The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 8
IT was only a little way back along the street from the Sanctuary to the corner on the Bowery where as Jimmie Dale he had left her, where as Larry the Bat now he was going to meet her again; it would take only a moment or so, even at Larry the Bat's habitual, characteristic, slouching gait—but it seemed that was all too slow, that he must throw discretion to the winds and run the distance. His blood was tingling; there was elation upon him, coupled with an almost childlike dread that she might be gone.
"The Tocsin! The Tocsin!" he kept saying to himself.
Yes; she was still there, still whiningly imploring those who passed to buy her miserable pencils—and then, with a quick-flung whisper to him to follow as he slouched up close to her, she had started slowly down the street.
"The Tocsin! The Tocsin! The Tocsin!"—his brain seemed to be ringing with the words, ringing with them in a note clear as a silver bell. The Tocsin—at last! The woman who so strangely, so wonderfully, so mysteriously had entered into his life, and possessed it, and filled it with a love and yearning that had come to mold and sway and actuate his very existence—the woman for whom he had fought; for whom he had risked, and gladly risked, his wealth, his name, his honour—everything; the woman for whose sake he, the Gray Seal, was sought and hounded as the most notorious criminal of the age; she whose cleverness, whose resourcefulness, whose amazing intimacy with the hidden things of the underworld had seemed, indeed, to border on the supernatural; she, the Tocsin—the woman whose face he had never seen before! The woman whose face he had never seen before—and who now was that wretched hag that hobbled along the street before him, begging, whining, and importuning the passers-by to purchase of her pitiful wares!
He laughed a little—buoyantly. He had never pictured a first meeting such as this! A hag? Yes! And one as disreputable in appearance as he himself, as Larry the Bat, was disreputable! But he had seen her eyes! Inimitable as was her disguise, she could not hide her eyes, or hide the pledge they held of the beauty of form and feature beneath the tattered rags and the touch of a master in the make-up that brought haggard want and age into the face—and dimly he began to divine the source, the means by which she had acquired the information that for years had enabled her to plan their coups, that had enabled him to execute them under the guise of crime, that for years had seemed beyond all human reach.
Where was she going? Where was she taking him? But what did it matter! The years of waiting were at an end—the years of mystery in a few moments now would be mystery no more!
Ah! She had turned from the Bowery, and was heading east. He shuffled on after her, guardedly, a half block behind. It was well that Jimmie Dale had disappeared, that he was Larry the Bat again—the neighbourhood was growing more and more one that Jimmie Dale could not long linger in without attracting attention; while, on the other hand, it was the natural environment of such as Larry the Bat and such as she, who was leading him now to the supreme moment of his life. Yes, it was that—the fulfillment of the years! The thought of it alone filled his mind, his soul; it brushed aside, it blotted out for the time being the danger, the peril, the deadly menace that hung over them both. It was only that she, the Tocsin, was here—only that at last they would be together.
On she went, traversing street after street, the direction always trending toward the river—until finally she halted before what appeared to be, as nearly as he could make out in the almost total darkness of the ill-lighted street, a small and tumble-down, self-contained dwelling that bordered on what seemed to be an unfenced store yard of some description. He drew his breath in sharply. She had halted—waiting for him to come up with her. She was waiting for him—waiting for him! It seemed as though he drank of some strange, exhilarating elixir—he reached her side eagerly—and then—and then—her hand had caught his, and she was leading him into the house, into a black passage where he could see nothing, into a room equally black over whose threshold he stumbled, and her voice in a low, conscious way, with a little tremour, a half sob in it that thrilled him with its promise, was in his ears:
"We are safe here, Jimmie, for a little while—but, oh, Jimmie, what have I done! What have I done to bring you into this—only—only—I was so sure, so sure, Jimmie, that there was nothing more to fear!"
The blood was beating in hammer blows at his temples. It seemed all unreal, untrue that this moment could be his, that it was not a dream—a dream which was presently to be snatched from him in a bitter awakening. And then he laughed out wildly, passionately. No—it was true, it was real! Her breath was on his cheek, it was a living, pulsing hand that was still in his—and then soul and mind and body seemed engulfed and lost in a mad ecstasy—and she was in his arms, crushed to him, and he was raining kisses upon her face.
"I love you! I love you!" he was crying hoarsely; and over and over again: "I love you! I love you!"
She did not struggle. The warm, rich lips were yielding to his; he could feel the throb, the life in the young, lithe form against his own. She was his—his! The years, the past, all were swept away—and she was his at last—his for always. And there came a mighty sense of kingship upon him, as though all the world were at his feet, and virility, and a great, glad strength above all other men's, and a song was in his soul, a song triumphant—for she was his!
"You!" he cried out—and strained her to him. "You! he cried again—and kissed her lips and her eyelids and her lips again.
And then her head was buried on his shoulder, and she was crying softly; but after a moment she raised her hands and laid them upon his face, and held them there, and because it was dark, dared to raise her head as well, and her eyes to look into his.
Then for a long time they stood there so, and for a long time neither spoke—and then with a little startled, broken cry, as though the peril and the menace hanging over them, forgotten for the moment, were thrust like a knife stab suddenly upon her, she drew herself away, and ran from him, and went and got a lamp, and lighted it, and set it upon the table.
And Jimmie Dale, still standing there, watched her. How gloriously her eyes shone, dimmed and misty with the tears that filled them though they were! And there was nothing incongruous in the rags that clothed her, in the squalour and poverty of the bare room, in the white furrows that the tears had plowed through the grime and make-up on her cheeks.
"You wonderful, wonderful woman!" Jimmie Dale whispered.
She shook her head as though almost in self-reproach.
"I am not wonderful, Jimmie," she said, in a low voice. "I"—and then she caught his arm, and her voice broke a little—"I've brought you into this—probably to your death. Jimmie, tell me what happened last night, and since then. I—I've thought at times to-day I should go mad. Oh, Jimmie, there is so much to say to-night, so much to do if—if we are ever to be together for—for always. Last night, Jimmie—the telephone—I knew there was danger—that all had gone wrong—what was it?"
His arms were around her shoulders, drawing her close to him again.
"I found the wires tapped," he said slowly.
"Yes, and—and the man you met—the chauffeur?"
"He is dead," Jimmie Dale answered gently.
He felt her hand close with a quick, spasmodic clutch upon his arm; her face grew white—and for a moment she turned away her head.
"And—and the package?" she asked presently.
"I do not know," replied Jimmie Dale. "He did not have it with him; he——"
"Wait!" she interrupted quickly. "We are only wasting time like this! Tell me everything, everything just as it happened, everything from the moment you received my letter."
And, holding her there in his arms, softening as best he could the more brutal details, he told her. And, at the end, for a little while she was silent; then in a strained, impulsive way she asked again:
"The chauffeur—you are sure—you are positive that he is dead?"
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale grimly; "I am sure." And then the pent-up flood of questions burst from his lips. Who was the chauffeur? The package, the box numbered 428, and John Johansson? And the Crime Club? And the issue at stake? The danger, the peril that surrounded her? And she—above all—more than anything else—about herself—her strange life, its mystery?
She checked him with a strangely wistful touch of her finger upon his lips, with a queer, pathetic shake of her head.
"No, Jimmie; not that way. You would never understand. I cannot——"
"But I am to know—now! Surely I am to know now!" he cried, a sudden sense of dismay upon him. Three years! Three years—and always the "next" time!" I must know now, if I am to help you!"
She smiled a little wanly at him, as she drew herself away, and, dropping into a chair, placed her elbows on the rickety table, cupping her chin in her hands.
"Yes; you are to know now," she said, almost as though she were talking to herself; then, with a swift intake of her breath, impulsively: "Jimmie! Jimmie! I had thought that it would be all so different when—when you came. That—that I would have nothing to fear—for you—for me—because—it would be all over. And now you are here, Jimmie—and, oh, thank God for you!—but I feel to-night almost—almost as though it were hopeless, that—that we were beaten."
"Beaten!" He stepped quickly to the table, and sat down, and took one of her hands away from her face to hold it in both his own. "Beaten!" he laughed out defiantly: then, playfully, soothingly, to reassure her: "Jimmie Dale and Larry the Bat and the Gray Seal and the Tocsin—beaten! And after we have just scored the last trick!"
"But we do not hold many trumps, Jimmie," she answered gravely. "You have seen something of this Crime Club's power, its methods, its merciless, cruel, inhuman cunning, and you, perhaps, think that you understand—but you have not begun to grasp the extent of either that power or cunning. This horrible organisation has been in existence for many years. I do not know how many. I only know that the men of whom it is composed are not ordinary criminals, that they do not work in the ordinary way—to-day, they set the machinery of fraud, deception, robbery, and murder in motion that ten years from now, and, perhaps, only then, will culminate in the final success of their schemes—and they play only for enormous stakes. But"—her lips grew set—"you will see for yourself. I must not talk any longer than is necessary; we must not take too much time. You count on three days before they begin to suspect that all is not right with Jimmie Dale—I know them better than you, and I give you two days, forty-eight hours at the outside, and possibly far less. Jimmie"—abruptly—"did you ever hear of Peter LaSalle?"
"The capitalist? Yes!" said Jimmie Dale. "He died a few years ago. I know his brother Henry well—at the club, and all that."
"Do you!" she said evenly. "Well, the man you know is not Peter LaSalle's brother; he is an impostor—and one of the Crime Club."
"Not—Peter LaSalle's brother!"—Jimmie Dale repeated the words mechanically. And suddenly his brain was whirling. Vaguely, dimly, in little memory snatches, events, not pertinent then, vitally significant now, came crowding upon him. Peter LaSalle had come from somewhere in the West to live in New York; and very shortly afterward had died. The estate had been worth something over eleven millions. And there had been—he leaned quickly, tensely forward over the table, staring at her. "My God!" he whispered hoarsely. "You are not, you cannot be—the—the daughter—Peter LaSalle's daughter, who disappeared so strangely!"
"Yes," she said quietly. "I am Marie LaSalle."