Part 3 out of 6
pricks up my ears at this. 'Why?' says I. 'Oh, he'll be killed,' says
he, 'and I'll git the derndest lickin',' says he. 'What's up?' says I,
makin' a grab for him. But he ducks an' blubbers. 'Gimme that letter,'
says I, 'and you just kite back to the folks that sent you, and tell
them what's the matter. I'll give your note to your man if he comes
while I'm on the beat,' says I. I knows too much to try to git anything
more out of him. I says to meself that Mr. Wilton ain't in the safest
place in the world, and this kid's folks maybe means him well, and
might know some other place to look for him. The kid jaws a bit, an'
then does as I tells him, an' cuts away. That's half an hour ago, an'
here you are, an' here's your letter."
I hesitated for a little before saying anything. It was with quick
suspicion that I wondered why Mother Borton had secured again that
gloomy and deserted house for the interview she was planning. That
mystery of the night, with its memories of the fight in the bar-room,
the escape up the stair, the fearsome moments I had spent locked in the
vacant place, came on me with nerve-shaking force. It was more likely
to be a trap than a meeting meant for my advantage. There was, indeed,
no assurance that the note was written by Mother Borton herself. It
might well be the product of the gentlemen who had been lending such
variety to an otherwise uninteresting existence.
All these considerations flashed through my mind in the seconds of
hesitation that passed before my reply to Policeman Corson's account.
"That was very kind of you. You didn't know what was in the letter
"No, sor," replied Corson with a touch of wounded pride. "It's not me
as would open another man's letter, unless in the way of me duty."
"Do you know Mother Borton?" I continued.
"Know her? know her?" returned Corson in a tone scornful of doubt on
such a point. "Do I know the slickest crook in San Francisco? Ah, it's
many a story I could tell you, Mr. Wilton, of the way that ould she-
divil has slipped through our fingers when we thought our hands were on
her throat. And it's many of her brood we have put safe in San
"Yes, I suppose so," said I dryly. "But the woman has done me a
service--saved my life, I may say--and I'm willing to forget the bad in
"That's not for me to say, sor; but there's quare things happens, no
"This note," I continued, "is written over her name. I don't know
whether it came from her, or not; but if she sent it I must see her. It
may be a case of life or death for me."
"An' if it didn't come from her?" asked the policeman shrewdly.
"Then," said I grimly, "it's likely to be a case of death if I venture
"I'll tell you what, Mr. Wilton," said Corson after a pause. "If you'll
wait a bit, I'll go with you--that is, if there isn't somebody else
you'd like better to have by your side to-night. You don't look to have
any of your friends about."
"Just the thing," I said heartily. "There's no one I'd rather have.
We'll go down as soon as we can get a bite to eat."
"I'll have to wait a bit, sor, till my relief comes. He'll be along
soon. As for getting a bite, you can't do better than wait till you get
to Mother Borton's. It's a rough place, but it's got a name for good
I was bewildered.
"I guess there's not much to be got in the way of eating in the house.
There was nothing left in it yesterday morning but the rats." I spoke
with considerable emphasis.
"That's square, now," he said, looking to see if there was a jest
behind the words. "But 'twas all there when McPherson and I put a club
to a drunk as was raising the Ould Nick in the place and smashing the
bottles, not six hours ago. When we took him away in the ixpriss wagon
the ould woman was rowling out those long black curses in a way that
would warm the heart of the foul fiend himself."
There was some fresh mystery about this. I held my tongue with the
reflection that I had better let it straighten itself out than risk a
stumble by asking about things I ought to know.
Corson's relief soon appeared. "It's a nasty night," he said, buttoning
up his overcoat closely, as Corson gave him a brief report of the
situation on the beat.
"It's good for them as likes it dark," said Corson.
"It's just such a night as we had when Donaldson was murdered. Do you
"Do I mind it? Am I likely to forgit it? Well, a pleasant time to you,
me boy. Come along, sor. We'd better be moving. You won't mind stepping
up to the hall with me, will ye, while I report?"
"Certainly not," I said with a shiver, half at the grim suggestion of
murder and half at the chill of the fog and the cutting wind that blew
the cold vapor through to the skin.
"You've no overcoat," said Corson. "We'll stop and get one. I'll have
mine from the station."
The silence of the house of mystery was no less threatening now than on
the night when Henry Wilton was walking through the halls on the way to
his death. But the stout-hearted policeman by my side gave me
confidence, and no sign showed the presence of an enemy as I secured
Henry's heavy overcoat and the large revolver he had given me, and we
took our way down the stairs.
A short visit to the grimy, foul-smelling basement of the City Hall,
where a few policemen looked at me wonderingly, a brisk walk with the
cutting wind at our backs and the fog currents hurrying and whirling in
eddies toward the bay, and I felt rather than saw that we were in the
neighborhood of the scene of my adventures of a night that had come so
near costing me my life. I could not be certain of my bearings, but I
trusted to the unconscious guidance of Corson, with a confused idea
that we were bearing away from the place. Then with relief combined
with bewilderment, I saw the lantern sign give forth its promise of the
varied entertainment that could be had at Borton's.
"Here we are," said Corson.
We pushed open the door and entered. The place had the same appearance
as the one to which I had been taken by Dicky Nahl.
"A fine night, Mother Borton," said Corson cheerily, as he was the
first to enter, and then added under his breath, "--for the divil's
Mother Borton stared at him with a black look and muttered a curse.
"Good evening," I hastened to say. "I took the liberty to bring a
friend; he doesn't come as an officer to-night."
The effect on the hag's features was marvelous. The black scowl
lightened, the tight-drawn lips relaxed, and there was a sign of
pleasure in the bright eyes that had flashed hatred at the policeman.
"Ah, it's you, is it?" she said sharply, but with a tone of kindness in
her greeting. "I didn't see ye. Now sit down and find a table, and I'll
be with ye after a bit."
"We want a dinner, and a good one. I'm half-starved."
"Are ye, honey?" said the woman with delight.
"Then it's the best dinner in town ye shall have. Here, Jim! Put these
gentlemen over there at the corner table."
And if the cooking was not what we could have had at the Maison Doree
and the service was a little off color, neither of us was disposed to
"It's not the aristocracy of stoile ye get here," said Corson, lighting
his pipe after the coffee, "but it's prime eating."
I nodded in lazy contentment, and then started up in remembrance of the
occasion of our being in this place as the shadow of Mother Borton fell
across the table. Her keen eyes fixed on me and her sharp beak nodding
toward me gave her the uncanny aspect of a bird of prey, and I felt a
sinking of courage as I met her glance.
"If you will go upstairs," she said sourly. "You know the way. I guess
your friend can spare you."
"Is there anything that can't be told before him?" I asked.
The features of the old woman hardened.
"You'll be safer in my care than in his," she said, with warning in her
"Yes, yes, I know I am safe here, but how is it with my friend if I
leave him here? We came together and we'll go together."
The crone nodded with a laugh that ended in a snarl.
"If the gang knew he was here there would be more fun than you saw the
"Don't worry about me, Mr. Wilton," said Corson with a grin. "I've
stood her crowd off before, and I can do it again if the need comes.
But I'd rather smoke a poipe in peace."
"You can smoke in peace, but it's not yourself you can thank for it,"
said Mother Borton sharply. "There'll be no trouble here to-night. Come
along." And the old woman started for the door.
"Are you sure you're all right?" asked Corson in a low voice. "There's
men gone up those stairs that came down with a sheet over them."
"It's all right--that is, unless there's any danger to you in leaving
"No. Go ahead. I'll wait for ye. I'd as lief sit here as anywheres."
I hastened after Mother Borton, who was glowering at me from the
doorway, and followed her footsteps in silence to the floor above.
There was a dim light and a foul smell in the upper hall, both of which
came from a lamp that burned with a low flame on a bracket by the
forward stair. There were perhaps a dozen doors to be seen, all closed,
but all giving the discomforting suggestion that they had eyes to mark
Mother Borton walked the passage cautiously and in silence, and I
followed her example until she pushed open a door and was swallowed up
in the blackness. Then I paused on the threshold while she lighted a
candle; and as I entered, she swiftly closed and locked the door behind
"Sit down," she said in a harsh voice, motioning me to a chair by the
stand that held the candle. Then this strange creature seated herself
in front of me, and looked steadily and sternly in my face for a full
minute. The gaze of the piercing, deep-sunken eyes of the old hag, the
evil lines that marked the lean, sharp features, gaining a still more
sinister meaning from the wavering, flickering light thrown upon her
face by the candle, gave me a feeling of anything but ease in my
"What have you done that I should help you?" she broke forth in a harsh
voice, her eyes still fixed on my face.
"I really couldn't say," I replied politely. "You have done me one or
two services already. That's the best reason I know why you should do
The hard lines on the face before me relaxed at the sound of my voice,
and the old woman nodded approvingly.
"Ay, reason enough, I guess. Them as wants better can find it
themselves. But why did you sneak out of the house the other night like
a cop in plain clothes? Didn't I go bail you were safe? Do you want any
better word than mine?" she had begun almost softly, but the voice grew
higher and harsher as she went on.
"Why," I said, bewildered again, "the house sneaked away from me--or,
at least you left me alone in it."
"How was that?" she asked grimly. And I described graphically my
experience in the deserted building.
As I proceeded with my tale an amused look replaced the harsh lines of
suspicion on Mother Borton's face.
"Oh, my lud!" she cried with a chuckle. "Oh, my lud! how very green you
are, my boy. Oh ho! oh ho!" And then she laughed an inward, self-
consuming laugh that called up anything but the feeling of sympathetic
"I'm glad it amuses you," I said with injured dignity.
"Oh, my liver! Don't you see it yet? Don't you see that you climbed
into the next house back, and went through on to the other street?" And
she relapsed into her state of silent merriment.
I felt foolish enough as the truth flashed over me. I had lost my sense
of direction in the strange house, and had been deceived by the
resemblance of the ground plan of the two buildings.
"But what about the plot?" I asked. "I got your note. It's very
interesting. What about it?"
"Why, I don't know. The one you wrote me about."
Mother Borton bent forward and searched my face with her keen glance.
"Oh," she said at last, "the one I wrote you about. I'd forgotten it."
This was disheartening. How could I depend on one whose memory was thus
"Yes," said I gloomily; "I supposed you might know something about it."
"Show me the note," she said sharply.
I fumbled through my pockets until I found it. Mother Borton clutched
it, held it up to the candle, and studied it for two or three minutes.
"Where did you get it?"
I described the circumstances in which it had come into my possession,
and repeated the essentials of Corson's story. Mother Borton's sharp,
evil face was impassive during my recital. When it was done she
"Gimme a fool for luck." Then she appeared to consider for a minute or
"Well?" said I inquiringly.
"Well, honey, you're having a run of the cards," she said at last.
"Between having the message trusted to a fool boy, and having a cop for
your friend, an' maybe gitting this note before you're expected to,
you're setting here genteel-like having agreeable conversation along
with me, instead of being in company you mightn't like so well--or
maybe floating out toward Fort Point."
"So you didn't write it?" I said coolly. "I had an idea of the kind.
That's why my friend Corson is smoking his pipe down stairs."
Mother Borton gave me a pleased look and nodded. I hoped I had made her
regret the cruel insinuation in her application of the proverb to me as
the favorite of fortune.
"I see," I said. "I was to be waylaid on the road here and killed."
"Carried off, more likely. I don't say as it wouldn't end in killin'
ye. But, you see, you'd be of mighty small use in tellin' tales if you
was dead; but you might be got to talk if they had ye in a quiet
"Good reasoning. But Henry Wilton was killed."
"Yes," admitted Mother Borton; "they thought he carried papers, and
maybe they ain't got over the idea yit. It's jest as well you're here
instid of having a little passear with Tom Terrill and Darby Meeker and
"Well," said I, as cheerfully as I could under the depressing
circumstances, "if they want to kill me, I don't see how I can keep
them from getting a chance sooner or later."
Mother Borton looked anxious at this, and shook her head.
"You must call on your men," she said decidedly. "You must have
"By the way," I said, "that reminds me. The men haven't been paid, and
they're looking to me for money."
"Who's looking to you for money?"
"Dicky Nahl--and the others, I suppose."
"Why, yes. He asked me for it."
"And you gave it to him?" she asked sharply.
"No-o--that is, I gave him ten dollars, and told him he'd have to wait
for the rest. I haven't got the money from the one that's doing the
hiring yet, so I couldn't pay him."
Mother Borton gave an evil grin, and absorbed another inward laugh.
"I reckon the money'll come all right," said Mother Borton, recovering
from her mirth. "There's one more anxious than you to have 'em paid,
and if you ain't found out you'll have it right away. Now for guards,
take Trent--no, he's hurt. Take Brown and Porter and Barkhouse and
Fitzhugh. They're wide-awake, and don't talk much. Take 'em two and
two, and never go without 'em, night or day. You stop here to-night,
and I'll git 'em for you to-morrow."
I declined the proffered hospitality with thanks, and as a compromise
agreed to call for my bodyguard in the early morning. Rejoining Corson,
I explained Mother Borton's theory of the plot that had brought me
"She's like to be right," said the policeman. "She knows the gang. Now,
if you'll take my advice, you'll let the rats have your room for this
night, and come along up to some foine hotel."
The advice appeared good, and fifteen minutes later Corson was drinking
my health at the Lick House bar, and calling on the powers of light and
darkness to watch over my safety as I slept.
Whether due to his prayers or not, my sleep was undisturbed, even by
dreams of Doddridge Knapp and his charming but scornful daughter; and
with the full tide of life and business flowing through the streets in
the morning hours I found myself once more in Mother Borton's dingy
eating-room, ordering a breakfast.
Mother Borton ignored my entrance, and, perched on a high stool behind
the bar and cash-drawer, reminded me of the vulture guarding its prey.
But at last she fluttered over to my table and took a seat opposite.
"Your men are here," she said shortly. And then, as I expressed my
thanks, she warmed up and gave me a description by which I should know
each and led me to the room where, as she said, they were "corralled."
"By the way," I said, halting outside the door, "they'll want some
money, I suppose. Do you know how much?"
"They're paid," she said, and pushed open the door before I could
express surprise or ask further questions. I surmised that she had paid
them herself to save me from annoyance or possible danger, and my
gratitude to this strange creature rose still higher.
The four men within the room saluted me gravely and with Mother
Borton's directions in mind I had no hesitation in calling each by his
name. I was pleased to see that they were robust, vigorous fellows, and
soon made my dispositions. Brown and Barkhouse were to attend me during
daylight, and Fitzhugh and Porter were to guard together at night. And,
so much settled, I hastened to the office.
No sign of Doddridge Knapp disturbed the morning, and at the noon hour
I returned to the room in the house of mystery that was still my only
All was apparently as I had left it, except that a letter lay on the
"I must get a new lock," was my comment, as I broke the seal. "This
place is getting too public when every messenger has a key." I was
certain that I had locked the door when Corson and I had come out on
the evening before.
The letter was from my unknown employer, and read:
"Richmond has paid the men. Be ready for a move at any moment. Leave
your address if you sleep elsewhere."
And now came three or four days of rest and quiet after the merry life
I had been leading since my arrival in San Francisco.
No word did I get from Doddridge Knapp. I kept close watch of the stock
market, and gossiped with speculators and brokers, for I wished to know
at once if he had employed another agent. My work would lie in another
direction if such should prove to be the case. But there was no
movement in Omega, and I could hear no hint of another deal that might
show a trace of his dexterous hand. "Quiet trading," was the report
from all quarters.
"Fact is," said Wallbridge on the fourth day, trying to look doleful,
"I haven't made enough this week to pay for the gas--and I don't burn
In the interval I improved my time by getting better acquainted with
the city. Emboldened by my body-guard, I slept for two nights in
Henry's room, and with one to watch outside the door, one lying on a
mattress just inside, and a new lock and bolt, I was free from
Just as I had formed a wild idea of looking up Doddridge Knapp in his
home, I came to the office in the morning to find the door into Room 16
wide open and the farther door ajar.
"Come in, Wilton," said the voice of the King of the Street; and I
entered his room to find him busied over his papers, as though nothing
had occurred since I had last met him.
"The market has had something of a vacation." I ventured, as he failed
"I have been out of town," he said shortly. "What have you done?"
He gave a grunt of assent.
"You didn't expect me to be buying up the market, did you?" The yellow-
gray mustache went up, and the wolf-fangs gleamed from beneath.
"I reckon it wouldn't have been a very profitable speculation," he
Then he leaned back in his chair and looked meditatively at the wall.
"It was for one fellow, though," he continued, mellowing as he mused in
his recollections. "It was at the time of the Honest Injun deal--I
guess you don't remember that. It must have been ten years ago. Well, I
had a fellow named--why, what was his name?--oh, Riggs, or Rix, I
forget which,--and he was handling about a hundred thousand dollars for
me. We had Honest Injun run up from one dollar till it was over twenty
dollars a share. I had to go up to Nevada City, and left ten thousand
shares with him with orders to sell at twenty-five."
"Yes," I said, as the King of the Street paused and seemed inclined to
drop the story. "At twenty-five."
"Well," he continued at this encouragement, "when I came back, Honest
Injun was down to ten cents, or somewhere around there, which was just
about as I expected. Riggs comes up to me as proud as a spotted pup,
and tells me that he'd sold at thirty dollars, and cleared fifty
thousand more than I'd expected."
"A pretty good deal," I suggested.
"It happened that way, but it wouldn't happen so once in ten years. The
stock had gone up to thirty-one or thirty-two before it broke, and he
had sold just in time."
"Did he get a reward?" I asked, as my employer appeared to wait for an
observation from me.
"He did," said the Wolf with a growl. "I discharged him on the spot.
And hanged if I didn't tell him that the fifty thousand was his--and
let him have it, too. Oh, he was playing in great luck! That
combination wouldn't come twice in a thousand years. The next man who
tried it went to jail," he added with a snap of the jaws.
"Quite correct," I said. "Orders must be obeyed."
"Just remember that," he said significantly. "Have you heard anything
more of Decker?"
"I've heard enough to satisfy me that he's the man who got the Omega
"What other deal is he in?" asked the King of the Street.
"I don't know."
The King of the Street smiled indulgently.
"Well, you've got something to learn yet. I'll give you till next week
to find the answer to that question."
I was convinced from his air that he had information on both these
points himself, and was merely trying my knowledge.
"I'll not be back before next Wednesday," he concluded.
"Going away again?" I asked in surprise.
"I'm off to Virginia City," he replied after considering for a little.
"I'm not sure about Omega, after all--and there's another one I want to
look into. You needn't mention my going. When I come back we'll have a
campaign that will raise the roof of every Board in town. No orders
till then unless I telegraph you. That's all."
The King of the Street seemed straightforward enough in his statement
of plans, and it did not occur to me to distrust him while I was in his
presence. Yet, once more in my office, with the locked door between, I
began to doubt, and tried to find some hidden meaning in each word and
look. What plan was he revolving in that fertile brain? I could not
guess. The mystery of the great speculator was beyond my power to
fathom. And we worked, each in ignorance of the other's purposes, and
went the appointed road.
I AM IN THE TOILS
"Welcome once more, Mr. Wilton," said Mrs. Doddridge Knapp, holding out
her hand. "Were you going to neglect us again?"
"Not at all, madam," said I with unblushing mendacity. "I am always at
Mrs. Knapp bowed with regal condescension, and replied with such
intimations of good will that I was glad I had come. I had vowed I
would never set foot again in the place. The hot blood of shame had
burned my cheeks whenever I recalled my dismissal from the lips of the
daughter of the house. But I had received a letter from Mrs. Bowser,
setting forth that I was wanted at the house of Doddridge Knapp, and
her prolixity was such that I was unable to determine whether she, or
Mrs. Knapp, or Luella, wished to see me. But as all three appeared to
be concerned in it I pocketed pride and resentment, and made my bow
with some nervous quavers at the Pine Street palace.
As I was speaking I cast my eyes furtively about the room. Mrs. Knapp
interpreted my glance.
"She will be in presently." There was to my ear a trace of mocking
laughter in her voice as she spoke, but her face betokened only a
"Thanks--I hope so," I said in a little confusion. I wished I knew
whether she meant Luella or Mrs. Bowser.
"You got the note?" she asked.
"It was a great pleasure."
"Mrs. Bowser wished so much to see you again. She has been singing your
praises--you were such an agreeable young man."
I cursed Mrs. Bowser in my heart.
"I am most flattered," I said politely.
There was a mischievous sparkle in Mrs. Knapp's eye, but her face was
"I believe there was some arrangement between you about a trip to see
the sights of Chinatown. Mrs. Bowser was quite worried for fear you had
forgotten it, so I gave her your address and told her to write you a
I had not been conscious of expecting anything from my visit, but at
this bit of information I found that I had been building air-castles
which had been invisible till they came tumbling about my ears. I could
not look for Miss Knapp's company on such an expedition.
"Oh," said I, with an attempt to conceal my disappointment, "the matter
had slipped my mind. I shall be most happy to attend Mrs. Bowser, or to
see that she has a proper escort."
We had been walking about the room during this conversation, and at
this point had come to an alcove where Mrs. Knapp motioned me to a
"I may not get a chance to talk with you alone again this evening," she
continued, dropping her half-bantering tone, "and you come so little
now. What are you doing?"
"Keeping out of mischief."
"Yes, but how?" she persisted. "You used to tell me everything. Now you
tell me nothing."
"Mr. Knapp's work--" I began.
"Oh, of course I don't expect you to tell me about that. I know Mr.
Knapp, and you're as close-mouthed as he, even when he's away."
"I should tell you anything of my own, but, of course, another's--"
"I understand." Mrs. Knapp, sitting with hands clasped in her lap, gave
me a quick look. "But there was something else. You were telling me
about your adventures, you remember. You told me two or three weeks ago
about the way you tricked Darby Meeker and sent him to Sierra City."
And she smiled at the recollection of Darby Meeker's discomfiture.
"Oh, yes," I said, with a laugh that sounded distressingly hollow to my
ears. "That was a capital joke on Meeker."
Here was a fine pack of predicaments loosed on my trail. It was with an
effort that I kept my countenance, and the cold sweat started on my
forehead. How much had Henry told of his business? Had he touched on it
lightly, humorously, or had he given a full account of his adventures
to the wife of the man with whose secrets he was concerned, and whose
evil plans had brought him to his death? The questions flashed through
my mind in the instant that followed Mrs. Knapp's speech.
"How did it turn out?" asked Mrs. Knapp with lively interest. "Did he
I decided promptly on a judicious amount of the truth.
"Yes, he got back, boiling with wrath, and loaded to the guards with
threats--that is, I heard so from my men. I didn't see him myself, or
you might have found the rest of it in the newspaper."
"What did he do? Tell me about it." Mrs. Knapp gave every evidence of
"Well, he laid a trap for me at Borton's, put Terrill in as advance
guard, and raised blue murder about the place." And then I went on to
give a carefully amended account of my first night's row at Borton's,
and with an occasional question, Mrs. Knapp had soon extorted from me a
fairly full account of my doings.
"It is dreadful for you to expose yourself to such dangers."
I was privately of her opinion.
"Oh, that's nothing," said I airily. "A man may be killed any day by a
brick falling from a building, or by slipping on an orange peel on the
"But it is dreadful to court death so. Yet," she mused, "if I were a
man I could envy you your work. There is romance and life in it, as
well as danger. You are doing in the nineteenth century and in the
midst of civilization what your forefathers may have done in the days
"It is a fine life," I said dryly. "But it has its drawbacks."
"But while you live no one can harm the child," she said. There was
inquiry in her tone, I thought.
I suppressed a start of surprise. I had avoided mention of the boy.
Henry had trusted Mrs. Knapp further than I had dreamed.
"He shall never be given up by me," I replied with conviction.
"That is spoken like a true, brave man," said Mrs. Knapp with an
"Thank you," I said modestly.
"Another life than yours depends on your skill and courage. That must
give you strength," she said softly.
"It does indeed," I replied. I was thinking of Doddridge Knapp's life.
"But here come Luella and Mrs. Bowser," said Mrs. Knapp. "I see I shall
lose your company."
My heart gave a great bound, and I turned to see the queenly grace of
Luella Knapp as she entered the room in the train of Mrs. Bowser.
Vows of justice and vengeance, visions of danger and death, faded away
as I looked once more on the mobile, expressive face of the girl who
had claimed so great a share of my waking thoughts and filled my dreams
from the first moment her spirit had flashed on mine. I rose and my
eyes followed her eagerly as I stood by the curtain of the alcove,
oblivious of all else in the room.
Was it fancy, or had she grown paler and thinner since I had last seen
her? Surely those dark hollows under her eyes that told of worry and
lost sleep were not there when her brightness had chained my
admiration. I could guess that she was grieving for Henry, and a
jealous pang shot through my heart. She gave no glance in my direction
as she walked into the room and looked about her. I dreaded her eye as
I hungered for a look.
"Luella!" called Mrs. Knapp. I fancied she gave a low, musical laugh as
she spoke, yet a glance showed me that her face was calm and serious.
"Luella, here is some one you will like to see."
Luella Knapp turned and advanced. What was the look that lighted up her
face and sparkled from her eyes? Before I could analyze the magnetic
thrill that came from it, it was gone. A flush passed over her face and
died away as she came.
"You honor our poor house once more?" she said, dropping a mock
courtesy. "I thought you had deserted us."
I was surprised at this line of attack, and for a moment my little army
of ideas was thrown into confusion. I felt, rather than heard, the
undertone that carried the real meaning of her words.
"Not I," said I stoutly, recovering myself, and holding out my hand. I
saw there was a little play to be carried on for the benefit of Mrs.
Knapp. For some reason she had not confided in her mother. "Not I. I am
always your very humble knight."
I saw that Mrs. Knapp was looking at us curiously, and pressed my
advantage. Luella took my hand unwillingly. I was ready to dare a good
deal for the clasp of her fingers, but I scarcely felt the thrill of
their touch before she had snatched them away.
"There's nothing but pretty speeches to be had from you--and quotations
at that," she said. There was malice under the seeming innocence of a
"There's nothing that could be so becoming in the circumstances."
"Except common sense," frowned Luella.
"The most uncommon of qualities, my dear," laughed Mrs. Knapp. "Sit
down, children. I must see to Mr. Carter, who is lost by the portiere
and will never be discovered unless I rescue him."
"Take him to dear Aunt Julia," said Luella as her mother left us.
"Dear Aunt Julia," I inferred, was Mrs. Bowser.
I was certain that Mr. Carter would not find the demands of
conversation too much for him if he was blest with the company of that
Luella took a seat, and I followed her example. Then, with chin in hand
and elbow on the arm of her chair, the young woman looked at me calmly
I grew a little uncomfortable as my self-possession melted away before
this steady gaze. I had no observations to make, being uncertain about
the weather, so I had the prudence to keep silent.
"Well," said Luella at last, in a cutting voice, "why don't you talk?"
"It's your lead," said I gloomily. "You took the last trick."
At this reference to our meeting, Luella looked surprised. Then she
gave a little rippling laugh.
"Really," she said, "I believe I shall begin to like you, yet."
"That's very kind of you; but turn about is fair play."
"You mustn't do that," said she severely, "or I shan't."
"I meant it," said I defiantly.
"Then you ought to know better than to say it," she retorted.
"I'm in need of lessons, I fear."
"How delightful of you to confess it! Then shall I tell you what to
This was very charming. I hastened to say:
"Do, by all means."
The young woman sank back in her chair, clasped her hands in her lap as
her mother had done, and glanced hastily about. Then in a low voice she
It was an electric shock she gave me, not more by the words than by the
I struggled for a moment before I regained my mental balance.
"Don't you think we could get on safer ground?" I suggested.
"No," said Luella. "There isn't any safe ground for us otherwise."
The sudden heart-sickness at the reminder of my mission with which
these words overwhelmed me, tied my tongue and mastered my spirits. It
was this girl's father that I was pursuing. It was to bring him to the
halter that I must keep up my masquerade. It was to bring her to sorrow
and disgrace that I was bound by the dead hand of my murdered friend.
Oh, why was this burden laid upon me? Why was I to be torn on the rack
between inclination and duty?
Luella watched my face narrowly through the conflict in my mind, and I
felt as though her spirit struggled with mine to win me to the course
of open, honest dealing. But it was impossible. She must be the last of
all to know.
Her eyes sank as though she knew which had won the victory, and a
proud, scornful look took the place of the grave good humor that had
been there a moment before. Then, on a sudden, she began to speak of
the theaters, rides, drives and what-not of the pleasures of the day.
To an observer it would have seemed that we were deep in friendly
discourse; but I, who felt her tone and manner, knew that she was miles
away from me and talking but for the appearance of courtesy. Suddenly
she stopped with a weary look.
"There's Aunt Julia waiting for you," she said with a gleam of
malicious pleasure. "Come along. I deliver you over a prisoner of war."
"Wait a minute," I pleaded.
"No," she said, imperiously motioning me. "Come along." And with a sigh
I was given, a helpless, but silently protesting, captive, to the
mercies of Mrs. Bowser.
That eloquent lady received me with a flutter of feathers, if I may
borrow the expression, to indicate her pleasure.
"Oh, Mr. Wilton, you'll pardon my boldness, I'm sure," she said with an
amiable flirt of the head, as I seated myself beside her and watched
Luella melt away into the next room; "but I was afraid you had
forgotten all about us poor women, and it's a dreadful thing to be in
this great house when there isn't a man about, though of course there
are the servants, but you can't count them as men, besides some of them
being Chinamen. And we--I--that is, I really did want to see you, and
we ought to have so much to talk over, for I've heard that your
mother's first cousin was a Bowser, and I do so want to see that dear,
delightful Chinatown that I've heard so much about, though they do say
it's horrid and dirty, but you'll let us see that for ourselves, won't
you, and did you ever go through Chinatown, Mr. Wilton?"
Mrs. Bowser pulled up her verbal coach-and-six so suddenly that I felt
as though she must have been pitched off the box.
"Oh," said I carelessly, "I've seen the place often enough."
"How nice!" Then suddenly looking grave, Mrs. Bowser spoke from behind
her fan. "But I hope, Mr. Wilton, there's nothing there that a lady
I hastened to assure her that it was possible to avoid everything that
would bring a blush to the cheek of a matron of her years.
Mrs. Bowser at this rattled on without coming to any point, and, after
waiting to learn when she expected to claim my services, and seeing no
prospect of getting such information without a direct question, I
allowed my eyes and attention to wander about the room, feeding the
flow of speech, when it was checked, with a word or two of reply. I
could see nothing of Luella, and Mrs. Knapp appeared to be too much
taken up with other guests to notice me. I was listening to the flow of
Mrs. Bowser's high-pitched voice without getting any idea from it, when
my wandering attention was suddenly recalled by the words, "Mr. Knapp."
"What was that?" I asked in some confusion. "I didn't catch your
"I was saying I thought it strange Mr. Knapp wouldn't go with us, and
he got awfully cross when I pressed him, and said--oh, Mr. Wilton, he
said such a dreadful word--that he'd be everlastingly somethinged if he
would ever go into such a lot of dens of--oh, I can't repeat his
dreadful language--but wasn't it strange, Mr. Wilton?"
"Very," I said diplomatically; "but it isn't worth while to wait for
"Oh, laws, no!--he'll be home to-morrow, but he won't go."
"Home to-morrow!" I exclaimed. "I thought he wasn't to come till
Mrs. Bowser looked a little uncomfortable.
"I guess he's old enough to come and go when he likes," she said. But
her flow of words seemed to desert her.
"Very true," I admitted. "I wonder what's bringing him back in such a
Mrs. Bowser's beady eyes turned on me in doubt, and for a moment she
was dumb. Then she followed this miracle by another, and spoke in a low
tone of voice.
"It's not for me to say anything against a man in his own house, but I
don't like to talk of Doddridge Knapp."
"What's the matter?" I asked. "A little rough in his speech? Oh, Mrs.
Bowser, you should make allowances for a man who has had to fight his
way in the roughest business life in the world, and not expect too much
of his polish."
"Oh, laws, he's polite enough," whispered Mrs. Bowser. "It ain't that--
oh, I don't see how she ever married him."
I followed the glance that Mrs. Bowser gave on interrupting herself
with this declaration, and saw Mrs. Knapp approaching us.
"Oh," she exclaimed cheerily, "is it all settled? Have you made all the
arrangements, Cousin Julia?"
"Well, I declare! I'd forgotten all about telling him," cried Mrs.
Bowser in her shrillest tone. "I'd just taken it for a fact that he'd
know when to come."
"That's a little too much to expect, I'm afraid," said Mrs. Knapp,
smiling gaily at Mrs. Bowser's management. "I see that I shall have to
arrange this thing myself. Will Monday night suit you, Henry?"
"As well as another," said I politely, concealing my feelings as a
victim of feminine diplomacy.
"You have told him who are going, haven't you?" said Mrs. Knapp to Mrs.
"Laws, no! I never thought but what he knew."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Knapp. "What a gift as a mind-reader Mr. Wilton
ought to have! Well, I suppose I'd better not trust to that, Henry.
There's to be Mrs. Bowser, of course, and Mr. and Mrs. Carter, and Mr.
Horton, and--oh, yes--Luella."
My heart gave a jump, and the trip to Chinatown suddenly became an
object of interest.
"I, mama?" said an inquiring voice, and Luella herself stood by her
"Yes," said Mrs. Knapp. "It's the Chinatown expedition for Monday
Luella looked annoyed, and tapped her foot to the floor impatiently.
"With Mr. Wilton," there was the slightest emphasis on the words, "to
accompany the party, I shouldn't think it would be necessary for me to
"It is either you or I," said Mrs. Knapp.
"You will be needed to protect Mr. Horton," said I sarcastically.
"Oh, what a task!" she said gaily. "I shall be ready." And she turned
away before I could put in another word, and I walked down the room
with Mrs. Knapp.
"And so Mr. Knapp is coming home to-morrow?" I said.
Mrs. Knapp gave me a quick look.
"Yes," she said. There was something in her tone that set me to
thinking that there was more than I knew behind Mr. Knapp's sudden
"I hope he is not ill," I said politely.
Mrs. Knapp appeared to be considering some point deeply, and did not
answer for a little. Then she shook her head as though the idea was not
to her liking.
"I think you will find him all right when you see him. But here--you
must meet Mr. and Mrs. Carter. They are just from the East, and very
charming people, and as you are to do them the honors on Monday
evening, you should know them."
Mr. and Mrs. Carter had pleasant faces and few ideas, and as the
conversational fire soon burned low I sought Mrs. Knapp and took my
leave. Luella was nowhere to be seen.
"You must be sure that you are well-guarded," said Mrs. Knapp. "It
quite gives me the terrors to think of those murderous fellows. And
since you told me of that last plot to call you down to Borton's, I
have a presentiment that some special danger is ahead of you. Be
cautious as well as brave."
She had followed me into the hall, and spoke her warning freely. There
was a sadness in her eyes that seemed as though she would dissuade me
from my task.
I thanked her as she pressed my hand, and, with no Luella awaiting me
by the stair, I took my way down the stone steps, between the bronze
lions, and joined Porter and Barkhouse on the sidewalk.
AN ECHO OF WARNING
"All quiet?" I asked of my guards, as we took our way down the street.
"All quiet," said Porter.
"You'd better tell him," said Barkhouse.
"Oh, yes," said Porter, as if in sudden recollection. "Dicky Nahl was
along here, and he said Terrill and Meeker and the other gang was
holding a powwow at Borton's, and we'd best look out for surprises."
"Was that all?"
"Well, he said he guessed there was a new deal on hand, and they was a-
buzzin' like a nest of hornets. It was hornets, wasn't it, Bob?"
"Hornets was what he said," repeated Barkhouse stolidly.
"Where's Dicky now?" I asked.
"I ain't good at guessing," said Porter, "and Bob's nothing at all at
"Well," said I, "we had better go down to Borton's and look into this
There was silence for a time. My guards walked beside me without
speaking, but I felt the protest in their manner. At last Barkhouse
"There's no use to do that, sir. You'd better send some one that ain't
so likely to be nabbed, or that won't matter much if he is. We'd be in
a pretty fix if you was to be took."
"Here comes Dicky, now," said Porter, as a dark figure came swinging
"Hullo!" cried Dicky, halting and shading his eyes from the gaslight.
"I was just going up to look for you again."
"What's up, Dicky?"
"I guess it's the devil," said Dicky, so gravely that I broke into a
"He's right at home if he's come to this town," I said.
"I'm glad you find it so funny," said Dicky in an injured tone. "You
was scared enough last time."
I had put my foot in it, sure enough. I might have guessed that the
devil was not his Satanic Majesty but some evil-minded person in the
flesh whom I had to fear.
"Can it be Doddridge Knapp?" flashed across my mind but I dismissed the
suspicion as without foundation. I spoke aloud:
"Well, I've kept out of his claws this far, and it's no use to worry.
What's he trying to do now?"
"That's what I've been trying to find out all the evening. They're
noisy enough, but they're too thick to let one get near where there's
anything going on--that is, if he has a fancy for keeping a whole
"Suppose we go down there now," I suggested. "We might find out
Dicky stopped short.
"Caesar's ghost!" he gasped; "what next? Wouldn't you like to touch off
a few powder-kegs for amusement? Won't you fire a pistol into your
mouth to show how easy you can stop the bullet?"
"Why, you have been down there and are all right," I argued.
"Well, there's nothing much to happen to me, but where would you be if
they got hold of you? You're getting off your _cabesa_, old
fellow," said Dicky anxiously.
"If I could see Mother Borton I could fix it," I said confidently.
"What! That she-devil?" cried Dicky. "She'd give you up to have your
throat cut in a minute if she could get a four-bit piece for your
carcass. I guess she could get more than that on you, too."
Mother Borton's warnings against Dicky Nahl returned to me with force
at this expression of esteem from the young man, and I was filled with
"I came up to tell you to look out for yourself," continued Dicky. "I'm
afraid they mean mischief, and here you come with a wild scheme for
getting into the thick of it."
"Well, I'll think better of it," I said. "But see if you can find out
what is going on. Come up and let me know if you get an inkling of
"All right," said Dicky. "But just sleep on a hair-trigger to-night."
"Good night," I said, as I turned toward my room, and Dicky, with an
answering word, took his way toward the Borton place.
I had grown used to the silent terrors of my house. The weird fancies
that clung around the gloomy halls and dark doorways still whispered
their threatening tales of danger and death. The air was still peopled
with the ghosts of forgotten crimes, and the tragedy of the alley that
had changed my life was heavy on the place. But habit, and the
confidence that had come to me with the presence of my guards, had made
it a tolerable spot in which to live. But as we stumbled up the
stairway the apprehensions of Dicky Nahl came strong upon me, and I
looked ahead to the murky halls, and glanced at every doorway, as
though I expected an ambush. Porter and Barkhouse marched stolidly
along, showing little disposition to talk.
"What's that?" I exclaimed, stopping to listen.
"What was it?" asked Barkhouse, as we stopped on the upper landing and
gazed into the obscurity.
"I thought I heard a noise," said I. "Who's there?"
"It was a rat," said Porter. "I've heard 'em out here of nights."
"Well, just light that other gas-jet," I said. "It will help to make
things pleasant in case of accidents."
The doors came out of the darkness as the second jet blazed up, but
nothing else was to be seen.
Suddenly there was a scramble, and something sprang up before my door.
Porter and I raised the revolvers that were ready in our hands, but
Barkhouse sprang past us, and in an instant had closed with the figure
and held it in his arms.
There was a volley of curses, oaths mingled with sounds that reminded
me of nothing so much as a spitting cat, and a familiar voice screamed
in almost inarticulate rage:
"Let me go, damn ye, or I'll knife ye!"
"Good heavens!" I cried. "Let her go, Barkhouse. It's Mother Borton."
Mother Borton freed herself with a vicious shake, and called down the
wrath of Heaven and hell on the stalwart guard.
"You're the black-hearted spawn of the sewer rats, to take a
respectable woman like a bag of meal," cried Mother Borton indignantly,
with a fresh string of oaths. "It's fire and brimstone you'll be
tasting yet, and you'd 'a' been there before now, you miserable gutter-
picker, if it wasn't for me. And this is the thanks I git from ye!"
"I'll apologize for his display of gallantry," said I banteringly.
"I've always told him that he was too fond of the ladies."
I was mistaken in judging that this tone would be the most effective to
restore her to good humor. Mother Borton turned on me furiously.
"Oh, it's you that would set him on a poor woman as comes to do you a
service. I was as wide-awake as any of ye. I never closed my eyes a
wink, and you has to come a-sneakin' up and settin' your dogs on me."
Mother Borton again drew on an apparently inexhaustible vocabulary of
oaths. "Oh, you're as bad as him," she shouted, "and I reckon you'd be
worse if you knowed how." And she spat out more curses, and shook her
fist in impotent but verbose rage.
"Come in," I said, unlocking the door and lighting up my room. "You can
be as angry as you like in here, and it won't hurt anything."
Mother Borton stormed a bit, and then sullenly walked in and took a
chair. Silence fell on her as she crossed the threshold, but she
glowered on us with fierce eyes.
"It's quite an agreeable surprise to see you," I ventured as cheerfully
as I could, as she made no move to speak. My followers looked awkward
At the sound of my voice, Mother Borton's bent brows relaxed a little.
"If you'd send these fellows out, I reckon we could talk a bit better,"
she said sourly.
"Certainly. Just wait in the hall, boys; and close the door."
Porter and Barkhouse ambled out, and Mother Borton gave her chair a
hitch that brought us face to face.
"You ain't so bad off here," she said, looking around critically. "Can
any one git in them winders?"
I explained that the west window might be entered from the rear
stairway by the aid of the heavy shutter, if it were swung back and the
window were open. I added that we kept it closed and secured.
"And you say there's a thirty-foot drop from this winder?" she
inquired, pointing to the north.
I described the outlook on the alley.
She nodded as if satisfied.
"I reckon you don't think I come on a visit of perliteness?" she said
sharply, after a brief silence.
I murmured something about being glad to entertain her at any time.
"Nonsense!" she sniffed. "I'm a vile old woman that the likes of you
would never put eyes on twice if it wasn't for your business--none
knows it better than me. I don't know why I should put myself out to
help ye." Her tone had a touch of pathos under its hardness.
"I know why," I said, a little touched. "It's because you like me."
She turned a softened eye on me.
"You're right," she said almost tenderly, with a flash of womanly
feeling on her seamed and evil face. "I've took a fancy to ye and no
mistake, and I'd risk something to help ye."
"I knew you would," I said heartily. "And that's what I come to do,"
she said, with a sparkle of pleasure in her eye. "I've come to warn
"New dangers?" I inquired cheerfully. My prudence suggested that I had
better omit any mention of the warning from Dicky Nahl.
"The same ones," said Mother Borton shortly, "only more of 'em."
Then she eyed me grimly, crouching in her chair with the appearance of
an evil bird of prey, and seemed to wait for me to speak.
"What is the latest plot?" I asked gravely, as I fancied that my light
manner grated on my strange guest.
"I don't know," she said slowly.
"But you know something," I argued.
"Maybe you know what I know better than I knows it myself," growled
Mother Borton with a significant glance.
I resigned myself to await her humor.
"Not at all," said I carelessly. "I only know that you've come to tell
me something, and that you'll tell it in your own good time."
"It's fine to see that you've learned not to drive a woman," she
returned with grim irony. "It's something to know at your age."
I smiled sympathetically upon her, and she continued:
"I might as well tell ye the whole of it, though I reckon my throat's
jist as like to be slit over it as not."
"I'll never breathe a word of it," I replied fervently.
"I'd trust ye," she said. "Well, there was a gang across the street to-
night--across from my place, I mean--and that sneaking Tom Terrill and
Darby Meeker, and I reckon all the rest of 'em, was there. And they was
runnin' back and forth to my place, and a-drinkin' a good deal, and the
more they drinks the louder they talks. And I hears Darby Meeker say to
one feller, 'We'll git him, sure!' and I listens with all my ears,
though pretendin' to see nothin'. 'We'll fix it this time,' he said;
'the Old Un's got his thinkin' cap on.' And I takes in every word, and
by one thing and another I picks up that there's new schemes afoot to
trap ye. They was a-sayin' as it might be an idee to take ye as you
come out of Knapp's to-night."
"How did they know I was at Knapp's?" I asked, somewhat surprised,
though I had little reason to be when I remembered the number of spies
who might have watched me.
"Why, Dicky Nahl told 'em," said Mother Borton. "He was with the gang,
and sings it out as pretty as you please."
This gave me something new to think about, but I said nothing.
"Well," she continued, "they says at last that won't do, fer it'll git
'em into trouble, and I reckon they're argyfying over their schemes
yit. But one thing I finds out."
Mother Borton stopped and looked at me anxiously.
"Well," I said impatiently, "what was it?"
"They're a-sayin' as how, if you're killed, the one as you knows on'll
have to git some one else to look after the boy, and mebbe he won't be
so smart about foolin' them."
"That's an excellent idea," said I. "If they only knew that I was the
other fellow they could see at once what a bright scheme they had hit
"Maybe they ain't a-goin' to do it," said Mother Borton. "There's a
heap o' things said over the liquor that don't git no further, but
you'll be a fool if you don't look out. Now, do as I tell you. You just
keep more men around you. Keep eyes in the back of your head, and if
you see there's a-goin' to be trouble, jest you shoot first and ax
questions about it afterward. They talked of getting you down on the
water-front or up in Chinatown with some bogus message and said how
easy it would be to dispose of you without leaving clues behind 'em.
Now, don't you sleep here without three or four men on guard, and don't
you stir round nights with less than four. Send Porter out to git two
more men, and tell him to look sharp and see if the coast's clear
outside. I reckon I'll slide out if no one's lookin'."
"I've got some men on the next floor," I said. "I thought it would be
just as well to have a few around in case of emergencies. I'll have two
of them out, and send Porter to reconnoiter."
"Who told you to git your men together?"
"A little idea of my own."
"You've got some sense, after all."
The reinforcements were soon ready to take orders, and Porter returned
to bring word that no suspicious person was in sight in the street.
"I reckon I'd best go, then," said Mother Borton. "I don't want no
knife in me jest yit, but if there's no one to see me I'm all right."
I pressed Mother Borton to take two of my men as escort, but she
"They'd know something was up if I was to go around that way, and I'd
be a bloody ghost as soon as they could ketch me alone," she said.
"Well, good night--or is it mornin'? And do take keer of yourself,
dearie." And, so saying, Mother Borton muffled herself up till it was
hard to tell whether she was man or woman, and trudged away.
Whatever designs were brewing in the night-meeting of the conspirators,
they did not appear to concern my immediate peace of body. The two
following days were spent in quiet, and, in spite of warnings, I began
to believe that no new plan of action had been determined on.
"Don't you feel too sure of yourself," said Dicky Nahl, to whom I
confided this view of the situation. "You won't feel so funny about it
if you get prodded in the ribs with a bowie some dark night, or find
your head wrapped up in a blanket when you think you're just taking a
'passy-ar' in Washington Square in the evening."
Dicky looked very much in earnest, and his bright and airy manner was
gone for the moment.
"You seem to get along well enough with them," I suggested tartly,
remembering Mother Borton's stories with some suspicion.
"Of course," said Dicky. "Why shouldn't I? They're all right if you
don't rub the fur the wrong way. But I haven't got state secrets in my
pockets, so they know it's no use to pick 'em."
I was not at all sure of Dicky's fidelity, in spite of his seeming
earnestness, but I forbore to mention my doubts, and left the garrulous
young man to go his way while I turned to the office that had been
furnished by Doddridge Knapp. I hardly expected to meet the King of the
Street. He had, I supposed, returned to the city, but he had set
Wednesday as the day for resuming operations in the market, and I did
not think that he would be found here on Monday.
The room was cold and cheerless, and the dingy books in law-calf
appeared to gaze at me in mute protest as I looked about me.
The doors that separated me from Doddridge Knapp's room were shut and
locked. What was behind them? I wondered. Was there anything in
Doddridge Knapp's room that bore on the mystery of the hidden boy, or
would give the clue to the murder of Henry Wilton? As I gazed on the
panels the questions became more and more insistent. Was it not my duty
to find the answer? The task brought my mind to revolt. Yet the thought
grew on me that it was necessary to my task. If vengeance was to be
mine; if Doddridge Knapp was to pay the penalty of the gallows for the
death of Henry Wilton, it must be by the evidence that I should wrest
from him and his tools. I must not stop at rummaging papers, nor at
listening at keyholes. I had just this morning secured the key that
would fit the first door. I had taken the impression of the lock and
had it made without definite purpose, but now I was ready to act.
With a sinking heart but a clear head I put the key cautiously to the
lock and gently turned it. The key fitted perfectly, and the bolt flew
back as it made the circle. I opened the door into the middle room. The
second door, as I expected, was closed. Would the same key fit the
second lock, or must I wait to have another made? I advanced to the
second door and was about to try the key when a sound from behind it
turned my blood to water.
Beyond that door, from the room I had supposed to be empty, I heard a
I stood as if petrified, and, in the broad daylight that streamed in at
the window, with the noise and rush of Clay Street ringing in my ears,
I felt my hair rise as though I had come on a ghost. I listened a
minute or more, but heard nothing.
"Nonsense!" I thought to myself; "it was a trick of the imagination."
I raised my hand once more to the lock, when the sound broke again,
louder, unmistakable. It was the voice of one in distress of body or
What was it? Could it be some prisoner of Doddridge Knapp's, brought
hither by the desperate band that owned him as employer? Was it a man
whom I might succor? Or was it Doddridge Knapp himself, overwhelmed by
recollection and remorse, doing penance in solitude for the villainy he
had done and dared not confess? I listened with all my ears. Then there
came through the door the low, stern tones of a man's voice speaking
earnestly, pleadingly, threateningly, but in a suppressed monotone.
Then the groan broke forth again, and it was followed by sobs and
choked sounds, as of one who protested, yet, strangely, the voice was
the same. There was one man, not two. It was self-accusation, self-
excuse, and the sobs seemed to come in answer to self-reproaches.
Then there was sound as of a man praying, and the prayer was broken by
sobs; and again I thought there were two men. And then there was noise
of a man moving about, and a long smothered groan, as of one in agony
of spirit. Fearful that the door might be flung open in my face, I
tiptoed back to my room, and silently turned the key, as thoroughly
mystified as ever I had been in the strange events that had crowded my
life since I had entered the city.
IN A' FOREIGN LAND
I stood long by my own door, irresolute, listening, hoping, fearing, my
brain throbbing with the effort to seize some clue to the maze of
mysteries in which I was entangled. Was the clue behind those locked
doors? Did the man whose groans and prayers had startled me hold the
heart of the mystery?
The groans and prayers, if they continued, could be heard no longer
through the double doors, and I seated myself by the desk and took
account of the events that had brought me to my present position. Where
did I stand? What had I accomplished? What had I learned? How was I to
reach the end for which I struggled and bring to justice the slayer of
my murdered friend? As I passed in review the occurrences that had
crowded the few weeks since my arrival, I was compelled to confess that
I knew little more of the mysteries that surrounded me than on the
night I arrived. I knew that I was tossed between two opposing forces.
I knew that a mysterious boy was supposed to be under my protection,
and that to gain and keep possession of him my life was sought and
defended. I knew that Doddridge Knapp had caused the murder of Henry
Wilton, and yet for some unfathomable reason gave me his confidence and
employment under the belief that I was Henry Wilton. But I had been
able to get no hint of who the boy might be, or where he was concealed,
or who was the hidden woman who employed me to protect him, or why he
was sought by Doddridge Knapp. Mother Borton's vague hints seemed
little better than guess-work. If she knew the name of the boy and the
identity of the woman, she had some good reason for concealing them. It
flashed over my mind that Mother Borton might herself be the mysterious
employer. I had never yet seen a line of her handwriting, and the notes
might have come from her. It was she who first had told me that my men
were already paid, and a few hours later I had found the note from my
employer assuring me that the demands were fully settled. Could it be
that she was the woman with whom Doddridge Knapp was battling with a
desperate purpose that did not stop at murder? The idea was gone as
soon as it came. It was preposterous to suppose that these two could
feel so overwhelming an interest in the same child.
How long I sat by the desk waiting, thinking, planning, I know not. One
scheme of action after another I had considered and rejected, when a
sound broke on my listening ears. I started up in feverish anxiety. It
was from the room beyond, and I stole toward the door to learn what it
Again it came, but, strain as I might, I could not determine its cause.
What could be going on in the locked office? If two men were there was
it a personal encounter? If one man, was he doing violence upon
himself? Was the heart of the mystery to be found behind those doors if
I had the courage to throw them open? Burning with impatience, I thrust
aside the fears of the evil that might follow hasty action. I had drawn
the key and raised it once more to the slot, when I heard a step in the
middle room. I had but time to retreat to my desk when a key was fitted
in the lock, the door was flung open, and Doddridge Knapp stepped
calmly into the room.
"Ah, Wilton," said the King of the Street affably. "I was wondering if
I should find you here."
There was no trace of surprise or agitation in the face before me. If
this was the man whose prayers and groans and sobs had come to me
through the locked door, if he had wrestled with his conscience or even
had been the accusing conscience of another, his face was a mask that
showed no trace of the agony of thoughts that might contort the spirit
"I was attending to a little work of my own," I answered, after
greeting. If I felt much like a disconcerted pickpocket I was careful
to conceal the circumstance, and spoke with easy indifference. "You
have come back before I expected you," I continued carelessly.
"Yes," said the King of the Street with equal carelessness. "Some
family affairs called me home sooner than I had thought to come."
I had an inward start. Mrs. Knapp's troubled look, Mrs. Bowser's
confusion, and the few words that had passed, returned to me. What was
the connection between them?
"Mrs. Knapp is not ill, I trust?" I ventured.
"Nor Miss Knapp?"
"Oh, all are well at the house, but sometimes you know women-folks get
Was it possible that Mrs. Knapp had sent for her husband? What other
meaning could I put on these words? But before I could pursue my
investigations further along this line, the wolf came to the surface,
and he waved the subject aside with a growl.
"But this is nothing to you. What you want to know is that I won't need
you before Wednesday, if then."
"Does the campaign reopen?" I asked.
"If you don't mind, Wilton," said the Wolf with another growl, "I'll
keep my plans till I'm ready to use them."
"Certainly," I retorted. "But maybe you would feel a little interest to
know that Rosenheim and Bashford have gathered in about a thousand
shares of Omega in the last four or five days."
Doddridge Knapp gave me a keen glance.
"There were no sales of above a hundred shares," he said.
"No--most of them ran from ten to fifty shares."
"Well," he continued, looking fixedly at me, "you know something about
"If it won't interfere with your plans," I suggested apologetically.
The Wolf drew back his lips over his fangs, and then turned the snarl
into a smile. "Go on," he said, waving amends for the snub he had
"Well, I don't know much about Rosenheim, but I caught him talking with
"Were the stocks transferred to Decker?"
"No; they stand to Rosenheim, trustee."
"Well, Wilton, they've stolen a march on us, but I reckon we'll give
'em a surprise before they're quite awake."
"And," I continued coolly, "Decker's working up a deal in Crown Diamond
and toying a little with Confidence--you gave me a week to find out,
you may remember."
"Very good, Wilton," said the King of the Street with grudging
approval. "We'll sell old Decker quite a piece of Crown Diamond before
he gets through. And now is there anything more in your pack?"
"It's empty," I confessed. "Well, you may go then."
I was puzzled to know why Doddridge Knapp should wish to get me out of
the office. Was there some secret locked in his room that he feared I
might surprise if I stayed? I looked at him sharply, but there was
nothing to be read on that impassive face.
Doddridge Knapp followed me to the door, and stood on the threshold as
I walked down the hall. There was no chance for spying or listening at
keyholes, if I were so inclined, and it was not until I had reached the
bottom stair that I thought I heard the sound of a closing door behind
As I stood at the entrance, almost oblivious of the throng that was
hurrying up and down Clay Street, Porter joined me.
"Did you see him?" he asked.
"Why, Tom Terrill sneaked down those stairs a little bit ago, and I
thought you might have found him up there."
Could it be possible that this man had been with Doddridge Knapp, and
that it was his voice I had heard? This in turn seemed improbable,
"There he is now," whispered Porter.
I turned my eyes in the direction he indicated, and a shock ran through
me; for my eye had met the eye of a serpent. Yes, there again was the
cruel, keen face, and the glittering, repulsive eye, filled with malice
and hatred, that I had beheld with loathing and dread whenever it had
come in my path. With an evil glance Terrill turned and made off in the
"Follow that man, Wainwright," said I to the second guard, who was
close at hand. "Watch him to-night and report to me to-morrow."
I wondered what could be the meaning of Terrill's visit to the
building. Was it to see Doddridge Knapp and get his orders? Or was it
to follow up some new plan to wrest from me the secret I was supposed
to hold? But there was no answer to these questions, and I turned
toward my room to prepare for the excursion that had been set for the
It was with hope and fear that I took my way to the Pine Street palace.
It was my fear that was realized. Mrs. Bowser fell to my lot--indeed, I
may say that I was surrounded by her in force, and surrendered
unconditionally--while Luella joined Mr. Carter, and Mrs. Carter with
Mr. Horton followed.
Corson was waiting for us at the old City Hall. I had arranged with the
policeman that he should act as our guide, and had given him Porter and
Barkhouse as assistants in case any should be needed.
"A fine night for it, sor," said Corson in greeting. "There's a little
celebration goin' on among the haythens to-night, so you'll see 'em at
"Oh, how sweet!" gushed Mrs. Bowser. "Is it that dear China New Year
that I've heard tell on, and do they take you in to dinner at every
place you call, and do they really eat rats? Ugh, the horrid things!"
And Mrs. Bowser pulled up short in mid career.
"No, ma'am," said Corson, "leastways it ain't Chaney New Year for a
couple of months yet. As for eatin' rats, there's many a thing gets
eaten up in the dens that would be better by bein' turned into a rat."
Looking across the dark shrubbery of Portsmouth Square and up
Washington Street, the eye could catch a line of gay-colored lanterns,
swaying in the light wind, and casting a mellow glow on buildings and
"Oh, isn't it sweet! So charming!" cried Mrs. Bowser, as we came into
full view of the scene and crossed the invisible line that carries one
from modern San Francisco into the ancient oriental city, instinct with
foreign life, that goes by the name of Chinatown. Sordid and foul as it
appears by daylight, there was a charm and romance to it under the
lantern-lights that softened the darkness. Windows and doors were
illuminated. Brown, flat-nosed men in loose clothing gathered in groups
and discussed their affairs in a strange singsong tongue and high-
pitched voices. Here, was the sound of the picking of the Chinese
banjo-fiddle; there, we heard a cracked voice singing a melancholy song
in the confusion of minor keys that may pass for music among the brown
men; there, again, a gong with tin-pan accompaniment assisted to
reconcile the Chinese to the long intervals between holidays. Crowds
hurried along the streets, loitered at corners, gathered about points
of interest, but it seemed as though it was all one man repeated over
"Why, they're all alike!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowser. "How do they ever tell
each other apart?"
"Oh, that's aisy enough, ma'am," replied Corson with a twinkle in his
eye. "They tie a knot in their pigtails, and that's the way you know
"Laws! you don't say!" said Mrs. Bowser, much impressed. "I never could
tell 'em that way."
"It is a strange resemblance," said Mr. Carter. "Don't you find it
almost impossible to distinguish between them?"
"To tell you the truth, sor, no," said Corson. "It's a trick of the eye
with you, sor. If you was to be here with 'em for a month or two you'd
niver think there was two of 'em alike. There's as much difference
betwixt one and another as with any two white men. I was loike you at
first. I says to meself that they're as like as two pease. But, now,
look at those two mugs there in that door. They're no more alike than
you and me, as Mr. Wilton here can tell you, sor."
The difference between the two Chinese failed to impress me, but I was
mindful of my reputation as an old resident.
"Oh, yes; a very marked contrast," I said promptly, just as I would
have sworn that they were twins if Corson had suggested it.
"Very remarkable!" said Mr. Carter dubiously.
In and out we wound through the oriental city--the fairy-land that
stretched away, gay with lanterns and busy with strange crowds,
changing at times as we came nearer to a tawdry reality, cheap, dirty,
and heavy with odors. Here was a shop where ivory in delicate carvings,
bronze work that showed the patient handicraft and grotesque fancy of
the oriental artist, lay side by side with porcelains, fine and coarse,
decorated with the barbaric taste in form and color that rules the art
of the ancient empire. Beyond, were carved cabinets of ebony and
sandal-wood, rich brocades and soft silks and the proprietor sang the
praises of his wares and reduced his estimate of their value with each
step we took toward the door. Next the rich shop was a low den from
whose open door poured fumes of tobacco and opium, and in whose misty
depths figures of bloused little men huddled around tables and swayed
hither and thither. The click of dominoes, the rattling of sticks and
counters, and the excited cries of men, rose from the throng.
"They're the biggest gamblers the Ould Nick iver had to his hand," said
Corson; "there isn't one of 'em down there that wouldn't bet the coat
off his back."
"Dear me, how dreadful!" said Mrs. Bowser. "And do we have to go down
into that horrible hole, and how can we ever get out with our lives?"
"We're not going down there, ma'am," interrupted Corson shortly.
"And where next?" asked Luella.
The question was addressed to the policeman, not to me. Except for a
formal greeting when we had met, Luella had spoken no word to me during
"Here's the biggest joss-house in town," said Corson. "We might as well
see it now as any time."
"Oh, do let us see those delightfully horrible idols," cried Mrs.
Bowser. "But," she added, with a sudden access of alarm at some
recollection of the reading of her school-days, "do they cut people's
hearts out before the wicked things right in the middle of the city?"
The policeman assured her that the appetite of the joss for gore
remained unsatisfied, and led the way into the dimly-lighted building
that served as a temple.
I lingered a moment by the door to see that all my party passed in.
"There's Wainwright," whispered Porter, who closed the procession.
"Where?" I asked, a dim remembrance of the mission on which I had sent
him in pursuit of the snake-eyed man giving the information a sinister
Porter gave a chirrup, and Wainwright halted at the door.
"He's just passed up the alley here," said Wainwright in a low voice.
"Who? Terrill?" I asked.
"Yes," said Wainwright. "I've kept him in sight all the evening."
"Hasn't he seen you?" asked Porter. "I spied you as soon as you turned
"Don't know," said Wainwright; "but something's up. There he goes now.
I mustn't miss him." And Wainwright darted off.
I looked searchingly in the direction he took, but could see no sign of
the snake-eyed enemy.
The presence of Terrill gave me some tremors of anxiety, for I knew
that his unscrupulous ferocity would stop at nothing. I feared for the
moment that some violence might threaten the party, and that perhaps
Luella was in danger. Then I reflected that the presence of Doddridge
Knapp's daughter was a protection against an attack from Doddridge
Knapp's agents, and I followed the party into the heathen temple
without further apprehensions.
The temple was small, and even in the dim, religious light that gave an
air of mystery to the ugly figure of the god and the trappings of the
place, the whole appeared cheap--a poor representative of the majesty
of a religion that claims the devotion of four hundred million human
"That's one of the richest carvings ever brought into this country,"
said Corson, pointing to a part of the altar mounting. "Tin thousand
dollars wouldn't touch one side of it."
"You don't say!" cried Mrs. Bowser, while the rest murmured in the
effort to admire the work of art. "And is that stuff burning for a
She pointed to numerous pieces of punk, such as serve the small boy on
the Fourth of July, that were consuming slowly before the ugly joss.
"No, ma'am--not but they needs it all right enough," said Corson, "but
that's the haythen way of sayin' your prayers."
This information was so astonishing that Corson was allowed to finish
his explanation without further remarks from Mrs. Bowser.
"I'll show you the theater next," said he, as he led the way out of the
temple with Mrs. Bowser giving her views of the picturesque heathen in
questions that Corson found no break in the conversation long enough to
answer. As I lingered for a moment in some depression of spirit,
waiting for the others to file out, a voice that thrilled me spoke in
"Our guide is enjoying a great favor." It was Luella, noticing me for
the first time since the expedition had started.
"He has every reason to be delighted," I returned, brightening at the
favor I was enjoying.
"Foreign travel is said to be of great value in education," said
Luella, taking my arm, "but it's certainly stupid at times."
I suspected that Mr. Carter had not been entirely successful in meeting
Miss Knapp's ideas of what an escort should be.
"I didn't suppose you could find anything stupid," I said.
"I am intensely interested," she retorted, "but unfortunately the list
of subjects has come to an end."
"You might have begun at the beginning again."
"He did," she whispered, "so I thought it time he tried the guide or
"Thank you," I said.
"Thank him, you mean," she said gaily. "Now don't be stupid yourself,
so please change the subject. Do you know," she continued without
giving me time to speak, "that the only way I can be reconciled to this
place and the sights we have seen is to imagine I am in Canton or
Peking, thousands of miles from home? Seen there, it is interesting,
instructive, natural--a part of their people. As a part of San
Francisco it is only vile."
"Ugh!" said I, as a whiff from an underground den floated up on the
night air, and Luella caught her handkerchief to her face to get her
breath. "I'm not sure that this rose would smell any sweeter by the
name of Canton."
"I'm afraid your argument is too practical for me to answer," she
laughed. "Yet I'm certain it would be more poetic seven thousand miles
"Come this way," said Corson, halting with the party at one of the
doors. "I'll show you through some of the opium dens, and that will
bring us to the stage door of the theater."
"How close and heavy the air is!" said Luella, as we followed the
winding passage in the dim illumination that came from an occasional
gas-jet or oil lamp.
"The yellow man is a firm believer in the motto, 'Ventilation is the
root of all evil,'" I admitted.
The fumes of tobacco and opium were heavy on the air, and a moment
later we came on a cluster of small rooms or dens, fitted with couches
and bunks. It needed no description to make the purpose plain. The
whole process of intoxication by opium was before me, from the heating
of the metal pipe to the final stupor that is the gift and end of the
Black Smoke. Here, was a coolie mixing the drug; there, just beyond
him, was another, drawing whiffs from the bubbling narcotic through the
bamboo handle of his pipe; there, still beyond, was another, lying back
unconscious, half-clad, repulsive, a very sorry reality indeed to the
gorgeous dreams that are reputed to follow in the train of the
"Do they really allow them to smoke that dreadful stuff?" asked Mrs.
Bowser shrilly. "Why, I should think the governor, or the mayor, or
you, Mr. Policeman, would stop the awful thing right off. Now, why
"Oh, it's no harm to the haythen," said Corson. "It's death and
destruction to the white man, but it's no more to the yellow man than
so much tobacco and whiskey. They'll be all right to-morrow. We niver
touches 'em unless they takes the whites into their dens. Then we raids
'em. But there's too much of it goin' on, for all that."
"This is depressing," said Luella, with a touch on my arm. "Let's go
"Turn to the right there," Corson called out, as we led the way while
he was explaining to Mr. Carter the method of smoking.
"Let us get where there is some air," said Luella. "This odor is
We hastened on, and, turning to the right, soon came on two passages.
One led up a stair, hidden by a turn after half a dozen steps. The
other stretched fifty or seventy-five feet before us, and an oil lamp
on a bracket at the farther end gave a smoky light to the passage and
to a mean little court on which it appeared to open.
"We had better wait for the rest," said Luella cautiously.
As she spoke, one of the doors toward the farther end of the passage
swung back, and a tall heavy figure came out. My heart gave a great
bound, and I felt without realizing it at the moment, that Luella
clutched my arm fiercely.
In the dim light the figure was the figure of the Wolf, the head was
the head of the Wolf, and though no light shone upon it, the face was
the face of the Wolf, livid, distorted with anger, fear and brutal
"Doddridge Knapp!" I exclaimed, and gave a step forward.
It flashed on me that one mystery was explained. I had found out why
the Doddridge Knapp of plot and counterplot, and the Doddridge Knapp
who was the generous and confidential employer, could dwell in the same
body. The King of the Street was a slave of the Black Smoke, and, like
many another, went mad under the influence of the subtle drug.
As I moved forward, Luella clung to me and gave a low cry. The Wolf
figure threw one malignant look at us and was gone.
"Take me home, oh, take me home!" cried Luella in low suppressed tones,
trembling and half-falling. I put my arm about her to support her.
"What is it?" I asked.
She leaned upon me for one moment, and the black walls and gloomy
passage became a palace filled with flowers. Then her strength and
resolution returned, and she shook herself free.
"Come; let us go back to the others," she said a little unsteadily. "We
should not have left them."
"Certainly," I replied. "They ought to be here by this time."
But as we turned, a sudden cry sounded as of an order given. There was
a bang of wood and a click of metal, and, as we looked, we saw that
unseen hands had closed the way to our return. A barred and iron-bound
door was locked in our faces.
THE BATTLE IN THE MAZE
For an instant I was overwhelmed with terror and self-reproach. The
bolted door before me gave notice of danger as plainly as though the
word had been painted upon its front. The dark and lowering walls of
the passage in which the Wolf figure of Doddridge Knapp had appeared
and disappeared whispered threats. The close air was heavy with the
suggestion of peril, and the solitary lamp that gave its dim light from
the end of the passage flashed a smoky warning. And I, in my folly and
carelessness, had brought Luella Knapp into this place and exposed her
to the dangers that encircled me. It was this thought that, for the
moment, unnerved me.
"What does this mean?" asked Luella in a matter-of-fact tone.
"It is a poor practical joke, I fear," said I lightly. I took occasion
to shift a revolver to my overcoat pocket.
"Well, aren't you going to get me out of here?" she asked with a little
suggestion of impatience.
"That is my present intention," I replied, beating a tattoo on the
"You'll hurt your fists," she said. "You must find some way besides
beating it down."
"I'm trying to bring our friends here," said I. "They should have been
with us before now."
"Isn't there another way out?" asked Luella.
"I suspect there are a good many ways out," I replied, "but,
unfortunately, I don't know them." And I gave a few resounding kicks on
"Where does this stairway go, I wonder?" said Luella.
"Into the celestial regions, I suppose," I ventured.
Matters were in too serious a position for the jest to be appreciated,
and Luella continued:
"It can't be the way out. Isn't there another?"
"We might try the passage."
She gave a shudder and shrank toward me.
"No, no," she cried in a low voice. "Try the door again. Somebody must
hear you, and it may be opened."
I followed her suggestion with a rain of kicks, emphasized with a shout
that made the echoes ring gloomily in the passage.
I heard in reply a sound of voices, and then an answering shout, and
the steps of men running.
"Are you there, Mr. Wilton?" cried the voice of Corson through the
"Yes, all safe," I answered.
"Well, just hold on a bit, and we'll--"