THEY met in the gloaming. Which, of itself, at once suggests romance and lovers’ trysts—
Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet, Mary Jane and the butcher’s boy. The connotation is inescapable. But this, unfortunately, was not that sort of a gloaming.
To begin with, it was a November gloaming. Aside from that a northeaster, heavily freighted with snow, was whirling down from Labrador and points beyond.
At three o’clock Nancy Taltonsall had passed the last sign of human habitation; an isolated farmhouse at which she might have paused to ask directions. But she had preferred, characteristically, to follow her nose.
Nancy’s nose was, for the most part, a perfectly good nose, admirably suited for breathing, powdering and other purposes for which feminine noses are provided by an all wise providence.
Nevertheless it was, like most feminine noses, no nose to follow. It possessed no sense of direction whatsoever.
Now, standing beside her car, she glanced about her.
“What a duck of a place to develop engine trouble in!” she murmured.
The surrounding scenery consisted of snow and primeval forest, for she was stalled in the wilds of Maine.
Or, possibly, the wilds of Canada. She was not quite sure which. She had an automobilist’s guide book and it was in its accustomed place. But she did not consult it.
Its accustomed place was a library shelf, back in Montreal.
Nancy’s eyes returned to the car.
The car was long and low, with stream lines, six cylinders, a cream colored body and a golden brown, semipermanent top.
It suggested ready money.
So did Nancy.
Also, though she was neither long nor low, she too
had stream lines, at least six cylinders, a cream-colored body and a golden brown, very permanent, top.
Nancy was, in brief, one more of those charmingly ill-bred descendants of Eve who are determined to do as they please and who usually get away with it. Slender, silk-sheathed bullies, who swashbuckle their way through the world like feminine D’Artagnans.
Even the elements, when they fail to please,
come under their sharp displeasure and are snapped at.
“This,” Nancy assured herself impatiently, “is perfectly preposterous. I can’t stay here all night. I’d freeze to death. Why on earth doesn’t a car come?” Whereupon, as if the good—or bad—fairy that had
How many girls do you know who are slender, silk-sheathed bullies, who swashbuckle their way " through the world like feminine D'Artagnans ?
always seen to it that sha got what she wanted had summoned it, a car sped toward her.
Nancy promptly planted herself in its path.
“Stop!” she shouted.
THE snow lashed it, half obscuring its headlight*. But its driver must have seen her, for momentarily its pace slackened appreciably. Then the engine roared anew and the car, leaping forward,
would have run her down had she not sprung swiftly to one side.
For a full second she stood with her pretty mouth at its widest. Then as the gory tail light sped on until,
abruptly, it disappeared altogether, her^lips snapped shut.
“I’d like,” she announced,
“to wring his neck!”
The really remarkable thing about that was that this was not the. first time
she had experienced that
emotion, with the same man as its cause. They were old acquaintances, they had known each other since dancing school days.
But between them there was none of that beautiful sentiment so imperishably expressed in Auld Lang Syne.
Of course he had not recognized her. If he had he would have stopped, which proves that the spirit of knight errantry is not dead. Because, given the choic*,
Wigglesworth Thaver would have preferred to tilt a joust or go to the crusades rather than spend ten minutes alone with Nancy Taltonsall anywhere.
Which, as Nancy would have promptly assured him, was mutual.
They had never stopped to wonder how they got that way. They saw much of each other but that couldn’t be helped. They belonged to the same set in Montreal and they had no more chance of avoiding each other than goldfish in the same bowl.
That they detested each other they made clear, if by different methods.
Nancy, with a feminine facility for inflicting torture, called him Wiggie— everybody else took the curse off his anything but Christian name by calling him Wig—and treated him generally as if he were of the same age and otherwise akin to her maiden aunt, whom he did not at all resemble. Aside, that is, from their common disapproval of Nancy and her ways.
He had, so Nancy assured him, what was probably the only conscience left in his own day and generation.
“And it’s really excess baggage,
Wiggy,” she had informed him flippantly.
“It makes you a social liability. You’re the only man I know that won’t lend me a cigarette or press a pocket flask upon me.”
She didn’t care much for a cigarette and she cared even less for a flask, but she liked to make him think that both were as the breath of life to her.
Even so, a conscience has its virtues, as well as its defects. Caution had advised Wig, when Nancy had tried to stop him, to put his foot on the accelerator and keep it there. But before he had gone more than a quarter of a mile his conscience began to bother him. Suppose somebody really were in distress . . .
The thought was too much for him.
So he snapped off his lights, stopped his engine, and started back.
But cautiously, for he knew this road and its reputation after dark.
This habit of caution was, indeed, as ingrained as his conscience. Nancy considered it supremely funny. To listen to her comments one would never have guessed that the man she described had played a very cautious game as Flying Wing for McGill—or that he had, while flying in France, very cautiously disposed of six Boche planes with a minimum risk to himself.
One might have thought all this would have hampered Nancy in her remarks—one, that is, who knew little or nothing about women.
Now, Nancy had turned back to her car. As a preliminary to venting upon it some of the emotions her repulse had engendered, she had switched on her spot light, thrust up the hood, and acquired a smudge on her nose.
CO WIG camé upon her. But her back was to him ^ and he did not recognize her or even her gender. That was because she had, for this trip that was to have landed her in Quebec from Boston, on her way to Montreal, garbed herself in breeches and putties. In these, with her short coat and close fitting little hat, she looked like a—well, exactly like a slim and adorable girl.
There was no excuse save the snow, the place and the time for Wig to mistake her for anything else, or to announce his presence as he did.
“Put up your hands,” he suggested, by way of preliminary.
Instead Nancy screamed. She was frightfully ashamed of that immediately but at the moment it was too jumpy. And her reaction did not make her feel any more kindly toward him when she recognized him.
“Good gracious!” she snapped. “What do you mean by creeping up on me that way? I had no idea there was anybody around. Why don’t you blow a horn—•—”
“Good—Lord!” gasped Wig. “It’s—you!”
“Yes—isn’t the world a small place?” she suggested, satirically.
This he ignored.
“What’s the matter—engine trouble?” he asked.
“Not at all—I merely stopped to count snow flakes. I'd gotten up to eight thousand, two hundred and eight when you interrupted me. Now I’ve lost count--”
She stopped and eyed him critically.
“You had better give me that revolver,” shp suggested. “You don’t look to me like a safe person to have it.”
They were off, both running true to form.
“It happens,” he retorted stiffly, “to be nothing more
deadly than a pipe. I am not in the habit of going armed--”
“Really? I would have thought you wouldn’t even venture across the Public Gardens without a gun. One of the swans might attack you, you know.”
But he, relapsing into tight-lipped silence, had turned to her engine.
“You’ve burned out your bearings!” he cried
at once, almost as if she had committed murder.
And he felt almost that way. He was fond of engines, as some men are of horses.
“Burned out my bearings?” she echoed. “Why, I told the garage man in Portland to see if I needed oil and to put it in if I did.”
“I suggest,” he advised, “that in the future you look yourself—and see that the oil is actually put in. It is fairly important you know—or should!”
“Oh—pish!” she retorted. And added, quite as if it were all his fault instead of hers, “What are you going to do about it except talk?”
“Nothing. Except leave your car here and take you along with me until we come to some place where I can drop you!”
“How chivalrous! But I’m headed for Quebec, you know--
“And I’m headed the other way. Sorry, but—-—” “You were born that way, I suppose,” she commented. “Run along, Wiggy—-I’ll wait-until somebody going my way comes along.”
“That plan is worthy of the brain that conceived it,” he assured her. “You probably won’t have to wait long.
The night traffic along this road is heavy--”
“Are you trying to be sarcastic?”
“Not at all. The trouble is that you’ll have no way of telling whether the car you try to stop is driven by
a bootlegger or a hi-jacker--•”
“What’s a hi-jacker?” interrupted Nancy.
“An estimable gentleman who persuades the bootlegger of the error of his ways—with the assistance of a sawed-off shot gun. And having persuaded him, proceeds to confiscate his cargo and divert it to his own ends----”
“Are you a movie fan?” she inquired, solicitously. “I’ve heard that the movies affect the young that way.” “Do try to be sensible for once—even if it is an effort,” he suggested. “They call this road Alcohol Alley. You
can’t possibly stay here--”
“Can’t I?” she asked, sweetly. “Who is going to prevent me? . . . Oh, don’t glare so. Run along. It’s after dark and you won’t feel safe until you’re indoors.” Naturally she knew very well he couldn’t leave her.
She was merely baiting him. He--
“Then stay!” said he, and departed forthwith.
And Nancy’s pretty mouth popped open again.
“I should worry,” she assured herself as the storm swallowed him.
And in spite of herself she did just that.
Indeed, when the headlights of a car again bore down
upon her she had to advise herself, sternly, not to be a silly, before she could place herself in its path. And she was prepared this time to move fast, if that proved necessary.
This time it didn’t. The car stopped short.
“You,” Wig announced, “may be a damned little idiot, but I refuse to leave you here.”
And, without preface or apology, he picked her up and slammed her down beside the driver’s seat.
“You’ll stay there,” he added, grimly, “if I have to tie you. I’m no more enthusiastic about all this than you are, but that goes as it lays. That’s all!” “How,” managed Nancy, out of abysmal surprise, “could I refuse to accept such a pressing—and flattering —invitation?”
In her heart she was glad he had come back. But she had no intention of letting him realize that.
They drove on in silence, a silence that endured until the car stopped. Which it did, within three hundred yards.
“What’s the matter?” asked Nancy. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” he replied, and thrust himself out into the storm to investigate.
Nancy yawned. It was none of her funeral!
“Everything seems to be all right,” he
said, presently. “I don’t see--”
“Gas enough?” she suggested. “Naturally,” he retorted, with all a motorist’s contempt for such a question.
But presently he moved around to the rear of the car to investigate. One glance at his face when he returned was enough for her.
“You haven’t!” she announced triumphantly.
“I told the garage man in Quebec to fill my tank,” he began. “I—don’t
“I suggest,” she advised him, “that in the future you look yourself—and see that gas is actually put in. It is fairly important, you know—or should.”
She had him there; the best he could achieve in the way of repartee was weak—and characteristically masculine.
“Heaven,” he apostrophized, “save me from a contentious woman!”
“The exact phrase,” she corrected sweetly, “is ‘It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman.’ I’ve always wondered just which of his wives caught Solomon with the goods on him, to inspire that!”
“I am surprised at your knowledge of the Bible--”
“Oh it was a part of English Ten at Havergal. But though this is the wilderness and I’m a contentious woman I’m not angry—though I should be. You carried me off against my will and now you dump me here. What are you going to do next?”
THIS was exactly what he was wondering. The obvious suggestion—that there was gas to be had in her tank—did not occur to either.
Nancy was relishing his discomfiture too much to think of remedies. As for Wig he, as always, was too irritated by her to think clearly or consecutively. He was not, in other words, himself.
“I can stop some passing automobile,” he suggested. “But you can’t tell until you’ve stopped it, whether it belongs to a bootlegger or a hi-jacker,” she reminded him. “And supposing it was a hi-jacker and he stuck one of those sawed-off shot guns under Wiggy’s nose—” “I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” he snapped.
“So I’ve suspected. But it’s so perfectly descriptive that I can’t help it. Would you rather I’d call you Aunt Wiggy?”
He swallowed something but said nothing. Whereupon she added:
“My feet are cold and I’m hungry--”
“I’m sorry. But I doubt if there is a house within ten miles—”
“Look!” she interrupted. “Isn’t that a road just
ahead? See—there are tracks coming out of it--”
“It’s probably only a logging road--”
“I’ll bet it leads to a house. And I’m going to find out. Anything is better than standing here. You can stay or follow as you choose.”
But of course he had no choice. He stayed only long enough to cover his engine and then he started after her. The snow swirled around them, the wind was searching and bitter cold. Speech was difficult, but presently he essayed it.
“You might have better stayed by the car,” he said. “This isn’t even a road really. You would never have discovered it if it hadn’t .been for these tracks. They
will lead us on for miles and dump us nowhere--”,
He paused abruptly. Logic and reason were with him, as always, but to-night Fate was not.
“Truly?” she mocked. “Am I still a contentious woman—or is that a light shining in the wilderness?”
They had come upon it suddenly, almost eerily. But there was no denying its existence. So he said nothing.
“Silence gives assent,” she commented. “I’ll try not to rub it in!”
The snow obscured all but the light, but they realized shortly it was set in a window. A moment later Nancy discovered a front door.
“Wait a minute,” he protested, catching her arm as she raised it to knock. “I don’t like the looks of this place--”
“I do,” she retorted and, freeing her arm, proceeded to knock. Then she glanced up at him and though he could not see them, he knew that her eyes mocked him. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you, Wiggy dear!”
In this wise Eve must have taunted Adam, when he eyed the apple dubiously. And as Adam thereupon snatched the apple from her, and set his teeth into it, discretion flung to the winds, so did Wig react now.
The isolation of the house and the reputation the locality bore cried aloud for caution. Yet:
“Perhaps,” he suggested, “they didn’t hear you.”
And he kicked the door vigorously.
“You do that,” she commented, “as if you wish it were I!”
This he let pass. Footsteps were approaching. A bolt was drawn and the front door swung open.
“It took you long enough,” growled a voice in the dark.
“That,” retorted Wig, “is just what we were thinking about you!”
The door would have slammed in their faces if he had not moved fast.
“Oh no, you don’t, my friend,” he said, and thrust himself in.
The wind, like a giant hand, thrust the door inward •upon its hinges. The hall was pitch dark, yet electric with the echoes of a struggle. These endured but for a second that seemed an eternity, reaching a climax in a mighty roar of pain.
Then came Wig’s voice, calm and imperturbable, restoring breath to Nancy, transfixed on the threshold.
“Now just hold still, my friend, until the lady gets a damp,” he advised. And addqd to Nancy, “Bring that lamp from the window in the other room, please.”
In spite of a curious, unprecedented weakness about her knees, she managed to achieve this, though the blast from the front door almost extinguished it, for her pains.
“Go back!” said Wig, quickly. “Just keep that lamp burning and we’ll follow.”
And as she retreated he propelled his prisoner before him into what might be called a living-room—of a style. But Nancy had no eye for such details. As Wig kicked
the door closed behind him, she caught her first adequate glimpse of their inhospitable host.
“Oh!” she gasped, involuntarily.
And that was tribute of a kind. She had what she believed to be a wide acquaintance among men. She would have said that they were all alike. She had never met a burglar, of course, or a footpad or any of that ilk, but she believed that they were, fundamentally, not so different from other men.
In fact, various pink tea theorists had assured her that there is no such thing as a really vicious man, that even the worst are amenable to fair treatment.
If that were true, however, the giant whom Wig handled so casually, hnd yet so potently—ju-jitsu, she suspected—must be an exception to the rule. He looked—well, simply awful was the best she could manage, descriptively. Nor was that just his great size or his need of a shave, or his general unkemptness. It was something above and below his physical attributes, a suggestion of viciousness-plus that she had never before met with—but which Wig had.
■ He realized just what sort of a place he had stumbled into and he knew what manner of man he was dealing with. He wished, with all fervor, that he and Nancy were somewhere else.
But of that there was no hint in his voice when he spoke.
“First down for McGill!” he commented. “Please put the lamp on the table and then remove from this gentleman’s hip pocket the automatic I feel quite sure you will find there.”
As Nan’s fingers, trembling despite a furious self scorn, searched out the weapon, the giant writhed anew.
“Steady!” counseled Wig. “Steady, old top!”
But the pressure he was applying to a tortured wrist was not soothing. The giant unleashed a flow of profanity that made Nan, modern though she was, feel the impulse to put her hands to her pretty ears.
“I could stop him—but time presses,” Wig apologized. He glanced swiftly about the room—and added, “Give me the automatic, please, and get that rope in the corner and see if you can manage to tie up his ankles.”
The rope proved heavy and cumbersome. But she would have tried to do his bidding if, as she bent down before him, Wig’s prisoner had not turned a complete somersault—or so it seemed to her—and come down with a crash that shook the house.
“O-o-h!” she breathed, coming unsteadily to her feet.
Before she could catch her breath Wig had hurled himself upon his adversary. She watched, with her eyes at their widest, as he brought the butt of the automatic down upon the giant’s head with a force that turned her sick.
“The rope—quick!” he ordered then.
Nancy managed to get it to him, then stood and
watched while he trussed up his man, hand and foot. She could not have moved of her own volition had she tried. She had craved action, always, but to-night things were happening too fast for her.
“He’ll never come closer to death than he did then,” commented Wig, grimly, as he rose and surveyed his unconscious foe. “I don’t know yet why I didn’t shoot him and get it over with—except that I didn’t have time to!”
“Are—are you sure he isn’t dead anyway?” she asked.
“His head is thick. I hit him hard, but the net result is no more than a dose of Mrs. Winslow’s well-known syrup. He but sleeps. Which is better than he deserves. I ought to have known better than to place you in danger—•—”
“But what happened?” she demanded, bewilderedly. “I don’t understand yet.”
“He was about to kick you in the face with the full force of that cute little foot of his—hob nails and all,” Wig explained. “I thought I had him too well trained to try any funny business. But that’s the way with these snow birds. You never knowT what they’ll do next!”
“Dope fiends. I had a funny hunch the minute he spoke that he was one. Lucky for me he didn’t happen to be full of hop when I tackled him. They can put up a devil of a battle when they’re that way. Some of the Boches who came over the top in France--”
He stopped short. A car was approaching. The laboring of its engine was audible above the roaring of the storm. A second later a searchlight flashed its beam through the windows.
“Quick!” Wig commanded, and snatched at her hand. “Upstairs is our best bet now!”
They shot into the snow-filled hall. Nancy tripped and before she could recover her footing, he snatched her up and half thrust, half threw her up a rickety stairway. At the head of this there was a door. He closed it behind them softly, yet swiftly, and they found themselves in doubtful security—and absolute darkness.
The car had stopped outside, though its engine remained running. Wig had his arm about Nancy, her heart hammered against his ribs as they listened, with ears unnecessarily strained. Unnecessarily, for: “Hell!” boomed a voice so startlingly distinct that Nancy jumped. “The door’s wide open.”
“Aw, Bill’s full of hop again!” came another voice, disgustedly. “You can’t trust that guy out of your sight!”
“Two of ’em anyway!” murmured Wig. “Let’s hope that’s all.”
The newcomers stamped their way in. To Nancy they sounded like a regiment. Continued on page 53
Continued on page 53
Continued, from page 7
“Hall full of snow!” exclaimed the first speaker—a very loud speaker which any radio enthusiast would have been glad to own. “I’ll punch Bill’s nose for this.” The door that hid them was a flimsy affair, the icy blast from below seemed to whistle through it. But that was not what made Nancy shiver. Wig felt the tremor run through her and his arm tightened about her.
“What do we care?” he whispered, seeking to steady her. “Bill ought to have his nose punched on general principles.” The darkness seemed less dense now that their eyes accustomed themselves to it and he caught a glimpse of her face as she glanced up toward him. He became conscious then of how closely he held her, yet he made no move to release her. To the contrary.
“Shh!” he whispered quickly. “Don’t move.”
She didn’t. She came closer, if anything, for the big voice had boomed again. “Well I’ll be damned!” it announced. The men below had entered the livingroom, that was evident.
“Somebody,” announced the other, “must have been here!”
“A regular detective, isn’t he?” commented Wig, in Nancy’s ear.
NOW that he could say that must seem incredible. At the best the men below were bootleggers. At the worst— and this was what he feared—they were hi-jackers.
“What’s a hi-jacker?” Nancy had asked him caree an hour ago.
To her his explanation had suggested the movies. He might have retorted that a hi-jacker’s activities beat the movies. He knew that their ranks were recruited from the very dregs of thugmen; men who shot without mercy and often without warning even, and who were more feared by the law breakers they preyed upon than the law itself.
This he knew. And yet without rhyme and without reason, something assailed his senses exquisitely as he stood there with his arm about her. He was curiously exhilarated; he felt at least ten feet high and able, somehow, to cope with anybody and anything.
But a cold douche was in preparation for him.
“They left Bill’s gat behind anyway,” reverberated the loud speaker.
“I did,” corroborated Wig. “I left it lying on the floor. Kick me, please.” Instead Nancy looked up at him again. “They—they sound like the three bears, don’t you think?” she managed to whisper, though her lips seemed unwontedly stiff.
He squeezed her. Actually!
“Bully girl!” he applauded, voicelessly. And curiously enough she, too, suddenly felt ten feet tall.
The men below were moving about, their activities interspersed with comment. ■ “They didn’t get away with any stuff, Charley. It’s all here.”
“Say, Red, I’ll bet it was that Portland gang. We must have scared them off.” “Remember those cars on the road. They parked them there. But it isn’t like
that Portland gang to run--”
“Pour a bucket of water on Bill and see if that will bring him to. There’s something funny about this business. I’m going to take a look around.”
Wig groaned softly and Nancy glanced swiftly up at him.
“What a fool I am!” he whispered. “I could have gotten gas from your car!"
To Nancy it seemed, for a second, that she must laugh outright. It was the last thing she would have suspected him of thinking of at such a moment, and yet, somehow, it seemed so characteristic.
“What good does it do to think of that now?” she whispered back.
“None,” he admitted. “But it does
make me feel like a--”
There he stopped short. A streak of light penetrated under the door that gave them an uncertain sanctuary. One of their unwitting hosts had returned to the hall below, carrying the lamp.
They held their breath. Then, abruptly the light disappeared and the hi-jacker swore vigorously.
“Red!” he bellowed.
“What’s the matter now?” demanded Red, from the kitchen.
“Bring the search light. The lamp’s blown out.”
“Wait a minute. That boob Bill left the kettle on and it’s boiling over.”
Nancy felt Wig’s arm tighten about her.
“Listen,” he whispered. “They’ve separated and this is our chance. That car is still running outside. I’m going to jump the man in the hall. When I do, you make
a dash for the car--”
“But •— but you?” she demanded quickly.
“I’ll keep the man downstairs busy long enough for you to get away,” he promised, grimly. “And you can send back help—” “If you think I’m going to leave you,” she began, indignantly.
“You do as I say!” he commanded, and though his voice was still pitched to a whisper it sounded like a shout to her. “It’s the only way.”
“I won’t!” she retorted.
He groaned aloud in exasperation. Then:
“Please, dear!” he begged.
And as if that were not surprising enough, he kissed her, squarely and fairly on her lovely, mutinous mouth.
“For my sake,” he added, and releasing her, he threw open the door.
The man in the hall below was about to relight the lamp. He held this in his left hand while with his right he scratched a match. As Wig opened the door he glanced up, mouth gaping wide. Wig gave him no time to collect his wits. Vaulting the rickety stair rail he landed fairly and squarely on him.
They went down together with a crash that shook the house. The lamp splintered, the match went out and all was darkness. Then:
“I’ve got him, Nancy,” shouted Wig. “Get out—quick!”
But Nancy never stirred. She stood as she could never have pictured herself as standing, by any stretch of the imagination. Hands pressed over her heart giving what, at any other moment, she would have described as an imitation of an absolutely dead bunny.
It was not that she was scared. She was still savoring, still reacting to that surprising kiss.
Then, abruptly, an electric torch flashed on in the hall below. It revealed Wig pinning down his quarry but left her in the dark.
_ “Get up!” snapped Red, come from the kitchen to see what was the matter.
There was nothing for Wig to do but to obey. He got up, but his late adversary did not. There was, after all, nothing very big about him save his voice, and Wig’s attack had pitched him head foremost toward the wainscoting. His head was hard but the wainscoting was harder. The honors remained with the wainscoting.
“Snap your hands up and keep them up!” menaced Red, “or I’ll shoot you like a dog.”
And again Wig obeyed. He knew that Nancy had lost her chance and he could have wept. But more wisely, hoping against hope, he attempted to create a diversion.
“The only time I ever tried to shoot a dog I flunked it,” he observed, conversationally. “He looked at me so appealingly with his big brown eyes—just as I’m looking at you now—”
“Cut the comedy!” advised Red. “You didn’t come alone. Where’s the rest of your gang? Come clean—and make it quick.”
“They’re outside,” lied Wig, cheerfully. “And if I were you I’d be careful with that gun. There’s seven of them coming and coming fast--”
“Is that so!” spat Red, venomously. “Well they may crack me but I’ll get you first, kid, believe me. Say your prayers and them fast.”
Then he fired. But not deliberately. The automatic went off in the same way that the breath went out of him—involuntarily.
It was, indeed, his first impression that the roof had fallen. He revised that almost at once, but his second impression was as erroneous. He had been nicknamed for cause, he had red hair and a temper to match. In a free for all he was credited with a prowess equal to his weight in wildcats.
His second impression was that he had at last encountered this.
The automatic, still smoking, slipped from his hand, the electric searchlight, still lit, rolled across the floor. Wig retrieved them both instantly.
“Quit, Nancy,” he cried. “Quit!”
Nancy did not even hear him. She had reverted to the primitive; indeed she never did have any clear idea of just what happened after she, too, had launched her attack over the stair rail. She continued to attack the still bewildered Red with a fury that would have won her a croix de guerre from the old King Berserker himself until Wig gripped her shoulder and pulled her off.
She glanced up at him then, breathless and a little dazed, but never so lovely.
“He—he was going to shoot you,” she murmured like a bewildered child.
“He might have shot you!" said Wig, sternly, and thrusting her behind him he addressed Red. “Get up and keep your hands up,” he snapped. “You missed, but I shan’t.”
“I’m not afraid of that gun,” replied Red. “If you’ll keep that damned hellcat off of me-”
Continued on page 56
Continued jrom page 54
THE front door, swinging open with a bang, cut him short. Two men, each of them armed with a sawed-off shot gun menaced them from the threshold.
“Up with your hands, lads,” ordered one. “And make it snappy. The game’s up—we’ve got you surrounded.”
“But,” protested Nancy, quickly. “We’re not—”
“You too,” suggested the speaker, with a glance toward her that, though unrelenting, was not without tribute. “Some class to you kid; and I hate to bother a lady but you’re included.”
“Lady!” murmured Red. “Hell!” “This,” intervened Wig, “is an_ ungraceful and wholly unnecessary position so far as we”—he indicated Nancy—-“are concerned. If you are what are so aptly described as arms of the law, I suggest that you let us rest ours while we explain—” “Explain to the judge,” suggested the other. “That’s his business, listening to explanations.”
“Doubtless,” commented Wig, “you hope to go far in your chosen profession but I have fears for you. In fact, without posing as a seventh son of a seventh son I should say that you were hopelessly handicapped. You lack discernment.” “Educated guy, aren’t you? King of the hi-jackers, I suppose.” He turned and called over his shoulder, “Four of ’em right in the hallway, chief. Want to look ’em over?”
Evidently the chief did. Anyway, he came in.
“Little family quarrel?” he asked genially, his glance going from the still unconscious loud speaker to Wig. “You boys ought to know better than to fight among yourselves and”—he glanced at Nancy—“specially with a lady present.” But his tone changed abruptly as he added:
“Where’s the big fellow? He’s the one I wanted particularly.”
“Excuse me,” said Wig meekly. “But if you’ll look in the living-room perhaps you’ll find him. I had him already tied up and ready to ship and was about to get these friends of his done up too when your men interrupted.”
The chief’s eyes came back to him. “What’s this you’re giving me? Where do you fit in? I don’t place you.”
“Considering your profession I consider that a compliment,” Wig assured him. “As to where I fit in—did you notice two cars out on the state road?”
“Yes—that’s what tipped us off. We’ve
been looking for this place--”
“One of the cars belongs to me. The other belongs to—permit me to introduce you—to Miss Nancy Taltonsall of Montreal. A prominent member of the younger set there. Assure her, please, that she can lower her arms.”
THE chief glanced at Nancy. “Put ’em down,” he said then.
“Thank you,” acknowledged Wig, and lowered his arms as well.
“I didn’t say you--”
“You can apologize forthat later,” Wig reassured him. “To resume, we left the cars as you saw them, both unfortunately being out of commission, and went looking for shelter. We arrived here— inopportunely I fear—”
“You mean to say you wandered into this nest of hi-jackers by accident?”
“Not, I can assure you, by design. Believe it or not, they were positively inhospitable--”
“How do I know that all this isn’t a
song and dance?”
“Being a detective you must have noticed that the registration plates on our cars were both from the province of Quebec. And permit me to show you my
He produced the paper and handed it to
“I should,” he added, “ask Miss Taltonsall to show you hers but—did you ever know a true woman who carried it with her?”
The chief glanced at the license, then handed it back.
“You say that the big fellow is in the other room?” he asked, in quite a different tone. “Let’s take a look at him.”
“Admission should be charged,” said Wig. “He’s worth it.”
The chief, followed by Nancy and Wig, entered the living-room.”
“As I left him—still dead to the world,” commented Wig.
“He’s the man I want—there’s a thousand reward out for him!” announced the chief at once.
“What’s he wanted for?”
“Murder—and a few little things like
“Well,” said Wig, “you can have him— and keep the change—in exchange for five gallons of gas.”
“Do you mean that—reward and everything?”
“He’s all yours—with the other two thrown in for good measure!”
And Wig turned to Nancy. “Famished?” he asked.
“Why—I am,” she admitted, now that she had time to think of it.
“LeUs forage,” he suggested, “while the chief transfers that promised five gallons of gas to my car.”
THEY passed out into the kitchen. The kettle boiled lustily on the stove. In the chill pantry they discovered cold roast beef, fresh bread and butter and a whole apple pie. They set the kitchen table and Nancy made tea. And then, by the light of an unshaded oil lamp they sat down and ate.
One might have believed that they were too hungry to talk. But actually a curious pulse-disturbing constraint had fallen between them.
The chief came in just as Wig thrust back his empty plate.
“The boys have taken the gas out to your car—I always carry an extra can,” he announced, genially. “And we’ve got handcuffs on all our friends, nice and pretty. Say—how did you get them, anyway?”
Wig told him very briefly.
“You didn’t even have a gat with you?” he demanded, incredulously. And as Wig shook his head, he added, “Well that beats me. Fool’s luck—if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I quite agree,” said Wig.
“Where are you going to spend the
night? It’s snowing harder than ever-”
“You tell me,” suggested Wig.
“There’s a place down the road a bit that used to take tourists—it ain’t much for looks but it’s clean. Of course they’re leery now after dark about taking strangers but I’ll fix it up for you, if you say.”
Wig glanced at Nancy. “What do you say?” he asked.
“Anything that you do,” she replied, without meeting his eyes.
“You’re on, chief,” said Wig, promptly. “I’ll fix it up,” he promised, and departed.
They were alone again. They were silent for a second and then:
“I don’t think it was fair what he said about fool’s luck!” protested Nancy, indignantly. “It wasn’t luck at all. You were simply wonderful—”
“Anything but that!” he retorted, with a grimace. “And fools do rush in where angels fear to tread—”
“It was I that rushed in—”
“But you are an angel!” he broke in impetuously, which was the last thing he had intended to say. Hastily, he added, “Anyway, you came awfully close to being one. And it was you who saved the day. What you did took three times the courage that anything I attempted did—” “I was scared stiff!” she confessed. “But—I couldn’t just stand there while he shot you, could I?”
“I deserved it,” he remarked wryly. “First for not thinking of the gas in your car and secondly for scurrying upstairs without taking that automatic. In fact, I should say that everything I’ve done.tonight would indicate a C-minus intellect at least!”
Nancy said nothing, for a moment. Then:
“Everything?” she murmured, so low that he hardly heard her.
And doubted what he heard. Yet his pulse hammered as he remembered the kiss he had given her—unpremeditated, yet somehow inevitable. He took a swift involuntary step toward her, only to stop short. She—she simply cquldn't mean that!”
The lashes that gave her eyes sanctuary lifted, she gave him a swift, wordless glance.
“No!” he almost shouted. “If you mean that I’d do it again and—•”
And he did.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, breathing hard and releasing her as swiftly as he had caught her to him. “But—-but you
“Sorry?” echoed Nancy. “Why? I—I hoped you’d take the hint—
“Hoped I’d take the hint?” he looked dazed. “But—but you’ve always detested me—•”
“You never looked as if you exactly approved of me!” she reminded him.
“I always felt like—like spanking you,” he admitted, goaded to it.
Nancy’s eyes came up to his again. In them there was that which left him breathless.
“I wonder,” she murmured, out of a wisdom that must have been her heritage from Eve, “if what you really wanted to do all the time was to—to kiss me. Wouldn’t that explain everything?”
And he knew that it did—so far as he was concerned.
“But—but you, Nancy?” he persisted, still incredulous.
“Perhaps—it would explain me too. Because—you were so stupid and slow— about doing it.”
He took a deep, prodigious breath.
“I,” he promised, “will make up for lost time!”
And he started doing so, forthwith. Outside snow was falling; falling on the just and the unjust. The chief had his prisoners in his car and was preparing to confiscate theirs.
“You go ahead with it, Joe,” he commanded, “and stop at Ma Crawford’s and tell her that a couple of guests are coming to spend the night with her.”
“Righto!” said Joe, and started. But he paused, in mid-career, to ask “One room or two?”
“Gosh—I don’t know whether they’re married or not,” retorted the chief, who had forgotten some details in this biggest of all nights for him. “I guess they aren’t, but go in and ask them yourself—and find out what’s keeping them.”
Snow and silence until Joe reappeared. “I didn’t feel no call to butt in,” he announced with a grin, “but they’re not married yet. Not yet but soon!”
He had some discernment after all!