The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 2
THE CALL TO ARMS
NOT a sound as the key turned in the lock; not a sound as the door swung back on its carefully oiled hinges; not a sound as Larry the Bat slipped like a shadow into the blackness of the room, closing the door behind him again. With a tread as noiseless as a cat's, he was across the room to satisfy himself that the shutters were tightly closed; and then the single gas jet flared up, murky, yellow, illuminating the miserable, squalid room—the Sanctuary—the home of Larry the Bat. There was need for silence, need for caution. In five minutes, ten at the outside, he must emerge again—as Jimmie Dale.
With a smile on his lips that mingled curiously chagrin and self-commiseration, he took the letter from his pocket and tore it open. It was she, then, who had been following him all evening, and, like a blundering idiot, he had wasted precious, perhaps irreparable, hours! What had she meant by "It's for my sake to-night"? The words had been ringing in his ears since the moment she had whispered them in that panic-stricken crowd. Was it not always for her sake that he answered these calls to arms? Was it not always for her sake that he, as the Gray Seal, was—— The mental soliloquy came to an abrupt end. He had subconsciously read the first sentence of the letter, and now, with sudden feverish eagerness and excitement, he was reading it to the last word.
"Dear Philanthropic Crook: In an hour after you receive this, if all goes well, you shall know everything—everything. Who I am—yes, and my name. It has been more than three years now, hasn't it? It has been incomprehensible to you, but there has been no other way. I dared not take the chance of discovery by any one; I dared not expose you to the risk of being known by me. Your life would not have been worth a moments purchase. Oh, Jimmie, am I only making the mystery more mystifying? But to-night, I think, I hope, I pray that it is all at an end; though against me, and against you to-night when you go to help me, is the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals that the world has ever known; and the stake we are playing for is a fortune of millions—and my life. And yet somehow I am afraid now, just because the end is so near, and the victory seems so surely won. And so, Jimmie, be careful; use all that wonderful cleverness of yours as you have never used it before, and—— But there should be no need for that, it is so simple a thing that I am going to ask you to do. Why am I writing so illogically! Nothing, surely, can possibly happen. This is not like one of my usual letters, is it? I am beside myself to-night with hope, anxiety, fear, and excitement.
"Listen, then, Jimmie: Be at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place at exactly half-past ten. A taxicab will drive up, as though you had signalled it in passing, and the chauffeur will say: "I've another fare in half an hour, sir, but I can get you most anywhere in that time." You will be smoking a cigarette. Toss it out into the street, make any reply you like, and get into the cab. Give the chauffeur that little ring of mine with the crest of the bell and belfry and the motto, "Sonnez le Tocsin," that you found the night old Isaac Pelina was murdered, and the chauffeur will give you in exchange a sealed packet of papers. He will drive you to your home, and I will telephone to you there.
"I need not tell you to destroy this. Keep the appointment in your proper person—as Jimmie Dale. Carry nothing that might identify you as the Gray Seal if any accident should happen. And, lastly, trust the pseudo chauffeur absolutely."
There was no signature. Her letters were never signed. He stood for a moment staring at the closely written sheets in his hand, a heightened colour in his cheeks, his lips pressed tightly together—and then his fingers automatically began to tear the letter into pieces, and the pieces again into little shreds. To-night! It was to be to-night, the end of all this mystery. To-night was to see the end of this dual life of his, with its constant peril! To-night the Gray Seal was to exit from the stage forever! To-night, a wonderful climax of the years, he was to see her!
His blood was quickened now, his heart pounding in a faster beat; a mad elation, a fierce uplift was upon him. He thrust the torn bits of paper into his pocket hurriedly, stepped across the room to the corner, rolled back the oil-cloth, and lifted up the loose plank in the flooring, so innocently dustladen, as, more than once, to have eluded the eyes ofvisitors in the shape of police and plain-clothes men from headquarters.
From the space beneath he removed a neatly folded pile of clothes, laid these on the bed, and began to undress. He was working rapidly now. Tiny pieces of wax were removed from his nostrils, from under his lips, from behind his ears; water from a cracked pitcher poured into a battered tin basin, and mixed with a few drops of some liquid from a bottle which he procured from its hiding place under the flooring, banished the make-up stain from his face, his neck, his wrists, and hands as if by magic. It was a strange metamorphosis that had taken place—the coarse, brutal-featured, blear-eyed, leering countenance of Larry the Bat was gone, and in its place, clean-cut, square-jawed, clear-eyed, was the face of Jimmie Dale. And where before had slouched a slope-shouldered, misshapen, flabby creature, a broad-shouldered form well over six feet in height now stood erect, and under the clean white skin the muscles of an athlete, like knobs of steel, played back and forth with every movement of his body.
In the streaked and broken mirror Jimmie Dale surveyed himself critically, methodically, and, with a nod of satisfaction, hastily donned the fashionably cut suit of tweeds upon the bed. He rummaged then through the ragged garments he had just discarded, transferred to his pockets a roll of bills and his automatic, and paused hesitantly, staring at the thin metal case, like a cigarette case, that he held in the palm of his hand. He shrugged his shoulders a little whimsically; it seemed strange indeed that he was through with that! He snapped it open. Within, between sheets of oil paper, lay the scores of little diamond-shaped, gray-coloured, adhesive paper seals—the insignia of the Gray Seal. Yes, it seemed strange that he was never to use another! He closed the case, gathered up the clothes of Larry the Bat, tucked the case in among them, and shoved the bundle into the hole under the flooring. All these things would have to be destroyed, but there was not time to-night; to-morrow, or the next day, would do for that. What would it be like to live a normal life again, without the menace of danger lurking on every hand, without that grim slogan of the underworld, "Death to the Gray Seal!" or that savage fiat of the police, "The Gray Seal, dead or alive—but the Gray Seal!" forever ringing in his ears? What would it be like, this new life—with her?
The thought was thrilling him again, bringing again that eager, exultant uplift. In an hour, one hour, and the barriers of years would be swept away, and she would be in his arms!
"It's for my sake to-night!" His face grew suddenly tense, as the words came back to him. That "hour" wasn't over yet! It was no hysterical exaggeration that had prompted her to call her enemies the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals that the world had ever known. It was not the Tocsin's way to exaggerate. The words would be literally true. The very life she had led for the three years that had gone stood out now as a grim proof of her assertion.
Jimmie Dale replaced the flooring, carefully brushed the dust back into the cracks, spread the oilcloth into place, and stood up. Who and what was this organisation? What was between it and the Tocsin? What was this immense fortune that was at stake? And what was this priceless packet that was so crucial, that meant victory now, ay, and her life, too, she had said?
The questions swept upon him in a sort of breathless succession. Why had she not let him play a part in this? True, she had told him why—that she dared not expose him to the risk. Risk! Was there any risk that the Gray Seal had not taken, and at her instance! He did not understand. He smiled a little uncertainly, as he reached up to turn out the gas. There were a good many things that he did not understand about the Tocsin!
The room was in darkness, and with the darkness Jimmie Dale's mind centred on the work immediately before him. To enter the tenement where he was known and had an acknowledged right as Larry the Bat was one thing; for Jimmie Dale to be discovered there was quite another.
He crossed the room, opened the door silently, stood for a moment listening, then stepped out into the black, musty, ill-smelling hallway, closing the door behind him. He stooped and locked it. The querulous cry of a child reached him from somewhere above—a murmur of voices, muffled by closed doors, from everywhere. How many families were housed beneath that sordid roof he had never known, only that there was miserable poverty there as well as vice and crime, only that Larry the Bat, who possessed a room all to himself, was as some lordly and super-being to these fellow tenants who shared theirs with so many that there was not air enough for all to breathe.
He had no doors to pass—his was next to the staircase. He began to descend. They could scream and shriek, those stairs, like aged humans, twisted and rheumatic, at the least ungentle touch. But there was no sound from them now. There seemed something almost uncanny in the silent tread. Stair after stair he descended, his entire weight thrown gradually upon one foot before the other was lifted. The strain upon the muscles, trained and hardened as they were, told. As he moved from the bottom step, he wiped little beads of perspiration from his forehead.
The door, now, that gave on the alleyway! He opened it, slipped outside, darted across the narrow lane, stole along where the shadows of the fence were blackest, paused, listening, as he reached the end of the alleyway, to assure himself that there was no near-by pedestrian—and stepped out into the street.
He kept on along the block, turned into the Bowery, and, under the first lamp, consulted his watch. It was a quarter past ten. He could make it easily in a leisurely walk. He continued on up the Bowery, finally crossed to Broadway, and shortly afterward turned into Waverly Place. At the corner of Fifth Avenue he consulted his watch again—and now he lighted a cigarette. Sixth Avenue was only a block away. At precisely half-past ten, to the second, he halted on the designated corner, smoking nonchalantly.
A taxicab, coincidentally coming from an uptown direction, swung in to the curb.
"Taxi, sir? Yes, sir?" Then, with an admirable mingling of eagerness to secure the fare and a fear that his confession might cause him the loss of it: "I've another fare in half an hour, sir, but I can get you most anywhere in that time."
Jimmie Dale's cigarette was tossed carelessly into the street.
"St. James Club!" he said curtly, and stepped into the cab.
The cab started forward, turned the corner, and headed along Waverly Place toward Broadway. The chauffeur twisted around in his seat in a matter-of-fact way, as though to ask further directions.
"Have you anything for me?" he inquired casually.
It lay where it always lay, that ring, between the folds of that little white glove in his pocketbook. Jimmie Dale took it out now, and handed it silently to the chauffeur.
The other's face changed instantly—composure was gone and a quick, strained look was in its place.
"I'm afraid I've been watched," he said tersely. "Look behind you, will you, and tell me if you see anything?"
Jimmie Dale glanced backward through the little window in the hood.
There's another taxi just turned in from Sixth Avenue," he reported the next instant.
"Keep your eye on it!" instructed the chauffeur shortly.
The speed of the cab increased sensibly.
With a curious tightening of his lips, Jimmie Dale settled himself in his seat so that he could watch the cab behind. There was trouble coming, intuitively he sensed that; and, he reflected bitterly, he might have known! It was too marvellous, too wonderful ever to come to pass that this one hour, the thought of which had fired his blood and made him glad beyond any gladness life had ever held for him before, should bring its promised happiness.
"Where's the cab now?" the chauffeur flung back over his shoulder.
They had passed Fifth Avenue, and were nearing Broadway.
"About the same distance behind," Jimmie Dale answered.
"That looks bad!" the chauffeur gritted between his teeth. "We'll have to make sure. I'll run down Lower Broadway."
"If you think we're followed," suggested Jimmie Dale quietly, "why not run uptown and give them the slip somewhere where the traffic is thick? Lower Broadway at this time of night is as empty and deserted as a country road."
The chauffeur's sudden laugh was mirthless.
"My God, you don't know what you are talking about!" he burst out. "If they're following, all hell couldn't throw them off the track. And I've got to know, I've got to be sure before I dare make a move to-night. I couldn't tell up in the crowded districts if I was followed, could I? They won't come out into the open until their hands are forced."
The car swerved sharply, rounded the corner, and, speeding up faster and faster, began to tear down Lower Broadway.
"Watch! Watch!" cried the chauffeur.
There was no word between them for a moment; then Jimmie Dale spoke crisply:
"It's turned the corner! It's coming this way!"
The taxicab was rocking violently with the speed; silent, empty, Lower Broadway stretched away ahead. Apart from an occasional street car, probably there would be nothing between them and the Battery. Jimmie Dale glanced at his companion's face as a light, flashing by, threw it into relief. It was set and stern, even a little haggard; but, too, there was something else there, something that appealed instantly to Jimmie Dale—a sort of bulldog grit that dominated it.
"If he holds our speed, we'll know!" the chauffeur was shouting now to make himself heard over the roar of the car. "Look again! Where is it now?"
Once more Jimmie Dale looked through the little rear window. The cab had been a block behind them when it had turned the corner, and he watched it now in a sort of grim fascination. There was no possible doubt of it! The two bobbing, bouncing headlights were creeping steadily nearer. And then a sort of unnatural calm settled upon Jimmie Dale, and his hand went mechanically to his pocket to feel his automatic there, as he turned again to the chauffeur.
"If you've got any more speed, you'd better use it!" he said significantly.
The man shot a quick look at him.
"They are following us? You are sure?"
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale.
The chauffeur laughed again in that mirthless, savage way.
"Lean over here, where I can talk to you!" he rasped out. "The game's up, as far as I am concerned, I guess! But there's a chance for you. They don't know you in this."
"Give her more speed—or dodge into a cross street!" suggested Jimmie Dale coolly. "They haven't got us yet, by a long way!"
The other shook his head.
"It's not only that cab behind," he answered, through set lips. "You don't know what we're up against. If they're really after us, there's a trap laid in every section of this city—the devils! It's the package they want. Thank God for the presentiment that made me leave it behind! I was going back for it, you understand, if I was satisfied that we weren't followed. Listen! There's a chance for you—there's none for me. That package—remember this!—no one else knows where it is, and it's life and death to the one who sent you here. It's in Box 428 at—— My God, look! Look there!" he yelled, and, with a wrench at the wheel, sent the taxi lurching and staggering for the car tracks in the centre of the street.
The scene, fast as thought itself, was photographing itself in every detail upon Jimmie Dale's brain. From the cross street ahead, one from each corner, two motor cars had nosed out into Broadway, blocking the road on both sides. And now the car on the left-hand side was moving forward across the tracks to counteract the chauffeur's move, deliberately insuring a collision. There was no chance, no further room to turn, no time to stop—the man driving the other car jumped for safety—they would be into it in an instant.
"Box 428!" Jimmie pleaded fiercely. "Go on, man! Go on! Finish!"
"Yes!" cried the chauffeur. "John Johansson, at——"
But Jimmie Dale heard no more. There was the crash of impact as the taxicab plowed into the car that had been so craftily manœuvred in front of it, and Jimmie Dale, lifted from his feet, was hurled violently forward with the shock, and all went black before his eyes.