - but the Adventurer now was calmly
gathering up, to the last one, and pocketing them, the banknotes
with which Danglar had baited his trap. And as he crammed the money
into his pockets, he spoke to her, with a curious softness, a great,
strange gentleness in his voice:
"I owe you my life, Miss Gray. That was a wonderful shot. You
knocked the revolver from his hand without even grazing his fingers.
A very wonderful shot, and - will you let me say it? - you are a
very wonderful woman."
"Oh, quick!" she whispered wildly. "I am afraid this door will not
"There is the window, and the fire escape, so our friend here was
good enough to inform me," said the Adventurer, as he composedly
pocketed the last dollar. "Will you open the window, Miss Gray, if
you please? I am afraid I hit Mr. Danglar a little ungently, and
as he is still somewhat groggy, I fancy he will need a little
assistance. I imagine" - he caught Danglar suddenly by the collar
of his coat as Rhoda Gray ran to the window and flung it up, and
rushed the man unceremoniously across the room -" I imagine it would
be a mistake to leave him behind. He might open the door, or even
be unpleasant enough to throw something down on us from above; also
he should serve us very well as a hostage. Will you go first,
please, Miss Gray?"
She climbed quickly over the sill to the iron platform. Danglar
was dragged through by the Adventurer, mumbling, and evidently still
in a half-dazed condition. Windows were opening here and there.
>From back inside the room, the blows rained more heavily upon the
door - and now there came the rip and rend of wood, as though a
panel had crashed in.
"Hurry, please, Miss Gray!" prompted the Adventurer.
It was dark, almost too dark to see her footing. She felt her way
down. It was only one story above the ground, and it did not take
long; but it seemed hours since she had fired that shot, though she
knew the time had been measured by scarcely more than a minute. And
now, on the lower platform, waiting for that queer, double, twisting
shadow of the two men to join her, she heard the Adventurers s voice
ring out sharply:
"This is your chance, Danglar! I didn't waste the time to bring
you along because it afforded me any amusement. They've found their
heads at last, and gone to the next window, instead of wasting time
on that door. They can't reach the fire escape there, but if they
fire a single shot - you go out! You'd better tell them so - and
tell them quick!"
And then Danglar's voice shrieked out in sudden, for God's sake,
They were all on the lower platform together now. The Adventurer
was pressing the muzzle of his revolver into the small of Danglar's
back, and was still supporting the man by the collar of his coat.
"I think," said the Adventurer abruptly, "that we can now dispense
with Mr. Danglar's services, and I am sure a little cool night air
out here on the fire escape will do him good. Miss Gray - would you
mind? - there's a pair of handcuffs in my left-hand coat pocket."
Handcuffs! She could have laughed out idiotically. Handcuffs!
They seemed the most incongruous things in the world for the
Adventurer to have, and - She felt mechanically in his pocket, and
handed them to him.
There was a click as a cuff was snapped over Danglar's wrist,
another as the other cuff was snapped shut around the iron
hand-railing of the fire escape. The act seemed to arouse Danglar,
both mentally and physically. He tore and wrenched at the steel
links now, and burst suddenly, raving, into oaths.
"Hold your tongue, Danglar!" ordered the Adventurer in cold menace;
and as the other, cowed, obeyed, the Adventurer swung himself over
the platform and dropped to the ground. "Come, Miss Gray. Drop!
I'll catch you!" he called in a low voice. "One step takes us
around the corner of the tenement into the lane, and Mr. Danglar
won't let them fire at us before we can make that - when we could
still fire at him!"
She obeyed him, swinging at arm's-length. She felt his hands fold
about her in a firm grasp as she let go her hold, and she caught her
breath suddenly, she did not know why, and felt the hot blood sweep
her face - and then she was standing on the ground.
"Now!" he whispered. "Together!"
They sped around the corner of the tenement. A yell from Danglar
followed them. An echoing yell from above answered - and then a
fusillade of abortive shots, and the sound as of boot heels
clattering on the iron rungs of the fire escape; and then, more
faintly, for they were putting distance behind them as fast as they
could run, an excited outburst of profanity and exclamations.
"They won't follow!" panted the Adventurer. "Those shots of theirs
outdoors will have alarmed the police, and they'll try and get
Danglar free first. It's lucky your shot inside wasn't heard by
the patrolman on the beat. I was afraid of that. But we're safe
now - from Danglar's crowd, at least."
But still they ran. They crossed an intersecting street, and
continued on along the lane; then swerving into the next intersecting
street, moderated their pace to a rapid walk - and stopped finally
only as Rhoda Gray drew suddenly into the shadows of another
alley-way, and held out her hand. They were both safe now, as he
had said. And there were so many reasons why, though her resolution
faltered a little, she should go the rest of the way alone. She
was not sure that she trusted this strange "gentleman," who was a
thief with his pockets crammed even now with the money that had
lured him almost to his death; but, too, she was not altogether sure
that she distrusted him. But all that was secondary. She must, as
soon as she could, get back to Gypsy Nan's garret. Like that other
night, she dared not take the risk that Danglar, by any chance, might
return there - and find her gone after what had just happened. The
man would be beside himself with fury, suspicious of everything
-and suspicion would be fatal in its consequences for her. And so
she must go. And she could not become Gypsy Nan again with the
Adventurer looking on!
"We part here," she said a little unsteadily. "Good-night!"
"Oh, I say, Miss Gray!" he protested quickly. "You don't mean that!
Why, look here, I haven't had a chance to tell you what I think, or
what I feel, about what you've done to-night - for me."
She shook her head.
"There is nothing you need say," she answered quietly. "We are only
quits. You have done quite as much for me."
"But, see here, Miss Gray!" he pleaded. "Can't we come to some
understanding? We seem to have a jolly lot in common. Is it quite
necessary, really necessary, that you should keep me off at
arm's-length? Couldn't you let down the bars just a little?
Couldn't you tell me, for instance, where I could find you in case
of - real necessity?"
She shook her head again.
"No," she said. "It is impossible."
He drew a little closer. A sudden earnestness deepened his voice,
made it rasp a little, as though it were not wholly within control.
"And suppose, Miss Gray, that I refuse to leave you, or to let you
go, now that I have you here, unless you give me more of your
confidence? What then?"
"The other night," she said slowly, "you informed me, among other
things, that you were a gentleman. I believed the other things."
He did not answer for a moment - and then he smiled whimsically.
"You score, Miss Gray," he murmured.
"Good night, then!" she said again. "I will go by the alley here;
you by the street."
"No! Wait!" he said gravely. "If nothing will change your mind
- and I shall not be importunate, for, as we have met three times
now through the same peculiar chain of circumstances, I know we
shall meet again - I have something to tell you, before you go.
As you already know, I went to Gypsy Nan's the night after I first
saw you, because I felt you needed help. I went there in the hope
that she would know where to find you, and, failing in that, I left
a message for you in the hope that, since she had tricked Rorke in
your behalf, you would find means of communicating with her again.
But all that is entirely changed now. Your participation in that
Hayden-Bond affair the other night makes Gypsy Nan's place the last
in all New York to which you should go."
Rhoda Gray stared through the semi-darkness, suddenly startled,
searching the Adventurer's face.
"What do you mean?" she demanded quickly.
"Just this," he answered. "That where before I hoped you would go
there, I have spent nearly all the time since then in haunting the
vicinity of Gypsy Nan's house to warn you away in case you should
try to reach her."
"I - I don't understand," she said a little uncertainly.
"It is simple enough," he said. "Gypsy Nan is now one of those you
have most to fear. Gypsy Nan is merely a disguise. She is no more
Gypsy Nan than you are."
Rhoda Gray caught her breath.
"Not Gypsy Nan!" she repeated - and fought to keep her voice in
control. "Who is she, then?"
The Adventurer laughed shortly.
"She is quite closely connected with that gentleman we left airing
himself on the fire escape," he said grimly. "Gypsy Nan is Danglar's
It was very strange, very curious - the alleyway seemed suddenly to
be revolving around and around, and it seemed to bring her a
giddiness and a faintness. The Adventurer was standing there before
her, but she did not see him any more; she could only see, as from
a brink upon which she tottered, a gulf, abysmal in its horror, that
yawned before her.
"Thank you - thank you for the warning." Was that her voice
speaking so calmly and dispassionately? "I will remember it. But
I must go now. Good-night again!"
He said something. She did not know what. She only knew that she
was hurrying along the alleyway now, and that he had made no effort
to stop her, and that she was grateful to him for that, and that her
composure, strained to the breaking point, would have given away if
she had remained with him another instant. Danglar's wife! It was
dark here in the alley-way, and she did not know where it led to.
But did it matter? And she stumbled as she went along. But it was
not the physical inability to see that made her stumble - it was a
brain-blindness that fogged her soul itself. His wife! Gypsy Nan
was Danglar's wife.
XI. SOME OF THE LESSER BREED
Danglar's wife! It had been a night of horror; a night without
sleep; a night, after the guttering candle had gone out, when the
blackness of the garret possessed added terrors created by an
imagination which ran riot, and which she could not control. She
could have fled from it, screaming in panic-stricken hysteria - but
there had been no other place as safe as that was. Safe! The
word seemed to reach the uttermost depths of irony. Safe! Well,
it was true, wasn't it?
She had not wanted to return there; her soul itself had revolted
against it; but she had dared to do nothing else. And all through
that night, huddled on the edge of the cot bed, her fingers clinging
tenaciously to her revolver as though afraid for even an instant
to relinquish it from her grasp, listening, listening, always
listening for a footstep that might come up from that dark hall
below, the footstep that would climax all the terrors that had
surged upon her, her mind had kept on reiterating, always reiterating
those words of the Adventurer - "Gypsy Nan is Danglar's wife."
And they were still with her, those words. Daylight had come again,
and passed again, and it was evening once more; but those words
remained, insensible to change, immutable in their foreboding. And
Rhoda Gray, as Gypsy Nan, shuddered now as she scuffled along a
shabby street deep in the heart of the East Side. She was Danglar's
wife - by proxy. At dawn that morning when the gray had come
creeping into the miserable attic through the small and dirty window
panes, she had fallen on her knees and thanked God she had been
spared that footstep. It was strange! She had poured out her soul
in passionate thankfulness then that Danglar had not come - and now
she was deliberately on her way to seek Danglar himself! But the
daylight had done more than disperse the actual, physical darkness
of the past night; it had brought, if not a measure of relief, at
least a sense of guidance, and the final decision, perilous though
it was, which she meant now to put into execution.
There was no other way - unless she were willing to admit defeat,
to give up everything, her own good name, her father's name, to run
from it all and live henceforth in hiding in some obscure place far
away, branded in the life she would have left behind her as a
despicable criminal and thief. And she could not, would not, do
this while her intuition, at least, inspired her with the faith to
believe that there was still a chance of clearing herself. It was
the throw of the dice, perhaps - but there was no other way.
Danglar, and those with him, were at the bottom of the crime of
which she was held guilty. She could not go on as she had been
doing, merely in the hope of stumbling upon some clew that would
serve to exonerate her. There was not time enough for that.
Danglar's trap set for herself and the Adventurer last night in old
Nicky Viner's room proved that. And the fact that the woman who
had originally masqueraded as Gypsy Nan - as she, Rhoda Gray, was
masquerading now - was Danglar's wife, proved it a thousandfold
more. She could no longer remain passive, arguing with herself
that it took all her wits and all her efforts to maintain herself
in the role of Gypsy Nan, which temporarily was all that stood
between her and prison bars. To do so meant the certainty of
disaster sooner or later, and if it meant that, the need for
immediate action of an offensive sort was imperative.
And so her mind was made up. Her only chance was to find her way
into the full intimacy of the criminal band of which Danglar was
apparently the head; to search out its lair and its personnel; to
reach to the heart of it; to know Danglar's private movements, and
to discover where he lived so that she might watch him. It surely
was not such a hopeless task! True, she knew by name and sight
scarcely more than three of this crime clique, but at least she had
a starting point from which to work. There was Shluker's junk shop
where she had turned the tables on Danglar and Skeeny on the night
they had planned to make the Sparrow their pawn. It was obvious,
therefore, that Shluker himself, the proprietor of the junk shop,
was one of the organization. She was going to Shluker's now.
Rhoda Gray halted suddenly, and stared wonderingly a little way up
the block ahead of her. As though by magic a crowd was collecting
around the doorway of a poverty-stricken, tumble-down frame house
that made the corner of an alleyway. And where but an instant
before the street's jostling humanity had been immersed in its
wrangling with the push-cart men who lined the curb, the carts were
now deserted by every one save their owners, whose caution exceeded
their curiosity - and the crowd grew momentarily larger in front of
She drew Gypsy Nan's black, greasy shawl a little more closely
around her shoulders, and moved forward again. And now, on the
outskirts of the crowd, she could see quite plainly. There were
two or three low steps that led up to the doorway, and a man and
woman were standing there. The woman was wretchedly dressed, but
with most strange incongruity she held in her hand, obviously
subconsciously, obviously quite oblivious of it, a huge basket full
to overflowing with, as nearly as Rhoda Gray could judge, all sorts
of purchases, as though out of the midst of abject poverty a golden
shower had suddenly descended upon her. And she was gray, and well
beyond middle age, and crying bitterly; and her free hand, whether
to support herself or with the instinctive idea of supporting her
companion, was clutched tightly around the man's shoulders. And
the man rocked unsteadily upon his feet. He was tall and angular,
and older than the woman, and cadaverous of feature, and miserably
thin of shoulder, and blood trickled over his forehead and down one
ashen, hollow cheek - and above the excited exclamations of the
crowd Rhoda Gray heard him cough.
Rhoda Gray glanced around her. Where scarcely a second before she
had been on the outer fringe of the crowd, she now appeared to be
in the very center of it. Women were pushing up behind her, women
who wore shawls as she did, only the shawls were mostly of gaudy
colors; and men pushed up behind her, mostly men of swarthy
countenance, who wore circlets of gold in their ears; and, brushing
her skirts, seeking vantage points, ragged, ill-clad children
wriggled and wormed their way deeper into the press. It was a crowd
composed almost entirely of the foreign element which inhabited that
quarter - and the crowd chattered and gesticulated with
ever-increasing violence. She did not understand. And she could not
see so well now. That pitiful tableau in the doorway was being shut
out from her by a man, directly in front of her, who had hoisted a
half-naked tot of three or four to a reserved seat upon his head.
And then a young man, one whom, from her years in the Bad Lands as
the White Moll, she recognized as a hanger-on at a gambling hell in
the Chatham Square district, came toward her, plowing his way,
contemptuous of obstructions, out of the crowd.
Rhoda Gray, as Gypsy Nan, hailed him out of the corner of her mouth.
"Say, wot's de row?" she demanded.
The young man grinned.
"Somebody pinched a million from de old guy!" He shifted his
cigarette with a deft movement of his tongue from one side of his
mouth to the other, and grinned again. "Can youse beat it!
Accordin' to him, he had enough coin to annex de whole of Noo Yoik!
De moll's his wife. He went out to hell-an'-gone somewhere for a
few years huntin' gold while de old girl starved. Den back he comes
an' blows in to-day wid his pockets full, an' de old girl grabs a
handful, an' goes out to buy up all de grub in sight 'cause she
ain't had none for so long. An' w'en she comes back she finds de
old geezer gagged an' tied in a chair, an' some guy's hit him a
crack on de bean an' flown de coop wid de mazuma. But youse had
better get out of here before youse gets run over! Dis ain't no
place for an old skirt like youse. De bulls'11 be down here on de
hop in a minute, an' w'en dis mob starts sprinklin' de street wid
deir fleetin' footsteps, youse are likely to get hurt. See?" The
young man started to force his way through the crowd again. "Youse
had better cut loose, mother!" he warned over his shoulder.
It was good advice. Rhoda Gray took it. She had scarcely reached
the next block when the crowd behind her was being scattered
pell-mell and without ceremony in all directions by the police, as
the young man had predicted. She went on. There was nothing that
she could do. The man's face and the woman's face haunted her.
They had seemed stamped with such abject misery and despair. But
there was nothing that she could do. It was one of those sore and
grievous cross-sections out of the lives of the swarming thousands
down here in this quarter which she knew so intimately and so well.
And there were so many, many of those cross-sections! Once, in a
small, pitifully meager and restricted way, she had been able to
help some of these hurt lives, but now - Her lips tightened a
little. She was going to Shluker's junk shop.
Her forehead gathered in little furrows as she walked along. She
had weighed the pros and cons of this visit a hundred times already
during the day; but even so, instinctively to reassure herself lest
some apparently minor, but nevertheless fatally vital, point might
have been overlooked, her mind reverted to it again. From Shluker's
viewpoint, whether Gypsy Nan was in the habit of mingling with or
visiting the other members of the gang or not - a matter upon which
she could not even hazard a guess - her visit to-night must appear
entirely logical. There was last night - and, a natural corollary,
her equally natural anxiety on her supposed husband's account,
providing, of course, that Shluker was aware that Gypsy Nan was
Danglar's wife. But even if Shluker did not know that, he knew
at least that Gypsy Nan was one of the gang, and, as such, he must
equally accept it as natural that she should be anxious and disturbed
over what had happened. She would be on safe ground either way.
She would pretend to know only what had appeared in the papers; in
other words, that the police, attracted to the spot by the sound of
revolver shots, had found Danglar handcuffed to the fire escape of
a well-known thieves' resort in an all too well-known and
A smile came spontaneously. It was quite true. That was where the
Adventurer had left Danglar - handcuffed to the fire escape! The
smile vanished. The humor of the situation was not long-lived; it
ended there. Danglar was as cunning as the proverbial fox; and
Danglar, at that moment, in desperate need of explaining his
predicament in some plausible way to the police, had, as the
expression went, run true to form. Danglar's story, as reported by
the papers, even rose above his own high-water mark of vicious
cunning, because it played upon a chord that appealed instantly to
the police; and it rang true, not only because what the police
could find out about him made it likely, but also because it
contained a modicum of truth in itself; and, furthermore, Danglar
had scored on still another count in that his story must stimulate
the police into renewed activities as his unsuspecting allies in
the one thing, the one aim and object that, at that moment, must
obsess him above all others - the discovery of herself, the White
It was ingeniously simple, Danglar's smooth and oily lie! He had
been walking along the street, he had stated, when he saw a woman,
as she passed under a street lamp, who he thought resembled the
White Moll. To make sure, he followed her - at a safe distance,
as he believed. She entered the tenement. He hesitated. He knew
the reputation of the place, which bore out his first impression
that the woman was the one he thought she was; but he did not want
to make a fool of himself by calling in the police until he was
positive of her identity, so he finally followed her inside, and
heard her go upstairs, and crept up after her in the dark. And
then, suddenly, he was set upon and hustled into a room. It was
the White Moll, all right; and the shots came from her companion,
a man whom he described minutely - the description being that of
the Adventurer, of course. They seemed to think that he, Danglar,
was a plain-clothes man, and tried to sicken him of his job by
frightening him. And then they forced him through the window and
down the fire escape, and fastened him there with handcuffs to
mock the police, and the White Moll's companion had deliberately
fired some more shots to make sure of bringing the police to the
scene, and then the two of them had run for it.
Rhoda Gray's eyes darkened angrily. The newspapers said that
Danglar had been temporarily held by the police, though his story
was believed to be true, for certainly the man would make no mistake
as to the identity of the White Moll, since his life, what the
police could find out about it, coincided with his own statements,
and he would naturally therefore have seen her many times in the
Bad Lands when she was working there under cover of her despicable
role of sweet and innocent charity. Danglar had made no pretensions
to self-righteousness - he was too cute for that. He admitted that
he had no "specific occupation," that he hung around the gambling
hells a good deal, that he followed the horses - that, frankly, he
lived by his wits. He had probably given some framed-up address to
the police, but, if so, the papers had not stated where it was.
Rhoda Gray's face, under the grime of Gypsy Nan's disguise, grew
troubled and perplexed. Neither had the papers, even the evening
papers, stated whether Danglar had as yet been released - they had
devoted the rest of their space to the vilification of the White
Moll. They had demanded in no uncertain tones a more conclusive
effort on the part of the authorities to bring her, and with her
now the man in the case, as they called the Adventurer, to
The thought of the Adventurer caused her mind to swerve sharply off
at a tangent. Where he had piqued and aroused her curiosity before,
he now, since last night, seemed more complex a character than ever.
It was strange, most strange, the way their lives, his and hers, had
become interwoven! She had owed him much; but last night she had
repaid him and squared accounts. She had told him so. She owed him
nothing more. If a sense of gratitude had once caused her to look
upon him with - with - She bit her lips. What was the use of that?
Had it become so much a part of her life, so much a habit, this
throwing of dust in the eyes of others, this constant passing of
herself off for some one else, this constant deception, warranted
though it might be, that she must now seek to deceive herself! Why
not frankly admit to her own soul, already in the secret, that she
cared in spite of herself - for a thief? Why not admit that a great
hurt had come, one that no one but herself would ever know, a hurt
that would last for always because it was a wound that could never
A thief! She loved a thief. She had fought a bitter, stubborn
battle with her common sense to convince herself that he was not
a thief. She had snatched hungrily at the incident that centered
around those handcuffs, so opportunely produced from the Adventurer's
pocket. She had tried to argue that those handcuffs not only
suggested, but proved, he was a police officer in disguise, working
on some case in which Danglar and the gang had been mixed up; and,
as she tried to argue in this wise, she tried to shut her eyes to
the fact that the same pocket out of which the handcuffs came was
at exactly the same moment the repository of as many stolen
banknotes as it would hold. She had tried to argue that the fact
that he was so insistently at work to defeat Danglar's plans was in
his favor; but that argument, like all others, came quickly and
miserably to grief. Where the "leak" was, as Danglar called it,
that supplied the Adventurer with foreknowledge of the gang's
movements, she had no idea, save that perhaps the Adventurer and
some traitor in the gang were in collusion for their own ends - and
that certainly did not lift the Adventurer to any higher plane, or
wash from him the stigma of thief.
She clenched her hands. It was all an attempt at argument without
the basis of a single logical premise. It was silly and childish!
Why hadn't the man been an ordinary, plain, common thief and
criminal - and looked like one? She would never have been attracted
to him then even through gratitude! Why should he have all the
graces and ear-marks of breeding? Why should he have all the
appearances of gentleman? It seemed a needlessly cruel and
additional blow that fate had dealt her, when already she was living
through days and nights of fear, of horror, of trepidation, so great
that at times it seemed she would literally lose her reason. If
he had not looked, yes, and at times, acted, so much like a
thorough-bred gentleman, there would never have come to her this
hurt, this gulf between them that could not now be spanned, and in
a personal way she would never have cared because he was - a thief.
Her mental soliloquy ended abruptly. She had reached the narrow
driveway that led in, between the two blocks of down-at-the-heels
tenements, to the courtyard at the rear that harbored Shluker's junk
shop. And now, unlike that other night when she had first paid a
visit to the place, she made no effort at concealment as she entered
the driveway. She walked quickly, and as she emerged into the
courtyard itself she saw a light in the window of the junk shop.
Rhoda Gray nodded her head. It was still quite early, still almost
twilight - not more than eight o'clock. Back there, on that squalid
doorstep where the old woman and the old man had stood, it had still
been quite light. The long summer evening had served at least to
sear, somehow, those two faces upon her mind. It was singular that
they should intrude themselves at this moment! She had been thinking,
hadn't she, that at this hour she might naturally expect to find
Shluker still in his shop? That was why she had come so early - since
she had not cared to come in full daylight. Well, if that light meant
anything, he was there.
She felt her pulse quicken perceptibly as she crossed the courtyard,
and reached the shop. The door was open, and she stepped inside.
It was a dingy place, filthy, and littered, without the slightest
attempt at order, with a heterogeneous collection of, it seemed,
every article one could think of, from scraps of old iron and bundles
of rags to cast-off furniture that was in an appalling state of
dissolution. The light, that of a single and dim incandescent, came
from the interior of what was apparently the "office" of the
establishment, a small, glassed-in partition affair, at the far end
of the shop.
Her first impression had been that there was no one in the shop, but
now, from the other side of the glass partition, she caught sight of
a bald head, and became aware that a pair of black eyes were fixed
steadily upon her, and that the occupant was beckoning to her with
his hand to come forward.
She scuffled slowly, but without hesitation, up the shop. She
intended to employ the vernacular that was part of the disguise of
Gypsy Nan. If Shluker, for that was certainly Shluker there, gave
the slightest indication that he took it amiss, her explanation would
come glibly and logically enough - she had to be careful; how was she
supposed to know whether there was any one else about, or not!
"'Ello!" she said curtly, as she reached the doorway of the little
office, and paused on the threshold. Shifty little black eyes met
hers, as the bald head fringed with untrimmed gray hair, was lifted
from a battered desk, and the wizened face of an old man was
disclosed under the rays of the tin-shaded lamp. He grinned suddenly,
showing discolored teeth - and instinctively she drew back a little.
He was an uninviting and exceedingly disreputable old creature.
"You, eh, Nan!" he grunted. "So you've come to see old Jake Shluker,
have you? 'Tain't often you come! And what's brought you, eh?"
"I can read, can't I?" Rhoda Gray glanced furtively around her,
then leaned toward the other. "Say, wot's de lay? I been scared
stiff all day. Is dat straight wot de papers said about
youse-know-who gettin' pinched?"
A scowl settled over Shluker's features as he nodded.
"Yes; it's straight enough," he answered. "Damn 'em, one and all!
But they let him out again."
"Dat's de stuff!" applauded Rhoda Gray earnestly. "Where is he, den?"
Shluker shook his head.
"He didn't say," said Shluker.
"He didn't say?" echoed Rhoda Gray, a little tartly. "Wot d'youse
mean, he didn't say? Have youse seen him?"
Shluker jerked his hand toward the telephone instrument on the desk.
"He was talkin' to me a little while ago."
"Well, den" - Rhoda Gray risked a more peremptory tone - "where is he?"
Shluker shook his head again.
"I dunno," he said. "I'm tellin' you, he didn't say."
Rhoda Gray studied the wizened and repulsive old creature, that,
huddled in his chair in the dirty, boxed-in little office, made her
think of some crafty old spider lurking in its web for unwary prey.
Was the man lying to her? Was he in any degree suspicious? Why
should he be? He had given not the slightest sign that her uncouth
language was either unexpected or unnecessary. Perhaps to Shluker,
and perhaps to all the rest of the gang - except Danglar! - Gypsy
Nan was accepted at face value as just Gypsy Nan; and, if that were
so, the idea of playing up a natural wifely anxiety on Danglar's
behalf could not be used unless Shluker gave her a lead in that
direction. But, all that apart, she was getting nowhere. She bit
her lips in disappointment. She had counted a great deal on this
Shluker here, and Shluker was not proving the fount of information,
far from it, that she had hoped he would.
She tried again-even more peremptorily than before.
"Aw, open up!" she snapped. "Wot's de use bein' a clam! Youse
heard me, didn't youse? Where is he?"
Shluker leaned abruptly forward, and looked at her in a suddenly
"is there anything wrong?" he asked in a tense, lowered voice.
"What makes you so anxious to know?"
Rhoda Gray laughed shortly.
"Nothin'!" she answered coolly. "I told youse once, didn't I? I
got a scare readin' dem papers - an' I ain't over it yet. Dat's
wot I want to know for, an' youse seem afraid to open up!"
Shluker sank back again in his chair with an air of relief.
"Oh!" he ejaculated. "Well, that's all right, then. You were
beginning to give me a scare, too. I ain't playin' the clam, and
I dunno where he is; but I can tell you there's nothing to worry
you any more about the rest of it. He was after the White Moll last
night, and it didn't come off. They pulled one on him instead, and
fastened him to the fire escape the way the papers said. Skeeny
and the Cricket, who were in on the play with him, didn't have time
to get him loose before the bulls got there. So Danglar told them
to beat it, and he handed the cops the story that was in the papers.
He got away with it, all right, and they let go him to-day; but he
phoned a little while ago that they were still stickin' around kind
of close to him, and that I was to pass the word that the lid was to
go down tight for the next few days, and -"
Shluker stopped abruptly as the telephone rang, and reached for the
Rhoda Gray fumbled unnecessarily with her shawl, as the other
answered the call. Failure! A curious bitterness came to her. Her
plan then, for to-night it least, was a failure. Shluker did not
know where Danglar was. She was quite convinced of that. Shluker
was - She glanced suddenly at the wizened little old man. From an
ordinary tone, Shluker' s voice had risen sharply in protest about
something. She listened now:
No, no; it does not matter what it is!
What?...No! I tell you, no! Nothing! Not to-night! Those are
the orders....No, I don't know! Nan is here now....Eh?....You'll
pay for it if you do!" Shluker was snarling threateningly now.
"What?....Well, then, wait! I'll come over....No, you can bet I
won't be long! You wait! Understand?"
He banged the receiver on the hook, and got up from his chair
"Fools!" he muttered savagely. "No, I won't be long gettin' there!"
He grabbed Rhoda Gray's arm. "Yes, and you come, too! You will
help me put a little sense into their heads, if it is possible - eh?
The man was violently excited. He half pulled Rhoda Gray down the
length of the shop to the front door. Puzzled, bewildered, a little
uneasy, she watched him lock the door, and then followed him across
the courtyard, while he continued to mutter constantly to himself.
"Wot's de matter?" she asked him twice.
But it was not until they had reached the street, and Shluker was
hurrying along as fast as he could walk, that he answered her.
"It's the Pug and Pinkie Bonn!" he jerked out angrily. "They're
in the Pug's room. Pinkie went back there after telephonin'.
They've nosed out something they want to put through. The fools!
And after last night nearly havin' finished everything! I told 'em
- you heard me - that everybody's to keep under cover now. But
they think they've got a soft thing, and they say they're goin' to
it. I've got to put a crimp in it, and you've got to help me.
"Yes," she said mechanically.
Her mind was working swiftly. The night, after all, perhaps, was
not to be so much of a failure! To get into intimate touch with
all the members of the clique was equally one of her objects, and,
failing Danglar himself to-night, here was an "open sesame" to the
re-treat of two of the others. She would never have a better chance,
or one in which risk and danger, under the chaperonage, as it were,
of Shluker here, were, if not entirely eliminated, at least reduced
to an apparently negligible minimum. Yes; she would go. To refuse
was to turn her back on her own proposed line of action, and on the
decision which she had made herself.
XII. CROOKS Vs. CROOKS
It was not far. Shluker, hastening along, still muttering to
himself, turned into a cross street some two blocks away, and from
there again into a lane; and, a moment later, led the way through
a small door in the fence that hung, battered and half open, on
sagging and broken hinges. Rhoda Gray's eyes traveled sharply
around her in all directions. It was still light enough to see
fairly well, and she might at some future time find the bearings
she took now to be of inestimable worth. Not that there was much
to remark! They crossed a diminutive and disgustingly dirty
backyard, whose sole reason for existence seemed to be that of a
receptacle for old tin cans, and were confronted by the rear of
what appeared to be a four-story tenement. There was a back door
here, and, on the right of the door, fronting the yard, a single
window that was some four or five feet from the level of the ground.
Shluker, without hesitation, opened the back door, shut it behind
them, led the way along a black, unlighted hall, and halting before
a door well toward the front of the building, knocked softly upon
it - giving two raps, a single rap, and then two more in quick
succession. There was no answer. He knocked again in precisely
the same manner, and then a footstep sounded from within, and the
door was flung open. "Fools!" growled Shluker in greeting, as they
stepped inside and the door was closed again. "A pair of brainless
There were two men there. They paid Shluker scant attention. They
both grinned at Rhoda Gray through the murky light supplied by a
wheezy and wholly inadequate gas-jet.
"Hello, Nan!" gibed the smaller of the two. "Who let you out?"
"Aw, forget it!" croaked Rhoda Gray.
Shluker took up the cudgels.
"You close your face, Pinkie!" he snapped. "Get down to cases! Do
you think I got nothing else to do but chase you two around like a
couple of puppy dogs that haven't got sense enough to take care of
themselves? Wasn't what I told you over the phone enough without
me havin' to come here?"
"Nix on that stuff!" returned the one designated as Pinkie
imperturbably. "Say, you'll be glad you come when we lets you in
on a little piece of easy money. We ain't askin' your advice; all
we're askin' you to do is frame up the alibi, same as usual, for me
an' the Pug here in case we wants it."
Shluker shook his fist.
"Frame nothing!" he spluttered angrily. "Ain't I tellin' you that
the orders are not to make a move, that everything is off for a few
days? That's the word I got a little while ago, and the
Seven-Three-Nine is goin' out now. Nan'll tell you the same thing."
"Sure!" corroborated Rhoda Gray, picking up the obvious cue. "Dat's
de straight goods."
The two men were lounging beside a table that stood at the extreme
end of the room, and now for a moment they whispered together. And,
as they whispered, Rhoda Gray found her first opportunity to take
critical stock both of her surroundings and of the two men
themselves. Pinkie, a short, slight little man, she dismissed with
hardly a glance; he was the common type, with low, vicious cunning
stamped all over his face - an ordinary rat of the underworld. But
her glance rested longer on his companion. The Pug was indeed
entitled to his moniker! His face made her think of one. It seemed
to be all screwed up out of shape. Perhaps the eye-patch over the
right eye helped a little to put the finishing touch of repulsiveness
upon a countenance already most unpleasant. The celluloid eye-patch,
once flesh-colored, was now so dirty and smeared that its original
color was discernible only in spots, and the once white elastic cord
that circled his head and kept the patch in place was in equal
disrepute. A battered slouch hat came to the level of the eye-patch
in a forbidding sort of tilt. His left eyelid drooped until it was
scarcely open at all, and fluttered continually. One nostril of
his nose was entirely closed; and his mouth seemed to be twisted
out of shape, so that, even when in repose, the lips never entirely
met at one corner. And his ears, what she could see of them in the
poor light, and on account of the slouch hat, seemed to bear out the
low-type criminal impression the man gave her, in that they lay flat
back against his head.
She turned her eyes away with a little shudder of repulsion, and
gave her attention to an inspection of the room. There was no
window, except a small one high up in the right-hand partition wall.
She quite understood what that meant. It was common enough, and all
too unsanitary enough, in these old and cheap tenements; the window
gave, not on the out-of-doors, but on a light-well. For the, rest,
it was a room she had seen a thousand times before - carpetless,
unfurnished save for the barest necessities, dirt everywhere,
Pinkie Bonn broke in abruptly upon her inspection.
"That's all right!" he announced airily. "We'll let Nan in on it,
too. The Pug an' me figures she can give us a hand."
Shluker's wizened little face seemed suddenly to go purple.
"Are you tryin' to make a fool of me?" he half screamed. "Or can't
you understand English? D'ye want me to keep on tellin' you till
I'm hoarse that there ain't nobody goin' in with you, because you
am't goin' in yourself! See? Understand that? There's nothing
doin' to-night for anybody - and that means you!"
"Aw, shut up, Shluker!" It was the Pug now, a curious whispering
sibilancy in his voice, due no doubt to the disfigurement of his
lips. "Give Pinkie a chance to shoot his spiel before youse injure
yerself throwin' a fit! Go on, Pinkie, spill it."
"Sure!" said Pinkie eagerly. "Listen, Shluk! It ain't any crib
we're wantin' to crack, or nothin' like that. It's just a couple
of crooks that won't dare open their yaps to the bulls, 'cause what
we're after 'll be what they'll have pinched themselves. See?"
Shluker's face lost some of its belligerency, and in its place a
dawning interest came.
"What's that?" he demanded cautiously. "What crooks?"
"French Pete an' Marny Day," said Pinkie - and grinned.
"Oh!" Shluker's eyebrows went up. He looked at the Pug, and the
Pug winked knowingly with his half-closed left eyelid. Shluker
reached out for a chair, and, finding it suspiciously wobbly,
straddled it warily. "Mabbe I've been in wrong," he admitted.
"What's the lay?"
"Me," said Pinkie, "I was down to Charlie's this afternoon havin'
a little lay-off, an'"
"One of these days," interrupted Shluker sharply, "you'll go out
like" - he snapped his fingers - "that!" "Can't you leave the stuff
"I got to have me bit of coke," Pinkie answered, with a shrug of
his shoulders. "An', anyway, I'm no pipe-hitter.
"It's all the same whatever way you take it!" retorted Shluker.
"Well, go on with your story. You went down to Charlie's dope
parlors, and jabbed a needle into yourself, or took it some other
old way. I get you! What happened then?"
"It was about an hour ago," resumed Pinkie Bonn with undisturbed
complacency. "Just as I was beatin' it out of there by the cellar,
I hears some whisperin' as I was passin' one of the end doors.
Savvy? I hadn't made no noise, an' they hadn't heard me. I gets
a peek in, 'cause the door's cracked. It was French Pete an' Marny
Day. I listens. An' after about two seconds I was goin' shaky for
fear some one would come along an' I wouldn't get the whole of it.
Take it from me, Shluk, it was some goods!"
Shluker grunted noncommittingly.
"Well, go on!" he prompted.
"I didn't get all the fine points," grinned Pinkie; "but I got
enough. There was a guy by the name of Dainey who used to live
somewhere on the East Side here, an' he used to work in some
sweat-shop, an' he worked till he got pretty old, an' then his
lungs, or something, went bad on him, an' he went broke. An' the
doctor said he had to beat it out of here to a more salubrious
climate. Some nut filled his ear full 'bout gold huntin' up in
Alaska, an' he fell for it. He chewed it over with his wife, an'
she was for it too, 'cause the doctor 'd told her her old man would
bump off if he stuck around here, an' they hadn't any money to get
away together. She figured she could get along workin' out by the
day till he came back a millionaire; an' old Dainey started off.
"I dunno how he got there. I'm just fillin' in what I hears French
Pete an' Marny talkin' about. I guess mostly he beat his way there
ridin' the rods; but, anyway, he got there. See? An' then he goes
down sick there again, an' a hospital, or some outfit, has to take
care of him for a couple of years; an' back here the old woman got
kind of feeble an' on her uppers, an there was hell to pay, an' -"
"Wot's bitin' youse, Nan?" The Pug's lisping whisper broke sharply
in upon Pinkie Bonn's story.
Rhoda Gray started. She was conscious now that she had been leaning
forward, staring in a startled way at Pinkie as he talked; conscious
now that for a moment she had forgotten - that she was Gypsy Nan.
But she was mistress of herself on the instant, and she scowled
blackly at the Pug.
"Mabbe it's me soft heart dat's touched!" she flung out acidly.
"Youse close yer trap, an' let Pinkie talk!"
"Yes, shut up!" said Pinkie. "What was I sayin'? Oh, yes! An'
then the old guy makes a strike. Can you beat it! I dunno nothing
about the way they pull them things, but he's off by his lonesome
out somewhere, an' he finds gold, an' stakes out his claim, but
he takes sick again an' can't work it, an' it's all he can do to
get back alive to civilization. He keeps his mouth shut for a
while, figurin' he'll get strong again, but it ain't no good, an'
he gets a letter from the old woman tellin' how bad she is, an'
then he shows some of the stuff he'd found. After that there's
nothing to it! Everybody's beatin' it for the place; but, at that,
old Dainey comes out of it all right, an' goes crazy with joy
'cause some guy offers him twenty-five thousand bucks for his claim,
an' throws in the expenses home for good luck. He gets the money
in cash, twenty-five one-thousand-dollar bills, an' the chicken
feed for the expenses, an' starts for back here an' the old woman.
But this time he don't keep his mouth shut about it when he'd have
been better off if he had. See? He was tellin' about it on the
train. I guess he was tellin' about it all the way across. But,
anyway, he tells about it comm' from Philly this afternoon, an'
French Pete an' Marny Day happens to be on the train, an' they
hears it, an' frames it up to annex the coin before morning, 'cause
he's got in too late to get the money into any bank to-day."
Pinkie Bonn paused, and stuck his tongue significantly in his cheek.
Shluker was rubbing his hands together now in a sort of unctuous
"It sounds pretty good," he murmured; "only there's Danglar -"
"Youse leave Danglar to me!" broke in the Pug. "As soon as we
hands one to dem two boobs an' gets de cash, Pinkie can beat it
back here wid de coin an wait fer me while I finds Danglar an'
squares it wid him. He ain't goin' to put up no holler at dat. We
ain't runnin' de gang into nothin'. Dis is private business - see?
So youse just take a sneak wid yerself, an' fix a nice little alibi
fer us so's we won't be takin' any chances."
"But what's the good of that?" he demurred. "French Pete and
Marny Day '11 see you anyway."
"Will dey!" scoffed the Pug. "Guess once more! A coupla
handkerchiefs over our mugs is good enough fer dem, if youse holds
yer end up. An' dey wouldn't talk fer publication, anyway, would
Shluker smiled now-almost ingratiatingly.
"And how much is my end worth?" he inquired softly.
"One of dem thousand-dollar engravin's," stated the Pug promptly.
"An' Pinkie'll run around an' slip it to youse before mornin'"
"All right," said Shluker, after a moment. "It's half past eight
now. From nine o'clock on, you can beat any jury in New York to it
that you were both at the same old place - as long as you keep
decently under cover. That'll do, won't it? I'll fix it. But I
don't see -"
Rhoda Gray, as Gypsy Nan, for the first time projected herself into
the discussion. She cackled suddenly in jeering mirth.
"I t'ought something was wrong wid her!" whispered the Pug with
mock anxiety. "Mabbe she ain't well! Tell us about it, Nan!"
"When I do," she said complacently, "mabbe youse'll smile out of de
other corner of dat mouth of yers!" She turned to Shluker. "Youse
needn't lay awake waitin' fer dat thousand, Shluker, 'cause youse'll
never see it. De little game's all off - 'cause it's already been
pulled. See? Dere was near a riot as I passes along a street goin'
to yer place, an' I gets piped off to wot's up, an' it's de same
story dat Pinkie's told, an' de crib's cracked, an' de money's gone
- dat's all."
Shluker's face fell.
"I said you were fools when I first came in here!" he burst out
suddenly, wheeling on Pinkie Bonn and the Pug. "I'm sure of it now.
I was wonderin a minute ago how you were goin' to keep your lamps on
Pete and Marny from here, or know when they were goin' to pull their
stunt, or where to find 'em."
Pinkie Bonn, ignoring Shluker, leaned toward Rhoda Gray.
"Say, Nan, is that straight?" he inquired anxiously. "You sure?"
"Sure, I'm sure!" Rhoda Gray asserted tersely. The one thought in
her head now was that her information would naturally deprive these
men here of any further interest in the matter, and that she would
get away as quickly as possible, and, in some way or other, see that
the police were tipped off to the fact that it was French Pete and
Marny Day who had taken the old couple's money. Those two old faces
rose before her again now - blotting out most curiously the face of
Pinkie Bonn just in front of her. She felt strangely glad - glad
that she had heard all of old Dainey's story, because she could see
now an ending to it other than the miserable, hopeless one of
despair that she had read in the Daineys' faces just a little while
ago. "Sure, I'm sure!" she repeated with finality.
"How long ago was it?" prodded Pinkie.
"I dunno," she answered. "I just went to Shluker's, an' den we
comes over here. Youse can figure it fer yerself."
And then Rhoda Gray stared at the other - with sudden misgiving.
Pinkie Bonn's face was suddenly wreathed in smiles.
"I'll answer you now, Shluk," he grinned. "What do you think? That
we're nuts, me an' Pug? Well, forget it! We didn't have to stick
around watchin' Pete an' Marny; we just had to wait until they had
collected the dough. That was the most trouble we had - wonderin'
when that would be. Well, we don't have to wonder any more. We
know now that the cherries are ripe. See? An' now we'll go an'
pick 'em! Where? Where d'ye suppose? Down to Charlie's, of course!
I hears 'em talkin' about that, too. They ain't so foolish! They're
out for an alibi themselves. Get the idea? They was to sneak out
of Charlie's without anybody seem' 'em, an' if everything broke
right for 'em, they was to sneak back again an' spend the night
there. No, they ain't so foolish - I guess they ain't! There ain't
no place in New York you can get in an' out of without nobody knowin'
it like Charlie's, if you know the way, an -"
"Aw, write de rest of it down in yer memoirs!" interposed the Pug
impatiently - and moved toward the door. "It's all right, Shluker
- all de way. Now, everybody beat it, an' get on de job. Nan,
youse sticks wid Pinkie an' me."
Rhoda Gray, her mind in confusion, found herself being crowded
hurriedly through the doorway by the three men. Still in a mentally
confused condition, she found herself, a few minutes later - Shluker
having parted company with them - walking along the street between
Pinkie Bonn and the Pug. She was fighting desperately to obtain a
rip upon herself. The information she had volunteered had had an
effect diametrically opposite to that which she had intended. She
seemed terribly impotent; as though she were being swept from her
feet and borne onward by some swift and remorseless current, whether
she would or no.
The Pug, in his curious whisper, was talking to her: "Pinkie knows
de way in. We don't want any row in dere, on account of Charlie.
We ain't fer puttin' his place on de rough, an' gettin' him raided
by de bulls. Charlie's all to de good. See? Well, dat's wot 'd
likely happen if me an' Pinkie busts in on Pete an' Marny widout
sendin' in our visitin'-cards first, polite-like. Dey would pull
deir guns, an' though we'd get de coin just de same, dere'd be hell
to pay fer Charlie, an' de whole place 'd go up in fireworks right
off de bat. Well, dis is where youse come in. Youse are de
visitin'-card. Youse gets into deir bunk room, pretendin' youse
have made a mistake, an' youse leaves de door open behind youse.
Dey don't know youse, an', bein' a woman, dey won't pull no gun on
youse. An' den youse breaks it gently to dem dat dere's a coupla
gents outside, an' just about den dey looks up an' sees me an'
Pinkie an' our guns-an' I guess dat's all. Get it?"
"Sure!" mumbled Rhoda Gray.
The Pug talked on. She did not hear him. It seemed as though her
brain ached literally with an acute physical pain. What was she
to do? What could she do? She must do something! There must
be some way to save herself from being drawn into the very center
of this vortex toward which she was being swept closer with every
second that passed. Those two old faces, haggard in their despair
and misery, rose before her again. She felt her heart sink. She
had counted, only a few moments before, on getting their money
back for them - through the police. The police! How could she
get any word to the police now, without first getting away from
these two men here? And suppose she did get away, and found some
means of communicating with the authorities, it would be Pinkie
Bonn here, and the Pug, who would fall into the meshes of the law
quite as much as would French Pete and Marny Day; and to have Pinkie
and the Pug apprehended now, just as they seemed to be opening the
gateway for her into the inner secrets of the gang, meant ruin to
her own hopes and plans. And to refuse to go on with them now, as
one of them, would certainly excite their suspicions - and suspicion
of Gypsy Nan was the end of everything for her.
Her hands, under her shawl, clenched until the nails bit into her
palms. Couldn't she do anything? And there was the money, too,
for those two old people. Wasn't there any - She caught her breath.
Yes, yes! Perhaps there was a way to save the money; yes, and at
the same time to place herself on a firmer footing of intimacy with
these two men here - if she went on with this. But - She shook her
head. She could not afford "buts" now; they must take care of
themselves afterwards. She would play Gypsy Nan now without
reservation. These two men here, like Shluker, were obviously
ignorant that Gypsy Nan was Danglar's wife; so she was - Pinkie
Bonn's hand was on her arm. She had stumbled.
"Look out for yourself!" he cautioned under his breath. "Don't
make a sound!"
They had drawn into a very dark and narrow area way between two
buildings, and now Pinkie kept his touch upon her as he led the way
along. What was this "Charlie's"? She did not know, except that,
from what had been said, it was a drug dive of some kind, patronized
extensively by the denizens of the underworld. She did not know
where she was now, save that she had suddenly left one of the
out-of-the--way East Side streets.
Pinkie halted suddenly, and, bending down, lifted up what was
evidently a half section of the folding trapdoor to a cellar
"There's only a few of us regulars wise to this," whispered Pinkie.
"Watch yourself! There's five steps. Count 'em, so's you won't
trip. Keep hold of me all the way. An' nix on the noise, or we
won't get away with it inside. Leave the trap open, Pug, for our
getaway. We ain't goin' to be long. Come on!"
It was horribly dark. Rhoda Gray, with her hand on Pinkie Bonn's
shoulder, descended the five steps. She felt the Pug keeping touch
behind by holding the corner of her shawl. They went forward softly,
slowly, stealthily. She felt her knees shake a little, and suddenly
panic seized her, and she wanted to scream out. What was she doing?
Where was she going? Was she mad, that she had ventured into this
trap of blackness? Blackness! It was hideously black. She looked
behind her. She could not see the Pug, close as he was to her; and
dark as she had thought it outside there at the cellar entrance, it
appeared by contrast to have been light, for she could even
distinguish now the opening through which they had come.
They were in a cellar that was damp underfoot, and the soft earth
deadened all sound as they walked upon it - and they seemed to be
walking on interminably. It was too far - much too far! She felt
her nerve failing her. She looked behind her again. That opening,
still discernible to her straining eyes, beckoned her, lured her.
Pinkie had halted again. She bumped into him. And then she felt
his lips press against her ear.
"Here we are!" he breathed. "They got the end room on the right,
so's they could get in an' out with out bein' seen, an so's even
Charlie'd swear they was here all the time. You're too old a bird
to fall down, Nan. If the door's locked, knock - an' give 'em any
old kind of a song an' dance till you gets 'em off their guard.
The Pug an' me '11 see you through. Go it!"
Before Rhoda Gray could reply, Pinkie had stepped suddenly to one
side. A door in front of her, a sliding door it seemed to be,
opened noiselessly, and she could see a faintly lighted, narrow,
and very short passage ahead of her. It appeared to make a
right-angled turn just a few yards in, and what light there was
seemed to filter in from around the corner. And on each side of
the passage, before it made the turn, there was a door, and from
the one on the right, through a cracked panel, a tiny thread of
light seeped out.
Her lips moved silently. After all, it was not so perilous. Nobody
would be hurt. Pinkie and the Pug would cover those two men in
there - and take the money - and run for it - and...
The Pug gave her an encouraging push from behind.
She moved forward mechanically. There were many sounds now, but
they came muffled and indeterminate from around that corner ahead
- all save a low murmuring of voices from the door with the cracked
panel on the right.
It was only a few feet. She found herself crouched before the door
- but she did not knock upon it. Instead, her blood seemed suddenly
to run cold in her veins, and she beckoned frantically to her two
companions. She could see through the crack in the panel. There
were two men in there, French Pete and Marny Day undoubtedly, and
they sat on opposite sides of a table, and a lamp burned on the
table, and one of the men was counting out a sheaf of crisp
yellow-back banknotes - but the other, while apparently engrossed
in the first man's occupation, and while he leaned forward in
apparent eagerness, was edging one hand stealthily toward the lamp,
and his other hand, hidden from his companion's view by the table,
was just drawing a revolver from his pocket. There was no mistaking
the man's murderous intentions. A dull horror, that numbed her
brain, seized upon Rhoda Gray; the low-type brutal faces under the
rays of the lamp seemed to assume the aspect of two monstrous
gargoyles, and to spin around and around before her vision; and then
- it could only have been but the fraction of a second since she had
begun to beckon to Pinkie and the Pug - she felt herself pulled
unceremoniously away from the door, and the Pug leaned forward in
her place, his eyes to the crack in the panel.
She heard a low, quick-muttered exclamation from the Pug; and then
suddenly, as the lamp was obviously extinguished, that crack of
light in the panel had vanished. But in an instant, curiously like
a jagged lightning flash, light showed through the crack again - and
vanished again. It was the flash of a revolver shot from within,
and the roar of the report came now like the roll of thunder on its
Rhoda Gray was back against the opposite wall. She saw the Pug
fling himself against the door. It was a flimsy affair. It
crashed inward. She heard him call to Pinkie:
"Shoot yer flash on de table, an' grab de coin! I'll fix de other
Were eternities passing? Her eyes were fascinated by the interior
beyond that broken door. It was utterly dark inside there, save
that the ray of a flashlight played now on the table, and a hand
reached out and snatched up a scattered sheaf of banknotes; and
on the outer edge of the ray two shadowy forms struggled and one
went down. Then the flashlight went out She heard the Pug speak:
Commotion came now; cries and footsteps from around that corner in
the passage. The Pug grasped her by the shoulders, and rushed her
back into the cellar. She was conscious, it seemed, only in a dazed
and mechanical way. There were men in the passage running toward
them - and then the passage had disappeared. Pinkie Bonn had shut
the connecting door.
"Hop it like blazes!" whispered the Pug, as they ran for the faint
glimmer of light that located the cellar exit. "Separate de minute
we're outside!" he ordered. "Dere's murder in dere. Pete shot
Marny. I put Pete to sleep wid a punch on de jaw; but de bunch
knows now some one else was dere, an' Pete'll swear it was us,
though he don't know who we was dat did de shootin'. I gotta make
dis straight right off de bat wid Danglar." His whispering voice
was labored, panting; they were climbing up the steps now. "Youse
take de money to my room, Pinkie, an' wait fer me. I won't be much
more'n half an hour. Nan, youse beat it fer yer garret, an' stay
They were outside. The Pug had disappeared in the darkness. Pinkie
was closing, and evidently fastening, the trap-door.
"The other way, Nan!" he flung out, as she started to run. "That
takes you to the other street, an' they can't get around that way
without goin' around the whole block. Me for a fence I knows about,
an' we gives 'em the merry laugh! Go on!"
She ran - ran breathlessly, stumbling, half falling, her hands
stretched out before her to serve almost in lieu of eyes, for she
could make out scarcely anything in front of her. She emerged upon
a street. It seemed abnormal, the quiet, the lack of commotion, the
laughter, the unconcern in the voices of the passers-by among whom
she suddenly found herself. She hurried from the neighborhood.
XI. THE DOOR ACROSS THE HALL
It was many blocks away before calmness came again to Rhoda Gray,
and before it seemed, even, that her brain would resume its normal
functions; but with the numbed horror once gone, there came in its
place, like some surging tide, a fierce virility that would not be
denied. The money! The old couple on that doorstep, stripped of
their all! Wasn't that one reason why she had gone on with Pinkie
Bonn and the Pug? Hadn't she seen a way, or at least a chance,
to get that money back?
Rhoda Gray looked quickly about her. On the corner ahead she saw
a drug store, and started briskly in that direction. Yes, there
was a way! The idea had first come to her from the Pug's remark
to Shluker that, after they had secured the money, Pinkie would
return with it to the Pug's room, while the Pug would go and
square things with Danglar. And also, at the same time, that same
remark of the Pug's had given rise to a hope that she might yet
trace Danglar to night through the Pug - but the circumstances and
happenings of the last few minutes had shattered that hope utterly.
And so there remained the money. And, as she had walked with Pinkie
and the Pug a little while ago, knowing that Pinkie would, if they
were successful, carry the money back to the Pug's room, just as
was being done now precisely in accordance with the Pug's original
intentions, she had thought of the Adventurer. It had seemed the
only way then; it seemed the only way now - despite the fact that
she would be hard put to it to answer the Adventurer if he thought
to ask her how, or by what means, she was in possession of the
information that enabled her to communicate with him. But she must
risk that - put him off, if necessary, through the plea of haste,
and on the ground that there was not time to-night for an unnecessary
word. He had given her, believing her to be Gypsy Nan, his telephone
number, which she, in turn, was to transmit to the White Moll - in
other words, herself! But the White Moll, so he believed, had never
received that message - and it must of necessity be as the White
Moll that she must communicate with him to-night! It would be hard
to explain - she meant to evade it. The one vital point was that
she remembered the telephone number he had given her that night when
he and Danglar had met in the garret. She was not likely to have
Rhoda Gray, alias Gypsy Nan, scuffled along. Was she inconsistent?
The Adventurer would be in his element in going to the Pug's room,
and in relieving Pinkie Bonn of that money; but the Adventurer, too,
was a thief-wasn't he? Why, then, did she propose, for her mind
was now certainly made up as to her course of action, to trust a
thief to recover that money for her?
She smiled a little wearily as she reached the drug store, stepped
into the telephone booth, and gave central her call. Trust a thief!
No, it wasn't because her heart prompted her to believe in him; it
was because her head assured her she was safe in doing so. She
could trust him in an instance such as this because - well, because
once before, for her sake he had foregone the opportunity of
appropriating a certain diamond necklace worth a hundred times the
sum that she would ask him - yes, if necessary, for her sake - to
recover to-night. There was no...
She was listening in a startled way now at the instrument. Central
had given her "information"; and "information" was informing her
that the number she had asked for had been disconnected.
She hung up the receiver, and went out again to the street in a
dazed and bewildered way. And then suddenly a smile of bitter
self-derision crossed her lips. She had been a fool! There was no
softer word - a fool! Why had she not stopped to think? She
understood now! On the night the Adventurer had confided that
telephone number to her as Gypsy Nan, he had had every reason to
believe that Gypsy Nan would, as she had already apparently done,
befriend the White Moll even to the extent of accepting no little
personal risk in so doing. But since then things had taken a very
different turn. The White Moll was now held by the gang, of which
Gypsy Nan was supposed to be a member, to be the one who had of late
profited by the gang's plans to the gang's discomfiture; and the
Adventurer was ranked but little lower in the scale of hatred, since
they counted him to be the White Moll's accomplice. Knowing this,
therefore, the first thing the Adventurer would naturally do would
be to destroy the clew, in the shape of that telephone number, that
would lead to his whereabouts, and which he of course believed he
had put into the gang's hands when he had confided in Gypsy Nan.
Had he not told her, no later than last night, that Gypsy Nan was
her worst enemy? He did not know, did he, that Gypsy Nan and the
White Moll were one! And so that telephone had been disconnected
- and to-night, now, just when she needed help at a crucial moment,
when she had counted upon the Adventurer to supply it, there was no
Adventurer, no means of reaching him, and no means any more of
knowing where he was!
Rhoda Gray walked on along the street, her lips tight, her face
drawn and hard. Failing the Adventurer, there remained - the police.
If she telephoned the police and sent them to the Pug's room, they
would of a certainty recover the money, and with equal certainty
restore it to its rightful owners. She had already thought of that
when she had been with Pinkie and the Pug, and had been loath even
then to take such a step because it seemed to spell ruin to her own
personal plans; but now there was another reason, and one far more
cogent, why she should not do so. There had been murder committed
back there in that underground drug-dive, and of that murder Pinkie
Bonn was innocent; but if Pinkie were found in possession of that
money, and French Pete, to save his own skin from the consequences
of a greater crime, admitted to its original theft, Pinkie would be
convicted out of hand, for there were the others in that dive, who
had come running along the passage, to testify that an attack had
been made on the door of French Pete and Marny Day's room, and that
the thieves and murderers had fled through the cellar and escaped.
Her lips pressed harder together. And so there was no Adventurer
upon whom she could call, and no police, and no one in all the
millions in this great pulsing city to whom she could appeal; and
so there remained only - herself.
Well, she could do it, couldn't she? Not as Gypsy Nan, of course
- but as the White Moll. It would be worth it, wouldn't it? If
she were sincere, and not a moral hypocrite in her sympathy for
those two outraged old people in the twilight of their lives, and
if she were not a moral coward, there remained no question as to
what her decision should be.
Her mind began to mull over the details. Subconsciously, since
the moment she had made her escape from that cellar, she found now
that she had been walking in the direction of the garret that
sheltered her as Gypsy Nan. In another five minutes she could
reach that deserted shed in the lane behind Gypsy Nan's house where
her own clothes were hidden, and it would take her but a very few
minutes more to effect the transformation from Gypsy Nan to the
White Moll. And then, in another ten minutes, she should be back
again at the Pug's room. The Pug had said he would not be much more
than half an hour, but, as nearly as she could calculate it, that
would still give her from five to ten minutes alone with Pinkie
Bonn. It was enough - more than enough. The prestige of the White
Moll would do the rest. A revolver in the hands of the White Moll
would insure instant and obedient respect from Pinkie Bonn, or any
other member of the gang under similar conditions. And so - and so
- it - would not be difficult. Only there was a queer fluttering
at her heart now, and her breath came in hard, short little
inhalations. And she spoke suddenly to herself:
"I'm glad," she whispered, "I'm glad I saw those two old faces on
that doorstep, because - because, if I hadn't, I - I would be afraid."
The minutes passed. The dissolute figure of an old hag disappeared,
like a deeper shadow in the blackness of a lane, through the broken
door of a deserted shed; presently a slim, neat little figure,
heavily veiled, emerged. Again the minutes passed. And now the
veiled figure let herself in through the back door of the Pug's
lodging house, and stole softly down the dark hall, and halted
before the Pug's door. It was the White Moll now.
From under the door, at the ill-fitting threshold, there showed a
thin line of light. Rhoda Gray, with her ear against the door panel,
listened. There was no sound of voices from within. Pinkie Bonn,
then, was still alone, and still waiting for the Pug. She glanced
sharply around her. There was only darkness. Her gloved right hand
was hidden in the folds of her skirt; she raised her left hand and
knocked softly upon the door-two raps, one rap, two raps. She
repeated it. And as it had been with Shluker, so it was now with
her. A footstep crossed the floor within, the key turned in the
lock, and the door was flung open.
"All right, Pug," said Pinkie Bonn, "I -"
The man's words ended in a gasp of surprised amazement. With a
quick step forward, Rhoda Gray was in the room. Her revolver,
suddenly outflung, covered the other; and her free hand, reaching
behind her, closed and locked the door again.
There was an almost stupid look of bewilderment on Pinkie Bonn's
Rhoda Gray threw back her veil.
"My Gawd!" mumbled Pinkie Bonn - and licked his lips. "The White
"Yes!" said Rhoda Gray tersely. "Put your hands up over your head
and go over there and stand against the wall - with your face to it!"
Pinkie Bonn, like an automaton moved purely by mechanical means,
Rhoda Gray followed him, and with the muzzle of her revolver
pressed into the small of the man's back, felt rapidly over his
clothes with her left hand for the bulge of his revolver. She
found and possessed herself of the weapon, and, stepping back,
ordered him to turn around again.
"I haven't much time," she said icily. "I'll trouble you now for
the cash you took from Marny Day and French Pete."
"My Gawd!" he mumbled again. "You know about that!"
"Quick!" she said imperatively. "Put it on the table there, and
then go back again to the wall!"
Pinkie Bonn fumbled in his pocket. His face was white, almost
chalky white, and it held fear; but its dominant expression was one
of helpless stupefaction. He placed the sheaf of banknotes on the
table, and shuffled back again to the wall.
Rhoda Gray picked up the money, and retreated to the door. Still
facing the man, working with her left hand behind her back, she
unlocked the door again, and this time removed the key from the lock.
"You are quite safe here," she observed evenly, "since there appears
to be no window through which you could get out; but you might make
it a little unpleasant for me if you gave the alarm and aroused the
other occupants of the house before I had got well away. I dare say
that was in your mind, but - she opened the door slightly, and
inserted the key on the outer side - "I am quite sure you will
reconsider any such intentions - Pinkie. It would be a very
disastrous thing for you if I were caught. Somebody is 'wanted' for
the murder of Marny Day at Charlie's a little while ago, and a jury
would undoubtedly decide that the guilty man was the one who broke
in the door there and stole the money. And if I were caught and
were obliged to confess that I got it from you, and French Pete
swore that it was whoever broke into the room that shot his pal, it
might go hard with you, Pinkie - don't you think so?" She smiled
coldly at the man's staring eyes and dropped jaw. "Good-night,
Pinkie; I know you won't make any noise," she said softly - and
suddenly opened the door, and in a flash stepped back into the hall,
and closed and locked the door, and whipped out the key from the
And inside Pinkie Bonn made no sound.
It was done now. Rhoda Gray drew in her breath in a great choking
gasp of relief. She found herself trembling violently. She found
her limbs were bearing her none too steadily, as she began to grope
her way now along the black hall toward the back door. But it was
done now, and - No, she was not safe away, even yet! Some one was
coming in through that back door just ahead of her; or, at least,
she heard voices out there.
She was just at the end of the hall now. There was no time to go
back and risk the front entrance. She darted across the hall to
the opposite side from that of the Pug's room, because on that side
the opening of the door would not necessarily expose her, and
crouched down in the corner. It was black here, perhaps black
enough to escape observation. She listened, her heart beating
wildly. The voices outside continued. Why were they lingering
there? Why didn't they do one thing or the other - either go away,
or come in? There wasn't any too much time! The Pug might be
back at any minute now. Perhaps one of those people out there was
the Pug! Perhaps it would be better after all to run back and go
out by the front door, risky as that would be. No, her escape in
that direction now was cut off, too!
She shrank as far back into the corner as she could. The door of
the end room on this side of the hall had opened, and now a man
stepped out and closed the door behind him. Would he see her? She
held her breath. No! It - it was all right. He was walking away
from her toward the front of the hall. And now for a moment it
seemed as though she had lost her senses, as though her brain were
playing some mad, wild trick upon her. Wasn't that the Pug's door
before which the man had stopped? Yes, yes! And he seemed to have
a key to it, for he did not knock, and the door was opening, and
now for an instant, just an instant, the light fell upon the man
as he stepped with a quick, lightning-like movement inside, and she
saw his face. It was the Adventurer.
She stifled a little cry. Her brain was in turmoil. And now the
back door was opening. They - they might see her here! And - yes
- it was safer - safer to act on the sudden inspiration that had
come to her. The door of the room from which the Adventurer had
emerged was almost within reach; and he had not locked it as he had
gone out - she had subconsciously noted that fact. And she
understood why he had not now - that he had safeguarded himself
against the loss of even the second or two it would have taken
him to unlock it when he ran back for cover again from the Pug's
room. Yes-that room! It was the safest thing she could do. She
could even get out that way, for it must be the room with the low
window, which she remembered gave on the back yard, and - She
darted silently forward, and, as the back door opened, slipped into
the room the Adventurer had just vacated.
It was pitch black. She must not make a sound; but, equally, she
must not lose a second. What was taking place in the Pug's room
between Pinkie Bonn and the Adventurer she did not know. But the
Adventurer was obviously on one of his marauding expeditions, and
he might stay there no more than a minute or two once he found out
that he had been forestalled. She must hurry - hurry!
She felt her way forward in what she believed to be the direction
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