The Adventures of Jimmie Dale II
By Frank L. Packard

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Public Domain Books

Chapter IX: Two Crooks and a Knave

Part Two: the Woman in the Case - Chapter I: Below the Dead Line

Whisperings! Always whisperings, low, sibilant, floating errantly from all sides, until they seemed a component part of the drug-laden atmosphere itself. And occasionally another sound: the soft SLAP- SLAP of loose-slippered feet, the faint rustle of equally loose- fitting garments. And everywhere the sweet, sickish smell of opium. It was Chang Foo’s, simply a cellar or two deeper in Chang Foo’s than that in which Dago Jim had quarrelled once–and died!

Larry the Bat, vicious-faced, unkempt, disreputable, lay sprawled out on one of the dive’s bunks, an opium pipe beside him. But Larry the Bat was not smoking; instead, his ear was pressed closely against the boarding that formed the rather flimsy partition at the side of the bunk. One heard many things in Chang Foo’s if one cared to listen–if one could first win one’s way through the carefully guarded gateway, that to the uninitiated offered nothing more interesting than the entrance to a Chinese tea-shop, and an uninviting one at that!

HAD HE BEEN FOLLOWED IN HERE? He had been shadowed for the last hour; of that, at least, he was certain. Why? By whom? For an hour he had dodged in and out through the dens of the underworld, as only one who was at home there and known to all could do–and at last he had taken refuge in Chang Foo’s like a fox burrowing deep into its hole.

Few could find their way into the most infamous opium den in all New York, where not only the poppy ruled as master, but where crime was hatched, ay, and carried to its ghastly consummation, sometimes, as well; and of those few, not one but was of the underworld itself. And it was that fact which held his muscles strained and rigid now under the miserable rags that covered them, and it was that which kept the keen, quick brain alert and active, every faculty keyed up and tense. If it were the police, he had little to fear, for they could not force their way in without warning; but if it were the underworld, he was in imminent peril, and had done little better than run himself into a trap from which there was no escape.

“DEATH TO THE GRAY SEAL!"–he had heard that whispered more than once in this very place. Who knew at what moment the role of Larry the Bat would be uncovered, and the underworld, where now he held so high a place, would be at his throat like a pack of snarling wolves! Who had been shadowing him during the last hour?

Whisperings! Nothing tangible! He could catch no words. Only the never-ending whisperings of gathered groups here and there–and sometimes the clink of coin where some game was in progress.

The curtain before his bunk was drawn suddenly aside–and Larry the Bat’s fingers, where his hand was carelessly hidden by his body tightened upon his automatic.

“Smokee some more?”

The fingers relaxed. It was only Sam Wah, one of the attendants.

“Nix!” said Larry the Bat, in a slightly muddled tone. “Got enough.”

The curtain fell into place again. Larry the Bat’s lips set in a thin smile. Ultimately it made little difference whether it was the police or the underworld! The smile grew thinner. It was the flip of a coin, that was all! With one there was the death house at Sing Sing for the Gray Seal; with the other–well, there were many ways, from a shot or a knife thrust in the open street, to his murder in some hidden dive like this of Chang Foo’s, for instance, where he now was–the Gray Seal was responsible for the occupancy of too many penitentiary cells by those of the underworld to look for any other fate!

He raised himself up sharply on his elbow. A shrill, high note, like the scream of a parrakeet, rang out a second time. He tore the curtain aside, and jumped to his feet. All around him, in the twinkling of an eye, Chinamen in fluttering blouses, chattering like magpies, mingled with snarling, cursing whites, were running madly. A voice, prefaced with an oath, bawled out behind him, as he sprang forward and joined the rush:

“Beat it! De cops! Beat it!”

The police! A raid! Was it for HIM? From rooms, an amazing number of them, more forms rushed out, joined, divided, separated, and dashed, some this way, some that, along branching passageways. There had been raids before, the police had begun to change their minds about Chang Foo’s, but Chang Foo’s was not an easy place to raid. House after house in that quarter of Chinese laundries, of tea shops, of chop-suey joints, opened one into the other through secret passages in the cellars. Larry the Bat plunged down a staircase, and halted in the darkness of a cellar, drawing back against the wall while the flying feet of his fellow fugitives scurried by him.

Was it for HIM, this raid? If not, the police had not a hope of getting him if he kept his head; for back in Chang Foo’s proper, which would be quite closed off now, Chang Foo would be blandly submitting to arrest, offering himself as a sort of glorified sacrifice while the police confiscated opium and fan-tan layouts. If the police had no other purpose than that in mind, Chang Foo would simply pay a fine; the next night the place would be in full blast again; and Chang Foo, higher than ever in the confidence of the underworld’s aristocracy, would reap his reward–and that would be all there was to it.

But was that all? The raid had followed significantly close upon the heels of his entry into Chang Foo’s. Larry the Bat began to move forward again. He dared not follow the others, and, later on, when quiet was restored, issue out into the street from any one of the various houses in which he might temporarily have taken refuge. There was a chance in that, a chance that the police might be more zealous than usual, even if he particularly was not their game–and he could take no chance. Arrest for Larry the Bat, even on suspicion, could have but one conclusion–not a pleasant one–the disclosure that Larry the Bat was not Larry the Bat at all, but Jimmie Dale, the millionaire club-man, and, to complete a fatal triplication, that Larry the Bat and Jimmie Dale was the Gray Seal upon whose head was fixed a price!

All was silence around him now, except that from overhead came occasionally the muffled tread of feet. He felt his way along into a black, narrow passage, emerged into a second cellar, swept the place with a single, circling gleam from a pocket flashlight, passed a stairway that led upward, reached the opposite wall, and, dropping on hands and knees, crawled into what, innocently enough, appeared to be the opening of a coal bin.

He knew Chang Foo’s well–as he knew the ins and outs of every den and place he frequented, knew them as a man knows such things when his life at any moment might hang upon his knowledge.

He was in another passage now, and this, in a few steps, brought him to a door. Here he halted, and stood for a full five minutes, absolutely motionless, absolutely still, listening. There was nothing–not a sound. He tried the door cautiously. It was locked. The slim, sensitive, tapering fingers of Jimmie Dale, unrecognisable now in the grimy digits of Larry the Bat, felt tentatively over the lock. To fingers that seemed in their tips to possess all the human senses, that time and again in their delicate touch upon the dial of a safe had mocked at human ingenuity and driven the police into impotent frenzy, this was a pitiful thing. From his pocket came a small steel instrument that was quickly and deftly inserted in the keyhole. There was a click, the door swung open, and Jimmie Dale, alias Larry the Bat, stepped outside into a back yard half a block away from the entrance to Chang Foo’s.

Again he listened. There did not appear to be any unusual excitement in the neighbourhood. From open windows above him and from adjoining houses came the ordinary, commonplace sounds of voices talking and laughing, even the queer, weird notes of a Chinese chant. He stole noiselessly across the yard, out into the lane, and made his way rapidly along to the cross street.

In a measure, now, he was safe; but one thing, a very vital thing, remained to be done. It was absolutely necessary that he should know whether he was the quarry that the police had been after in the raid, if it was the police who had been shadowing him all evening. If it was the police, there was but one meaning to it–Larry the Bat was known to be the Gray Seal, and a problem perilous enough in any aspect confronted him. Dare he risk the Sanctuary–for the clothes of Jimmie Dale? Or was it safer to burglarise, as he had once done before, his own mansion on Riverside Drive?

His thoughts were running riot, and he frowned, angry with himself. There was time enough to think of that when he knew that it was the police against whom he had to match his wits.

Well in the shadow of the buildings, he moved swiftly along the side street until he came to the corner of the street on which, halfway down the block, fronted Chang Foo’s tea-shop. A glance in that direction, and Jimmie Dale drew a breath of relief. A patrol wagon was backed up to the curb, and a half dozen officers were busy loading it with what was evidently Chang Foo’s far from meagre stock of gambling appurtenances; while Chang Foo himself, together with Sam Wah and another attendant, were in the grip of two other officers, waiting possibly for another patrol wagon. There was a crowd, too, but the crowd was at a respectful distance–on the opposite side of the street.

Jimmie Dale still hugged the corner. A man swaggered out from a doorway, quite close to Chang Foo’s, and came on along the street. As the other reached the corner, Jimmie Dale sidled forward.

“’Ello, Chick!” he said, out of the corner of his mouth. “Wot’s de lay?”

“’Ello, Larry!” returned the other. “Aw, nuthin’! De nutcracker on Chang, dat’s all.”

“I t’ought mabbe dey was lookin’ for some guy dat was in dere," observed Jimmie Dale.

“Nuthin’ doin’!” the other answered. “I was in dere meself. De whole mob beat it clean, an’ de bulls never batted an eye. Didn’t youse pipe me make me get-away outer Shanghai’s a minute ago? De bulls never went nowhere except into Chang’s. Dere’s a new lootenant in de precinct inaugeratin’ himself, dat’s all. S’long, Larry–I gotta date.”

“S’long, Chick!” responded Jimmie Dale–and started slowly back along the cross street.

It was not the police, then, who were interested in his movements! Then who? He shook his head with a little, savage, impotent gesture. One thing was clear: it was too early to risk a return to the Sanctuary and attempt the rehabilitation of Jimmie Dale. If any one was on the hunt for Larry the Bat, the Sanctuary would be the last place to be overlooked.

He turned the next corner, hesitated a moment in front of a garishly lighted dance hall, and finally shuffled in through the door, made his way across the floor, nodding here and there to the elite of gangland, and, with a somewhat arrogant air of proprietorship, sat down at a table in the corner. Little better than a tramp in appearance, certainly the most disreputable-looking object in the place, even the waiter who approached him accorded him a certain curious deference–was not Larry the Bat the most celebrated dope fiend below the dead line?

“Gimme a mug o’ suds!” ordered Jimmie Dale, and sprawled royally back in his chair.

Under the rim of his slouch hat, pulled now far over his eyes, he searched the faces around him. If he had been asked to pick the actors for a revel from the scum of the underworld, he could not have improved upon the gathering. There were perhaps a hundred men and women in the room, the majority dancing, and, with the exception of a few sight-seeing slummers, they were men and women whose acquaintance with the police was intimate but not cordial–far from cordial.

Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, and sipped at the glass that had been set before him. It was grimly ironic that he should be, not only there, but actually a factor and a part of the underworld’s intimate life! He, Jimmie Dale, a wealthy man, a member of New York’s exclusive clubs, a member of New York’s most exclusive society! It was inconceivable. He smiled sardonically. Was it? Well, then, it was none the less true. His life unquestionably was one unique, apart from any other man’s, but it was, for all that, actual and real.

There had been three years of it now–since SHE had come into his life. Jimmie Dale slouched down a little in his chair. The ice was thin, perilously thin, that he was skating on now. Each letter, with its demand upon him to match his wits against police or underworld, or against both combined, perhaps, made that peril a little greater, a little more imminent–if that were possible, when already his life was almost literally carried, daily, hourly, in his hand. Not that he rebelled against it; it was worth the price that some day he expected he must pay–the price of honour, wealth, a name disgraced, ruin, death. Was he quixotic? Immoderately so? He smiled gravely. Perhaps. But he would do it all over again if the choice were his. There were those who blessed the name of the Gray Seal, as well as those who cursed it. And there was the Tocsin!

Who was she? He did not know, but he knew that he had come to love her, come to care for her, and that she had come to mean everything in life to him. He had never seen her, to know her face. He had never seen her face, but he knew her voice–ay, he had even held her for a moment, the moment of wildest happiness he had ever known, in his arms. That night when he had entered his library, his own particular den in his own house, and in the darkness had found her there–found her finally through no effort of his own, when he had searched so fruitlessly for years to find her, using every resource at his command to find her! And she, because she had come of her own volition, relying upon him, had held him in honour to let her go as she had come–without looking upon her face! Exquisite irony! But she had made him a promise then–that the work of the Gray Seal was nearly over–that soon there would be an end to the mystery that surrounded her–that he should know all–that he should know HER.

He smiled again, but it was a twisted smile on the mechanically misshapen lips of Larry the Bat. NEARLY over! Who knew? That "nearly” might be too late! Even tonight he had been shadowed, was skulking even now in this place as a refuge. Who knew? Another hour, and the newsboys might be shrieking their “Uxtra! Uxtra! De Gray Seal caught! De millionaire Jimmie Dale de Jekyll an’ Hyde of real life!”

Jimmie Dale straightened up suddenly in his seat. There was a shout, an oath bawled out high above the riot of noise, a chorus of feminine shrieks from across the room. What was the matter with the underworld to-night? He seemed fated to find nothing but centres of disturbance– first a raid at Chang Foo’s, and now this. What was the matter here? They were stampeding toward him from the other side of the room. There was the roar of a revolver shot–another. Black Ike! He caught an instant’s glimpse of the gunman’s distorted face through the crowd. That was it probably–a row over some moll.

And then, as Jimmie Dale lunged up from his chair to his feet to escape the rush, pandemonium itself seemed to break loose. Yells, shots, screams, and oaths filled the air. The crowd surged this way and that. Tables were overturned and sent crashing to the floor. And then came sudden darkness, as some one of the attendants in misguided excitability switched off the lights.

The darkness but served to increase the panic, not allay it. With a savage snap of his jaws, Jimmie Dale swung from his table in the corner with the intention of making his way out by a side door behind him–it was a case of the police again, and the patrolman outside would probably be pulling a riot call by now. And the police– He stopped suddenly, as though he had been struck. An envelope, thrust there out of the darkness, was in his hand; and her voice, HERS, the Tocsin’s, was sounding in his ears:

“Jimmie! Jimmie! I’ve been trying all evening to catch you! Quick! Get to the Sanctuary and change your clothes. There’s not an instant to lose! It’s for my sake to-night!”

And then a surging mob was around him on every side, and, pushing, jostling, half lifting him at times from his feet, carried him forward with its rush, and with him in its midst burst through the door and out into the street.

Chapter II: The Call to Arms

Not a sound as the key turned in the lock; not a sound as the door swung back on its carefully oiled hinges; not a sound as Larry the Bat slipped like a shadow into the blackness of the room, closing the door behind him again. With a tread as noiseless as a cat’s, he was across the room to satisfy himself that the shutters were tightly closed; and then the single gas jet flared up, murky, yellow, illuminating the miserable, squalid room–the Sanctuary–the home of Larry the Bat. There was need for silence, need for caution. In five minutes, ten at the outside, he must emerge again– as Jimmie Dale.

With a smile on his lips that mingled curiously chagrin and self- commiseration, he took the letter from his pocket and tore it open. It was she, then, who had been following him all evening, and, like a blundering idiot, he had wasted precious, perhaps irreparable, hours! What had she meant by “It’s for my sake to-night”? The words had been ringing in his ears since the moment she had whispered them in that panic-stricken crowd. Was it not always for her sake that he answered these calls to arms? Was it not always for her sake that he, as the Gray Seal, was– The mental soliloquy came to an abrupt end. He had subconsciously read the first sentence of the letter, and now, with sudden feverish eagerness and excitement, he was reading it to the last word.

“DEAR PHILANTHROPIC CROOK: In an hour after you receive this, if all goes well, you shall know everything–everything. Who I am– yes, and my name. It has been more than three years now, hasn’t it? It has been incomprehensible to you, but there has been no other way. I dared not take the chance of discovery by any one; I dared not expose you to the risk of being known by me. Your life would not have been worth a moment’s purchase. Oh, Jimmie, am I only making the mystery more mystifying? But to-night, I think, I hope, I pray that it is all at an end: though against me, and against you to-night when you go to help me, is the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals that the world has ever known; and the stake we are playing for is a fortune of millions–and my life. And yet somehow I am afraid now, just because the end is so near, and the victory seems so surely won. And so, Jimmie, be careful; use all that wonderful cleverness of yours as you have never used it before, and– But there should be no need for that, it is so simple a thing that I am going to ask you to do. Why am I writing so illogically! Nothing, surely, can possibly happen. This is not like one of my usual letters, is it? I am beside myself to-night with hope, anxiety, fear, and excitement.

“Listen, then, Jimmie: Be at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place at exactly half-past ten. A taxicab will drive up, as though you had signalled it in passing, and the chauffeur will say: “I’ve another fare, in half an hour, sir, but I can get you most anywhere in that time.” You will be smoking a cigarette. Toss it out into the street, make any reply you like, and get into the cab. Give the chauffeur that little ring of mine with the crest of the bell and belfry and the motto, “Sonnez le Tocsin,” that you found the night old Isaac Pelina was murdered, and the chauffeur will give you in exchange a sealed packet of papers. He will drive you to your home, and I will telephone to you there.

“I need not tell you to destroy this. Keep the appointment in your proper person–as Jimmie Dale. Carry nothing that might identify you as the Gray Seal if any accident should happen. And, lastly, trust the pseudo chauffeur absolutely.”

There was no signature. Her letters were never signed. He stood for a moment staring at the closely written sheets in his hand, a heightened colour in his cheeks, his lips pressed tightly together– and then his fingers automatically began to tear the letter into pieces, and the pieces again into little shreds. To-night! It was to be to-night, the end of all this mystery. To-night was to see the end of this dual life of his, with its constant peril! To-night the Gray Seal was to exit from the stage forever! To-night, a wonderful climax of the years, he was to see HER!

His blood was quickened now, his heart pounding in a faster beat; a mad elation, a fierce uplift was upon him. He thrust the torn bits of paper into his pocket hurriedly, stepped across the room to the corner, rolled back the oilcloth, and lifted up the loose plank in the flooring, so innocently dustladen, as, more than once, to have eluded the eyes of inquisitive visitors in the shape of police and plain clothes men from headquarters.

From the space beneath he removed a neatly folded pile of clothes, laid these on the bed, and began to undress. He was working rapidly now. Tiny pieces of wax were removed from his nostrils, from under his lips, from behind his ears; water from a cracked pitcher poured into a battered tin basin, and mixed with a few drops of some liquid from a bottle which he procured from its hiding place under the flooring, banished the make-up stain from his face, his neck, his wrists, and hands as if by magic. It was a strange metamorphosis that had taken place–the coarse, brutal-featured, blear-eyed, leering countenance of Larry the Bat was gone, and in its place, clean-cut, square-jawed, clear-eyed, was the face of Jimmie Dale. And where before had slouched a slope-shouldered, misshapen, flabby creature, a broad-shouldered form well over six feet in height now stood erect, and under the clean white skin the muscles of an athlete, like knobs of steel played back and forth with every movement of his body.

In the streaked and broken mirror Jimmie Dale surveyed himself critically, methodically, and, with a nod of satisfaction, hastily donned the fashionably cut suit of tweeds upon the bed. He rummaged then through the ragged garments he had just discarded, transferred to his pockets a roll of bills and his automatic, and paused hesitantly, staring at the thin metal case, like a cigarette case, that he held in the palm of his hand. He shrugged his shoulders a little whimsically; it seemed strange indeed that he was through with that! He snapped it open. Within, between sheets of oil paper, lay the scores of little diamond-shaped, gray-coloured, adhesive paper seals–the insignia of the Gray Seal. Yes, it seemed strange that he was never to use another! He closed the case, gathered up the clothes of Larry the Bat, tucked the case in among them, and shoved the bundle into the hole under the flooring. All these things would have to be destroyed, but there was not time to- night; to-morrow, or the next day, would do for that. What would it be like to live a normal life again, without the menace of danger lurking on every hand, without that grim slogan of the underworld, "Death to the Gray Seal!” or that savage fiat of the police, “The Gray Seal, dead or alive–but the Gray Seal!” forever ringing in his ears? What would it be like, this new life–with her?

The thought was thrilling him again, bringing again that eager, exultant uplift. In an hour, ONE hour, and the barriers of years would be swept away, and she would be in his arms!

“It’s for my sake to-night!” His face grew suddenly tense, as the words came back to him. That “hour” wasn’t over yet! It was no hysterical exaggeration that had prompted her to call her enemies the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals that the world had ever known. It was not the Tocsin’s way to exaggerate. The words would be literally true. The very life she had led for the three years that had gone stood out now as a grim proof of her assertion.

Jimmie Dale replaced the flooring, carefully brushed the dust back into the cracks, spread the oilcloth into place, and stood up. Who and what was this organisation? What was between it and the Tocsin? What was this immense fortune that was at stake? And what was this priceless packet that was so crucial, that meant victory now, ay, and her life, too, she had said?

The questions swept upon him in a sort of breathless succession. Why had she not let him play a part in this? True, she had told him why–that she dared not expose him to the risk. Risk! Was there any risk that the Gray Seal had not taken, and at her instance! He did not understand, he smiled a little uncertainly, as he reached up to turn out the gas. There were a good many things that he did not understand about the Tocsin!

The room was in darkness, and with the darkness Jimmie Dale’s mind centred on the work immediately before him. To enter the tenement where he was known and had an acknowledged right as Larry the Bat was one thing; for Jimmie Dale to be discovered there was quite another.

He crossed the room, opened the door silently, stood for a moment listening, then stepped out into the black, musty, ill-smelling hallway, closing the door behind him. He stooped and locked it. The querulous cry of a child reached him from somewhere above–a murmur of voices, muffled by closed doors, from everywhere. How many families were housed beneath that sordid roof he had never known, only that there was miserable poverty there as well as vice and crime, only that Larry the Bat, who possessed a room all to himself, was as some lordly and super-being to these fellow tenants who shared theirs with so many that there was not air enough for all to breathe.

He had no doors to pass–his was next to the staircase. He began to descend. They could scream and shriek, those stairs, like aged humans, twisted and rheumatic, at the least ungentle touch. But there was no sound from them now. There seemed something almost uncanny in the silent tread. Stair after stair he descended, his entire weight thrown gradually upon one foot before the other was lifted. The strain upon the muscles, trained and hardened as they were, told. As he moved from the bottom step, he wiped little beads of perspiration from his forehead.

The door, now, that gave on the alleyway! He opened it, slipped outside, darted across the narrow lane, stole along where the shadows of the fence were blackest, paused, listening, as he reached the end of the alleyway, to assure himself that there was no near-by pedestrian–and stepped out into the street.

He kept on along the block, turned into the Bowery, and, under the first lamp, consulted his watch. It was a quarter past ten. He could make it easily in a leisurely walk. He continued on up the Bowery, finally crossed to Broadway, and shortly afterward turned into Waverly Place. At the corner of Fifth Avenue he consulted his watch again–and now he lighted a cigarette. Sixth Avenue was only a block away. At precisely half-past ten, to the second, he halted on the designated corner, smoking nonchalantly.

A taxicab, coincidentally coming from an uptown direction, swung in to the curb.

“Taxi, sir? Yes, sir?” Then, with an admirable mingling of eagerness to secure the fare and a fear that his confession might cause him the loss of it: “I’ve another fare in half an hour, sir, but I can get you most anywhere in that time.”

Jimmie Dale’s cigarette was tossed carelessly into the street.

“St. James Club!” he said curtly, and stepped into the cab.

The cab started forward, turned the corner, and headed along Waverly Place toward Broadway. The chauffeur twisted around in his seat in a matter-of-fact way, as though to ask further directions.

“Have you anything for me?” he inquired casually.

It lay where it always lay, that ring, between the folds of that little white glove in his pocketbook. Jimmie Dale took it out now, and handed it silently to the chauffeur.

The other’s face changed instantly–composure was gone, and a quick, strained look was in its place.

“I’m afraid I’ve been watched,” he said tersely. “Look behind you, will you, and tell me if you see anything?”

Jimmie Dale glanced backward through the little window in the hood.

“There’s another taxi just turned in from Sixth Avenue,” he reported the next instant.

“Keep your eye on it!” instructed the chauffeur shortly.

The speed of the cab increased sensibly.

With a curious tightening of his lips, Jimmie Dale settled himself in his seat so that he could watch the cab behind. There was trouble coming, intuitively he sensed that; and, he reflected bitterly, he might have known! It was too marvellous, too wonderful ever to come to pass that this one hour, the thought of which had fired his blood and made him glad beyond any gladness life had ever held for him before, should bring its promised happiness.

“Where’s the cab now?” the chauffeur flung back over his shoulder.

They had passed Fifth Avenue, and were nearing Broadway.

“About the same distance behind,” Jimmie Dale answered.

“That looks bad!” the chauffeur gritted between his teeth. “We’ll have to make sure. I’ll run down Lower Broadway.”

“If you think we’re followed,” suggested Jimmie Dale quietly, “why not run uptown and give them the slip somewhere where the traffic is thick? Lower Broadway at this time of night is as empty and deserted as a country road.”

The chauffeur’s sudden laugh was mirthless.

“My God, you don’t know what you are talking about!” he burst out. "If they’re following, all hell couldn’t throw them off the track. And I’ve got to know, I’ve got to be SURE before I dare make a move to-night. I couldn’t tell up in the crowded districts if I was followed, could I? They won’t come out into the open until their hands are forced.”

The car swerved sharply, rounded the corner, and, speeding up faster and faster, began to tear down Lower Broadway.

“Watch! WATCH!” cried the chauffeur.

There was no word between them for a moment; then Jimmie Dale spoke crisply:

“It’s turned the corner! It’s coming this way!”

The taxicab was rocking violently with the speed; silent, empty, Lower Broadway stretched away ahead. Apart from an occasional street car, probably there would be nothing between them and the Battery. Jimmie Dale glanced at his companion’s face as a light, flashing by, threw it into relief. It was set and stern, even a little haggard; but, too, there was something else there, something that appealed instantly to Jimmie Dale–a sort of bulldog grit that dominated it.

“If he holds our speed, we’ll know!” the chauffeur was shouting now to make himself heard over the roar of the car. “Look again! Where is it now?”

Once more Jimmie Dale looked through the little rear window. The cab had been a block behind them when it had turned the corner, and he watched it now in a sort of grim fascination. There was no possible doubt of it! The two bobbing, bouncing headlights were creeping steadily nearer. And then a sort of unnatural calm settled upon Jimmie Dale, and his hand went mechanically to his pocket to feel his automatic there, as he turned again to the chauffeur.

“If you’ve got any more speed, you’d better use it!” he said significantly.

The man shot a quick look at him.

“They are following us? You are SURE?”

“Yes,” said Jimmie Dale.

The chauffeur laughed again in that mirthless, savage way.

“Lean over here, where I can talk to you!” he rasped out. “The game’s up, as far as I am concerned, I guess! But there’s a chance for you. They don’t know you in this.”

“Give her more speed–or dodge into a cross street!” suggested Jimmie Dale coolly. “They haven’t got us yet, by a long way!”

The other shook his head.

“It’s not only that cab behind,” he answered, through set lips. "You don’t know what we’re up against. If they’re really after us, there’s a trap laid in every section of this city–the devils! It’s the package they want. Thank God for the presentiment that made me leave it behind! I was going back for it, you understand, if I was satisfied that we weren’t followed. Listen! There’s a chance for you–there’s none for me. That package–remember this!–no one else knows where it is, and it’s life and death to the one who sent you here. It’s in Box 428 at– My God, LOOK! Look there!” he yelled, and, with a wrench at the wheel, sent the taxi lurching and staggering for the car tracks in the centre of the street.

The scene, fast as thought itself, was photographing itself in every detail upon Jimmie Dale’s brain. From the cross street ahead, one from each corner, two motor cars had nosed out into Broadway, blocking the road on both sides. And now the car on the left-hand side was moving forward across the tracks to counteract the chauffeur’s move, deliberately insuring a collision. There was no chance, no further room to turn, no time to stop–the man driving the other car jumped for safety–they would be into it in an instant.

“Box 428!” Jimmie pleaded fiercely. “Go on, man! Go on! FINISH!”

“Yes!” cried the chauffeur. “John Johansson, at–”

But Jimmie Dale heard no more. There was the crash of impact as the taxicab plowed into the car that had been so craftily manoeuvered in front of it, and Jimmie Dale, lifted from his feet, was hurled violently forward with the shock, and all went black before his eyes.

Chapter III: The Crime Club

For what length of time he had remained unconscious, Jimmie Dale had not the slightest idea. He regained his senses to find himself lying on a couch in a strange room that had a most exquisitely brass-wrought dome light in the ceiling. That was what attracted his attention, because the light hurt his eyes, and his head was already throbbing as though a thousand devils were beating a diabolical tattoo upon it.

He closed his eyes against the light. Where was he? What had happened? Oh, yes, he remembered now! That smash on Lower Broadway! He had been hurt. He moved first one limb and then another tentatively, and was relieved to find that, though his body ached as if it had been severely shaken, and his head was bad, he had apparently escaped without serious injury.

Where was he? In a hospital? His fingers, resting at his side upon the couch, supplied him with the information that it was a very expensive couch, upholstered in finest leather. If he were in a hospital, he would be in a cot.

He opened his eyes again to glance curiously around him. The room was quite in keeping with the artistic lighting fixture and the refined, if expensive, taste that was responsible for the couch. A heavy velvet rug of rich, dark green was bordered by a polished hardwood floor; panellings of dark-green frieze and beautifully grained woodwork made the lower walls; while above, on a background of some soft-toned paper, hung a few, and evidently choice, oil paintings. There was a big, inviting lounging chair; a massive writing table, or more properly, a desk of walnut; and behind the desk, his back half turned, apparently intent upon a book, sat a man in immaculate evening dress.

Jimmie Dale closed his eyes again. There was something reassuring about it all, comfortably reassuring. Though why there should be any occasion for a feeling of reassurance at all, he could not for the moment make out. And then, in a sudden flash, the details of the night came back to him. The Tocsin’s letter–the package he was to get–the taxicab–the chauffeur, who was not a chauffeur–the chase–the trap. He lay perfectly still. It was the professional Jimmie Dale now whose brain, in spite of the throbbing, brutally aching head, was at work, keen, alert.

The chauffeur! What had happened to him? Had the man been killed in the auto smash; or, less fortunate than himself, fallen into the hands of those whose power he seemed both to fear and rate so highly? And that package! Box–what was the number?–yes, 428. What did that mean? What box? Where was it? Who was John Johansson? He hadn’t heard any more than that; the smash had come then. And lastly, he was back again to the same question he had begun with: Where was he now himself? It looked as though some good Samaritan had picked him up. Who was this gentleman so quietly reading there at the desk?

Jimmie Dale opened his eyes for the third time. How still, how absolutely silent the room was! He studied the man’s back speculatively for a moment, then his gaze travelled on past the man to the wall, riveted there, and his fingers, without movement of his arm, pressed against the outside of his coat pocket. He thought as much! His automatic was gone!

Not a muscle of Jimmie Dale’s face moved. His eyes shifted to a picture on the wall. THE MAN WAS WATCHING HIM–NOT READING! Just above the level of the desk, a small mirror held the couch in focus– but, equally, it held the man in focus, and Jimmie Dale had seen the other’s eyes, through a black mask that covered the face to the top of the upper lip, fixed intently upon him.

There was a chill now where before there had been reassurance, something ominous in the very quiet and refinement of the room; and Jimmie Dale smiled inwardly in bitter irony–his good Samaritan wore a mask! His self-congratulations had come too soon. Whatever had happened to the chauffeur, it was evident enough that he himself was caught! What was it the chauffeur had said? Something about a chance through being unknown. Was it to be a battle of wits, then? God, if his head did not ache so frightfully! It was hard to think with the brain half sick with pain.

Those two eyes shining in that mirror! There seemed something horribly spectre-like about it. He did not look again, but he knew they were there. It was like a cat watching a mouse. Why did not the man speak, or move, or do something, and– He turned his head slowly; the man was laughing in a low, amused way.

“You appear to be taken with that picture,” observed a pleasant voice. “Perhaps you recognise it from there? It is a Corot.”

Jimmie Dale, with a well-simulated start, sat up–and, with another quite as well simulated, stared at the masked man. The other had laid down his book, and swung around in his chair to face the couch. Jimmie Dale stood up a little shakily.

“Look here!” he said awkwardly. “I–I don’t quite understand. I remember that my taxi got into a smash-up, and I suppose I have to thank you for the assistance you must have rendered me; only, as I say"–he looked in a puzzled way around the room, and in an even more perplexed way at the mask on the other’s face–"I must confess I am at a loss to understand quite the meaning of this.”

“Suppose that instead of trying to understand you simply accept things as you find them.” The voice was soft, but there was a finality in it that its blandness only served to make the more suggestive.

Jimmie Dale drew himself up, and bowed coldly.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I did not mean to intrude. I have only to thank you again, then, and bid you good-night.”

The lips beneath the mask parted slightly in a politely deprecating smile.

“There is no hurry,” said the man, a sudden sharpness creeping into his tones. “I am sorry that the rule I apply to you does not work both ways. For instance, I might be quite at a loss to account for your presence in that taxicab.”

Jimmie Dale’s smile was equally polite, equally deprecating.

“I fail to see how it could be of the slightest possible interest to you,” he replied. “However, I have no objection to telling you. I hailed the taxi at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place, told the chauffeur to drive me to the St. James Club, and–”

“The St. James Club,” broke in the other coldly, “is, I believe, north, not SOUTH of Waverly Place–and on Broadway not at all.”

Jimmie Dale stared at the other for an instant in patient annoyance.

“I am quite well aware of that,” he said stiffly. “Nevertheless I told the man to drive me to the St. James Club. We came across Waverly Place, but on reaching Broadway, instead of turning uptown, he suddenly whirled in the other direction and sent the car flying at full speed down Lower Broadway. I shouted at the man. I don’t know yet whether he was drunk or crazy or"–Jimmie Dale’s eyes fixed disdainfully on the other’s mask–"whether there might not, after all, have been method in his madness. I can only say that before we had gone more than two or three blocks, a wild effort on his part to avoid a collision with an auto swinging out from a side street resulted in an even more disastrous smash with another on the other side, and I was knocked senseless.”

“’Victim,’ I presume, is the idea you desire to convey,” observed the other evenly. “You were quite the victim of circumstances, as it were!”

Jimmie Dale’s eyebrows lifted slightly.

“It would appear to be fairly obvious, I should say.”

“Very clever!” commented the man. “But now suppose we remove the buttons from the foils!” His voice rasped suddenly. “You are quite as well aware as I am that what has happened to-night was not an accident. Nor–in case the possibility may have occurred to you– are the police any the wiser, save for the existence of two wrecked cars on Lower Broadway, and another which escaped, and for which doubtless they are still searching assiduously. The ownership of the taxicab you so inadvertently entered they will have no difficulty in establishing–you, perhaps, however, are in a better position than I am to appreciate the fact that the establishment of its ownership will lead them nowhere. As I understand it, the man who drove you to-night obtained the loan of the cab from one of the company’s chauffeur’s in return for a hundred-dollar bill. Am I right?”

“In view of what has happened,” admitted Jimmie Dale simply, “I should not be surprised.”

There was a sort of sardonic admiration in the other’s laugh.

“As for the other car,” he went on, “I can assure you that its ownership will never be known. When the nearest patrolman rushed up, there were no survivors of the disaster, save those in the third car which he was powerless to stop–which accounts for your presence here. You will admit that I have been quite frank.”

“Oh, quite!” said Jimmie Dale, a little wearily. “But would you mind telling me what all this is leading to?”

The man had been leaning forward in his chair, one hand, palm downward, resting lightly on the desk. He shifted his hand now suddenly to the arm of his chair.

“THIS!” he said, and on the desk where his hand had been lay the Tocsin’s gold signet ring.

Jimmie Dale’s face expressed mild curiosity. He could feel the other’s eyes boring into him.

“We were speaking of ownership,” said the man, in a low, menacing tone. “I want to know where the woman who owns this ring can be found to-night.”

There was no play, no trifling here; the man was in deadly earnest. But it seemed to Jimmie Dale, even with the sense of peril more imminent with every instant, that he could have laughed outright in savage mockery at the irony of the question. Where was she? Even WHO was she? And this was the hour in which he was to have known!

“May I look at it?” he requested calmly.

The other nodded, but his eyes never left Jimmie Dale.

“It will give you an extra moment or so to frame your answer,” he said sarcastically.

Jimmie Dale ignored the thrust, picked up the ring, examined it deliberately, and set it back again on the table.

“Since I do not know who owns it,” he said, “I cannot answer your question.”

“No! Well, then, there is still another matter–a little package that was in the taxicab with you. Where is that?”

“See here!” said Jimmie Dale irritably. “This has gone far enough! I have seen no package, large or small, or of any description whatever. You are evidently mistaking me for some one else. You have only to telephone to the St. James Club.” He reached toward his pocket for his cardcase. “My name is–”

“Dale,” supplied the other curtly. “Don’t bother about the card, Mr. Dale. We have already taken the liberty of searching you.” He rose abruptly from his chair. “I am afraid you do not quite realise your position, Mr. Dale,” he said, with an ominous smile. “Let me make it clear. I do not wish to be theatrical about this, but we do not temporise here. You will either answer both of those questions to my satisfaction, OR YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE THIS PLACE ALIVE.”

Jimmie Dale’s face hardened. His eyes met the other’s steadily.

“Ah, I think I begin to see!” he said caustically. “When I have been thoroughly frightened I shall be offered my freedom at a price. A sort of up-to-date game of holdup! The penalty of being a wealthy man! If you had named your figure to begin with, we would have saved a lot of idle talk, and you would have had my answer the sooner: NOTHING!”

“Do you know,” said the other, in a grimly musing way, “there has always been one man, but only one until now, that I have wished I might add to my present associates. I refer to the so-called Gray Seal. To-night there are two. I pay you the compliment of being the other. But"–he was smiling ominously again–"we are wasting time, Mr. Dale. I am willing to expose my hand to the extent of admitting that the information you are withholding is infinitely more valuable to me than the mere wreaking of reprisal upon you for a refusal to talk. Therefore, if you will answer, I pledge you my word you will be free to leave here within five minutes. If you refuse, you are already aware of the alternative. Well, Mr. Dale?”

Who was this man? Jimmie Dale was studying the other’s chin, the lips, the white, even teeth, the jet-black hair. Some day the tables might be turned. Could he recognise again this cool, imperturbable ruffian who so callously threatened him with murder?

“Well, Mr. Dale? I am waiting!”

“I am not a magician,” said Jimmie Dale contemptuously. “I could not answer your questions if I wanted to.”

The other’s hand slid instantly to a row of electric buttons on the desk.

“Very well, Mr. Dale!” he said quietly. “You do not believe, I see, that I would dare to carry my threat into execution; you perhaps even doubt my power. I shall take the trouble to convince you–I imagine it will stimulate your memory.”

The door opened. Two men were standing on the threshold, both in evening dress, both masked. The man behind the desk came forward, took Jimmie Dale’s arm almost courteously, and led him from the room out into a corridor, where he halted abruptly.

“I want to call your attention first, Mr. Dale, to the fact that as far as you are concerned you neither have now, nor ever will have, any idea whether you are in the heart of New York or fifty miles away from it. Now, listen! Do you hear anything?”

There was nothing. Only the strange silence of that other room was intensified now. There was not a sound; stillness such as it seemed to Jimmie Dale he had never experienced before was around him.

“You may possibly infer from the silence that you are NOT in the city,” suggested the other, after a moment’s pause. “I leave you to your own conclusions in that respect. The cause, however, of the silence is internal, not external; we had sound-proof principles in mind to a perhaps exaggerated degree when this building was constructed. If you care to do so, you have my permission to shout, say, for help, to your heart’s content. We shall make no effort to stop you.”

Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders. He was staring down a brilliantly lighted, richly carpeted corridor. There were doors on one side, windows on the other, the windows all hung with heavy, closely drawn portieres. The corridor was certainly not on the ground floor, but whether it was on the second or third, or even above that again, he had no means of knowing. From appearances, though, the place seemed more like a large, private mansion than anything else.

“Just one word more before we proceed,” continued the other. “I do not wish you to labour under any illusion. Here we are frankly criminals. This is our home. It should have some effect in impressing you with the power and resource at our command, and also with the class of men with whom you are dealing. There is not one among us whose education is not fully equal to your own; not one, indeed, but who is chosen, granting first his criminal tendencies, because he is a specialist in his own particular field–in commerce, in the government diplomatic service, in the professions of law and medicine, in the ranks of pure science. We are bordering on the fantastical, are we not? Dreaming, you will probably say, of the Utopian in crime organisation. Quite so, Mr. Dale. I only ask you to consider the POSSIBILITIES if what I say is true. Now let us proceed. I am going to take you into three rooms–the three whose doors you see ahead of you. You will notice that, including the one you have just left, there are four on this corridor. I do not wish to strain your credulity, or play tricks upon you; so I am going to ask you to fix an approximate idea of the length of the corridor in your mind, as it will perhaps enable you to account more readily for what may appear to be a discrepancy in the corresponding size of the rooms.”

One of the men opened the door ahead. Jimmie Dale, at a sign from his conductor, moved forward and entered. Just what he had expected to find he could not have told; his brain was whirling, partly from his aching head, partly from his desperate effort to conceive some way of escape from the peril which, for all his nonchalance, he knew only too well was the gravest he had ever faced; but what he saw was simply a cozily furnished bedroom. There was nothing peculiar about it; nothing out of the way, except perhaps that it was rather narrow.

And then suddenly, rubbing his eyes involuntarily, he was staring in a dazed way before him. The whole right-hand side of the wall was sinking without a sound into the floor, increasing the width of the room by some five or six feet–and in this space was disclosed what appeared to be a sort of chemical laboratory, elaborately equipped, extending the entire length of the room.

“The wall is purely a matter of mechanical construction, operated hydraulically.” The man was speaking softly at Jimmie Dale’s side. "The room beneath is built to correspond; the base, ceiling, and wall mouldings here do not have to be very ingenious to effect a disguise. I might say, however, that few visitors, other than yourself, have ever seen anything here but a bedroom.” He waved his hand toward the retorts, the racks of test tubes, the hundred and one articles that strewed the laboratory bench. “As for this, its purpose is twofold. We, as well, as the police, have often need of analysis. We make it. If we require a drug, a poison, say, we compound it from its various ingredients, or, as the case may be, distil it, perhaps–it is, you will agree, somewhat more difficult to trace to its source if procured that way. And speaking of poisons"–he stepped forward, and lifted a glass-stoppered bottle containing a colourless liquid from a shelf–"in a modest way we have even done some original research work here. This, for instance, is as Utopian from our standpoint as the formation, and personnel of the organisation I have briefly outlined to you. It possesses very essential qualities. It is almost instantaneous in its action, requires a very small quantity, and defies detection even by autopsy.” He uncorked the bottle, and dipped in a long glass rod. “Will you watch the experiment?” he invited, with a sort of ghastly pleasantry. “I do not want you to accept anything on trust.”

With a start, Jimmie Dale swung around. He had heard no sound, but another man was at his elbow now–and, struggling in the man’s hand, was a little white rabbit.

It was over in an instant. A single drop in the rabbit’s mouth, and the animal had stiffened out, a lifeless thing.

“It is quite as effective on the human organism,” continued the other, “only, instead of one drop, three are required. If I make it ten"–he was carefully measuring the liquid into two wineglasses– "it is only that even you may be satisfied that the quantity is fatal.” He filled up the glasses with what was apparently wine of some description, which he poured from a decanter, and held out the glasses in front of him.

And again Jimmie Dale started, again he had heard no one enter, and yet two men had stepped forward from behind him and had taken the glasses from their leader’s hands. He glanced around him, counting quickly–they were surely the two who had entered with him from the corridor. No! Including the leader, there were now six men, all in evening dress, all masked, in the room with him.

A wave of the leader’s hand, and the two men holding the glasses left the room. The man turned to Jimmie Dale again.

“Shall we proceed to the second room, Mr. Dale?” he asked politely. "I think it is now prepared for us–I do not wish to bore you with a repetition of magical sliding walls.”

There was something now that numbed the ache in Jimmie Dale’s brain– a sense of some deadly, remorseless thing that seemed to be constantly creeping closer to him, clutching at him–to smother him, to choke him. There was something absolutely fiendish, terrifying, in the veneer of culture around him.

They had entered the second room. This, like the other, was a pseudo-bedroom; but here the movable wall was already down. Ranged along the right-hand side were a great number of cabinets that slid in and out, much after the style and fashion used by clothing dealers to stock and display their wares. These cabinets were now all open, displaying hundreds of costumes of all kinds and descriptions, and evidently complete to the minutest detail. The cabinets were flanked by full-length mirrors at each end of the room, and on little tables before the mirrors was an assortment, that none better than Jimmie Dale himself could appreciate, of make- up accessories.

The man smiled apologetically.

“I am afraid this is rather uninteresting,” he said. “I have shown it to you simply that you may understand that we are alive to the importance of detail. Disguise, that is daily vital to us, is an art that depends essentially on detail. I venture to say we could impersonate any character or type or nationality or class in the United States at a moment’s notice. But"–he took Jimmie Dale’s arm again and conducted him out into the corridor, while the two men who were evidently acting the role of guards followed closely behind– "there is still the third room–here.” He halted Jimmie Dale before the door. “I have asked you to answer two questions, Mr. Dale,” he said softly. “I ask you now to remember the alternative.”

They still stood before the door. There was that uncanny silence again–it seemed to Jimmie Dale to last interminably. Neither of the three men surrounding him moved nor spoke. Then the door before him was opened on an unlighted room, and he was led across the threshold. He heard the door close behind him. The lights came on. And then it seemed as though he could not move, as though he were rooted to the spot–-and the colour ebbed from his face. Three figures were before him: the two men who had carried the glasses from the first room, and the chauffeur who had driven him in the taxicab. The two men still held the glasses–the chauffeur was bound hand and foot in a chair. One of the glasses was EMPTY; the other was still significantly full.

Jimmie Dale, with a violent effort at self-control, leaned forward.

The man in the chair was dead.

Chapter IV: The Innocent Bystander

There was not a sound. That stillness, weird, unnerving, that permeated, as it were, everywhere through that mysterious house, was, if that were possible, accentuated now. The four masked men in evening dress, five including their leader, for the man who had appeared in that other room with the rabbit was not here, were as silent, as motionless, as the dead man who was lashed there in the chair. And to Jimmie Dale it seemed at first as though his brain, stunned and stupefied at the shock, refused its functions, and left him groping blindly, vaguely, with only a sort of dull, subconscious realisation of menace and a deadly peril, imminent, hanging over him.

He tried to rouse himself mentally, to prod his brain to action, to pit it in a fight for life against these self-confessed criminals and murderers with their mask of culture, who surrounded him now. Was there a way out? What was it the Tocsin had said–"the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals the world has ever known–the stake a fortune of millions–her life!” There had, indeed, been no overemphasis in the words she had used! They had taken pains themselves to make that ominously clear, these men! Every detail of the strange house, with its luxurious furnishings, its cleverly contrived appointments, breathed a horribly suggestive degree of power, a deadly purpose, and an organisation swayed by a master mind; and, grim evidence of the merciless, inexorable length to which they would go, was the ghastly white face of the dead chauffeur, bound hand and foot, in the chair before him!

That EMPTY glass in the hand of one of the men! He could not take his eyes from it–except as his eyes were drawn magnetically to that FULL glass in the hand of one of the others. What height of sardonic irony! He was to drink that other glass, to die because he refused to answer questions that for years, with every resource at his command, risking his liberty, his wealth, his name, his life, with everything that he cared for thrown into the scales, he had struggled to solve–and failed!

And then the leader spoke.

“Mr. Dale,” he said, with cold significance, “I regret to admit that your pseudo taxicab driver was so ill-advised as to refuse to answer the SAME questions that I have put to you.”

Five to one! That was the only way out–and it was hopeless. It was the only way out, because, convinced that he could answer those questions if he wanted to, these men were in deadly earnest; it was hopeless, because they were–five to one! And probably there were as many more, twice or three times as many more within call. But what did it matter how many more there were! He could fight until he was overpowered, that was all he could do, and the five could accomplish that. Still, if he could knock the full glass out of that man’s hand, and gain the door, then perhaps–he turned quickly, as the door opened. It was as though they had read his thoughts. A number of men were grouped outside in the corridor, then the door closed again with a cordon ranged against it inside the room; and at the same instant his arms and wrists were caught in a powerful grasp by the two men immediately behind him, who all along had enacted the role of guards.

Again the leader spoke.

“I will repeat the questions,” he said sharply. “Where is the woman whose ring was found on that man there in the chair? And where is the package that you two men had with you in the taxicab to-night?”

Jimmie Dale glanced from the tall, straight, immaculately clothed figure of the speaker, from the threatening smile on the set lips that just showed under the edge of the mask, to the dead man in the chair. He had faced the prospect of death before many times, but it had come with the heat of passion accompanying it, it had come quickly, abruptly, with every faculty called into action to combat it, without time to dwell upon it, to sift, weigh, or measure its meaning, and if there had been fear it had been subordinate to other emotions. But it was different now. He could not, of course, answer those questions; nor, he was doggedly conscious, would he have answered them if he could–and there was no middle course.

Death, within the next few moments, stared him in the face; and it seemed curiously irrelevant that, in a sort of unnatural calmness, he should be attempting to analyse his feelings and emotions concerning it. All his life it had seemed to him that the acme of human mental torture was the cell of a condemned criminal, with the horror of its hopelessness, with the time to dwell upon it; and that the acme of that torture itself must be that awful moment immediately preceding execution, when anticipation at last was to merge into soul-sickening reality.

Strange that thought should come! Strange that he should be framing a brain picture of such a scene, vivid, minute in detail! No–not strange. He was picturing himself. The analogy was not perfect, it was true, he had not had the months, weeks, days and hours of suspense; but it was perfect enough to bring home to him with appalling force the realisation of his position. He was standing as a condemned man might stand in those last, final moments, those moments which he had imagined must be the most terrible that could exist in life; but that dismay of soul, the horror, the terror were not his–there was, instead, a smouldering fury, a passionate amazement that it was his own life that was threatened. It seemed impossible that it could be his voice that was speaking now in such quiet, measured tones.

“Is it worth while, will it convince you now, any more than before, to repeat that there is some mistake here? I am no more able to answer your questions than you are yourselves. I never saw that man in the chair there in my life until the moment that I hailed him in his cab to-night. I do not know who the woman is to whom that ring belongs, much less do I know where she is. And if there was a package of any sort in the taxicab, as you state, I never saw it.”

The lips under the mask curved into a lupine smile.

“Think well, Mr. Dale!” The man’s voice was low, menacing. "Ethically, if you so choose to consider it, your refusal may be the act of a brave man; practically, it is the act of–a fool. Now– your answer!”

“I have answered you,” said Jimmie Dale–and, relaxing the muscles in his arms, let them hang limply for an instant in the grip of the two men behind him. “I have no other answer.”

It was only a sign, a motion of the leader’s hand–but with it, quick as a lightning flash, Jimmie Dale was in action. The limp arms tautened into steel as he wrenched them loose, and, whirling around, he whipped his fist to the chin of one of the two guards.

In an instant, with the blow, as the man staggered backward, the room was in pandemonium. There was a rush from the door, and two, three, four leaping forms hurled themselves upon Jimmie Dale. He shook them off–and they came again. There was no chance ultimately, he knew that; it was only the elemental within him that rose in fierce revolt at the thought of tame submission, that bade him sell his life as dearly as he could. Panting, gasping for breath, dragging them by sheer strength as they clung to him, he got his back to the wall, fighting with the savage fury and abandon of a wild cat.

But it could not last. Where one man went down before him, two remorselessly appeared–the room seemed filled with men–they poured in through the door–he laughed at them in a half-demented way–more and more of them came–there was no play for his arms, no room to fight–they seemed so close around him, so many of them upon him, that he could not breathe–and he was bending, being crushed down as by an intolerable weight. And then his feet were jerked from beneath him, he crashed to the floor, and, in another moment, bound hand and foot, he was tied into a chair beside that other chair whose grim occupant sat in such ghastly apathy of the scene.

The room cleared instantly of all but the original five. His head was drawn suddenly, violently backward, and clamped in that position; and a metal instrument, forced into his mouth, while his lips bled in their resistance, pried jaws apart and held them open.

“One drop!” the leader ordered curtly.

The man with the full glass bent over him, and dipped a glass rod into the liquid. The drop glistened a ruby red on the end of the rod–and fell with a sharp, acrid, burning sensation upon Jimmie Dale’s tongue.

For a moment Jimmie Dale’s animation, mental and physical, seemed swept away from him in, as it were, a hiatus of hideous suspense. What was it to be like this passing? Why did it not act at once, as it had acted on the rabbit they had showed him in the other room? Yes, he remembered! It took more than one drop for a man; and besides, this was diluted. One drop had no effect on a man; it required– Good God, ONE DROP EVEN OF THIS WAS ENOUGH? He strained forward in the chair until the sweat in great beads sprang from his forehead, strained and fought and tore at his bonds in a paroxysm of madness to free himself while there still remained a little strength. There was something filming before his eyes, a numbed feeling was creeping through his limbs, robbing them, sapping them of their vitality and power. He felt himself slipping away into a state of utter weakness, and his brain began to grow confused.

A voice seemed to float in the air near him: “For the last time– will you answer?”

With a supreme effort, Jimmie Dale strove to rally his tottering senses. Did they not understand the stupendous mockery of their questions? Did they not understand that he did not know? He had told them so–perhaps he had better tell them so again.

“I–” He tried to speak, and found the words thick upon his tongue. "I–do not–know.”

The glass itself was thrust abruptly between his lips. Some of the contents spilled and trickled upon his chin, and then a flood of it, burning, fiery, poured down his throat. A flood of it–and it needed but THREE drops and there had been TEN in the glass!

So this was death–a hazy, nebulous thing! There was no pain. It was like–like–nothingness. And out of the nothingness SHE came. Strange that she should come! Alone she had fought these fiends and outwitted them for–how long was it? Three years! She would be more than ever alone now. Pray God she did not finally fall into their clutches!

How it burned now, that fatal draught they had forced down his throat, and how it gripped at him and seemed to eat and bore its way into the very tissues! It was the end, and–no! It was STIMULATING him! Strength seemed to be returning to his limbs; it seemed as though he were being carried, as though the bonds about him were being loosened; and now his brain seemed to be growing clearer.

He roused up with a startled exclamation. He was back in the same room in which he had first returned to consciousness after the accident. He was on the same couch. The same masked figure was at the same desk. Had he been dreaming? Was this then only some horrible, ghastly nightmare through which he had passed?

No, it had been real enough; his clothes, rent and torn, and the blood upon his hands, where the skin had been scraped from his knuckles in the fight, bore evidence to that. He must then have lost consciousness for a while, though it seemed to him that at no moment, hazy, irrational though his brain might have been, had he become entirely oblivious to what was taking place around him. And yet it must have been so!

The eyes from behind the mask were fixed steadily upon him, and below the mask there was the hard, unpleasant set to the lips that Jimmie Dale had grown accustomed to expect.

The man spoke abruptly.

“That you find yourself alive, Mr. Dale,” he said grimly, “is no confession of weakness upon the part of those with whom you have had to deal here. To bear witness to that there is one who is not alive, as you have seen. That man we knew. With you it was somewhat different. Your presence in the taxicab was only suspicious. There was always the possibility that you might be one of those ubiquitous ’innocent bystanders.’ Your name, your position, the improbability that you could have anything in common with–shall we say, the matter that so deeply interests us?–was all in your favour. However, presumption and probability are the tools of fools. We do not depend upon them–we apply the test. And having applied the test, we are convinced that you have told the truth–that is all.”

He rose from his chair brusquely. “I shall not apologise to you for what has happened. I doubt very much if you are in a frame of mind to accept anything of the sort. I imagine, rather, that you are promising yourself that we shall pay, and pay dearly, for this– that, among other things, we shall answer for the murder of that man in the other room. All this will be quite within your province, Mr. Dale–and quite fruitless. To-morrow morning the story that you are preparing to tell now would sound incredible even in your own ears; furthermore, as we shall take pains to see that you leave this place with as little knowledge of its location as you obtained when you arrived, your story, even if believed, would do little service to you and less harm to us. I think of nothing more, Mr. Dale, except–" There was a whimsical smile on the lips now. “Ah, yes, the matter of your clothes. We can, and shall be glad to make reparation to you to the slight extent of offering you a new suit before you go.”

Jimmie Dale scowled. Sick, shaken, and weak as he was, the cool, imperturbable impudence of the man was fast growing unbearable.

The man laughed. “I am sure you will not refuse, Mr. Dale–since we insist. The condition of the clothes you have on at present might– I say ’might’–in a measure support your story with some degree of tangible evidence. It is not at all likely, of course; but we prefer to discount even so remote a possibility. When you have changed, you will be motored back to your home. I bid you good- night, Mr. Dale.”

Jimmie Dale rubbed his eyes. The man was gone–through a door at the rear of the desk, a door that he had not noticed before, that was not even in evidence now, that was simply a movable section of the wall panelling–and for an instant Jimmie Dale experienced a sense of sickening impotence. It was as though he stood defenceless, unarmed, and utterly at the mercy of some venomous power that could crush what it would remorselessly and at will in its might.

The place was a veritable maze, a lair of hellish cleverness. He had no illusions now, he laboured under no false estimate of either the ingenuity or the resources of this inhuman nest of vultures to whom murder was no more than a matter of detail. And it was against these men that henceforth he was to match his wits! There could be no truce, no armistice. It was their lives, or hers, or his! Well, he was alive now, the first round was over, and so far he had won. His brows furrowed suddenly. Had he? He was not so sure, after all. He was conscious of a disquieting, premonitory intuition that, in some way which he could not explain, the honours were not entirely his.

He was apparently–the “apparently” was a mental reservation–quite alone in the room. He got up from the couch and walked shakily across the floor to the desk. A revolver lay invitingly upon the blotting pad. It was his own, the one they had taken from him after the accident. Jimmie Dale picked it up, examined it–and smiled a little sarcastically at himself for his trouble. It was unloaded, of course. He was twirling it in his hand, as a man, masked as every one in the house was masked, and carrying a neatly folded suit over his arm, entered from the corridor.

“The car is ready as soon as you are dressed,” announced the other briefly. He laid the clothes upon the couch–and settled himself significantly in a chair.

Jimmie Dale hesitated. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, recrossed the room, and began to remove his torn garments. What was the use! They would certainly have their own way in the end. It wasn’t worth another fight, and there was nothing to be gained by a refusal except to offer a sop to his own exasperation.

He dressed quickly, in what proved to be an exceedingly well-fitting suit; and finally turned tentatively to the man in the chair.

The other stood up, and produced a heavy black silk scarf.

“If you have no objections,” he said curtly, “I’ll tie this over your eyes.”

Again Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders.

“I am glad enough to get out on any conditions,” he answered caustically.

“’Fortunate’ would be the better word,” rejoined the other meaningly–and, deftly knotting the scarf, led Jimmie Dale blindfolded from the room.

Chapter V: On Guard

Was he in the city? In a suburban town? On a country road? It seemed childishly absurd that he could not at least differentiate to that extent; and yet, from the moment he had been placed in the automobile in which he now found himself, he was forced to admit that he could not tell. He had started out with the belief that, knowing New York and its surroundings as minutely as he knew them, it would be impossible, do what they would to prevent it, that at the end of the journey he should be without a clew, and a very good clew at that, to the location of what he now called, appropriately enough it seemed, the Crime Club.

But he had never ridden blindfolded in a car before! He could see absolutely nothing. And if that increased or accentuated his sense of hearing, it helped little–the roar of the racing car beat upon his eardrums the more heavily, that was all. He could tell, of course, the nature of the roadbed. They were running on an asphalt road, that was obvious enough; but city streets and suburban streets and hundreds of miles of country road around New York were of asphalt!

Traffic? He was quite sure, for he had strained his ears in an effort to detect it, that there was little or no traffic; but then, it must be one or two o’clock in the morning, and at that hour the city streets, certainly those that would be chosen by these men, would be quite as deserted as any country road! And as for a sense of direction, he had none whatever–even if the car had not been persistently swerving and changing its course every little while. If he had been able to form even an approximate idea of the compass direction in which they had started, he might possibly have been able in a general way to counteract this further effort of theirs to confuse him; but without the initial direction he was essentially befogged.

With these conclusions finally thrust home upon him, Jimmie Dale philosophically subordinated the matter in his mind, and, leaning back, composed himself as comfortably as he could upon his seat. There was a man beside him, and he could feel the legs of two men on the seat facing him. These, with the driver, would make four. He was still well guarded! The car itself was a closed car–not hooded, the sense of touch told him–therefore a limousine of some description. These facts, in a sense inconsequential, were absorbed subconsciously; and then Jimmie Dale’s brain, remorselessly active, in spite of the pain from his throbbing head, was at work again.

It seemed as though a year had passed since, in the early evening, as Larry the Bat, he had burrowed so ironically for refuge in Chang Foo’s den–from her! It seemed like some mocking unreality, some visionary dream that, so short a while before, he had read those words of hers that had sent the blood coursing and leaping through his veins in mad exultation at the thought that the culmination of the years had come, that all he longed for, hoped for, that all his soul cried out for was to be his–"in an hour.” An HOUR–and he was to have seen her, the woman whose face he had never seen, the woman whom he loved! And the hour instead, the hours since then, had brought a nightmare of events so incredible as to seem but phantoms of the imagination.

Phantoms! He sat up suddenly with a jerk. The face of the dead chauffeur, the limp form lashed in that chair, the horrible picture in its entirety, every detail standing out in ghastly relief, took form before him. God knew there was no phantom there!

The man beside him, at the sudden start, lifted a hand and felt hurriedly over the bandage across Jimmie Dale’s eyes.

Jimmie Dale was scarcely conscious of the act. With that face before him, with the scene re-enacting itself in his mind again, had come another thought, staggering him for a moment with the new menace that it brought. He had had neither time nor opportunity to think before; it had been all horror, all shock when he had entered that room. But now, like an inspiration, he saw it all from another angle. There was a glaring fallacy in the game these men had played for his benefit to-night–a fallacy which they had counted on glossing over, as it had, indeed, been glossed over, by the sudden shock with which they had forced that scene upon him; or, failing in that, they had counted on the fact that his, or any other man’s nerve would have failed when it came to open defiance based on a supposition which might, after all, be wrong, and, being wrong, meant death.

But it was not supposition. Either he was right now, or these men were childish, immature fools–and, whatever else they might be, they were not that! NOT A SINGLE DROP OF POISON HAD PASSED THE CHAUFFEUR’S LIPS. The man had not been murdered in that room. He had not, in a sense, been murdered at all. The man, absolutely, unquestionably, without a loophole for doubt, had either been killed outright in the automobile accident, or had died immediately afterward, probably without regaining consciousness, certainly without supplying any of the information that was so determinedly sought.

Yes, he saw it now! Their backs were against the wall, they were at their wits’ end, these men! The knowledge that the chauffeur possessed, that they KNEW he possessed, was evidently life and death to them. To kill the man before they had wormed out of him what they wanted to know, or, at least, until, by holding him a prisoner, they had exhausted every means at their command to make him speak, was the last thing they would do!

Jimmie Dale sat for a long time quite motionless. The car was speeding at a terrific rate along a straight stretch of road. He could almost have sworn, guided by some intuitive sense, that they were in the country. Well, even if it were so, what did that prove! They might have started FROM New York itself–only to return to it when they had satisfied themselves that he was sufficiently duped. Or they might have started legitimately from outside New York, and be going toward the city now. Since the ultimate destination was New York, and they had made no attempt to hide that from him, it was useless to speculate–for at best it could be only speculation. He had decided that once before! The man at his side felt again over the scarf to see that it was in place.

Curiously now Jimmie Dale recalled the inward monitor that had warned him the honours had not all been his in this first round with the Crime Club to-night. If they had deliberately murdered the chauffeur because of a refusal to answer, they would equally have done the same to him. Fool that he had been not to have seen that before! And yet would it have made any difference? He shook his head. He could not have acted to any better advantage than he had done. He could not–his lips curled in grim derision–have been any more convincing.

Convincing! It was all clear enough now! If the chauffeur had suffered death rather than talk, even admitting the fact that they had more grounds for suspecting the chauffeur’s complicity, would his, Jimmie Dale’s, mere denial, his choice, too, of death, have been any the more convincing, or have saved his life where it had not saved the other’s? A certain added respect for these men, against whom, until the end now, his victory or theirs, he realised he was fighting for his life, came over him as he recognised the touch of a master hand. They did not know where to find the Tocsin; the package that she had said was vital to them was still beyond their reach; the chauffeur was dead; and he, Jimmie Dale, alone remained–a clew that they had still to prove valid or invalid it was true, but the only clew in their possession. And, gaining nothing from him by a show of force, to throw him off his guard, they had let him go–meaning him to believe they were convinced he knew nothing, and that the episode, the adventure of the night, was, as far as they were concerned, ended, finished, and done with!

Time passed, a very long time, as he sat there. It might have been an hour–he could only hazard a guess. Not one of the men in the car had spoken a word. But to Jimmie Dale, the car itself, the ride, its duration, these three strange companions, were for the time being extraneous. Even that sick giddiness in his head had, at least temporarily, gone from him.

And so, all unsuspectingly, he was to lead them to the Tocsin and fall into the trap himself! His hands, thrust deep in his pockets, were tightly clenched. They were clever enough, ingenious enough, powerful enough to watch him henceforth at every turn–and from now on, day and night, they were to be reckoned with. Suppose that in some way, as it might well have happened, for it was now vitally necessary that she should communicate with him and he with her, he had played blindly into their hands, and through him she should have fallen into their power! It brought a sickening chill, a sort of hideous panic to Jimmie Dale–and then fury, anger, in a torrent, surged upon him, and there came a merciless desire to crush, to strangle, to stamp out this inhuman band of criminals that, with intolerable effrontery to the laws of God and man, were so elaborately and scientifically equipped for their monstrous purposes!

And then Jimmie Dale, in the darkness, smiled again grimly as the leader’s reference to the Gray Seal recurred to him. Well, perhaps, who knew, they would have reason more than they dreamed of to wish the Gray Seal enrolled in their own ranks! It was strange, curious! He had thought all that was ended. Only a few short hours before he had hidden away all, everything that was incident to the life of the Gray Seal, the clothes of Larry the Bat, that little metal case with the gray-coloured, adhesive seals, a dozen other things, believing that it only remained for him to return and destroy them at his leisure as a finishing touch to the Gray Seal’s career–and now, instead, he was face to face with the gravest and most dangerous problem that she had ever called upon him to undertake!

Well, at least, the odds were not all in the Crime Club’s favour. Where they now certainly believed him to be entirely off his guard, he was thoroughly on his guard; and where they might suspect him, watch him, they would suspect and watch only the character, the person of Jimmie Dale, and count not at all upon either Larry the Bat or–the Gray Seal.

A sort of savage elation fell upon Jimmie Dale. His brain, that had been stagnant, confused, physically sick with pain and suffering, was working now with its old-time vigour and ease, mapping, planning, scheming the way ahead. To strike, and strike quickly–to strike FIRST! It must be his move next–not theirs! And he must act to-night at once, the moment he was given this pretence to liberty that they had in store for him, before they had an opportunity of closing down around him with a network of spies that he could not elude. By morning, Jimmie Dale would be Larry the Bat, and inhabiting the Sanctuary again. And a tip to Jason, his old butler, to the effect, say, that he had gone away for a trip, would account for his disappearance satisfactorily enough; it would not necessarily arouse their suspicions when they eventually discovered he was gone, for against that was always the possible, and quite likely presumption that, where they had succeeded in nothing else, they had at least succeeded in frightening him thoroughly and to the extent of imbuing him with a hasty desire to put a safe distance between himself and them.

And now, with his mind made up to his course of action, an intense impatience to put his plan into effect, an irritation at the useless twistings and turnings of the car that had latterly become more frequent, took hold upon him. How much longer was this to last! They must have been fully an hour and a half on the road already, and–ah, the car was stopping now!

He straightened up in his seat as the machine came to a halt–but the man at his side laid a restraining hand upon him. The car door opened, and one of the men got out. Jimmie Dale caught an indistinct murmur of voices from without, then the man returned to his seat, and the car went on again.

Another half hour passed, that, curbing his irritation and impatience, was filled with the conjectures and questions that anew came crowding in upon his mind. Why had the car made that stop? It was rather curious. It was certainly a prearranged meeting place. Why? And these clothes that he now wore–why had they made him change? His own had not been very badly torn. The reason given him was, on the face of it now, in view of what he now knew, mere pretence. What was the ulterior motive behind that pretence? What did this package, that had already cost a man his life to-night, contain? Who was the chauffeur? What was this death feud between the Tocsin and these men? Did she know where the Crime Club was? Who and where was John Johansson? What was this box that was numbered 428? Could she supply the links that would forge the chain into an unbroken whole?

And then for the second time the car slowed down–and this time the man on the seat beside Jimmie Dale reached up and untied the scarf.

“You get out here,” said the man tersely.

Chapter VI: The Trap

Had it not been for the stop the car had previously made, for the possibility that he might have obtained a glimpse outside when the door had been opened, the scarf over his eyes would have been superfluous; for now, with it removed, he could scarcely distinguish the forms of the three men around him, since the window curtains of the car were tightly drawn. Nor was he given the opportunity to do more, even had it been possible. The car stopped, the door was opened, he was pushed toward it–and even as he reached the ground, the door was closed behind him, and the car was speeding on again. But where he could not see before, it took now but a glance to obtain his bearings–he was standing on a corner on Riverside Drive, within a few doors of his own house.

Jimmie Dale stood still for a moment, watching the car as it disappeared rapidly up the Drive. And with a sort of grim facetiousness his brain began to correlate time and distance. Where had he come from? Where was this Crime Club? They had been, as nearly as he could estimate, two hours in making the journey; and, as nearly as he could estimate, in their turnings and twistings had covered at least twice the distance that would be represented by a direct route. Granting, then, an average speed of forty miles an hour, which was overgenerous to be on the safe side, and the fact that they certainly had not crossed the Hudson, which now lay before him, flanking the Drive, the Crime Club was somewhere within the area of a semicircle, whose centre was the corner on which he now stood, and whose radius was forty miles–OR FORTY YARDS! He forced a laugh. It was just that, no more, no less–he was as likely to have started on his ride from within a biscuit throw of where he now stood, as to have started on it from miles away!

But–he aroused himself with a start–he was wasting time! It must be very late, near morning, and he would have need for every moment that was left between now and daylight. He turned, walked quickly to his house, mounted the steps, and with his latch-key–they had at least permitted him to retain the contents of his pockets when they had forced him to change his clothes–opened the front door softly, and, stepping inside, closed the door as silently as he had opened it.

He paused for an instant to listen. There was not a sound. The servants, naturally, would have been in bed hours ago. Even old Jason–Jimmie Dale smiled, half whimsically, half affectionately– whose paternal custom it was to sit up for his Master Jim, who, as he was fond of saying, he had dandled as a baby on his knee, had evidently given it up as a bad job on this occasion and had turned in himself. Jason, however, had left the light burning here in the big reception hall.

Jimmie Dale stepped to the switch and turned off the light; then stood hesitant in the darkness. Was there anything to be gained by rousing Jason now and telling him what he intended to do–to instruct him to answer any inquiries by the statement that “Mr. Dale had gone away for a trip”? He could trust Jason; Jason already knew much–more than one of those mysterious letters of the Tocsin’s had passed through Jason’s hands.

Jimmie Dale shook his head. No; he could communicate with Jason from downtown in the morning. He had half expected to find Jason up, and, in that case, would have taken the other, as far as necessary, into his confidence; but it was not a matter that pressed for the moment. He could get into touch with Jason at any time readily enough. Was there anything else before he went? He would not be able to get back as easily as he got out! Money! He shook his head again–a little grimly this time. He had been caught once before as Larry the Bat without funds! There was plenty of money now hidden in the Sanctuary, enough for any emergency, enough to last him indefinitely.

He stepped forward along the hall, his tread noiseless on the rich, heavy rug, passed into the rear of the house, descended the back stairs, and reached the cellar. It was below the level of the ground, of course; but a narrow window here, though quite large enough to permit of egress, gave on the driveway at the side of the house that led to the garage in the rear.

Cautiously now, for the cement flooring was, in the stillness, little less than a sounding board, Jimmie Dale reached the wall and felt along it to the window, the lower edge of whose sill was just slightly below the level of his shoulder. It opened inward, if he remembered correctly. His fingers were feeling for the fastenings. It was too dark to see a thing. He muttered in annoyance. Where were the fastenings! At the sides, or at the bottom? His hand began to make a circuit of the sill–and then suddenly, with a low, sharp cry, he leaned forward!

WHAT DID THIS MEAN? Wires! No wires had ever been there before! His fingers were working now with feverish haste, telegraphing their message to his brain. The wires ran through the sill close to the corner of the wall–tiny fragments of wood, as from an auger, were still on the sill–and here was a small particle of wire insulation that, those sensitive finger tips proclaimed, was FRESH.

A cold thrill ran through Jimmie Dale; and there came again that sickening sense of impotency in the face of the malignant, devilish cunning arrayed against him, that once before he had experienced, that night. He had thought to forestall them–and he had been forestalled himself! This could only have been done–they had had no interest in him before then–while they held him at the Crime Club, while he was spending that two hours in the car! Was that why they had taken so long in coming? Was that why the car had stopped that time–that those with him might be told that the work here had been completed, and he need no longer be kept away?

He edged away from the window, and, as cautiously as he had come, retraced his steps across the cellar and up the stairs–and then, the possibility of being heard from without gone, he broke into a run. There was no need to wonder long what those wires meant. They could mean only one of two things–and the Crime Club would have little concern in his electric light! THEY HAD TAPPED HIS TELEPHONE. The mains, he knew, ran into the cellar from the underground service in the street. He was racing like a madman now. How long ago, how many hours ago, had they done that! Great Scott, SHE was to have telephoned! Had she done so? Was the game, all, everything, she herself, at their mercy already? If she had telephoned, Jason would have left a message on his desk–he would look there first–afterward he would waken Jason.

He gained the door of his den on the first landing, a room that ran the entire length of one side of the house from front to rear, burst in, switched on the light–-and stood stock-still in amazement.

“Jason!” he cried out.

The old butler, fully dressed, rubbing and blinking his eyes at the light, and with a startled cry, rose up from the depths of a lounging chair.

“Jason!” exclaimed Jimmie Dale again.

“I beg pardon, sir, Master Jim,” stammered the man. “I–I must have fallen asleep, sir.”

“Jason, what are you doing here?” Jimmie Dale demanded sharply.

“Well, sir,” said Jason, still fumbling for his words, “it–it was the telephone, sir.”


“Yes, sir. A woman, begging your pardon, Master Jim, a lady, sir, has been telephoning every hour or so, and she–”

“YES!” Jimmie Dale had jumped across the room and had caught the other fiercely by the shoulder. “Yes–yes! What did she say? QUICK, man!”

“Good Lord, Master Jim!” faltered Jason. “I–she–”

“Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, suddenly as cold as ice, “what did she say? Think, man! Every word!”

“She didn’t say anything, Master Jim. Nothing at all, sir–except to keep asking each time if she could speak to you.”

“Nothing else, Jason?”

“No, sir.”

“You are SURE?”

“I’m sure, Master Jim. Not another thing but that, sir, just as I’ve told you.”

“Thank God!” said Jimmie Dale, in a low voice.

“Yes, sir,” said Jason mechanically.

“How long ago was it since she telephoned last?” asked Jimmie Dale quickly.

“Well, sir, I couldn’t rightly say. You see, as I said, Master Jim, I must have gone to sleep, but–”

They were staring tensely into each other’s face. The telephone on the desk was ringing vibrantly, clamourously, through the stillness of the room.

Jason, white, frightened, bewildered, touched his lips with the tip of his tongue.

“That’ll be her again, sir,” he said hoarsely.

“Wait!” said Jimmie Dale tersely.

He was trying to think, to think faster than he had ever thought before. He could not tell Jason to say that he had not yet come in– THEY knew he was in, it would be but showing his hand to that “some one” who would be listening now on the wire. He dared not speak to her, or, above all, allow her to expose herself by a single inadvertent word. He dared not speak to her–and she was here now, calling him! He could not speak to her–and it was life and death almost that she should know what had happened; life and death almost for both of them that he should know all and everything she could tell him. True, it would take but a minute to run to the cellar and cut those wires, while Jason held her on the pretence of calling him, Jimmie Dale, to the ’phone; only a minute to cut those wires– and in so doing advertise to these fiends the fact that he had discovered their trick; admit, as though in so many words, that their suspicions of him were justified; lay himself open to some new move that he could not hope to foresee; and, paramount to all else, rob her and himself of this master trump the Crime Club had placed in his hands, by means of which there was a chance that he could hoist them with their own petard!

The telephone rang again–imperatively, persistently.

“Listen, Jason.” Jimmie Dale was speaking rapidly, earnestly. “Say that I’ve come in and have gone to bed–in a vile humour. That you told me a lady had been calling, but that I said if she called again I wasn’t to be disturbed if it was the Queen of Sheba herself–that I wouldn’t answer any ’phone to-night for anybody. Do you understand? No argument with her–just that. Now, answer!”

Jason lifted the receiver from the hook.

“Yes–hello!” he said. “Yes, ma’am, Mr. Dale has come in, but he has retired. . . . Yes, I told him; but, begging your pardon, ma’am, he was in what I might say was a bit of a temper, and said he wasn’t to be disturbed by any one.”

Jimmie Dale snatched the receiver from Jason, and put it to his own ear.

“Kindly tell Mr. Dale that unless he comes to the ’phone now,” a feminine voice, her voice, in well-simulated indignation, was saying, “it will be a very long day before I shall trouble myself to–”

Jimmie Dale clapped his hand firmly over the mouthpiece of the instrument. Thank God for that clever brain of hers! She understood!

“Repeat what you said before, Jason,” he instructed hurriedly. "Then say ’Good-night.’”

He removed his hand from the mouthpiece.

“It’s quite useless, ma’am,” said Jason apologetically. “In the rare temper he was in, he wouldn’t come, to use his own words, ma’am, not for the Queen of Sheba herself, ma’am. Good-night, ma’am.”

Jimmie Dale hung the receiver back on the hook–and with his hand flirted away a bead of moisture that had sprung to his forehead.

“Good Lord, Master Jim, what’s wrong, sir? What’s happened, sir? And–and those clothes, Master Jim, sir! They aren’t the ones you went out in, sir–they aren’t yours at all, sir!” Jason ventured anxiously.

“Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, “switch off the light, and go to the front window and look out. Keep well behind the curtains. Don’t show yourself. Tell me if you see anything.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jason obediently.

The light went out. Jimmie Dale moved to the rear of the room–to the window overlooking the garage and yard.

“I don’t see anything, sir,” Jason called.

“Watch!” Jimmie Dale answered.

A minute passed–two–three. Jimmie Dale was staring down into the black of the yard. She understood! She knew, of course, before she ’phoned that something had gone wrong to-night. She knew that only peril of the gravest moment would have kept him from the ’phone–and her. She knew now, as a logical conclusion, that it was dangerous to attempt to communicate with him at his home. Those wires! Where did they lead to? Not far away–that would be almost a mechanical impossibility. Was it into the Crime Club itself–near at hand? Or the basement, say, of that apartment house across the driveway? Or–where?

And then Jimmie Dale spoke again:

“Do you see anything, Jason?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” Jason answered hesitantly. “I thought I saw a man move behind a tree out there across the road a minute ago, sir. Yes, sir–there he is again!”

There was a thin, mirthless smile on Jimmie Dale’s lips.

Below, in the shadow of the garage, a dark form, like a deeper shadow, stirred–and was still again.

“What time is it, Jason?” Jimmie Dale asked presently.

“It’ll be about half-past four, sir.”

“Go to bed, Jason.”

“Yes, sir; but"–Jason’s voice, low, troubled, came through the darkness from the upper end of the room–"Master Jim, sir, I–”

“Go to bed, Jason–and not a word of this.”

“Yes, sir. Good-night, Master Jim.”

“Good-night, Jason.”

Jimmie Dale groped his way to the big lounging chair in which he had found Jason asleep, and flung himself into it. They had struck quickly, these ingenious, dress-suited murderers of the Crime Club! The house was already watched, would be watched now untiringly, unceasingly; not a movement of his henceforth but would be under their eyes!

His hands, resting on the arms of the chair, closed slowly until they became tight-clenched, knotted fists. What was he to do? It was not only the Crime Club, it was not only the Tocsin and her peril–there was the underworld snapping and snarling at his heels, there was the police, dogged and sullen, ever on the trail of the Gray Seal! His life, even before this, in his fight against the underworld and the police, had depended upon his freedom of action– and now, at one and the same time, that freedom was cut away from beneath his feet, as it were, and a third foe, equally as deadly as the others, was added to the list!

For months, to preserve and sustain the character of Larry the Bat, he had been forced to assume the role almost daily; for, in that sordid empire below the dead line, whose one common bond and aim was the Gray Seal’s death, where suspicion, one of the other, was rampant and extravagant, where each might be the one against whom all swore their vengeance, Larry the Bat could not mysteriously disappear from his accustomed haunts without inviting suspicion in an active and practical form–an inquisitorial visit to his squalid lodgings, the Sanctuary–and the end of Larry the Bat!

If, as he had thought only a few hours before, he was through forever with his dual life, that would not have mattered, the underworld would have been welcome to make what it chose of it–but now the preservation of the character of Larry the Bat was more vital and necessary to him than it had ever been before. It was a means of defense and offense against these men who lurked now outside his doors. It was the sole means now of communication with her; for, warned both by Jason’s words, and what must be an obvious fact to her, that their plans had miscarried, that it was dangerous to communicate with him as Jimmie Dale, she would expect him, count on him to make that move. There would be no longer either reason or attempt on her part to maintain the mystery with which she had heretofore surrounded herself, the crisis had come, she would be watching, waiting, hoping, seeking for him more anxiously and with far more at stake than he had ever sought for her–until now!

He got up impulsively from his chair, and, in the blackness, began to pace the room. The next move was clear, pitifully clear; it had been clear from the first, it had been clear even in that ride in the car–it was so clear that it seemed veritably to mock him as he prodded his brains for some means of putting it into execution. He must get to the Sanctuary, become Larry the Bat–but how? HOW! The question seemed at last to become resonant, to ring through the room with the weight of doom upon it.

Schemes, plans, ideas came, bringing a momentary uplift–only to be discarded the next instant with a sort of bitter, desperate regret. These men were not men of mere ordinary intelligence; their cleverness, their power, the amazing scope of their organisation, all bore grim witness to the fact that they would be blinded not at all by any paltry ruse.

He could walk out of the house in the morning as Jimmie Dale without apparent hindrance–that was obvious enough. And so long as he pursued the usual avocations of Jimmie Dale, he would not be interfered with–only WATCHED. It was useless to consider that plan for a moment. It would not help him to reach the Sanctuary–without leading them there behind him! True, there was always the chance that he might shake them off his trail, but he could hardly hope to accomplish anything like that without their knowing that it was done DELIBERATELY–and that he dared not risk. The strongest weapon in his hands now was his secret knowledge that he was being watched.

That telephone there, for instance, that most curiously kept on insisting in his mind that it, and it alone was the way out, was the last thing he could place in jeopardy. Besides, there was another reason why such a plan would not do; for, granting even that he succeeded in eluding them on the way, and managed to reach the Sanctuary, his freedom of action would be so restricted and limited as to be practically worthless–he would have to return to his home here again within a reasonable time as Jimmie Dale, within a few hours at most–or again they would be in possession of the fact that he had discovered their surveillance.

That, it was true, had been his original plan when he had entered the house half an hour previously, but it was an entirely different matter now. Then, he had counted on GETTING AWAY without their knowing it, before they, as he had fondly thought, would have had a chance to establish their espionage, and when they would have had no reason to suspect, for a time at least, that he was not still within the house, when they would have been watching, as it were, an empty cage.

He stopped in his walk, and, after a moment, dropped down into the lounging chair again. That was it, of course. An empty cage! If he could escape from the house! Not so much without their seeing him; that was more or less a mechanical detail. But escape–and leave them in possession of a sort of guarantee or assurance that he was still there! That would give him the freedom of action that he must have. He smiled with bitter irony. That solved the problem! That was all there was to it–just that! It was very simple, exceedingly simple; it was only–impossible!

The smile left his lips, and once more his hands, clenched fiercely. No; it was not impossible! It MUST be done–if he was to win through, if he was even to save himself! It must be done–or FAIL her! It COULD be done; there was a way–if he could only see it!

Chapter VII: The “Hour”

As the minutes passed, many of them, Jimmie Dale sat there motionless, staring before him at the desk that was faintly outlined in the unlighted room. Then somewhere in the house a clock struck the hour. Five o’clock! He raised his head. YES! It could be done! There was a way! He had the germ of it now. And now the plan began to grow, to take form and shape in his mind, to dovetail, to knit the integral parts into a comprehensive whole. There was a way–but he must have assistance. Jason–yes, assuredly. Benson, his chauffeur–yes, equally as trustworthy as Jason. Benson was devoted to him; and moreover Benson was young, alert, daring, cool. He had had more than one occasion to test Benson’s resourcefulness and nerve!

Jimmie Dale rose abruptly, went to the rear window, and, parting the curtains cautiously, stood peering down into the courtyard. Yes, it was feasible; even a little more than feasible. The garage fronted the driveway, of course, to give free entrance and egress to the cars, but where the wall of the garage and the rear wall of the house overlapped, as it were, the space between them was not much more than ten yards; and here the shadows of the two walls, mingling, lay like a black, impenetrable pathway–not like that other shadow he had seen moving at the side of the garage, and that, if not for the moment discernible, was none the less surely still lurking there!

Satisfied, Jimmie Dale swung briskly from the window, and, going now to his bedroom across the hall, undressed and went to bed–but not to sleep. There would be time enough to sleep, all day, if he wished; now, there were still the little details to be thought out that, more than anything else, could make or wreck his plans. A point overdone, the faintest suggestion of a false note where men of the calibre of those against whom he was now fighting for his life were concerned, would not only make his scheme abortive, but would place him utterly at their mercy.

It was nine o’clock when he rang for Jason.

“Jason,” he said abruptly, as the other entered, “I want you to telephone for Doctor Merlin.”

“The doctor, sir!” exclaimed the old man anxiously. “You’re–you’re not ill, Master Jim, sir?”

“Do I look ill, Jason?” inquired Jimmie Dale gravely.

“Well, sir,” admitted Jason, in concern; “a bit done up, sir, perhaps. A little pale, sir; though I’m sure–”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Jimmie Dale, sitting up in bed. “The worse I look, the better!”

“I–I beg pardon, sir?” stammered Jason.

“Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, gravely again, “you have had reason to know that on several occasions my life has been threatened. It is threatened now. You know from last night that this house is now watched. You may, or you may not have surmised–that our telephone wires have been tapped.”

“Tapped, sir!"–Jason’s face had gone a little gray.

“Yes; a party line, so to speak,” said Jimmie Dale grimly. “Do you understand? You must be careful to say no more, no less than exactly what I tell you to say. Now go and telephone! Ask the doctor to come over and see me this morning. Simply say that I am not feeling well; but that, apart from being apparently in a very nervous condition, you do not know what is the matter.”

“Yes, sir–good Lord, sir!” gasped Jason–and left the room to carry out his orders.

An hour later, Doctor Merlin had been and gone–and had left two prescriptions; one written, the other verbal. With the written one, Benson, in his chauffeur’s livery, was dispatched to the drug store; the verbal one was precisely what Jimmie Dale had expected from the fussy old family physician: “Two or three days of quiet in the house James; and if you need me again, let me know.”

“Now, Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, when the old man had returned from ushering Doctor Merlin from the house, “our friends out there will be anxious to learn the verdict. I was to dine with the Ross- Hendersons to-morrow night, was I not?”

“Yes, sir; I think so, sir.”

“Make sure!” said Jimmie Dale. “Look in my engagement book there on the table.”

Jason looked.

“Yes, sir, that’s right,” he announced.

“Very good,” said Jimmie Dale softly. “Now go and telephone again, Jason. Present my regrets and excuses to the Ross-Hendersons, and say that under the doctor’s orders I am confined to the house for the next few days–and, Jason!”

“Yes, sir?”

“When Benson returns with the medicine let him bring it here himself–and I shall want you as well.”

Jimmie Dale propped himself up a little wearily on the pillows, as Jason went out of the room. After all, his condition was not entirely feigned. He was, as a matter of fact, pretty well played out, both mentally and physically. Certainly, that he should require a doctor and be confined to the house could not arouse suspicion even in the minds of those alert, aristocratic thugs of the Crime Club, prone as they would be to suspect anything–a man who had been knocked unconscious in an automobile smash the night before, had been in a fight, had been subjected to a terrific mental shock, to say nothing of the infernal drug that had been administered to him, might well be expected to be indisposed the next morning, and for several mornings following that! It might, indeed, even cause them to relax their vigilance for the time being– though he dared build nothing on that. Well, he had only to coach Benson and Jason in the parts they were to play, and the balance of the morning and all the afternoon was his in which to rest.

He reached over to the table, picked up a pencil and paper, and began to jot down memoranda. He had just tossed the pencil back on the table as the two men entered.

Jason, at a sign, closed the door quietly.

Jimmie Dale looked at Benson half musingly, half whimsically, for a moment before he spoke.

“Benson,” he said, “the back seat of the large touring car is hinged and lifts up, once the cushion is removed, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” Benson answered promptly.

“And there’s space enough for, say, a man inside, isn’t there?”

“Why, yes, sir; I suppose so–at a squeeze"–Benson stared blankly.

“Quite so!” said Jimmie Dale calmly. “Now, another matter, Benson: I believe some chauffeurs have a habit, when occasion lends itself, of taking, shall we say, their ’best girl’ out riding in their masters’ machines?”

“SOME might,” Benson replied, a little stiffly. “I hope you don’t think, sir, that–”

“One moment, Benson. The point is, it’s done–quite generally?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you have a ’best girl,’ or at least could find one for such a purpose, if you were so inclined?”

“Yes, sir,” said Benson; “but–”

“Very good!” Jimmie Dale interrupted. “Then to-night, Benson, taking advantage of my illness, and to-morrow night, and the nights after that until further notice, you will acquire and put into practice that reprehensible habit.”

“I–I don’t understand, Mr. Dale.”

“No; I dare say not,” said Jimmie Dale–and then the whimsicality dropped from him. “Benson,” he said slowly, “do you remember a night, nearly four years ago, the first night you ever saw me? You had, indiscreetly, I think, displayed more money than was wise in that East Side neighbourhood.”

“I remember,” said Benson, with a sudden start; then simply: “I wouldn’t be here now, sir, if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Well,” said Jimmie Dale quietly, “the tables are turned to-day, Benson. As Jason already knows, this house is watched. For reasons that I cannot explain, I am in great danger. Bluntly, I am putting my life in your hands–and Jason’s.”

Benson looked for an instant from Jimmie Dale to Jason, caught the strained, troubled expression on the old man’s face, then back again at Jimmie Dale.

“D’ye mean that, sir!” he cried. “Then you can count on me, Mr. Dale, to the last ditch!”

“I know that, Benson,” Jimmie Dale said softly. “And now, both of you, listen! It is imperative that I should get away from the house; and equally imperative that those watching should believe that I am still here. Not even the servants are to be permitted a suspicion that I am not here in my bed, ill. That, Jason, is your task. You will allow no one to wait on me but yourself; you will bring the meal trays up regularly–and eat the food yourself. You will answer all inquiries, telephone and otherwise, in person–I am not seeing any one. You understand perfectly, Jason?”

“I understand, Master Jim. You need have no fear, sir, on that score.”

“Now, you, Benson,” Jimmie Dale went on. “A few minutes ago I sent you out in your chauffeur’s togs with that prescription. You were undoubtedly observed. I wanted you to be. It was quite necessary that they should know and be able to recognise you again–to disabuse their minds later on of the possibility that I might be masquerading in your clothes; and also, of course, that they should know who you were, and what your position was in the household. Very well! To-night, at eight o’clock exactly, you are to go out from the back door of the house to the garage. On the way out–it will be quite dark then–I want you to drop something, say, a bunch of keys that you had been jingling in your hand. You are to experience some difficulty in finding it again, move about a little to force any one that may be lurking by the garage to retreat around the corner. Grumble a bit and make a little noise; but you are not to overdo it–a couple of minutes at the outside is enough, by that time I shall be under the car seat. You will then run the machine out to the street and stop at the curb, jump out, and, as though you had forgotten something, hurry back to the garage. You must not be away long–enough only to permit, say, a passer-by to glance into the car and satisfy himself that it is empty. You understand, of course, Benson, that the hood must be down–no closed car to invite even the suggestion of concealment–that would be a fatal blunder. Drive then to the young lady’s home by as direct a route as you can– give no appearance of being aware that you are followed, as you will be, and much less the appearance of attempting to elude pursuit. Act naturally. Between here and your destination I will manage readily enough to leave the car. You will then take the young lady for her drive–that is what they will be interested in– your motive for going out to-night. And, as I said, take her driving again on each succeeding night–establish the HABIT to their satisfaction.”

Jimmie Dale paused, glanced at the paper which he still held in his hand, then handed it to Benson.

“Just one thing more, Benson,” he said: “Listed on that paper you will find a different rendezvous for each night for the next five nights, excluding to-night, which, after you have returned the young lady to her home, you are to pass by on your way back here. See that your drive is always over in time for you to pass each night’s rendezvous at half past eleven sharp. Don’t stop unless I signal you. If I am not there, go right on home, and be at the next place on the following night. I am fairly well satisfied they will not bother about you after to-night, or to-morrow night at the most; but, for all that, you must take no chances, so, except in the route you take in going to the young lady’s, always avoid covering the same ground twice, which might give the appearance of having some ulterior purpose in view–even in your drives, vary your runs. Is this clear, Benson?”

“Yes, sir,” said Benson earnestly.

“Very well, then,” said Jimmie Dale. “Eight o’clock to the dot, Benson–compare your time with Jason’s. And now, Jason, see that I get a chance to sleep until dinner time to-night.”

The hours that followed were hours of sound and much-needed sleep for Jimmie Dale, and from which he awoke only on Jason’s entrance that evening with the dinner tray.

“I’ve slept like a log, Jason!” he cried briskly, as he leaped out of bed. “Anything new–anything happened?”

“No, sir; not a thing,” Jason answered. “Only, Master Jim, sir"– the old man twisted his hands nervously–"I–you’ll excuse my saying so, sir–I do hope you’ll be careful to-night, sir. I can’t help being afraid that something’ll happen to you, Master Jim.”

“Nonsense, Jason!” Jimmie Dale laughed cheerfully. “There’s nothing going to happen–to me! You go ahead now and stay with the servants, and get them out of the road at the proper time.”

He bathed, dressed, ate his dinner, and was slipping cartridges into the magazine of his automatic when, within a minute or two of eight o’clock, Jason’s whisper came from the doorway.

“It’s all clear now, Master Jim, sir.”

“Right!” Jimmie Dale responded–and followed Jason down the stairway, and to the head of the cellar stairs.

Here Jason halted.

“God keep you, Master Jim!” said the old man huskily. “Good-night, Jason,” Jimmie Dale answered softly; and, with a reassuring squeeze on the other’s arm, went on down to the cellar.

Here he moved quickly, noiselessly across to the window–not the window of the night before, but another of the same description, almost directly beneath the one in his den above, that faced the garage and lay in the line of that black shadow path between the two buildings. Deftly, cautiously without sound, a half inch, an inch at a time he opened it. He stood listening, then. A minute passed. Then he heard Benson open and shut the back door; then Benson in the yard; and then Benson’s voice in a muttered and irritable growl, talking to himself, as he stamped around on the ground.

With a lithe, agile movement, Jimmie Dale pulled himself up and through the window–and began to creep rapidly on hands and knees toward the garage. It was dark, intensely dark. He could barely distinguish Benson’s form, though, as he passed the other, the slight sounds he made drowned out by the chauffeur’s angry mumblings, he could have reached out and touched Benson easily.

He gained the interior of the garage, and, as Benson, came on again, stepped lightly into the car, lifted the seat, and wriggled his way inside.

It was close, stuffy, abominably cramped, but Jimmie Dale was smiling grimly now. Thanks to Benson, there wasn’t a possibility that he had been seen. He both felt and heard Benson start the car. Then the car moved forward, ran the length of the driveway, bumped slightly as it made the street–and stopped. He heard Benson jump out and run back–and then he listened intently, and the grim smile flickered on his lips again. Came the sound of a footstep on the sidewalk close beside the car–then silence–the car shook a little as though some one’s weight was on the step–then the footsteps receded–Benson returned on the run–and the car started forward once more.

Perhaps ten minutes passed. Three times the car had swerved sharply, making a corner turn. Then Jimmie Dale pushed up the seat, and, protected from observation from behind by the back of the car itself, crawled out and crouched down on the floor of the tonneau.

“Don’t look around, Benson,” he said calmly. “Are we followed?”

“Yes, sir.” Benson answered. “At least, there’s always been a car behind us, though not the same one. They’re pretty clever. There must be three or four, each following the other. Every time I turn a corner it’s a different car that turns it behind me.”

“How far behind?” Jimmie Dale asked.

“Half a block.”

“Slow down a little,” instructed Jimmie Dale; “and don’t turn another corner until they’ve had a chance to accomodate themselves to your new speed. You are going too fast for me to jump, and I don’t want them to notice any change in speed, except what is made in plain sight. Yes; that’s better. Where are we, Benson?”

“That’s Amsterdam Avenue ahead,” replied Benson.

“All right,” said Jimmie Dale quietly. “Turn into it. The more people the better. Tell me just as you are about to turn.”

“Yes, sir,” said Benson; then, almost on the instant, “All ready, sir!”

Jimmie Dale’s hand reached out for the door catch, edged the door ajar, the car swerved, took the corner–and Jimmie Dale stepped out on the running board, hung there negligently for a moment as though chatting with Benson, and then with an airy “good-night” dropped nonchalantly to the ground, and the next instant had mingled with the throng of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

A half minute later, a large gray automobile turned the corner and followed Benson–and Jimmie Dale, stepping out into the street again, swung on a downtown car. The road to the Sanctuary was open!

In his impatience, now, the street car seemed to drag along every foot of the way; but a glance at his watch, as he finally reached the Bowery, and, walking then, rapidly approached the cross street a few steps ahead that led to the Sanctuary, told him that it was still but a quarter to nine. But even at that he quickened his steps a little. He was free now! There was a sort of savage, elemental uplift upon him. He was free! He could strike now in his own defense–and hers! In a few moments he would be at the Sanctuary; in a few more he would be Larry the Bat, and by to-morrow at the latest he would see–The Tocsin. After all, that “hour” was not to be taken from him! It was not, perhaps, the hour that she had meant it should be, thought and prayed, perhaps, that it might be! It was not the hour of victory. But it was the hour that meant to him the realisation of the years of longing, the hour when he should see her, see her for the first time face to face, when there should be no more barriers between them, when–”

“Fer Gawd’s sake, mister, buy a pencil!”

A hand was plucking at his sleeve, the thin voice was whining in his ear. He halted mechanically. A woman, old, bedraggled, ragged, was thrusting a bunch of cheap pencils imploringly toward him–and then, with a stifled cry, Jimmie Dale leaned forward. The eyes that lifted to his for an instant were bright and clear with the vigor of youth, great eyes of brown they were, and trouble, hope, fear, wistfulness, ay, and a glorious shyness were in their depths. And then the voice he knew so well, the Tocsin’s was whispering hurriedly:

“I will be waiting here, Jimmie–for Larry the Bat.”

Chapter VIII: The Tocsin

It was only a little way back along the street from the Sanctuary to the corner on the Bowery where as Jimmie Dale he had left her, where as Larry the Bat now he was going to meet her again; it would take only a moment or so, even at Larry the Bat’s habitual, characteristic, slouching, gait–but it seemed that was all too slow, that he must throw discretion to the winds and run the distance. His blood was tingling; there was elation upon him, coupled with an almost childlike dread that she might be gone.

“The Tocsin! The Tocsin!” he kept saying to himself.

Yes; she was still there, still whiningly imploring those who passed to buy her miserable pencils–and then, with a quick-flung whisper to him to follow as he slouched up close to her, she had started slowly down the street.

“The Tocsin! The Tocsin! The Tocsin!"–his brain seemed to be ringing with the words, ringing with them in a note clear as a silver bell. The Tocsin–at last! The woman who so strangely, so wonderfully, so mysteriously had entered into his life, and possessed it, and filled it with a love and yearning that had come to mold and sway and actuate his very existence–the woman for whom he had fought; for whom he had risked, and gladly risked, his wealth, his name, his honour–everything; the woman for whose sake he, the Gray Seal, was sought and hounded as the most notorious criminal of the age; she whose cleverness, whose resourcefulness, whose amazing intimacy with the hidden things of the underworld had seemed, indeed, to border on the supernatural; she, the Tocsin–the woman whose face he had never seen before! The woman whose face he had never seen before–and who now was that wretched hag that hobbled along the street before him, begging, whining, and importuning the passers-by to purchase of her pitiful wares!

He laughed a little–buoyantly. He had never pictured a first meeting such as this! A hag? Yes! And one as disreputable in appearance as he himself, as Larry the Bat, was disreputable! But he had seen her eyes! Inimitable as was her disguise, she could not hide her eyes, or hide the pledge they held of the beauty of form and feature beneath the tattered rags and the touch of a master in the make-up that brought haggard want and age into the face–and dimly he began to divine the source, the means by which she had acquired the information that for years had enabled her to plan their coups, that had enabled him to execute them under the guise of crime, that for years had seemed beyond all human reach.

Where was she going? Where was she taking him? But what did it matter! The years of waiting were at an end–the years of mystery in a few moments now would be mystery no more!

Ah! She had turned from the Bowery, and was heading east. He shuffled on after her, guardedly, a half block behind. It was well that Jimmie Dale had disappeared, that he was Larry the Bat again– the neighbourhood was growing more and more one that Jimmie Dale could not long linger in without attracting attention; while, on the other hand, it was the natural environment of such as Larry the Bat and such as she, who was leading him now to the supreme moment of his life. Yes, it was that–the fulfillment of the years! The thought of it alone filled his mind, his soul; it brushed aside, it blotted out for the time being the danger, the peril, the deadly menace that hung over them both. It was only that she, the Tocsin, was here–only that at last they would be together.

On she went, traversing street after street, the direction always trending toward the river–until finally she halted before what appeared to be, as nearly as he could make out in the almost total darkness of the ill-lighted street, a small and tumble-down, self- contained dwelling that bordered on what seemed to be an unfenced store yard of some description. He drew his breath in sharply. She had halted–waiting for him to come up with her. She was waiting for him–WAITING for him! It seemed as though he drank of some strange, exhilarating elixir–he reached her side eagerly–and then– and then–her hand had caught his, and she was leading him into the house, into a black passage where he could see nothing, into a room equally black over whose threshold he stumbled, and her voice in a low, conscious way, with a little tremour, a half sob in it that thrilled him with its promise, was in his ears:

“We are safe here, Jimmie, for a little while–but, oh, Jimmie, what have I done! What have I done to bring you into this–only–only–I was so sure, so sure, Jimmie, that there was nothing more to fear!”

The blood was beating in hammer blows at his temples. It seemed all unreal, untrue that this moment could be his, that it was not a dream–a dream which was presently to be snatched from him in a bitter awakening. And then he laughed out wildly, passionately. No–it was true, it was real! Her breath was on his cheek, it was a living, pulsing hand that was still in his–and then soul and mind and body seemed engulfed and lost in a mad ecstasy–and she was in his arms, crushed to him, and he was raining kisses upon her face.

“I love you! I love you!” he was crying hoarsely; and over and over again: “I love you! I love you!”

She did not struggle. The warm, rich lips were yielding to his; he could feel the throb, the life in the young, lithe form against his own. She was his–his! The years, the past, all were swept away– and she was his at last–his for always. And there came a mighty sense of kingship upon him, as though all the world were at his feet, and virility, and a great, glad strength above all other men’s, and a song was in his soul, a song triumphant–for she was his!

“You!” he cried out–and strained her to him. “You!” he cried again–and kissed her lips and her eyelids and her lips again.

And then her head was buried on his shoulder, and she was crying softly; but after a moment she raised her hands and laid them upon his face, and held them there, and because it was dark, dared to raise her head as well, and her eyes to look into his.

Then for a long time they stood there so, and for a long time neither spoke–and then with a little startled, broken cry, as though the peril and the menace hanging over them, forgotten for the moment, were thrust like a knife stab suddenly upon her, she drew herself away, and ran from him, and went and got a lamp, and lighted it, and set it upon the table.

And Jimmie Dale, still standing there, watched her. How gloriously her eyes shone, dimmed and misty with the tears that filled them though they were! And there was nothing incongruous in the rags that clothed her, in the squalour and poverty of the bare room, in the white furrows that the tears had plowed through the grime and make-up on her cheeks.

“You wonderful, wonderful woman!” Jimmie Dale whispered.

She shook her head as though almost in self-reproach.

“I am not wonderful, Jimmie,” she said, in a low voice. “I"–and then she caught his arm, and her voice broke a little–"I’ve brought you into this–probably to your death. Jimmie, tell me what happened last night, and since then. I–I’ve thought at times to- day I should go mad. Oh, Jimmie, there is so much to say to-night, so much to do if–if we are ever to be together for–for always. Last night, Jimmie–the telephone–I knew there was danger–that all had gone wrong–what was it?”

His arms were around her shoulders, drawing her close to him again.

“I found the wires tapped,” he said slowly.

“Yes, and–and the man you met–the chauffeur?”

“He is dead,” Jimmie Dale answered gently.

He felt her hand close with a quick, spasmodic clutch upon his arm; her face grew white–and for a moment she turned away her head.

“And–and the package?” she asked presently.

“I do not know,” replied Jimmie Dale. “He did not have it with him; he–”

“Wait!” she interrupted quickly. “We are only wasting time like this! Tell me everything, everything just as it happened, everything from the moment you received my letter.”

And, holding her there in his arms, softening as best he could the more brutal details, he told her. And, at the end, for a little while she was silent; then in a strained, impulsive way she asked again:

“The chauffeur–you are sure–you are positive that he is dead?”

“Yes,” said Jimmie Dale grimly; “I am sure.” And then the pent-up flood of questions burst from his lips. Who was the chauffeur? The package, the box numbered 428, and John Johansson? And the Crime Club? And the issue at stake? The danger, the peril that surrounded her? And she–above all–more than anything else–about herself–her strange life, its mystery?

She checked him with a strangely wistful touch of her finger upon his lips, with a queer, pathetic shake of her head.

“No, Jimmie; not that way. You would never understand. I cannot–”

“But I am to know–now! Surely I am to know NOW!” he cried, a sudden sense of dismay upon him. Three years! Three years–and always the “next” time! “I must know now, if I am to help you!”

She smiled a little wanly at him, as she drew herself away, and, dropping into a chair, placed her elbows on the rickety table, cupping her chin in her hands.

“Yes; you are to know now,” she said, almost as though she were talking to herself; then, with a swift intake of her breath, impulsively: “Jimmie! Jimmie! I had thought that it would be all so different when–when you came. That–that I would have nothing to fear–for you–for me–because–it would be all over. And now you are here, Jimmie–and, oh, thank God for you!–but I feel to- night almost–almost as though it were hopeless, that–that we were beaten.”

“Beaten!” He stepped quickly to the table, and sat down, and took one of her hands away from her face to hold it in both his own. "Beaten!” he laughed out defiantly; then, playfully, soothingly, to reassure her: “Jimmie Dale and Larry the Bat and the Gray Seal and the Tocsin–BEATEN! And after we have just scored the last trick!”

“But we do not hold many trumps, Jimmie,” she answered gravely. "You have seen something of this Crime Club’s power, its methods, its merciless, cruel, inhuman cunning, and you, perhaps, think that you understand–but you have not begun to grasp the extent of either that power or cunning. This horrible organisation has been in existence for many years. I do not know how many. I only know that the men of whom it is composed are not ordinary criminals, that they do not work in the ordinary way–to-day, they set the machinery of fraud, deception, robbery, and murder in motion that ten years from now, and, perhaps, only then, will culminate in the final success of their schemes–and they play only for enormous stakes. But"–her lips grew set–"you will see for yourself. I must not talk any longer than is necessary; we must not take too much time. You count on three days before they begin to suspect that all is not right with Jimmie Dale–I know them better than you, and I give you two days, forty-eight hours at the outside, and possibly far less. Jimmie"–abruptly–"did you ever hear of Peter LaSalle?”

“The capitalist? Yes!” said Jimmie Dale. “He died a few years ago. I know his brother Henry well–at the club, and all that.”

“Do you!” she said evenly. “Well, the man you know is not Peter LaSalle’s brother; he is an impostor–and one of the Crime Club.”

“Not–Peter LaSalle’s brother!"–Jimmie Dale repeated the words mechanically. And suddenly his brain was whirling. Vaguely, dimly, in little memory snatches, events, not pertinent then, vitally significant now, came crowding upon him. Peter LaSalle had come from somewhere in the West to live in New York; and very shortly afterward had died. The estate had been worth something over eleven millions. And there had been–he leaned quickly, tensely forward over the table, staring at her. “My God!” he whispered hoarsely. "You are not, you cannot be–the–the daughter–Peter LaSalle’s daughter, who disappeared strangely!”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I am Marie LaSalle.”

Chapter IX: The Tocsin’s Story

LaSalle! The old French name! That old French inscription on the ring: “SONNEZ LE TOCSIN!” Yes; he began to understand now. She was Marie LaSalle! He began to remember more clearly.

Marie LaSalle! They had said she was one of the most beautiful girls who had ever made her entree into New York society. But he had never met her–as Marie LaSalle; never met her–until now, as the Tocsin, in this bare, destitute, squalid hovel, here at bay, both of them, for their lives.

He had been away when she had come with her father to New York; and on his return there had only been the father’s brother in the father’s place–and she was gone. He remembered the furor her disappearance had caused; the enormous rewards her uncle had offered in an effort to trace her; the thousand and one speculations as to what had become of her; and that then, gradually, as even the most startling and mystifying of events and happenings always do, the affair had dropped into oblivion and had been forgotten by the public at least. He began to count back. Yes, it must have been nearly five years ago; two years before she, as the Tocsin, and he, as the Gray Seal, had formed their amazing and singular partnership, that–he started suddenly, as she spoke.

“I want to tell you in as few words as I can,” she said abruptly, breaking the silence. “Listen, then, Jimmie. My mother died ten years ago. I was little more than a child then. Shortly after her death, father made a business trip to New York, and, on the advice of some supposed friends, he had a new will drawn up by a lawyer whom they recommended, and to whom they introduced him. I do not know who those men were. The lawyer’s name was Travers, Hilton Travers.” She glanced curiously at Jimmie Dale, and added quickly: "He was the chauffeur–the man who was killed last night.”

“You mean,” Jimmie Dale burst out, “you mean that he was–but, first, the will! What was in the will?”

“It was a very simple will,” she answered. “And from the nature of it, it was not at all strange that my father should have been willing to have had it drawn by a comparative stranger, if that is what you are thinking. Summarised in a few words, the will left everything to me, and appointed my Uncle Henry as my guardian and the sole executor of the estate until I should have reached my twenty-fifth birthday. It provided for a certain sum each year to be paid to my uncle for his services as executor; and at the expiration of the trust period–that is, when I was twenty-five– bequeathed to him the sum of one hundred thousand dollars.”

Jimmie Dale nodded. “Go on!” he prompted.

“It is hard to tell it in logical sequence,” she said, hesitating a moment. “So many things seem to overlap each other. You must understand a little more about Hilton Travers. During the five years following the signing of the will father came frequently to New York, and became, not only intimate with Travers, but so much impressed with the other’s cleverness and ability that he kept putting more and more of his business into Travers’ hands. At the end of that five years, we moved to New York, and father, who was then quite an old man, retired from all active business, and turned over a great many of his personal affairs to Travers to look after for him, giving Travers power of attorney in a number of instances. So much for Travers. Now about my uncle. He was my father’s only brother; in fact, they were the only surviving members of their family, apart from very distant connections in France, from where, generations back, the family originally came.” Her hand touched Jimmie Dale’s for an instant. “That ring, Jimmie, with its crest and inscription, is the old family coat of arms.”

“Yes,” he said briefly; “I surmised as much.”

“Strange as it may seem, in view of the fact that they had not seen each other for twenty years,” she went on hurriedly “my father and my uncle were more than ordinarily attached to each other. Letters passed regularly between them, and there was constant talk of one paying the other a visit–but the visit never materialised. My uncle was somewhere in Australia, my father was here, and consequently I never saw my uncle. He was quite a different type of man from father–more restless, less settled, more rough and ready, preferring the outdoor life of the Australian bush to the restrictions of any so-called civilisation, I imagine. Financially, I do not think he ever succeeded very well, for twice, in one way or another, he lost every sheep on his ranch and father set him up again; and I do not think he could ever have had much of a ranch, for I remember once, in one of the letters he wrote, that he said he had not seen a white man in weeks, so he must have lived a very lonely life. Indeed, at about the time father drew the new will, my uncle wrote, saying that he had decided to give up sheep running on his own account as it did not pay, and to accept a very favourable offer that had been made to him to manage a ranch in New Zealand; and his next letter was from the latter country, stating that he had carried out his intentions, and was well satisfied with the change he had made. The long-proposed visit still continued to occupy my father’s thoughts, and on his retirement from business he definitely made up his mind to go out to New Zealand, taking me with him. In fact, the plans were all arranged, my uncle expressed unbounded delight in his letters, and we were practically on the eve of sailing, when a cable came from my uncle, telling us to postpone the visit for a few months, as he was obliged to make a buying trip for his new employer that would keep him away that length of time–and then"–her fingers, that had been abstractedly picking out the lines formed by the grain of the wood in the table top, closed suddenly into tight-clenched fists–"and then–my father died.”

Jimmie Dale turned away his head. There were tears in her eyes. The old sense of unreality was strong upon him again. He was listening to the Tocsin’s story. It was strange that he should be doing that–that it could be really so! It seemed as though magically he had been transported out of the world where for years past he had lived with danger lurking at every turn, where men set watch about his house to trap him, where the denizens of the underworld yowled like starving beasts to sink their fangs in him, where the police were ceaselessly upon his trail to wreak an insensate vengeance upon him; it seemed as though he had been transported away from all that to something that he had dreamed might, perhaps, sometime happen, that he had hoped might happen, that he had longed for always, but now that it was his, that it also was full of the sense of the unreal. And yet as his mind followed the thread of her story, and leaped ahead and vaguely glimpsed what was to come, be was conscious in a sort of premonitory way of a vaster peril than any he had ever known, as though forces, for the moment masked, were arrayed against him whose strength and whose malignity were beyond human parallel. In what a strange, almost incoherent way his brain was working! He roused himself a little and looked around him–and, with a shock, the starkness of the room, the abject, pitiful air of destitution brought home to him with terrific, startling force the significance of the scene in which he was playing a part. His face set suddenly in hard lines. That she should have been brought to assume such a life as this–forced out of her environment of wealth and refinement, forced in her purity to rub shoulders with the vile, the dissolute, forced to exist as such a creature amid the crime and vice, the wretched horror of the underworld that swirled around her! There was anger now upon him, burning, hot–a merciless craving that was a savage, hungry lust for vengeance.

And then she was speaking again:

“Father’s death occurred very shortly after my uncle’s message advising us to postpone our trip was received. On his death, Travers, very naturally, as father’s lawyer, cabled my uncle to come to New York at once; and my uncle replied, saying that he was coming by the first steamer.”

She paused again–but only for an instant, as though to frame her thoughts in words.

“I have told you that I had never seen my uncle, that even my father had not seen him for twenty years; and I have told you that the man you know as Henry LaSalle is an impostor–I am using the word ’uncle’ now when I refer to him simply to avoid confusion. You are, perhaps, expecting me to say that I took a distinctive dislike to him from the moment he arrived? On the contrary, I had every reason to be predisposed toward him; and, indeed, was rather agreeably surprised than otherwise–he was not nearly so uncouth and unpolished as, somehow, I had pictured his life would have made him. Do you understand, Jimmie? He was kind, sympathetic; and, in an apathetic way, I liked him. I say ’apathetic’ because I think that best describes my own attitude toward every one and everything following father’s death until–THAT NIGHT.”

She rose abruptly from her chair, as though a passive position of any kind had suddenly become intolerable.

“Why tell you what my father and I were to each other!” she cried out in a low, passionate voice. “It seemed as though everything that meant anything had gone out of my life. I became worn out, nervous; and though the days were bad enough, the nights were a source of dread. I began to suffer from insomnia–I could not sleep. This was even before my supposed uncle came. I used to read for hours and hours in my room after I had gone to bed. But"–she flung out her hand with an impatient gesture–"there is no need to dwell on that. One night, about a week after that man had arrived, and a little over a month after father had died, I was in my room and had finished a book I was reading. I remember that it was well after midnight. I had not the slightest inclination to sleep. I picked up another book–and after that another. There were plenty in my room; but, irrationally, of course, none pleased me. I decided to go down to the library–not that I think I really expected to find anything that I actually wanted, but more because it was an impulse, and furnished me for the moment with some definite objective, something to do. I got up, slipped on a dressing gown, and went downstairs. The lights were all out. I was just on the point of switching on those in the reception hall, when suddenly it seemed as though I had not strength to lift my hand, and I remember that for an instant I grew terribly cold with dread and fear. From the room on my right a voice had reached me. The door was closed, but the voice was raised in an outburst of profanity. I–I could hear every word.

“’If she’s out of the way, there’s no come-back,’ the voice snarled. ’I won’t listen to anything else! Do you hear! Why, you fool, what are you trying to do–hand me one! Turn everything into cash, and divvy, and beat it–eh? And I’m the goat, and I get caught and get twenty years for stealing trust funds–and the rest of you get the coin!’ He swore terribly again. ’Who’s taken the risk in this for the last five years! There’ll be no smart Aleck lawyer tricks– there’ll be no halfway measures! And who are you to dictate! She goes out–that’s safe–I inherit as next of kin, with no one to dispute it, and that’s all there is to it!’

“I stood there and could not move. It was the voice of the man I knew as my uncle! My heart seemed to have stopped beating. I tried to tell myself that I was dreaming, that it was too horrible, too incredible to be real; that they could not really mean to–to MURDER me. And then I recognised Hilton Travers’ voice.

“’I am not dictating, and you are not serious, of course,’ he said, with what seemed an uneasy laugh. ’I am only warning you that you are forgetting to take the real Henry LaSalle into account. He is bound to hear of this eventually, and then–’

“Another voice broke in–one I did not recognise.

“’You’re talking too loud, both of you! Travers doesn’t understand, but he’s to be wised up to-night, according to orders, and–’

“The voice became inaudible, muffled–I could not hear any more. I suppose I remained there another three or four minutes, too stunned to know what to do; and then I ran softly along the hall to the library door. The library, you understand, was at the rear of the room they were in, and the two rooms were really one; that is, there was only an archway between them. I cannot tell you what my emotions were–I do not know. I only know that I kept repeating to myself, ’they are going to kill me, they are going to kill me!’ and that it seemed I must try and find out everything, everything I could.”

She turned away from the table, and began to pace nervously up and down the miserable room.

Jimmie Dale rose impulsively from his chair–but she waved him back again.

“No; wait!” she said. “Let me finish. I crept into the library. It took me a long time, because I had to be so careful not to make the slightest noise. I suppose it was fully six or seven minutes from the time I had first heard my supposed uncle’s voice until I had crept far enough forward to be able to see into the room beyond. There were three men there. The man I knew as my uncle was sitting at one end of the table; another had his back toward me; and Travers was facing in my direction–and I think I never saw so ghastly a face as was Hilton Travers’ then. He was standing up, sort of swaying, as he leaned with both hands on the table.

“’Now then, Travers,’ the man whose back was turned to me was saying threateningly, ’you’ve got the story now–sign those papers!’

“It seemed as though Travers could not speak for a moment. He kept looking wildly from one to the other. He was white to the lips.

“’You’ve let me in for–THIS!’ he said hoarsely, at last, ’You devils–you devils–you devils! You’ve let me in for–murder! Both of them! Both Peter and his brother–MURDERED!’”

She stopped abruptly before Jimmie Dale, and clutched his arm tightly.

“Jimmie, I don’t know why I did not scream out. Everything went black for a moment before my eyes. It was the first suspicion I had had that my father had met with foul play, and I–”

But now Jimmie Dale swayed up from his chair.

“Murdered!” he exclaimed tensely. “Your father! But–but I remember perfectly, there was no hint of any such thing at the time, and never has been since. He died from quite natural causes.”

She looked at him strangely.

“He died from–inoculation,” she said. “Did–did you not see something of that laboratory in the Crime Club yourself the night before last–enough to understand?”

“Good God!” muttered Jimmie Dale, in a startled way then: “Go on! Go on! What happened then?”

She passed her hand a little wearily across her eyes–and sank down into her chair again.

“Travers,” she continued, picking up the thread of her story, “had raised his voice, and the third man at the table leaned suddenly, aggressively toward him.

“’Hold your tongue!’ he growled furiously. ’All you’re asked to do is sign the papers–not talk!’

“Travers shook his head.

“’I won’t!’ he cried out. ’I won’t have any hand in another murder– in hers! My God, I won’t–I won’t, I tell you! It’s horrible!’

“’Look here, you fool!’ the man who was posing as my uncle broke in then. ’You’re in this too deep to get out now. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do as you’re told!’

“Jimmie, I shall never forget Travers’ face. It seemed to have changed from white to gray, and there was horror in his eyes: and then he seemed to lose all control of himself, shaking his fists in their faces, cursing them in utter abandon.

“’I’m bad!’ he cried. ’I’ve gone everything, everything but the limit–everything but murder. I stop there! I’ll have no more to do with this. I’m through! You–you pulled me into this, and–and I didn’t know!’

“’Well, you know now!’ the third man sneered. ’What are you going to do about it?’

“’I’m going to see that no harm comes to Marie LaSalle,’ Travers answered in a dull way.

“The other man now was on his feet–and, I do not know quite how to express it, Jimmie, he seemed ominously quiet in both his voice and his movements.

“’You’d better think that over again, Travers!’ he said. ’Do you mean it?’

“’I mean it,’ Travers said. ’I mean it–God help me!’

“’You may well add that!’ returned the other, with an ugly laugh. He reached out his hand toward the telephone on the table. ’Do you know what will happen to you if I telephone a certain number and say that you have turned–traitor?’

“’I’ll have to take my chances,’ Travers replied doggedly. ’I’m through!’

“’Take them, then!’ flung out the other. ’You’ll have little time given you to do us any harm?’

“Travers did not answer. I think he almost expected an attack upon him then from the two men. He hesitated a moment, then backed slowly toward the door. What happened in the next few moments in that room, I do not know. I stole out of the library. I was obsessed with the thought that I must see Travers, see him at all costs, before he got away from the house. I reached the end of the hall as the room door opened, and he came out. It was dark, as I said, and I could not see distinctly, but I could make out his form. He closed the door behind him–and then I called his name in a whisper. He took a quick step toward me, then turned and hurried toward the front door, and I thought he was going away–but the next instant I understood his ruse. He opened the front door, shut it again quite loudly, and crept back to me.

“’Take me somewhere where we will be safe–quick!’ he whispered.

“There was only one place where I was sure we would be safe. I led him to the rear of the house and up the servants’ stairs, and to my boudoir.”

She broke off abruptly, and once more rose from her chair, and once more began to pace the room. Back in his chair, Jimmie Dale, tense and motionless now, watched her without a word.

“It would take too long to tell you all that passed between us,” she went on hurriedly. “The man was frankly a criminal–but not to the extent of murder. And in that respect, at least, he was honest with himself. Almost the first words he said to me were: ’Miss LaSalle, I am as good as a dead man if I am caught by the devils behind those two men downstairs.’ And then he began to plead with me to make my own escape. He did not know who the man was that was posing as my uncle, had never seen him before until he presented himself as Henry LaSalle; the other man he knew as Clarke, but knew also that ’Clarke’ was merely an assumed name. He had fallen in with Clarke almost from the time that he had begun to practise his profession, and at Clarke’s instigation had gone from one crooked deal to another, and had made a great deal of money. He knew that behind Clarke was a powerful, daring, and unscrupulous band of criminals, organised on a gigantic scale, of which he himself was, in a sense– a probationary sense, as he put it–a member; but he had never come into direct contact with them–he had received all his orders and instructions through Clarke. He had been told by Clarke that he was to cultivate father following the introduction, to win father’s confidence, to get as many of father’s affairs into his hands as possible, to reach the position, in fact, of becoming father’s recognised attorney–and all this with the object, as he supposed of embezzling from father on a large scale. Then father died, and Travers was instructed to cable my uncle. He knew that the man who answered that summons was an impostor; but he did not know, until they had admitted it to him that night, that both my father and my uncle had been murdered, and that I, too, was to be made away with.”

She looked at Jimmie Dale, and suddenly laughed out bitterly.

“No; you don’t understand, even yet, the patient, ingenious deviltry of those fiends. It was they, at the time the new will was drawn, who offered to buy out my real uncle’s sheep ranch in that lonely, unsettled district in Australia, and offered him that new position in New Zealand. My uncle never reached New Zealand. He was murdered on his way there. And in his place, assuming his name, appeared the man who has been posing as my uncle ever since. Do you begin to see! For five years they were patiently working out their plans, for five years before my father’s death that man lived and became known and accepted, and ESTABLISHED himself as Henry LaSalle. Do you see now why he cabled us to postpone our visit? He ran very little risk. The chances were one in a thousand that any of his few acquaintances in Australia would ever run across him in New Zealand; and besides, he was chosen because it seems there was a slight resemblance between him and the real Henry LaSalle–enough, with his changed mode of living and more elaborate and pretentious surroundings, to have enabled him to carry through a bluff had it become necessary. He had all of my uncle’s papers; and the Crime Club furnished him with every detail of our lives here. I forgot to say, too, that from the moment my uncle was supposed to have reached New Zealand all his letters were typewritten–an evidence in father’s eyes that his brother had secured a position of some importance; as, indeed, from apparently unprejudiced sources, they took pains to assure father was a fact. This left them with only my uncle’s signature to forge to the letters–not a difficult matter for them!

“Believing that they had Travers so deeply implicated that he could do nothing, even if he had the inclination, which they had not for a moment imagined, and arrogant in the belief in their own power to put him out of the way in any case if he proved refractory, they admitted all this to him that night when he brought up the issue of the real Henry LaSalle putting in an appearance sooner or later, and when they wanted him to smooth their path by releasing all documents where his power of attorney was involved. Do you see now the part they gave Travers to play? It was to put the stamp of genuineness upon the false Henry LaSalle. Not but that they were prepared with what would appear to be overwhelmingly convincing evidence to prove it if it were necessary; but if the man were accepted by the estate’s lawyer there was little chance of any one else questioning his identity.”

She halted again by the table–and forced a smile, as her eyes met Jimmie Dale’s.

“I am almost through, Jimmie. That night was a terrible one for both of us. Travers’ life was not worth a moment’s purchase once they found him–and mine was only under reprieve until sufficient time to obviate suspicion should have elapsed after father’s death. We had no proof that would stand in any court–even if we should have been given the chance to adopt that course. And without absolute, irrefutable proof, it was all so cleverly woven, stretched over so many years, that our charge must have been held to be too visionary and fantastic to have any basis in fact.

“All Travers would have been able to advance was the statement that the supposed Henry LaSalle had admitted being an impostor and a murderer to him! Who would believe it! On the face of it, it appeared to be an absurdity. And even granted that we were given an opportunity to bring the charge, they would be able to prove by a hundred influential and well-known men in New Zealand that the impostor was really Henry LaSalle; and were we able to find any of my uncle’s old acquaintances in Australia, it would be necessary to get them here–and not one of them would have reached America alive.

“But there was not a chance, not a chance, Jimmie, of doing that– they would have killed Travers the moment he showed himself in the open. The only thing we could do that night was to try and save our own lives; the only thing we could look forward to was acquiring in some way, unknown to them, the proof, fully established, with which we could crush them in a single stroke, and before they would have time to strike back.

“The vital thing was proof of my uncle’s death. That, if it could be obtained at all, could only be obtained in Australia. Travers was obliged to go somewhere, to disappear from that moment if he wanted to save his life, and he volunteered to go out there. He left the house that night by the back entrance in an old servant’s suit, which I found for him–and I never heard from him again until a month ago in the ’personal’ column of the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS, through which we had agreed to communicate.

“As for myself, I left the house the next morning, telling my pseudo uncle that I was going to spend a few days with a friend. And this I actually did; but in those few days I managed to turn all my own securities, that had been left me by my mother and which amounted to a considerable sum, into cash. And then, Jimmie, I came to–this, I have lived like this and in different disguises, as a settlement worker, as a widow of means in a fashionable uptown apartment, but mostly as you see me now–for five years. For five years I have watched my supposed uncle, hoping, praying that through him I could get to know the others associated with him; hoping, praying that Travers would succeed; hoping, praying that we would get them all– and watching day after day, and year after year the ’personal’ column of the paper, until at last I began to be afraid that it was all useless. And there was nothing, Jimmie, nothing anywhere, and I had no success"–her voice choked a little. “Nothing! Even Clarke never went again to the house. You can understand now how I came to know the strange things that I wrote to the Gray Seal, how the life that I have led, how this life here in the underworld, how the constant search for some clew on my own account brought them to my knowledge; and you can understand now, too, why I never dared to let you meet me, for I knew well enough that, while I worked to undermine my father’s and my uncle’s murderers, they were moving heaven and earth to find me.

“That is all, Jimmie. The day before yesterday, a month after Travers’ first message to let me know that he was coming, there was another ’personal’ giving me an hour and a telephone number. He was back! He had everything–everything! We dared not meet; he was afraid, suspicious that they had got track of him again. You know the rest. That package contained the proof that, with Travers’ death, can probably never be obtained again. Do you understand why THEY want it–why it is life and death to me? Do you understand why my supposed uncle offered huge rewards for me, why secretly every resource of that hideous organisation has been employed to find me– that it is only by my DEATH the estate can pass into their hands, and now–”

She flung out her hands suddenly toward Jimmie Dale. “Oh, Jimmie, Jimmie, I’ve–I’ve fought so long alone! Jimmie, what are we to do?”

He came slowly to his feet. She had fought so long–alone. But now–now it was his turn to fight–for her. But how? She had not told him all–surely she had not told him all, for everything depended upon that package. There had been so much to tell that she had not thought of all, and she had not told him the details about that.

“That box–No. 428!” he cried quickly. “What is that? What does it mean?”

She shook her head.

“I do not know,” she answered.

“Then who is this John Johansson?”

“I do not know,” she said again.

“Nor where the Crime Club is?”


He stared at her for a moment in a dazed way.

“My God!” Jimmie Dale murmured.

And then she turned away her head.

“It’s–it’s pretty bad, isn’t it, Jimmie? I–I told you that we did not hold many trumps.”

Chapter X: Silver Mag

There was silence between them. Minute after minute passed. Neither spoke.

Jimmie Dale dropped back into his chair again, and stared abstractedly before him. “We do not hold many trumps, Jimmie–we do not hold many trumps"–her words were repeating themselves over and over in his mind. They seemed to challenge him mockingly to deny what was so obviously a fact, and because he could not deny it to taunt and jeer at him–to jeer at him, when all that was held at stake hung literally upon his next move!

He looked up mechanically as the Tocsin walked to a broken mirror at the rear of the miserable room; nodded mechanically in approval as she began deftly to retouch the make-up on her face where the tears had left their traces–and resumed his abstracted gaze before him.

Box number four-two-eight–John Johansson–the Crime Club–the identity of the man who was posing as Henry LaSalle! If only he could hit upon a clew to the solution of a single one of those things, or a single phase of one of them–if only he could glimpse a ray of light that would at least prompt action, when every moment of inaction was multiplying the odds against them!

There were the men who were watching his house at that moment on Riverside Drive–he, as Larry the Bat, might in turn keep watch on them. He had though of that. In time, perhaps, he might, by so doing, discover the whereabouts of the Crime Club. In time! It was just that–he had no time! Forty-eight hours, the Tocsin insisted, was all the time that he could count upon before they would become suspicious of Jimmie Dale’s “illness,” before they would discover that they were watching an empty house!

He might–though this was even more hazardous–make an attempt to trace the wires that tapped those of his telephone through the basement window that gave on the garage driveway. And what then? True, they could not lead very far away; but, even if successful, what then? They would not lead him to the Crime Club, but simply to some confederate, to some man or woman playing the part of a servant, perhaps, in the house next door, who, in turn, would have to be shadowed and watched.

Jimmie Dale shook his head. Better, of the two, to start in at once and shadow those who were shadowing his house. But that was not the way! He knew that intuitively. He hated to eliminate it from consideration, for he had no other move to take its place–but such a move was almost suicide in itself. Time, and time alone, was the vital factor. They, the Tocsin and he, must act quickly–and STRIKE that night if they were to win. His fingers, the grimy fingers, dirty-nailed, of Larry the Bat, that none now would recognise as the slim tapering, wonderfully sensitive fingers of Jimmie Dale, the fingers that had made the name of the Gray Seal famous, whose tips mocked at bars and safes and locks, and seemed to embody in themselves all the human senses, tightened spasmodically on the edge of the table. Time! Time! Time! It seemed to din in his ears. And while he sat there powerless, impotent, the Crime Club was moving heaven and earth to find what HE must find–that package–if he was to save this woman here, the woman whom he loved, she who had been forced, through the machinations of these hell fiends, to adopt the life of a wretched hag, to exist among the dregs of the underworld, whose squalour and vice and wantonness none knew better than he!

Jimmie Dale’s face set grimly. Somewhere–somewhere in the past five years of this life of hers in which she had been fighting the Crime Club, pitting that clever brain of hers against it, MUST lie a clew. She had told him her story only in baldest outline, with scarcely a reference to her own personal acts, with barely a single detail. There must be something, something that perhaps she had overlooked, something, just the merest hint of something that would supply a starting point, give him a glimmer of light.

She came back from across the room, and sank down in her chair again. She did not speak–the question, that meant life and death to them both, was in her eyes.

Jimmie answered the mute interrogation tersely.

“Not yet!” he said. Then, almost curtly, in a quick, incisive way, as the keen, alert brain began to delve and probe: “You say this man Clarke never returned to the house after that night?”

She nodded her head quietly.

“You are sure of that?” he insisted.

“Yes,” she said. “I am sure.”

“And you say that all these years you have kept a watch on the man who is posing as your uncle, and that he never went anywhere, or associated with any one, that would afford you a clew to this Crime Club?”

“Yes,” she said again.

It was a moment before Jimmie Dale spoke.

“It’s very strange!” he said musingly, at last. “So strange, in fact, that it’s impossible. He must have communicated with the others, and communicated with them often. The game they were playing was too big, too full of details, to admit of any other possibility. And the telephone as an explanation isn’t good enough.”

“And yet,” she said earnestly, “possible or impossible, it is nevertheless true. That he might have succeeded in eluding me on occasions was perhaps to be expected; but that in all those years I should not catch him once in what, if you are correct, must have been many and repeated conferences with the same men is too improbable to be thought of seriously.”

Jimmie Dale shook his head again.

“If you had been able to watch him night and day, that might be so," he said crisply. “But, at best, you could only watch him a very small portion of the time.”

She smiled at him a little wanly.

“Do you think, Jimmie, from what you, as the Gray Seal, know of me, that I would have watched in any haphazard way like that?”

He glanced at her with a sudden start.

“What do you mean?” he asked quickly.

“Look at me!” she said quietly. “Have you ever seen me before? I mean as I am now.”

“No,” he answered, after an instant. “Not that I know of.”

“And yet"–she smiled wanly again–"you have not lived, or made the place you hold in the underworld, without having heard of Silver Mag.”

“You!” exclaimed Jimmie Dale. “You–Silver Mag!” He stared at her wonderingly, as, crouch-shouldered now, the hair, gray-threaded, straggling out from under the hood of a faded, dark-blue, seam-worn cloak, she sat before him, a typical creature of the underworld, her role an art in its conception, perfect in its execution. Silver Mag! Yes, he had heard of Silver Mag–as every one in the Bad Lands had heard of her. Silver Mag and her pocketful of coin! Always a pocketful of silver, so they said, that was dispensed prodigally to the wives and children temporarily deprived of support by husbands and fathers unfortunate enough in their clashes with the law to be doing “spaces” up the river–and therefore the underworld swore by Silver Mag. Always silver, never a bill; Silver Mag had never been seen with a banknote–that was her eccentricity. Much or little, she gave or paid out of her pocketful of jangling silver. She was credited with being a sworn enemy of the police, and–yes, he remembered, too–with having done “time” herself. “I don’t quite understand,” he said, in a puzzled way. “I haven’t run across you personally because you probably took care to see that I shouldn’t; but–it’s no secret–every one says you’ve served a jail sentence yourself.”

“That is simply enough explained,” she answered gravely. “The story is of my own making. When I decided to adopt this life, both for my own safety and as the best means of keeping a watch on that man, I knew that I must win the confidence of the underworld, that I must have help, and that in order to obtain that help I must have some excuse for my enmity against the man known as Henry LaSalle. To be widely known in the underworld was of inestimable value–nothing, I knew, could accomplish that as quickly as eccentricity. You see now how and why I became known as Silver Mag. I gained the confidence of every crook in New York through their wives and children. I told them the story of my jail sentence–while I swore vengeance on Henry LaSalle. I told them that he had had me arrested for something I never stole while I was working for him as a charwoman, and that he had had me railroaded to jail. There wasn’t one but gave me credit for the theft, perhaps; but equally, there wasn’t one but understood, and my eccentricity helped this out, my wanting to ’get’ Henry LaSalle. Well–do you see now, Jimmie? I had money, I had the confidence of the underworld, I had an excuse for my hatred of Henry LaSalle, and so I had all the help I wanted. Day and night that man has been watched. He receives no visitors–what social life he has is, as you know, at the club. There is not a house that he has ever entered that, sooner or later, I have not entered after him in the hope of finding the headquarters of the clique. Even the men and women, as far as human possibility could accomplish it, that he has talked to on the streets have been shadowed, and their identity satisfactorily established–and the net result has been failure; utter, absolute, complete failure!”

Jimmie Dale’s eyes, that had held steadily on her face, shifted, troubled and perplexed, to the table top.

“You are wonderful!” he said, under his breath. “Wonderful! And– and that makes it all the more amazing, all the more incomprehensible. It is still impossible that he has not been in close and constant touch with his accomplices. He MUST have been! We would be blind fools to argue against it! It could not, on the face of it, have been otherwise!”

“Then how, when, where has he done it?” she asked wearily.

“God knows!” he said bitterly. “And if they have been clever enough to escape you all these years, I’m almost inclined to say what you said a little while ago–that we’re beaten.”

She watched him miserably, as he pushed back his chair impulsively and, standing up, stared down at her.

“We’re against it–HARD!” he said, with a mirthless laugh. Then, his lips tightening: “But we’ll try another tack–the chauffeur– Travers. Though even here the Crime Club has a day’s start of us, even if last night they knew no more about the whereabouts of that package than we know now. I’m afraid of it! The chances are more than even that they’ve already got it. If they were able to catch Travers as the chauffeur, they would have had something tangible to work back from"–Jimmie Dale was talking more to himself than to the Tocsin now, as though he were muttering his thoughts aloud. “How did they get track of him? When? Where? What has it led to? And what in Heaven’s name,” he burst out suddenly, “is this box number four-two-eight!”

“A safety-deposit vault, perhaps, that he has taken somewhere,” she hazarded.

Jimmie Dale laughed mirthlessly again.

“That is the one definite thing I do know–that it isn’t!” he said positively. “It is nothing of that kind. It was half-past ten o’clock at night when I met him, and he said that he had intended going back for the package if it had been safe to do so. Deposit vaults are not open at that hour. The package is, or was, if they have not already got it, readily accessible–and at any hour. Now go over everything again, every detail that passed between you and Travers. He let you know that he was back in New York by means of a ’personal,’ you said. What else was in that ’personal’ besides the telephone number and the hour you were to call him? Anything?”

“Nothing that will help us any,” she replied colourlessly. There were simply the words ’northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place,’ and the signature that we had agreed upon, the two first and two last letters of the alphabet transposed–BAZY.”

“I see,” said Jimmie Dale quickly. “And over the ’phone he completed his message. Clever enough!”

“Yes,” she said. “In that way, if any one were listening, or overhead the plan, there could be little harm come of it, for the essential feature of all, the place of rendezvous, was not mentioned. It has not been Travers’ fault that this happened–and in spite of every precaution it has cost him his life. He wanted nothing to give them a clew to my whereabouts; he was trying to guard against the slightest evidence that would associate us one with the other. He even warned me over the ’phone not to tell him how, where, or the mode of life I was living. And naturally, he dared give me no particulars about himself. I was simply to select a third party whom I could trust, and to follow out his instructions, which were those that I sent to you in my letter.”

Jimmie Dale began to pace nervously up and down the room.

“Nothing else?” he queried, a little blankly.

“Nothing else,” she said monotonously.

“But since last night, since you knew that things had gone wrong," he persisted, “surely you traced that telephone number–the one you called up?”

“Yes,” she said, and shrugged her shoulders in a tired way. "Naturally I did that–but, like everything else, it amounted to nothing. He telephoned from Makoff’s pawnshop on that alley off Thompson Street, and–”

“WHERE!” Jimmie Dale, suddenly stock-still, almost shouted the word. "He telephoned from–where! Say that again!”

She looked at him in amazement, half rising from her chair.

“Jimmie, what is it?” she cried. “You don’t mean that–”

He was beside her now, his hands pressed upon her shoulders, his face flushed.

“Box number four-two-eight!” He laughed out hysterically in his excitement. “John Johansson–box number four-two-eight! And like a fool I never thought of it! Don’t you see? Don’t you know now yourself? THE UNDERGROUND POST OFFICE!”

She stood up, clinging to him; a wild relief, that was based on her confidence in him, in her eyes and face, even while she shook her head.

“No,” she said frantically. “No–I do not know. Tell me, Jimmie! Tell me quickly! You mean at Makoff’s?”

“No! Not Makoff’s–at Spider Jack’s, on Thompson Street!"–he was clipping off his words, still holding her tightly by the shoulders, still staring into her eyes. “You know Spider Jack! Jack’s little novelty store! Ah, you have not learned all of the underworld yet! Spider Jack is the craftiest ’fence’ in the Bad Lands–and Makoff is his partner. Spider buys the crooks’ stuff, and Makoff disposes of it through the pawnshop–it’s only a step through the connecting back yard from one to the other, and–”

“Yes–but,” she interrupted feverishly, “the package–you said–”

“Wait!” Jimmie Dale cried. “I’m coming to that! If Travers stood in with Makoff, he stood in with Spider Jack. For years Spider has been a sort of clearing house for the underworld–for years he has conducted, and profitably, too, his underground post office. Crooks from all over the country, let alone those in New York, communicate with each other through Spider Jack. These, for a fee, are registered at Spider’s, and given a number–a box number he calls it, though, of course, there are no actual boxes. Letters come by mail addressed to him–the sealed envelope within containing the actually intended recipient’s name. These Spider either forwards, or delivers in person when they are called for. Dozens of crooks, too, unwilling, perhaps, to dispose of small ill-gotten articles at ruinous ’fence’ prices, and finding it unhealthy for the moment to keep them in their possession, use this means of depositing them temporarily for safe-keeping. You see now, don’t you? It’s certain that’s where Travers left the package. He used the name of John Johansson, not to hoodwink Spider Jack, I should say, but as an added safeguard against the Crime Club. Travers must have known both Makoff and Spider Jack in the old days, and probably had reason, and good reason, to trust them both–possibly, a crook then himself, as he confessed, he may have acted in a legal capacity for them in their frequent tangles with the police.”

“Then,” she said–and there was a glad, new note in her voice, "then, Jimmie–Jimmie, we are safe! You can get it, Jimmie! It is only a little thing for the Gray Seal to do–to get it now that we know where it is.”

“Yes,” he said tersely. “Yes–if it is still there.”

“Still there!"–she repeated the words quickly, nervously. “Still there! What do you mean?”

“I mean if they, too, have not discovered that he was at Makoff’s– if they have not got there first!” he said grimly. “There seems to be no limit to their cleverness, or their power. They penetrated his disguise as a chauffeur, and who knows what more they have learned since last night? We are fighting them in the dark, and– WHAT’S THAT!” he whispered tensely, suddenly–and leaning forward like a flash, as he whipped his automatic from his pocket, he blew out the lamp.

The room was in darkness. They stood there rigid, silent, listening. Her hand found and caught his arm.

And then it came again–a low sound, the sound of a stealthy footstep just outside the window that faced on the storage yard.

Chapter XI: The Magpie

A minute passed–another. The automatic at Jimmie Dale’s hip, the muzzle just peeping over the table top, held a steady bead on the window. Came the footstep again–and then suddenly, a series of low, quick tappings upon the windowpane. The Tocsin’s hand slipped away from his arm. Jimmie Dale’s set face relaxed as he read the underground Morse, and he replaced his revolver slowly in his pocket.

“The Magpie!” said Jimmie Dale, in an undertone. “What’s he want?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, in a whisper. “He never came here before. There’s a back way out, Jimmie, if you–”

“No,” he said quickly. “We’ve enemies enough, with out making one of the Magpie. He knows some one is here with you–our shadows were on the blind. Don’t queer yourself. Let him in. I’ll light the lamp.”

He struck a match, as she ran from the room, and, lifting the hot lamp chimney with the edge of his ragged coat, lighted the lamp. He turned the wick down a little, shading and dimming the room–and then, as he flirted a bead of moisture from his forehead, whimsically stretched out his hand to watch it in the lamplight.

“That’s bad, Jimmie,” he muttered gravely to himself, as he noted an almost imperceptible tremour. “Got a start, didn’t you! Under a bit of a strain, eh? Well"–grimly–"never mind! It looks as though the luck had turned Makoff and Spider Jack!”

His hand reached up to his hat, jerked the brim at a rakish angle over his eyes–and he sprawled himself out on a chair. He heard the Tocsin’s voice at the front door, and a man’s voice, low and guarded, answer her. Then the door closed, and their steps approached the room. It was rather curious, that–a visit from the Magpie! What could the Magpie want? What could there be in common between the Magpie and Silver Mag? The Magpie, alias Slimmy Joe, was counted the cleverest safe worker in the United States, barring only and always one–a smile flickered across the lips of Larry the Bat–one whose pre-eminence the Magpie, much to his own chagrin, admitted himself–the Gray Seal!

He looked up, twisting the stub of a cigarette between his grimy fingers and fumbling for a match, as the Tocsin and, behind her, the Magpie, short, slim, and wiry, shrewd-faced, with sharp, quick- glancing little black eyes, entered the room.

“’Ello, Larry!” grinned the Magpie. “Got yer breath back yet? I felt it through de windowpane when youse let go at de lamp!”

“’Ello, Slimmy!” returned Jimmie Dale ungraciously, speaking through the corner of his mouth. “Ferget it!”

“Sure!” said the Magpie unconcernedly. He stared about him, and finally, drawing a chair up to the table, sat down, motioned the Tocsin to do the same, and leaned forward amiably. “I didn’t mean to throw no scare into youse,” he said, in a conciliating tone. "But I had a little business wid Mag, an’ I was kind of interested in whether she was entertainin’ company or not–see? I didn’t know youse an’ Mag was workin’ together.”

“Mabbe,” observed Jimmie Dale, as ungraciously as before, “mabbe dere’s some more t’ings youse don’t know!”

“Aw, cough up de grouch!” advised the Magpie, with a hint of impatience creeping into his voice. “Youse don’t need to be sore all night! I told youse I wasn’t tryin’ to hand youse one, didn’t I?”

“Never mind Larry, Slimmy,” put in the Tocsin petulantly. “He’s down on his luck, dat’s all. He ain’t had de price of a pinch of coke fer two days.”

“Oho!” exclaimed the Magpie, grinning again. “So dat’s wot’s givin’ youse de pip, eh, Larry? Well, den, say, youse can take it from me dat mabbe youse’ll be glad I blew around. I was lookin’ fer a guy about yer size fer a little job to-night, an’ I was t’inkin’ of lettin’ Young Dutchy in on it, but seem’ youse are here an’ in wid Mag, an’ dat I got to get Mag in, too, youse are on if youse say de word.”

“Wot’s de lay?” inquired Larry the Bat, unbending a little.

The Magpie cocked his eye, and stuck his tongue in his cheek.

“GOOD-night!” he said tersely. “Nothin’ like dat! Are youse on, or ain’t youse?”

“Well, den, wot’s in it fer me?” persisted Larrry the Bat.

“More’n de price of a coke sneeze!” returned the Magpie pertinently. "Dere’s a century note fer youse, an’ mabbe two or t’ree of dem fer Mag.”

Larry the Bat’s eyes gleamed avariciously.

“Aw, quit yer kiddin’!” he said gruffly. “A century note–fer me!”

“Dat’s wot I said! Youse heard me!” rejoined the Magpie shortly. "Only if it listens good to youse now, I don’t want no squealin’ after the divvy. I’m takin’ de chances, youse has de soft end of it. One century note fer youse–an’ de rest is none of yer business! Dat’s puttin’ it straight, ain’t it? Well, wot do youse say, an’ say it quick–’cause if youse ain’t comin’ in, youse can beat it out of here so’s I can talk to Mag.”

“Dere ain’t nothin’ I wouldn’t take a chance on fer a hundred plunks!” declared Larry the Bat, with sudden fervency–and stared, anxiously expectant, at the Magpie. “Sure, I’m on Slimmy! Sure, I am! Cut it loose! Spill de story!”

“Well, den,” said the Magpie, “I wants–”

“Youse ain’t through yet!” interrupted the Tocsin tartly. “I ain’t heard youse askin’ me nothin’! I ain’t on me uppers like Larry, an’ mabbe de price don’t cut so much ice–see?”

“Aw,” said the Magpie, with a smirk, “I don’t have to ask youse on dis lay. Dis is where youse’d come in on it fer marbles. Say, dis is where we gets de hook into a guy by de name of Henry LaSalle! Get me?”

HENRY LASALLE! Under the table, Jimmie Dale’s hand clenched suddenly; but not a muscle of his face moved, save, as with the tip of his tongue, he shifted the butt of the cigarette that was hanging royally from his lower lip to the other corner of his mouth.

“Sure! She’s ’got’ youse, Slimmy!” he flung out, with a grin, as the Tocsin wrinkled up her face menacingly and began to mumble to herself. “He’s de guy dat handed her one when she was young, an’ she’s been layin’ fer him ever since! Sure! I know! Ain’t I worked him fer her till I wears me shoes out tryin’ to get somet’ing on him! Sure, she’s in on it! Go on, Slimmy, wot’s de lay? Wot do I do fer dat century?”

The Magpie hitched his chair closer to the table and, as his sharp, little, ferret eyes glanced around the room, motioned the two to brings their heads nearer.

“One of me influential broker friends down on Wall Street put me wise,” he said, with a wink. “Dat’s good enough fer youse two, as far as dat goes. But take it from me, I got it dead straight.” He lowered his voice “Say, he’s one of de richest mugs in New York, ain’t he? Well, he’s been sellin’ stocks an’ bonds all day, t’ousands an’ t’ousands of dollars’ worth–fer cash.”

“All dem t’ings is always sold fer cash,” remarked Larry the Bat fatuously.

“Aw, ferget it!” said the Magpie earnestly. “Fer CASH, I said–de coin, de long green–understand? He wasn’t shovin’ no checks fer what he sold into de bank except to get dem cashed. Dat’s wot he’s been doin’ all day–gettin’ de checks cashed, an’ gettin’ de money in big bills–see! I know of one bunch of eighty t’ousand–an’ dat’s only one!”

“Wot fer?” inquired Larry the Bat. It was the question that was pounding at his brain, as he stared innocently at the Magpie. What did it mean? Why was Henry LaSalle turning, and, if the Magpie was right, feverishly turning every security he could lay his hands on into cash? And then, in a flash, the answer came. THEY HAD NOT FOUND THE PACKAGE! Equally to them, as to the Tocsin, sitting there before him, it meant life and death. If the package were found by the Tocsin instead of themselves, the game was up! They were preparing for eventualities. If they were forced to run at a moment’s notice, they at least were not going to run empty-handed! Far from empty-handed, it seemed! It would not be difficult for the estate’s executor to realise a vast sum in short order on instantly marketable, gilt-edged securities–say, half a million dollars. Not very bulky, either–in large bills! Five thousand hundred-dollar bills would make half a million. It was astonishing how small a hand bag, say, might hold a fortune! “Wot fer, Slimmy?” he inquired again, wiggling his cigarette butt on his tongue tip. “Wot’d he do dat fer?”

“How de hell do youse suppose I knows!” demanded the Magpie, politely scornful. “Dat’s his business–dat ain’t wot’s worryin’ me!”

“No–sure, it ain’t!” admitted Larry the Bat ingratiatingly. “But go on, keep movin’, Slimmy! Wot’s he done wid de stuff?”

“Done wid it!” echoed the Magpie, with a short laugh. “Wot do youse t’ink! He’s been luggin’ it home to his swell joint up dere on de avenoo, an’ crammin’ his safe full of it.”

Larry the Bat sucked in his breath.

“Gee, dat’s soft!” he murmured, and then suddenly, as though with painful inspiration: “Say, Slimmy–say, are youse sure youse ain’t been handed a steer?”

The Magpie grinned wickedly.

“I ain’t fallin’ fer steers!” he said shortly. “Dis is on de level.”

Jimmie Dale lurched up from his chair, and, leaning over the lamp chimney, drew wheezily on his cigarette to get a light. His eyes sought the Tocsin’s face. To all intents and purposes she was entirely absorbed in the Magpie. He sat down again to gape, with well-stimulated, doglike admiration, at Slimmy Joe. WAS THIS, TOO, A PLANT? Why had the Magpie come to THEM with this story of Henry LaSalle? And then, the next instant, as the Magpie spoke, his suspicions were allayed.

“Let’s get down to cases!” the Magpie invited crisply. “I didn’t blow in here just by luck. Dis Henry LaSalle is de guy youse worked fer once, ain’t he, Mag? Dat’s de spiel, ain’t it?–he sent youse up fer pinchin’ de tacks out of his carpets!”

“I never pinched nothin’!” snarled Silver Mag truculently. “He’s a dirty liar! I never did!”

“Cut it out! Cut it out! Can dat!” complained the Magpie patiently. “De point is, youse worked in his house, didn’t youse?”

“Sure I did!” snapped the Tocsin, sullenly aggressive; “but–”

“Well, den, dat’s wot I want, dat’s wot I come fer, Mag–a plan of de house. See?”

Jimmie Dale could feel the Tocsin’s eyes upon him, questioning, searching, seeking a cue. A plan of the house–yes or no? And a decision on the instant!

“Sure!” said Larry the Bat brightly. “Dat’s wot I was t’inkin’ youse were after all de time. Say, youse are all right, Slimmy! Youse are de kind to work wid! Go on, Mag, draw de dope fer Slimmy. Dat’s better dan tryin’ to put one over on de swell guy. Dis’ll make him squeal fer fair!”

The Magpie produced a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket, and laid them on the table in front of the Tocsin.

“Dere youse are,” he announced. “Help yerself, an’ go to it, Mag!”

The Tocsin, evidently not quite certain of her part, wet the pencil doubtfully on the end of her tongue.

“I ain’t never drawed plans,” she said anxiously. “Mabbe"–she glanced at Jimmie Dale–"mabbe I dunno how to do it RIGHT.”

“Aw, go ahead!” nodded Larry the Bat. “Youse can do it right, Mag. Youse don’t have to make no oil paintin’! All de Magpie wants is de doors an’ windows, eh, Slimmy?”

“Sure,” agreed the Magpie encouragingly. “Dat’s all, Mag. Just mark de rooms out on de first floor, an’ de basement. Youse can explain wot youse ’re doin’ as youse goes along. I’ll get youse.”

The Tocsin cackled maliciously in assent; and then, while the Magpie got up from his chair and stood peering over her shoulder, she began to draw labouriously, her brows knitted, the pencil hooked awkwardly between cramped-up forefinger and thumb.

Larry the Bat, slouched forward over the table, his chin in his hands, appeared to watch the proceedings with mild interest–but his eyes, like a hawk’s, were following every line on the paper, transferring them to his brain, photographing every detail of the plan in his mind. And as he watched, there seemed something that was near to the acme of all that was ironical in the Magpie standing there, his sharp, little, black eyes drinking in greedily the Tocsin’s work, in the Tocsin herself aiding and abetting in the projected theft–OF HER OWN MONEY! How far would he let the Magpie go? He did not know. Perhaps–who could tell!–all the way. Between now and then there lay that package! If it were at Makoff’s, at Spider Jack’s, if he could find it, get it–the Magpie as a temporary custodian of the estate’s money would at least preclude its loss by flight if the Crime Club took alarm too quickly. Larry the Bat’s eyes, under half-closed lids, rested musingly on the Magpie’s face. The Magpie would not get very far away with it! On the other hand, if he failed at Spider Jack’s, if, after all, he was wrong, and the package had never been there, or if they had forestalled him, turned the trick upon him, already secured it, then–Larry the Bat’s lips, working on his cigarette, formed in a twisted smile–then, well then, that was quite another matter! Perhaps he and the Magpie might not agree so far! A half million dollars was perhaps not much out of eleven millions, but it was a salvage not to be despised! Why did he say half a million! Well, why not? If the Magpie knew of a single transaction of eighty thousand, and there had been many transactions during the day, a half million was little likely to prove an exaggeration–and the less likely in view of the fact that, if those in the Crime Club were preparing for an emergency, they would not stint themselves in the disposal of securities.

The Magpie was keeping up a running fire of questions, as the Tocsin toiled on with her pencil. Where did the hall lead to? How many windows in the library? Did she remember the kind of fastenings? Did the servants sleep in the basement, or above? And finally, twice over, as she finished the clumsy drawing and pushed it toward him, he demanded minute details of the position of the safe.

“Aw, dat’s all right, Slimmy!” Larry the Bat cut in airily. “If youse ferget anyt’ing when youse get in dere, youse can ask me. I got it cinched!”

The Magpie folded the paper and stowed it carefully away in his pocket.

“Ask youse, eh!” he grunted sarcastically. “An’ where do youse t’ink youse’ll be about dat time?”

“In dere wid youse, of course,” replied Larry the Bat promptly. "Dat’s wot youse said.”

“Yes, youse will–NOT!” announced the Magpie, with cold finality. "Do youse t’ink I want to queer myself! A hot one youse’d be on an inside job! Youse’ll be OUTSIDE, wid yer peepers skinned for de bulls–youse an’ Mag here, too. See! Get dat straight. While I’m on de job youse two plays de game. Now youse listen to me, both of youse. Don’t start nothin’ unless youse has to. If it’s a cinch I got to make a get-away, youse two start a drunk fight. Get me? Youse know de lay. T’row de talk loud–an’ I’ll fade. Dat’s all! We’ll crack de crib early–it’ll be quiet enough up dere by one o’clock”

One o’clock! Larry the Bat shook his head. What time was it now? It was about nine when he had first met the Tocsin, then the Sanctuary, then the long walk as he had followed her–say a quarter of ten for that. And he had certainly been here with her not less than an hour and a half. It must be after eleven, then. One o’clock! And before that must come Makoff and Spider Jack! The night that half an hour ago had seemed so sterile, was crowding a program of events upon him now–too fast!

“Nothin’ doin’!” he said thoughtfully. “Youse are in wrong dere, Slimmy. One o’clock don’t go! Say, take it from me, I’ve watched dat guy too many nights fer Mag. ’Tain’t often he leaves de club before one o’clock–an’ he ain’t never in bed before two.”

“All right,” agreed the Magpie, after a moment’s reflection. “Youse ought to know. Make it three o’clock.” He pulled a cigar from his pocket, lighted it, and, leaning back in his chair, stuck his feet up on the table. “If youse don’t mind, Mag, I’ll stick around a while,” he decided calmly. “Mabbe de less I’m seen to-night de better–an’ I guess dere won’t be nobody lookin’ fer me here.”

Larry the Bat coughed suddenly, and rose up a little heavily from his chair. He had not counted on that! If the Magpie was settling down for a prolonged stay, it devolved upon him, Jimmie Dale, to get away, and at once–and without exciting the Magpie’s suspicions. He coughed again, looked nervously from the Tocsin to the Magpie– stammered–swallowed hard–and coughed once more.

“Well, wot’s bitin’ youse?” inquired the Magpie ironically.

“Nothin’,” said Larry the Bat–and hesitated. “Nothin’, only–” He hesitated again; and then, the words in a rush:

“Say, Slimmy, couldn’t youse come across wid a piece of dat century now?”

“Wot fer?” demanded the Magpie, a little aggressively.

Larry the Bat cleared his throat with a desperate effort.

“Youse knows,” he admitted sheepishly. “Just gimme de price of one, Slimmy–just one.”

“Coke!” exploded the Magpie. “An’ get soaked to de eyes–not by a damn sight!”

“No! Honest to Gawd, no, Slimmy–just one!” pleaded Larry the Bat.

“Nix!” said the Magpie shortly.

Larry the Bat thrust out a hand before the Magpie’s eyes that shook tremulously.

“I got to have it!” he declared, with sudden fierceness. “I GOT to– see! Look at me! I ain’t goin’ to be no good to-night if I don’t. I tell youse, I got to! I ain’t goin’ to t’row youse down, Slimmy– honest, I ain’t! Just one–an’ it’ll set me up. If I don’t get none I’ll be on de rocks before mornin’! Dat’s straight, Slimmy– ask Mag, she knows.”

“Aw, let him go get it!” broke in the Tocsin wearily. “Dat’s de best t’ing youse can do, Slimmy–dey’re all alike when dey gets in his class.”

“Youse cocaine sniffers gives me de pip!” snorted the Magpie, in disgust. He dug down into his pocket, produced a bill, and flung it across the table to Larry the Bat. “Well, dere youse are; but youse can take it from me, Larry, dat if youse gets whiffed"–he swore threateningly–"I’ll crack every bone in yer face! Get me?”

“Slimmy,” said Larry the Bat fervently, grabbing at the bill with a hungry hand, “youse can count on me. I’ll be up dere on de job before youse are. Three o’clock, eh? Well, so long, Slimmy"–he slouched eagerly to the door. “So long, Mag"–he paused on the threshold for a single, quick-flung, significant glance. “See youse on de avenoo, Mag–I’ll be up dere before youse are. So long!”

“Oh, so long!” said the Tocsin contemptuously.

And, an instant later, Jimmie Dale closed the outer door behind him.

Chapter XII: John Johansson–Four-Two-Eight

Nearly midnight already! It was even later than he had thought. Larry the Bat pressed his face against a shop’s windowpane on the Bowery for a glance at a clock that had caught his eye on the wall within. Nearly midnight!

He slouched on again hurriedly, still debating in his mind, as he had been debating it all the way from the Tocsin’s, the question of returning again to the Sanctuary. So far, the way both to Spider Jack’s and the Sanctuary had been in the same direction–but the Sanctuary was on the next street.

Jimmie Dale reached the corner–and hesitated. It was strange how strong was the intuition upon him to-night that bade him go on and make all speed to Spider Jack’s–while equally strong was the cold, stubborn logic that bade him go first to the Sanctuary. There were things that he needed there that would probably be absolutely essential to him before the night was out, things without which he might be so badly handicapped as to invite failure from the start; and yet–it was already midnight!

Ostensibly both Makoff and Spider Jack closed their places at eleven. But that might mean anything–depending upon their own respective inclinations, or on what of their own peculiar brand of deviltry might be afoot. If they were still about, still in evidence, he was still too early, midnight though it was; though, on the other hand, if the coast was clear, he could ill afford to lose a moment of the time between now and the hour that the Magpie had planned for the robbery of Henry LaSalle, for it would not be an easy matter, even once inside Spider Jack’s, to find that package– since it was Spider’s open boast that things committed to his care were where the police, or any one else, might as well whistle and suck their thumbs as try to find them!

And then, with sudden decision, taking his hesitation, as it were, by the throat, Jimmie Dale hurried on again–to the Sanctuary. At most, it could delay him but another fifteen minutes, and by half- past twelve, or a quarter to one at the latest, he would be at Spider Jack’s.

Disdaining the secrecy of the side door on the alley, for who had a better right or was better known there than Larry the Bat, a tenant of years, he entered the tenement by the front door, scuffled up the stairs to the first landing, and let himself into his disreputable room. He locked the door behind him, lighted the choked and wheezy gas jet, in a single, sharp-flung glance assured himself that the blinds were tightly shut, and, kneeling in the far corner, threw back the oilcloth and lifted up the loose section of the flooring beneath. He reached inside, fumbling under the neatly folded clothes of Jimmie Dale, and in a moment laid his leather girdle with its kit of burglar’s tools on the floor beside him; and beside that again an electric flashlight, a black silk mask, and–what he had never expected to use again when, early the night before, he had, as he had believed, put it away forever–the thin, metal insignia case of the Gray Seal. Another moment, and, with the flooring replaced, the oilcloth rolled back into position, he had stripped off his coat and was pulling his spotted, greasy shirt off over his head; then, stooping quickly, he picked up the girdle, put it on, put on his shirt again over it, put on his coat, put the metal case, the flashlight, and the mask in his pockets–and once more the Sanctuary was in darkness.

It was perhaps fifteen minutes later that Jimmie Dale turned into the upper section of Thompson Street. Here he slowed his pace, that had been almost a run since he had left the Sanctuary, and began to shuffle leisurely along; for the street, that a few hours before would have been choked with its pushcarts and venders, its half naked children playing where they could find room in the gutters, its sidewalks thronged with shawled women and picturesquely dressed, earringed, dark-visaged men, a scene, as it were, transported from some foreign land, was still far from deserted; the quiet, if quiet it could be called, was but comparative, there were many yet about, and he had no desire to attract attention by any evidence of undue haste. And, besides, Spider Jack’s was just ahead, making the corner of the alleyway a few hundred feet farther on, and he had very good reasons for desiring to approach Spider’s little novelty store at a pace that would afford him every opportunity for observation.

On he shuffled along the street, until, reaching Spider Jack’s, a little two-storied, tumble-down brick structure, a muttered exclamation of satisfaction escaped him. The shop was closed and dark; and, though Spider Jack lived above the store, there were no lights even in the upper windows. Spider Jack presumably was either out, or in bed! So far, then, he could have asked for nothing more.

Jimmie Dale edged in close to the building as he slouched by, so close that his hat brim seemed to touch the windowpane. It was possible that from a room at the rear of the store there might be a light with a telltale ray perhaps filtering through, say, a door crack. But there was nothing–only blackness within.

He paused at the corner of the building by the alleyway. Down here, adjoining the high board fence of Spider Jack’s back yard, Makoff made pretense at pawnbrokering in a small and dingy wooden building, that was little more pretentious than a shed–and in Makoff’s place, so far as he could see, there was no light, either.

Jimmie Dale’s fingers were industriously rolling a cigarette, as, under the brim of his slouch hat, his eyes were noting every detail around him. A yard in against the wall of Spider Jack’s, the wall cutting off the rays of the street lamp at a sharp angle, it was shadowy and black–and beyond that, farther in, the alleyway was like a pit. It would take less, far less, than the fraction of a second to gain that yard, but some one was approaching behind him, and a little group of people loitered, with annoying persistency, directly across the way on the other side of the street. Jimmie Dale stuck the cigarette between his lips, fumbled in his pockets, and finally produced a box of matches. The group opposite was moving on now; the footsteps he had heard behind him, those of a man, drew nearer, the man passed by–and the box of matches in Jimmie Dale’s hand dropped to the ground. He reached to pick them up, and in his stooping posture, without seeming to turn his head, flung a quick glance behind him up the street. No one, for that fraction of a second that he needed, was near enough to see–and in that fraction of a second Jimmie Dale disappeared.

A dozen yards down the lane, he sprang for the top of the high fence, gripped it, and, lithe and active as a cat, swung himself up and over, and dropped noiselessly to the ground on the other side. Here he stood motionless for a moment, close against the fence, to get his bearings. The rear of Spider Jack’s building loomed up before him–the back windows as unlighted as those in front. Luck so far, at least, was with him! He turned and looked about him, and, his eyes growing accustomed to the darkness, he could just make out Makoff’s place, bordering the end of the yard–nor, from this new vantage point, could he discover, any more than before, a single sign of life about the pawnbroker’s establishment.

Jimmie Dale stole forward across the yard, mounted the three steps of the low stoop at Spider Jack’s back door, and tried the door cautiously. It was locked. From his pocket came the small steel instrument that had stood Larry the Bat in good stead a hundred times before in similar circumstances. He inserted it in the keyhole, worked deftly with it for an instant–and tried the door again. It was still locked. And then Jimmie Dale smiled almost apologetically. Spider Jack did not use ordinary locks on his back door!

The discountenanced instrument went back into his pocket, and now Jimmie Dale’s hand slipped inside his shirt, and from one of the little, upright pockets of the leather belt, and from still another, and from after that a third, came the vicious little blued-steel tools. The sensitive fingers travelled slowly up and down the side of the door–and then he was at work in earnest. A minute passed– another–there was a dull, low, grating sound, a snick as of metal yielding suddenly–and Jimmie Dale was coolly stowing away his tools again inside his shirt.

He pushed the door open an inch, listened, then swung it wide, stepped inside, and closed it behind him. A round, white beam of light flashed in a quick circle–and went out. It was a sort of storeroom, innocent enough and orderly enough in appearance, bare- floored, with boxes and packing cases piled neatly against the walls. In one corner a staircase led to the story above–and from above, quite audibly now, he caught the sound of snoring. Spider Jack was in bed, then!

Directly facing him was the open door of another room, and Jimmie Dale, moving softly forward, entered it. He had never been in Spider Jack’s before, and his first concern was to form an intimate acquaintanceship with his surroundings. Again the flashlight circled, and again went out.

“No windows!” muttered Jimmie Dale under his breath. “Nothing very fancy about the architecture! Three rooms in a row! Store in front of this room through that door of course. Wonder if the door’s locked, though it’s a foregone conclusion the package wouldn’t be in there.”

Not a sound, his tread silent, he crossed to the closed door that he had noticed. It was unlocked, and he opened it tentatively a little way. A faint glow of light diffused itself through the opening. Jimmie Dale nodded his head and closed the door again. The street lamp, shining through the shop windows, accounted for the light.

And now the flashlight played with steady inquisitiveness about him. The room in which he stood seemed to combine a sort of office, with a lounging room, in which Spider Jack, no doubt, entertained his particular cronies. There was table in the centre, cards still upon it, chairs about it. Against the wall farthest away from the shop stood a huge, old-fashioned cabinet; and a little farther along, anglewise, partitioning off the corner, as it were, hung, for some purpose or other, a cretonne curtain. Also, against the wall next to the lane, bringing a commiserating smile to Jimmie Dale’s lips as his eyes fell upon it, was a clumsy, lumbering, antique safe.

Jimmie Dale’s eyes returned to the curtain. What was it doing there? What was it for? Instinctively he stepped over to examine it. A single glance, however, as he lifted it aside, sufficed. It was nothing but a make-shift clothes closet. He turned from it, switched off the flashlight, and stood staring meditatively into the darkness. In a strange house, with the knowledge to begin with that what he sought was carefully hidden, it was no sinecure to find that package. He had never for a moment imagined that it would be. But of one thing, however, there was no uncertainty in his mind–he would get the package!–by search if possible, by other means if search failed. It was now close to one o’clock. If by two o’clock his efforts had been fruitless, Spider Jack would hand over the package–at the revolver point! It was quite simple! Meanwhile– Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, and, going over to the safe, knelt down in front of it–meanwhile, as well begin here as anywhere else.

The trained fingers closed on the handle–and on the instant, as though in startled amazement, shifted to the dial. They came back to the handle–a wrench–then a low, amused chuckle–and the door swung open. The great, unwieldy thing was only a monumental bluff! It not only had not been locked, but it COULD NOT be locked–the mechanism was out of order, the bolts could not be moved by so much as a hair’s breadth!

Still chuckling, Jimmie Dale shot the flashlight’s ray into the interior of the safe–and the chuckle died on his lips, and into his face came a look of strained bewilderment. Inside, everything was in chaos, books, papers, a miscellany of articles, as though they had first been ruthlessly pulled out on the floor, then gathered up in an armful and crammed back inside again. For an instant he did not move, and then a queer, hard, mirthless smile drew down the corners of his mouth. With a sort of bitter, expectant nod of his head, he turned the light upon the door of the safe. Yes, there were the scratches that the tools had left; and, as though in sardonic jest, the holes, where the steel bit had bored, were plugged with putty and rubbed over with some black substance that was still wet and came off, smearing his finger, as he touched it. It could not have been done long ago, then! How long? A half hour– an hour? Not more than that!

Mechanically he closed the door of the safe, rose to his feet and, almost heedless of noise now, the flashlight ray dancing before him, he jumped across to the old-fashioned cabinet and pulled the door open. Here, as within the safe, all inside, plain evidence of thorough, if hasty, search, was scattered and tossed about in hopeless confusion.

He shut the cabinet door; the flashlight went out; and he stood like a man stunned, the sense of some abysmal disaster upon him. He was too late! The game was up! If it had ever been here, the package was gone now–GONE! The Crime Club had been here before him!

“The game was up! The game was up!"–his mind seemed to keep on repeating that. The Crime Club had beaten him by an hour, at most, and had been here, and had searched. It was strange, though, that they should have been at such curious pains to cover their tracks by leaving the room in order, by such paltry efforts to make the safe appear untouched when the first glance that was at all critical would disclose immediately what had been done! Why should they need to cover their tracks at all; or, if it was necessary, why, above all, in such a pitifully inadequate way! His mind barked back to the same ghastly refrain–"the game was up!”

NO! Not yet! There was still a chance! There was still Spider Jack! Suppose, in spite of their search, they had failed to find the package! Jimmie Dale’s lips set in a thin line, as he started abruptly toward the door. There was still that chance, and one thing was grimly certain–Spider Jack would, at least, show him where the package HAD BEEN!

And then, halfway to the door, he halted suddenly, and stood still– listening. An electric bell was ringing loudly, imperiously, somewhere upstairs. Followed almost immediately the sound of some one, Spider Jack presumably, moving hurriedly about overhead; and then, a moment later, steps coming down the staircase in the adjoining room.

Jimmie Dale drew back, flattening himself against the wall. Spider Jack entered the room, stumbled across it, in the darkness, fumbled for the door that led into his little shop, opened it, passed through, fumbled around in there again, for matches evidently, then lighted a gas jet in the store, and, going to the street door, opened it.

Jimmie Dale had edged along the wall a little to a position where he had an unobstructed view through the open doorway connecting the shop and the room in which he stood. Spider Jack, in trousers and shirt, hastily donned, no doubt, as he had got out of bed, was standing in the street doorway, and beyond him loomed the forms of several men. Spider Jack stepped aside to allow his visitors to enter–and suddenly, a cry barely suppressed upon his lips, Jimmie Dale involuntarily strained forward. Three men had entered, but his eyes were fixed, fascinated, upon only one–the first of the three. Was it an hallucination? Was he mad–-dreaming? It was Hilton Travers, THE CHAUFFEUR–the man whom he could have sworn he had last seen dead, lashed in that chair, in that ghastly death chamber of the Crime Club!

“Rather rough on you, Spider, to pull you out of bed at this hour," the chauffeur was saying apologetically.

“Oh, that’s all right, seein’ it’s you, Travers,” Spider Jack answered, gruffly amiable. “Only I was kind of lookin’ for you last night.”

“I know,” the chauffeur replied; “but I couldn’t connect with my friends here. Shake hands with them, Spider–Bob Marvin–Harry Stead.”

“Glad to know you, gents,” said Spider Jack, with a handgrip apiece.

The chauffeur lowered his voice a little.

“I suppose we’re alone here, eh, Spider? Yes? Well, then, you know what I’ve come for–that package–Marvin and Stead, here, are the ones that are in on it with me. Get it for me, will you, Spider?”

“Sure–Mr. Johansson!” Spider grinned. “Sure! Come on into the back room and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be mabbe five minutes, or so.”

Jimmie Dale’s brain was whirling. What did it mean? He could not seem to understand. His mind seemed to refuse its functions. Travers, the chauffeur–ALIVE! He drew in his breath sharply. That curtain in the corner! He must see this out now! They were coming! Quick, noiseless, he stole along the side of the wall, reached the corner, and slipped in behind the curtain, as Spider Jack, striking a match, entered the room.

Spider Jack lighted the gas, and, as the others followed behind him, waved them toward the chairs around the table.

“I’ll just ask you gents not to leave the room,” he said meaningly, over his shoulder, as he stepped toward the rear door. “It’s kind of a fad of mine to keep some things even from my wife!”

“All right, Spider–I understand,” the chauffeur returned readily.

Jimmie Dale’s knife cut a tiny slit in the cretonne on a level with his eyes. The three men had seated themselves at the table, and appeared to be listening intently. Spider Jack’s footsteps echoed back as he crossed the rear room, sounded dull and muffled descending the stoop outside, and died away.

“I told you it wasn’t in the house!” the man who had been introduced as Stead laughed shortly. “We wasted the hour we had here.”

The third man spoke crisply, incisively, to the chauffeur.

“Turn down that gas jet a little! You’ve got across with it so far– but you can’t stand a searchlight, Clarke!

And at the words, in a flash, the meaning of it, all of it, to the last detail that was spelling death, ruin, and disaster for her, the Tocsin, for himself as well, burst upon Jimmie Dale. That VOICE! He would have known it, recognised it, among a thousand–it was the masked man of the night before, the leader, the head of the Crime Club! And it was not Travers there at all! He remembered now, too well, that second room they had showed him in the Crime Club–its multitude of disguises, though in this case they had the dead man’s clothes ready to their hands–the leader’s boast that impersonation was but child’s play to them! And now he understood why they had covered up the traces of their search in only so curiously inadequate a manner. They had failed to find the package, and, as a last resort, had adopted the ruse of impersonating Hilton Travers, the chauffeur, which made it necessary that when they called Spider Jack from his bed, as they had just done, that Spider Jack, at a CASUAL glance, should notice nothing amiss–but it would be no more than a casual glance, for, who should know better than they, he would not have to go for the package to any place that they had disturbed! And he, Jimmie Dale, could only stand here and watch them, helpless, powerless to move! Three of them! A step out into the room was to invite certain death. It would not matter, his death–if he could gain anything for her, for the Tocsin, by it. But what could he gain–by dying? He clenched his hands until the nails bit into the flesh.

Spider Jack re-entered the room, carrying what looked like a large, bulky, manila envelope, heavily sealed, in his hand. He tossed it on the table.

“There you are, Travers!” he said.

“I wonder,” suggested the leader pleasantly, “if, now that we’re here, Travers, your friend would mind letting us have this room for a few minutes to ourselves to clean up the business?”

“Sure!” agreed Spider Jack cordially. “You’re welcome to it! I’ll wait out here in the store until you say the word.”

He went out, closing the door after him. The leader picked up the package.

“We’ll take no chances with this,” he said grimly. “It’s been too close a call. After we’ve had a look at it, we’ll put it out of harm’s way on the spot, here, while we’ve got it–before we leave!”

He ripped the package open, and disclosed perhaps a dozen official- looking documents, besides a miscellaneous number of others. He took up the first of the papers, glanced through it hurriedly, then tossed it to the pseudo chauffeur.

“Tear it up, and tear it up–SMALL!” he ordered tersely. The next, after examining it as he had the first, he tossed to the other man. "Go ahead!"–curtly. “Work fast! From the looks of these, Travers had us cold! There’s proof enough here of LaSalle’s murder to send us all to the chair!”

He went on glancing through the documents; and then suddenly, joining the others in their work, began to rip and tear at the papers himself.

A sort of cold horror had settled upon Jimmie Dale, and his forehead was clammy wet. The inhuman irony of it! That he should stand there and watch, impotent to prevent it, the destruction of what he would have given his life to secure! And then slowly, a grim, hard, merciless smile came to his lips. He had recognised the leader’s voice–now he would recognise the leader’s FACE. At least, that was left to him–perhaps the master trump of all. It would not be very hard to find the Crime Club now–with that man to lead the way!

The scraps of paper, tiny shreds, mounted into a heap on the table– and with the last of the contents of the package destroyed, the leader stood up.

“Put these pieces in your pockets; we don’t want to leave them here,” he directed quietly. “And then let’s get out.”

In scarcely a moment, the last scrap of paper had vanished. The three men walked to the door, passed through it, and joined Spider Jack in the store–and Jimmie Dale, slipping out from behind the curtain, gained the door of the rear room, crept through it, reached the stoop, and then, darting like the wind across the yard, was over the fence in a second, and in another was out of the alleyway and on the street.

He was in time–in plenty of time. They had just left Spider Jack’s, and were, perhaps, fifty yards or so ahead of him. He slouched on behind them–the cold, grim smile on his lips once more. It was the Crime Club now, that hell’s cradle where their devil’s schemes were hatched, that was the one thing left to him; they would lead him to that, and then–and then it would be his turn to STRIKE!

They turned the first corner. And suddenly, as the racing engine of an automobile caught his ear, he broke into a run, and dashed around the corner after them–in time to see them jump into a car, and the car speed off along the street! He halted, as though he were suddenly dazed–started involuntarily to run forward again–stopped with a hollow laugh at the futility of it–and stood still and motionless on the sidewalk.

And then he swayed a little, and his face grew gray. Failure, defeat, ruin–in that moment he knew them all to their bitterest dregs. How could he go to her! How could he face her, and tell her that they were beaten, that the last hope was gone, that he had failed!

“God!” he cried aloud, and clenched his hands.

Then deep in his consciousness a thought stirred, and he swept a shaking hand across his eyes. Why had it come again, that thought! Did it mean that HE must play–the last card! There was a way– there had always been a way. The way the Crime Club took–MURDER. It was their own weapon! If the man who posed as Henry LaSalle were killed! If that man–were killed!

“The Magpie was to be there at three!” he muttered–and started mechanically back along the street.

Chapter XIII: The Only Way

It was a horrible thing–and it grew upon him. In a blind, mechanical way, his brain receptive to nothing else, Jimmie Dale walked on along the street. To kill a man! Death he had faced himself a hundred times, witnessed it a hundred times in its most violent forms, had seen murder done before his eyes, had been in straits where, to save his own life, it had seemed the one last desperate chance–and yet his hands were still clean! To kill a man in fair fight, in struggle, when the blood was hot, was terrible enough, a possibility that was always before him, the one thing from which he shrank, the one thing that, as the Gray Seal, he had always feared; but to kill a man deliberately, to creep upon his victim with hideous, cold-blooded premeditation–he shivered a little, and his hand shook as he drew it nervously across his eyes.

But there was no other way! Again and again, insidiously grappling with his revulsion, with the horror that the impulse to murder inspired, came that other thought–there was no other way. If the man who posed as Henry LaSalle were DEAD! If he were dead! If he were dead! See, now, what would happen if that man were dead! How clear his brain was on that point! The whole plot would tumble like a house of cards about the heads of the Crime Club. The courts would require an auditing of the estate by a trustee of the courts’ own appointing, who would continue to administer it until the Tocsin’s twenty-fifth birthday, or until there was tangible evidence of her death–but the Tocsin, automatically with her pseudo uncle’s death, could publicly appear again. Her death could no longer benefit the Crime Club, since it, the Crime Club, with the supposed uncle dead, could not profit through the false Henry LaSalle inheriting as next of kin! It was the weak link, the vulnerable point in the stupendous scheme of murder and crime with which these hell fiends had played for and won, so far, the stake of eleven millions. Not that they had overlooked or been blind to this, they were too clever, too cunning for that–it was only that they had planned to accomplish the Tocsin’s death, as they had her father’s and uncle’s, and ESTABLISH the false Henry LaSalle in undisputed possession and ownership of the estate–and had failed in that–up to the present. But the material results remained the same, so long as the Tocsin, to save her life, was forced to remain in hiding, so long as proof that would convict the Crime Club was not forthcoming– SO LONG AS THAT MAN LIVED!

Time passed to which Jimmie Dale was oblivious. At times he walked slowly, scarcely moving; at times his pace was a nervous, hurried stride, that was almost a run. And as he was oblivious to time, so was he oblivious to his surroundings, to the direction which he took. At times his forehead was damp with moisture that was not there from physical exertion; at times his face, deathly white, was full as of the vision of some shuddering, abhorrent sight; at times his lips were thinned into a straight line, and there was a glitter in the dark eyes that was not good to see, while his hands at his sides clenched until the skin, tight over the knuckles, was an ivory white. To kill a man!

What other way was there? The proof that it had taken Hilton Travers years to obtain, the proof on which the Tocsin’s life depended, was destroyed utterly, irreparably. It could never be duplicated–Hilton Travers was dead–MURDERED. Murder! That thought again! It was their own weapon! Murder! Would one kill a venomous reptile in whose fangs was death? What right had this man to life, whose life was forfeit even under the law–for murder? Was she to drag on an intolerable existence among the dregs and the scum of the underworld, she, in her refinement and her purity, to exist among the vile and dissolute, in daily, hourly peril of her life, because the weapons that these inhuman vultures had used to rob her, to destroy those she loved, to make of her life a hideous, joyless thing, should not be used against them?

But to kill a man! To steal upon a man with cold intent in the blackness of the night–and take his life! To be a murderer! To know the horror of blood forever upon one’s hands, to rise, cold- sweated, in the night, fearful of the very shadows around one, to live with every detail of that fearsome act sweeping like some dread spectre at unexpected moments upon the consciousness! He put up his hands before his face, as though to blot out the thought from him. Mind and soul recoiled before it–to kill a man!

He walked on and on, until at last, conscious of a sense of fatigue, he stopped. He must have come a long way, been walking a long time. Where was he? He looked about him for a moment in a dazed way–and suddenly, with a low cry, shrank back. As though he had been drawn to it by some ghastly magnet, he found himself standing in front of the LaSalle mansion, on Fifth Avenue. No, no; it was not for that he had come–to kill a man! It was only–only to get that money. Yes–he remembered now–that money from the safe, before the Magpie got it. The Magpie was to be there at three o’clock–and the Tocsin was to be there, too. The Tocsin! That package! He had failed! It had been her one hope, and–and it was gone. What could he say to her? How could he tell her the miserable truth? But–but he had not come there in the dead of night to kill a man, these other things were what had–

“Jimmie!” It was a quick-breathed whisper. A hand was on his arm.

He turned, startled. It was the Tocsin–Silver Mag.

“Jimmie!” in alarm. “Why are you standing here like this? You may be SEEN!”

Seen! Suppose he WERE seen? He shuddered a little.

“Yes; that’s so!” he said hoarsely. He glanced numbly up and down the wide, deserted, but well-lighted, avenue. It was no place, that most aristocratic section of the city, for such as Silver Mag and Larry the Bat to be seen at that hour of night, or, rather, morning. And if anything HAPPENED inside that house! “I–I didn’t think of that,” he said mechanically.

“Come across the street–under the stoop of that house there.” She had his arm, and was half dragging him as she spoke, the alarm in her voice intensified. And then, a moment later, safe from observation: “Jimmie, Jimmie, what is the matter? What has happened? What makes you act so strangely?”

“Nothing,” he said. “I–”

“TELL me!” she insisted wildly.

And then, with a violent effort, Jimmie Dale forced his mind back to the immediate present. He was only inspiring her with terror–and there was the Magpie–and that money in the safe!

“Where is the Magpie?” he asked, with quick apprehension. “Am I late? Is he in there already?”

“No,” she said. “He hasn’t come yet.”

“What time is it?” he demanded anxiously.

“About half-past two,” she replied. “But, Jimmie–”

“Wait!” he broke in. “Where is he now? You were both together! And you were both to be here at three. What are you doing here alone at half-past two?”

A strange little exclamation, one almost of dismay, it seemed, escaped her.

“The Magpie left my place an hour ago–to get his kit, I think. And I came here at once because that was what you and I understood I was to do, wasn’t it? Jimmie, you frighten me! You are not yourself. Don’t you remember the last words you said, as you nodded to me behind the Magpie’s back–that you would be here BEFORE us? There was no mistaking your meaning–if I could get away from him, I was to come here and meet you.”

Jimmie Dale passed his hand nervously across his eyes. Of course, he remembered now! What a frightful turmoil his brain had been in!

“Yes; of course!” He tried to speak nonchalantly. “I had forgotten for the moment.”

She caught his arm in a quick, tight hold, shaking him in a terrified way.

“YOU–forget a thing like that! Jimmie–something terrible has happened. Can’t you see that I am nearly mad with anxiety! What is it? What is it? That package, Jimmie–is it the package?”

He did not answer. What could he say? It meant life, hope, joy, everything that the world held for her–and it was gone.

“Yes–it IS the package!” she whispered frantically. “Quick, Jimmie! Tell me! It–it was not there? You–you could not find it?”

“It was there,” he said, as though the words were literally forced from him.

“Then? Then–WHAT, Jimmie?” The clutch on his arm was like a vise.

“They got it,” he said. It was like a death sentence that he pronounced. “It is destroyed.”

She did not speak or move–save that her hands, as though nerveless and without strength, fell away from his arms, and dropped to her sides. It was dark there under the stoop, though not so dark but that he could see her face. It was gray–gray as death. And there was misery and fear and a pitiful helplessness in it–and then she swayed a little, and he caught her in his arms.

“Gone!” she murmured in a dead, colourless way–and suddenly laughed out sharply, hysterically.

“Don’t! For God’s sake, don’t do that!” he pleaded wildly.

She looked at him then for a moment in strange quiet–and lifted her hand and stroked his face in a numbed way.

“It–it would have been better, Jimmie, wouldn’t it,” she said in the same monotonous voice, “it would have been better if–if I had never found out anything, and they–they had done the same to me that they did to–to father.”

“Marie! Marie!” It was the first time he had ever spoken her name, and it was on his lips now in an agony of tenderness and appeal. "Don’t! You mustn’t speak like that!”

“I’m tired,” she said. “I–I can’t fight any more.”

She did not cry. She lay there in his arms quite still–like a weary child.

The minutes passed. When Jimmie Dale spoke again it was irrelevantly–and his face was very white:

“Marie, describe the upper floor of that house over there for me.”

She roused herself with a start.

“The upper floor?” she repeated slowly. “Why–why do you ask that?”

“Have YOU forgotten in turn?” he said, with a steady smile. “That money in the safe–it’s yours–we can at least save that out of the wreck. You only drew the basement plan and the first floor for the Magpie–the more I know about the house the better, of course, in case anything goes wrong. Now, see, try and be brave–and tell me quickly, for I must get through before the Magpie comes, and I have barely half an hour.”

“No, Jimmie–no!” She slipped out of his arms. “Let it alone! I am afraid. Something–I–I have a feeling that something will happen.”

“It is the only way.” He said it involuntarily, more to himself than to her.

“Jimmie, let it alone!” she said again.

“No,” he said. “I am going–so tell me quickly. Every minute that we wait is one that counts against us.”

She hesitated an instant–and then, speaking rapidly, made a verbal sketch of the upper portion of the house for him.

“It’s a very large house, isn’t it?” he commented innocently–to pave the way for the question, above all others, that he had to ask. "Which is your uncle’s, I mean that man’s room?”

“The first on the right, at the head of the landing,” she answered. "Only, Jimmie, don’t–don’t go!”

He drew her close to him again.

“Now, listen,” he said quietly. “When the Magpie comes and finds I am not here, lead him to think that the money he gave me was too much for me; that I am probably in some den, doped with drug–and hold him as long as you can on the pretext that there is always the possibility I may, after all, show up before he goes in there. You understand? And now about yourself–you must do exactly as I say. On no account allow yourself to be seen by ANY ONE except the Magpie. I would tell you to go now, only, unless it is vitally necessary, we cannot afford to arouse the Magpie’s suspicions–he’d have every crook in the underworld snarling at our heels. But you are not to wait, even for him, if you detect the slightest disturbance in that house before he comes. And, equally, after he has gone in, whether I have come out or not, at the first indication of anything unusual you are to get away at once. You understand– Marie?”

“Yes,” she said. “But–but, Jimmie, you–”

“Just one thing more.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “Did the Magpie say anything about how he intended to get in?”

“Yes–by the side away from the corner of the street,” she said tremulously. “You see, there’s quite a space between the house and the one next door; and, besides, the house next door is closed up, there’s nobody there, the family has gone away for the summer. The library window there is low enough to reach from the ground.”

For a moment longer he held her close to him, as though he could not let her go–then bent and kissed her passionately. And in that moment all the emotions he had known as he had walked blindly from Spider Jack’s that night surged again upon him; and that voice was whispering, whispering, whispering: “It is the only way–it is the only way.”

And then, not daring to trust his voice, he released her suddenly, and stepped back out from under the stoop–and the next instant he was across the deserted avenue. Another, and he had slipped through the iron gates that opened on the street driveway–and in yet another he was crouched close up against the front door of the LaSalle mansion.

It was a large house, a very large house, one of the few that, even amid the wealth and luxury of that quarter, boasted its own grounds, and those so restricted as scarcely to deserve the name; but it was set far enough back from the street to escape the radius of the street lamps, and so guarantee in its shadows security from observation. It was not the Magpie’s way, the front door–the obvious to the Magpie and his ilk was a thing always to be shunned. Jimmie Dale’s lips were set in a grim smile, as his fingers worked with lightning speed, now taking this instrument and now that from the leather pockets in the girdle beneath his shirt–the penitentiaries were full of Magpies who shunned the obvious!

Very slowly, very cautiously the door opened. He listened breathlessly, tensely. The door closed again–behind him. He was inside now. Stillness! Blackness! Not a sound! A minute went by– another. And then, as he stood there, strained, listening, the silence itself began, it seemed, to palpitate, and pound, pound, pound, and be full of strange noises. It was a horrible thing–to kill a man!

Chapter XIV: Out of the Darkness

A moment later, Jimmie Dale stepped forward through the vestibule. He was quite calm now; a sort of cold, merciless precision in every movement succeeding the riot of turbulent emotions that had possessed him as he had entered the house.

The half hour, the maximum length of time before the Magpie would appear, as he had estimated it when out there under the stoop with the Tocsin, had dwindled now to perhaps twenty minutes, twenty-five at the outside. Twenty-five minutes! Twenty-five minutes was so little that for an instant the temptation was strong upon him to sacrifice, rather than any of those precious minutes, the Magpie instead! And then in the darkness, as he stole noiselessly across the hall, he shook his head. It would be a cowardly, brutal thing to do. What chance would a man with a record like the Magpie’s stand if caught there? How easy it would be to shift the murder of the supposed Henry LaSalle to the Magpie’s shoulders! Jimmie Dale’s lips closed firmly. Self-preservation was, perhaps, the first law, but he would save the Magpie if he could–the Magpie should have his chance! The man might be a criminal, might deserve punishment at the hands of the law, his liberty might be a menace to the community–but he was not a murderer, his life forfeit for a crime he had never committed!

If he, Jimmie Dale, could only in some way have arranged with the Tocsin out there to keep the Magpie away altogether! But it could not be done without arousing the Magpie’s suspicions; and, as a corollary to that, afterward, with the subsequent events, would come–the deluge! The law of the underworld was clear, concise, and admitting of no appeal on that point; to double cross a pal meant, sooner or later, a knife thrust, a blackjack, or– But what difference did it make what form the execution of the sentence took? And, since, then, that was out of the question, since he could not keep the Magpie away without practically risking his own life, the Magpie at least must have his chance.

Jimmie Dale was at the library door now, that, according to the plan the Tocsin had drawn for the Magpie, and as he remembered her description when she had told him her story earlier in the evening, was just at the foot of the staircase. How dark it was! Though the stairs could be only a few feet away, he could not see them. And how intense the silence was again! Here, where he stood, the slightest stir from above must have reached him–but there was not a sound.

His hand felt out for the doorknob, found it, turned it, and pushed the door open. He stepped inside the room and closed the door behind him. The safe, according to the Tocsin’s plan again, was in that sort of alcove at the lower end of the library. Jimmie Dale’s flashlight played inquisitively about the room. There was the window, the only one in the room, the window through which the Magpie proposed to enter; there was the archway of the alcove, with its–no, there were no longer any portieres; and there was the safe, he could see it quite plainly from where he stood at the upper end of the room.

The flashlight went out for the space of perhaps thirty seconds– thirty seconds of absolute silence, absolute stillness–then the round, white ray of the light again, but glistening now on the nickel knobs and dial of the safe–and Jimmie Dale was on his knees before it.

A low, scarcely breathed exclamation, that seemed to mingle anxiety and hesitation, escaped him. He, who knew the make of every safe in the country, knew this one for its true worth. Twenty-five minutes! Could he open it in that time, let alone with any time to spare! It was not like the one in Spider Jack’s; it was the kind that the Magpie, however clever he might be in his own way, would be forced to negotiate with “soup,” and, with the attendant noise, double his chance of discovery and capture–and the responsibility for what might have happened UPSTAIRS! No; the Magpie must have his chance! And, besides, the money in the safe apart, why should not he, Jimmie Dale, have his own chance, as well? All this would help. The motive–robbery; the perpetrator, there was grim mockery on his lips now as the light went out and the sensitive fingers closed on the knob of the dial, the perpetrator–the Gray Seal. It would afford excellent food for the violent editorial diatribes under which the police again would writhe in frenzy!

Stillness again! Silence! Only a low, tense breathing; only, so faint that it could not be heard a foot away, a curious scratching, as from time to time the supersensitive fingers fell away from the dial to rub upon the carpet–to increase even their sensitiveness by setting the nerves to throbbing through the skin surface at the tips. And then Jimmie Dale’s head, ear pressed close against the safe to catch the tumbler’s fall, was lifted–and the flashlight played again on the dial.

“Twenty-eight and a quarter–left.”

How fast the time went–and how slowly! Still the black shape crouched there in the darkness against the safe. At times, in strange, ghostly flashes, the nickel dial with the ray upon it seemed to leap out and glisten through the surrounding blackness; at times, the quick intake of breath, as from great exertion; at times, faint, musical little clicks, as, after abortive effort, the dial whirled, preparatory to a fresh attempt. And then, at last–a gasp of relief:


Came the sound, barely audible, as of steel sliding in well-oiled grooves, the muffled thud of metal meeting metal as the bolts shot back–and the heavy door swung outward.

Jimmie Dale stretched his cramped limbs, and wiped the moisture from his face–then set to work again upon the inner door. This was an easier matter–far easier. Five minutes, perhaps a little more, went by–and then the inner door was open, and the flashlight’s ray was flooding the interior of the safe.

A queer little sound, half of astonishment, half of disappointment, issued from Jimmie Dale’s lips. There was money here, a great deal of money, undoubtedly, but there was no such sum as he had, somehow, fantastically imagined from the Magpie’s evidently overcoloured story that there would be; there was money, ten packages of banknotes neatly piled in the bottom compartment–but there was no half million of dollars! He picked up one of the packages hurriedly–and drew in his breath. After all, there was a great deal–the notes were of hundred-dollar denomination, and on the bottom were two one-thousand-dollar bills! Calculated roughly, if each of the other nine packages contained a like amount, the total must exceed a hundred thousand.

And now Jimmie Dale began to work with feverish haste. From the leather girdle inside his shirt came the thin metal insignia case– and a gray seal was stuck firmly on the dial knob of the safe. This done, he tucked away the packages of banknotes, some into his pockets and some inside his shirt; and then quickly ransacked the interior of the safe, flauntingly spilling the contents of drawers and pigeonholes out upon the floor.

He stood up, and, leaving the safe door wide open, walked back across the room to the window, unfastened the catch, and opened the window an inch or two. The way was open now for the Magpie! The Magpie would have no need to make any noise in forcing an entrance; he would be able to see almost at a glance that he had been forestalled–by the Gray Seal; and that, as far as he was concerned, the game was up. The Magpie had his chance! If the Magpie did not take the hint and make his escape as noiselessly as he had entered– it was his own fault! He, Jimmie Dale, had given the Magpie his chance.

Jimmie Dale turned from the window, and made his way out of the library to the foot of the stairs, leaving the library door open behind him. How long had he been? Was it more or less than the twenty-five minutes? He did not know–only, as yet, the Magpie had not come, and now perhaps it did not make so much difference.

Where was he going now? His foot was on the first stair–and suddenly he drew it back, the cold sweat bursting out on his forehead. Where was he going now? “THE FIRST ROOM ON THE RIGHT AT THE HEAD OF THE LANDING.” From his inner consciousness, as it were, the answer, in all the bald, naked horror that it implied, flashed upon him. The first room on the right–THAT man’s room! God, how the darkness and the stillness began to palpitate again, and suddenly seem to shriek out at him over and over the one single, ghastly word–MURDER!

It had been with him, that thought, all the time he had been working at the safe; but it had been there then only subconsciously, like some heavy, nameless dread, subjugated for the moment by the work he had had to do which had demanded the centred attention of every faculty he possessed. But now the moment had come when there was only THAT before him, only that, nothing else–only that, the man upstairs in the first room to the right of the landing!

Why did he hesitate? Why did he stand there while the priceless moments before daylight came were passing? The man was a murderer, a blotch on society, and, his life already forfeited, he was living now only because the law had not found him out–the man was a criminal, bloodstained–and his life, because he had taken her father’s life and had tried to take the Tocsin’s own life, stood between her and every hope of happiness, robbing her even literally, in a material sense, of everything that the world could hold for her! Why did he hesitate? It was that man’s life–or hers! It was the only way!

He put his foot upon the bottom step again–paused still another instant–and then began stealthily to mount the stairs. The darkness! There had never been, it seemed, such darkness before! The stillness–he had never known silence so heavy, so full of strange, premonitory pulsings; a silence that seemed so incongruously full of clamouring whispers in his ears! It must be those imagined whispers that were affecting his nerve–for now, as he gained the landing and slipped his automatic from his pocket, his hand was shaking with a queer twitching motion.

For an instant, fighting for his self-composure, he stood striving to locate his surroundings through the darkness. The staircase was a circular one, making the landing nearly at the front of the house, and rearward from this, the Tocsin had said, a hallway ran down the centre, with rooms on either side. The first room to the right, therefore, should be just at his hand. He reached out, feeling cautiously–there was nothing. He edged to the right–still nothing; edged a little farther, a sense of bewilderment growing upon him, and finally his fingers touched the wall. It was very strange! The hallway must be much wider than he had understood it to be from what she had said!

He moved along now straight ahead of him, his hand on the wall, feeling for the door–and with every step his bewilderment increased. Surely there must be some mistake–perhaps he had misunderstood! He had come fully twice the distance that one would expect–and yet there was no door. Ah, what was that? His fingers closed on soft, heavy velvet hangings. These could hardly be in front of a door, and yet–what else could it be? He drew the hangings warily apart, and felt behind them. It was a window; but it was shuttered in some way evidently, for he could not see out.

Jimmie Dale stood motionless there for fully a minute. It seemed absurd, preposterous, the conviction that was being forced home upon him–that there were no rooms on the right-hand side of the corridor at all! But that was not like the Tocsin, accurate always in the most minute details. The room must be still farther along. He was tempted to use his flashlight–but that, as long as he could feel his way, was an unnecessary risk. A flashlight upstairs, where a sleeping-room door might be ajar, or even wide open, where some one wakeful, THAT man himself, perhaps, might see it, was quite another matter than a flashlight in the closed and deserted library below!

He went on once more, still guiding himself by a light finger touch upon the wall, passed another portiere similar to the first, and, after that, another–and finally stopped by bringing up abruptly against the end wall of the house. It was certainly very strange! There WERE no rooms on the right-hand side of the corridor. And here, hanging across the end wall, was another of those ubiquitous velvet portieres. He parted it, and, a little to his surprise, found a window that was not shuttered, but that, instead, was heavily barred by an ornamental grille work. He could see out, however, and found that he was looking directly out from the rear of the house. A lamp from the side street threw what was undoubtedly the garage into shadowy outline, and he made out below him a short stretch of yard between the garage and the house. He remembered that now–she had described all that to the Magpie. There was no driveway between the front and the rear. The house being on the corner, the entrance to the garage was directly from the side street. Yes, she had described all that exactly as it was, but–he dropped the portiere and faced around, carrying his hand in a nonplused way to his eyes–but here, upstairs, within the house, it was not as she had said it was at all! What did it mean? She could not have blundered so egregiously as that, unless–he caught his breath suddenly–unless she had done so intentionally! Was that it? Had she surmised, formed a suspicion of what was in his mind, of what he meant to do–and taken this means of defeating it? If so– well, it was too late for that now! There was one way–only one way! Whatever the cost, whatever it might mean for him–there was only one way out for her.

His flashlight was in his hand now, and the round, white ray shot down the corridor–seemed suddenly to falter unsteadily–swept in through an open door that was almost beside him–and then, as though a nerveless hand held it, the ray dropped and played shakily on the toe of his boot before it went out.

A stifled cry rose to his lips. Something cold, like a hand of ice, seemed to clutch at his heart. Those portieres, the wide, richly carpeted corridor! It was the corridor of the night before! That room at his side was the room where he had seen Hilton Travers, the chauffeur, dead, lashed in a chair! He felt the sweat beads burst out anew upon his forehead.

It Was the Crime Club!

Chapter XV: Retribution

His brain seemed to whirl, staggered as by some gigantic, ghastly mockery. The Crime Club! HERE! He had thought to creep upon that man–and he had run blindly into the very heart and centre of these hell fiends’ nest!

Silently he stood there, holding his breath as he listened now, motionless as a statue, forcing his mind to THINK. He remembered that last night his impression of the place had been that it was more like some great private mansion than anything else. Well, he had been right, it seemed! He could have laughed aloud– sardonically, hysterically. It was not so strange now that there were no rooms on the right-hand side of the corridor! And what could have suited their purpose better, what, by its very location, its unimpeachable character, could be a more ideal lair for them than this house! And how grimly simple it was now, the explanation! In the five years that the false Henry LaSalle had been in possession, they had cunningly remodelled the upper floor–that was all! It was quite clear now why the man never entertained–why he had never been caught or found or known to be in communication with his fellow conspirators! It was no longer curious that one might watch the door of the house for months at a stretch and go unrewarded for one’s pains, as the Tocsin had done, when access to the house by those who frequented it was so easy through the garage on the side street–and from the garage, if their work there was in keeping with their clever contrivances within the house, by an underground connection into, say, the cellar or basement!

Again Jimmie Dale checked that nervous, unnatural inclination to laugh aloud. Was there anything, any single incident, any single detail of all that had transpired, that was not explained, borne out, as it could be explained and borne out in no other way save that the Crime Club should be no other than this very house itself? It was the exposition of that favourite theory of his–it was so obvious that therein lay its security. He had mocked at the Magpie not many moments before on that score–and now it was the beam in his own eye! It was so obvious now, so glaringly obvious, that the Crime Club could have been nowhere else; so obvious, with every word of the Tocsin’s story pointing it out like a signpost–and he had not seen it!

And then suddenly every muscle grew strained and rigid. WAS THERE SOME ONE IN THE CORRIDOR? Was it some one moving–or was it only fancy? He listened–while he strained his eyes through the darkness. There was no sound; only that abnormal, heavy silence that–yes, he remembered that, too, now–that had clung about him last night like a pall. He could see nothing, hear nothing–but intuitively, bringing a cold dismay, the greater because it was something unknown, intangible, he FELT as though eyes were upon him, that even in the darkness he was being watched!

And as he stood there, then, slowly there crept upon Jimmie Dale the sense of peril and disaster. It was not intuition now–it was certainty. He was trapped! It was the part of a fool to imagine that with their devil’s cunning, their cleverness, their ingenuity, he, or any one else, could enter that house unknown to its occupants! Had he made electric contact when he had opened the front door, and rung a signal here, perhaps, upstairs–had he set some system of alarm at work when he had touched that window? What did it matter–the details that had heralded his entrance? He was certain now that his presence in the house was known. Only, why had they left him so long without attack? He shook his head with a quick, impatient movement. That, too, was obvious! He was under observation. Who was he? Why had he come? Was he simply a paltry safe-tapper–or was he one whom they had a real need to fear? And then, too, there might well be another reason. It was far from likely, in fact unreasonable, to imagine that all the men he had seen here the night before were in the house now. Not many of them, if any, would LIVE here, for CONSTANT, daily coming and going, even through the garage, could not escape notice; and, of the servants, probably a lesser breed of criminal, some of them, at least, no doubt, were engaged at that moment in watching his own house on Riverside Drive! There was even the possibility that the man posing as Henry LaSalle was, for the time being, here alone.

He shook his head again. He could hardly hope for that–he had no right to hope for anything more now than a struggle, with an inevitably fatal ending to himself, but one in which at least he could sell his life as dearly as possible, one in which, perhaps, he might pay the Tocsin’s score with the man he had come to find! If he could do that–well, after all, the price was not too great!

There were no tremours of the muscles now. It was Jimmie Dale, the Gray Seal, every faculty alert, tense, keyed up to its highest efficiency; the brain cool, keen, and active–fighting for his life. The front door through which he had entered was an impossibility; but there was the window in the library that he had opened–if they would let him get that far! That was as good a chance as any. If he made an effort to find, say, a way to the flat above and chanced some means of escape there, it would in no wise obviate an attack upon him, and he would only be under the added disadvantage of unfamiliar surroundings.

Feeling out with his left hand, his automatic thrown a little forward in his right, he began to retrace his way along the blank wall of the corridor, pausing between each step to listen, moving silently, his tread on the heavy carpet as noiseless as though it were some shadow creeping there.

Stillness–utter, absolute! Always that stillness. Always that sense of danger around him–the tense, bated expectancy of momentary attack–a revolver flash through the darkness–a sudden rush upon him. But still there was nothing–only the darkness, only the silence.

He gained the head of the stairs and began to descend–and now the strain began to tell upon his nerves again. Again he was possessed of the mad impulse to cry out, to do anything that would force the issue, that would end the horrible, unbearable suspense. Why did that revolver shot not come? Why had they not yet rushed upon him? Why were they playing with him as a cat with a mouse? Or was it all wild, fanciful imagination? NO! What was that again! He could have sworn this time that he had heard a sound, but he could neither define its character, nor locate the direction from which it had come.

He was at the foot of the stairs now; and, guiding himself by the wall, moving now barely an inch at a time, he reached the library door that he had left open, and stole in over the threshold. Halfway down the room and diagonally across from where he stood was the window. In a moment now he could gain that, but they would never let him go so easily–and so it must come now, in that next moment, their attack! Where were they? Where were they now? The table–he must remember not to bump into the table! A pause between each step, he was crossing the room. He was halfway to the window. Had it been all fancy, was he to– And then Jimmie Dale stood motionless. SOME ONE HAD CLOSED THE LIBRARY DOOR SOFTLY!

Stillness again! A sort of deadly calm upon him, Jimmie Dale felt out behind his back for the big library table that he had been circuiting–if the window were wide open it might be done, but to jump for it and stand silhouetted there during the pause necessary to fling the window up was little less than suicidal. He edged back noiselessly until his fingers touched the table; then, lowering himself to his knees, he backed in underneath it, and lay flat upon the floor. It was not much protection, but it had one advantage: if they switched on the lights it would show an EMPTY room for the first instant, and that instant meant–the first shot!

Where were they now? By the library door? How many of them were there? Well, it was their move! Two could play at cat and mouse until–until DAYLIGHT! That wasn’t very far off, now, and when that came he might still have the first shot, but after that–he turned his head quickly toward the window. There was a faint scratching noise as of finger nails gripping the sill; then the window, very slowly, almost silently, was pushed steadily upward, and a dark form loomed up outside; and then, crawling through, a man dropped, as though his feet were padded like a cat’s on the floor inside the room. The Magpie!

A flashlight’s ray shot out–and, with a twisted smile propped now on his left elbow to give free play to his revolver arm, Jimmie Dale followed the white spot eagerly with his eyes. But it did not circle around; instead, the light was turned almost instantly toward the lower end of the room–and, a second later, was holding steadily on the open door of the safe, and the litter of papers on the floor.

Came a savage growl of amazed fury from the Magpie: then his step down the room; and, as he reached the safe, a torrent of unbridled blasphemy–and then, in a sort of staggered gasp, as he leaned suddenly forward examining the knob of the dial:

“The Gray Seal!”

A moment the Magpie stood there; and then, cursing again in abandon, turned, and started back for the window, his flashlight dancing before him–and stopped, a snarl of fury on his lips. The flashlight was playing full on Jimmie Dale under the table!

“Larry the Bat! The Gray Seal! By God!” choked the Magpie. “You– you–” The Magpie’s flashlight, as he shifted it from his right hand to his left and wrenched out his revolver, had fallen upon two men crouched close against the wall by the library door–and he screamed out in an access of fury. “De double cross! A plant! De bulls! You damned snitch, Larry!” screamed out the Magpie–and fired.

The bullet tore into the carpet beside Jimmie Dale. Came answering shots from the men by the door; and then the Magpie, emptying his automatic at the two men as he ran, the flame tongues cutting vicious lanes of fire through the darkness, dashed for the window. There was a cry, the crash of a heavy body pitching to the floor– and the Magpie had flung himself out through the window, and in the momentary ensuing silence within the room came the sound of his footsteps running on the gravel below.

There was a low moan, the movement as of some one staggering and lurching around–and then the lights went on. But for an instant Jimmie Dale did not move. He was staring at the form of a man still and motionless on the floor in front of him–the man who had posed as Henry LaSalle. Dead! The man was dead! His mind ran riot for a moment. Where were the others–were there only these two? Only these two in the house! Only these two–and one was dead! And then Jimmie Dale was on his feet. One was dead–but there was still the other, the man who was reeling there, back turned to him, by the electric-light switch. But even as Jimmie Dale sprang forward, this second man, clawing at the wall for support, slipped to his knees and fell upon the carpet.

Jimmie Dale reached him, snatched the revolver from his hand, and bent over him. It was the man whose name he did not know, but whose face he had reason enough to know too well–it was the leader of the Crime Club.

The man, though evidently badly wounded, smiled defiantly in spite of his pain.

“So you’re the Gray Seal!” he flung out contemptuously. “A clever enough safe-cracker–but only a lowbrow, like the rest of them. Another illusion dispelled! Well, you’ve got the money–better run, hadn’t you?”

Jimmie Dale made no answer. Satisfied that the man was too badly hurt to move, he went and bent over the silent form in the centre of the room. A moment’s examination was enough. “Henry LaSalle” was dead.

He stood there looking down at the man. It was what he had come for–though it was the Magpie, not himself, who had accomplished it! The man was dead! The words began to run through his mind in a queer reiteration. The man was dead–the man was dead! He checked himself sharply. He must think now–think fast, and think RIGHT.

The Magpie knew that Larry the Bat was the Gray Seal–and as fast as the Magpie could get there, the news would spread like wildfire through the underworld. “Death to the Gray Seal! Death to the Gray Seal!” He could hear that slogan ringing again in his ears, but as he had never heard it before–with a snarl of triumph now as of wolves who at last had pulled their quarry down. He had not a second to spare–and yet–that man wounded there on the floor! What of him–guilty of murder, the brains of this inhuman, monstrous organisation, the one to whom, more even than to that dead man, the Tocsin owed the horror and the misery and the grief and despair that had come into her life! What of him? What of the Crime Club here? What of this nest of vipers? Were they to escape? Were they to–

With a sudden, low exclamation, Jimmie Dale jumped for the table, and, snatching up the telephone, rattled the hook violently.

“Give me"–his voice came in well-simulated gasps, each like a man fighting for every word–"give me–police–headquarters! Quick! QUICK! I’ve–been–shot!”

The wounded man on the floor raised himself on his elbow.

“What are you doing?” he demanded in a startled way. “Are you mad! Thank your stars you were lucky enough to get out of this alive–and get out now, while you have the chance!”

Jimmie Dale pressed his hand firmly over the mouthpiece of the telephone.

“I’ll go,” he said, with a cold smile, “when I’ve settled with you– for the murder of Henry LaSalle.”

“That man!” ejaculated the man scornfully, pointing to the form on the floor. “So that’s your game! Going to try and cover your tracks! Why, you fool, I LIVE here! Do you think the police would imagine for an instant that I killed him?”

“I said–HENRY LASALLE,” said Jimmie Dale evenly.

The man came farther up on his elbow, a sudden look of fear in his face.

“What–what do you mean?” he cried hoarsely.

But Jimmie Dale was talking again into the telephone–gasping, choking out his words as before:

“Police headquarters? I’m Henry LaSalle. Fifth Avenue. I–I’ve been shot. Take down this statement. I’ll–I’ll be dead before you get here–I’m not the real Henry LaSalle at all. We murdered Henry LaSalle–in Australia, and murdered Peter LaSalle here. We–we tried to kill the daughter, but she ran away. This house has been our headquarters for the last five years. The man who shot me to- night is the leader of the gang. We quarrelled over the division of a haul. He’s here on the floor now, wounded. Get them all, get them all, damn them!–do you hear?–get them all! They’re out of the house now, but lay a trap for them. They always come in through the garage on the side street. Oh, God, I’m done for! Break down the west walls of the rooms upstairs–if–you–want proof of what– the gang’s been doing. Hurry! Hurry! I’m–I’m–done for–I–”

Jimmie Dale permitted the telephone to drop with a clash from his hand to the table.

The face of the man on the floor was livid.

“Who are you? In God’s name, who are you?” he cried out wildly.

“Does it matter?” inquired Jimmie Dale grimly. “Your game is up. You’ll go to the chair for the murder of ’Henry LaSalle’–if it is by proxy! Those rooms upstairs alone are enough to damn you, to prove every word of that dying “confession"–but to-morrow, added to it, will come the story of Marie LaSalle herself.”

For a moment the man hung there swaying on his elbow, his face working in ghastly fashion–and then suddenly, with a strange laugh, he carried one hand swiftly to his mouth–and laughed again–and before Jimmie Dale could reach him was lifeless on the floor.

A tiny vial rolled away upon the carpet. Jimmie Dale picked it up. A drop or two of liquid still remained in it–colourless, clear, like that liquid this same man had dropped into the rabbit’s mouth the night before, like the liquid in the glasses they had carried into that third room, like the liquid that his man had said was from a formula of their own, that was instantaneous in its action, that defied detection by autopsy!

The set, stern features of Jimmie Dale relaxed. It was justice–but it was also death. In a surge of emotion, the events of scarcely more than twenty-four hours, began to crowd upon him–and then, ominously dominant, above all else, that slogan of the underworld, "Death to the Gray Seal!” came ringing once more in his ears. It brought him, with a startled movement of his hand across his eyes, to a realisation of his own desperate position. Yes, yes, he must go! The way was clear now for the Tocsin–clear now for her!

He dropped the vial into his pocket, and, running to the safe, quickly scraped the gray seal from the dial’s knob; then he drew the packages of money from his shirt and pockets and tossed them on the floor among the litter of papers already there–she would get it back again when it had served its purpose, it would be self-evident that it was the proceeds of that day’s sale of the estate’s securities over which the “quarrel” had occurred!

And now the window! He ran to it, closed it, and LOCKED it; then, laying the revolver he had taken from the leader down beside the man, he stepped across the room again and drew the body of “Henry LaSalle” closer to the table–as though the man had fallen there when the telephone had dropped from his hand.

It was done now! On the floor beside him lay each man’s weapon–and both of the revolvers had been discharged several times. Jimmie Dale paused on the library threshold for a final survey of the room. It was done! The way was clear–for her. And now if he could only save himself! There was no chance for Larry the Bat! Could he save–JIMMIE DALE!

He crossed the hall, a queer, half-grim, half-wistful smile on his lips, unlocked the front door, stepped out, locked it behind him– and in another moment, doubling around the corner, was running along like a hare along the side street.

Chapter XVI: “Death to the Gray Seal!”

On Jimmie Dale ran. Across on Fourth Avenue he swung on a car that took him to Astor Place. Then striking east once more, making a detour to avoid the Bowery, he ran on at top speed again. To reach the Sanctuary, not before the Magpie should have spread the alarm, that was impossible, but to reach it before the underworld should have had time to recover its breath, as it were, before the underworld should have had time to act–that was his only chance! The Magpie had, at the outside, a start of fifteen minutes; but he, Jimmie Dale, had probably retrieved five minutes of that in the time he had made in getting downtown. That left the Magpie ten to the good. How long would it take the Magpie to bring the underworld swarming like hornets around the Sanctuary?

On Larry the Bat ran. At the Sanctuary were the clothes, the belongings of Jimmie Dale. Could he save Jimmie Dale! If he could get there, change, and get out again, the way was clear for him–as clear as for the Tocsin now. In a few hours the police would have every member of the Crime Club in the trap; there would be no watch any more around his house on Riverside Drive; and he would be free to return there and resume his normal life as Jimmie Dale again if he could make the Sanctuary in time! But let the Magpie get there first, let the underworld tear the place to pieces in its fury as it would do, let them discover that hiding place under the flooring, for instance, and the Gray Seal would not be merely Larry the Bat, but Jimmie Dale as well, and–a cry escaped him even as he ran–it meant ruin, the disgrace of an honoured name, death, crimes without number at his door. Crimes! The Gray Seal had never committed a crime! But the crimes attributed to the Gray Seal he could not disprove, not one of them! He had meant them to appear as crimes– and he had succeeded so well that the Gray Seal’s name, execrated, was a synonym for the most callous, dangerous, and unscrupulous criminal of the age!

He was gasping for breath as finally, making for the side door, he darted into the alleyway that flanked the Sanctuary. What story would the Magpie tell? Not the truth, of course–that would let the Magpie in for what had happened that night, for the Magpie must be well aware that he had shot at least one of the two men in that room. But the truth wasn’t necessary; it was foreign, and had no bearing on the one outstanding fact–the Gray Seal was Larry the Bat. At the present moment the Magpie had a double incentive for "getting” the Gray Seal–the Gray Seal was the only one who could prove murder against him that night in the LaSalle mansion. And afterwards, when the police version of the affair was made public, the Magpie, to save himself, would be careful enough to do or say nothing to contradict “Henry LaSalle’s” confession!

Larry the Bat slipped in through the door, halted there, listened; and then began to mount the rickety stairs, with his silent tread. At the top he paused again. Nothing–no sound! They were not here yet–so far he was in time! He stepped to the Sanctuary door, unlocked it, passed into the squalid, miserable room that had harboured him for so long as Larry the Bat, locked the door behind him, crossed quickly to the window to make sure that the shutters were closed–and then, for the first time, as the gray light streaked in through the interstices, he was conscious that it was already dawn. So much the more need for haste then!

He whipped out his revolver and laid it at his hand on the dilapidated table; then the flooring in the corner was up in an instant, and he began to strip off the rags of Larry the Bat. Boots, mismated socks, the torn, patched trousers, the greasy flannel shirt, the threadbare coat, the nondescript slouch hat were thrown in a pile on the floor; and with them, from their hiding- place, the grease paints and heterogeneous collection of make-up accessories. This done, he began to slip on the clothes of Jimmie Dale; and, when half dressed, turned to the table again to remove the characteristic grime, stain, and paint of Larry the Bat from face, hands, wrists, throat, and neck. This was a longer, more arduous task. He reached for the cracked pitcher to pour more water into the basin–and, snatching up his revolver instead, whirled to face the door.

Some one was outside! He had caught the creak of a footstep upon the stairs. In a flash he was across the room and crouched by the door. Yes, the step was nearer now–at the head of the stairs–on the landing. His revolver lifted, holding a steady bead on the door panel. And then there came a low voice:

“Jimmie! Jimmie! Are you there? Quick, Jimmie! Are you there?”

The Tocsin! What was she doing here! Why had he not warned her up there on the avenue, fool that he was, that of all places she was to keep away from here!

She slipped into the room as he unlocked the door.

“They’re coming, Jimmie!” she panted breathlessly. “There’s not an instant to lose! Listen! When the Magpie ran from the house, I ran with him–but it"–she tried to smile–"it wasn’t to obey you, to run away–I had made up my mind I wouldn’t do that–it was to find out from him what had happened. He told me you were the Gray Seal. He did not suspect me. He thinks you were no more than just Larry the Bat to me, as you were to everybody else. He went straight to Chicago Ike’s gambling rooms and found the Skeeter’s gang there–you know them, Red Mose, the Midget, Harve Thoms, and the Skeeter–you remember your fight with them over old Luddy’s diamonds! Well, they have not forgotten, either! They are on their way here, now! The news that you are the Gray Seal is travelling like lightning all through the underworld–there will be a mob here on the Skeeter’s heels. So, Jimmie–quick! Run!”

Run! Half Larry the Bat, half Jimmie Dale–and run! In another five minutes, perhaps–yes. But there probably would not be five minutes–and she–if she were found here!

“Yes,” he said quietly. “I’ll get away in a moment. You go at once. I’ll"–he was smiling at her reassuringly–"I’ll meet you at–”

She looked at him then for an instant–interrupting him quickly, as she shook her head.

“I didn’t notice, Jimmie. You cannot go like that–can you? It would be even worse than being caught as Larry the Bat. Hurry then–I am not going without you.”

“No!” he said. “Go now! Go at once, Marie–while you can. You have risked your life as it is to come here and tell me this. For God’s sake, go now!”

The great, brown eyes were smiling bravely through a sudden mist. She shook her head again.

“Not without you, Jimmie.”

It brought a fierce, wild throb of joy upon him–and then a cold, sickening fear.

“Listen!” he cried out desperately. “You must go now! You cannot take any chances now, Marie. Everything is right for you. That man who posed as your uncle is dead–the leader of the Crime Club is dead. Don’t you understand what that means! You have only to be Marie LaSalle again and claim your own. I cannot tell you all now– there’s no time. That house was the Crime Club itself. The police will get them all. Don’t you see! Don’t you see! Everything is clear for you now–and now go! Go–you must go!”

She was staring at him, a strange wonder in her face.

“Clear! All clear–for me! I–I can go back to–to my own life again!” It was as though she were whispering some amazing thing of unbelievable joy to herself.

“YES!” he cried out again. “Yes! But go–go, Marie!”

But now, for answer, suddenly she reached out and took the key from the door and put it in the pocket of her dress.

“We will go together, Jimmie–or not at all,” she said simply. “We are wasting precious moments. Hurry and dress!”

He hesitated miserably. What could he do–if she WOULD not go! And it was true–the moments were flying. Better, rather than futile argument, to use them as she said. There was still a chance! Why not! Five minutes! He could do better than that! He MUST do better than that!

Without a word, he ran back across the room. In frantic haste, from face, hands, wrists, and neck came the stain. There was still time. She was standing there by the door, listening. She, the Tocsin, she whom he loved, she who, all through the years that had gone, had been so strangely elusive and yet so intimately a part of his life, SHE was standing there now, here with him–in peril with every second that passed!

He had only to slip on his coat and vest now–and make a bundle of Larry the Bat’s things on the floor, so that he could carry them away to destroy them. He stooped to gather up the clothes–and straightened suddenly–and jumped toward the door again.

“They are coming, Jimmie!” she called, in a low voice. But he had already heard them–the stairs were creaking loudly under the tread of many feet. He pushed the Tocsin hurriedly back against the wall at the side of the door.

“Stand there!” he said, under his breath. “Out of the line of fire! Don’t move!”

There was a rush against the door–and then a voice growled:

“Aw, cut dat out! Wot do youse want to do–scare him away by bustin’ it! Pick de lock, an’ we’ll lay for him inside till he shows up.”

It was the Skeeter’s voice. The Skeeter and his gang–the worst apaches in the city of New York! Professional assassins, death contractors, he had called them–and the lowest bidders! A man’s life any time for twenty-five dollars! No, they were not likely to forget the affair of the pushcart man, to forget old Luddy and his diamonds, to forget–the Gray Seal! And they were only the vanguard of what was to come!

Some one was working at the lock now. There was one way to stop that. It would not take them long to find out that he WAS there once the door was opened! Better know it with the door SHUT! Jimmie Dale lifted his revolver coolly and fired through the panel.

A burst of yells answered the shot; and among them, high above the others, the Magpie’s scream:

“We got him! We got him! He’s dere now!”

And then it seemed that pandemonium broke loose–there was a volley of shots, the bullets splintering through the door panels as from a machine gun, so fast they came–and then another rush against the door.

Flat on the floor, but well back and to one side, Jimmie Dale fired steadily–again and again.

Came screams of pain, yells, and oaths–and they fell back from the door.

And now from above, from overhead, came tumult–windows thrown up, the stamp of feet, cries of fright. And from the street, a low, sullen roar. The underworld was gathering fast!

Once more the rush upon the door–and Jimmie Dale, a grim, twisted smile upon his lips, emptied his revolver into the panels. Once more they fell back–and then there came the Skeeter’s voice, snarling like an infuriated beast:

“He’ll get de lot of us like dis! Cut it out! Besides, we’ll have de bulls down here in a minute–an’ he’s OUR meat, not theirs. Dey’d be too damned soft wid him–dey’d only send him to de chair. Youse chase upstairs, Mose, an’ pass de word to beat it–an’ beat it quick. We’ll BURN de skunk out–dat’s wot. An’ de bulls can stand alongside an’ watch, if dey likes–but he’s our meat.”

Jimmie Dale did not dare to look at the Tocsin’s face. Mechanically he refilled the magazine of his automatic–and lay there, waiting. The roar from the street grew louder. They seemed to be fighting out there, as though an inadequate number of police were trying to disperse a mob–and not succeeding! Pretty soon, with the riot call in, there would probably be a battle–for the Gray Seal! Sublime irony! It was death at the hands of either one!

Children whimpered on the stairs outside, men swore, women cried, feet shuffled hurriedly by as the tenement emptied. Occasionally, a pertinent invitation to him to remain where he was, there was a vicious rip through the panel, and the drumming whir of a bullet flying through the room. And then a curious, ominous crackling sound–and then the smell of smoke.

Jimmie Dale stood up, his face drawn and haggard. The tenement would go like matchwood, burn like a bonfire, with any kind of a start–and there was no doubt about the start! The Skeeter, the Magpie, and the rest would have seen that it had headway enough to serve their purpose before either firemen or police could thwart them. He, Jimmie Dale, could take his choice: walk out into a bullet, or stay there and–he smiled miserably as his eyes fell upon the pile of Larry the Bat’s clothing on the floor. There was no longer need to worry about ITS destruction–the fire would take care of that only too well! And then a low, bitter cry came to his lips, and he clenched his hands. If it were only himself–only himself! He crossed to the Tocsin and caught her in his arms.

“Oh, my God–Marie!” he faltered.

The cape and hood had fallen from her, and with the hood had fallen the gray-streaked hair of Silver Mag–and now as she smiled at him it was from a face that was very beautiful and very brave and very full of tenderness.

And he held her there–and neither spoke.

It seeped in under the threshold of the door, it came from everywhere, filling the room–the black, strangling smoke. Outside in the hall all was silence now–save for that crackle of flame that grew in volume, that came now in quick, sharp reports, like revolver shots. From out in the street swelled a cry: “Death to the Gray Seal!” Then the clang of bells, the roar and rattle of fire apparatus, strident voices bellowing orders, and the crowd again, blood hungry: “Death to the Gray Seal!”

There was a chance, just one–if the fire had no headway along the upper end of the landing–and if they had not thought to set a watch for him ABOVE! They–the Magpie, the Skeeter, and his gang–must have been driven even out of the house now by the smoke and flame.

“Give me the key, I am going to open the door, Marie,” he said quietly. “Cover your face with a handkerchief, anything, and run to the LEFT to the next flight of stairs. There are two flats above this–we’ll make the roof if we can. Now–are you ready?”

It was an instant before she answered, an instant in which she lifted her face to his, and held his face between her two hands–and then:

“I am ready, Jimmie.”

He flung open the door, his arm around her to help her forward–and instinctively, with a cry, fell back for a moment. With the inrush of the draft poured the smoke, and through it, lurid, yellow, showed the flames leaping from the stair well.

And then all was blind madness. Together they ran. At the foot of the stairs she fell, recovered herself, staggered up another–and fell again. He caught her up in his arms and, staggering now as she had staggered, went on. His lungs seemed to be bursting. His limbs grew weak and trembled under him. He could not see or breathe. The nauseating fumes suffocated him, bringing an intolerable agony. He gained the first landing above. There was one more–one more! If he could only rest here for a moment! Yes, that was it–rest. It wasn’t so bad here now. She stirred in his arms, struggled to her feet–and he was helping her on again, and up the next flight of stairs.

And suddenly he found himself laughing in hysteria–for they were climbing a half stair, half ladderway at the end of the upper landing, and the open skylight was above them, and they were drinking in the pure, fresh air–and now they were out upon the roof, and the roar from the street was in their ears, like the roar of great waters from some canyon far below. Jimmie Dale tried to speak, and found his lips were cracked and dry. He wet them with his tongue.

“Don’t stand up–we’d be seen–CRAWL,” he mumbled hoarsely.

It took a long time–over one roof, and then another, and yet another–and then through the skylight of a tenement whose occupants were either craning from the front windows, or were on the street below. It was, perhaps, half an hour–and then they, too, were standing in the street, and all about them the crowd was shouting in wild excitement.

Up the block, inside the fire lines, the Sanctuary was blazing furiously–and now suddenly the wall seemed to bulge outward. It brought a yell from the crowd:

“Death to the Gray Seal!”

She pulled at his arm.

“Let us get away! Let us get away, Jimmie!” she whispered frantically.

A strange smile was on Jimmie Dale’s lips.

“We’re safe now–for always,” he whispered back. “Look!”

The Sanctuary wall bulged farther outward, seemed to hang an instant hesitant in mid-air–and fell with a mighty crash.

The Gray Seal was dead!