THE CITY OF PERIL
A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
The Enemy Intervenes
I DUCKED and dropped as he fired, with the powder-flash stinging the bare flesh of my hand, unconsciously thrown up before my face, in the blind instinct to protect the head. The woman
sprang between us before I could recover myself. She must have caught at his arm and thrust it upward, for the second shot spit into the plaster of the ceiling, and brought down a little dribble of mortar. She must have caught at his arms then in desperation, for when I gained my feet he had one great blue-flanneled paw about her. I saw the hand with the black-barreled revolver rise above his head and come down on the girl’s smooth up-turned brow. And as I saw that cowardly blow my whole soul sickened and revolted.
How I got to him I never knew. All I felt pateful for was that I had no time to draw my own revolver; for I knew that in that first passion of hate and retaliation I should have sent a bullet through his head without hesitation. I remember that we met and clutched and swayed; that I bore him back to the wall, inch by inch;
that we panted and writhed and contended for the blackbarreled thing which he struggled to retain ; that I twisted and wrenched it away from him in the end; and that I got my fingers clamped about his flaccid neck. Then I brought the metal stock of the revolver down on the black mat of his head—brought it down insanely, time and again, until he went to the floor like a clouted rabbit, and lay there without moving, unconscious, repulsive in his disheveled and passive hideousness.
My one obsession then was escape with Elvira while I had the chance, when the way was still clear.
I lifted the girl from where she had fallen, and carried her through the iron-covered door to the foot of the ladder leading to the roof. Then I put her down gently, and quickly slipped the bolt in the door behind me. Then I groped for the ladder through the darkness, climbed to the transom, and thrust to one side the door that covered it. The gray light of the late afternoon fell into that dark little well as I did so.
Then I went back and knelt beside the girl, wondering where I could find water, torn at heart by the pitiful pallor of her face, foolishly asking myself why the drooping eyelids did not open. Then came a wayward sense of gratitude at the thought that I was forever delivering her from such things, that we were escaping together to the sanities and the realities of the open world. Devoutly and silently I thanked God that all such things were now over for all
CHAPTER XLVIII The Menace From Above
AS I knelt there, some unnamable sixth sense carried • to the seat of consciousness its mysterious warning of new danger, of possible and impending disaster.
I had heard nothing; I had seen nothing. But that telepathic warning had come home to me, had flashed inward to my wondering mind, with the quickness of light. For in some intuitive and underground manner I knew, without looking up, without moving or turning, that an ominous something was above me, that some unknown third person was peering quietly and deliberately down at me from the open roof-transom.
Something stronger than intuition also told me that this intruder was not a friend; for no friend, before such a tableau, would remain silent and inactive. Yet I waited there, without the betraying movement of a muscle for I knew that the silent something still bent above me, watching. I felt like a rat in a trap. I told myself that, being human, I was expected to show more intelligence than the rat in such a predicament. I had to plan out quickly what would be best to do, as suspense and terror stretched the seconds into illimitable lengths, like a wireroller stretching hot metal. I might have bolted for the door and got through it in time.
But I had not myself alone to think of, and the door was already locked. I knew that, long before I could get under cover with Elvira, that silent and unknown something still above us could do what it planned to do. I saw what this would be, as I heard the quick double click-click of a raised trigger. The whole thing struck me as being tragically
unfair. A spirit of blind protest burned through me. Then I thought of the rat again, and warned myself to wait and fight for my chance.
Slowly, inch by inch, as I stooped impassively over the unconscious woman, I let my right hand creep up to my coat pocket. My fingers reached the cloth flap; they sank slowly toward the waiting revolver; they touched the cold steel of it.
Even as they did so, the little room was convulsed with a deafening roar of sound. At the same moment, too, I felt a blow on one side of my chest. A sudden sharp sting of pain shot along my left side, a little under the armpit. The figure at the open transom had fired down and hit me. The bullet, tearing through my coat, had ricochetted on a rib, and had fairly knocked the breath out of my body with the sheer force of its impact.
I fell flat on my face along the floor, for I remembered the trick of the “dummy-ehucker.” I even let a shiver run through my limbs as I lay there motionless, waiting, scarcely daring to breathe. I counted off the seconds, aching with apprehension; wondering, with a sort of mental wince, just when the next more calculated shot would put an end to everything.
An eternity of silence seemed to drag by; yet no second shot came down. I could feel my shirt wet with the slow drip of blood. I was wide enough awake, nevertheless, and I could breathe without pain. So I knew that the bullet had done nothing more than glance on the bone. But I knew also that the figure above me was still waiting there, watching for the first sign of life. The cut of pain itself was like the sting of a whiplash to me. It reminded me how slim were my chances; it warned me that life itself depended on how I acted out my part during the ordeal that was still before me. It kept admonishing me to lie there, reinert, with flat against boards, each heartd e r i n g if ed second come. I I lay there, prostrate being playa pair of and doubtstill waited, to move, scarcely for I knew sound that
der was coming down the iron ladder, step by step. But still I waited. I felt his foot, as it prodded against my side, insolently, brutally inquiring. He stood there, studying me for a moment or two. Then he stooped, as though to turn me over.
IT WAS then that I twisted and rose and clinched with him. It was then that we seemed to lock together automatically, ferociously, involuntarily, like two wildcats. Before he could free himself to make use of his gun, I had the thick-fleshed thumb-joint of his hand between my teeth. My opponent, I saw, was Schmidlapp.
I knew that it was no time for half-measures. To hold out long was impossible. My fight would have to be brief and bitter. I was a wild man, a caldron of raging hate and savagery. Human pity was as far from me as from that she-grizzly after a hard winter, of which Lefty Boyle had spoken. It maddened me to see the touch of his body polluting the helpless woman beside me. I fought him away from her, inch by inch, and as I fought the ghost of a chance seemed to come to my frenzied brain. This chance, and it was my only one, did not become a reality until I had worked and fought and rolled the man’s face up against the very foot of the ladder leading to the roof. Then, as we panted and writhed about the dusty boards, I gave one sharp side-wrench of my body, and brought the bare blond head of my assailant square against the iron ladder-stanchion.
He wilted down without a sound, much as Mutashenko had done. The strangling fingers slowly relaxed on my throat, the strength went out of the encircling arms, the great body subsided into momentary passiveness. I sat
there weakly, fighting for breath, indifferent to everything in life: vaguely realizing the danger thaï still surrounded me, but quite un moved by it. The others migbi come at any moment. But the thought of their coming caused me no passing qualm of fear. It wæas though some fatigued operator in the central office of consciousness had fallen to drowsing at his lonely post. The warnings of ordinary intelligence went unrecorded. Even when I heard a sound above me 1 did not move. Overtaxed nerves refused to respond. But again I heard the sound, and this time it was accompanied by a hurried and anxious query.
“Are you ’urt, sir?”
I looked up, but did not answer.
“Is it you, sir? I’m here to ’elp, sir,” called down th» reassuring voice.
It was Davis, dependable and usually level-headeo Davis, so wrought up that he had obliterated no less than two aspirates in as many minutes.
“Thank God!” I cried, pulling myself together.
“Then quick, sir!” Davis was calling down to me “For there’s trouble outside, sir!”
“Trouble with what?” I inquired languidly.
“They ’aven’t ’eld Sitnikov! And I’m afraid it meant trouble, sir!”
WHAT kind of trouble’s ahead?” I asked of Davis, as he lowered himself down the ladder and stared with puzzled eyes at the scene about him.
“I can’t be sure, sir,” said Davis, giving me a hand ' “But it’s Sitnikov and his Inner Circle gang, I think.” The next moment I was stooping over Elvira; for she was half-conscious by this time, and moaning a little as she lay there, still dazed and helpless.
“Where’s Lefty Boyle?” I asked hurriedly, as I loosened the collar of her blue serge coat.
“He’s gone for Lieutenant Belton, sir, for as many men as he can get.”
“Why isn’t he here?" I demanded, as I gathered Elvira up in my arms.
“He told me he was helpless alone, sir. There was both Sitnikov and Schmidlapp. Schmidlapp has made a good job of it, he said, with men from the Inner Circle and ten floaters from the gas-house gang. They think there’s good money in it for them; they mean to get their slice. They have a cordon around the block.”
“What do I care for their cordon?”
“But they say you’ll never get through the line alive,
“Quick!” I called, as I turned to the ladder. “Get Schmidlapp’s gun. And see if he carries any extra cartridges.”
I was at the top of the ladder with my relaxed and quietly moaning burden before I heard Davis speak again.
“He ’as a box of them, sir—thank God! And those are some of his floaters, sir, coming up through the factory.
I can ’ear them smashing the doors.”
“Quick!” I called to Davis again, waiting to replace the transom door the moment he was through the opening.
“Is she badly hurt?” asked Davis, as we started across the tinned roof.
“The brute clubbed her,” I explained. “She’s stunned.” “If we could get to the street, sir,” said Davis, steadying me over the coping-tiles to the next roof. “There’ll be an ambulance there any time now!”
“An ambulance?” I queried.
“I telephoned for it from the saloon, sir, when I heard that first shot, before they cut the wires.”
“What’d you do that for?”
“I thought it best to have it ’ere, ’andylike.”
“ Y ou meant it for me?”
“Oh, no, sir!” protested the dissimulating Davis.
“But I imagine some cf this sweet-scented gang will travel in it before we do!” I cried drunkenly, as I staggered on.
“I ’ope so!” said Davis devoutly. Then he added, with a backward look over his shoulder: “If we could only get to that feed-stable roof, sir! Then we might work our way down to the side street!”
I turned my head to answer him; but to my surprise he caught me by the sleeve and swung me sharply about, under the shadow of three loosebricked chimney-tops, stained with smoke and smelling of creosote. He ducked low as he did so, and jerked at me to do the same.
I heard the bark of a pistol and the plaintive whine of a bullet over our heads as we dipped behind that embrasure. The bark was repeated—twice, three times—and one bullet sent the mortar flying from the chimney-corner at my
“They’re up through the roof!” cried Davis. “We should have guarded the transom-’ole, sir!”
I caught Schmidlapp’s revolver from his hand, still bolding the drooping figure of the girl over my left arm. Then I edged my way to the right end of the chimney-row.
THE shots sounded again as I showed myself, a little fusillade of them this time. I could see men crouching back and dropping behind wall-ends and water-tanks and chimney tops.
I tried to shoot deliberately, as I saw them swarming for cover ludicrously, like water-rats skulking from object to object. But my nerves were unsteady, and my arm was tired and shaking. When I had emptied the revolver, I thrust it back into Davis’ hand.
“Load it!” I cried, catching my own gun from its pocket; for already I saw a skulking form in a corduroy cap advancing across the nearest roof. I caught him half-way, in the open. It took all six shots to bring him down with a broken ankle. And again I called to Davis to hand me the other revolver, for the fever of fight was raging hotly in my blood by this time. I saw the man in the corduroy cap crawling back to cover on his hands and knees.
Then came a shower of bullets, pinging and whistling about us, as the wounded man was dragged back behind a water-tank. The shots, I could see, were coming from an ever-wider and wider area. Our position was getting precarious.
“Davis,” I said sharply, “take this girl and carry her on to where the roof drops below that blind wall. There’s a piece of fire-escape ladder against the coping. Let yourself down by it. I’ll stay here and cover your retreat.”
“Yes, sir,” said
“Then you can wait for me behind that nearest walltop. I’ll drop back and join you when the chance comes.
We’ll have a clear wall-end to face, then; it’ll be easy to hold them back, or pick them off as they try to drop over.”
“Very well, sir,” said Davis, taking my burden from me.
“Keep low,” I warned him, “and go quick. Quick, while I’m showing myself.”
I stepped out, with both revolvers in my hands. The result was what I expected. I could hear the flicker of shots from the different parapets, the spatter of bullets against roof and wall and chimney.
I could even see a steady gush of water from the lower end of a watertank, where one of my shots, going wide, had pierced the pine. The fact that impressed me most was the quietness of the whole thing. There was no shouting and calling, no noise and tumult; nothing but the sharp report of pistols, the quiet whine of bullets, and from somewhere farther along the water-front the shrill shouts of children at play on one of the recreationpiers.
I waited until I knew that Davis and his burden were safely over the parapet. Then I began to fall back, as best
I could. I seemed to become almost unconcerned, as the running fight kept up—from barrier to barrier, from lonely housetop to housetop. It reminded me a little of shooting big-horn in the Rockies; it was almost as wearying, almost as foolish.
Then, for some reason which I could not understand, the game came to a stop. The swarming figures seemed to fade away. Even before we got to the roof of the feedstable, where Davis reported that we might make our descent to the street, the firing pattered out and ceased. I thought at first that I had won—that I had driven them back, discouraged, beaten.
“They’ve dropped off, sir,” said Davis. “They’re drawing away and going to the street. They’ll try to cut us off and hold us there, sir.”
“But we’ll get through them—we’ve got to get through!” I cried.
“It will be hard, sir, if Lieutenant Belton isn’t there with the men.”
I took Elvira from his arms, and crossed the tarred roof to where a transom stood open. I was just dropping down through this transom, when Davis stopped me.
“Listen, sir,” he said. “It’s a bell, the bell of the ambulance.”
“There’s one man there who’ll need it,” I told him.
“I was hoping it was the police,” said Davis, a little dispiritedly.
CHAPTER L Life At Last
NEVER before had I known Davis to shirk an unsavory task. But things no longer surprised me; a sense of unreality had crept over the world about me. I seemed to be a ghost acting and moving in a land of ghosts.
“Hadn’t we better hold back, sir, until they conw!' I could hear Davis saying close beside me; but his voice sounded as though it reached my ears through a wall.
“Hold back!” I cried. “With those rats swarming thicker and thicker down there—with them gathering
every thug and highbinder on the'East^Side? No! We’ve
got to fight our way through, now, while we can!”
“I’m afraid it will be ’ard to do, sir,” demurred Davis.
I swung about on him, a little impatiently, a little angrily. Then, for the first time, I saw a slow trickle of blood from his limp arm. His coat-sleeve was stained with it. A streak of tell-tale red ran clown across the back of his hand.
“You’ve been hit!” I said.
“It’s only a scratch, sir,” he said, a little apologetically
“A spent bullet, in the forearm, sir. It caromed off » chimney-tile.”
I noticed, with relief, that it was his left arm. I gave him my revolver, fully loaded, and turned back to the transom.
“We can still fight for it,” I said reassuringly, for he was looking a little sick and white. “We may be able to get through to an Avenue D car—out of that gang-fighting slum. Or we may get to a telephone somewhere. Even a fire-alarm box would help us out. Or we may be able to get in between good solid brick walls and still hold them off.”
“I’m a bit uneasy about bombs, sir,” said Davis. “Mr. Boyle said that would be the thing to expect from a couple of soup-makers like Schmidlapp and Sitnikov.”
“That’s a risk we’ve got to face,” I told him. We were already down through the roof of the feed-stable, picking our way over a criss-crossing descent of cleated planks. Parts of this descent were covered with tattered sections of worn-out rubber hose, convincing me that it was an inclined runway for horses. I had to pick my way carefully, for the light was bad. My strength, too, was not what it had been. Ammoniacal stable-odors smote on my
nostrils. I could hear the stamping of horses in their stalls. But nothing stopped us; nobody appeared to interfere with us, or to challenge our de-
Then the body that laya gainst my shoulder amoved little.
“What is it?’’ came from the lips that were so clsoe to my face, in a weak and faltering voice.
“It’s all right,” I assured her. “We’re going home.” “Home?” she asked dazedly, with an effort to lift her
“Yes, yes; it will be all right,” I tried to tell her, in as steady a voice as 1 could command.
But her wide eyes saw the black-barreled revolver in my hand, and the blood on my clothes, and the slow drip from Davis’ left hand. I could feel her arm tighten a little about my neck convulsively. I knew that she was sobbing on my shoulder.
The sound of that sobbing reminded me of what I had to fight for. In some way it gave me new strength, as wine might have done.
And still we made our way downward, foot by foot, floor by floor.
DAVIS, who had
dropped behind, came running toward me again.
“We must ’urry, sir,” he called warn-
ingly. “I’m afraid it’s Mutashenko, or Schmidlapp, coming by the roof with the men!” ....
“Quick, then!" I said, tearing open a sagging wooden door, and finding myself in a gloomy and foul-aired chamber. crowded with an array of carts and wagons and mud-laden cabs. Another door led to a cleated wooden runway; and this, in turn, led to what was surely the ground floor of the stable.
Continued on page 46
Continued from page 33
“There ought to be a policeman,’’ I gasped. “There ought to be help!’’ I hated to give in, but I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t good for much more.
“Mr. Boyle said as how the officer on this beat’s a welcher, sir, and wasn’t to be depended on. They had it ’ot and 'eavy, sir, before I came up.”
We were threading our way through two irregular rows of delivery-wagons and black-bodied hacks. Then I staggered on through a dimly lighted and odoriferous harness-room, and, turning to the left, swung open the door that faced me.
Then I came to a full stop, for there in front of me I saw the blessed light of open day. There before me lay the wide doorway of the open-fronted stable. Blocked out against this stood a line of human heads, in silhouette; and even as I looked I saw these heads part like stubble before a farmer’s mold-board, and the black body of a hospital ambulance sweep authoritatively about in a short half-circle, under the stable’s wide doorway. I saw a huge coatless man, with a neck-yoke in his hand, flailing and crowding and fighting back thr angry line of heads. I heart! the crash of glass as a stone went through a window, and the derisive shouts and catcalls of the street crowd as an empty hansom was overturned, with a second crash, against the curbstones.
Then I forgot the street crowd. For l saw the unconcerned and calm-faced ambulance-driver back his vehicle about, as though making ready to turn westward again on Fifth Street. And as I saw that wide-mouthed black body backed in under the door of the feed-stable, a new thought came to me, and with it came a new hope.
I called to the white-coated and nonehalant surgeon with all my strength. He swung his head about, without letting go of his strap-loop.
Then hurriedly I whispered to Davis to fall back and stand guard at the door •of the harness-room. My one fear was that Sehmidlapp or Mutashenko might yet overtake us.
The ambulanee surgeon swung slowly down from his seat, and came striding back through the half-light.
“What’s up here?” he asked peremptorily. “Where is this row, anyway?” “The roof,” I told him, as he stood back to survey me and my burden. “There are two oo the roof.”
“Are you hurt?” he demanded, not moving.
“No, not much. We’re all right. But get your driver and go to the roof quick.”
He would be safe enough, I knew, safer even than a uniformed police-officer, as safe as a Red Cross on a battlefield.
“What’s this blood?” he still demanded. “It’s nothing.”
"Let’s see if it’s nothing.”
“It’s not us,” I all but howled at him. “It’s the men on the roof.”
“Is that woman hurt?” he persisted, it maddened me to think of the precious moments we were losing.
“Yes, she’s hurt, but I can attend to her. Only leave me something to stop blood. Your coat, quick!”
“My what!” he exclaimed, struggling co draw back from my hand, which already •clutched and held his collar.
“Your coat!” I cried, lying like a conjurer as that inspired idea came to me. "I’ll tend to her! You get to the roof, for God’s sake, or it’ll be too late!”
HE WRIGGLED protestingly out of the immaculate white garment, all the while eyeing me as though I were a madman. Then he ran back to the ambulanceseat for his bag.
I could hear him calling sharply to the driver as he caught up the bag and turned and bolted through the harnessroom. The driver swung nonchalantly out over the cramped wheel, clambered to the ground, and followed the surgeon.
i shouted to Davis as they passed.
1 noticed, as I turned, that a pair of loopedup traces hanging from a harness-hook had brushed the driver’s peak cap from his head. He did not stop to recover it.
I sprang for it and caught it up. Then I tossed my own hat into an empty stall, flung on the white duck coat, and staggered forward with my burden to where the empty ambulance still blocked the doorway, like a pine log locking and barring a flume-head. And on the other side of that ambulance, I knew, were my enemies, still waiting.
“Help me, Davis, quick!” I cried, with a new tingle of energy through all my tired body.
“How, sir?” he asked, a little weak and bewildered.
“Into that ambulance,” I told him. “For I’m going to drive through that mob.”
He could use but one arm as I passed the girl up to him. But it took only a moment to let her sink gently down on the waiting gray blanket.
“What is it?” she asked, as her widening eyes caught sight of me on the ambulance-
“It’s a fighting-chance,” I told her. quietly yet exultantly.
“It’s what?” she asked, still dazed.
“It’s escape—it’s life!” I called to her, in a reassuring whisper, as I circled about to the front of the ambulance.
“What must I do, sir?” asked Davis, while I was swinging up into the drivingseat. For the first time I caught a clear sight of the scattered street mob before me. That mob, I knew, was stipp’ed with armed and waiting enemies, omin us in their sullen expectancy.
“Keep down,” I warned Davis, as I caught up the reins. “Bend in over your patient, out of sight. But be ready for anything if we’re stopped—for anything, Davis, while we’ve got a bullet left!”
I found that day, that it is not always alcohol that intoxicates a man. For the next moment the well-trained horse had responded to the reins, my toe was feverishly working the foot-trip that operated the ambulance-gong, and we swayed and swung out under the door, into the very heart of that sinister and waiting mob.
I caught up the whip and charged into their very midst, the gong clanging and throbbing as we went. And as we advanced on them I beheld the enactment of one of those apparent miracles of modern life which go to demonstrate that men, however emancipated, often remain subconsciously and unwittingly subservient to constituted authority. I witnessed the all but unbelievable power of established tradition, the mysterious operation of habit that has merged into instinct.
FOR as my horse plunged into the midst of those waiting thugs and highbinders and gang-floaters, the line of faces, evil and expectant, sullen and watchful, broke to right and left like sea-waves before a ship’s cutwater. On either side of me the crowd fell away, without hesitation, without thought, as though the clanging of the gong were a thousand invisible hands beating them back.
The waiting crowd parted and still parted as I pressed forward through it. There was no violence, no thought of interference, no sign of resistance. A dozen obsessed Bolsheviks, who would have shot me where I sat, stepped impassively back, or called to their comrades to make way for me. A dozen “drumsnuffers” and “white-liners,” who would have sent a bullet into my head from under cover of that street-jam of a slum’s riffraff as cheerfully as they would have dropped a stolen dollar into their pockets, crowded quietly back to make room for my wheels. All their suspicion subsided before that peremptory-noted vehicle which their streets had so often heard, and their crowded corners had so well learned to respect.
I WAS Mercy winging to the relief of wounded Life. I was Law and Duty and Pity, endowed with a Mercury-like speed. I was Authority touched with mystery, with the mystery of reticent
white walls and white-figured magicians and white covered beds, and the occasional white wonder of Death himself.
I was, for the passing moment, master of the situation.
I could even see a hurrying bluecoat, at the corner of Avenue D, run to the corner and wave all traffic aside. Cars were halted, drays were side-tracked, delivery-wagons were warped in toward the curb—-all to let a drunken and dizzyheaded man and the woman he loved pass free and unhindered through that sinister crowd of enemies.
But it could not last long. I knew that the unwarranted theft of that ambulance would be discovered at any moment now, that the surgeon or his driver would get to a ’phone, and that a general alarm would go tingling through all the thousand-wired nervous system of an awakened city. No, I decided; it could not last for long. Yet, even as this disturbing thought registered itself, a way continued to cleave open for us as we swept out across the car-rails of Avenue C. A channel of escape kept defining itself, as though by magic, before the mere clangor and rattle of our gong. I passed three patrolmen in uniform, unchallenged, as they made their way eastward on the doublequick. On we raced, without a stop, without question or delay, without a spoken
I heard suddenly what seemed to be an echo of my own gong-rattle, and looked back in time to see a second ambulance swing about into Fifth Street.
I had no time to study it, no time to verify any hurried first impression ; but I knew that it had come from the north. This meant that word had already gone out, that the theft and flight were already known, that we might be intercepted now at any moment.
Yet as we swung westward I felt like a choked and half-drowned man who was clambering up to dry land. - I felt like a flounderer through stagnant morasses slowly but surely making his way to more solid footing. I welcomed the cleaner streets, the less polluted air, the more orderly house-fronts, the casual and more methodic rows of traffic on either side of us, the sense of law and right which in some way seemed to creep over things as we left that ragged East River water-front farther and farther behind us. I felt like a swimmer desperately splashing and battling his way out of a shark-infested roadstead.
Again I heard an echoing and answering throb of sound, and peered forward to see another ambulance bearing down on us. It came up with us and passed, with a rattle of scurrying hoofs. I could see the gold-braided cap of the driver as he swept by, and his brief glance of wonder and doubt at my face. But all I knew was a slowly mounting sense of weariness, shot through with the recurrent question: “Are we free yet—are we free?”
THEN, almost as though in reply to that question, I heard Davis calling to me, as we still swept westward.
“They’re after us, sir!” he warned me. Then I noticed, to my dismay, that the pace was beginning to tell on my horse. He could no longer respond to my urgings. Even as I pondered who our pursuers might be, I heard the cluttering crescendo of galloping horses behind me. They were up with us, abreast of us, before I could reach First Avenue.
I saw then that they were two mounted policemen, two “canaries” of the traffic squad. And a great sense of relief welled up in me as my staring eyes fell on the blue uniforms braided with yellow facings, and the winged-wheel ensign on the outstretched arms. Even before I could let my fagged horse slow down, they closed adroitly in on me from the right and left, and, catching my taut reins just behind the bit-rings, brought the ambulance to a sudden standstill.
“You’re under arrest!” the shorter and ruddier of the two officers was shouting in my face.
I only leaned back and grinned at him, wearily, gratefully, contentedly. “And thank God for it!” I cried.
He brought his horse about with a sudden sidestep like a waltz-movement, and caught me by the collar.
“What’s that?” he cried, as his great paw closed in its grip; and I could see by his face that he had written me down as a madman, as a dangerous lunatic who should have no leeway.
“I say thank God for it!” I repeated, happily and wearily. For I was very tired. It was all over and done with now. We were safe; we had escaped. There would be other tasks for other times, there was much work still to be done, and other ends to be achieved; but they seemed suddenly far - off and trivial. All I knew was that Elvira was safe, that we were there under the very arm of the law itself. All I knew, as I reached back and caught her hand in mine was that I had won in the end: that life, ordered and wholesome life, lay before us again.
And while we waited there, drawing a crowd about the three steaming and panting horses as mysteriously as a magnetized steel bar attracts iron filings. Lieutenant Belton and Borough Inspector McCain came up in a motor-car, scattering the sea of upturned faces like chaff as they pulsed and shuddered up beside the ambulance. I can remember the dull red motor-car, for all the world like a boiled lobster on wheels; and Lieutenant Belton standing beside it, covering his pink and plump-cheeked face with one large and seemingly hilarious hand as he looked up at me, silent and unprotesting and supine, in the clutch of that traffic squad officer.
CHAPTER LI The Hammer of God
I COULD never quite remember whether it was two hours or ten minutes later that the parleying and questioning and counterquestioning came to a stop.
But I know that, while a green motorcar was being conjured up from somewhere in the neighborhood of Tompkins Square, the ever-thoughtful Davis, bad arm and all, slipped aside to a telephone and had my limousine brought scurrying down from the garage. I also remember Lieutenant Belton, after installing the reluctant Davis in the motor-car, flailing and pushing back the curious crowd, and at the same time advising me over his shoulder to get off home while I had the chance. I can recall the thick-shouldered and fatherly figure of Inspector McCain lifting Elvira up through the limousine doer. I remember stumbling as I was thrust in through the same narrow door, and being caught as I lurched forward—being celestially clung to and supported by a pair of waiting arms, which were made for clinging, as a bird’s wings are made for flight.
Then somebody handed in a flask and told me in a guttural and rumbling voice that I’d better give a nip to the lady as well. I remember the pink and puzzled and still somewhat amused face of Lieutenant Belton, as he slammed the door and told us to be off. And I knew as his uncomprehending eyes rested on my face for one questioning moment that from that day forward there would always be a gulf between us—there would always be a dead-line beyond which his thick-set and fullblooded sympathies could never wander. To him I would always be the whimsical and erratic idler along the shallows of life. I would never seem to him anything but “the amateur gum-shoe,” the calamitychaser who had blundered and waded too far out from his native shore-line.
He knew nothing of that newer light which was to illumine, or of that newer purpose which was to unify, my days. He knew nothing of the awakening which had come to my idle and stagnating existence. He knew nothing of the angel who had stooped and stirred the pool.
I turned to that angel herself, to hear her still pitifully and brokenly asking if she ought not to go back to Mutashenko. I could feel the quiet sob that shook her body as I told her that it was too late, as she still questioned if there were not time to do something to help them—if we were not cowardly to be running away.
I could see the tears welling through her eyelashes—tears of utter weariness, of self-reproach that was abysmal because it was without foundation, of overtaxed nerves only laggingly adjusting themselves to the security and quietness in which at last she found herself.
I unscrewed the thimble-cap of the flask and filled it.
She sipped at the liquor with uncertain lips, spasmodically, like a bird drinking at a fountain. She kept taking microscopically small draughts of it as I commanded—reluctantly, with her eyes always on mine, in mute and child-like protest.
Then I took the little cup from her and tilled it and drank twire. Her eyes were still on my face as I did so; and I could see in them the commiseration, the soft pity, the feeling even stronger than pity itself, as I sat back against the rocking car-seat and felt the jaded hoofs of life strike up into action under the lash of the fiery liquor.
Her hand was fluttering about my shoulder like a butterfly against a trellis, as she watched me.
“Are you hurt?" she implored. “Are you badly hurt?”
HER voice was so low, so tear-muffled and mournful, that it seemed almost like a pigeon’s cooing.
I took the restless hand prisoner in mine, and clung to it, with an ache of happiness in my very bones. I no longer resented the past. I no longer revolted against what I had been through. Each blow had in the end served to bring us together. The Hammer of God, the true hammer of God. bad welded our lives into
“We’re going home!” I told her, and in that word home there seemed to glow all the warmth and color and peace that ever burned in the hearts of sea-worn and travel-wearied exiles.
“ You are going home,” she murmured desolately, like a prisoner refusing freedom when the whole blue dome of heaven stood inviting her to it. She seemed to be touched into sudden pathos by that great iron chain of duty which still weighed so incongruously on her. “I must still go back—to them!”
“To them!” I cried, a little drunkenly,
I think; for I could hear the brandy beginning to sing in my ears like bottled bees. “You’ll never go back to them.” “I must!” she persisted, though the wavering breath that fell from her lips —the breath that was neither a sigh nor a sob—seemed to leave the edge of her decision swathed in uncertainty, like a knife-blade wrapped in silk.
“You went back once, and you know —you can see what came of it!”
"They need me,” she said, in her whisper of pitiful and persistent abnegation.
“And I need you,” I told her, more humbly, more quietly, as I saw that afterglow of unhappiness which still burned in her eyes. “There’s nothing you can do for them now. From this day forward they’re beyond our help, for good or bad. The Inner Circle and Mutashenko and Schmidlapp have passed out of our hands now, all of them. They trelong to the police!”
“To the past,” she cried, a little bitterly. “To my past!”
“Yes; they belong to your past, to our past; to that poor, tangled, blind old past that is over and done with; the past you coffined and buried with your own hands when you said five blessed words to me, back in that room where t he canary was singing in a cage!”
“No—-no!” she was still protesting, with almost a sob. “That past is never dead—we can never bury it!”
“It will bury itself,” I told her, “under all these new tasks we have before us. For there’s so much, so much to be done! There are so many things that we must do together!”
"We must do?” she echoed, as though still uncertain of everything about her.
“Yes; we two, together. I’d be worse than helpless without you. And there’s so much hunger and want and ignorance for us to fight against!”
I still held her hand in mine, and she was now no longer sobbing. And the same constriction of the throat that had overtaken me in Mutashenko[s room returned to me, and for a minute or two made it impossible for me to speak. Never again, I knew, could I idle and eat my way, like a buffalo-moth, through the fabric of some outer world’s labor. Never again would there be that anesthesia of indifference which had once translated life’s underworld into a sort of shadowy ghostland through which only our slumming-cars hurried like foxhounds through a ■cemetery.
Yes; that had been the trouble, from the first. I had seen too much of the world through window-glass. 1 had looked out on my own kind from too many softened sind padded seats. But now it would all lie changed. There would he no hair-
shirt and self-flagellation, no gallery play of parlor socialism, no flinging of fortunes to the four winds of hysteria.
I still valued wealth and the power that went with it too much to abjure lightly its agencies. And 1 still hungered, a little childishly and waywardly, to show the woman I had learned to love how this thing which was evil only in excess could lie made to minister to happiness.
I COULD never lead her round-eyed and wondering into the ways of luxury, like street-children into a nickelodeon.
She had drunk too deeply of the bitter wells of life ever to thrill at the mere mimicry of such things—I could never entrance her as I used to entrance Nannie Washburn’s two little nieces, when I led them tingling and gasping into the wonders of afternoon vaudeville.
The dark and brooding eyes, studying my face as I sat there, could never be long veiled or blinded by the subtly organized narcotics of that city, as I knew it, which threw a nebula of illusion about the ways of despair, and converted even art into a lethal chamber for its dying and stifling souls.
She had seen too far into life ever to be satisfied with its husks. Yet she had known discord and unrest and unhappiness for too long. Now peace would be doubly sweet to her. And the thought that I might bring quietness to her after turmoil, that I might throw a shelter about her troubled soul after its dark and lonely battles, sent a great sense of gratitude welling up into my heart. The very carriage in which we sat, as it sped and rocked and purred so softly homeward, shuttling its course through the thousand-wheeled tumult of the streets, became a symbol of that peace and quietness which I hoped some day to bring to her. Like wealth, it could await and serve and shelter us, but in itself it could not bring us happiness.
More and more that complex mechanism of hurrying steel and copper, of wood and glass, became an emblem of what thought and care and labor might some day weave about her. In that pliant and docile motor seemed to center and flower all the cunning of civilization, all the patience and toil of the unknown and nameless men whose blood was forged into its shafts and bars, whose breath of life had been lost in the making of its gases. It carried us through space as a bird might fly, yet it circumscribed us with peace. It wafted us about the world without struggle; for the struggle had been that of hearts and brains that were unknown to us.
And all this I tried to tell the woman at my side. She must have understood me, in some way, for slowly I saw one of her rare smiles creep into her face.
It was a wistful smile, pale and wintry. It fluttered about her lips for a moment, or two, like a bird afraid to alight.
“Why will you do all this?” she asked me, as I went babbling on, foolishly enough,
“For you!” was my answer. I was still holding her hand in mine. And as I did so I felt like a Crusader grasping ¿his
“For me?” she echoed, with a fluttering little sigh. Her face, almost white against the green broadcloth of the limousine upholstery, was like the face of a saint. Yet above the saint I saw the woman emerge, tangible and material, like sunlight after starlight.
“Do you love me?” she pleaded, a little hungrily, with the old look of wearied abstraction gone from her face. “Do you?”
“1 love you,” I told her, at that human and endearing cry of her woman’s heart, swaying towards her where she seemed more a soft and heavenly perfume of twilight roses than a thing of flesh and blood.
“I love you,” I repeated, as the indrawn sigh of her parted lips seemed to make mv emotion godlike and infinite. “Oh, 1 love you more than life itself!’’ I cried. And as our eyes met she wavered and melted and sank into my arms.
As she lay there I seemed to hear the looms of destiny weaving our two relaxed and weary bodies together. Filaments, infinitely strange and slender, seemed to enmesh and web together our strangely divergent lives, as a nesting oriole weaves and hinds together two drooping branchends for a home that is to he the home of
S°nK' THE END