The Tin Box

JOHN BARTON OXFORD June 1 1909

The Tin Box

JOHN BARTON OXFORD June 1 1909

The Tin Box

JOHN BARTON OXFORD

From the Blue Book.

THE rocking hansom swung the corner from the avenue, rolled along a shabby little cross street and turned finally into one of the narrow, crooked thoroughfares close to the waterfront. It pulled up at length before a decidedly unattractive house, and the man who sat grimly on the cushions pushed open the apron and alighted.

“I'll be down in a few minutes," he called to the cabby, as he mounted the steps and gave the bell a vigorous tug.

The door was opened by a frowsy woman, who surveyed the man on the stoop with more or less suspicion. lie was a tall, well-built man, broad shouldered, clean shaven, and apparently in the early thirties. 11 is clothes were faultless in cut and texture. His gray eyes were clear and steady. Decidedly he was not the sort of man who generally rang the bell of this particular house.

“Well?” said the frowsy woman, the suspicion in her own shifty eyes growing momentarilv more pronounced.

“I’m looking for a party named-—

re—”

The man on the stoop drew a bit of paper from his pocket and glanced at the scribbled lines upon it.

“A party named Shannon." he finished. “I’ll find him here, won’t

I ?”

“No,” said the woman shortlv. “ 11 e’s moved.”

d lie other elevated his eyebrows.

“Aren’t you mistaken?” he asked politely. “You see, Dan Ryan sent me.”

Immediately the woman’s expression changed. She grinned, nodded her head, and opened the door wide.

“Three flights, back,” she intructed, and forthwith shuffled away down the gloomy hail.

The man mounted the three flights of creaking stairs, paused before the door of the back room, and tapped smartly upon it.

“Come in !” a gruff voice on the other side commanded.

He pushed open the door and entered a large bare room, which was filled with a blue haze of tobaccosmoke. Opposite the door, through which he entered, was a wide bed. and stretched upon it in all the luxury of shirt sleeves, collarless neck, and shoeless feet, was a big freckled faced young man, with a mop of fiery red hair above his watery blue eyes. Beside him was a pile of newspapers and between his lips a cigaret sent out its clouds of smoke.

The man on the bed made no motion to rise. He surveyed his visitor with a cold and none too cordial scrutinv.

“This is Mr. Shannon. 1 take it." said the newcommer.

“That’s wot.” the other replied t ersely.

"Ryan sent me—Dan Ryan, you know.”

“Uh-huh !”

“I have need of a man in your

profession,” said the visitor with a slow smile, “and Ryan suggested you. Now then, how are you fixed for time? Anything particular on for to-night?”

Mr. Shannon grunted and shook his head.

“Then perhaps you can find time to do a little job for me,” the other suggested.

“Maybe,” said Shannon cautiously. “Wot is there in it?”

“I’ll tell you what I want you to do and let you set your price,” was the answer. “I shall want you to go with me this evening to a certain house out on Claverly Road, and get for me a little tin box—just an ordinary strong-box, black japanned tin, handle on top and two yellow stripes running around the lid. You know the kind; you couldn’t possibly mistake it.”

Mr. Shannon nodded.

“I’m not positively certain as to just where it is,” his informer went on, “but I can make a mighty good guess at the place. In all probability you’ll find it in a little old fashioned safe set under the shelves in a chinacloset, just at the left of the sideboard in the dining-room. It is a woefully old fashioned safe,” he added. “I’m quite sure it will give you no trouble at all. Now then, what will it be worth to you to get that tin box for me?”

Mr. Shannon meditated for a moment. He took a fresh cigaret from the box beside him and lighted it from the glowing one he had just finished.

“A hundred plunks,” he decided at last. “Fifty now, the other fifty when I turn over the box to you. And if it aint where you say, or there’s any trouble—a holler from the folks in the house or anything of that kind—the fifty already paid is mine just the same.”

“That’s all right,” the broadshouldered man agreed.

He drew a roll of bills from his pocket and stripped off several of them.

“Here’s the first fifty. We better go out there about eleven. I’ll meet you in a motor in front of the Day Building in Jefferson Square. That all right? Good! Don’t fail me. will you ?”

“I’ll be there at eleven,” said Shannon. “So long!”

He picked up one of the papers, and arranging the pillows more comfortably under his head, resumed his reading.

At five minutes of eleven that evening, he stood on the curb before the Day Building, his hands in his pockets and a cap pulled low over his eyes, watching the stream of traffic on the glistening pavements. A drizzling rain was falling, and the biting wind which whistled sharply about the neighboring corner, made him turn up his overcoat collar and tap his feet on the curbing for warmth.

Presently, from the long line of passing vehicles two lights swung in his direction. A low rakish roadcar shot up to the curb and the man at the steering-wheel craned forward to peer into Shannon’s face.

“On time, I see,” said the familiar voice of his caller of the afternoon. “All ready ”

“Sure,” said Shannon, climbing into the car.

They sped away from the square, headed up the avenue, and were soon making good speed to the north. Shannon sat huddled silently, his hands in his pockets, and his head lowered to the driving mist. The man beside him, too, was silent. No word passed between them until they reached Claverly Road with its row of imposing houses each set in its ample expanse of well-kept grounds.

Presently they stopped before one of the houses, and the man at the steering-wheel alighted.

“This it?” Shannon asked, climbing stiffly from the car.

“No, fourth house down,” the other replied. “I left the car here be-

cause it’s dark under these trees. Come on.”

He led the way down the road, turned into a gateway flanked on either side by tall stone posts, and made his way up a winding drive. Between the trees Shannon could see a big, rambling house looming dimly. They kept to the drive until they were close to the house. Not a light showed in any of the windows.

Shannon’s companion drew him into a clump of syringa bushes on the lawn.

“I’m going to wait for you here,” he whispered. “It wont take you but a few minutes at the most. Open the third basement window on the back. That will bring you into the lower hall. Then go up the stairs and you'll find two doors on your right. Take the second of them. It opens into the diningroom. You know about the rest of it. Safe’s in the closet at the left of the side-board. Open it and bring back that tin box. Go ahead, now.”

Shannon kicked off his shoes and replaced them with a pair of sneakers he drew from his coat-pocket. Then he slipped like a wraith through the mist to the back of the house, found the third window, and in the twinkling of an eye had it open and was crawling cautiously through it. He pulled the little electric-lantern from his pocket, took a swift survey of the place, and noiselessly ascended the stairs. Another quick blink of the lantern and he had opened the second door and was in the dining-room.

There was the sideboard, and to the left the little china-closet. He opened the door and saw beneath the lower shelf a little old safe—the sort of safe the veriest tyro might open without trouble.

He sank to his knees and pulled a bit of steel from his hip-pocket. In a trice the knob of the lock was off and Shannon with his finger was clicking the falls. It was child’s plav to him. lie grinned to him-

self as he thought of the man out there in the bushes. A hundred for a job like this was like robbing a blind man. Had the man outside but known it, Shannon would have gladly done a job of this kind for a quarter of what he was getting.

Silently he swung open the door of the antiquated safe. The whole thing had taken less than five minutes. Once more the lantern winked briefly. Sure enough ! There within the safe was the tin strong box. He lifted it out and arose from his knees.

And then suddenly the room glowed with light. Shannon sprang up, blinking and sputtering inarticulate oaths. For a moment the flood of light blinded him ; but in another moment he saw, standing by the table and surveying him with steady eyes, a young woman in a blue bathwrap.

She was a very beautiful woman, tall, willowy, with great dark eyes, in whose depth was no hint of fear. Indeed, her beauty—the satin smoothness of her skin, the soft waviness of her loosened hair, the roundness of her superb throat—filled him with a vague shame, like some potent accusation. His hand which had intuitively gone to the gun in his right coat-pocket, was suddenly withdrawn empty. He stood there with the tin box in his fingers, staring, motionless.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded in a low, cool voice.

Shannon said nothing, but over his puffy features stole a sickly, apologetic grin.

“Put down that box you have.” she went on. “You are making a mistake in taking it. It is of no earthly good to you.”

Shannon looked down stupidly at the box. Then he remembered that box was worth fifty dollars to him.

“Say, don’t make no holler,” he advised, his heavy brows drawing together ominously. “Don’t try to put up no squeal.”

“I’m not foolish enough to attempt

to make any outcry,” she said in the same guarded voice. “You may take anything else you find and I wont say a word. Only—only,”

there was a chokng sound in the low tones, “ leave that box. It is nothing to you. You don’t want it.”

“Maybe I do, at that,” Shannon growled.

“Open it and see” she demanded.

Shannon merely stared.

“Open the box and see what’s in it. Then tell me if you want it,” she persisted.

A sudden curiosity as to just what the box contaned took possession of him. Moreover, through his mind flashed the sudden suspicion that it might be more valuable than he thought ; that this woman was taking a desperate chance with him ; that the man out there in the bushes had put him up to a big job, after all.

The woman was quick to note his hesitation.

“Here’s the key,” she said, tossing it across the table to him.

Shannon slipped it into the lock and jerked open the cover. Within was a pair of tiny, much worn shoes, a rattle, an ivory ring, and two bits of pail blue ribbon.

“Surely you don’t want those— not those,” the woman was sayingin the same choking voice.

Shannon grimly locked the box and stuffed it under his arm. For the first time fear came into the woman’s eyes.

“Listen,” she almost sobbed, “I have money—a lot of it—here in the house, but you could never find it. I’ll give you the money gladly— all of it, if you’ll leave the box. Or you can have more to-morrow—”

Even men of Shannon’s type have their code of ethics, however, warped and distorted these may be. To break faith with a pal was perhaps the most heinous offense in Shannon’s particular private code. It was something he prided himself he had

never done; and the man out there in the bushes was a pal for the time being. Shannon had accepted his money and pledged his word in this thing.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” said he, “but—”

“You don’t mean you still want it, after you know what’s in it?” she said breathlessly.

“Uh,huh” he grunted tersely, and like a flash he had jumped to the French wdndow on the other side of the room.

The wonder of it all to Shannon was that the woman did not scream. There was a quick catch of her breath, a smothered, broken and wholly from Shannon’s point of view—ineffectual cry, and she, too, sped to the window, just as Shannon pulled it open, leaped out on the wide verandah, vaulted the rail, and sped down the drive. Behind him the patter of footsteps told him of the pursuit.

He neared the syringa bushes, running hard and panting.

“Come on,” he gurgled. “The house is up. They’re after me. Cut for it.”

The other man jumped from the bushes.

“Bungled it, eh?” he growled. “What’s this?”

He had caught sight of the woman in the bath-wrap running down the drive. He caught Shannon by the arm in a grip that made that gentleman wince, and calmly faced the breathless woman.

“Mary !” he said simply.

The woman stopped short. Her hand went to her throat. Her breath was coming hard. She came a step nearer and scanned his face in the darkness.

“You !” she cried in unbelief. “You! Then—then—you were behind it all?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” she panted. “Why?”

“This is no place for explanations, he said coldly. “It is rain-

ing, and this ground is sopping wet. You shouldn’t he here in slippers and a bath-wrap. Go back to the house.”

“Not—not without-—”

The man wheeled on Shannon.

“Bring along the box,” he commanded.

Shannon, thoroughly mystified, followed the silent pair to the house. They mounted the verandah, and stepped through the French window into the big dining-room, where the lights still burned brightly.

The woman stood by the table, very cold and straight, but her lips quivered now and then, despite her evident efforts to control them. Opposite her, grim, white faced, stood the broad-shouldered man, while Shannon, with the tin box in his clutches, leaned against the French window, and stared in perplexity.

“You are not going to take it now, are you?” the woman said at length, and despite all her outward calm, her voice trembled in anxiety.

“No,” he replied. “Put the box on the table,” he added to Shannon.

“What—what does it mean, anyway?” she demanded. “Why should you attempt this?”

The man did not reply at once. He stood for a moment looking at her frowningly.

“I have been living in Uornlon since—since we separated,” he said at last. “It was there that T heard about the boy—that he was dead. I wanted something of his—s une little thing associated with—with those days.”

“Why didn’t you ask for it then?” she said haltingly.

“Perhaps you’ll be good enough to remember that all my letters have been returned to me unopened— even since he died,” said he bitterly. “As I sav, I wanted something of his. T didn’t suppose you’d let me have it if T asked not after all that has happened. I came over here from Uondon for just this pur-

pose—to get it—somehow, anyhow, at any cost. I shouldn’t have kept them all—just a rattle, perhaps, or one of the shoes. I should have sent back the rest.”

“I—I didn’t know you felt that way,” she said. “I didn’t suppose you knew or cared. I—I thought we had both gone out of life—he and I. I—I was sure that to you it was as if I had never been—nor he either.”

He was still standing very stiffly erect, and he was still frowning.

“May I have one of those things now—just one?” he asked father huskily.

“You may have them all—all,” she said, “and then suddenly she sank sank into a chair, and burying her arms began to sob like a child.

For a minute or two the man stood motionless. Then he turned almost fiercely to Shannon.

“You bungled it,” lie said, “and Pm glad you did.”

His hand went into his pocket and came out with a roll of bills.

“Here, take this,” he went on. thrusting the roll into the astounded Shannon’s hand. “Whatever there is over the fifty is yours, too. You earned it by bungling. Now go.”

He glanced at the woman’s shaking shoulders and a great light was in his eyes.

“And for God’s sake, go quickly, will you?”

Shannon with the bills in his hand, slipped through the French window once more. On the verandah outside, he turned to look back. The man had opened the tin box and spread its sorry contents on the table. Moreover, he had knelt beside the woman and her head was buried on his shoulder.

Shannon paused only long enough to light a cigaret and then thoughtfully effaced himself in the shrouding, dripping mist.