The Last Move
I KNEW that I could never have got to the side of that insane youth. I knew that I could never have intercepted him, even though I had leaped for him openly and recklessly at the moment when my eye had fallen on him. The next thought that flashed through my mind was that it had been foolish of me to come unarmed. I might at least have taken a chance of winging him before he could make the last move of that mad plan of his. Then I had a vague consciousness of the woman coming to a halt half-way toward the railing.
It could only have taken a second or two, yet I had time to notice the nervous movement of her hand as she caught up the folds of her veil over her black hat-brim. I could also see the blue veins in her temple stand out against the ivory-like pallor of her face. Some strange agony of uncomprehending revolt, some look of mute terror in her wide and shadowy eyes, made her face a fitting model for a mask of Tragedy itself. It seemed apocalyptic, Cassandra-like. It must have been some such look that Joan wore at Rheims, or Sappho knew in that last moment before she leaped from the Leucadian
I couldn’t see the steady quiver of the woman’s lips where the slender oval of her chin merged into the tender and troubled hollow between mouth and cheekbone. Yet there was some strange transfiguration. A deadly white calm of resignation was on her face, the resignation of a soul so crushed by pain that any further sting of fate could seem but trivial to her. I remember, too, that she gave one stifled little cry as she raised her hands and covered her face with them. That cry brought every eye in the gallery round to her. A rustle ran through the tiers of peering visitors as they gaped at that strange figure, unable to decide whether they were beholding a “bargain-hunter” whose fortune had been wiped out on the floor, or merely a woman grown faint as she staggered out for fresh air.
But it was at the precise moment of that broken cry that Cono Di Marco had reached the gallery railing. His entire advance, since he had first entered the door, had taken up but a few seconds of time. Between us crowded a cluster of “rail-birds” and anxious-eyed “lambs” and “bargain-hunters” watching their brokers. There was also a line of wonder-stricken Cook’s tourists, and what I accepted as an out-of-town delegation of school-teachers being shown the intricacies of an active day on the Exchange. The passing figure of that white-faced youth with a small hand-bag under his coat-flaps meant nothing to them. But to me, as I saw that figure at the rail, he spelled one stupendous and unanswerable Perhaps, as thought and counter-thought flashed back and forth across startled consciousness. Was or was not that yellow calfskin bag as it had been left and locked by me, the night before? Had it been opened and interfered with? Was its descent to mark the ruin of a great structure of stone and steel where seven hundred men contended and shouted or was it a quart or two of tap water to fall harmlessly to the paper-littered floor? Was that shouting and seething mass of human beings to be obliterated; were they to be wiped out as the blot on the Brotherhood of Man that their contention and madness seemed to make them? Were they to be crushed by the hand of a half-mad youth in the most frenzied moment of their pursuit for power and gold? Or was the unexpected to intervene, and in some way still stop that ominous little bag of yellow calfskin from falling?
The unexpected did not happen. There was no wait, no hesitation, excepting for one brief fraction of a second as the calm-eyed youth swung the bag up to the top of the railing. That short moment, however, allowed the tableau to form and fix itself in one ever-memorable picture. The floor below still gave up its roar of careless sound; the battling and buying and selling went madly on; the gray-clad messengers still came and went; the telegraph-keys still clicked and pounded and cluttered; the “rail-birds” still peered wonderingly back at the figure of the white-faced woman, and through the huge windows still streamed the kindly light of open day.
Then the bag fell.
I CROUCHED down and back, mechanically, instinctively pressing away from the cauldron of sound which was doomed to become a crater of suddenly rending fire. I remember the sudden and ominous lull that swept over the tumult of the floor. It seemed to me, at first, like some high-roofed cathedral when its great organ has ceased to sound. I can never forget that silence, as though some huge dynamo had come to a standstill, as though the power-belt had suddenly fallen from some Gargantuan mill.
But it lasted for only a second. One explosive and derisive shout arose from the pit, one jeer and volley of laughter. Then the tumult of voices began again, with renewed fury. The telegraph-keys clicked and clattered; the gray-clad pages dodged and darted back and forth; upthrust hands waved and semaphored at upthrust hands; orders were given and taken and given again; and those strange things called “shares,” those strange values for which negroes sweated in tropical suns and bleached men labored in mines and children sickened in factories, were once more bought and sold. The writing ant-hill went on with its blind and uncomprehending life, and the same kindly light still streamed in through the huge windows.
There are moments, even potentially cataclysmic, which seem to benumb memory. The bag had fallen. Of that I was certain. I was equally certain, too, that it had reached the Exchange floor in the same condition as when I had locked and left it. But what followed that discovery has always seemed misty and dream-like, a procession of unco-ordinated impressions.
I remember hurrying towards the gallery door, I remember coming up with the grey-lipped youth, and his stare of wonder as he saw my face—which, in fact, may have been as white as his own. I remember his quick movement as I advanced towards him, his sudden backward step until he stood flat against the bare wall of the corridor. As he did so his hand went down to his pocket and came up again quickly, with a glimmer of metal as it came.
This must have rather terrified me, although, as I remember it, there was neither anger nor resentment on his face. He seemed so bloodless and fragile, so possessed with the lassitude of utter weariness, that the ferocity with which I fell on him would surely have looked foolish to an onlooker. The force I made use of was absurd. But I did not fully understand. I imagined, in my blindness, that he intended that gun for me. And I must have leaped for it with the whole-souled alacrity which only blind terror, and the knowledge that life is sweet, can inspire.
I leaped at him like a lunatic, carrying him to the floor of that empty corridor with the force of the impact, grabbing and clutching for his gun hand as we fell. I could feel the gun-hammer snap and pinch the flesh of my palm; I could hear his half-moaned “Let me die!” But I did not stop until I had that revolver in my possession.
HOW I got him to his feet, and then out to the street, I can scarcely remember. The youth himself seemed so dazed and weak that at first I thought I had in some way stunned him during that none too gentle scrimmage. Then I even began to suspect that his lassitude was due to his being under the influence of some drug. But in the end I concluded that it was more the dull narcotic of that terror which comes to man when he has once deliberately peered over the brink of Death itself, when he has once keyed himself up to confronting the Unknown. And I felt almost sorry for that mad young “Red” as I held his arm firmly in mine and helped him out across the sidewalk.
There I found Davis, the efficient and self-effacing and ever dependable Davis, waiting for me in the touring-car as patiently and placidly as though I had left him but a minute before to purchase a ticket for the opera.
I swung the tonneau door open and forced the passive boy into the car. I tapped the coat pocket where the captured revolver rested. Then I took my seat beside him, with my hand still on the revolver.
“Where to, sir?” inquired Davis, without so much as looking at us out of the tail of his eye.
“To Police Headquarters,” I said, slamming the tonneau door shut.
The Prisoner of War
THE privilege of being the arm of the law is not always a pleasant one. The prerogatives of authority carry with them their own perplexities. And the paths of duty, either official or personal, are not always as straight and clear-cut as a street-car track.
These sadly axiomatic truths came home during the hour that followed, as I sat closeted with my friend, Lieutenant Belton.
My own expedients already seemed absurd to me. The thought of “shanghai-ing” Cono Di Marco, of carrying him off for a few days at sea on the Attila, assumed a more and more ridiculously melodramatic complexion. The temptation to send him out to Beaumaris, my country home, had also been dismissed as impracticable. Nor could I keep him locked up in my city bathroom, poking food gingerly in to him, as one might with a poodle suspected of the rabies.
And yet I wanted him to be a prisoner quite as much as I wanted the cause of his detention to remain unknown. I could not afford to have the meaning of his coup become public property. It would be equally hazardous to me and my ends to allow him to communicate with his unsavory Inner Circle associates. I suspected, on the whole, that he would be willing enough to remain quiescent—quiescent, at least, with all but his own friends. And even those friends could not afford to be too openly inquisitive.
Lieutenant Belton puzzled me a little, so prompt was his appreciation of my problem. I entertained no suspicion, in my gratitude at his respect for my own reticences, that he himself knew more than he cared to say. In fact, I was not thinking a great deal about him. My mind was concentrated on one point, on one fixed determination; and that was to keep the "Hammer of God” and his friends my own personal and particular case. So if there were certain things which I confided to Lieutenant Belton, there were other things on which I decided to remain silent. “I guess we can fix you up, all right,” was the lieutenant’s easy acknowledgment.
“But how?” I demanded, still puzzled by some vague trace of humor on that officer’s countenance. His powers, I knew, were not imperial. He was small fry, compared with the officials under the same roof where we sat.
“Oh, I’ll have Finley phone over to Hulsart,” he explained. “We can always count on Hulsart in a case like this."
“And then?” I asked, remembering that Hulsart was a “Tammany” magistrate with a penchant for disconcertingly plain talk from the bench.
“Then we’ll have your man brought up before Hulsart this afternoon. You’ll have to lay a charge of assault, or—”
“But my dear man, he didn’t assault me,” I interrupted, beginning as I was to learn how circuitous were the ways of justice, how thin sometimes stood the partition between the criminal and the so-called protector of society.
“Well, supposing he didn’t! You’ve got to have something to hold him on. If you don’t want to make it assault, make it joy-riding in your machine, or grabbing an overcoat, or any old thing that sounds reasonable. That’ll hold him till you’ve straightened out what you want to. Between ourselves, we’ve just held a bath-tub murder-suspect for three weeks on trick charges like that.”
“But what am I going to prove, when the case comes up?”
"You needn’t prove anything much, if you don’t want to. You can merely let the case fall through. But in the meantime, the trick’s been turned. You’ve held your man, and neither he nor his friends know why.”
“It doesn’t seem quite honest and aboveboard," I still objected, losing a little of my respect for the law even while I attained to a new admiration for the resourcefulness of its officers.
A house-dog has to have sharp teeth,” was Lieutenant Belton’s laconic explanation. And when you know the criminal as well as we do, down here, you’ll understand why we’re satisfied to fall back on the dog-eat-dog idea so often!"
But how about the details?” I asked, still puzzling over the Jesuitic contention that two wrongs could make a right.
"Oh, we'll fix things up for you,” he averred, with the calm confidence of the hierophant not caring to disclose his discretionary powers to the mere neophyte. “And the first thing to do will be to steer the newspaper boys off the trail, and keep ’em off.”
AND just how efficiently that “fixing up” and steering off” was done became manifest to me as I went through the daily papers, early the next morning, and on the second page of one found nothing more than a brief item to the effect that some excited or over-jocular tourist had the day before dropped a leather hand-bag from the Visitors’ Gallery of the Stock Exchange.
“The joker escaped in the excitement that reigned on the floor” continued this item. "The falling bag, however, just grazed the shoulder of Mr. Gustave Loeb, the younger member of the firm of Loeb, Silverthorn & Loeb. As it remained uncalled for it was opened in an effort to discover its owner, and oddly enough was found to contain a rubber hot-water bottle and a sample of breakfast-food. This caused several interesting rumors on the street, the least improbable of which was the intimation that the accident was in some way intended as a symbol of the drop in wheat, combined with this morning’s liquidations resulting from the Stillwell movement in U.S. Rubber.”
Having perused this enlightening paragraph lor the second time, with the smile of those who know more of a passing mystery than is permitted to the world at large, I opened a day-old telegram which I found to be signed “Natalie.”
“Why have I never heard from you especially on the matter of the Hammer?”
I suddenly realized that Natalie Stillwell and her existence had completely passed out of my memory. This discovery brought with it a certain mental discomfort, for Natalie was not the sort of young lady to be lightly neglected. Yet, as I thought of her, I was able to think of her as only something aloof and ornamental, as something remote from the dustier world and the sterner issues into which I had plunged. So there was, I fear, a slight note of condescension in my attitude as I sent off a telegram to her, at Palm Beach, announcing that the Hammer of God mystery had been cleared up and no further cause for anxiety remained. And to this message I appended, not the familiar sobriquet of “Rebbie,” but the more dignified “Alfred Rebstock Woodruff.”
A Visit at Midnight
“A LADY to see you, sir,” said Davis, my man, with that self-effacement which could leave him so dependably automaton-like when the occasion seemed to demand it. With some inward irritation I glanced up at my tiny Louis XIV clock. It showed eight minutes to midnight. The theatres were little more than out; the opera was just over. I was about to be invaded, apparently, by the Wilmer-Gibsons or the Van Alstynes. The situation, after all, was simple enough.
But the achieved immobility of Davis’ face still somewhat disturbed me.
“Is she alone?” I ventured to inquire, with considerable emphasis on the last word.
“Quite alone, sir,” was the solemn answer.
“But what name, Davis?” I asked, a little impatiently. Davis flickered an eyebrow like the signal disc of an annunciator. It was a mute but aggrieved protest against any derision of his dependability.
“She gave none, sir.”
I put down my volume of Turgenef. Then I looked up at Davis. He put his clustered fingers to his lips and gave vent to a ghost of a cough.
“But just what kind of a lady?” I mildly inquired.
“She’s wearing a veil, sir. It’s a very heavy one.”
“That is interesting.”
Davis looked over his shoulder a little uneasily. “She’s bent on seeing you, sir.”
I arose from my deep-cushioned reading-chair. The most interesting things in life, after all, do not come from between the covers of a book.
“Show her in, please,” I said to Davis, in my most matter-of-fact tones.
The funereal black figure withdrew, with a second annunciator-like flicker of the aggrieved eyebrow. I leaned back and gazed about my curio-hung walls, with a pretence of ennui. But I wondered if Davis had seen through my hypocrisy as I had seen through his. Midnight visitors with heavy veils do not always leave you as calm as you may pretend to be.
I swung about to my old Florentine writing-table, and made a move as though to begin writing a letter. I knew well enough that the movement was nothing more than a feint to hide my ever-increasing impatience. Scarcely had I dipped my pen in the ink when my portières were drawn back and a woman stepped into the room.
I arose from my chair as she advanced toward me without speaking. Even before she caught her heavy veil up around the rim of her dark hat, it flashed over me just who my visitor was. There was no mistaking the poise of the slender figure, so severely clad in black; the forward bend of the torso from the narrow hips upward; the unequivocating directness of movement; the almost childlike impersonal candor of outlook. With my first glimpse of the white face beneath the uplifted veil, I knew that I could not be mistaken; it was the young woman who called herself Elvira Paladino.
She came to a standstill in the centre of the room. There seemed to be something defiant, and yet something almost pitiful in her attitude.
“You are Rebstock Woodruff,” she began, looking me straight between the eyes.
I bowed in acknowledgment of that somewhat curt salutation. Her sense of pallid detachment from the ordinary things of earth, her weary indifference, her embodiment of a listlessness that was as unfeigned as it was exquisite, made my mind go back to one of Botticelli’s Madonnas.
“It is very late, I know,” she said. “But I must see you.”
I knew from the tremor in her voice that she was more embarrassed than her words might imply. Nor was I less ill at ease. I had the presence of mind, however, to bow again and point toward my deep-cushioned arm-chair. I knew that in this position the light of my reading-lamp would fall directly on her face. And I was particularly anxious to see that face more clearly, to study it more intimately, more leisurely.
The young woman sat down, with something that was almost a gesture of weariness. The face that I saw in the lamplight was thinner than when I had last seen it, but the clarity of the profile was unchanged, and the raptness of the eyes had not altered. The contour was the same slender oval, tapering to a chin that was too sharply defined to be called pear-shaped. It was neither this profile nor the Greek chin with the small cleft in it, I decided, that made her face remind me of a statue’s. It was, rather, the deep shadow under the soft, yet severe, brows, which seemed to leave her face veiled in inscrutabilities, touched with mystery, like the face of a great artist’s Hosea.
“What can I do for you?” I found myself asking, in a more kindly voice than I had at first intended.
“You caused the arrest of Cono Di Marco,” she began, without looking up at me. She spoke in a defiant monotone, which seemed to denote recognition of a disagreeable task being faced only through coercion.
“I did,” was my reply.
Her earnest eyes lifted and studied my face for a moment before she spoke again. I could see that it was not easy for her.
“Why did you?” she asked.
“Need I answer that?”
“I should like to know,” she replied.
“Is there anything unnatural in a desire to protect my friends from the operations of a criminal?”
“You are not protecting your friends,” she retorted, with what was almost a touch of defiance.
“I am at least doing what I can to protect them. But we’ll have to let events themselves speak for that.”
There was another moment or two of silence. The woman seemed to be reining in some impulse to say out what might not be the best for her. Then she looked up at me again.
“You are the chief witness against Cono Di Marco.” Again I bowed without speaking.
“You are the only witness against him,” she went on, more passionately. “It will be you alone who will secure his imprisonment, for what was only a mistake of judgment, only a sort of madness.”
“No, madam; for a crime, one of the most carefully planned and diabolical of crimes.”
“No, no; it was not a crime!” she cried. “It was only an obsession.”
“Then one far too dangerous for me to run the risk of its being repeated.”
“He is only a boy,” she declared, slowly drawing one black glove through her white fingers.
“Yet quite old enough to imperil seven hundred human lives!” I retorted.
“He scarcely understood,” she said in a lowered voice. “His judgment had been warped. His mind had been unsettled by worry. He had been made a tool of by the real culprits. He was not responsible any more than a drunkard would be responsible.”
“And you were sent here, I assume, by those real culprits?”
“No, I was not,” she answered.
“Then why are you telling me all this?” I asked.
She leaned forward in her chair, and her thin hands came together with a gesture that seemed half appeal and half helplessness.
“I want to ask you—to implore you not to appear against Cono Di Marco!” She uttered the words hurriedly, as though ashamed of the emotion which had crept into them. “I want to plead for him, to make you promise not to be hard on him.”
“The matter has passed out of my hands.”
“Out of your hands?”
“Yes, it is the authorities alone who now control Cono Di Marco’s destiny.”
“But you are to appear against him! It will be you and you alone who will send him to prison!”
“One has duties to perform, however disagreeable they may prove.”
“But you will gain nothing by it.”
“I expect to gain nothing by it,” was my retort.
She looked up at me suddenly, her rapt yet impersonal eyes direct on mine.
“You will only bring peril closer about you,” she said, almost in a whisper.
“Am I to interpret this as a threat?” I inquired, with a pretence of being quite unmoved by either her words or her attitude.
“Why should I threaten?” asked the woman. “I am saying it for your sake—for your sake quite as much as for his.”
“That is very gracious of you,” I retorted, but my sarcasm seemed to be lost on her.
“There is danger,” she said; “far greater danger than you imagine, closer about you than you imagine.”
I LAUGHED a little, and she looked down at her hands again—a trifle puzzled, a trifle uncertain how to proceed,
“You are already a marked man,” she warned me. “Just as Marvin Stillwell has been a marked man, just—”
I cut her short.
“Were you sent to tell me this by that gang of bomb-throwing Reds, that gang of Bolshevistic brigands, for whom you and he have been working so zealously?”
“I have been working for no Bolshevistic brigands,” she slowly and quietly corrected. “We are not bomb-throwers. If we worked with men who were not what they should be, we did so without knowing it. We had a higher cause to work for—our own cause.”
“We were made tools of by these men,” she continued, ignoring my interruption. “They used us for purposes we did not understand. But it will never happen again. I can promise you that.”
“I, too, can promise you that.”
“Can’t you see that it was all a mistake?” she said, with a new note of appeal in her voice. "Neither he nor I quite understood. He had almost lost his power to judge, through worry and study and trouble. He has not been himself.”
“You mean that he is a phrenetic? You claim that he is irresponsible?”
“He was irresponsible,” she answered. “He sees his mistake, I think—what madness it all was. He will promise to give up everything. He will leave America; he will go away out of the country forever, if you will let him have this one chance. I can promise you this compact will be kept, if you will only not be hard on him.” She sat looking at me with her tragic and helpless gaze. “You can believe me, can you not?” she asked, with her childlike directness. The eyes, I began to see, were strangely beautiful.
“Yes, I could believe you,” I answered; “but how am I to believe him?”
“I myself will see that the promise is carried out. I will give you my word of honor that this young man will never be seen in New York again.”
“Pardon my asking—but what control have you over this young man?”
She found the question, apparently, not an easy one to answer. “I ask this,” I explained during the silence that ensued, “because I have no wish to seem vindictive in this thing. I only want to do what is right. I want to help you if I can. But if, as you have already practically acknowledged, Cono Di Marco is quite irresponsible, how can you make him responsible? I mean, what claim have you on him?”
Again she looked at me with her great eyes and again I had to confess to myself that they were very extraordinary eyes. I began to wonder if this was why I had gone so far as to try to excuse myself to her. It was like a judge stopping to apologize to the prisoner at the bar.
“I have no claim on him,” she said, very simply.
“You are, perhaps, in love with this young gentleman?” I had the brutality to suggest. Again there came one of her pregnant silences, shot through with a gasp of indignation.
“Or this young gentleman, obviously, is in love with you?”
“Cono Di Marco does not believe in love,” was her reply, her forced calmness of voice strangely at variance with her restless eye-flash of indignation. “He is a Social Bolshevist—he says love is foolish and selfish, that it cannot be thought of in the Inner Circle.”
“And you agree with him?”
SHE shook her head from side to side, slowly.
“I don’t know what to think—everything has changed so much."
“Don’t you mean that he has changed so much?”
“Yes, partly that. But I know that his selfishness has been for the Cause,” she maintained. "I know he is not selfish by nature. I feel sure of it, just as I feel sure he is not criminal by nature.”
“Will you be so good as to tell me what the Inner Circle is?” I asked. My use of the words seemed to startle her a little, and I could see a more guarded look creep into her face.
“They are friends, working together,” was all that she would admit.
“A party of embittered and envious Socialistic Bolshevists that is secretly planning and working for this cause which you have already mentioned,” I suggested. “A party which may even include a jailbird or two a man, for instance, like Red-flag MacGirr?”
She made a little gesture of protest.
“No, no—we were not that kind!” she cried. “We were dreamers—we were workers—we were giving our lives for what we thought was right. You are not one of us; you could not understand. But we were never that!"
“Then tell me what you were,” I asked, more gently, realizing that my brusqueness was letting me make very little headway. “You have asked me to help you. I want to help you. It is only fair that you should be open with me.”
“I cannot tell you,” she answered, without looking up.
I suddenly asked myself, as I hesitated over my next line of advance, why I was sitting there slowly trying to undo my work, actually planning to defeat my own ends. I even began to wonder if my head had been turned by a mere pretty face.
Yet Elvira Paladino’s was not a pretty face. It was more than that. It was the face of a woman, I felt, who had risen above the crude thinking and primordial passions of the mere Bolshevistic hater of wealth; the face of a woman who had loved beauty more than beautiful things. It was the index of a soul which had known and nursed a flame of aspiration, which had labored and grown wise and walked with sorrow, which had yearned upward toward that ideal state where the hungers of flesh and spirit are fed on better things than the husks of anarchistic brotherhoods. It was a face still crowned with some touch of that glory which the unfrustrated sacrificial spirit of her sex achieves always with martyrdom and occasionally with motherhood.
“If you cannot speak of this Inner Circle, tell me about yourself,” I said.
She looked up quickly, somewhat at a loss.
“There is nothing to tell.”
“Pardon me, but I must insist,” I declared, clutching at a pretext that might excuse me to myself. “You come to me without explanation, after a first impression that was unenviable enough, and expect my help at the same time that you decline to explain yourself?”
“What must I tell you?” she asked, after a moment or two of silence.
“What you feel free to tell, of course. About your earlier life—your birth, your childhood—anything."
SHE sat there torturing her glove between her nervous fingers. It was several seconds before she spoke.
“My mother was an Austrian, who married a Petrograd refugee—a political refugee. She died when I was quite young, in Budapest ”
“Go on,” I said, for she had come to a stop.
“We wandered about Europe—father and I—from Budapest to Vienna, then to Paris, then to London. We were three years in London. Then my father’s work took him to Brussels and back to Budapest again.”
“Then you are not an Italian?”
“No—I was compelled to take an Italian name when I did brotherhood work in Rome. My father died there of typhoid fever, two winters ago.”
“What was your father’s name, your own name?”
“His name was Sabouroff,” was her answer.
“Then your real name is Elvira Sabouroff, and not Elvira Paladino?”
She sat there in utter silence, until I prompted her to continue.
“And after your father’s death?”
“I was brought to New York by one of Trotzky s early comrades, who had worked with us in Petrograd. We were not allowed to land. We were turned back. A week later I found myself alone in England.”
“And then?” I again prompted, for again she had come to a stop.
“Then I went to Prince Kropotkin. I should have starved, I think, if it had not been for him. He interested himself in me, more on account of my father, and found work for me with a London publisher, translating Russian and German monographs into English. Then an American socialistic lecturer offered me work in New York. I came here the next spring. But it was impossible for me to take the position—I cannot explain why. There were several of my father’s friends in the city, his old colleagues. I went to them. They were very kind to me. I became one of them.”
“And Cono Di Marco?” I asked.
“I had known him three years before in Austria, and later in Rome. When he returned from South America he became one of the Inner Circle. We worked together in many ways. He helped me, and I have helped him.
I saw that I was on the better tack. I did not flatter myself that I could at once win her confidence. There would, I knew, always be reservations and evasions. But I was at least progressing.
"And will you tell me why you became a—Socialist and now have Bolshevistic tendencies?” I asked, choosing the mildest words that would fit the case.
“I have told you,” she insisted, with a touch of weariness in her tones.
“But I should like you to tell me the inner reason, the real reason.”
“Because I have worked in factories here by the day, in bad air and bad light—yes, in bad company. I have learned that honest labor is not paid as it ought to be. My father was driven from a country because that country’s rights were denied him. I used to dream that America was the home of justice. I came here hungering for justice. I found only the same tyranny, the same greed, the same oppression!”
I BEGAN to feel that she, too, was a dreamer, a visionary, though one who was being more and more touched with disillusionment. I began to realize the unuttered pathos of her life, as I sat there following her restless and unhappy gaze while it flitted about my comfortable room, with its curio-laden walls and its book-lined shelves and tables.
She seemed to look at those books of mine a little enviously, and yet a little abstractedly, as though the warm tones of the old bindings and the gold of the hand-tooled morocco and calf typified something which had been denied her.
As she sat there, I again studied her drooping profile, its pure, clear outline relieved against the dark cushion of my reading-chair. I noticed the smooth, candid brow under the caught-up veil; the heavily massed hair; the shadowing and almost over-scholarly brows, which only the delicate curve of the eybrow redeemed from severity; the brooding eyes themselves, which the thickly-planted black lashes made darker than they really were; the purplish shadow underneath them, merging gradually into the ivory whiteness of the cheek. I saw her eyes rest a little hungrily on my royal écusson, and almost caressingly on an old Etruscan-shaped majolica of which I was inordinately proud. She was once more looking at me, however, and I had to break the silence.
“But what can you do?” I asked. “What can one woman do for a cause which contends against things that have always existed?”
The momentary look of passive weariness went out of her face.
“I can at least die for that cause,” she answered. She tried to say it bravely, but I thought I detected an undertone of bitterness in her voice. I felt that she regarded me as an unemotional and unregenerate materialist, to whom the finer things of the spirit must always remain inscrutable.
“But what good will that do either you or the cause—to die for it?” I demanded.
She turned on me with what was almost a flash of anger. But instead of the outburst I had expected, a veiled look of forced indifference crept into her face. She sank wearily back in the cushioned chair.
“I don’t think you would understand,” she said, in her subdued and even tone. “And this is so far away from the problem I came here to face.” She glanced, with a look of alarm, at my little Louis XIV clock. “And it is very late,” she murmured, as she rose to her feet.
HER pallor caused me some uneasiness.
“You are tired?” I said, standing, also, and facing her. She flashed at me an almost grateful look, at that more intimate tone of interest. It made me feel, in some way, that life had taught her to expect little from her fellow creatures, for all her communistic ideals, for all her dreams of universal brotherhood.
“I am—a little,” she confessed. “And you see it is so late.”
I poured a glass of sherry for her, and put it in her hand. She shook her head, but I insisted. There was a moment’s silence as she sipped tentatively and nervously at the wine. I decided, as I watched her, on a still bolder line of advance.
“In what part of the city do you live?” I asked her.
A look of alarm once more came into her face, at my sudden question.
“On the East Side,” was her vague response.
“But in what part of the East Side?” I insisted.
“Nothing could be gained by your knowing that,” she answered.
Mistrust begets mistrust. I began to be aware of my old suspicions whimpering at their chains. Perhaps I was being duped.
“But I can’t let you return there alone, at this time of night,” I explained to her.
She smiled a little.
“I’m used to going about alone at all times,” she answered, putting down the sherry-glass. But she remained standing before me in a hesitating and detaining way.
I began to comprehend why that particular Inner Circle was anxious to keep her as one of its members. Her mere appearance was too potent a factor to be disregarded. She was too handsome a tool to be lightly ignored. Yet, through all her years, I felt she had still retained some inner and subjective element of innocence.
She had, it is true, come to achieve her own ends—to ask a favor of me. But she had not flaunted her sex at me. I felt grateful to her for it. Unleash as I might those whimpering suspicions, I still felt strongly drawn toward her.
She opened her lips as though about to speak, but I interrupted her.
"I think I know what you are going to ask,” I said, anticipating both her question and my own possible objection to it. “If you will sit down for a couple of'minutes, until I finish writing this note, I will answer you at once.”
I motioned her toward the chair, and she still again sank into it, a little perplexed, a little ill at ease.
I sat at the table and scribbled off a few lines. Then I sealed and addressed the envelope, and rang for Davis.
THE young woman in black was watching me closely as I handed the note to my man, and continued to watch me as he disappeared with it, without a word. I don’t think she dreamed that the note was addressed to Davis himself, and that it contained the following message:
“Get into my motor-coat and golf-cap and follow this woman wherever she goes. Let my cane fall on the hall floor as a sign that you understand.”
I felt a little ashamed of that subterfuge, but a burned child dreads the fire; I had to make sure of my ground.
Then I turned to my visitor. It would be necessary, I knew, to keep her there for some little time.
“You have asked me not to push the case against Cono Di Marco,” I said.
She moved her head a little, to signify that what I said was true.
“I will not push this case against him, on certain conditions.”
“On what conditions?” she asked.
I was astonished at her lassitude, at the fact that there was no discernible note of elation in her voice.
“On the condition you have already spoken of—that Cono Di Marco leave America at once. Also that you no longer take an active part in what you have called the Inner Circle.”
I was watching her very closely as I spoke. It was my last words alone that caused her any alarm.
“They would not release me,” she hurriedly explained. “They would hold me even against my will.”
“On the ground, I take it, that you are too closely in touch with a number of their secrets.”
She assented to this by her characteristic movement of the head. I heard the cane fall to the floor in the hall outside.
“What would you gain by any such apostasy on my part?” she asked, a little belligerently, and also a little surprisedly.
“It is not what I should gain; it is what you would gain by it,” was my answer, which in no way seemed to abate her feeling of wonder. I noticed her quick movement of unrest as she looked at the clock.
“But, after all, this can be left for us to talk over at some later day,” I conceded.
“I am afraid I shall not see you again,” she said.
“I am sorry,” I answered, “but I must insist on seeing you again.”
“For what reason?”
“It will be some little time, I believe, if Cono Di Marco is released, before he can actually sail from America. So I must ask—let us say merely as a guarantee of good faith—that you report to me daily, in person, until that young man’s departure.”
I CONCLUDED, from her expression, that she had not intended to go with him. It annoyed me a little to find that this conclusion carried with it a foolish sense of gratitude and relief. But several things had happened to annoy me that night, carefully as I kept my feelings under control.. The oddity of standing there, considerably after midnight, calmly dictating the future conduct of an unknown young woman, came home to me for the first time.
“You insist that I must come here?” she was asking, with a troubled look.
“If it is not impossible.
“It is not impossible. But it might be dangerous—for you, I mean. It cannot help being dangerous.”
“I am willing to run that risk,” I answered. The candor and the calmness of her studious eyes disconcerted me a little. She was being more honest with me, I felt, than I had been with her.
“Then I must be here to-morrow?” she asked, with that perfunctory and impersonal tone which a prisoner might have used to a probation officer.
“I should like to see you,” I answered.
“At what time?”
“Would between five and six suit you?”
She raised her hand and let down her veil. I watched it fall regretfully, as I have watched a curtain fall on the last act of a stage-romance. But I stopped her as she turned away toward the door.
“Does any member of the Inner Circle know that you have come here to-night?” I demanded.
She stood pondering the question. I felt annoyed that I could not see her eyes. Then slowly she shook her head from side to side.
“They do not know I am here,” she answered.
“Then this remains a personal matter between you and me?”
“Yes,” she said slowly. She paused for a moment as she turned away. “I—I must thank you for what you have done—for what you have promised me. Good-night."
“Good-night,” I answered, as I opened the door for her.
The Second Visitor
IT COULD have been little more than five minutes after Elvira Sabouroff’s departure that my door-bell rang sharply. Davis had not returned.
I suppose it was more the lateness of the hour than any actual premonition of the unexpected which prompted me to answer that ring without loss of time.
A man’s figure confronted me as I swung open the door. I knew at a glance that it was Red-flag MacGirr himself.
“I’d like to see you for a minute or two,” he said, with a softness of voice that surprised me almost as much as did his appearance on my threshold.
He must have noticed my hesitation, for he laughed in my face. The effrontery of the man was overwhelming; it was past belief.
“You don’t know me, I guess,” he said, in the same suave tones. “But, after all, that needn't count so much.”
“Of course it needn't,” I said, deciding to play him at his own game. “But be so good as to step inside.” He preceded me through to the warm and softly-lighted library, where I motioned him to a seat. But he preferred to stand. He looked at me keenly, knitting his brows together in an effort to get a better glimpse of my face in the half-light of the shaded reading-lamp.
“You’ve got a boy named Cono Di Marco down at the Tombs,” he began, with calm-eyed insolence.
“Such a boy, I believe, is now being held by the police—whether at the Tombs or not I cannot say.”
“And I understand you’re going to appear against him?”
“Am I?” I said, reaching over and taking a cigar from my humidor.
“You think you are. But you’re not.”
“No; you’re not. And I’m going to give you a little advice in plenty of time.”
“I sincerely trust it will be helpful.”
“Oh, it’ll be damned helpful. And it won’t be hard to understand. All I’m here to say is that if you send that boy upstate, you’re going to be blown to hell and back.”
I could not help laughing. Then I stopped to offer him one of my cigars. He promptly declined it.
“Can you guarantee the return trip?” I inquired, noticing that my facetiousness left him more than ever puzzled.
“You’ll get it—that’s all I’ll guarantee.”
“And on whose authority do you make this assertion?” I asked. I had been thinking both hard and fast as I stood smoking.
It would be a foolish move, I felt, to close in on him then and there. I first wanted to gather up the rest of my evidence. And I did not wish to bring the game to such an early and altogether unsatisfactory close.
“For whom do you happen to be speaking?” I repeated, resenting his attitude of growing impudence.
He took a step closer. “I’m speakin’ for the Inner Circle—for a brotherhood that could make any Black Hand gang in this burg look like an also-ran.”
ONCE MORE I laughed a little. I had never been much afraid of the man who makes threats. A threat, I usually felt, was a sign of weakness. The man with the intention to strike gives no warning; the man with the power to strike at will needs no resort to words.
“Is that all?” I asked.
“Aint that enough?” said the ex-convict, with a sneer.
“Then I can give you the information which you are after. It may both satisfy and delight you to hear that I am not going to pound young Di Marco.”
“Of course you’re not,” observed the sapient MacGirr. I noticed that his gruffness of voice, used a moment before, had passed from him. I had noticed on several former occasions that MacGirr kept two voices in his locker—the glib voice of the curb orator for those who would appreciate it, and the gruffer and rougher voice which made him more at home with his underworld colleagues.
“Of course I’m not,” I acquiesced. “But I am going to pound you.”
His little wide-set, ducklike eyes opened at this. Then he recovered himself and laughed as he watched me open the door for him.
“I guess I’m used to pounding,” he retorted, as he passed through the door and slowly turned until he faced me again, “so you can get busy, as soon as you like!”
I had a hankering to have it out with him, man to man, then and there. But such was not the method of modern warfare, I was slowly but surely learning. So I had to control my feelings, though it cost me an effort.
“Good night,” I said, quite cheerily and companionably.
“Good night,” he answered, shifting one wide shoulder up towards his ear-tip.
He did not move. He stood studying my face. I seemed both to exasperate and mystify him.
“Would you mind telling me just how you got wise to so much of my business?” he asked. I thought I detected a note of seriousness in his mockery. It was flattering to think that I had even stirred the apprehension of such a man.
“Ah, then it was your business?” I retorted.
He continued to stare at me.
“You’re too wise,” he said at last. “Too wise to last long.”
“I’ll run that risk,” I retorted, “and even increase it.”
“By proceeding to increase my area of wisdom.”
“And where’ll that take you?”
“We’ll discuss that at our next meeting.”
“Perhaps,” he announced, with his ironic stare of appraisal.
“Good night,” I repeated, as I closed the door.
“Good night!” he announced, a little mockingly, over his massive shoulder.'
The Tangle in the Web
MY NEXT DAY was far from being an idle one. Davis, in his account of Elvira Sabouroff’s movements after she left me, had nothing extraordinary to report.
He had followed her down Fifth Avenue to Madison Square. There she had hurried eastward across the Square into Twenty-fifth Street. At Fourth Avenue she had stopped to catch a surface car. It was at Twenty-first Street that she had stepped from this car again. Then she had walked eastward for nearly two blocks, and, taking out a latch-key, had quickly entered a red-briok apartment-house of passably modern appearance. It seemed a quiet and respectable neighborhood, Davis explained, after he had given me the house number. He said he felt sure he had not been seen.
My next move took me down to Lieutenant Belton’s office, and still later into Hulsart’s court-room, and still later again before the Center Street officials. This entailed many explanations, involved several consultations, and resulted in considerable telephoning and counter-consulting and passing from office to office, before I was able to say that Cono Di Marco could once more face his liberty. Flinging hand-bags down on the floor of the Stock Exchange, apparently, was not a practice to be encouraged; and the wheels of the law, once started, are not always easy to stop.
Lieutenant Belton himself took the collapse of the Cono Di Marco case with a great deal more tranquility than I had looked for. The whole thing, I suppose, was very small potatoes to him. And it would have meant a month’s hard work, he explained, to round up the outsiders.
“What do you know about those outsiders?” I demanded.
“Nothing for publication,” he laughed
“Then I’m going to enlighten you, before long,” was my answer.
“You’re too young at the game to start bucking against that Bolshevist gang,” he good-naturedly declared.
“Well, I intend to try a round with at least one of them,” I answered, a little piqued by his lightness of tone.
“Which one of them?” he asked, still amused.
“The one they call Red-flag MacGirr,” was my answer.
“He’ll keep you busy for a while,” remarked the lieutenant, this time a little puzzled, as I had wished him to be. “And I guess you’ll find it almost as exciting as some of your tarpon-fishing,” he concluded, patronizingly, while I sat looking at him and wondering if I would ever live down my over-luxurious past.
My next move was a guarded visit to the Second Avenue room above the German printing-shop; the bald little room where I had first heard MacGirr and Di Marco work out the details of their plot.
As I had expected, I found the shop locked and shuttered. Beansy Sehmidlapp, alias Pepper Schlatter, had obviously decided to lie low until the excitement of the Stillwell affair had died down. But I concluded that my little back room would be worth keeping in hand. It made too good a tower of observation to be lightly abandoned.
I next made my way to Twenty-first Street, sauntering along its south side between First and Third Avenues, to fix in my mind the house which Davis had described as the home of Elvira Sabouroff. A sign, swinging on an iron rod wired to the janitor’s basement-steps, said:
FOUR ROOM FLAT TO LET
This, I decided, would make a good excuse for investigating that house a little more closely. I found it hard to explain to myself just why I was doing this. I seemed to resent any lurking suspicion as to the integrity of Elvira Sabouroff, or the truth of what she had told me.
I was standing in the doorway of a German restaurant, pondering the perversity of this feeling, when something caught my eye. It was a something which drove all such sentimental quibbles quickly out of my head. For I beheld the huge figure of MacGirr walking rapidly westward along Twenty-first Street.
I saw him look guardedly about as he came to a stop, as though to make sure that he was not followed. Then I saw him turn sharply and swing up the narrow steps of the apartment-house which Davis had pointed out as that in which Elvira Sabouroff lived.
The discovery was more of a shock to me than I dared to confess to myself. It seemed to open up such untold possibilities, such puzzling and unsettling complications. It almost justified the suspicions which I had begun to resent.
I walked casually into the little German restaurant and took a seat at one of the tables near the window. Having done this, I ordered a meal which I had neither the appetite nor the courage to attack. But I sat before it for three-quarters of an hour, sipping the cafe-au-lait and inhaling the odors of Teutonic cookery.
I saw MacGirr come from the house, walk eastward, and disappear into First Avenue. Two minutes later I saw Elvira Sabouroff herself come out and follow him.
The fact was forced home upon me that this strangely incongruous couple were still colleagues, still held together by some compact that was as secret as it was subversive. It made me feel that I had been duped, that my movements for the liberation of Cono Di Marco were little more than a foolishly emotional and over-generous playing into the hands of the enemy.
The Personal Equation
I CUT the VanAlstyne tea at the Plaza nevertheless, and bolted from a committee meeting at the Cosmos Club in order to be at home during the hour appointed for Elvira Sabouroff’s call.
When six o’clock came without her, and another half-hour had dragged by, I began to feel that I had indeed been duped and deceived by her. It came home to me that I was not progressing as famously as I had hoped for.
I waited until seven. I was on the point of ordering my car from the garage when what Davis described as a small Italian boy left a note at my door, without waiting for an answer. The note was brief; it came from Elvira Sabouroff. It said:
“I cannot come to you. I cannot explain the reason now, but I must see you at ten o’clock to-night.—E. S.”
I read these lines over several times, each reading leaving me a little more puzzled and uncertain. I could not deny a feeling of almost appeasing satisfaction, however, at the possession of this first recognition of a personal relation. So with a more contented mind I told Davis to order in dinner, and instructed him to admit no one save the woman, and to be especially guarded in answering all rings. I think the mystery of the thing appealed to the placid-eyed old hypocrite mightily; for when I suggested that it might not be altogether amiss if he went armed, for a few days, at least, the faintest ghost of a smile flickered about his straight-lipped mouth.
It was a few minutes to ten when he admitted Elvira Sabouroff. I knew, the moment I clapped eyes on her, that she was struggling under some undue excitement. Her breath came quick and short; there was a feverish alertness in her movements. But what most altered her was the absence of that abstracted tranquility which I had so often noticed about her eyes. She even seemed unwilling to let her gaze meet mine. I wondered just how much MacGirr’s visit to her had to do with this. I also wondered, now that she had won her point as to the Di Marco case, what changes there would be in her manner—what her newer attitude toward me would be.
“I cannot—I dare not come here any more,” she said, without looking at me. It surprised me that she still had enough conscience to trouble her.
“Why not?” I asked, as I pushed forward a chair for her.
“I cannot explain. But it will be impossible.”
“Which means that you intend to break your part of the compact between us?”
“No—not that!” she cried, disturbed, apparently, by the touch of scorn in my voice. “There were older compacts than mine with you—I think I had almost forgotten them.”
She raised her eyes to mine for the first time, and I could see the unhappiness in them. There was also something strangely like terror on her face. I could scarcely believe that she would stoop to the way of deceit and lies.
“Do you mean the Inner Circle?” I asked, less brutally.
She moved her head slowly up and down, but did not speak.
“Have you seen any of that Inner Circle since you left this place last night?” I asked.
I knew that question was putting her to the test. My anxiety grew as the seconds dragged by and she did not answer. Then she looked up at me, with a deep breath, as though bracing herself for some ordeal which I could not as yet comprehend.
“Yes, I have seen two of them,” she said at last.
A BARELY perceptible tremor, too slight to be called a shudder, passed over her.
“Had those visits anything to do with the promise you made to me yesterday?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Could you explain how?”
“Then could you explain why it was impossible for you to come here at the hour you first mentioned?”
“I was being watched.”
“But why did that frighten you?”
“It did not frighten me. But it was not fair to you.”
“Yes—they know that I was here last night. They may even know that I am here now. They are on the watch, spying and shadowing me everywhere.”
“But you misunderstand the situation. I’m not afraid. In fact, I rather enjoy the excitement of it.”
She looked around at me again, this time in mild wonder.
“You do not know them!” she broke out, in her low and tense tones, with that vague touch of some foreign inflection in their cadences which, I had noticed, so often returned to her in moments of deeper emotion. “They have no law save their own. Oppression has made them cunning and cruel. Poverty has exasperated and crushed them. They are lawless and ruthless. They believe in outrage and violence. They glory in it. What you might call murder is almost an ideal of conduct to them. They have absorbed Lenin’s and Trotzky’s principles, and gone beyond them.”
“This is not Sicily,” I said, laughingly. My lightness of tone did not dispel her sense of terror.
“But still they can carry out their plans. They can do their work under the pretence that their acts are mere Bolsheviki efforts. If they are once convinced that you are against them, they will never leave you one safe hour.”
“But why should you worry about that?” I asked, with a laugh. “I’d enjoy it, as I’ve already told you. We can’t live without excitement, you know. I used to travel across a continent for my sensations—pay good money for them—even go wandering about shooting big game, and all that sort of thing, just for the sake of the hardship and the occasional hazard. Yes, I actually used to pay good money for thrills—for something to shake the ennui out of life!”
“I don’t understand,” said the puzzled girl.
“Then let me explain. If I am going to find just as good a sensation here, in this city—why, it’s going to save me a lot of trouble. I won’t need to travel, you see, when it’s going to come and meet me at every street corner.”
“But it’s peril. There’s always the peril!” she cried.
“I’m not altogether afraid of it. And I rather imagine that this gang you speak of has moved and lived and had its being mostly through fear. I imagine that when they are fought with their own tools they won’t put up such a brave front. You must pardon me if I say these things even while I remember that you are still one of the Circle.”
I could see the blood surge up to her face and leave it even paler than before. A rebellious light came into her eyes, but it showed for only a second or two. I could see, too, that she was making a great effort to contain herself.
“The Circle you speak of is no longer the Circle."
“And why not?”
“It has been invaded and made use of by selfish men, by criminals who are using it to gain their own ends.”
“And one of those men is Red-flag MacGirr,” I declared.
She acquiesced to that declaration by an almost imperceptible movement of the head.
“And it was Red-flag MacGirr who sent you here to me,” I broke out, as I noticed her shift of uneasiness at the mention of the name. She cowered back a little. I could see that the blow had struck home.
“No—no!” she murmured, white to the lips.
“Then why did this man MacGirr, alias Socialist Connell, visit you at your home in Twenty-first Street, between two and three o’clock this afternoon? And why did you go out, not five minutes after he did, hurry to the rooms of Cono Di Marco, and meet there a German bomb-maker named Beansy Schmidlapp, alias Pepper Schlatter—the very man who in the back of his printing-shop on Suffolk Street prepared the explosive which Cono Di Marco was to make use of in the Stillwell outrage?”
MY OUTBURST left her gasping a little, for there was many an hour of pent up indignation let loose in it. The completeness of my information, too, must have startled her. But it was not guilt and humiliation that I read on her face; it was revolt, bitter and indignant revolt. She threw out her hands with a little gesture of repudiation.
“I can’t go on with these lies,’’she said, with almost a moan. “This endless chain of lies! I can’t let you think that I am as bad, as low as that! It has to come to an end—rand it may as well be now!”
I waited for her to go on, without speaking. It was still costing her an effort to face me, but I knew I could not help her.
“It is true that this man you call MacGirr came to me,” she began, her voice so low and constrained that it scarcely carried past the table on which she leaned. “He knew I had been here—he knew when I left your rooms, last night, long past midnight. He took advantage of that knowledge to threaten me.”
“How threaten you?” I demanded, as she came to a stop and her gaze went down before my belligerent stare.
“He is low—he is little more than an animal.”
“He said that unless I got you to keep out of all Inner Circle affairs he would lay the matter before the Emergency Committee."
“But what made him think you had influence with me? Why should he assume that you had control over my future actions?”
She bent her head lower, and did not look at me as she answered this question.
“He said that if you were willing to do what you have already done, you could be made willing to do a great deal more. He said it was my fault, my fault alone, if I did not convince you to do the right thing by the Circle.”
“He said that I should come to you—and that I should stay until I had won my point.”
She flung the words from her with a gesture of loathing, as she might have cast off a bemired garment. I could tell by the tremor of her hands what it was costing her to make that declaration. And there grew up in me an almost horrified conception of the baseness and depravity of Red-flag MacGirr.
I found it hard to, meet the girl’s eyes as she stood in front of me. I felt that in some way she had stepped up to a higher plane than mine. It seemed that her tumultuous confession had carried away with it the dross that still left me the coarser and baser metal. Yet it was not the confession, I told myself on second thought; it was more the profound and abysmal revolt of her whole nature, the suffering through which she had passed in its enunciation, which was counting so much in her favor.
“The beast!” I ejaculated, against my will, as my thoughts once more went back to MacGirr, and to the part he was playing. I found it hard to break the silence, yet I felt the necessity of saying something. “And this is the Circle for which you are willing to work?” I asked, as gently as I could.
“No, I cannot work for them!” she burst out. “That is over. There is no longer anything to work for. They are only idle and envious spirits railing against order and decency. They have no constructive ideal behind them; they are fretting about in a low fever of unrest, sustaining life on the milk-and-water of cheap oratory. I can see it now.”
“Then why should you dread leaving them?”
SHE looked up quickly, in surprise, as though I had failed to understand the obvious.
“They will never let me leave them,” she explained. “They will say I know too much about them and their plans. It’s not that I am afraid of them. But they will always have to be reckoned with, to the end.”
“Would that be your only regret?” I asked.
“One can’t give up one’s life-work without a pang,” she answered, and on her face was the wordless anguish of the dreamer who has failed in her dream. “It will leave me so terribly alone! It will leave all my life empty.”
I felt sorry for her, yet I knew that she stood infinitely beyond the range of my foolish pity.
“Couldn’t I do anything to help you to keep that life from being empty?” I asked, meeting her eyes as they were lifted to mine, touched with wonder and surprise.
There was, indeed, something bewildering in the pale beauty of her face. The moment, in some way, registered itself on my memory as epochal, as though life had narrowed up to one of its rare and memorable crises.
“You?” she murmured, her shadowy eyes still sad with that troubled disillusionment. “How could you do that?”
“Let me try,” I asked, and the solemnity of my voice surprised me a little. “Men and women have helped one another long before this.”
“I need a friend very much,” she murmured, but the impersonal and abstracted tone in which the words were uttered made them almost a dismissal of my offer. Life already seemed to have taught her that friendship was seldom disinterested.
The candor with which she had learned to face the world had cost her much. It may have made her fearless of convention; but it had made her also fearful of comradeship with her own kind.
“No,” she said, “I could not repay your friendship.” Then she drew back a little, as though recoiling from the force of a new thought. “But, after all, we may both be helpless in this. We may be compelled to stand together, to save ourselves. We may have to be friends because from now on we will have the same enemies.”
“Then you will stand by me?” I said, with a note of humility. The humility, I felt, was some not unnatural response to the very nobility with which she seemed to invest her loneliness of spirit.
I found myself impulsively holding out a hand to her. She looked at me for one pregnant moment, and then permitted her hand to drop into mine. It lay there, for only a second or two, almost as quiet and helpless as a wounded bird.
It was the morning’s mail that brought me a characteristically acidulated note from Natalie Stillwell, somewhat imperiously demanding the meaning of my neglect.
“Let this new-fangled criminal research work of yours go for a week or two, and come down and enjoy the surf-bathing with us. It’s beautiful. And we are getting up a camping party for a week at Duck Inlet. Can’t you come down and help amuse us while we’re there?
“NATALIE E. STILLWELL.”
I thought of her in her wheeled chair, with her slender parasol and her fine linen and laces, gliding through her upholstered life on that consummately perfected machinery which ground each passing sand-grain of time into sensation. But, for some reason or other, I had not the heart to write that day.
The Footpath of Friendship
IT WAS the second unexpectedly busy day after Cono Di Marco’s discharge from custody that my desk-telephone rang, and Elvira Sabouroff herself spoke to me from the other end of the wire.
I knew at once, from the mere tone of the voice that came to me through my receiver, that something of importance had happened. Yet the consciousness of this did not bring with it any feeling of disturbance. I was, in fact, possessed by a vague sense of gratitude at the thought that there was to be no break in the chain of hurrying events. A life of action was, after all, getting its grip on me.
“I must see you at once,” said the voice which now and then reminded me, in certain fleeting and flute-like notes, of an old English quail-pipe which I kept among my curios.
"But what is it?” I asked, after I had assured her that I could see her at any time. She gave me to understand that the situation was one which could not be explained over the wire.
‘Will you come here?” I asked.
‘No; that is impossible,” was her hurried answer. “I must meet you somewhere.”
“Where are you now?”
There was a moment’s pause before the answer came.
“I’m speaking from Third Avenue.”
“But from where on Third Avenue?”
“From a chemist’s—what you call a drug-store.”
“And what must I do?”
“When I leave here I shall get into a car, to make sure I am not followed. Could you not take the subway to Brooklyn Bridge, cross the promenade on foot at eleven o’clock, and meet me somewhere east of the first tower?”
“I could, quite easily.”
"Then I shall carry a folded newspaper. I shall be walking from the centre of the bridge, toward the first tower. If I drop the newspaper you must not stop. Do not even speak to me.”
“I understand. I’ll be there,” I answered.
I heard her murmured “Good-bye,” and hung up the receiver, indescribably exhilarated at the thought of this new and undefined movement in our opening drama.
It had been many a long day since I had crossed Brooklyn Bridge on foot. The February morning air was clear and crisp with cold. The East River far below me was dappled with drifting ice-floes. Billowing clouds of steam, white and fluffy, like cotton-wool, floated up from the drifting ferries. The slips and wharves of the harbor stretched away on either side, like a tooth-lined mouth that opened into the maw of the hungering city. The bay flashed silver and opal in the thin winter sunlight; the passing ships spoke of high emprise and foreign ports and the appeasing spice of danger. It seemed good to be alive. The zest of adventure could still keep life clean and wholesome.
All of earth’s spirit of uncertainty, touched with romance, seemed to focus and rest on the black-clad figure which approached me between the great swaying bridge cables and crawling trains and rattling cars and wagons. The cold air had brought a roselike touch of pale color to her cheek. The quick look of relief and gratitude, too, that sprang into her eyes as she saw me, did not escape my notice. Instead of dropping the folded newspaper which she carried in her hand, she swung about and joined me. We walked onward toward the centre of the bridge. The footpath was slippery with patches of frozen snow, and she took my proffered arm in silence. A smile lurked for a moment somewhere about her usually mournful eyes. Then her old-time gravity returned to her.
“Wait,” I said, as we stopped to look out over the sparkling bay. “Don’t spoil it—don’t shatter the moment, until we’ve seen this view!”
“It’s worth seeing,” she said with a little sigh. “It’s worth waiting for.”
We stood side by side, letting our gaze wander back and forth, from the sombre grays and greens of Governor’s Island to the black cobweb of the Williamsburg Bridge, from the creeping and puffing harbor tugs to the canon-ends of the crowded cross streets. Then we moved on again in that strange aerial solitude, poised between the roar and tumult of two great cities.
THE contemplation of Manhattan’s serrated sky-line did not seem to add to my companion’s peace of mind.
“It will never be safe for us now,” she said, with a troubled movement of the head toward the city. “It will never be safe—there.”
“And why not?” I asked.
“Because it has come—at last! What I was afraid of has happened. They are against us now, all of them.”
It was not fear that shone in her eyes; it was more the bewildering spirit of some new and utter isolation, the desolation of a soul which had not altogether learned to accept loneliness.
“Cono Di Marco has turned against me. He blames everything on me. He claims it was I who caused the miscarriage of his plans—of that insane plot of his. He would not listen to me. He has seen MacGirr, and MacGirr has lied to him, has strengthened him in his belief. He says I have defeated their plans, that I have been openly working against the Inner Circle.”
“And a blessed fine thing to work against!” I suggested, as lightly as before. She looked at me reprovingly out of her troubled and inscrutable eyes.
“But it has brought them together on a new understanding,” she explained. “And MacGirr and Schmidlapp have met. They have had a conference over it. They have decided, as they put it, to take you on the wing.”
“They are quite welcome to,” I retorted. I tried to be nonchalant. But in spite of myself, at those pregnant words, a tingle of something that was neither fear nor dread erupted and ramified through the nerves of my body. “But how do you know these two worthies have had a conference?”
“I gathered it from what Cono Di Marco implied—from what he said. They met in Schmidlapp’s, on Suffolk Street, in the printing-shop there. They seem to think New York will be too dangerous for them. They have sent a message ordering me to come and talk things over with them.”
“Why should they send for you?”
“MacGirr insists on using me. He says he will give me one more chance to do what he proposes. He intends to give me one chance, with you, before he makes his final stroke.”
“One more chance?” I echoed, alarmed at the abject bitterness with which she flung out the words.
To be Continued