THE CITY OF PERIL
A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
A uthor of “The Prairie Wife,'' “The Prairie. Mother,’’ ‘ The Man Who flouhhi’t Sleep,” etc.
HE DID not answer. My heart seemed to sink in my body, as the seconds dragged past and his upturned face remained a blank.
“Where is that woman you call Elvira Paladino?” I demanded once more, with a ferocity which somewhat startled him.
“I do not know,” he said at last, without emotion.
Could the little rat be telling me the truth, I asked myself. I had risked too much to be put off without reason, to be tricked by mere stubbornness.
“You do know!” I declared.
He backed flat against the wall and looked up at me out M his close-set eyes.
‘Eet ees not true,” he reiterated, with maddening calm-
"Where did you leave her?” I asked, still crowding him tiat against the wall.
Again his eyes blinked up into mine. But he did not
“You were not with her three days ago on Second Avenue, I suppose?” My mockery did not seem to disturb him.
“I wass,” he said.
“And you stand there and tell me you haven’t seen her .■ince then?”
“I have not seen her.”
“Why were you with her?”
‘We met eeq the street.”
''How met in the street?” A chilling tide of disappointment was slowly sweeping over me.
"She went for bukes.”
“Do you mean books?”
“Yess—bukes een the publeek library.”
“Had you seen her before?”
His head moved from side to side, in negation “Have you seen her since?”
Again he shook his head slowl* from side to side.
“Where did she go?”
“Were she go?” he asked vacuously, and again he shook his head. “She deed not tell me.”
“And you don’t know where she is—have no idea where .tie is?”
“No,” he answered. There was something in his voice and manner which half persuaded me that he was speaking the truth.
“Has any member of that Inner Circle gang seen her?” T t'eenk no,” he answered.
“When have you seen or talked with any of that Inner Orele gang?”
HE MOVED hi* shoulders a little, and turned his palms outward, so that they faced me.
'T’ere ees no Kenner Circle,” he said.
They're under cover, you mean, the same as you ville looked puzzled nod did not answer
“Schlatter ees t’ere,” he answered.
“Does this Schlatter know anything of Elvira ‘Paladino’?”
“I t’eenk so,” came the slow response.
“He knows where she is?” I demanded.
“I t’eenk so.” And that maddeningly apathetic answer was all I could bully out of him. But even as I stood there a new light seemed to appear in the disheartening darkness that engulfed me. Pepper Schlatter, I remembered, was an alias for Beansy Schmidlapp. They were one and the same person. “You've seen Schlatter?” I demanded.
“No—I see heem to-morrow.”
“When? What time?”
Here was news at last.
“Where?” I demanded.
The man remained sulkily silent. The redshirted figure said something in an unknown tongue. What it was did not interest me. All I wanted was three short words from Sitnikov.
“Where?” I repeated, with the menacing revolver barrel within an inch of his forehead.
He shifted his eyes and looked from me to Davis, and then at the revolver.
. “Where?” I said, for the last time.
“Hees place—hees old place,” he said, his voice ’ once more lacking emotion.
“Tomorrow night you meet Schmidlapp at his bomb-factory, in Suffolk Street.”
The man’s head moved up and down.
“Are you to wait there for him?”
Again he nodded. I put two and two together.
“Hand me the keys to that place—the two keys, for the upper and lower lock!”
The man looked frightened. A studied look of inanity came into his rat-like eyes. He and the red-shirted figure broke out into a clatter and gabble cf syllables that were incomprehensible to me. I took it to be Rumanian, or perhaps Yiddish. But I silenced it with a wave of my revolver.
“Quick!” I commanded. “Those keys!”
Sitnikov raised his hands, palms upward, in a gesture of repudiation, implying that he knew nothing about the
I repeated the order, quietly, as I cocked the trigger.
He reached into his slatternly vest, and from one cf its pockets produced two keys wrapped in a piece of frayed and soiled cotton. I had already decided on my new line of procedure.
“Davis,” I said sharply, without looking about as my fingers closed on those precious keys, “Send your two men outside for the police. Tell them to phone Ulmer Park first, then the Coney Island precinct. But tell them to be quick!”
“Yes, sii,” said Davis from the doorway.
“Now, I want you two men to listen to me. You’ve both been fools enough for one night. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Nothing’s going to be said against you, or laid against you.Jso long as you keep quiet.”
In broken English the Italian sulkily demanded to know just what he had done.
“Look at me and see what you’ve done! Look at me, you idiot, and cal! this your lucky day!”
He began to denounce me, passionately, as an assaulter and a housebreaker.
“Perhaps 1 am, hut that’s not
The point is that I’ve got to know just where you t» • gentlemen are to be for the next twenty-four hours. SI’m going to have you both held on the technical charge ot; assault. If you take your medicine you’ll be out in twenty four hours or so. If you don’t, you’ll be deported a» undesirable Bolshevists, or, I have enough bomb-throwiti* evidence to keep you in your home jail for twenty years The Italian did net take to the suggestion. He har friends who would make it hot for me. He was an hones' laborer whose home had been outraged, whose body hn.\ been threatened and assaulted.
HELD up his wicked-looking knife before him.
“That’s proof enough of your honesty,” I told tux» “And I’m too tired to argue with you, anyway. I wan» you to hurry up and take your choice, that’s all.”
I could see a sign or two pass between the men. Thes*signs were Greek to me, but I kept on my guard. Neithei of those gentlemen, I felt well assured, could be.trustee for a moment. They were still wary and watching.
Sitnikov wanted to know what assurance he had of m> promised immunity. For answer I took from my pocket a bill of generous dimensions, and handed it over to him “You need food and clothes, you poor devil. Keep, that to buy ’em with when you get out.”
The emaciated little rat looked at the bill, then at me and turned to the red-shirted figure beside him, with a gesture that clearly implied that I was a madman. But the Italian immediately became garrulous and eloquent on the theme of his losses, his devastated supper, his brokenstove, his wrecked home, his ruined reputation.
Another bill mollified him, as a bottle might mollify n crying child. He looked at it several times, with much satisfaction. Bolshevists, I was beginning to learn, were not without their human weaknesses. The fine theorie* of the future are apt to flatten out before the materialjuggernaut of the moment. Sitnikov even reached f*»his cigars a little wistfully, and found them ruined.
I took out my own case and offered it to the men.
Each of us took a Havana. Each of us lighted up The three of us were sitting together smoking when th* police arrived. I still had the huge revolver in my hand however, as the dismantled cabin was invaded by the uni formed figures with ready night-sticks.
“These are your men,” I said. “Yom won’t need t*. club them! They’ll come quietly enough!”
And they went, without a word.
IT WAS three o’clock in the morning when Davis anor I reached home, tired and chilled after the long rid* through the raw night air. Neither of us made a very respectable showin g.
I felt as I viewed myself in the glass
that I cut a somewhat sorry figure for the lofty-minded redresser of social wrongs which I pretended to be.
It was noon when I wakened. I did not feel altogether easy in mind until Davis told me that he had already been in communication with Lefty Boyle. That restless stoolpigeon, in fact, was to be at my place at two o’clock. So I went about perfecting my plans for the coming encounter. A sense of impending climax took possession of me; I felt somewhat like a Wellington on the eve of his Waterloo.
Lefty and I talked the whole thing over quietly and thoroughly, for an hour and more, with Davis in the background. Lefty was of the opinion that Schmidlapp had just returned to New York. He might not have got in touch with the Inner Circle people as yet. The spring fever had struck him, as it strikes all underworld spirits. He had grown tired of “SheenyChi’s” and the Windy City, had migrated, and had come back to his old huntingground. Ten to one, he was back for trouble. And, on the whole, Lefty advised me to do nothing without the co-operation of Lieutenant Belton and the Center Street authorities.
I did not agree with this suggestion. Schmidlapp, I knew, was a dangerous man. But, above all things, I felt, he must not be scared away. He was the next natural link in the chain. We had him in ambush, practically, and with ordinary precaution there should be no great risk. There would be nothing official in our meeting. To attempt to lung-chi or “third-degree” him into talking was not altogether expedient. We had to corner him and squeeze him, squeeze gently but relentlessly, until he should give the information we were after.
Our next task was to look over the ground. This had to be done quietly and discreetly, for once we were in Suffolk Street we were in the land of the enemy. An incautious step might mean discovery, and discovery would surely mean defeat.
So it was that, at four o’clock that afternoon, Lefty appeared before me in the leather-peaked cap and soiled suit of an express driver.
Even a book of way-bills protruded from his ragged coat pocket. Davis, at considerable sacrifice of dignity, togged himself out in a suit picked up in a Sixth Avenue second-hand store, with a very rakish-looking, smallrimmed derby. I put on the well-worn garage-suit that had already stood me in such good service. We all went armed with revolvers, and I carried a storage flash-light.
The understanding was that l should look over the ground first, in a general way, and then report to the other two, who were to meet me in O’Higgins’ Suffolk Street cafe at six o’clock. We were then to revise our plans, act on any new information, take up our different positions, and await the arrival of Schmidlapp.
What was to happen after that, only time would show.
I went quietly up to the room above Schmidlapp’s printing-shop, the room from which I had made my observations at the time of the first “Hammer of God” coup.
It took only a few minutes of careful istening to convince mp that the room below was unoccupied; that the little laboratory of fulminates, like the pressroom in front of it, was empty.
MY NEXT movement was on the printing-shop itself. • I waited under cover until the street was passably clear of pedestrians. Then I strolled to the shuttered front of the shop and turned into the narrow doorway.
Twenty seconds later I had unlocked the door and was inside. I stood in the darkness on guard; for scarcely any light percolated through the shutters. I stood there, with my fingers closed about the revolver butt in my side-
' I 'HE STORY SO FAR:—“Rebbie” Woodruff—cultured, A wealthy, thirty-one, industrial and commercial dilettante —says au revoir to Natalie Stillwell, to whom he has been proposing for years. Natalie, daughter of a Wall Street “piule," encourages “Rebbie,” suggesting he bend his energies —seriously for once—to fathom the mystery of the “Hammer of God,” threatening typewritten notes her father has been receiving. MacGirr, ex-con. Black-hander, a visionary Italian youth, and a beautiful girl enter the story, and in his investigations “Rebbie” co-mmits burglary. “Rebbie” discovers the notes come from the Italian youth, Cono di Marco. He discovers a well-equipped laboratory, with fuses, TNT and bombs galore; pulls the “fangs” of the bombs destined to blow up the Exchange. Cono’s bomb is a “dud," but “Rebbie” has him jailed. The beautiful Russian girl, Elvira Palatino (Sabouroff), visits “Rebbie,” pleads for Cono’s release. “Rebbie,” enamoured, agrees, on condition Elvira reports daily to him. Elvira tells “Rebbie” both their lives are menaced by the Circle. Sitnikov, shadowing the pair, throws a bomb into “Rebbie’s” flat; Elvira pulls out fuse, saving their lives. “Rebbie" surprises MacGirr and Sitnikov in Stillwell’s mansion, jimmying the safe. MacGirr dies, but the other crook escapes. Elvira disappears. “Rebbie” bends every effort, to locate her, and traces Sitnikov and an accomplice to a thieves' hauvi, and proceeds to “third degree” them, seeking information about the missing girl.
pocket, making sure I was not to be the victim of some new and as yet undivulged ambush.
But no sound broke the silence, and nothing stirred within the room. The air was still heavy with the smell of benzine, thick with the dust of disuse and neglect.
I wheeled about and carefully ‘looked the two doors. Then I took out my flash-light and explored the room, from wall to wall. I saw nothing but a disordered and paper-littered printing-shop, with the black mass of the hand-press, the fonts of type, the untidy shelves, and over everything a thin powdering of street dust.
I made my way to the door of the inner room, and opened it. An indescribably acrid and sickening smell smote on my nostrils—a penetrating odor of stale grease, of acid salts, of souring chemicals, and moldy woodwork. But otherwise the room was as it had been when last I had seen it. Nothing had been disturbed.
I crossed to the window at the back of the room, unlocked it, and threw up the sash to let in a little fresh air. Then I circled the room a second time with my searchlight, more carefully, more studiously. I saw the rubbersheeted work-table, the row of acid-bottles and mixingbowls and canisters, a pan of dried clay, a dismantled pair of scales, a wooden paddle, a carboy of sulphuric acid— all the familiar implements and ingredients for the compounding of nitro-glycerine and those other fulminates so familiar to the bomb-maker. The sight reminded me of the fact that my meeting with Schmidlapp was going to take place in a diminutive arsenal; that our encounter, whatever its nature, was to come about in a disagreeably uncertain and menacing environment.
It was with no little relief that I locked up that little den of horrors and got into the comparatively fresh air of Suffolk Stteet. I was glad to meet Lefty Boyle and Davis in O’Higgins’ cafe and make my report that so far all was
Nothing remained for us now but to wait. In the meantime, I decided, a substantial dinner for the three of us would not be amiss. Lefty agreed with my suggestion of the Hotel de Vigne, in Irving Place. There our humble attire would pass unnoticed in the midst of those strangely clad Latin-American expatriates who made that hostelry their headquarters. We could also get excellent wine, and regale ourselves on Spanish cookery, without getting too far away from our objective point.
So thither we went. We sat inconspicuously in a corner, Lefty and I with our backs to the garrulous and gesticulating company, Davis, a little against his will, facing me. It was a very good dinner indeed, and I was beginning to feel rather comfortable, facing the black coffee and cigars, when Lefty spoke to me sharply, without looking up.
“We’re bein’ shadowed!” His words gave me a disagreeable start. “Don’t look round yet,” he warned me. "What’s up?” I demanded. “Somebody back there’s on to us. Somebody knows you’re here!”
“What makes you think so?”
“I heard your name. Then I kept my ears open, to make sure. I just heard it for the second time.”
T EFTY went on placidly stirring his coffee as he
“There’s a tall young fellow in a dress suit three tables hack from us. He’s with a couple o’ Mexican fire-eaters, and they’ve been talkin’ Obregon, Villa and concessions.” “I can’t see anything especially disturbing in that.”
"No, hut they’re dopin’ the dude —they’ve been pourin’ him full of aguardiente and talkin’ gold-claims to him. Swing around as careful as you can, ard size him up.” I swung casually and carelessly around. Then I breathed more freely, for as I looked 1 found myself face to face with young Harvey Stillwell. His tie was misplaced, his cheeks carried the Continued on page 37
The City of Peril
Continued from page 23
unhealthy flush of the inebriate, and there was a febrile heaviness in his eye that rather disturbed me. But I had no time for side-issues that night. I made a motion for the three of us to rise and get away.
Young Stillwell must have seen the move and, for some reason or other, must have been inordinately annoyed by it. He swung over to our table with unsteady steps, and accosted me. His utterance was not thick, but his tone was insolent.
“Still chasin’ that soul-mate?” he asked.
“Chasin’ what?” I demanded.
“Still chasin’ that young Austrian, or Pole, or whatever she is, with the soulful eyes? Found that comic-opera anarchist yet?”
I swung about on him as he stood there.
“What do you know about that girl?” I asked.
I did not like the hardening light in his unsteady young eyes. I resented it, just as he was resenting my tone of authority.
“I know a hell of a lot about that girl,” he said.
“Go home and go to bed!” I cried in disgust, catching up my coat and hat and signalling to Lefty. “You’re making a fool of yourself!”
“Not half the fool you’re makin’ of yourself!” proclaimed young Stillwell, supporting himself on the back of my chair.
And there I left him, for I had serious things before me that night.
CHAPTER XL The Man Who Knew
IT WAS after ten when I installed myself in Schmidlapp’s innocent-fronted printing-shop on Suffolk Street. When I was once inside that sinister little hole,
Lefty Boyle had taken the keys and locked the door, for I wanted him to cover the gtreet-front and be free to come or go at a sign from me. Davis took up his position on the iron fire-escape outside the window of the back room, which had been left unlatched. Like Lefty, he was to wait and make his appearance only when he heard my signal.
1 took up my position beside the door of the inner room. When the door opened it would hide me from Schmidlapp as he entered, even though he carried a light. On the other hand, I could be close beside him as he stepped to the electric-light switch. I could also have him covered before he had time to look around. In
was to pass it on to Davis, who would join me at once, while Lefty would close in from the street, and we three would confront the intruders without any preliminary reconnoitering.
It took considerable mental effort on my part to coerce myself into calmness when I heard the tell-tale click of a key in the street door. Then came the sound of a second key being turned in its lock. The door opened, and as quietly closed again. A key was again inserted, turned, and cautiously withdrawn.
I held my revolver ready, well up in front of me, and waited. Then came a moment or two of unbroken silence. The man who had entered was apparently looking about him, peering quietly through the darkness, listening for any betraying sound. Then I heard the scratch of a match, and saw the wavering light fall through the partly opened door that shadowed me. I heard a heavy sigh, the sort of a sigh a man emits when he finds that his alarm has been groundless.
I heard the half-groping slide and shuffle of Schmidlapp’s feet as he crossed the printing-shop. I heard his hand feeling and padding about the door-frame at my side. I could hear his heavy breathing as slowly he pushed back the door and passed into the second room. We were together then, within the same four walls.
I stood ready, with my revolver well up at “half-arm” as I heard him grope and feel for the light-switch. He found it, and the light flooded the room with a suddenness that made my eyes ache.
And still I stood there, waiting and ready.
It was several seconds before he saw me there, so close to him. Minutes seemed to elapse before his startled and preoccupied mind actually visualized me.
I saw his hand swing down and back to his hip pocket. But I was waiting and ready.
“Stop!” I told him.
He raised his slow eyes to the glimmer of steel in his face, almost languidly, with the preoccupation of a sleep-walker. Then he turned his face farther about and looked at me impassively, almost insolently. His calm stare was like the waiting immobility of a snake, startled, yet fortified with the knowledge of its own venom.
My first conviction was that it was all a I mistake, that I had the wrong man. On the fat and chalky-skinned face was a ] pale red heard, sticking out aggressively, at a point in line with the jaw, not pendant, but almost at right angles to the plane of the profile. Across the thick nose rested a pair of spectacles. The wires that held them in place, by hooking over the large ears, indented the flesh of the whiteskinned cheek. The clothes of sober black added to the man’s pallor, and seemed to give him a touch of the scholastic. He looked, on the whole, like a German scholar with tobacco-heart.
I I H MUST have stood there for several
-*■ seconds, peering at me out of his slowly blinking eyes. There was something ludicrous In his look: something almost laughable about the relaxed jaw, the fat and furtive face, the utter inarticulate bewfrferment of the figure. The oldfashioned spectacles focused on me like a Pit of Search-lights. I laughed a little.
Tie found his tongue, and looked me over, inerc luleusly, with a murmured: “Well, I'll ha damned!”
“I’m sorry to intrude,” I said.
“You will be!” he retorted in his thick guttural; and i knew that his words were a threat. He looked about the little room questioningly, probingly, as though in search of some explanation of my presence there. I could almost 1 see the wheels of his brain as they worked
behind his high white forehead. It was the same wise and wary Schmidlapp as of old.
“What are you doin’ here?” he inquired, with a return to his immobility.
“What are you doing here?”
Again he looked me over slowly, quietly; impassively, as though sizing me up, as though weighing me and my chances against him.
“I have a right here,” he said, in his non-committal monotone. “Have you?” “Suppose we sit down and talk it over.” “I didn’t come here to talk.”
“But you’re going to talk,” I suggested. “Am I?”
“Who’s goin’ to make me?”
“No one’s going to make you. You’re going to do it of your own free will.”
“So? Then supposin’ we get it over with!”
“Then let’s sit down and have it over with, as you say, quietly and decently.” “What do you want?” he said, without moving.
“First thing, 1 want you to be reasonable. Look here, Schmidlapp, alias Pepper Schlatter, I know you, and I know your record. I know your connection with the Cono di Marco case, your association with McGirr and the Inner Circle gang, and enough to carry you down to headquarters and put you through a third-degree examination that would make you wish you were back in Sheeny Chi’s again!”
His eyes moved a little uneasily, but otherwise there was no change of expression on his face. Again he stood wrapped in thought. When he looked up once more, I motioned toward the two wooden chairs beside his workbench. He gave vent to what was almost a grunt, raised his shoulders in a resigned hunch, and sat down.
“What do you want?” he repeated, eyeing my revolver with his mildly protesting stare of abstraction.
I offered him a cigar. He blinked at it heavily and took it from my fingers. I lighted one for myself, and leaned back in my chair. Schmidlapp still looked down at his cigar, then took out a match. But apparently he changed his mind, for he reached about and put the cigar on the work-bench behind him. He did not intend to smoke.
“Well?” he said.
“Where is Cono di Marco?”
His heavy eyes slowly widened and then narrowed again.
“Gone to hell, I hope,” was his answer. “Would it be possible to be more explicit? I mean, where was he when you last saw him?”
“Sailin’ for South America.”
A feeling of relief surged through me at this unlooked-for answer. It put a new complexion on things; it simplified the problem more than I had hoped for.
“Are you sure of that?” I demanded. “I’m sure of it,” he answered. I watched him closely as my next question cut the silence between us.
“Where is Elvira Paladino?”
HIS response was not immediate. I could see that there was a second or two of hesitation before he answered.
“I don’t know.”
I felt that he was holding something
“I want the truth!”
“You’re gettin’ it,” he grunted.
“You don’t know where she is now, or where she has been?”
“I’m not day-nursin’ young women, this season,” he retorted, with a sniff of disdain.
“Couldn’t you find her?” I asked. He looked up, hearing the note of anxiety in my voice, and blinked at me through his steel-rimmed spectacles.
“Sure,” he said, without a trace of emotion.
“You can get her?” I asked.
“Sure. What do you want with her?” “I want her\”
“So have other people! They all have! But she’s not that kind!”
“I know she’s not that kind. And that’s why I’m going to get her away from that Inner Circle gang!”
“How d’you know she’s with that gang?” asked the wary Schmidlapp, ignoring my bait
“How can you get her, if she’s not?” “Oh, I can get her, all right!”
“When I see it’s going to pay me.”
He was taking up his ground very guardedly.
“What’s it worth to you?” I asked, trying to coerce myself into the same calmness which he was displaying.
“To hand Elvira Paladino over?” he reiterated, as though making sure of the task under discussion.
He sat in deep thought for a few seconds I sat facing him, wondering what lay stored in the narrow prison of his mind so close behind the undulating white skinned forehead above the flashing spec tacles. But it was a prison that could never be forced; what lay in it, lay ther» inviolate.
"Five thousand dollars,” he said aí last. “Five thousand dollars, cash down.” I could have laughed outright, mj sense of relief was so overwhelming The figure was not one quarter of what I had expected. But I knew that nothing could be gained by seeming too eager. “That’s nonsense!” I told him.
“Is it?” he asked.
“I mean it’s a devil of a lot of money.'
“I’ve got a lot of use for it.” Hi» tone was disconcertingly offhand’ and careless.
“Is there anything so difficult about this job?” I asked.
“You know where she is?”
“I can find her!”
“You’d have to give me a coupl* t;>f
“Why two days?”
“Because she’s hard to get at.”
“Why hard to get at?”
“I’m not a damned fool. I’ve done enough explaining.”
“Suppose I make you do a little mor» explaining?”
“You can’t!” was his placid reply This was true enough.
“Then for five thousand dollars you’ll bring Elvira Paladino and me together face to face?”
“I’ve said I would.”
“Here in this room, if you like.”
I wanted to make sure of my grounn while I still had the chance.
“But what assurance have I thaï even though you know where this gir!
is, you’re able to get in touch with her?' He smiled his careless and half-sneerin»
“I don’t suppose it’d satisfy you ant to know it was on the morning of tb» thirteenth of March she left your house out there at Beaumaris, and worked for three hours in the Astor library on Greek art books, and met your man and young Stillwell in your rooms the same after
The man was right in all but one de tail. She had come to my rooms, but she had not met young Stillwell there The Inner Circle, apparently, had lost nothing of cunning at their old gam» of shadowing.
“You’re wrong there, you see,” 1 pointed out to him. “She didn’t meet young Stillwell there. She met nobody there except my servant.”
Schmidlapp did not seem to be dit* concerted by this correction. He thought it over for several seconds and dismissed
it, apparently, with a shrug.
“Well, that doesn’t count, anyway She went there. And what you want to know is where she went after that " “That’s what I intend to know.”
“All right—that’s what I intend to show you, when the time comes.”
He was as placidly obstinate as » porcupine. His position was too well fortified for assault; he had a quill of indifference for every bark of impf* tience. I suddenly thought of Sitnikov and the necessity for immediate action “Why couldn’t you make it to-mor row night?”
He eyed me through his spectacle* meditatively.
“I could, but it would cost more.”
“How much more?”
“Just twice the sum we mentioned." His nerve was colossal. I couldn't help admiring the man.
“I prefer sticking to the original figure, and I prefer to-morrow night. Then I’ll give you two hundred dollars for your extra trouble. That isn’t such bad pay for one day’s work, is it?”
He thought it over, point by point, before he answered.
“AH right,”'he said at.la.st. “I’ll do it.” “This is business?”
“Of course it’s business.”
“And I’ll stick to my side of the bargain if you stick to yours. There’ll be no side-stepping, no crooked work?”
“You want the girl, don’t you? Well,
I want the money. We’ll both get what we’re after. That’s the end of it, isn’t it?"
“It is—if you act straight in this. And I want to warn you right now, Schmidlapp, that this means a good deal to me; and if you do any dirty work, or try to juggle out of this thing, I’ll make you wish you’d never been
He nodded his head as placidly as though I had been offering him a cigar, with the ghost of a smile on his sleepy, fat, serpent-like face.
“But supposin’ I decide to draw out of this betweèn now and to-morrow night?” he had the audacity to inquire.
Like most human beings, he objected to being coerced, he had a natural enough craving to indulge his final prerogative of free-will.
“You can’t draw out,” I warned him. “And there’s no use haggling about it.”
“Why isn’t there?”
“Because, Schmidlapp, I’ve got you hemmed in so close you can’t get away if you want to.”
He gave vent to his placid sneer. It seemed to me about time to clinch the matter of convincing him.
I REACHED over and idly picked up a box of time-fuses from his work-bench, lifted one of them from the box, looked at it carelessly, and emitted a sharp whistle. It might very easily have been interpreted as an expression of my astonishment at finding such things within arm’s reach. The trick was a theatrical one, but it worked.
I had the immediate and unqualified satisfaction of seeing the sash of the unlatched window slowly rise, before Davis appeared, gun first. It wasn’t until he stepped to the floor that Schmidlapp swung about with a start. Davis’ face, as he stood there, was as devoid of expression as a totem-head. But for once the same could not be said of Schmid-
I gave him no chance to recover, but repeated my whistle through the door that led into the little printing-shop.
It seemed scarcely three seconds before the street door was opened and Lefty Boyle, with his huge revolver out, Stood before us, ominously ready for action.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” breathed Schmidlapp for the second time that night, as the slow-moving eyes behind the steel-rimmed glasses took in the tableau that surrounded him.
“This is only a part of the machinery,” I said, emulating his own placidity of utterance. “If you want to see the rest of the wheels going round, just say so.” He blinked his eyes at me, with his habitual stare of abstraction. Then he viewed the two intruders with undisguised and unmistakable annoyance.
“If we’re goin’ to do business together,” he said, slowly, turning to me again, “we’ve got to do it without all New York buttin’ in!”
“There’ll be no butting in,” I assured him. “There’ll be no butting from either side; and this is to show you one small reason why there won’t be. I think you understand, don’t you?”
He blinked at me for a meditative second or two, then almost relaxed into a smile.
“I’m wise,” he said.
CHAPTER XLI The Twilight of the God
TT WAS not until I had left Schmidlapp, J and had begun to review the scene in the printing-shop, speech by speech, that attention scraped bottom, as it were, on the name of Harvey Stillwell. The possibility of young Stillwell entering into the situation had seemed too remote to waste thought over. Schmidlapp himself had not been sure of the name. But, on the other hand, there was the scene in the Hotel De Vigne. And the more I reviewed it, the more it puzzled me.
I decided, after a night’s sleep, that nothing would be lost by seeing young
Stillwell face to face. I also decided that it would be better to approach him announced. So I had Davis drop me at the Stillwell house, and was on the point of running up the wide brownstone steps when the door opened and Natalie herself fluttered out, followed by a booted and liveried “tiger” carrying her King Charles spaniel.
Her greeting was cordial, but noncommittal. Yet I had to confess that she looked very beautiful, perilously beautiful, in her plumed hat and gray velvet gown.
“Whither «o early, Rebbie?” she asked, with her gay little ripple of a laugh, meeting my gaze with her sapphire eyes, with all their soft and dangerous shadows.
“I was hoping to catch Harvey at home,” I explained. I thought I detected the shadow of a frown on her smiling face.
“He’s here, of course. But he’s still in bed. And I warn you that he’s a bear if he’s awakened early!”
It was exactly half-past ten. I wondered what that high-spirited youth regarded as early.
A team of bays and a brougham clattered up to the curb below us. I recognized the Stillwell coachman.
“I’m off to order my flowers,” explained Natalie.
I went down the steps with her.
“Don’t you want to drop in at the Plaza and meet Afrida Ponzanna—that’s the Perkins girl, from Saginaw, who sang with Renaud last winter!”
“I’ve really got to see Harvey,” I explained.
“Well, you can’t for an hour, anyway,” she responded promptly. We were at the brougham door by this time. I handed her in.
“Come along, won’t you, Rebbie?” “I feel out of touch with that crowd nowadays,” I answered, a little dejectedly and also a little ungraciously. Yet they did, indeed, seem very distant and unreal, that busy circle of pleasure seekers, flitting about the city like troops of butterflies about some many-colored gardens.
“I know you do,” said Natalie looking down at me with her unfathomable sapphire eyes. “And out of touch with other old friends!”
“It’s not that, Natalie,” I pleaded. “But I have been busy, and worried.” She was no longer smiling. She started to speak, stopped, looked at me again, and swept her skirts to one side on the upholstered seat.
“Come along,” she said, very gently. “I’m afraid of missing Harvey.”
“Come as far as the florist’s,” she persisted. “Wilson can get you back in plenty of time.”
She was a young lady who seldom had to argue for her own way. She could throw a touch of imperiousness into a request even. And no sane man could ever be unwilling to sit beside Natalie Stillwell.
I wondered, as I took my seat, what had become of all my former light-heartedness. I found it hard to summon up. that facetiousness with which people of Natalie’s circle faced even the discordant things of life. One good laugh, I felt, would have shaken the incipient tragedy out of the situation. But flippancy, for some reason, was sadly beyond me.
I tried to pick up a serious topic or two, after Natalie had stopped to give her morning’s orders to the florist. But my efforts were as awkward as those of a girl stealing chocolates from a candycounter. Natalie refused to help me. She let me flounder along, with her eyes veiled. So I evaded the entire issue by reverting to the theme of her brother Harvey. I asked, seriously enough, if she had been in any way worrying about
“Yes, Harvey worries me horribly,” she confessed.
“Can you tell me why?”
She took a deep breath, and looked out of the brougham window. Then she laughed her golden ripple of a laugh. It was musical and good to listen to; but it was not disingenuous. '
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough of our family troubles on your shoulders, Rebbie?"
T TOLD her that I had always been 1 particularly fond of that particular family. She did not respond immediately to the impersonal and somewhat conventional declaration, but fell to gazing out of the brougham window
again as we bowled along up the Avenue.
“I want to ask you for something, Rebbie,” she said, at last, without turning toward me.
“I want to ask you for my release."
Her hand lay on her knee beside me, listlessly. The gloved fingers moved a little, and then were still.
“FVom—from any understanding there may have been between us,” was her answer.
I felt my throat tighten, for reasons I could not fathom. The tendrils and roots of the feeling stirred by that speech seemed to lead back into all the years of my lost youth, into all the careless and happy and glittering past which I had in some strange way outgrown.
“Why do you say this?” I heard myself asking.
She looked at me now, quite herself, both a little imperiously and a little pityingly.
“Because my engagement to Wilbur Syndham is to be announced in to-morrow’s Herald.”
I sat looking at her. It puzzled me to think that I was experiencing no upheaval of emotion, that neither a sense of depression nor a spirit of release was sweeping through me.
“Don’t!” cried the girl at my side. “Don’t be stupid and try to congratulate me! I don’t mind you being indifferent, Rebbie, but I won’t have you obvious!”
“I’m not indifferent!” I tried to tell her. But she stopped me in the midst of my futile efforts.
“Here’s the hotel, and I’m late. Wilson will whisk you back, to have it out with Harvey.”
We shook hands, after a rather solemn and valedictory fashion.
“Please don’t act\” she cried, rather rebelliously, perhaps a little hysterically. Then she sent the clouds of sobriety scattering with an impish mockery of a shudder, a theatrical and prolonged shudder that left us both laughing.
“It’s not my funeral they’re going to announce, you know, Rebbie,” she cried gaily enough, with a good-by wave of her gloved hand. “And don’t be too hard on my big bear brother!”
Driving back, I had many things to think over. Few of them were of a nature to leave me frivolous-minded. None of them left me any lighter in spirits.
I felt as though somewhere in the house of life a door had been softly closed, but closed forever.
CHAPTER XLII The Glimmer of Truth
I HAD to wait in the library for some time before Harvey Stillwell appeared. An indefinite sense of loneliness took possession of me as I sat peering about at the familiar walls. It was, to me, a room with many memories. Yet for the first time in my life I was able to look at it in that spirit of detached calmness with which a sea-traveler might take a farewell look about a liners overdecorated saloon.
Then all thought on the matter was interrupted by the entrance of young Stillwell himself. His face was a little haggard and drawn, and his eyes were not clear. The look of concern which he tried to conceal beneath a pert and casual bearing did not altogether escape me.
“What the devil are you doing out at such an hour?” he demanded, with a pretence at a yawn.
I had no time to waste, so I came to the point at once.
“I’ve been waiting to see you.”
A servant entered, as I spoke, with what appeared to be a brandy-and-
“Pardon me,” said the youth, as he took the glass.
“Certainly,” I answered, watching him. He downed his “eye-opener,” waved away the servant, and sank into one of the wide-armed chairs opposite me.
“I haven’t had breakfast yet,” he explained, with a pretence of boredom. “But fire ahead!”
I concluded that, on the whole, it would be better to fire ahead without equivoca-
‘*I want to know when you last saw Elvira Sabouroff.”
He slipped a little lower between the arms of his chair and shaded his eyes with his none too steady fingers.
“Look here, Rebbie, why’re you so confoundedly interested in that woman?”
I had neither the desire nor the time to take issue with his flippancy. I was even willing to attribute it to his empty stomach and his belated “eye-opener,” and let it go at that. But he repeated the question with more insolence than before.
“I have a very vital reason for being interested in that woman,” I answered him, quietly enough.
“Same old Rebbie!” he cried, in his fatal and purblind facetiousness. “But you’re too green for this sort of game! You’re out of your class! You don’t know the type, my boy!”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“Oh, I’ll answer your question, all right. But nothing’s to be gained by getting uppish about it. In fact, you only let your feelings blind your better judgment. That’s what’s been wrong with you all along, Rebbie! ThaCs what’s kept you from seeing that this woman’s not your sort, and never was and never can be!”
“Not my sort?” I repeated, still trying to hold the brake of expediency against the wheel of impulse. “Not my sort?”
I was thinking of Elvira Sabouroff and her ready sympathy with suffering, of her passionately cherished and overcostly ideals of life, of her struggle to bring light to the people she knew, of her reading in crowded factory-rooms, of her work for the submerged and illiterate creatures who groped for help all about her, of her talks at laborers’ meetings, of her delicate figure in its sure armor of duty passing immune through such sordid scenes of life as would nauseate this delicate-nerved youth.
“They’re all a loose-jointed lot, you know,” he went on quite blindly. “You can never pin them down. They drift about from gang to gang—I mean from graft to graft—playing the same old shell-game. Oh, yes; they’re good mixers, all of ’em! And the first thing they put a bomb under, every time, is the marriage-
Again I had to take a grip on myself, a mighty grip. It would be foolish to make a mess of things at the very beginning. But there was a limit, a human limit, and he was almost over it.
“All this has nothing to do with what I came here to see you about,” I told him, and I noticed that my hands were shaking a little as I spoke.
He seemed to resent what he construed as a mere pedagogic note of finality in my voice.
“Oh, yes, it has,” he retorted hotly. “It’s got a lot to do with it. For the woman you’re kicking up such a lot of dust about is just that sort of woman!”
ANGER is a foolish and unlovely thing.
But once it touches off the volcanic old Adam just under our over-thin incrustation of civilization, it leaves us one with the beasts again. It brings the savage out of his grave.
All I know is that, when reason returned to me, I had young Stillwell by the collar of his quilted house-coat. I had that collar twisted up close about his throat, till the silk facing, split and torn, was strangling him like a hangman’s knot. He was pawing and clutching at my fingers to let him free.
“You fool!” he gasped, as I flung him away from me, back into his chair, like a rag. He was white and weak and shaking.
“You fool!” he repeated, his breath still coming in quick, hard gasps.
“I’ll make you eat every word you said!” I cried. “You’ll take them back —now, here, where you sit—or I’ll break every bone in your body!”
He had his breath back by this time, and I could see the flame of hot rage and hate in his staring eyes.
“I’ll take nothing back,” he cried, as he got to his feet again. “You’ll make me take nothing back, you barroom brawler. D’you suppose you’re coming into this house to bullyrag me about a woman like that?”
“I’ll not stop! I know this woman. I know her better than you. I know what she's doing now. I know it, and she knows I know it!”
“What’s she doing now?” I demanded.
“She’s doing what she always did—
doubling up with one of those damned Bolsheviks!”
“What Bolshevik?” T made a clutch at him, but he got away from me.
“Don’t you try any of that mauling game on me again!” he threatened, still quivering with blind rage.
“What Bolshevik!” I reiterated.
“That dirty little rat called Mutashenko— that heroic, high-browed revolutionist who headed the mutiny on the Kniaz-Potemkin in the Black Sea!”
“That’s a lie!”
“It’s not a lie; so you needn’t fret about her. She’s back among her own people. You’ll find them down on Fifth Street, mooning over the East River, and inditing a history of his mutiny for the delectation of their sweet-scented Red circles.”
His tone of mockery, high-noted, unreasoning, seemed more and more the sheer outcry of irresponsible fury. It had a tendency to teach me calmness, to compel me to some shadow of sanity.
“Go down and find them!” he taunted. “Doing light housekeeping up on the skyline. And when you find them, come back and apologize to me for this insult.”
"I’ll go when you answer the first question I asked you. When was the last time you saw Elvira Sabouroff?”
He laughed a short, mirthless laugh.
I 11 tell you that, too, if it’s going to make you happier. The last time I saw the woman was in your rooms —quite alone there, and quite at home
I m not a police blotter! I guess you didn’t see her after that!”
A great light dawned on me. It came from nowhere, out of nothing. But all at once I saw and understood.
“You set that woman against me!” I burst out. “You either lied or threatened or coerced her into leaving the work she was at! TOM came between that woman and me!”
He actually seemed to be enjoying my agony.
“That’s more fool’s talk! How could I coerce a woman of that breed?”
“Then what did you say—what did you tell her?”
“Among other things, I pointed out your position, your obligations to your friends!”
My instinct had not been amiss.
“And did you mention your sister Natalie to her?”
My question brought him up short. He paused a second cr two before he answered it.
“Why should I mention my sister’s name to a woman of that sort?” he demanded.
\ ou told that woman I was to marry Natalie Stillwell!” I flung out.
He swung about on me, all the pride of his family burning in his febrile young
“You’ll never marry Natalie!” he burst out, with one of those oaths which callow youth deems so essentially manlike.
“Then why did you dare to say I was going to?”
“I’d see her dead and buried before I’d see her tied to a cad like you!” he cried.
I was not thinking of him now I was thinking of Elvira Sabouroff, of all that she had been subjected to, of all that she had passed through, of the blind and foolish trails I liad been struggling to follow, of the mess that this interfering and irresponsible young rake had made of two lives. And it was my turn to swing about on bim and cry out, from the very bottom cf my heart: “Oh, you fool—you fooll”
Instead of responding to that cry, he strode across the room and pawed at the electric bell-button.
The movement brought me back to a semblance of reason. I cculd see what he intended to do.
“Where is Elvira Sabouroff?” I demanded with sudden passion.
His face now was blue-gray and drawn, horrible to look at. It held nothing but hate-the irrational, irresponsible, illimitable hate of outraged youth.
“Find her!” he cried explosively, as once more he pounded on the bell-button.
“You refuse to tell me?”
“I don’t want to talk to you! I refuse to face such a cad!”
“What a mess—what a colossal mess you’ve made of this!” I cried, advancing on him unconsciously.
“Keep away from me! I’m done with
you! This whole family's done with
He was shaking like an unstrung and hysterical woman. I saw his hands close like claws on the back of a slender rosewood chair. At first I thought it was to support himself, but I realized,
as I saw him lift it from the floor, that 1 was mistaken.
“Greene, show this—this man out!” he was spluttering to the amazed servant who appeared in the doorway. “Show him out, or by God, I’ll kill him!”
To be Continued