Part 1 out of 6
Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Joshua Hutchinson, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team
EARLE ASHLEY WALCOTT
I A DANGEROUS ERRAND
II A CRY FOR HELP
III A QUESTION IN THE NIGHT
IV A CHANGE OF NAME
V DODDRIDGE KNAPP
VI A NIGHT AT BORTON'S
VII MOTHER BORTON
VIII IN WHICH I MEET A FEW SURPRISES
IX A DAY IN THE MARKET
X A TANGLE OF SCHEMES
XI THE DEN OF THE WOLF
XII LUELLA KNAPP
XIII A DAY OF GRACE
XIV MOTHER BORTON'S ADVICE
XV I AM IN THE TOILS
XVI AN ECHO OF WARNING
XVII IN A FOREIGN LAND
XVIII THE BATTLE IN THE MAZE
XIX A DEAL IN STOCKS
XX MAKING PROGRESS
XXI AT THE BIDDING OF THE UNKNOWN
XXIII A PIECE OF STRATEGY
XXIV ON THE ROAD
XXV A FLUTTER IN THE MARKET
XXVI A VISION OF THE NIGHT
XXVII A LINK IN THE CHAIN
XXVIII THE CHASE IN THE STORM
XXIX THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY
XXX THE END OF THE JOURNEY
XXXI THE REWARD
A DANGEROUS ERRAND
A city of hills with a fringe of houses crowning the lower heights;
half-mountains rising bare in the background and becoming real
mountains as they stretched away in the distance to right and left; a
confused mass of buildings coming to the water's edge on the flat; a
forest of masts, ships swinging in the stream, and the streaked,
yellow, gray-green water of the bay taking a cold light from the
setting sun as it struggled through the wisps of fog that fluttered
above the serrated sky-line of the city--these were my first
impressions of San Francisco.
The wind blew fresh and chill from the west with the damp and salt of
the Pacific heavy upon it, as I breasted it from the forward deck of
the ferry steamer, _El Capitan_. As I drank in the air and was
silent with admiration of the beautiful panorama that was spread before
me, my companion touched me on the arm.
"Come into the cabin," he said. "You'll be one of those fellows who
can't come to San Francisco without catching his death of cold, and
then lays it on to the climate instead of his own lack of common sense.
Come, I can't spare you, now I've got you here at last. I wouldn't lose
you for a million dollars."
"I'll come for half the money," I returned, as he took me by the arm
and led me into the close cabin.
My companion, I should explain, was Henry Wilton, the son of my
father's cousin, who had the advantages of a few years of residence in
California, and sported all the airs of a pioneer. We had been close
friends through boyhood and youth, and it was on his offer of
employment that I had come to the city by the Golden Gate.
"What a resemblance!" I heard a woman exclaim, as we entered the cabin.
"They must be twins."
"There, Henry," I whispered, with a laugh; "you see we are discovered."
Though our relationship was not close we had been cast in the mold of
some common ancestor. We were so nearly alike in form and feature as to
perplex all but our intimate acquaintances, and we had made the
resemblance the occasion of many tricks in our boyhood days.
Henry had heard the exclamation as well as I. To my surprise, it
appeared to bring him annoyance or apprehension rather than amusement.
"I had forgotten that it would make us conspicuous," he said, more to
himself than to me, I thought; and he glanced through the cabin as
though he looked for some peril.
"We were used to that long ago," I said, as we found a seat. "Is the
business ready for me? You wrote that you thought it would be in hand
by the time I got here."
"We can't talk about it here," he said in a low tone. "There is plenty
of work to be done. It's not hard, but, as I wrote you, it needs a man
of pluck and discretion. It's delicate business, you understand, and
dangerous if you can't keep your head. But the danger won't be yours.
I've got that end of it."
"Of course you're not trying to do anything against the law?" I said.
"Oh, it has nothing to do with the law," he replied with an odd smile.
"In fact, it's a little matter in which we are--well, you might say--
outside the law."
I gave a gasp at this disturbing suggestion, and Henry chuckled as he
saw the consternation written on my face. Then he rose and said:
"Come, the boat is getting in."
"But I want to know--" I began.
"Oh, bother your 'want-to-knows.' It's not against the law--just
outside it, you understand. I'll tell you more of it when we get to my
room. Give me that valise. Come along now." And as the boat entered the
slip we found ourselves at the front of the pressing crowd that is
always surging in and out of San Francisco by the gateway of the
As we pushed our way through the clamoring hack-drivers and hotel-
runners who blocked the entrance to the city, I was roused by a sudden
thrill of the instinct of danger that warns one when he meets the eye
of a snake. It was gone in an instant, but I had time to trace effect
to cause. The warning came this time from the eyes of a man, a lithe,
keen-faced man who flashed a look of triumphant malice on us as he
disappeared in the waiting-room of the ferry-shed. But the keen face,
and the basilisk glance were burned into my mind in that moment as
deeply as though I had known then what evil was behind them.
My companion swore softly to himself.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Don't look around," he said. "We are watched."
"The snake-eyed man?"
"Did you see him, too?" His manner was careless, but his tone was
troubled. "I thought I had given him the slip," he continued. "Well,
there's no help for it now."
"Are we to hunt for a hiding-place?" I asked doubtfully.
"Oh, no; not now. I was going to take you direct to my room. Now we are
going to a hotel with all the publicity we can get. Here we are."
"Internaytional! Internaytional!" shouted a runner by our side. "Yes,
sir; here you are, sir. Free 'bus, sir." And in another moment we were
in the lumbering coach, and as soon as the last lingering passenger had
come from the boat we were whirling over the rough pavement, through a
confusing maze of streets, past long rows of dingy, ugly buildings, to
Though the sun had but just set, the lights were glimmering in the
windows along Kearny Street as we stepped from the 'bus, and the
twilight was rapidly fading into darkness.
"A room for the night," ordered Henry, as we entered the hotel office
and saluted the clerk.
"Your brother will sleep with you?" inquired the clerk.
"That's right--if you are sure you can tell which is which in the
morning," said the clerk, with a smile at his poor joke.
Henry smiled in return, paid the bill, took the key, and we were shown
to our room. After removing the travel-stains, I declared myself quite
ready to dine.
"We won't need this again," said Henry, tossing the key on the bureau
as we left. "Or no, on second thought," he continued, "it's just as
well to leave the door locked. There might be some inquisitive
callers." And we betook ourselves to a hasty meal that was not of a
nature to raise my opinion of San Francisco.
"Are you through?" asked my companion, as I shook my head over a
melancholy piece of pie, and laid down my fork. "Well, take your bag.
This door--look pleasant and say nothing."
He led the way to the bar and then through a back room or two, until
with a turn we were in a blind alley. With a few more steps we found
ourselves in a back hall which led into another building. I became
confused after a little, and lost all idea of the direction in which we
were going. We mounted one flight of stairs, I remember, and after
passing through two or three winding hallways and down another flight,
came out on a side street.
After a pause to observe the street before we ventured forth, Henry
"I guess we're all right now. We must chance it, anyhow." So we dodged
along in the shadow till we came to Montgomery Street, and after a
brief walk, turned into a gloomy doorway and mounted a worn pair of
The house was three stories in height. It stood on the corner of an
alley, and the lower floor was intended for a store or saloon; but a
renting agent's sign and a collection of old show-bills ornamenting the
dirty windows testified that it was vacant. The liquor business
appeared to be overdone in that quarter, for across the alley, hardly
twenty feet away, was a saloon; across Montgomery Street was another;
and two more held out their friendly lights on the corner of the street
In the saloons the disreputability was cheerful, and cheerfully
acknowledged with lights and noise, here of a broken piano, there of a
wheezy accordion, and, beyond, of a half-drunken man singing or
shouting a ribald song. Elsewhere it was sullen and dark,--the lights,
where there were lights, glittering through chinks, or showing the
outlines of drawn curtains.
"This isn't just the place I'd choose for entertaining friends," said
Henry, with a visible relief from his uneasiness, as we climbed the
worn and dirty stair.
"Oh, that's all right," I said, magnanimously accepting his apology.
"It doesn't have all the modern conveniences," admitted Henry as we
stumbled up the second flight, "but it's suitable to the business we
have in hand, and--"
"What's that?" I exclaimed, as a creaking, rasping sound came from the
We stopped and listened, peering into the obscurity beneath.
Nothing but silence. The house might have been a tomb for any sign of
life that showed within it.
"It must have been outside," said Henry. "I thought for a moment
perhaps--" Then he checked himself. "Well, you'll know later," he
concluded, and opened the door of the last room on the right of the
As we entered, he held the door ajar for a full minute, listening
intently. The obscurity of the hall gave back nothing to eye or ear,
and at last he closed the door softly and touched a match to the gas.
The room was at the rear corner of the building. There were two
windows, one looking to the west, the other to the north and opening on
the narrow alley.
"Not so bad after you get in," said Henry, half as an introduction,
half as an apology.
"It's luxury after six days of railroading," I replied.
"Well, lie down there, and make the most of it, then," he said, "for
there may be trouble ahead." And he listened again at the crack of the
"In Heaven's name, Henry, what's up?" I exclaimed with some temper.
"You're as full of mysteries as a dime novel."
Henry smiled grimly.
"Maybe you don't recognize that this is serious business," he said.
"I don't understand it at all."
"Well, I'm not joking. There's mischief afoot, and I'm in danger."
"From whom? From what?"
"Never mind that now. It's another person's business--not mine, you
understand--and I can't explain until I know whether you are to be one
of us or not."
"That's what I came for, isn't it?"
"Hm! You don't seem to be overly pleased with the job."
"Which isn't surprising, when I haven't the first idea what it is,
except that it seems likely to get me killed or in jail."
"Oh, if you're feeling that way about it, I know of another job that
will suit you better in--"
"I'm not afraid," I broke in hotly. "But I want to see the noose before
I put my head in it."
"Then I'm sure the assistant bookkeeper's place I have in mind will--"
"Confound your impudence!" I cried, laughing in spite of myself at the
way he was playing on me. "Assistant bookkeeper be hanged! I'm with you
from A to Z; but if you love me, don't keep me in the dark."
"I'll tell you all you need to know. Too much might be dangerous."
I was about to protest that I could not know too much, when Henry
raised his hand with a warning to silence. I heard the sound of a
cautious step outside. Then Henry sprang to the door, flung it open,
and bolted down the passage. There was the gleam of a revolver in his
hand. I hurried after him, but as I crossed the threshold he was coming
softly back, with finger on lips.
"I must see to the guards again. I can have them together by midnight."
"Can I help?"
"No. Just wait here till I get back. Bolt the door, and let nobody in
but me. It isn't likely that they will try to do anything before
midnight. If they do--well, here's a revolver. Shoot through the door
if anybody tries to break it down."
I stood in the door, revolver in hand, watched him down the hall, and
listened to his footsteps as they descended the stairs and at last
faded away into the murmur of life that came up from the open street.
A CRY FOR HELP
I hastily closed and locked the door. It shut out at least the eyes and
ears that, to my excited imagination, lurked in the dark corners and
half-hidden doorways of the dimly-lighted hall. And as I turned back to
the room my heart was heavy with bitter regret that I had ever left my
This was not at all what I had looked for when I started for the Golden
Gate at my friend's offer of a "good place and a chance to get rich."
Then I rallied my spirits with something of resolution, and shamed
myself with the reproach that I should fear to share any danger that
Henry was ready to face. Wearied as I was with travel, I was too much
excited for sleep. Reading was equally impossible. I scarcely glanced
at the shelf of books that hung on the wall, and turned to a study of
The room was on the corner, as I have said, and I threw up the sash of
the west window and looked out over a tangle of old buildings,
ramshackle sheds, and an alley that appeared to lead nowhere. A wooden
shutter swung from the frame-post of the window, reaching nearly to a
crazy wooden stair that led from the black depths below. There were
lights here and there in the back rooms. Snatches of drunken song and
rude jest came up from an unseen doggery, and vile odors came with
them. Shadows seemed to move here and there among the dark places, but
in the uncertain light I could not be sure whether they were men, or
only boxes and barrels.
Some sound of a drunken quarrel drew my attention to the north window,
and I looked out into the alley. The lights from Montgomery Street
scarcely gave shape to the gloom below the window, but I could
distinguish three or four men near the side entrance of a saloon. They
appeared quiet enough. The quarrel, if any there was, must be inside
the saloon. After an interval of comparative silence, the noise rose
again. There were shouts and curses, sounds as of a chair broken and
tables upset, and one protesting, struggling inebriate was hurled out
from the front door and left, with threats and foul language, to
collect himself from the pavement.
This edifying incident, which was explained to me solely by sound, had
scarcely come to an end when a noise of creaking boards drew my eyes to
the other window. The shutter suddenly flew around, and a human figure
swung in at the open casing. Astonishment at this singular proceeding
did not dull the instinct of self-defense. The survey of my
surroundings and the incident of the bar-room row had in a measure
prepared me for any desperate doings, and I had swung a chair ready to
strike a blow before I had time to think.
"S-h-h!" came the warning whisper, and I recognized my supposed robber.
It was Henry.
His clothes and hair were disordered, and his face and hands were grimy
"Don't speak out loud," he said in suppressed tones. "Wait till I
fasten this shutter. The other one's gone, but nobody can get in from
that side unless they can shin up thirty feet of brick wall."
"Shall I shut the window?" I asked, thoroughly impressed by his manner.
"No, you'll make too much noise," he said, stripping off his coat and
vest. "Here, change clothes with me. Quick! It's a case of life and
death. I must be out of here in two minutes. Do as I say, now. Don't
ask questions. I'll tell you about it in a day or two. No, just the
coat and vest. There--give me that collar and tie. Where's your hat?"
The changes were completed, or rather his were, and he stood looking as
much like me as could be imagined.
"Don't stir from this room till I come back," he whispered. "You can
dress in anything of mine you like. I'll be in before twelve, or send a
messenger if I'm not coming. By-by."
He was gone before I could say a word, and only an occasional creaking
board told me of his progress down the stairs. He had evidently had
some practice in getting about quietly. I could only wonder, as I
closed and locked the door, whether it was the police or a private
enemy that he was trying to avoid.
I had small time to speculate on the possibilities, for outside the
window I heard the single word, "Help!"
The cry was half-smothered, and followed by a gurgling sound and noise
as of a scuffle in the alley.
I rushed to the window and looked out. A band of half a dozen men was
struggling and pushing away from Montgomery Street into the darker end
of the alley. They were nearly under the window.
"Give it to him," said a voice.
In an instant there came a scream, so freighted with agony that it
burst the bonds of gripping fingers and smothering palms that tried to
close it in, and rose for the fraction of a second on the foul air of
the alley. Then a light showed and a tall, broad-shouldered figure
"These aren't the papers," it hissed. "Curse on you, you've got the
There was a moment's confusion, and the light flashed on the man who
had spoken and was gone. But that flash had shown me the face of a man
I could never forget--a man whose destiny was bound up for a brief
period with mine, and whose wicked plans have proved the master
influence of my life. It was a strong, cruel, wolfish face--the face of
a man near sixty, with a fierce yellow-gray mustache and imperial--a
face broad at the temples and tapering down into a firm, unyielding
jaw, and marked then with all the lines of rage, hatred, and chagrin at
the failure of his plans.
It took not a second for me to see and hear and know all this, for the
vision came and was gone in the dropping of an eyelid. And then there
echoed through the alley loud cries of "Police! Murder! Help!" I was
conscious that there was a man running through the hall and down the
rickety stairs, making the building ring to the same cries. My own
feelings were those of overmastering fear for my friend. He had gone on
his mysterious, dangerous errand, and I felt that it was he who had
been dragged into the alley, and stabbed, perhaps to death. Yet it
seemed I could make no effort, nor rouse myself from the stupor of
terror into which I was thrown by the scene I had witnessed.
It was thus with a feeling of surprise that I found myself in the
street, and came to know that the cries for help had come from me, and
that I was the man who had run through the hall and down the stairs
shouting for the police.
Singularly enough there was no crowd to be seen, and no excitement
anywhere. Some one was playing a wheezy melodeon in the saloon, and men
were singing a drunken song. The alley was dark, and I could see no one
in its depths. The house through which I had flown shouting was now
silent, and if any one on the street had heard me he had hurried on and
closed his ears, lest evil befall him. Fortunately the policeman on the
beat was at hand, and I hailed him excitedly.
"Only rolling a drunk," he said lightly, as I told of what I had seen.
"No, it's worse than that," I insisted. "There was murder done, and I'm
afraid it's my friend."
He listened more attentively as I told him how Henry had left the house
just before the cry for help had risen.
The policeman took me by the shoulders, turned me to the gaslight, and
looked in my face.
"Excuse me, sor," he said. "I see you're not one of that kind. Some of
'em learns it from the blitherin' Chaneymen."
I was mystified at the moment, but I found later that he suspected me
of having had an opium dream. The house, I learned, was frequented by
the "opium fiends," as they figure in police slang.
"It's a nasty place," he continued. "It's lucky I've got a light." He
brought up a dark lantern from his overcoat pocket, and stood in the
shelter of the building as he lighted it. "There's not many as carries
'em," he continued, "but they're mighty handy at times."
We made our way to the point beneath the window, where the men had
There was nothing to be seen--no sign of struggle, no shred of torn
clothing, no drop of blood. Body, traces and all had disappeared.
A QUESTION IN THE NIGHT
I was stricken dumb at this end to the investigation, and half doubted
the evidence of my eyes.
"Well," said the policeman, with a sigh of relief, "there's nothing
I suspected that his doubts of my sanity were returning.
"Here is where it was done," I asserted stoutly, pointing to the spot
where I had seen the struggling group from the window. "There were
surely five or six men in it."
The policeman turned his lantern on the spot. The rough pavement had
taken no mark of the scuffle.
"It's hard to make sure of things from above in this light," said the
policeman, hinting once more his suspicion that I was confusing dreams
"There was no mistaking that job," I said. "See here, the alley leads
farther back. Bring your light."
"Aisy, now," said the policeman. "I'll lead the way. Maybe you want one
yourself, as your friend has set the fashion."
A few paces farther the alley turned at a right angle to the north,
yawning dark behind the grim and threatening buildings, and filled with
noisome odors. We looked narrowly for a body, and then for traces that
might give hint of the passage of a party.
"Nothing here," said the policeman, as we came out on the other street.
"Maybe they've carried him into one of these back-door dens, and maybe
they whisked him into a hack here, and are a mile or two away by now."
"But we must follow them. He may be only wounded and can be rescued.
And these men can be caught." I was almost hysterical in my eagerness.
"Aisy, aisy, now," said the policeman. "Go back to your room, now.
That's the safest place for you, and you can't do nothin' at all out
here. I'll report the case to the head office, an' we'll send out the
alarm to the force. Now, here's your door. Just rest aisy, and they'll
let you know if anything's found."
And he passed on, leaving me dazed with dread and despair in the
entrance of the fateful house.
The sounds of drunken pleasure were lessening about me. The custom had
fallen off in the saloon across the street to such extent that the
proprietor was putting up the shutters. The saloon on the corner of the
alley was still waiting for stray customers and I crossed over to it
with the thought that the inmates might give me a possible clue. A man
half-asleep leaned back in a chair by the stove with his chin on his
breast. Two rough-looking men at a table who were talking in low tones
pretended not to notice my entrance, but their furtive glances gave
more eloquent evidence of their interest than the closest stare.
The barkeeper eyed me with apparent openness. I called for a glass of
wine, partly as an excuse for my visit, and partly to revive my shaken
"Any trouble about here to-night?" I asked in my most affable tone.
The barkeeper looked at me with cold suspicion.
"No, sir," he said shortly. "This is the quietest neighborhood in
"I should think there would be a disturbance every time that liquor was
sold," was my private comment, as I got the aftertaste of the dose. But
I merely wished him good night as I paid for the drink, and sauntered
I promptly got into my doorway before any one could reach the street to
see whither I went, and listened to a growling comment and a mirthless
laugh that followed my departure. Hardly had I gained my concealment
when the swinging doors of the saloon opened cautiously, and a face
peered out into the semi-darkness. With a muttered curse it went back,
and I heard the barkeeper's voice in some jest about a failure to be
"quick enough to catch flies."
Once more in the room to wait till morning should give me a chance to
work, I looked about the dingy place with a heart sunk to the lowest
depths. I was alone in the face of this mystery. I had not one friend
in the city to whom I could appeal for sympathy, advice or money. Yet I
should need all of these to follow this business to the end--to learn
the fate of my cousin, to rescue him, if alive and to avenge him, if
Then, in the hope that I might find something among Henry's effects to
give me a clue to the men who had attacked him, I went carefully
through his clothes and his papers. But I found that he did not leave
memoranda of his business lying about. The only scrap that could have a
possible bearing on it was a sheet of paper in the coat he had changed
with me. It bore a rough map, showing a road branching thrice, with
crosses marked here and there upon it. Underneath was written:
"Third road--cockeyed barn--iron cow."
Then followed some numerals mixed in a drunken dance with half the
letters of the alphabet--the explanation of the map, I supposed, in
cipher, and as it might prove the clue to this dreadful business, I
folded the sheet carefully in an envelope and placed it in an inmost
The search having failed of definite results, I sat with chair tilted
against the wall to consider the situation. Turn it as I would, I could
make nothing good of it. There were desperate enterprises afoot of
which I could see neither beginning nor end, purpose nor result. I
repented of my consent to mix in these dangerous doings and resolved
that when the morning came I would find other quarters, take up the
search for Henry, and look for such work as might be found.
It was after midnight when I had come to this conclusion, and, barring
doors and windows as well as I could, I flung myself on the bed to
rest. I did not expect to sleep after the exciting events through which
I had passed; yet after a bit the train of mental pictures drawn out by
the surging memories of the night became confused and faded away, and I
sank into an uneasy slumber.
When I awoke it was with a start and an oppressive sense that somebody
else was in the room. The gas-light that I had left burning had been
put out. Darkness was intense. The beating of my own heart was the only
sound I could distinguish. I sat upright and felt for the matches that
I had seen upon the stand.
In another instant I was flung back upon the bed. Wiry fingers gripped
my throat, and a voice hissed in my ear:
"Where is he? Where is the boy? Give me your papers, or I'll wring the
life out of you!"
I was strong and vigorous, and, though taken at a disadvantage,
struggled desperately enough to break the grip on my throat and get a
hold upon my assailant.
"Where is the boy?" gasped the voice once more; and then, as I made no
reply, but twined my arms about him, my assailant saved all his breath
for the struggle.
We rolled to the floor with a thud that shook the house, and in this
change of base I had the luck to come out uppermost. Then my courage
rose as I found that I could hold my man. I feared a knife, but if he
had one he had not drawn it, and I was able to keep his hands too busy
to allow him to get possession of it now. Finding that he was able to
accomplish nothing, he gave a short cry and called:
I heard a confusion of steps outside, and a sound as of a muffled oath.
Then the door opened, there was a rush of feet behind me, and the flash
of a bull's-eye lantern. I released my enemy, and sprang back to the
corner where I could defend myself at some advantage. It was a poor
chance for an unarmed man, but I found a chair and set my teeth to give
an account of myself to the first who advanced, and reproached the lack
of foresight that had allowed me to lay the revolver under the pillow
instead of putting it in my pocket.
I could distinguish four dark figures of men; but, instead of rushing
upon me as I stood on the defensive, they seized upon my assailant. I
looked on panting, and hardly able to regain my breath. It was not half
a minute before my enemy was securely bound and gagged and carried out.
One of the men lingered.
"Don't take such risks," he said. "I wouldn't have your job, Mr.
Wilton, for all the old man's money. If we hadn't happened up here,
you'd have been done for this time."
"In God's name, man, what does all this mean?" I gasped.
The man looked at me in evident surprise.
"They've got a fresh start, I guess," he said. "You'd better get some
of the men up here. Mr. Richmond sent us up to bring this letter."
He was gone silently, and I was left in the darkness. I struck a match,
lighted the gas once more, and, securing the revolver, looked to the
letter. The envelope bore no address. I tore it open. The lines were
written in a woman's hand, and a faint but peculiar perfume rose from
the paper, it bore but these words:
"Don't make the change until I see you. The money will be ready in the
morning. Be at the bank at 10:30."
The note, puzzling as it was, was hardly an addition to my
perplexities. It was evident that I had been plunged into the center of
intrigue, plot and counterplot. I was supposed to have possession of
somebody's boy. A powerful and active enemy threatened me with death.
An equally active friend was working to preserve my safety. People of
wealth were concerned. I had dimly seen a fragment of the struggling
forces, and it was plain that only a very rich person could afford the
luxury of hiring the bravos and guards who threatened and protected me.
How wide were the ramifications of the mystery? Whose was the boy, and
what was wanted of him? Had he been stolen from home and parents? Or
was he threatened with mortal danger and sent into hiding to keep him
The fate of Henry showed the power of those who were pursuing me. Armed
as he was with the knowledge of his danger, knowing, as I did not, what
he had to guard and from what he had to guard it, he had yet fallen a
I could not doubt that he was the man assaulted and stabbed in the
alley below. But the fact that no trace of him or of a tragedy was to
be found gave me hope that he was still alive. Yet, at best, he was
wounded and in the hands of his enemies, a prisoner to the men who had
sought his life. It must be, however, that he was not yet recognized.
The transfer of the chase to me was proof that the scoundrels had been
misled by the resemblance between us, and by the letters found in the
coat. They were convinced that he was Giles Dudley, and that I was
Henry Wilton. As long as there was hope that he was alive I would
devote myself to searching for him and to helping him to recover his
As I was hoping, speculating, planning thus, I was startled to hear a
step on the stair.
The sound was not one that need be thought out of place in such a house
and neighborhood even though the hour was past four in the mortising.
But it struck a chill through me, and I listened with growing
apprehension as it mounted step by step.
The dread silence of the house that had cast its shadow of fear upon me
now seemed to become vocal with protest against this intrusion, and to
send warning through the halls. At last the step halted before my door
and a loud knock startled the echoes.
With a great bound my heart threw off its tremors, and I grasped the
"Open the door, sor; I've news for ye."
"Who are you?"
"Come now, no nonsense; I'm an officer."
I unlocked the door and stepped to one side. My bump of caution had
developed amazingly in the few hours I had spent in San Francisco, and,
in spite of his assurance, I thought best to avoid any chance of a rush
from my unknown friends, and to put myself in a good position to use my
revolver if necessary.
The man stepped in and showed his star. He was the policeman I had met
when I had run shouting into the street.
"I suspicion we've found your friend," he said gravely. "You're wanted
at the morgue."
"Dead!" I gasped.
"Dead as Saint Patrick--rest his sowl!"
A CHANGE OF NAME
"Here's your way, sor," said the policeman, turning into the old City
Hall, as it was even then known, and leading me to one of the inner
rooms of the labyrinth of offices.
The odors of the prison were heavy upon the building. The foul air from
the foul court-rooms and offices still hung about the entrance, and the
fog-laden breeze of the early morning hours was powerless to freshen
The policeman opened an office door, saluted, and motioned me to enter.
"Detective Coogan," he said, "here's your man."
Detective Coogan, from behind his desk, nodded with the careless
dignity of official position.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Wilton," he said affably.
If I betrayed surprise at being called by Henry's name, Detective
Coogan did not notice it. But I hastened to disclaim the dangerous
"I am not Wilton," I declared. "My name is Dudley--Giles Dudley."
At this announcement Detective Coogan turned to the policeman. "Just
step into Morris' room, Corson, and tell him I'm going up to the
"Now," he continued, as the policeman closed the door behind him, "this
won't do, Wilton. We've had to overlook a good deal, of course, but you
needn't think you can play us for suckers all the time."
"But I tell you I'm not--" I began, when he interrupted me.
"You can't make that go here," he said contemptuously. "And I'll tell
you what, Wilton, I shall have to take you into custody if you don't
come down to straight business. We don't want to chip in on the old
man's play, of course, especially as we don't know what his game is."
Detective Coogan appeared to regret this admission that he was not
omniscient, and went on hastily: "You know as well as we do that we
don't want any fight with _him_. But I'll tell you right now that
if you force a fight, we'll make it so warm for him that he'll have to
throw _you_ overboard to lighten ship."
Here was a fine prospect conveyed by Detective Coogan's picturesque
confusion of metaphors. If I persisted in claiming my own name and
person I was to be clapped into jail, and charged with Heaven-knows-
what crimes. If I took my friend's name, I was to invite the career of
adventure of which I had just had a taste. And while this was flashing
through my mind, I wondered idly who the "old man" could be. The note I
had received was certainly in a lady's hand. But if the lady was
Henry's employer, it was evident that he had dealt with the police as
the representative of a man of power.
My decision was of necessity promptly taken.
"Oh, well, if that's the way you look at it, Coogan," I said
carelessly, "it's all right. I thought it was agreed that we weren't to
know each other."
This was a chance shot, but it hit.
"Yes, yes," said the detective, "I remember. But, you see, this is
serious business. Here's a murder on our hands, and from all I can
learn it's on account of your confounded schemes. We've got to know
where we stand, or there will be the Old Nick to pay. The papers will
get hold of it, and then--well, you remember that shake-up we had three
"But you forget the 'old man,'" I returned. The name of that potent
Unknown seemed to be my only weapon in the contest with Detective
Coogan, and I thought this a time to try its force.
"Not much, I don't!" said Coogan, visibly disturbed. "But if it comes
to a choice, we'll have to risk a battle with him."
"Well, maybe we're wasting time over a trifle," said I, voicing my
hope. "Perhaps your dead man belongs somewhere else."
"Come along to the morgue, then," said he.
"Where was he found?" I asked as we walked out of the City Hall.
"He was picked up at about three o'clock in the back room of the
Hurricane Deck--the water-front saloon, you know--near the foot of
Detective Coogan asked a number of questions as we walked, and in a few
minutes we came to the undertaker's shop that served as the city
morgue. At the best of times it could not be a place of cheer. In the
hour before daybreak, with the chill air of the morning almost
suppressing the yellow gaslights, the errand on which I had come made
it the abode of dread. Yet I hoped--hoped in such an agony of fear that
I became half-insensible to my surroundings.
"Here it is," said Coogan, opening a door.
The low room was dark and chill and musty, but its details started
forth from the obscurity as he turned up the lights.
Detective Coogan's words seemed to come from a great distance as he
said: "Here, you see, he was stabbed. The knife went to the heart. Here
he was hit with something heavy and blunt; but it had enough of an edge
to cut the scalp and lay the cheek open. The skull is broken. See here--"
I summoned my resolution and looked.
Disfigured and ghastly as it was, I recognized it. It was the face of
The next I knew I was sitting on a bench, and the detective was holding
a bottle to my lips.
"There, take another swallow," he said, not unkindly. "I didn't know
you weren't used to it."
"Oh," I gasped, "I'm all right now." And I was able to look steadily at
the gruesome surroundings and the dreadful burden on the slab.
"Is this the man?" asked the detective.
"Dudley--James Dudley." I was not quite willing to transfer the whole
of my identity to the dead, and changed the Giles to James.
"Was he a relative?"
I shook my head, though I could not have said why I denied it. Then, in
answer to the detective's question, I told the story of the scuffle in
the alley, and of the events that followed.
"Did you see any of the men? To recognize them, I mean?"
I described the leader as well as I was able--the man with the face of
the wolf that I had seen in the lantern-flash.
Detective Coogan lost his listless air, and looked at me in
"I don't see your game, Wilton," he said.
"I'm giving you the straight facts," I said sullenly, a little
disturbed by his manner and tone.
"Well, in that case, I'd expect you to keep the straight facts to
yourself, my boy."
It was my turn to be astonished.
"Well, that's my lookout," I said with assumed carelessness.
"I don't see through you," said the detective with some irritation. "If
you're playing with me to stop this inquiry by dragging in--well, we
needn't use names--you'll find yourself in the hottest water you ever
"You can do as you please," I said coolly.
The detective ripped out an oath.
"If I knew you were lying, Wilton, I'd clap you in jail this minute."
"Well, if you want to take the risks--" I said smiling.
He looked at me for a full minute.
"Candidly, I don't, and you know it," he said. "But this is a stunner
on me. What's your game, anyhow?"
I wished I knew.
"So accomplished a detective should not be at a loss to answer so
simple a question."
"Well, there's only one course open, as I see," he said with a groan.
"We've got to have a story ready for the papers and the coroner's
This was a new suggestion for me and I was alarmed.
"You can just forget your little tale about the row in the alley," he
continued. "There's nothing to show that it had anything to do with
this man here. Maybe it didn't happen. Anyhow, just think it was a
dream. This was a water-front row--tough saloon--killed and robbed by
parties unknown. Maybe we'll have you before the coroner for the
identification, but maybe it's better not."
I nodded assent. My mind was too numbed to suggest another course.
The gray dawn was breaking through the chill fog, and people were
stirring in the streets as Detective Coogan led the way out of the
morgue. As we parted he gave me a curious look.
"I suppose you know your own business, Wilton," he said, "but I suspect
you'd be a sight safer if I'd clap you in jail."
And with this consoling comment he was gone, and I was left in the dawn
of my first morning in San Francisco, mind and body at the nadir of
depression after the excitement and perils of the night.
It was past ten o'clock of the morning when the remembrance of the
mysterious note I had received the preceding night came on me. I took
the slip from my pocket, and read its contents once more:
"Don't make the change until I see you. The money will be ready in the
morning. Be at the bank at 10:30."
This was perplexing enough, but it furnished me with an idea. Of course
I could not take money intended for Henry Wilton. But here was the
first chance to get at the heart of this dreadful business. The writer
of the note, I must suppose, was the mysterious employer. If I could
see her I could find the way of escape from the dangerous burden of
Henry Wilton's personality and mission.
But which bank could be meant? The only names I knew were the Bank of
California, whose failure in the previous year had sent echoes even
into my New England home, and the Anglo-Californian Bank, on which I
held a draft. The former struck me as the more likely place of
appointment, and after some skilful navigating I found myself at the
corner of California and Sansome Streets, before the building through
which the wealth of an empire had flowed.
I watched closely the crowd that passed in and out of the treasure-
house, and assumed what I hoped was an air of prosperous indifference
to my surroundings.
No one appeared to notice me. There were eager men and cautious men,
and men who looked secure and men who looked anxious, but neither man
nor woman was looking for me.
Plainly I had made a bad guess. A hasty walk through several other
banks that I could see in the neighborhood gave no better result, and I
had to acknowledge that this chance of penetrating the mystery was
gone. I speculated for the moment on what the effects might be. To
neglect an order of this kind might result in the withdrawal of the
protection that had saved my life, and in turning me over to the
mercies of the banditti who thought I knew something of the whereabouts
of a boy.
As I reflected thus, I came upon a crowd massed about the steps of a
great granite building in Pine Street; a whirlpool of men, it seemed,
with crosscurrents and eddies, and from the whole rose the murmur of
It was the Stock Exchange, the gamblers' paradise, in which millions
were staked, won and lost, and ruin and affluence walked side by side.
As I watched the swaying, shouting mass with wonder and amusement, a
thrill shot through me.
Upon the steps of the building, amid the crowd of brokers and
speculators, I saw a tall, broad-shouldered man of fifty or fifty-five,
his face keen, shrewd and hard, broad at the temples and tapering to a
strong jaw, a yellow-gray mustache and imperial half-hiding and half-
revealing the firm lines of the mouth, with the mark of the wolf strong
upon the whole. It was a face never to be forgotten as long as I should
hold memory at all. It was the face I had seen twelve hours before in
the lantern flash in the dreadful alley, with the cry of murder ringing
in my ears. Then it was lighted by the fierce fires of rage and hatred,
and marked with the chagrin of baffled plans. Now it was cool, good-
humored, alert for the battle of the Exchange that had already begun.
But I knew it for the same, and was near crying aloud that here was a
I clutched my nearest neighbor by the arm, and demanded to know who it
"Doddridge Knapp," replied the man civilly. "He's running the Chollar
deal now, and if I could only guess which side he's on, I'd make a
fortune in the next few days. He's the King of Pine Street."
While I was looking at the King of the Street and listening to my
neighbor's tales of his operations, Doddridge Knapp's eyes met mine. To
my amazement there was a look of recognition in them. Yet he made no
sign, and in a moment was gone. This, then, was the enemy I was to
meet! This was the explanation of Detective Coogan's hint that I should
be safer in jail than free on the streets to face this man's hatred or
I must have stood in a daze on the busy street, for I was roused by
some one shaking my arm with vigor.
"Come! are you asleep?" said the man, speaking in my ear. "Can't you
"Yes, yes," said I, rousing my attention.
"The chief wants you." His voice was low, almost a whisper.
"The chief? Who? Where?" I asked. "At the City Hall?" I jumped to the
conclusion that it was, of course, the chief of police, on the scent of
"No. Of course not. In the second office, you know."
This was scarcely enlightening. Doubtless, however, it was a summons
from my unknown employer.
"I'll follow you," said I promptly.
"I don't think I'd better go," said the messenger dubiously. "He didn't
say anything about it, and you know he's rather--"
"Well, I order it," I cut in decisively. "I may need you."
I certainly needed him at that moment if I was to find my way.
"Go ahead a few steps," I said.
My tone and manner impressed him, and he went without another word. I
sauntered after him with as careless an air as I could assume. My heart
was beating fast. I felt that I was close to the mystery and that the
next half-hour would determine whether I was to take up Henry Wilton's
work or to find my way in safety back to my own name and person.
My unconscious guide led the way along Montgomery Street into an office
building, up a flight of stairs, and into a back hallway.
"Stay a moment," I said, as he had his hand on the door knob. "On
second thoughts you can wait down stairs."
He turned back, and as his footsteps echoed down the stair I opened the
door and entered the office.
As I crossed the threshold my heart gave a great bound, and I stopped
short. Before me sat Doddridge Knapp, the King of the Street, the man
for whom above all others in the world I felt loathing and fear.
Doddridge Knapp finished signing his name to a paper on his desk before
he looked up.
"Come in and sit down," he said. The voice was alert and businesslike--
the voice of a man accustomed to command. But I could find no trace of
feeling in it, nothing that could tell me of the hatred or desperate
purpose that should inspire such a tragedy as I had witnessed, or warn
me of danger to come.
"Do you hear?" he said impatiently; "shut the door and sit down. Just
spring that lock, will you? We might be interrupted."
I was not at all certain that I should not wish very earnestly that he
might be interrupted in what Bret Harte would call the "subsequent
proceedings." But I followed his directions.
Doddridge Knapp was not less impressive at close view than at long
range. The strong face grew stronger when seen from the near distance.
"My dear Wilton," he said, "I've come to a place where I've got to
trust somebody, so I've come back to you." The voice was oily and
persuasive, but the keen gray eyes shot out a glance from under the
bushing eyebrows that thrilled me as a warning.
"It's very kind of you," I said, swallowing my astonishment with an
"Well," said Knapp, "the way you handled that Ophir matter was
perfectly satisfactory; but I'll tell you that it's on Mrs. Knapp's
say-so, as much as on your own doings, that I select you for this job."
"I'm much obliged to Mrs. Knapp," I said politely. I was in deep
waters. It was plainly unsafe to do anything but drift.
"Oh, you can settle that with her at your next call," he said good
The jaded nerves of surprise refused to respond further. If I had
received a telegram informing me that the dispute over the presidency
had been settled by shelving both Hayes and Tilden and giving the
unanimous vote of the electors to me, I should have accepted it as a
matter of course. I took my place unquestioningly as a valued
acquaintance of Doddridge Knapp's and a particular friend of Mrs.
Yet it struck me as strange that the keen-eyed King of the Street had
failed to discover that he was not talking to Henry Wilton, but to some
one else who resembled him. There were enough differences in features
and voice to distinguish us among intimate friends, though there were
not enough to be seen by casual acquaintances. I had the key in the
next sentence he spoke.
"I have decided that it is better this time to do our business face to
face. I don't want to trust messengers on this affair, and even cipher
notes are dangerous,--confoundedly dangerous."
Then we had not been close acquaintances.
"Oh, by the way, you have that other cipher yet, haven't you?" he
"No, I burnt it," I said unblushingly.
"That's right," he said. "It was best not to take risks. Of course you
understand that it won't do for us to be seen together."
"Certainly not," I assented.
"I have arranged for another office. Here's the address. Yours is Room
15. I have the key to 17, and 16 is vacant between with a 'To Let' sign
on it. They open into each other. You understand?"
"Perfectly," I said.
"You will be there by nine o'clock for your orders. If you get none by
twelve, there will be none for the day."
"If I can't be there, I'll let you know." I was off my guard for a
moment, thinking of the possible demands of Henry's unknown employer.
"You will do nothing of the kind," said Doddridge Knapp shortly. His
voice, so smooth and businesslike a moment before, changed suddenly to
a growl. His heavy eyebrows came down, and from under them flashed a
dangerous light. "You will be there when I tell you, young man, or
you'll have to reckon with another sort of customer than the one you've
been dealing with. This matter requires prompt and strict obedience to
orders. One slip may ruin the whole plan."
"You can depend on me," I said with assumed confidence. "Am I to have
I had thus far been able to get no hint of his purposes. If I had not
known what I knew, I should have supposed that his mind was
concentrated on the apparent object before him--to secure the zeal and
fidelity of an employee in some important business operation.
"And what am I to do?" I asked.
"Be a capitalist," he said with an ironical smile. "Buy and sell what I
tell you to buy and sell. Keep under cover, but not too much under
cover. You can pick your own brokers. Better begin with Bockstein and
Eppner, though. Your checks will be honored at the Nevada Bank. Oh,
here's a cipher, in case I want to write you. I suppose you'll want
some ready money."
Doddridge Knapp was certainly a liberal provider, for he shoved a
handful of twenty-dollar gold pieces across the desk in a way that made
my eyes open.
"By the way," he continued, "I don't think I have your signature, have
"No, sir," I replied with prompt confidence.
"Well, just write it on this slip then. I'll turn it into the bank for
your identification. You can take this check-book with you."
"That's all," he replied with a nod of dismissal. "Maybe it's to-
morrow--maybe it's next month."
And I walked out into Montgomery Street, bewildered among the
conflicting mysteries in which I had been entangled.
A NIGHT AT BORTON'S
Room 15 was a plain, comfortable office in a plain, comfortable
building on Clay Street, not far from the heart of the business
district. It was on the second floor, and its one window opened to the
rear, and faced a desolate assortment of back yards, rear walls, and
rickety stairways. The floor had a worn carpet, and there was a desk, a
few chairs and a shelf of law books. The place looked as though it had
belonged to a lawyer in reduced circumstances, and I could but wonder
how it had come into the possession of Doddridge Knapp, and what had
become of its former occupant.
I tried to thrust aside a spirit of melancholy, and looked narrowly to
the opportunities offered by the room for attack and defense. The walls
were solidly built. The window-casement showed an unusual depth for a
building of that height. The wall had been put in to withstand an
earthquake shock. The door opening into the hall, the door into Room
16, and the window furnished the three avenues of possible attack or
retreat. The window upon examination appeared impracticable. There was
a sheer drop of twenty feet, without a projection of any kind below it.
The ledge was hardly an inch wide. The iron shutters by which it might
be closed did not swing within ten feet of any other window. The one
chance of getting in by this line was to drop a rope ladder from the
roof. The door opening into Room 16 was not heavy, and the lock was a
cheap affair. A good kick would send the whole thing into splinters. As
it swung into Number 16 and not into my room it could not be braced
with a barricade. Plainly it was not a good place to spend the night
should Doddridge Knapp care to engineer another case of mysterious
The depression of spirits that progressed with my survey of the room
deepened into gloom as I flung myself into the arm-chair before the
desk, and tried to plan some way out of the tangle in which I was
involved. How was I, single-handed, to contend against the power of the
richest man in the city, and bring home to him the murder of Henry
Wilton? I could look for no assistance from the police. The words of
Detective Coogan were enough to show that only the most convincing
proof of guilt, backed by fear of public sentiment, could bring the
department to raise a finger against him. And how could I hope to rouse
that public sentiment? What would my word count against that of the
King of the Street?
Where was the motive for the crime? Until that was made clear I could
not hope to piece together the scraps of evidence into a solid
structure of proof. And what motive could there be that would reconcile
the Doddridge Knapp who sought the life of Henry Wilton, with the
Doddridge Knapp of this morning, who was ready to engage him in his
confidential business? And had I the right to accept any part in his
business? It had the flavor of treachery about it; yet it seemed the
only possible chance to come upon the secret springs of his acts, to
come in touch with the tools and accomplices in his crime. And the
unknown mission, that had brought Henry to his death? How was I to play
his part in that? And even if I could take his place, how was I to
serve the mysterious employer and Doddridge Knapp at the same time,
when Doddridge Knapp was ready to murder me to gain the Unknown's
Fatigue and loss of sleep deepened the dejection of mind that oppressed
me with these insistent questions, and as I vainly struggled against
it, carried me at last into the oblivion of dreamless slumber.
The next I knew I was awaking to the sound of breaking glass. It was
dark but for a feeble light that came from the window. Every bone in my
body ached from the cramped position in which I had slept, and it
seemed an age before I could rouse myself to act. It was, however, but
a second before I was on my feet, revolver in hand, with the desk
between me and a possible assailant.
Silence, threatening, oppressive, surrounded me as I stood listening,
watching, for the next move. Then I heard a low chuckle, as of some one
struggling to restrain his laughter; and so far from sympathizing with
his mirth, I was tempted to try the effect of a shot as an assistance
in suppressing it.
"I thought the transom was open," said a low voice, which still seemed
to be struggling with suppressed laughter.
"I guess it woke him up," said another and harsher voice. "I heard a
noise in there."
"You're certain he's there?" asked the first voice with another
"Sure, Dicky. I saw him go in, and Porter and I have taken turns on
watch ever since."
"Well, it's time he came out," said Dicky. "He can't be asleep after
that racket. Say!" he called, "Harry! What's the matter with you? If
you're dead let us know."
They appeared friendly, but I hesitated in framing an answer.
"We'll have to break down the door, I guess," said Dicky. "Something
must have happened." And a resounding kick shook the panel.
"Hold on!" I cried. "What's wanted?"
"Oh," said Dicky sarcastically. "You've come to life again, have you."
"Well, I'm not dead yet."
"Then strike a light and let us in. And take a look at that reminder
you'll find wrapped around the rock I heaved through the transom. I
thought it was open." And Dicky went off into another series of
chuckles in appreciation of his mistake.
"All right," I said. I was not entirely trustful, and after I had
lighted the gas-jet I picked up the stone that lay among the fragments
of glass, and unwrapped the paper. The sheet bore only the words:
"At Borton's, at midnight. Richmond."
This was the name of the agent of the Unknown, who had sent the other
note. Dicky and his companion must then be protectors instead of
enemies. I hastened to unlock the door, and in walked my two visitors.
The first was a young man, tall, well-made, with a shrewd, good-humored
countenance, and a ready, confident air about him. I had no trouble in
picking him out as the amused Dicky. The other was a black-bearded
giant, who followed stolidly in the wake of the younger man.
"You've led me a pretty chase," said Dicky. "If it hadn't been for Pork
Chops here, I shouldn't have found you till the cows come home."
"Well, what's up now?" I asked.
"Why, you ought to know," said Dicky with evident surprise. "But you'd
better be hurrying down to Borton's. The gang must be there by now."
I could only wonder who Borton might be, and where his place was, and
what connection he might have with the mystery, as Dicky took me by the
arm and hurried me out into the darkness. The chill night air served to
nerve instead of depress my spirits, as the garrulous Dicky
unconsciously guided me to the meeting-place, joyously narrating some
amusing adventure of the day, while the heavy retainer stalked in
Down near the foot of Jackson Street, where the smell of bilge-water
and the wash of the sewers grew stronger, and the masts of vessels
could just be seen in the darkness outlined against the sky, Dicky
suddenly stopped and drew me into a doorway. Our retainer disappeared
at the same instant, and the street was apparently deserted. Then out
of the night the shape of a man approached with silent steps.
"Five-sixteen," croaked Dicky.
The man gave a visible start.
"Sixteen-five," he croaked in return.
"Any signs?" whispered Dicky.
"Six men went up stairs across the street. Every one of them did the
"Sure they weren't sailors?"
"Well, when six coves goes up the same stairs trying the same dodge,
all inside of ten minutes, I has a right to my suspicions. And Darby
Meeker ain't been to sea yet that I knows on."
"Darby Meeker!" exclaimed Dicky in a whisper. And he drew a whistle
under his breath. "What do you think of that, Wilton? I had no idea he
was back from that wild-goose chase you sent him on."
"It looks bad," I admitted cautiously. "I dare say he isn't in good
"You'll have to settle with him for that piece of business," said Dicky
with a chuckle.
I failed to see the amusing side of the prospect. I wished I knew what
Mr. Meeker looked like.
The guard had melted away into the darkness without another word, and
we hurried forward with due caution. Just past the next corner was a
lighted room, and the sound of voices broke the quiet. A triangular
glass lantern projected from above the door, and such of the paint as
had not weathered away made the announcement:
[Illustration: BORTON'S Meals Liquors Lodgings]
We pushed open the door and walked in. The room was large and dingy,
the ceiling low. Tables were scattered about the sanded floor. A bar
took up the side of the room next the entrance, and a general air of
disreputability filled the place. The only attempts at ornament, unless
the arrangement of various-colored bottles behind the bar came under
that head, were the circles and festoons of dirty cut paper hanging
from the ceiling.
About the room, some at the tables, some at the bar, were numbers of
stout, rough-looking men, with a few Greek fishermen and two or three
Behind the bar sat a woman whose appearance in that place almost
startled me. She might have been nearing seventy, and a hard and evil
life had left its marks on her bent frame and her gaunt face. Her
leathery cheeks were lined deep, and a hawk-like nose emphasized the
unpleasant suggestions conveyed by her face and figure. But the most
remarkable feature about her was her eyes. There was no trace of age in
them. Bright and keen as the eyes of a rat, they gave me an unpleasant
thrill as I felt her gaze fixed upon me when I entered the door, arm in
arm with Dicky. It was as though they had pierced me through, and had
laid bare something I would have concealed. It was a relief to pass
beyond her into a recessed part of the room where her gaze might waste
itself on the back of my head.
"Mother Borton's up late to-night," said Dicky thoughtfully, as he
"You can't blame her for thinking that this crowd needs watching," I
suggested with as much of airiness as I could throw into my manner.
Dicky shook his head for a second, and then resumed his light-hearted,
bantering way. Yet I could see that he was perplexed and anxious about
something that had come to his attention on our arrival.
"You'll not want to attend to business till all the boys are here?"
"Not unless there's something to be done," I responded dryly.
Dicky gave me a quick glance.
"Of course," he said with a laugh that was not quite easy, "not unless
there's something to be done. But I thought there was something."
"You've got a fine mind for thinking, Dicky," I replied. "You'd better
"Well, they say there's nothing like society for that sort of
cultivation," said Dicky with another laugh. "They don't say what kind,
but I've got a pretty good stock here to choose from." He was at his
ease in banter again, but it struck unpleasantly on me that there was
"Oh, here's a queer friend," he said suddenly, looking to the door.
"I'd better speak to him on the matter of countersigns."
"By all means," I said, turning in my chair to survey the new-comer.
I saw the face for an instant. The man wore a sou'wester, and he had
drawn his thick, rough coat up as though he would hide his head under
the collar. Cheek and chin I could see were covered by a thick blond
beard. His movements were apparently clumsy, but his figure was lithe
and sinuous. And his eyes! Once seen they never could be forgotten. At
their glance, beard and sou'wester dropped away before my fancy, and I
saw in my inner vision the man of the serpent glance who had chilled my
spirit when I had first put foot in the city. It flashed on me in an
instant that this was the same man disguised, who had ventured into the
midst of his enemies to see what he might learn of their plans.
As I watched Dicky advance and greet the new-comer with apparent
inquiry, a low harsh voice behind gave me a start of surprise.
"This is your wine, I think,"--and a lean, wrinkled arm passed over my
shoulder, and a wrinkled face came near my own.
I turned quickly. It was Mother Borton, leering at me with no apparent
interest but in her errand.
"What are you doing here?" asked the crone in a voice still lower.
"You're not the one they take you to be, but you're none the less in
danger. What are you doing with his looks, and in this place? Look out
for that man you're with, and the other. Yes, sir," her voice rose. "A
small bottle of the white; in a minute, sir."
I understood her as Dicky and the new-comer came to the table and took
seats opposite. I commanded my face to give no sign of suspicion, but
the warning put me on the alert. I had come on the supposition that I
was to meet the band to which Henry Wilton belonged. Instead of being
among friends, however, it seemed now that I was among enemies.
"It's all right," said Dicky carelessly. "He's been sent."
"That's lucky," said I with equal unconcern. "We may need an extra hand
The new-comer could not repress a triumphant flash in the serpent eyes.
"I'm the one for your job," he said hoarsely, his face as impassive as
a stone wall.
"What do you know about the job?" I asked suspiciously.
"Only what I've been told," he answered.
"And that is--"
"That it's a job for silence, secrecy, and--"
"Spondulicks," said Dicky with a laugh, as the other hesitated for a
"Just so," said the man.
"And what else?" I continued, pressing him firmly.
"Well," he admitted hoarsely, "I learned as how there was to be a
change of place to-night, and I might be needed."
I looked at him inquiringly. Perhaps I was on the threshold of
knowledge of this cursed business from the mouth of the enemy.
"I heard as how the boy was to be put in a safer place," he said,
wagging his head with affected gravity.
Some imp put it into my brain to try him with an unexpected bit of
"Oh," I said coolly, "that's all attended to. The change was made
The effect of this announcement was extraordinary. The man started with
"The hell you say!" he exclaimed in a low, smooth voice, far different
from the harsh tone he had used thus far. Then he leaped to his feet,
with uncontrollable rage.
"Tricked--by God!" he shouted impulsively, and smote the table with his
His outburst threw the room into confusion. Men sprang from their
chairs. Glasses and bottles fell with clinking crash. Oaths and shouts
arose from the crowd.
"Damn you, I'll have it out of you!" said the man with suppressed fury,
his voice once again smooth and low. "Where is the boy?"
He smote the table again; and with that stroke the false beard fell
from his chin and cheek, and exposed the malignant face, distorted with
rage. A feeling of horrible repulsion came over me, and I should have
struck at that serpent's head but for a startling occurrence. As he
spoke, a wild scream rose upon the air, and as it echoed through the
room the lights went out.
The scream was repeated, and after an instant's silence there rose a
chorus of shouts and oaths, mingled with the crash of tables and the
clink of breaking glass and crockery, as the men in the room fought
their way to the door.
"Oh, my God, I'm cut!" came in a shriek out of the darkness and clamor;
and there followed the flash of a pistol and a report that boomed like
a cannon in that confined place.
My eyes had not been idle after the warning of Mother Borton, and in an
instant I had decided what to do. I had figured out what I conceived to
be the plan of the house, and thought I knew a way of escape. There
were two doors at the rear of the room, and facing me. One led, as I
knew, to the kitchen; the other opened, I reasoned, on a stair to the
Before the scream that accompanied the extinction of the lights had
died away, I had made a dive beneath the table, and, lifting with all
my might, had sent it crashing over with my enemy under it. With one
leap I cleared the remaining table that lay between me and the door.
And with the clamor behind me, I turned the knob and bounded up the
stairs, three steps at a time.
The noise of the struggle below continued. Yells and curses rose from
the maddened men. Three shots were fired in quick succession, and a cry
of "Oh, my Lord!" penetrated through the closed door with the sound of
one sorely hurt.
I lingered for a little, listening to the tumult. I was in a strange
and dangerous position. Enemies were behind me. There were friends,
too, but I knew no way to tell one from the other, and my ignorance had
nearly brought me to my death. I hesitated to move, but I could not
remain in the open hall; and as the sounds of disturbance from below
subsided, I felt my way along the wall and moved cautiously forward.
I had progressed perhaps twenty steps when a door, against which my
hand pressed, yielded at the touch and swung slowly open. I strove to
stop it, for the first opening showed a dim light within. But the panel
gave no hold for my fingers, and my efforts to close the door only
swung it open the faster. I drew back a little into the shadow, for I
hesitated to dash past the sight of any who might occupy the room.
"Come in!" called a harsh voice.
I hesitated. Behind, the road led to the eating-room with its known
dangers. A dash along the hall for the front door meant the raising of
an alarm, and probably a bullet as a discourager of burglary. Should I
escape this, I could be certain of a warm reception from the enemies on
watch outside. Prudence lay in facing the one rather than risking the
many. I accepted the invitation and walked into the room.
"I was expecting you," said the harsh voice composedly. "Good evening."
"Good evening," I returned gravely, swallowing my amazement as best I
By the table before me sat Mother Borton, contemplating me as calmly as
though this meeting were the most commonplace thing in the world. A
candle furnished a dim, flickering light that gave to her hard wicked
countenance a diabolic leer that struck a chill to my blood.
"Excuse me," I said, "I have lost my way, I fear."
"Not at all," said Mother Borton. "You are in the right place."
"I was afraid I had intruded," I said apologetically.
"I expected you," she repeated. "Shut the door."
I glanced about the room. There was no sign of another person to be
seen, and no other door. I obeyed her.
"You might as well sit down," she said with some petulance. "There's
nothing up here to hurt you." There was so much meaning in her tone of
the things that would hurt me on the floor below that I hastened to
show my confidence in her, and drew up a chair to the table.
"At your service," I said, leaning before her with as much an
appearance of jaunty self-possession as I could muster.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" she asked grimly.
What should I answer? Could I tell her the truth? "Who are you?" she
repeated impatiently, gazing on me. "You are not Wilton. Tell me. Who
The face, hard as it was, seamed with the record of a rough and evil
life, as it appeared, had yet a kindly look as it was turned on me.
"My name is Dudley,--Giles Dudley."
"Where is Wilton?"
"Dead? Did you kill him?" The half-kindly look disappeared from her
eyes, and the hard lines settled into an expression of malevolent
"He was my best friend," I said sadly; and then I described the leading
events of the tragedy I had witnessed.
The old woman listened closely, and with hardly the movement of a
muscle, to the tale I told.
"And you think he left his job to you?" she said with a sneer.
"I have taken it up as well as I can. To be frank with you, Mrs.
Borton, I know nothing about his job. I'm going along on blind chance,
and trying to keep a whole skin."
The old woman looked at me in amazement.
"Poor boy!" she exclaimed half-pityingly, half-admiringly. "You put
your hands to a job you know nothing about, when Henry Wilton couldn't
carry it with all his wits about him."
"I didn't do it," said I sullenly. "It has done itself. Everybody
insists that I'm Wilton. If I'm to have my throat slit for him I might
as well try to do his work. I wish to Heaven I knew what it was,
Mother Borton leaned her head on her hand, and gazed on me thoughtfully
for a full minute.
"Young man," said she impressively, "take my advice. There's a train
for the East in the mornin'. Just git on board, and never you stop
short of Chicago."
"I'm not running away," said I bitterly. "I've got a score to settle
with the man who killed Henry Wilton. When that score is settled, I'll
go to Chicago or anywhere else. Until that's done, I stay where I can
Mother Borton caught up the candle and moved it back and forth before
my face. In her eyes there was a gleam of savage pleasure.
"By God, he's in earnest!" she said to herself, with a strange laugh.
"Tell me again of the man you saw in the alley."
I described Doddridge Knapp.
"And you are going to get even with _him_?" she said with a
chuckle that had no mirth in it.
"Yes," said I shortly.
"Why, if you should touch him the people of the city would tear you to
"I shall not touch him. I'm no assassin!" I exclaimed indignantly. "The
law shall take him, and I'll see him hanged as high as Haman."
Mother Borton gave a low gurgling laugh.
"The law! oh, my liver,--the law! How young you are, my boy! Oh, ho, oh
ho!" And again she absorbed her mirthless laugh, and gave me an evil
grin. Then she became grave again, and laid a claw on my sleeve. "Take
my advice now, and git on the train."
"Not I!" I returned stoutly.
"I'm doing it for your own good," she said, with as near an approach to
a coaxing tone as she could command. It was long since she had used her
voice for such a purpose and it grated. "For my sake I'd like to see
you go on and wipe out the whole raft of 'em. But I know what'll happen
to ye, honey. I've took a fancy to ye. I don't know why. But there's a
look on your face that carries me back for forty years, and--don't try
There were actually tears in the creature's eyes, and her hard, wicked
face softened, and became almost tender and womanly.
"I can't give up," I said. "The work is put on me. But can't you help
me? I believe you want to. I trust you. Tell me what to do--where I
stand. I'm all in the dark, but I must do my work." It was the best
appeal I could have made.
"You're right," she said. "I'm an old fool, and you've got the real
sand. You're the first one except Henry Wilton that's trusted me in
forty years, and you won't be sorry for it, my boy. You owe me one,
now. Where would you have been to-night if I hadn't had the light
doused on ye?"
"Oh, that was your doing, was it? I thought my time had come."
"Oh, I was sure you'd know what to do. It was your best chance."
"Then will you help me, now?" The old crone considered, and her face
grew sharp and cunning in its look.
"What can I do?"
"Tell me, in God's name, where I stand. What is this dreadful mystery?
Who is this boy? Why is he hidden, and why do these people want to know
where he is? Who is behind me, and who threatens me with death?"
I burst out with these questions passionately, almost frantically. This
was the first time I had had chance to demand them of another human
Mother Borton gave me a leer.
"I wish I could tell you, my dear, but I don't know."
"You mean you dare not tell me," I said boldly. "You have done me a
great service, but if I am to save myself from the dangers that
surround me I must know more. Can't you see that?"
"Yes," she nodded. "You're in a hard row of stumps, young man."
"And you can help me."
"Well, I will," she said, suddenly softening again. "I took a shine to
you when you came in, an' I says to myself, 'I'll save that young
fellow,' an' I done it. And I'll do more. Mr. Wilton was a fine
gentleman, an' I'd do something, if I could, to git even with those
murderin' gutter-pickers that laid him out on a slab."
She hesitated, and looked around at the shadows thrown by the
"Well?" I said impatiently. "Who is the boy, and where is he?"
"Never you mind that, young fellow. Let me tell you what I know. Then
maybe we'll have time to go into the things I don't know."
It was of no use to urge her. I bowed my assent to her terms.
"I'll name no names," she said. "My throat can be cut as quick as
yours, and maybe a damned sight quicker."
Mother Borton had among her failings a weakness for profanity. I have
omitted most of her references to sacred and other subjects of the kind
in transcribing her remarks.
"The ones that has the boy means all right. They're rich. The ones as
is looking for the boy is all wrong. They'll be rich if they gits him."
"Why, I don't know," said Mother Borton. "I'm tellin' you what Henry
Wilton told me."
This was maddening. I began to suspect that she knew nothing after all.
"Do you know where he is?" I asked, taking the questioning into my own
"Who is protecting him?"
"I don't know."
"Who is trying to get him?"
"It's that snake-eyed Tom Terrill that's leading the hunt, along with
Darby Meeker; but they ain't doing it for themselves."
"Is Doddridge Knapp behind them?"
The old woman looked at me suddenly in wild-eyed alarm.
"S-s-h!" she whispered. "Don't name no names."
"But I saw--"
She put her hand over my mouth.
"He's in it somewhere, or the devil is, but I don't know where. He's an
awful man. He's everywhere at once. He's--oh Lord! What was that?"
I had become infected with her nervousness, and at a cracking or
creaking sound turned around with half an expectation of seeing
Doddridge Knapp himself coming in the door.
There was no one there--nothing to be seen but the flickering shadows,
and no sound broke the stillness as we listened.
"It's nothing," I said.
"I reckon I ain't got no call to be scared at any crackings in this old
house," said Mother Borton with a nervous giggle. "I've hearn 'em long
enough. But that man's name gives me the shivers."
"What did he ever do to you?" I asked with some curiosity.
"He never did nothing," she said, "but I hearn tell dreadful things
that's gone on of nights,--how Doddridge Knapp or his ghost was seen
killing a Chinaman over at North Beach, while Doddridge Knapp or his
ghost,--whichever was the other one,--was speaking at a meeting, at the
Pavilion. And I hearn of his drinkin' blood--"
"Nonsense!" said I; "where did you get such stories?"
"Well, they're told me for true, and by ones I believe," she said
stoutly. "Oh, there's queer things goes on. Doddridge Knapp or the
devil, it's all one. But it's ill saying things of them that can be in
two places at once." And the old dame looked nervously about her.
"They've hushed things up in the papers, and fixed the police, but
people have tongues."
I wondered what mystification had given rise to these absurd reports,
but there was nothing to be gained by pursuing them. The killing of the
Chinaman might have been something to my hand, but if Doddridge Knapp
had such a perfect alibi it was a waste of time to look into it.
"And is this all you know?" I asked in disappointment.
Mother Borton tried to remember some other point.
"I don't see how it's going to keep a knife from between my ribs," I
"You keep out of the way of Tom Terrill and his hounds, and you'll be
all right, I reckon."
"Am I supposed to be the head man in this business?"
"Who are my men?"
"There's Wilson and Fitzhugh and Porter and Brown," and she named ten
or a dozen more.
"And what is Dicky?"
"It's a smart man as can put his finger on Dicky Nahl," said Mother
"Nahl is his name?"
"Yes. And I've seen him hobnob with Henry Wilton, and I've seen him
thick as thieves with Tom Terrill, and which he's thickest with the
devil himself couldn't tell. I call him Slippery Dicky."
"Why did he bring me here to-night?"
"I hearn there's orders come to change the place--the boy's place, you
know. You was to tell 'em where the new one was to be, I reckon, but
Tom Terrill spoiled things. He's lightning, is Tom Terrill. But I guess
he got it all out of Dicky, though where Dicky got it the Lord only
This was all that was to be had from Mother Borton. Either she knew no
more, or she was sharp enough to hide a knowledge that might be
dangerous, even fatal, to reveal. She was willing to serve me, and I
was forced to let it pass that she knew no more.
"Well, I'd better be going then," said I at last. "It's nearly four
o'clock, and everything seems to be quiet hereabouts. I'll find my way
to my room."
"You'll do no such thing," said Mother Borton. "They've not given up
the chase yet. Your men have gone home, I reckon, but I'll bet the
saloon that you'd have a surprise before you got to the corner."
"Not a pleasant prospect," said I grimly.
"No. You must stay here. The room next to this one is just the thing
for you. See?"
She drew me into the adjoining room, shading the candle as we passed
through the hall that no gleam might fall where it would attract
"You'll be safe here," she said. "Now do as I say. Go to sleep and git
some rest. You ain't had much, I guess, since you got to San
The room was cheerless, but in the circumstances the advice appeared
good. I was probably safer here than in the street, and I needed the
"Good night," said my strange protectress, "You needn't git up till you
git ready. This is a beautiful room--beautiful. I call it our bridal
chamber, though we don't get no brides down here. There won't be no sun
to bother your eyes in the mornin', for that window don't open up
outside. So there, can't nobody git in unless he comes from inside the
house. There, git to bed. Look out you don't set fire to nothing. And
put out the candle. Now good night, dearie."
Mother Borton closed the door behind her, and left me to the shadows.
Her departure did not leave me wholly at my ease. I had escaped from my
foes, but I was no closer to being in touch with those who would be my
friends; and before daylight I might be lying here with my throat slit.
At the reflection I hastily bolted the door, and tried the fastenings
of the window. All seemed secure, but the sound of a footstep in the
passageway gave me a start for an instant.
"Only Mother Borton going down stairs," I thought, with a smile at my
There was nothing to be gained by sitting up, and the candle was past
its final inch. I felt that I could not sleep, but I would lie down on
the bed and rest my tired limbs, that I might refresh myself for the
demands of the day. I kicked off my boots, put my revolver under my
hand, and lay down.
Heedless of Mother Borton's warning I left the candle to burn to the
socket, and watched the flickering shadows chase each other over walls