ALPHONSE DIDIER kept the gun shop in the little Quebec town of Moreauville. It was a narrow, two-story building facing the river and sandwiched between Broussard’s restaurant and the bank. Alphonse, in addition to selling sporting equipment, was a gunsmith, a craftsman, an artist. Under his sensitive, skilful fingers the rough gunstock blanks, piled under his work bench at the rear of the shop, became things not only of utility but of beauty.
Save for a few aristocratic families in the vicinity there were none to appreciate the artistic aspect of his work. But the members of the great shooting club to the north of the town had discovered Alphonse. English-made guns, which cost as much as a good eight-cylinder motor car, came to the shop for restocking. These sportsmen rarely broke their gunstocks, rarely damaged them. They desired new stocks with changed measurements, usually a little more drop at the comb, a little more drop at the heel, for, after the fashion of their kind, these English guns were unusually straight.
Alphonse, having some knowledge of shooting as well as of guns, stoutly averred that most men were the better shots for the straight stocks. At times he vehemently argued the point. But the club gentlemen, perhaps recalling the previous day’s disgraceful misses and equally disgraceful alibis, were too wrought up to listen. They ordered stocks of Circassian walnut at $75 each. Alphonse, having done his duty, was content. Next year new stocks would be ordered, with new measurements.
Alphonse was not, as one might have expected, an elderly person. He was quite young, not more than twenty-seven, round-faced, cheerful, a little pudgy of figure. In a land where early marriage is the rule, Alphonse was the exception to prove it. One so kind, so genial, so obliging and so well endowed with worldly goods could scarcely have escaped without some encounters with designing mothers. Actually, Alphonse was never aware of these encounters or their threat to his single state. His blandness, his innocence, his rather astonishing modesty were barriers which the most persistent had not been able to penetrate. “He does not care for women,” the matrons would say with a contemptuous shrug. “Que voulez-vous?”
But they were wrong. Alphonse, as a matter of fact, was incurably romantic. The boundaries of that rough little town may have confined his physical activity but his soul knew no horizons. Articulate in understandable, everyday matters, these day dreams rendered him silent. Not alone because they were too personal, too tender for utterance.
They mounted, expanded far beyond his articulation. They were of a fastidiousness and an ambition which precluded the entrance into them of a single girl of the town or district. Of finer clay, this dream maiden of his—well born, immaculate, beautiful, sophisticated. It was not that he despised the girls of the town. He knew all of them, liked them impersonally. In the important matter of matrimony they merely did not obtrude themselves on his consciousness, so fixed his idea and his ideal.
THERE MAY, perhaps, have been one mild exception to this, a subconscious exception, for certainly Alphonse did not suspect it. The girl was Natalie Broussard, daughter of the widow who kept the restaurant next door. Madame herself was of the town, but her husband, now dead these three years, had come from Montreal. He was a painter of landscapes and so, to the town, more or less of a ne’er-do-well. The town measured accomplishment in matters of dollars and cents. That two of Broussard’s landscapes hung in a famous French art gallery and that two more had been bought by a great American museum did not signify. Alphonse, an artist himself, had admired greatly M’sieu Broussard. But he was not impatient of his fellow citizens’ criticism. Theirs was a harsh school and Alphonse made allowances.
Natalie was a pretty girl, daintier, better groomed than the others, without their gaucherie. Her feet, ankles and legs —points of exceptional interest to every Latin worthy of the name—were slender and beautifully shaped. Thick, curled, childlike lashes drooped over eyes that were deep and black. She was twenty-one and for two years had been the cashier of her mother’s business. A good girl without coquetry, sustained, as Alphonse was, by her dreams. That they centred around him, one so blind and so uninterested as Alphonse could not know.
One wet afternoon in early October Alphonse was thoughtfully fingering the satiny sheen of an almost completed gunstock. Outside, the short afternoon was drawing to a close. Rain splashed against the window behind him. In a moment he arose unwillingly, went to the front of the shop, turned on the lights and stood for a time looking out on the street. Pedestrians hurried, heads bent against the wind; a small car, its curtains flapping wildly in the keen wind, rattled by flinging up spray from the numerous puddles. Alphonse was conscious of a vague restlessness, a vague dissatisfaction. He thought of the cheery bustle of the restaurant next door and decided a cup of café noir would be good. He removed his apron and tossed it behind the counter.
With his hand on the door knob he halted. Emile Duval had turned in from the street. Alphonse opened the door. Spattered with rain, Emile came in with a rush.
“Eh,” he growled, “such weather, m’sieu. You have fixed the old gun?”
In answer Alphonse drew it from the case. As he handed it over he said : “The locks on this gun are badly rusted, Emile. Better look around for a good second-hand gun.”
“Me, I could shoot no other gun,” Emile exclaimed. “Twenty years have I had that one. You must get new locks, Alphonse.”
“The gun is not worth it.”
“To me,” Emile answered with dignity, “it surpasses all others. Can you not get new locks?”
Alphonse nodded. “Yes,” he said. “If you insist, Emile. I know how one feels about an old and valued possession.”
Emile drew a small roll of soiled bills from his pocket. “How much, Alphonse?”
Alphonse smiled. “I cannot guarantee that the locks will last a week. So you owe me nothing.”
“Then,” Emile replied, “I shall make you a little present.” Taking a package from beneath his arm, he placed it on the bench. “Some home-made wine, Alphonse. You will accept it, yes?”
Alphonse nodded. “I am not one for wine,” he answered, “but I thank you, Emile. I will accept it.”
Emile took his gun and shuffled to the door. “And you will not forget those locks?”
“I’ll have them in a week or two,” Alphonse promised. “Good night, my friend.”
THE CANNING PLANT whistle blew at six. Alphonse arose from his bench, straightened his back and sighed. “Truly,” he told himself, “I am desolate.”
His eyes fell on the package Emile had left. He removed the wrapping. The brown bottle he uncovered gave no indication of its contents. “I might permit myself a taste,” he said aloud. “I am most unhappy.” He took a tumbler from the shelf and placed it beside the bottle. His search for a corkscrew was unavailing until he remembered that one of the knives he carried in stock had a corkscrew on the back of it. The cork came from the bottle with a decided pop. The wine spouted forth in a geyser. Alphonse caught part of the overflow in the tumbler and held it to the light. The pale amber color was reassuring.
“I am not one for wine,” he said, “but I shall indulge, nevertheless.” He raised the tumbler to his lips. “Good!” he exclaimed after a moment. “Surprisingly good. And so harmless!”
Certainly the color and taste of this wine contrived to hide its amazing potency. Alphonse permitted himself another and more generous glass, and his spirits rose with significant alacrity. Yet so innocuous were the taste and appearance of the champagne-like fluid that the significance of his improved outlook on things in general was quite lost on him. Nor did he have an inkling that anything was wrong until he had finished the bottle and attempted to rise. The room swam before him; his knees buckled under him; he staggered. He saved himself a fall by clutching the bench, and managed to ease himself back into his chair. Then, with the utmost astonishment, he said thickly: “I wouldn’t ’ave believe’ it, no. Mon dieu!”
He glared at the empty bottle.
“A condition,” he growled, “in which I never ’ave been before.”
He found it difficult, however, to remain annoyed. Laughter bubbled within him. He felt incredibly buoyant and carefree. With the exercise of much caution he managed to get to his feet and put on his hat. He switched off the lights and was careful to lock the door. When he stepped out into the street the sharp, rain-laden air brought him up short, gasping. He gulped the cool air into his lungs. It stiffened his legs, restored his equilibrium, but without sacrifice of that intensely pleasant, glowing feeling which possessed him.
Halfway down the block he had a sudden fancy for oysters. There was a fishhouse and restaurant on the river bank. He crossed the poorly lighted street to rickety wooden steps which climbed, sagging and worn, to the ramshackle building. Here the wind drove a stinging drizzle into his face. But the restaurant was snug and warm. Alphonse seated himself gingerly on one of the tall stools. Finding it stable, his face relaxed into a fixed smile. He called in English to the waiter: “Half a dozen oysters, Jacques.”
Standing before him, the waiter shucked the oysters. They were fat, salty, succulent. Alphonse nodded his approval. He squirted a jet of brown sauce over each, fell to with gusto. They would absorb, he knew, some of the alcohol in that rather astounding wine. It w’as not to be thought of that he should appear at his boarding house in his present state. Mon dieu! Old Madame Melançon would read him a lecture—he, her white sheep! He found the thought amusing, however. His smile widened.
He finished his oysters and glanced around the room. There was a single row of tables across from the counter. He noticed for the first time that the topmost table was occupied. Two young men and a girl sat there. They were of a type unfamiliar to him. The men w'ore form-fitting Chesterfield overcoats which they had not removed; their derby hats hung on the rack. They w'ere young men undeniably but their faces had none of the prepossessiveness of youth—colorless faces, with thin-lipped mouths and shifty, darting eyes. One, arising suddenly to discard his overcoat, show'ed a blue double-breasted suit of an elegance new to Alphonse. He was sartorially perfect, from his oiled black hair to his shining shoes.
“Américains,” Alphonse thought interestedly. Then his eyes fell on the girl. He stiffened.
She was beautiful, this girl, Alphonse thought swiftly. She impinged herself on his consciousness with something akin to violence. A fair girl with red-blonde hair, wide grey eyes, a fair skin and a curved mouth that w-as like a red gash against the fairness of her skin. Her long, slender hands lay before her on the table; the nails of her fingers were a vivid scarlet. A sleek, beautifully groomed young woman; poised, sophisticated, blasé. Alphonse could not keep his eyes from her.
THERE SEEMED to be, he decided, an argument going on among the three. One of the young men made a statement which he emphasized by a blow of his fist on the table. The girl lifted her shoulders disdainfully, half rose. The young man, with a cat-like movement, reached up a hand and shoved her violently back into her seat. Color flamed in her face. She said bitterly, and loud enough for Alphonse to hear: “That’s my opinion. Take it or leave it.” The young man’s words were unintelligible but obviously angry. Again the girl lifted her shoulders, attempted to rise; again she was shoved violently back. Alphonse, aflame, got down from his stool and approached the party.
‘‘M’sieu," he said ominously, “I beg that you observe at least ordinary courtesy toward the young lady.”
The young man twisted sideways in his seat. He raised heavy-lidded eyes to Alphonse which were as cold as the eyes of a fish and filled with menace. In his normal condition Alphonse might have shrunk from their basilisk cruelty. Now they affected him not at all. Nor was he in the least intimidated by the burst of profanity which conveyed an intimation that it would be better for his health if he minded his own business. He replied by bowing to the young lady and saying:
“Ma’mselle, consider me your protector. Any further roughness on the part of your companion will, I assure you, be dealt with adequately, yes.”
The girl shot him an amused glance.
“Thank you,” she said. “You are kind. However, I can take care of myself.”
The young man looked up and jerked a significant thumb over his shoulder. He said shortly:
“Beat it, frog, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I presume that you address me, m’sieu,” Alphonse replied slowly.
“You,” the young man returned succintlv. “Beat it.”
“Did it ever occur to you, m’sieu,” Alphonse asked, “that your manners are of the most deplorable?”
The young man promptly consigned him to a torrid region with a wealth of elaboration which Alphonse felt unnecessarily venomous. The repetition of the word “frog” in this tirade irritated him beyond measure. He rose and bowed to the girl.
‘‘Ma’mselle,” he said courteously, “with your permission I shall remove this excrescence.”
The girl said quickly: “Please sit down and have your coffee with us.” Her eyes had darted to the waiter, Jacques. He was running a hand affectionately along the barrel of a shotgun which, by some accident or coincidence, was pointed in their direction. The young man, who had also risen, slumped back into his seat.
“Sure,” he said, swallowing hard, "sit down. No use quarrelling about a little misunderstanding. My name’s Grimm. This is Tom Fenton. The young lady is Myra Blaine.”
“And I,” Alphonse answered, bowing and seating himself, “am Alphonse Didier, the gunsmith.”
“The gunsmith,” Myra echoed. She went on vivaciously : “How interesting. I know your shop; it’s next to the bank.”
“Assuredly, ma’mselle. I am honored that you should have noticed it.”
“Next to the bank,” the young man, Grimm, repeated slowly. He added with a new cordiality: “Pleased to meetcha, Mosoo Didier. Guns have always been my hobby.”
His companion, Fenton, permitted himself a slow, secretive smile.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “That’s so. And mine.”
Alphonse expanded under this unexpected geniality.
“I am gratified messieurs, ma’mselle,” he said.
“They have been that way almost from childhood,” Myra said laughingly. “So fond of firearms! I am sure they are going to enjoy knowing you, Mr. Didier.”
“Your store’s on this side of the bank, ain’t it?” Fenton asked carelessly.
“Yes, m’sieu.” Alphonse turned back to Myra. “You are touring perhaps, ma’mselle?”
“We have been—west. We are on our way home now. New York. We’ll be leaving first thing in the morning. You see, we’re nearly a month overdue now. But the country has been so lovely. We found it hard to tear ourselves away.”
Grier arose. “Say,” he said to Alphonse, “me and Fenton got a little business to attend to. Why don’t you hang around here until we get back? We might have a little party. What do you say?”
“Excellent, m’sieu,” Alphonse returned readily. “We shall, indeed, have the little party.”
“Okay. We’ll be back in a few minutes. Entertain Mosoo Didier, Myra. Come on, Fenton.” They went out together.
Alphonse leaned across the table. “Ma'mselle,” he said earnestly, “would it offend you if I tol’ you that you are the mos’ beautiful girl I ’ave ever seen?”
She smiled. “It would not offend me.”
“You are different,” Alphonse went on thoughtfully. “Different from the women I know; so different from these men who accompany you—”
The quick resentment on her face halted him. He flushed and looked down. Something approaching a smile touched her lips. She said: “I am not offended.”
Alphonse dragged forth every iota of his courage as he asked tremblingly: “You are not marry with one of them, ma’mselle?”
She looked into his eyes. “Why do you ask that?”
Fright destroyed the possibility of an evasive answer. He burst out desperately: “It is important to me, yes.”
“I ’ave dream,” he replied with simple dignity, “for years of a girl like you, a dream that has kept me single, ma’mselle; kept me waiting for the one I knew must come some day. When first I see you then I say, ‘It is she. Some’ow I know at once. Eh? Why not? ’Ave I not your face before my mind all these years? Would I not know it at once? Ah, yes, ma’mselle. At once.”
She shook her head without anger. The underlying hardness had left her face for a brief moment.
“I may not speak so, ma’mselle?” he pleaded.
Again she shook her head. “Not now. Some time, perhaps. Some happier time.”
“Some happier time,” he repeated slowly. “You are in trouble? If so, could I be of service? You ’ave only to ask.”
“No, no,” she replied quickly. “I am in no trouble.” Easy insouciance fell back on her like a cloak. “I should like to see your shop, Mr. Didier. I know the men would be very interested.”
“Assuredly.” He turned and beckoned to the waiter. “Jacques,” he asked, “ ’ave you a boy who could run the errand for me?”
“Send him to Emile Duval’s. Have him ask Emile to sen’ me a bottle of dose wine he leave at my shop today. Say to Emile I hinsist to pay for it. You will do this at once, mon vieux?”
“Oh, oui,” Jacques replied.
“So we ’ave the party,” Alphonse remarked, his round face beaming.
“How nice,” Myra said.
IT SEEMED to Alphonse that the atmosphere changed abruptly once he led his small party into the gun shop. The young man, Grimm, suddenly shed much of his affability. Fenton was preoccupied; he seemed to be measuring the rear portion of one wall with a careful eye. When he looked up he found Grimm’s gaze on him. He nodded slightly. Myra, seated in Alphonse’s old easy chair before the work bench, was patently nervous. Her color was high; her eyes followed each of her companions in turn. She replied to Alphonse’s conversation with monosyllables, a fixed smile on her face.
Grimm lounged across the room and perched himself on the bench.
“Nine-fifteen,” he said, glancing at Fenton.
“It’s early,” Myra put in.
“It’s a nine-o’clock town,” Fenton retorted shortly. His eyes were on the front window. “Everybody’s in bed.”
“The people retire early,” Alphonse agreed. “But shall we not have a little of the wine?”
“Okay,” Grimm took up the bottle, opened it dexterously, regarded its effervescence with approval. “Looks like champagne,” he commented.
“Nothing but ’ome-made wine, m’sieu,” Alphonse answered. “But surprisingly good.” He filled the glasses, held his aloft. “Let us drink to ma’mselle,” he said.
Myra inclined her head. “Thank you,” she said. Her voice shook a little.
If Alphonse had hoped that the wine would ease the peculiar tension existing he was to be disappointed. Grimm laid his empty glass on the bench and rose. Fenton moved toward him, tossing off the remainder of his wine. Myra’s eyes widened; she exhaled lengthily, then said: “All right. But no rough stuff.”
Grimm turned on her savagely. “Shut your mouth !” he shot out.
“M’sieu! . . .” Alphonse began indignantly.
He got no further. Fenton had produced a thick-muzzled, vicious-looking automatic pistol.
“Sit down, Frenchy,” he said without emphasis. “Sit down and shut up. We’ll do the talking.” He backed Alphonse toward a chair, thrust him down in it, and nodded to Grimm.
“Go ahead, Johnny, I figure there’s twelve to sixteen inches of brick in those two walls. Hook the drill to this socket.”
“Ah,” Alphonse put in thoughtfully, “I see. You rob the bank, messieurs. But I tell you now that it will not be worth your while. They keep little cash in this small bank— less today than usual for yesterday the mills paid off. It will not be worth the risk, no.”
Grimm laughed shortly.
“It ain’t the bank’s money we’re after,” he said, as he fitted the plug of the drill into the electric-light socket. “If they’ve left any jack hanging around loose I don’t say we’ll not pick it up. But we didn’t come here just to rob this lousy little bank.” He stopped abruptly, glared down on Alphonse.
“You know a guy by the name of Meyer—-a guy that’s in the hospital recoverin’ from a bullet?”
“I ’ave ’eard of him, m’sieu. A newcomer, he is. who someone tried to rob.”
“Rob?” Fenton laughed thickly. “He did the robbin’, the dirty double-crossin’ hound. He beat it with thirty-five grand of our money. That’s my bullet he has in his chest, and he’s going to get more. That dough’s in the vault of this bank. He checked it in the day he arrived here. We’re going to get it. So make yourself comfortable. If you try anything I’ll plug you. Think that over.”
"It is robbery just the same, this way,” Alphonse replied. “If it is your money, then the law will give it to you, m’sieu.”
“Yah,” Fenton said derisively, “but we decided we wouldn’t wait.”
“I would remind you,” Alphonse remarked slowly, “that you are in Canada now, messieurs. The law here has a way of catching up with offenders. I tell you because I should dislike to ’ave anything ’appen to ma'mselle. Will you not drop this mad scheme, my friends?”
The roar of the drill cutting through plaster and bricks was his only answer. It filled the room with grating clamor. Alphonse had a moment in which he thought it must be heard outside and investigated. He soon realized that there were two important obstacles in the way of this possibility—one, the tumult of the elements: the other, the fact that he often worked at night himself and used electrical machinery. The solitary policeman making his rounds would press his face against the pane and seeing Alphonse present, would pass on. Alphonse would make no move this night to encourage him to enter. These hard-faced young men would blot him out with the same indifference they would show toward a fly. There was nothing simulated about their deadliness.
With fascinated eyes Alphonse watched the powerful drill grind through the brick. Grimm was cutting a rectangle about eighteen inches long by twelve inches wide. He worked steadily, skilfully, seemingly without fear of interruption. At the end of a half hour he jerked his head erect and asked Alphonse:
“Who owns this building—the bank?”
Alphonse replied, “The bank, m’sieu."
Grimm gave a grunt of satisfaction. “There's only the one wall,” he said to Fenton. “The thing’s a cinch.”
Fenton turned to him. “What do you mean, one wall?”
“One wall for the two buildings,” Grimm replied grinning. “A little thicker than usual but it saved ’em some money at that. The bricks are soft; they cut like cheese.”
Fenton lit a cigarette. “Come up for air, Johnny,” he advised.
Grimm got to his feet. “I’ll say so,” he returned, brushing the brick dust from his face and clothing. “Gimme a drink, Myra.”
Obediently she poured a glass of wine.
“Make it two,” Fenton said.
They drank quickly. They filled their glasses again, tossed the contents off. Something akin to hope flashed in Alphonse’s eyes for a moment, as he remembered the effect this apparently innocuous wine had had upon him. But these men were different. It might have been lemonade that they were drinking for all the effect it had on them. Grimm went back to his work. Fenton perched himself on the work bench, one leg swinging idly, his eyes half closed.
ALPHONSE HEARD the town clock strike ten, the wild pealing of the bell in the heavy wind. The restaurant next door would be closing. The Broussards, mother and daughter, would soon be passing his window on the way to their modest cottage. Occasionally they dropped in for a chat. That they might do so tonight terrified him. He sat up quickly.
“M’sieu," he said earnestly to Fenton, “do something for me, please. There is a girl—”
A knock fell on the door. Fenton swung off the desk as lithe as a cat. Grimm,glancing up at his companion’s sudden movement, switched off the power. The drill fell silent. Fenton said:
“It’s a girl, Johnny. She’s alone.” He swung on Alphonse. “A friend of yours, Frenchy?”
“Ma’mselle from the restaurant next door,” Alphonse returned fearfully. “Do not allow her to enter, m’sieu. Say I am busy.”
“Better have her in here,” Grimm advised. “Let her in, Fenton.”
He drew his own automatic, and stood there while Fenton admitted the girl and ushered her to the rear of the shop.
“A friend to see you, Frenchy,” he announced mockingly. “She’ll have time fora nice long visit.”
Alphonse poured forth a torrent of French to Natalie. She listened calmly and nodded her head when he had finished.
“Speak English after this, Frenchy,” Fenton put in shortly. “And don’t speak too much. You”—to Natalie—“sit down and stay down.”
“Yes, m’sieu.” She dropped into a chair.
“Good-looking little jane,” Fenton confided to Grimm. His eyes swept Natalie from head to foot and back again. “I could go for you, kid—in a big way,” he grinned.
A slight sneer marred the perfection of Myra’s lips. She said nothing, however. Grimm switched on the power and turned back to his drilling. Fenton drew up a chair next to Natalie. Alphonse leaned toward Myra.
“Ma’mselle,” he pleaded in a low voice, “cannot you get away? These men will be caught, and you with them. I am desperately afraid for you, ma’mselle.”
“Yes,” she replied agitatedly: “yes. I’m afraid, too. But what can I do?”
“ ’Ave you a weapon, ma’mselle?”
“You will give it to me?”
She leaned closer to him. “Not yet,” she whispered. “First let them get the box Meyer put in the vault. That will take their minds off us. Then we’ll act. Watch me. Take your cue from me.” She broke off abruptly, shot him a sharp, searching glance. “They’ll kill us both if we fail.”
“We shall not fail,” he answered quietly. “Me, I will keep an eye on you. When it is the time, you will give the signal.”
She nodded and framed the word “hush” with her lips.
The rattle of the drill ceased. “I’m through, Fenton,” Grimm called, a note of exultation in his voice. “Bring me that heavy hammer and I’ll knock out the rest of these bricks.”
He enlarged the hole until it was of sufficient size so that he could crawl through. Fenton, bending over, shot the rays of his flashlight into the breech.
“Looks like some kind of shelving set up against this wall,” he said. “Wait a minute.” He reached forward and pushed strongly. A heavy jangle and clatter came from the vault. “She’s clear now,” he said after another examination. “That was a shelf of filing cases.”
“Go on through,” Grimm commanded. “You know what the box looks like. Bring it and whatever jack you can get your hands on.” His voice shook.
Fenton was gone for some minutes. When he returned he was carrying a small black box and a canvas sack. Grimm pounced on the box, pried the lid open.
“You’ve got it!” he shouted. “The fool didn’t even bother to get a new box!” His eyes fell on the sack. “How much jack there?” he demanded.
Fenton shrugged. “Not worth botherin’ with, Johnny,” he answered. “About two grand. I may have missed some in there; didn’t have time to fool around. Thought maybe I’d pick the wrong box and have to go back.”
“Hadn’t you better check up on the contents of the box?” Myra suggested. “How do we know it’s all there?”
“That’s an idea,” Grimm replied. He hesitated, shook his head. “Haven’t time for that now. Let’s get going.”
“What about these two Frenchies?” Fenton asked. “I’d like to take that kid with me.”
Grimm turned on him savagely.
“What’s the matter with you!” he shot out. “You crazy or something? We’ve got plenty on our hands as it is. Tie up those two and leave ’em here. Get some cord. I saw some on the counter as I came in.”
FENTON went forward unwillingly. Myra was bent over the open box which Grimm had placed on the bench. He stood near by, his eyes on her.
“Don’t let any of it stick to your fingers, kid,” he told her dryly.
"I suppose you consider it all yours,” she flared up at him.
“You’ll get your cut,” he answered calmly. “That is, when I decide just what your cut’s goin’ to be.”
“One third,’’she replied hotly. “One third. No more, no less.”
“Oh yeah?” He laughed shortly. “Not one third, baby—nor one sixth, for that matter. You get twenty-five hundred. And you’re lucky.”
She reached one hand behind her and pushed a mallet of heavy wood toward Alphonse. His fingers closed over the handle. She glanced swiftly over her shoulder, met his eyes. He nodded slightly. Grimm was lighting a cigarette. Myra leaned again toward the box, then with a sudden swift movement, snatched the automatic from Grimm’s hand while Alphonse, charging in, brought the mallet down heavily on his head. Grimm slumped to the floor, groaning. Fenton came rushing back.
“What’s up?” he shouted. “What’s happened to Johnny? If you did that, you frog—”
“Put ’em up!” Myra thrust a pistol into Fenton’s back. “And keep ’em up. Take his gun, Mr. Didier. Give it to me. Now tie his hands behind him; then his feet. I’ll keep an eye on Johnny in case he comes to.” Alphonse performed his task with gusto, enjoying the wild oaths of the enraged gunman. Very soon Grimm, scarcely conscious as yet, was similarly trussed. Alphonse wiped his brow.
“Ma’mselle,” he said fervently, “you are magnificent! Such courage! Is it not so, Natalie?”
Natalie smiled. “Indeed,” she replied. She lifted calm eyes to Myra’s face. “Ma’mselle was reckless to get in with such company. This might have ended badly for her.”
Myra retorted curtly, “I can look after myself.”
“And now for the police,” Alphonse remarked, rubbing his hands gleefully. “We shall make the eyes of the chief pop out of his head.”
“Wait a minute!” Myra’s cold, incisive voice halted him as he started for the telephone. “I have a better idea. We shall take the evidence to the police station and send the police back for these two. I have a car out in front. I’ll take the box. You,” to Natalie, “bring that sack of currency.”
Alphonse followed with alacrity. Natalie was a little slower. She had business behind the counter for a moment before she joined them at the car. Myra shot a swift, dark look at her, but said nothing.
“Get in,” Myra commanded. They obeyed her. She put the car in gear, shot down the street. At the second comer Alphonse shouted, “This turn, ma’mselle!” She ignored him.
He caught at her arm. “You ’ave passed the police station, ma’mselle!”
“I know,” she replied. “I’m coming right back. I want to pick up someone down here —my maid.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, and relaxed.
She left the town and manoeuvred finally into the river road. The lights were left behind, the night closed in on them. The powerful motor roared out its unbroken sound. Rain dashed against the windshield. One mile—two miles—three miles. Alphonse began to look apprehensive. Four miles— and the car rolled to a halt.
“Outside,” Myra said.
“But here, ma’mselle,” Alphonse cried in astonishment, “there is no one—no houses !”
“Get out,” Myra answered briefly. Alphonse found himself looking into the dark muzzle of the heavy pistol which had once belonged to Grimm. The hand which held it now was perfectly steady, and in the glow from the dashboard the look of determination on the face of the blonde young woman could not be mistaken. Alphonse did not pretend to misunderstand. He swallowed convulsively and got out of the car.
“Now, you,” Myra said, jerking the pistol toward Natalie. “Toss that sack into the front seat. Right. Now get out!”
“Ma’mselle,” Alphonse said bitterly, “you are making a great mistake. You cannot escape. Mon dieu, you must be mad. Please, ma’mselle! I implore you to return with me to town. Nothing will be said of this.”
Myra laughed stridently. “Get out of the way,” she said, “or I’ll run you down, you mug.” Her voice was contemptuous. The car whipped forward. One fender brushed Alphonse into the ditch.
'"TRULY,” ALPHONSE WHIMPERED as, with the aid of Natalie’s outstretched hand, he withdrew his sodden form from the roadside ditch, “I am desolate.”
“Then—you love her so much?” Natalie asked.
“It is not that,” Alphonse returned swiftly. “It is the fool I make of myself, Natalie.”
“Then you did not love her?” Natalie was insistent.
Alphonse shook his head. “No,” he answered quietly. “I loved not her but what I had in my foolish mind, Natalie.”
“I understand,” she replied. “Yes, I do understand, Alphonse.”
He looked at her with an appreciation that was new. In a moment he said humbly : “But I am such a fool, nevertheless.”
“I do not think that,” she answered decidedly.
“No?” He stopped, turned toward her, groaned, and went on.
She kept pace with him. “You were going to say, Alphonse?” she prompted.
“What use?” he answered gloomily. “Me, I shall be the laughing stock of the town when this tale gets out.”
“I fail to see that,” she answered calmly.
“To be such a dupe,” he said, tears in his voice. “To let that woman make of me such a fool. To let her get away with the bank’s money—”
“But she did not get away with the bank’s money,” Natalie returned demurely.
“Eh! What do you say?” Alphonse halted in his tracks. “But I saw the bag on the seat when she left us.”
“Oh, the bag!” Natalie laughed. “Of a certainty the bag—but not the money.”
Alphonse, ignoring the rain, sat down weakly on the side of the road. “Do not make the fool of me, I beg you, Natalie,” he said wearily. “Am I not that already?” She caught his hand, pulled him to his feet. “Allons!” she said briskly. “Would you catch your death of cold? Think not of the money—I have that safe. She goes away with a bagful of the fishing sinker which I get from your shelf. The money is now where the sinkers were. I make the exchange You see, mon cher, a woman is not so easily fool—non!”
“Mon dieu!” He caught her hand, pressed it fervently. “Of all women you are the cleverest, Natalie. As for the tin box, we need not concern ourselves with it. It contains the money of thugs. I do not think the bank will be hold responsible.”
Heads bent against the rain and wind, they trudged along for a time in silence. Then Alphonse said abruptly:
“Natalie, I ’ave make a mistake. I, in my search for the pearl, ’ave overlook the finest of all because it lay right under the nose. From seeing it so much I neither recognize it nor value it. But now I ’ave come to my senses.” He halted, drew Natalie to him. “Ma chérie,” he said tremblingly, “do you think you could ever love so great a blunderer?”
Natalie laughed softly.
“I could try,” she said. Then, overcome by tenderness, she moved closer to Alphonse and, with a passionate little gesture, bent his head to her breast.