The Strange Adventure the Dummy Chucker
Another “Sleep Walker” Story
Author of “The Prairie Wife," “The Hand of Peril,” “The Door of Dread,” “The Silver Poppy,” Etc.
IT was unquestionably a momentous night, that night I discharged Latreille. I had felt the thing coming, for weeks. But I had apparently been afraid to face it. I had temporized and dallied along, dreading the ordeal. Twice I had even bowed to tacit blackmail, suavely disguised as mere advances of salary. Almost daily, too, I had been subjected to vague insolences which were all the more humiliating because they remained inarticulate and incontestable. And I realized that the thing had to come to an end.
I saw that end when Benson reported to me that Latreille had none too quietly entertained a friend of his in my study, during my absence. I could have forgiven the loss of the cigars, and the disappearance of the cognac, but the foot-marks on my treasured old San Domingoan mahogany console-table and the overturning of my Ch’ien-lung lapis bottle were things which could not be overlooked.
I saw red, at that, and promptly and unquaveringly sent for Latreille. And I think I rather surprised that cool-eyed scoundrel, for I had grown to know life a little better, of late. I had learned to stand less timorous before its darker sides and its rougher seams. I could show that designing chauffeur I was no longer in his power by showing that I was no longer afraid of him. And this latter I sought to demonstrate by promptly and calmly and unequivocally announcing that he was from that day and that hour discharged from my ser-
“You can’t do it!” he said, staring at me with surprised yet none the less insolent
“I have done it,” I explained.
“You’re discharged, now. And the sooner you get out the better it will suit me.”
“And you’re ready to take that r i s k?” he demanded, studying me from under his lowered brows.
“Any risks I care to assume in this existence of mine,” I coolly informed him, “are matters which concern me alone. Turn your keys and service-clothes and things in to Benson. And if there’s one item missing, you’ll pay for it.”
“How?” he demanded, with a sneer.
“By being put where you belong,” I told him.
“And where’s that?”
He laughed at this. But he stopped short as he saw me go to the door and fling it open. Then he turned and faced me.
“I’ll make things interesting for you!” he announced, slowly and pregnantly, and
with an ugly forward-thrust of his ugly pointed chin.
It was my turn to laugh.
“You have made them interesting,” I acknowledged. “But now they are getting monotonous.”
“They won’t stay that way,” he averred.
I met his eye, without a wince. I could feel my fighting blood getting hotter and hotter.
“You understand English, don’t you?” I told him. “You heard me say get out, didn’t you?”
He stared at me, with that black scowl of his, for a full half minute. Then he
turned on his heel and stalked out of the
I wasn’t sorry to see him go, but I knew, as he went, that he was carrying away "ith him something precious. He was carrying away with him my peace of mind for that whole blessed night.
Sleep, I knew, was now out of the question. It would be foolish even to attempt to court it. I felt the familiar neurasthenic call for open spaces, the necessity for physical freedom and fresh air. And it was that, I suppose, which took me wandering off towards the water-front, where I sat on a string piece smoking
Copyrighted in UJS.A. by Arthur Stri nger. Copyrighted in Great Britain.
my seventh cigarette and watching the light-spangled Hudson.
1HAD squatted there for a full halfhour, I think, before I became even vaguely conscious of the other presence so near me. I had no clear-cut memory of that figure’s advent. I had no impression of its movement about my immediate neighborhood, I feel sure, until my selfabsorbed meditations were broken into by the discovery that the stranger on the same wharf where I loitered had quietly and deliberately risen to an erect position. It startled me a little, in fact, to find that he was standing at one end of the same string-piece where I sat.
Then something about the figure brought a slow perplexity into my mind, as I lounged there inhaling the musky harbor-odors, under a sky that seemed Italian in its serenity and a soft and silvery moon that made the shuttling ferries into shadows scaled with Roman gold. This perplexity grew into bewilderment, for as I studied the lean figure w’ith its loose-fitting paddock-coat flapping in the wharf-end breeze I was reminded of something disturbing, of something awesome. The gaunt form so voluminously draped, the cadaverous face with the startlingly sunken cheeks, the touch of tragedy in the entire attitude, brought sharply and suddenly to my mind the thought of a shrouded and hollow-eyed symbol of Death, needing only the scythe of honored tradition to translate it into the finished picture.
He stood there for some time, without moving, studying the water that ran like seamless black velvet under the wharfend. Then he slowly took off his coat, folded it and placed it on the string-piece, and on top of this again placed his hat. Then he laughed audibly, and I looked away, dreading that some spoken triviality might spoil a picture so appealingly mysterious. When I next peered up at him he seemed engaged in the absurd occupation of slowly turning inside out the quite empty pockets of his clothing. Then he once more looked down at the black
Those oily velvet eddies, apparently, were too much for hirri. I saw him cover his face with his hands and sway .back with a tragically helpless matter of “I can’t do it!” And both the gesture and the words made my mind go back to the men from Medicine Hat.
A thousand crawling little tendrils of curiosity over-ran resentment at being thus disturbed in my quest for solitude. I continued my overt watch of the incredibly thin stranger who was still peering down at the slip-water. I was startled, a minute or two later, to hear him omit a throat-chuckle that was as defiant as it was disagreeable. Then with an oddly nervous gesture of repudiation he caught up his hat and coat, turned on his heel, and passed like a shadow down the quietness of the deserted wharf.
I TURNED and followed him. The tragedy recorded on that pallid face was above all pretense. He could never be taken for a “dummy-chucker;” the thing was genuine. Any man who could sqimo-ie life so dry that he thought of tossing it away like an orange-skin was worth following. He seemed a contradiction to everything in the city that surrounded us, in that mad city where every mortal appeared so intent on living, where the forlornest wrecks clung so feverishly to life, and where life itself, on that murmurous and moonlit night, seemed so full of whispered promises.
I followed him back to the city, speculating, as idle minds will, on who and what he was and by what mischance he had been cast into this lowest pit of indifferency. More things than his mere apparel assured me he was not a “Crustthrower.” I kept close at his heels until we came to Broadway, startling myself with the sudden wonder if he, too, were a victim of those relentless hounds of wakefulness that turn night into a never-ending inquisition.
Then all speculation suddenly ended, for I saw that he had come to a stop and was gazing perplexedly up and down the lif-íht-átrewn channel of Broadway. I noticed his eye waver on a passing figure or two, whom he seemed about to accost. Then, as though from that passing throng he beheld something kindred and common in my face, he touched me lightly on the
I came to a stop, looking him full in the face. There seemed almost a touch of the supernatural in that encounter, as though two wondering ghosts stood gazing at each other on the loneliest edges of a No Man’s Land.
He did not speak, as I was afraid he might, and send a mallet of banality crashing down on that crystal of wonderment.
He merely waved one thin hand towards the facade of a mirrored and pillared caravansary wherein, I ■knew, it was the wont of the homeless New Yorker to purchase a three-h our lease on three feet of dama s k and thereby dream he was probing the i n n e r-most depth of life.
I saw, was an invitation. It was also a challenge.
AND both •‘A the invitation and the challenge I accepted, i n silence, yet by a gesture which could not be mistaken. It was in silence, too, that I followed him in through the wide doorway a n d seated myself opposite him at one of the ros e-shaded parallelograms o f white linen that layabout us in
lines as thick and straight as tombstones in an abbey-floor.
I did not look at him for a moment or two, dreading as I did the approaching return to actuality. I let my gaze wander about the riotous-colored room into which the flood-tide of the after-theatre crowds was now eddying. It held nothing either new or appealing to me. It was not the first time I had witnessed the stars of stageland sitting in perigean torpor through their seven-coursed suppers, just as it was not the first time I had meekly endured the assaulting vulgarities of onyx pillars and pornographic art for the sake of what I had found to be the most matchless cooking in America.
It seemed an equally old story to my new friend across the table, for as I turned away from the surrounding flurry of bare shoulders, as white and soft as a flurry of gull-wings, I saw that he had already ordered a meal that was as mysteriously sumptuous as it was startlingly expensive. He too, was apparently no stranger to Lobster Square.
I still saw no necessity for breaking the silence, although he had begun to drink his wine with a febrile recklessness rather amazing t o me. Yet I felt that with each breath of time the bubble of mystery was growing bigger and bigger.
The whole thing was something more than the dare-devil adventure of a man at the end of his tether. It was more than the extravagance of sheer hopelessness. It was something which made me turn for the second time and study his face.
It was a remarkable enough face, remarkable for its thinness, for its none too appealing pallor, and for a certain tragic furtiveness which showed its owner to be not altogether at peace with his own soul. About his figure I had already detected a certain note of distinction, of nervous briskness, which at once lifted him above the place of the anaemic street-adventurer. There was something almost Heraclitean in the thin-lipped and satyric mouth. The skin on the sunken cheeks seemed as tight as the vellum across a snare-drum. From the corner of his eyes, which were shadowed by a smooth and pallid frontal-bone, radiated a network of minutely small wrinkles. His hands, I could see, were almost femininely white, as womanish in their fragility as they were disquieting in their never-ending restless movements.
In actual years, I concluded, he might have been anywhere between twenty-five and thirty-five. He was at least younger than I had first thought him. Then I looked once more about the crowded room, for I had no wish to make my inspection seem inquisitorial. He, too, let his eyes follow mine in their orbit of exploration. Then, for the first time, he spoke.
“They’ll suffer for this some day;” he suddenly declared, with the vehemence of a Socialist confronted by the voluptuosities of a Gomorrah. “They’ll suffer for it !”
“For what particular reason?” I inquired, following his gaze about that quite unapprehensive roomful of decorous revelers.
“Because one half of them,” he avowed, “are harpies, and the other half are thieves!”
“Are you a New Yorker?” I mildly asked him. I had been wondering if, under the circumstances, even a voluminous paddock-coat would be reckoned as adequate payment for a repast so princely. The man had already proved to me that his pockets were empty.
“No, I’m not,” he retorted. “I’m from God’s country.”
THAT doubtlessly irreproachable yet vaguely denominated territory left me so much in doubt that I had to ask for the second time the place of his origin.
“I come from Virginia,” he answered, “and if I’d stayed there I wouldn’t be where I am to-night.”
As this was an axiom which seemed to transcend criticism I merely turned back to him and asked: “And where are you to-night?”
He lifted his glass and emptied it. Then he leaned forward across the table, staring me in the eyes as he spoke. “Do you know the town of Hanover, down in Virginia?”
I had to confess that I did not. As he sat looking at me, with a shadow of disappointment on his lean face, I again asked him to particularize his present whereabouts.
“I’m on the last inch of the last ropeend,” was his answer.
“It seems to have its ameliorating conditions," I remarked, glancing about the table.
He emitted a sharp cackle of a laugh.
“You’ll have to leave me before I order the liqueur. This,” with a hand-sweep about the cluster of dishes, “is some music L’ll have to face alonC. But what’s that, when mu’re on the '
of the last rope-end?”
“Your position,” 1 ventured, “sounds almost like a desperate
“Desperate!” h e echoed. “It’s more than that. It’s hopeless!”
“You have doubtless been visiting Wall Street or possibly buying mining-stock?” was my flippant suggestion. His manner of speech, I was beginning to feel, was not markedly Southern.
“No,” he cried with quick solemnity. “I’ve been selling it.”
“But such activities, I assume, were far removed from the avenues of remorse.”
He stared at me, absently, for a moment or two. Then he moved restlessly in his chair.
“Did you ever hear of a wire-tapper?” he demanded.
“Quite often,” I answered.
“Did you ever fall for one of their yarns? Did you ever walk into one of their nice, goldplated traps and have them shake you down for everything you owned and for things you didn’t even own?”
jLJERE was a mis-*■ fortune, I had to confess, which had net yet knocked at my
“I came up to this town with thirty
thousand dollars, and not quite a third of it my own. Twenty of it was for a marble quarry we were going to open up on the Potomac. They sent me North to put through the deal. It was new to me, all right. I wasn’t used to a town where they have to chain the door-mats down and you daren’t speak to your neighbor without a police-permit. And when a prosperous-looking traveler at my hotel got talking about horses and races and the string that Keene sent South last winr.er, he struck something that was pretty close to me, for that’s what we go in for down home—horse-breeding and stock-farming. Then he told me how the assistant superintendent of the Western Union, the man who managed their racing department, was an old friend of his. He also allowed this friend of his was ready to ’phone himsome early track-returns, for what he called a big rake-off. He even took me down to the Western Union Building, on the corner of Dey and Broadway, and introduced me to a man he called the assistant superintendent. We met him in one of the halls— he was in his shirt-sleeves, and looked like a pretty busy man. He was to hold back the returns until our bets could be laid. He explained that he himself couldn’t figure in the thing, but that his sister-in-law might possibly handle the returns over her own private wire.” “That sounds very familiar,” I'sadly commented.
“He seemed to lose interest when he found I had only a few thousand dollars of my own. He said the killing would be a quarter of a million, and the risk for holding up the company's despatches would be too great for him to bother with small bets. But he said he'd try out the plan that afternoon. So my traveler took me up to a pool-room with racingsheets and blackboards and half a dozen telegraph keys and twice as many telephones. It looked like the real thing to me. When the returns started to come in and we got our flash, our private tip from the Western Union office, I tried fifty dollars on a three to one shot.”
“And of course you won,” was my sympathetic rejoinder, as I sat listening to the old, sad tale. “You always do.” “Then I met the woman I spoke about, the woman who called herself the sisterin-law of the racing-wire manager.” “And what was she like?” I inquired. “She looked a good deal like any of these women around here,” he said with an eye-sweep over the flurry of gull-wing backs and the garden of finery that surrounded us. "She looked good enough to get my thirty thousand and put me down and out.”
He laughed his mirthless and mummylike laugh.
“You see, I had sense enough to get cold feet over-night. But when I talked it over with her next day, and I saw her callingup a few of her Wall Street friends,
I kind of forgot my scruples. She got me thinking crooked again. And that’s all. That’s where the story ends.”
His docility, as I sat thinking of that odious and flamboyant type of she-harpy, began to irritate me.
“But why should it end here?” I demanded.
“Because I put twenty-thousand dollars of other people’s money into a phony game, and lost it.”
“Well, what of it?”
“Do you suppose I could go home with that hanging over me?”
"Supposing you can’t. Is that any reason why you should lie down at this stage of the game?”
“But I’ve lost,” he averred. “Everything’s gone!”
“ ‘All is not lost,’ ” I quoted. “ ‘till honor’s self is gone!”’
“But even that’s gone,” was his listless retort. He looked up, almost angrily, at my movement of impatience. “Well, what would you do about it?” he challenged.
“I’d get that money back or I’d get that gang behind the bars,” was the answer I flung out at him. “I’d fight them to a
“But there’s nothing to fight. There’s nobody to get hold of. That Western Union man was only a capper, a come-on. Their poolroom’s one of those dirigible kind that move on when the police appear. Then they’d claim I was as bad as they were, trying to trick an honest bookmaker out of his money. And besides, there’s nothing left to show I even handed them over anything.”
“Then I’d keep at it until I found something,” I declared. “How about the woman?”
“She’d be too clever to get caught. And I don’t suppose she’d know me from a piece of cheese.”
“Do you suppose you could in any way get me in touch with her?” I asked.
“But she’s got police protection. I tried to have her arrested myself. The officer told me to be on my way, or he’d run
“Then you know where she lives?” I quickly inquired.
HE hesitated for a moment, as though my ouestion had caught him unawares. Then he mentioned one of the smaller apartment hotels of upper Broad-
“And what’s her name?”
Again he hesitated before answering. “Oh, she’s got a dozen I suppose. The only one I know is Brunelle, Vinnie Brunelle. That’s the name she answers to up there. But look here—you’re not going to try to see her, are you?”
“That I can’t tell until to-morrow.”
“I don’t think there’ll be any to-morrow, for me, ” he rejoined, as his earlier listless look returned to his face. He even neered up a little startled, as I rose to my feet.
“That’s nonsense,” was my answer. “We’re going to meet here to-morrow night to talk things over.”
“But why?” he protested.
“Because it strikes me you’ve got a duty to perform, a very serious duty. And if I can be of any service to you it will be a very great pleasure to me. And in the meantime, I might add that I am paying for this little supper.”
There is no activity more explosive than that of the chronic idler. Once out on Broadway, accordingly, I did not let the grass grow under my feet. Two minutes at the telephone and ten more in a taxicab brought me in touch with my old friend Doyle who was “working” a mulatto shooting case in lower Seventh Avenue as quietly as a gardener working his cabbage-patch.
“What do you know about a woman named Vinnie Brunelle?” I demanded.
He studied the pavement. Then he shook his head. The name clearly meant nothing to him.
“Give me something more to work on!” “She’s a young woman who lives by her wits. She keeps up a very good front, and now and then does a variety of the wiretapping game.”
“I wonder if that wouldn’t be the Cassel woman Andrus used as a come-on for his Mexican mine game? But she claimed Andrus had fooled her.”
“And what else?” I inquired.
Doyle stood wrapt in thought for a moment or two.
“Oh, that’s about all. I’ve heard she’s an uncommonly clever woman, about the cleverest woman in the world. But what are you after?”
“I want her record—all of it.”
“That sort of woman never has a record. That’s what cleverness is, my boy, maintaining your reputation at the expense of your character.”
“You’ve given birth to an epigram,” I complained, “but you haven’t helped me out of my dilemma.” Whereupon he asked me for a card.
“I’m going to give you a line to Sherman—Camera Eye Sherman we used to call him down at Headquarters. He’s with the Banker’s Association now, but he was with our Identification Bureau so long he knows ’em all like his own family.” And on the bottom of my card I saw Doyle write: “Please tell him what you
can of Vinnie Brunelle.”
“Of course I couldn’t see him to-night?” Doyle looked at his watch.
“Yes, you can. You’ll get him up at his apartment on Riverside. And I’ll five you odds you’ll find the old night-owl playing bezique with his sister-in-law!”
THAT, in fact, was precisely what I found the man with the camera eye doing. He sat there dealing out the cards, at one o’clock in the morning, with a face as mild and bland as a Venetian cardinal feeding his pigeons.
My host looked at the card in his fingers, looked at me, and then looked at the card again.
“She got you in trouble?” was his laconic query.
“I have never met the lady. But a friend of mine has, I’m sorry to say. And I want to do what I can to help him out.” “How much did he lose?”
“About thirty thousand dollars, he claims.”
“ What was the game?”
“It appears to have been one of those so-called wire-tapping coups.”
“Funny how that always gets ’em!” ruminated that verger of long-immured
“Well, here’s what I know about Vinnie. Seven or eight years ago she was an artist’s model. Then a sculptor called Delisle took her over to Paris—she was still in her teens then. But she was too brainy to stick to the studio-rat arrangement. She soon came to the end of her rope there. Then she came home—I’ve an idea she tried the stage and couldn’t make it go. Then she was a pearl-agent in London. Then she played a variation of the ‘lost-heir game’ in what was called the Southam case, working under an English confidence-man called Adams. Then she got disgusted with Adams and came back to America. She had to take what she could get, and for a few weeks was a capper for a high-grade woman’s bucketshop. When Headquarters closed up the shop she went South and was in some way involved in the Parra uprising in the eastern end of Cuba.”
My apathetic chronicler paused for a moment or two, studying his lacerated cigar end.
“Then she married a Haytian half-caste •Tew in the Brazilian coffee business who’d bought a Spanish title. Then she threw the title and the coffee-man over and came back to Washington, where she worked the ropes as a lobbyist for a winter or two. Then she took to going to Europe
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Continued from page 48
every month or so. I won’t say she was a steamship gambler. I don’t think she was. But she made friends—and she could play a game of bridge that’d bring your back hair up on end. Then she worked with a mining share manipulator named Andrus. She was wise enough to slip from under before he was sent up the River. And since then, they tell me, she’s been doing a more or less respectable game or two with Coke Whelan, the wiretapper. And that, I guess, is about all.” “Has she ever been arrested? Would they have her picture, for instance, down at Headquarters?”
The man who had grown old in the study of crime smiled a little.
“You can’t arrest a woman until you get evidence against her.”
“Yet you’re positive she was involved in a number of crooked enterprises?” “I never called her a crook,” protested my host, with an impersonality that sud-
denly became as Olympian as it was exasperating. “No one ever proved to me she was a crook.”
“Well, I’m going to prove it. And I rather imagine I’m going to have her arrested. Why,” I demanded, nettled by his satiric smile, “you don’t mean to say that a woman like that’s immune?”
“No, I wouldn’t say she was immune, exactly. On the other hand, I guess she’s helped our people in a case or two, when it paid her.”
“You mean she’s really an informer, what they call a welcher?”
“By no means. She’s just clever, that’s all. The only time she ever turned on her own people was when they threw her down, threw her flat. Then she did a bit of secret service work for Wilkie’s office in Washington that gave her more pull than all your Tammany ‘politics’ east of Broadway.”
“Am I to understand that what you call
politics and pull, then, will let a woman rob a man of thirty thousand dollars and go scot free?”
“My dear fellow, that type of woman never robs a man. She doesn’t need to. They just blink and hand it over. Then they think of home and mother, about ten hours after.”
“But that doesn’t sound quite reasonable,” I contended.
The older man looked solemnly at his cigar-end before asking his next question.
“Have you seen her yet?”
“No, I haven’t,” I replied as I rose to go. “But I intend to.”
He moved his heavy shoulder in a quick half-circular forward thrust. It might have meant anything. But 1 did not linger to find out. I was too impressed with t íe need of prompt and personal action on my part to care much for the advice of outsiders.
DUT as each wakeful hour went by I Lí found myself possessed of an ever widening curiosity to see this odd and interesting woman who, as Doyle expressed it, had retained reputation at the expense of character.
It was extremely early the next morning that I presented myself at Vinnie Brunelle’s apartment-hotel. I had not only slept badly; I had also dreamed of myself as a flagellant monk sent across scorching sands to beg a barbaric and green-eyed Thais to desist from tapping telegraph wires leading into the camp of Alexander the Great.
Th door was duly answered by a maid, by a surprisingly decorous maid in white cap and apron. I was conscious of her veiled yet inquisitorial eye resting on my abashed person for the smallest fraction of a second. I almost suspected that in that eye might be detected a trace of something strangely like contempt. But, a little to my astonishment, I was admitted quite without question.
“Miss Brunelle is just back from her morning ride in the Park,” this maid explained.
I entered what was plainly a diningroom, a small but well-lighted chamber. Striped awnings still kept the tempered autumn sun from the opened windows, where a double row of scarlet geraniumtops stood nodding in the breeze. At one end of the table in the centre of the room sat a woman, eating her breakfast.
She was younger looking, much younger looking, than I had thought she would be. Had she not sat there already inundated by the corroding acids of an earlier prejudice, I would even have admitted that she was an extremely beautiful woman.
She was in a rose-colored dressing gown which showed a satin-like smoothness of skin at the throat and arms. Her eyes, I could see, were something between a hazel and a green, set wide apart under a Pallas Athene brow that might have been called serene, but for some spirit of rebellion vaguely refracted from the lower part of the face. The vividness of her color, which even the flaming sweep of her ■rn"— could not altogether discount, made me think of material buoyancies, of living flesh and blood and a body freshly bathed.
Her gaze was direct, disconcertingly direct. It even made me question whether or not she was reading my thought as I noted that her hands were large and white, that her mouth, for all its brooding discontent, was not without humor, and, strangely enough, that her fingers, ears, and throat were without a touch of that iewetry which I had thought peculiar to her kind.
“You wish to see me?” she said, over her coffee-cup. My second quick glance showed me that she was eating a breakfast of iced grapefruit and chops and scrambled eggs and buttered toast.
“Very much,” I answered.
“About what?” she inquired, breaking a square of toast.
“About the unfortunate position of a young gentleman who has just parted company with thirty thousand dollars!”
CHE bent her head, with its loose and heavy coils of dark hair, and glanced at my card before she spoke again.
“And what could I possibly do for him?”
There was something neither soothing nor encouraging in her unruffled calmness. But I did not intend to be disarmed by any theatrical parade of tranquility.
“You might,” I suggested, “return the thirty thousand.”
There was more languor than active challenge in her glance as she turned and looked at me. t
“And I don’t think I even know who you are,” she murmured.
“But I happen to know just who you are,” was my prompt and none too gentle rejoinder.
She pushed back her hair—it seemed very thick and heavy—and laughed a little.
“Who am I?” she askecl, licking the toast-crumbs from her white finger-tips.
“IT tell you who you are,” I retorted with some heat. “You’re a figure-model that a sculptor named Delisle took to Paris. You’re the old running-mate of Adams in the Southern heir case. You’re the wife of a Haytian half-caste Jew with a Spanish title. You’re the woman who worked with Andrus, the wild-cat mine swindler who is now doing time in Sing Sing. And just at present you’re the accomplice of a gang headed by a certain Coke Whelan, a wire-tapper well known to the police.”
Her face showed no anger and no resentment as I unburdened myself of this unsavory pedigree. Her studious eyes, in fact, became almost contemplative.
“And supposing that’s all true?” she finally asked. “What of it?”
She sat and looked at me, as cool as a cucumber. I could no longer deny that as a type she interested me. Her untamed audacities were something new to my experience. She seemed still in the feral state. Her mere presence, as she sat there in the lucid morning light, exerted over me that same spell which keeps children rooted before a circus-animal’s cage.
“What of it?” she quietly repeated.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing of it,” I admitted, “except in the one point where it impinges on my personal interests. I intend to get that thirty thousand dollars
The resolution of my tone seemed only to amuse her.
“Do you know this young man who lost his money on what he took for a fixed
“I have met him,” I answered, a little discomfited at the recollection of how tenuous that acquaintanceship was.
“And have you known him long?"
I was compelled to confess to the con-
“And you understand the case, through and through?"
“I think I do,” was my curt retort.
She turned on me quickly, as though about to break into an answering flash of nri'-e". But on second thoughts she remained silent.
“If life were only as simple as you sentimental charity-workers try to make it!” she complained, studying me with a pitying look which I began most keenly to resent. She swept the room with a glance of contempt. “If all those haytossers who come to this town and have their money taken away from them were only as lamblike as you people imagine they are!”
“Is this an effort towards the justification of theft?” I inquired. For the first time I saw a touch of deeper color mark her cheek. I had been conscious of a certain'duality in her mental equipment, just as I could detect a higher and lower plane in her manner of speech.
“Not at all,” she retorted. “I’m not talking of theft. And we may as well keep to cases. I don’t think very much is ever gained by being impolite, do you?”
I was compelled to agree with her, though I could not shake off the feeling that she had in some dim way scored against me. And this was the woman I had once feared would try to toy with my coat-buttons!
“I’m afraid,” she went on with her grave abstraction of tone, “that you’ll find me very matter-of-fact. A woman can’t see as much of the world as I have and then—oh, and then beat it back to the Elsie Books.”
I resented the drop to the lower plane, as though she had concluded the upper one to be incomprehensible to me.
“Pardon me, madam; it’s not my windmills I’m trying to be true to; it’s one of mv promises.”
“The promise was a very foolish one," she mildly protested. “Yet for all that,” she added, as in after thought, “you’re intelligent. And I like intelligence.”
Still again her deep and searching eyes rested on my face. Her next words seemed more a soliloquy than a speech.
“Yet you are doing this just to be true to your windmills. You’re doing it out of nothing more than blind and Quixotic generosity.”
The fact that my allusion had not been lost on her pleased me a little more I think, than did her stare of perplexed commiser-
“Isn’t it odd,” she said, “how we go wrong about things, how we jump at conclusions and misjudge people? You think, at this very moment, that I’m the one who sees crooked, that I’m the one who’s lost my perspective on things. And now I’m going to do something I hadn’t the remotest intention of doing when you came into this room.”
“And what is that?”
“I’m going to show you how wrong you’ve been, how wrong you are.”
“In what?” I inquired as she again sat in silence before me.
“In everything,” she finally answered, as she rose to her feet. I was at once more conscious of her physical appeal, of her inalienable bodily buoyancy, as I saw her standing there at her full height. The deep flow of color in her loosely draped gown gave her an almost pontifical state lineas. Instinctively I rose as she did. And I could see by her eyes that the courtesy was neither negligible nor distasteful to her. She was about to say something; then she stopped and looked at me for a hesitating moment or two.
/~\NE would have thought, from the ' solemnity of that stare, that she faced the very Rubicon of her life. But a moment later she laughed aloud, and with a multitudinous rustling of skirts crossed the room and opened an inner door.
Through this door, for a moment or' two, she completely left my sight. Then she returned, holding a cabinet photograph in her hand.
“Do you know it?” she quietly asked as she passed it over to me.
It took but a glance to show me that it was a picture of the man whose cause I was at that moment espousing, the man I had followed from the North River pierend the night before. A second glance showed me that the photograph had been taken in London; it bore the stamped inscription: “Garet Child, Regent’s Pack,
The woman’s sustained attitude of anticipation, of expectation unfulfilled, puzzled me. I saw nothing remarkable about the picture, or her possession of it.
“This, I believe, is the man you’re trying to save from the clutches of a wiretapper named Whelan, Coke Whelan, as you call him?”
I acknowledged that it was.
“Now look at the signature written across it,” she prompted.
I did as she suggested. Inscribed there I read: “Sincerely and more, Duncan
“Have I now made the situation comparatively clear to you?” she asked, watching my face as I looked from her to the photograph and then back at her
“I must confess, I don’t quite grasp it,” I admitted, thinking at the moment how her face in the strong side-light from the windows had taken on a quite accidental touch of pathos.
“It’s simply that the man you are trying to save from Coke Whelan is Coke Whelan himself.”
“That’s impossible!” I replied.
“It’s not impossible,” she said a little wearily, “because the whole thing’s nothing more than a plant, a frame-up. And you may as well know it. It can’t go on. The whole thing was a plan to trap you.” “A plan to trap me?”
“Yes, a carefully worked out plan to gather you in. And now, you see, the machinery is slipping a cog where it wasn’t expected to!”
I stood there incredulous, dazed, trying to digest the shock.
“You mean that the man I met and talked to last night is actually an accomp'i-p of vours?”
“Yes,” she answered, “if you care to put it that way.”
“But I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until you bring him here and prove it.” She sank into her chair, with a halflistless motion for me to be seated.
“Do you know why he’s called Coke Whelan?” she demanded.
I did not.
“That, too, you’ve got to know. It’s because he’s a heroin and cocaine fiend. He’s killing himself with the use of drugs. He’s making everything impossible. It’s left him irresponsible, as dangerous as any lunatic would be at large.”
“He will be here himself by ten o’clock. And if he heard me saying what I am at this moment, he would kill me as calmly as he’d sit at a café-table and lie to you.” “But what’s the good of those lies?” “Don’t you suppose he knew you were Parley Kempton, that among other things you owned a house and a car, that you were worth making a try for? Don’t you suppose he found all that out before he laid his ropes for this wire-tapping story?
Can’t you see the part I was to play, to follow his lead and show you how we could never wring his money back, but that we could face the gang with their own fire. I was to weaken and show you how we could tap the tapper’s own wire, choose the race that promised the best odds, and induce you to plunge against the house on what seemed a sure thing?”
I SAT there doing my best to Fletcherize what seemed a remarkably big bite of information.
“But why are you telling me all this?”I still parried, pushing back from the flattering consciousness that we had a secret in common, that I had proved! worthy an intimacy denied others.
“Because I’ve just decided it’s the easiest way out.”
“What made you decide that?”
“I’ve done a lot of thinking since you came into this room. And for a long time I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I don’t do things Coke Whelan’s way. I took pity on him, once. But I’m getting tired of trying to keep him up when he insists on dropping lower, lower and lower every day. Don’t imagine, because you’ve got certain ideas of me and my life, that I haven’t common sense, that I can’t see what this other sort of thing leads to. I’ve seen too many of them, and how they all ended. I may have been mixed up with some strange company in my day, but I want you to know that I’ve kept my hands clean!”
She stopped suddenly and the color ebbed out of her face. Then I saw her slowly rise to her feet and look undecidedly about the four corners of the room. Then she turned to me. Her eyes seemed ridiculously terrified.
“He’s come!” she said, in little more than a whisper. “He’s here now!”
THE door opened before I could speak.
But even before the mummy-faced man I had left at the cafe-table the night before could stride into the room, the woman in front of me sank back into her chair. Over her face came a change, a veil, a quickly coerced and smilinglipped blankness that reminded me of a pastoral stage-drop shutting out somegrim and moving tragedy. -
The change in the bearing and attitudeof the intruder was equally prompt ashis startled eyes fell on me calmly seated within those four walls. He was not as quick as the woman in catching his
I could plainly detect the interrogative look he flashed at her, the look which demanded as plain as words: “What is
this man doing here?”
“This,” said the woman at the table, in her most dulcet and equable tones, “isthe altruistic gentleman who objects to your losing thirty thousand dollars in a race which I had no earthly way of controling.”
Here, I saw, was histrionism without a flaw. Her fellow-actor, I could also see, was taking more time to adjust himself to his role. He was less finished in his assumption of accusatory indignation. But he did his best to rise to the occasion.
“I’ve got to get that money back,” he cried, leveling a shaking finger at her. “And I’m going to do it without dragging my friends into it!”
She walked over to the windows and closed them before she spoke.
“What’s the use of going over all that?”
I she continued, and I had the impression of sitting before a row of foot-lights and watching an acted drama. “You took your risk and lost. I didn’t get it. It’s not my fault. You know as well as I do that McGowan and Noyes will never open up unless you’re in a position to make them. It’s a case of dog eat dog, of fighting fire with fire. And I’ve just been telling it all to your friend Mr. Kempton, who seems to think he’s going to have some one arrested if we don’t suddenly do the right thing.”
“I want my money!” cried the man named Whelan. I could see, even as he delivered his lines, that his mind was floundering and groping about for solid ground.
“And Mr. Kempton,” continued the tranquil-voiced woman at the table, “says he has a house in Gramercy Square where we can go and have a conference. I’ve ’phoned for a telegraph operator called Downey to be there, so we can decide on a plan for tapping McGowan’s
“And what good does that do me?” demanded the mummy-faced youth.
“Why, that gives Mr. Kempton his chance to bet as much as he likes, to get as much back from McGowan as he wants to, without any risk of losing.”
“But who handles the money?” demanded the wary Whelan.
“That’s quite immaterial. You can, if you’re his friend, or he can handle it himself. The important thing is to get your plan settled and your wire tapped. And if Mr. Kempton will be so good as to telephone to his butler I’ll dress and be ready in ten minutes.”
She leaned forward and swung an equipoise ’phone-bracket round to my elbow.
DUT I did not lift the receiver from its D hook. For at that moment the door abruptly opened. The maid in the white leap and apron stood trembling on its ¡threshold.
i “That’s a lie!” she was crying, in her ¡shrill and sudden abandon, and the twin badges of servitude made doubly incongruous her attitude of fierce revolt. l“It’s a lie, Tony! She’s welched on you!”
! She took three quick steps into the
¡ “She's only playing you against this guy. I’ve heard every word of it. She never ’phoned for an operator. That’s a ¡lie. She’s throwing you down, for good, i She’s told him who you are and what your game is!”
I looked at the other woman. She was now on her feet.
“Don’t let her fool you this time, Tony,” was the passionate cry from the quivering breast under the Incongruous white apronstraps. “Look at how she’s treated you! Look at your picture there, that she cinched her talk with! She never did half what I did for you! And now you’re iettlng her throw you flat! You’re standing there and lettingemdash;”
The woman stopped, and put her hands over her ears. For she saw, even as I did, the hollow-eyed, mummy-faced youth reach a shaking hand back to his hip.
“You liar!” he said, as his hand swung ' up with the revolver in it. “You lying [welcher!” he cried, in a thin and throaty 1 [voice that was a little more than a cackle.
I He took one step toward the woman in ¡the rose-colored dressing-gown. She was, ¡ ¡ 1 could sec, much the taller of the two. ¡ And she was standing, now, with her Ibaek flat against the wall. She made no i
attempt to escape. She was still staring at him out of wide and bewildered eyes when he fired.
I saw the spit of the plaster and the little shower of mortar that rained on her bare shoulder from the bullet-hole in the wall.
'T'HEN I did a very ordinary and com-1 mon-place thing. I stooped quickly forward to the end of the table and caught up the nickeled coffee-pot by its ebony handle. The lunatic with the smoking revolver saw my sudden movement, for as I swung the metal instrument upward he turned on me and fired for the second time.
I could feel the sting of the powder smoke on my up-thrust wrist. I knew then that it was useless to try to reach him. I simply brought my arm forward and let the metal pot fly from my hand.
I let it fly forward, targeting on his white and distorted face.
Where or how it struck I could not tell.
All I knew was that he went down under a scattering geyser of black coffee. He did not fire again. He did not even move.
But as he fell the woman in the cap and apron dropped on her knees beside him.
She knelt there with an inarticulate cry like that of an animal over its fallen mate, a ludicrous, mouse-like sound that was almost a squeak. Then she suddenly edged about and reached out for the fallen revolver.
I saw her through the smoke, but she had the gun in her hand before I could stop her. She fought over it like a wildcat. The peril of that combat made me desperate. Her arm was quite thin, and not overly strong. I first twisted it so the gun-barrel pointed outward. The pain, as I continued to twist, must have been intense. But I knew it was no time for half-measures. Just how intense that pain was came home to me a moment later, when the woman fell forward on her face, in a dead faint.
The other woman had calmly thrown open the windows. She watched me, almost apathetically, as I got to my feet and stooped in alarm over the unconscious man in his ridiculous welter of black coffee. Then she stepped closer to
“Have you killed him?” she asked, with more a touch of child-like wonder than any actual fear.
“No; he’s only stunned.”
“It caught him here on the forehead.
He’ll be around in a minute or two.”
Once more I could hear the multitudinous rustle as she crossed the room.
“Put him here on my bed,” she called from an open door. And as I carried him in and dropped him in a sodden heap on the white coverlet, I saw the woman unsheathe her writhing body of its rosecolored wrapping.
“Wait!” she said as she crossed the room. “I must telephone McCausland.”
“Who’s McCausland?” I asked as she stepped out into the dining-room.
“He’s a man I know at Headquarters,” was her impersonal-noted reply.
For the second time, as she stepped hurriedly back into the room with me,
I was conscious of the satin-like smoothness of her skin, the baby-like whiteness of her rounded bare arms. Then, unabashed by my presence, she flung open a closet and tossed a cascade of perfumed apparel out beside the bed where I stood.
“What are you going to do?” I demanded, as I saw her white-clad figure writhe
itself into a street dress. There was something promordial and adamitic in the very calmness with which she swept through the flimsy reservations of sex. She was as unconscious of my predicament as a cave woman might have been. And the next moment she was crushing lingerie and narrow-toed shoes and toilet articles and undecipherable garments of folded silk into an English club-bag. Then she turned to glance at her watch on the dresser.
“I’m going!” she said at last, as she caught up a second handbag of alligator skin, and crammed into it jewel boxes of dark plush and cases of different colored kid, and still more clothing and_ lingerie. “I’m going to catch the Nieuw Amsterdam."
Her quick and dextrous hands had pinned on a hat and veil as I stood in wonder watching her.
“Call a taxi, please,” she said, as she struggled into her coat. “And a boy for my bags.”
I WAS still at the receiver when she came into the room, and looked down for a moment at the woman moaning and whimpering on the coffee-stained floor. Then she began resolutely and calmly drawing on her gloves.
“Couldn’t we do something for them?” I said as I stepped back into the bedroom for her hand-bag.
“What?” she demanded, as she leaned over the bed where Whelan’s reviving body twitched and moved.
“There must be something.”
“There’s nothing. Oh, believe me, you can’t help him. I can’t help him. He’s got his own way to go. And it’s a terribly short way!”
She flung open a drawer and crammed a further article or two down in her still open chatelaine bag.
Then she opened the outer door for the boy who had come for the bags. Then she looked at her watch again.
“You must not come back,” she said to me. “They may be here any time.” “Who may?” I asked.
“The police,” she answered as she closed the door. She did not speak again until we were at the side of the taxicab.
“To the Holland American Wharf,” she said.
Nor did she speak all the while we purred and hummed and dodged our way across the city. She did not move until we jolted aboard the ferry-boat, and the clanging of the landing-float’s pawl-andratchet told us we were no longer on that shrill and narrow island where the fever of life burns to the edge of its three laving rivers. It was then and only then that I noticed the convulsive shaking of her shoulders.
“What is it?” I asked, helplessly,/oppressed by the worlds that seemed to stand between us.
“It’s nothing,” she said, with her teeth against her lip. But the next minute she was crying as forlornly and openly as a child.
“What is it?” I repeated, as inadequately as before, knowing the uselessness of any debilitating touch of sym-
“It’s so hard,” she said, struggling to control her voice.
“It’s so hard to begin over.”
“But they say you’re the cleverest woman in the world!” was the only consolation I could offer her.