The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 9
THE TOCSIN'S STORY
LASALLE! The old French name! That old French inscription on the ring: "Sonnez le Tocsin!" Yes; he began to understand now. She was Marie LeSalle! He began to remember more clearly.
Marie LaSalle! They had said she was one of the most beautiful girls who had ever made her entrée into New York society. But he had never met her—as Marie LaSalle; never met her—until now, as the Tocsin, in this bare, destitute, squalid hovel, here at bay, both of them, for their lives.
He had been away when she had come with her father to New York; and on his return there had only been the father's brother in the father's place—and she was gone. He remembered the furor her disappearance had caused; the enormous rewards her uncle had offered in an effort to trace her; the thousand and one speculations as to what had become of her; and that then, gradually, as even the most startling and mystifying of events and happenings always do, the affair had dropped into oblivion and had been forgotten by the public at least. He began to count back. Yes, it must have been nearly five years ago; two years before she, as the Tocsin, and he, as the Gray Seal, had formed their amazing and singular partnership, that—he started suddenly, as she spoke.
"I want to tell you in as few words as I can," she said abruptly, breaking the silence. "Listen, then, Jimmie. My mother died ten years ago. I was little more than a child then. Shortly after her death, father made a business trip to New York, and, on the advice of some supposed friends, he had a new will drawn up by a lawyer whom they recommended, and to whom they introduced him. I do not know who those men were. The lawyer's name was Travers, Hilton Travers." She glanced curiously at Jimmie Dale, and added quickly: "He was the chauffeur—the man who was killed last night."
"You mean," Jimmie Dale burst out, "you mean that he was—but, first, the will! What was in the will?"
"It was a very simple will," she answered. "And from the nature of it, it was not at all strange that my father should have been willing to have had it drawn by a comparative stranger, if that is what you are thinking. Summarised in a few words, the will left everything to me, and appointed my Uncle Henry as my guardian and the sole executor of the estate until I should have reached my twenty-fifth birthday. It provided for a certain sum each year to be paid to my uncle for his services as executor; and at the expiration of the trust period—that is, when I was twenty-five—bequeathed to him the sum of one hundred thousand dollars."
Jimmie Dale nodded. "Go on!" he prompted.
"It is hard to tell it in logical sequence," she said, hesitating a moment. "So many things seem to overlap each other. You must understand a little more about Hilton Travers. During the five years following the signing of the will father came frequently to New York, and became, not only intimate with Travers, but so much impressed with the other's cleverness and ability that he kept putting more and more of his business into Travers' hands. At the end of that five years, we moved to New York, and father, who was then quite an old man, retired from all active business, and turned over a great many of his personal affairs to Travers to look after for him, giving Travers power of attorney in a number of instances. So much for Travers. Now about my uncle. He was my father's only brother; in fact, they were the only surviving members of their family, apart from very distant connections in France, from where, generations back, the family originally came." Her hand touched Jimmie Dale's for an instant. "That ring, Jimmie, with its crest and inscription, is the old family coat of arms."
"Yes," he said briefly; "I surmised as much."
"Strange as it may seem, in view of the fact that they had not seen each other for twenty years," she went on hurriedly "my father and my uncle were more than ordinarily attached to each other. Letters passed regularly between them, and there was constant talk of one paying the other a visit—but the visit never materialised. My uncle was somewhere in Australia, my father was here, and consequently I never saw my uncle. He was quite a different type of man from father—more restless, less settled, more rough and ready, preferring the outdoor life of the Australian bush to the restrictions of any so-called civilisation, I imagine. Financially, I do not think he ever succeeded very well, for twice, in one way or another, he lost every sheep on his ranch and father set him up again; and I do not think he could ever have had much of a ranch, for I remember once, in one of the letters he wrote, that he said he had not seen a white man in weeks, so he must have lived a very lonely life. Indeed, at about the time father drew the new will, my uncle wrote, saying that he had decided to give up sheep running on his own account as it did not pay, and to accept a very favourable offer that had been made to him to manage a ranch in New Zealand; and his next letter was from the latter country, stating that he had carried out his intentions, and was well satisfied with the change he had made. The long-proposed visit still continued to occupy my father's thoughts, and on his retirement from business he definitely made up his mind to go out to New Zealand, taking me with him. In fact, the plans were all arranged, my uncle expressed unbounded delight in his letters, and we were practically on the eve of sailing, when a cable came from my uncle, telling us to postpone the visit for a few months, as he was obliged to make a buying trip for his new employer that would keep him away that length of time—and then"—her fingers, that had been abstractedly picking out the lines formed by the grain of the wood in the table top, closed suddenly into tight-clenched fists—"and then—my father died."
Jimmie Dale turned away his head. There were tears in her eyes. The old sense of unreality was strong upon him again. He was listening to the Tocsin's story. It was strange that he should be doing that—that it could be really so! It seemed as though magically he had been transported out of the world where for years past he had lived with danger lurking at every turn, where men set watch about his house to trap him, where the denizens of the underworld yowled like starving beasts to sink their fangs in him, where the police were ceaselessly upon his trail to wreak an insensate vengeance upon him; it seemed as though he had been transported away from all that to something that he had dreamed might, perhaps, sometime happen, that he had hoped might happen, that he had longed for always, but now that it was his, that it also was full of the sense of the unreal. And yet as his mind followed the thread of her story, and leaped ahead and vaguely glimpsed what was to come, he was conscious in a sort of premonitory way of a vaster peril than any he had ever known, as though forces, for the moment masked, were arrayed against him whose strength and whose malignity were beyond human parallel. In what a strange, almost incoherent way his brain was working! He roused himself a little and looked around him—and, with a shock, the starkness of the room, the abject, pitiful air of destitution brought home to him with terrific, startling force the significance of the scene in which he was playing a part. His face set suddenly in hard lines. That she should have been brought to assume such a life as this—forced out of her environment of wealth and refinement, forced in her purity to rub shoulders with the vile, the dissolute, forced to exist as such a creature amid the crime and vice, the wretched horror of the underworld that swirled around her! There was anger now upon him, burning, hot—a merciless craving that was a savage, hungry lust for vengeance.
And then she was speaking again:
"Father's death occurred very shortly after my uncle's message advising us to postpone our trip was received. On his death, Travers, very naturally, as father's lawyer, cabled my uncle to come to New York at once; and my uncle replied, saying that he was coming by the first steamer."
She paused again—but only for an instant, as though to frame her thoughts in words.
"I have told you that I had never seen my uncle, that even my father had not seen him for twenty years; and I have told you that the man you know as Henry LaSalle is an impostor—I am using the word 'uncle' now when I refer to him simply to avoid confusion. You are, perhaps, expecting me to say that I took a distinctive dislike to him from the moment he arrived? On the contrary, I had every reason to be predisposed toward him; and, indeed, was rather agreeably surprised than otherwise—he was not nearly so uncouth and unpolished as, somehow, I had pictured his life would have made him. Do you understand, Jimmie? He was kind, sympathetic; and, in an apathetic way, I liked him. I say 'apathetic' because I think that best describes my own attitude toward every one and everything following father's death until—that night."
She rose abruptly from her chair, as though a passive position of any kind had suddenly become intolerable.
"Why tell you what my father and I were to each other!" she cried out in a low, passionate voice. "It seemed as though everything that meant anything had gone out of my life. I became worn out, nervous; and though the days were bad enough, the nights were a source of dread. I began to suffer from insomnia—I could not sleep. This was even before my supposed uncle came. I used to read for hours and hours in my room after I had gone to bed. But"—she flung out her hand with an impatient gesture—"there is no need to dwell on that. One night, about a week after that man had arrived, and a little over a month after father had died, I was in my room and had finished a book I was reading. I remember that it was well after midnight. I had not the slightest inclination to sleep. I picked up another book—and after that another. There were plenty in my room; but, irrationally, of course, none pleased me. I decided to go down to the library—not that I think I really expected to find anything that I actually wanted, but more because it was an impulse, and furnished me for the moment with some definite objective, something to do. I got up, slipped on a dressing gown, and went downstairs. The lights were all out. I was just on the point of switching on those in the reception hall, when suddenly it seemed as though I had not strength to lift my hand, and I remember that for an instant I grew terribly cold with dread and fear. From the room on my right a voice had reached me. The door was closed, but the voice was raised in an outburst of profanity. I—I could hear every word.
"'If she's out of the way, there's no come-back,' the voice snarled. 'I won't listen to anything else! Do you hear! Why, you fool, what are you trying to do—hand me one! Turn everything into cash, and divvy, and beat it—eh? And I'm the goat, and I get caught and get twenty years for stealing trust funds—and the rest of you get the coin!' He swore terribly again. 'Who's taken the risk in this for the last five years! There'll be no smart Aleck lawyer tricks—there'll be no halfway measures! And who are you to dictate! She goes out—that's safe—I inherit as next of kin, with no one to dispute it, and that's all there is to it!'
"I stood there and could not move. It was the voice of the man I knew as my uncle! My heart seemed to have stopped beating. I tried to tell myself that I was dreaming, that it was too horrible, too incredible to be real; that they could not really mean to—to murder me. And then I recognised Hilton Travers' voice.
"'I am not dictating, and you are not serious, of course,' he said, with what seemed an uneasy laugh. 'I am only warning you that you are forgetting to take the real Henry LaSalle into account. He is bound to hear of this eventually, and then——'
"Another voice broke in—one I did not recognise.
"'You're talking too loud, both of you! Travers doesn't understand, but he's to be wised up to-night, according to orders, and——'
"The voice became inaudible, muffled—I could not hear any more. I suppose I remained there another three or four minutes, too stunned to know what to do; and then I ran softly along the hall to the library door. The library, you understand, was at the rear of the room they were in, and the two rooms were really one; that is, there was only an archway between them. I cannot tell you what my emotions were—I do not know. I only know that I kept repeating to myself, 'they are going to kill me, they are going to kill me!' and that it seemed I must try and find out everything, everything I could."
She turned away from the table, and began to pace nervously up and down the miserable room.
Jimmie Dale rose impulsively from his chair—but she waved him back again.
"No; wait!" she said. "Let me finish. I crept into the library. It took me a long time, because I had to be so careful not to make the slightest noise. I suppose it was fully six or seven minutes from the time I had first heard my supposed uncle's voice until I had crept far enough forward to be able to see into the room beyond. There were three men there. The man I knew as my uncle was sitting at one end of the table; another had his back toward me; and Travers was facing in my direction—and I think I never saw so ghastly a face as was Hilton Travers' then. He was standing up, sort of swaying, as he leaned with both hands on the table.
"'Now then, Travers,' the man whose back was turned to me was saying threateningly, 'you've got the story now—sign those papers!'
"It seemed as though Travers could not speak for a moment. He kept looking wildly from one to the other. He was white to the lips.
"'You've let me in for—this!" he said hoarsely, at last. 'You devils—you devils—you devils! You've let me in for—murder! Both of them! Both Peter and his brother—murdered!'
She stopped abruptly before Jimmie Dale, and clutched his arm tightly.
"Jimmie, I don't know why I did not scream out. Everything went black for a moment before my eyes. It was the first suspicion I had had that my father had met with foul play, and I——"
But now Jimmie Dale swayed up from his chair.
"Murdered!" he exclaimed tensely. "Your father! But—but I remember perfectly, there was no hint of any such thing at the time, and never has been since. He died from quite natural causes."
She looked at him strangely.
"He died from—inoculation," she said. "Did—did you not see something of that laboratory in the Crime Club yourself the night before last—enough to understand?"
"Good God!" muttered Jimmie Dale, in a startled way; then: "Go on! Go on! What happened then?"
She passed her hand a little wearily across her eyes—and sank down into her chair again.
"Travers," she continued, picking up the thread of her story, "had raised his voice, and the third man at the table leaned suddenly, aggressively toward him.
"'Hold your tongue!' he growled furiously. 'All you've asked to do is sign the papers—not talk!'
"Travers shook his head.
"'I won't!' he cried out. 'I won't have any hand in another murder—in hers! My God, I won't—I won't, I tell you! It's horrible!'
"'Look here, you fool!' the man who was posing as my uncle broke in then. 'You're in this too deep to get out now. If you know what's good for you, you'll do as you're told!'
"Jimmie, I shall never forget Travers' face. It seemed to have changed from white to gray, and there was horror in his eyes; and then he seemed to lose all control of himself, shaking his fists in their faces, cursing them in utter abandon.
"'I'm bad!' he cried. 'I've gone everything, everything but the limit—everything but murder. I stop there! I'll have no more to do with this. I'm through! You—you pulled me into this, and—and I didn't know!'
"'Well, you know now!' the third man sneered. 'What are you going to do about it?'
"'I'm going to see that no harm comes to Marie LaSalle,' Travers answered in a dull way.
"The other man now was on his feet—and, I do not know quite how to express it, Jimmie, he seemed ominously quiet in both his voice and his movements.
"'You'd better think that over again, Travers!' he said, 'Do you mean it?'
"'I mean it,' Travers said. 'I mean it—God help me!'
"'You may well add that!' returned the other, with an ugly laugh. He reached out his hand toward the telephone on the table. 'Do you know what will happen to you if I telephone a certain number and say that you have turned—traitor?'
"'I'll have to take my chances,' Travers replied doggedly. 'I'm through!'
"'Take them, then!' flung out the other. 'You'll have little time given you to do us any harm?'
"Travers did not answer. I think he almost expected an attack upon him then from the two men. He hesitated a moment, then backed slowly toward the door. What happened in the next few moments in that, room, I do not know. I stole out of the library. I was obsessed with the thought that I must see Travers, see him at all costs, before he got away from the house. I reached the end of the hall as the room door opened, and he came out. It was dark, as I said, and I could not see distinctly, but I could make out his form. He closed the door behind him—and then I called his name in a whisper. He took a quick step toward me, then turned and hurried toward the front door, and I thought he was going away—but the next instant I understood his ruse. He opened the front door, shut it again quite loudly, and crept back to me.
"'Take me somewhere where we will be safe—quick!' he whispered.
"There was only one place where I was sure we would be safe. I led him to the rear of the house and up the servants' stairs, and to my boudoir."
She broke off abruptly, and once more rose from her chair, and once more began to pace the room. Back in his chair, Jimmie Dale, tense and motionless now, watched her without a word.
"It would take too long to tell you all that passed between us," she went on hurriedly. "The man was frankly a criminal—but not to the extent of murder. And in that respect, at least, he was honest with himself. Almost the first words he said to me were: 'Miss LeSalle, I am as good as a dead man if I am caught by the devils behind those two men downstairs.' And then he began to plead with me to make my own escape. He did not know who the man was that was posing as my uncle, had never seen him before until he presented himself as Henry LaSalle; the other man he knew as Clarke, but knew also that 'Clarke' was merely an assumed name. He had fallen in with Clarke almost from the time that he had begun to practise his profession, and at Clarke's instigation had gone from one crooked deal to another, and had made a great deal of money. He knew that behind Clarke was a powerful, daring, and unscrupulous band of criminals, organised on a gigantic scale, of which he himself was, in a sense—a probationary sense, as he put it—a member; but he had never come into direct contact with them—he had received all his orders and instructions through Clarke. He had been told by Clarke that he was to cultivate father following the introduction, to win father's confidence, to get as many of father's affairs into his hands as possible, to reach the position, in fact, of becoming father's recognised attorney—and all this with the object, as he supposed of embezzling from father on a large scale. Then father died, and Travers was instructed to cable my uncle. He knew that the man who answered that summons was an impostor; but he did not know, until they had admitted it to him that night, that both my father and my uncle had been murdered, and that I, too, was to be made away with."
She looked at Jimmie Dale, and suddenly laughed out bitterly.
"No; you don't understand, even yet, the patient, ingenious deviltry of those fiends. It was they, at the time the new will was drawn, who offered to buy out my real uncle's sheep ranch in that lonely, unsettled district in Australia, and offered him that new position in New Zealand. My uncle never reached New Zealand. He was murdered on his way there. And in his place, assuming his name, appeared the man who has been posing as my uncle ever since. Do you begin to see! For five years they were patiently working out their plans, for five years before my father's death that man lived and became known and accepted, and established himself as Henry LaSalle. Do you see now why he cabled us to postpone our visit? He ran very little risk. The chances were one in a thousand that any of his few acquaintances in Australia would ever run across him in New Zealand; and besides, he was chosen because it seems there was a slight resemblance between him and the real Henry LaSalle—enough, with his changed mode of living and more elaborate and pretentious surroundings, to have enabled him to carry through a bluff had it become necessary. He had all of my uncle's papers; and the Crime Club furnished him with every detail of our lives here. I forgot to say, too, that from the moment my uncle was supposed to have reached New Zealand all his letters were typewritten—an evidence in father's eyes that his brother had secured a position of some importance; as, indeed, from apparently unprejudiced sources, they took pains to assure father was a fact. This left them with only my uncle's signature to forge to the letters—not a difficult matter for them!
Believing that they had Travers so deeply implicated that he could do nothing, even if he had the inclination, which they had not for a moment imagined, and arrogant in the belief in their own power to put him out of the way in any case if he proved refractory, they admitted all this to him that night when he brought up the issue of the real Henry LaSalle putting in an appearance sooner or later, and when they wanted him to smooth their path by releasing all documents where his power of attorney was involved. Do you see now the part they gave Travers to play? It was to put the stamp of genuineness upon the false Henry LaSalle. Not but that they were prepared with what would appear to be overwhelmingly convincing evidence to prove it if it were necessary; but if the man were accepted by the estate's lawyer there was little chance of any one else questioning his identity."
She halted again by the table—and forced a smile, as her eyes met Jimmie Dale's.
"I am almost through, Jimmie. That night was a terrible one for both of us. Travers' life was not worth a moment's purchase once they found him—and mine was only under reprieve until sufficient time to obviate suspicion should have elapsed after father's death. We had no proof that would stand in any court—even if we should have been given the chance to adopt that course. And without absolute, irrefutable proof, it was all so cleverly woven, stretched over so many years, that our charge must have been held to be too visionary and fantastic to have any basis in fact.
"All Travers would have been able to advance was the statement that the supposed Henry LaSalle had admitted being an impostor and a murderer to him! Who would believe it! On the face of it, it appeared to be an absurdity. And even granted that we were given an opportunity to bring the charge, they would be able to prove by a hundred influential and well-known men in New Zealand that the impostor was really Henry LaSalle; and were we able to find any of my uncle's old acquaintances in Australia, it would be necessary to get them here—and not one of them would have reached America alive.
"But there was not a chance, not a chance, Jimmie, of doing that—they would have killed Travers the moment he showed himself in the open. The only thing we could do that night was to try and save our own lives; the only thing we could look forward to was acquiring in some way, unknown to them, the proof, fully established, with which we could crush them in a single stroke, and before they would have time to strike back.
"The vital thing was proof of my uncle's death. That, if it could be obtained at all, could only be obtained in Australia. Travers was obliged to go somewhere, to disappear from that moment if he wanted to save his life, and he volunteered to go out there. He left the house that night by the back entrance in an old servant's suit, which I found for him—and I never heard from him again until a month ago in the 'personal' column of the Morning News-Argus, through which we had agreed to communicate.
"As for myself, I left the house the next morning, telling my pseudo uncle that I was going to spend a few days with a friend. And this I actually did; but in those few days I managed to turn all my own securities, that had been left me by my mother and which amounted to a considerable sum, into cash. And then, Jimmie, I came to—this. I have lived like this and in different disguises, as a settlement worker, as a widow of means in a fashionable uptown apartment, but mostly as you see me now—for five years. For five years I have watched my supposed uncle, hoping, praying that through him I could get to know the others associated with him; hoping, praying that Travers would succeed; hoping, praying that we would get them all—and watching day after day, and year after year the 'personal' column of the paper, until at last I began to be afraid that it was all useless. And there was nothing, Jimmie, nothing anywhere, and I had no success"—her voice choked a little. "Nothing! Even Clarke never went again to the house. You can understand now how I came to know the strange things that I wrote to the Gray Seal, how the life that I have led, how this life here in the underworld, how the constant search for some clew on my own account brought them to my knowledge; and you can understand now, too, why I never dared to let you meet me, for I knew well enough that, while I worked to undermine my father's and my uncle's murderers, they were moving heaven and earth to find me.
"That is all, Jimmie. The day before yesterday, a month after Travers' first message to let me know that he was coming, there was another 'personal' giving me an hour and a telephone number. He was back! He had everything—everything! We dared not meet; he was afraid, suspicious that they had got track of him again. You know the rest. That package contained the proof that, with Travers' death, can probably never be obtained again. Do you understand why they want it—why it is life and death to me? Do you understand why my supposed uncle offered huge rewards for me, why secretly every resource of that hideous organisation has been employed to find me—that it is only by my death the estate can pass into their hands, and now——"
She flung out her hands suddenly toward Jimmie Dale.
"Oh, Jimmie, Jimmie, I've—I've fought so long alone! Jimmie, what are we to do?"
He came slowly to his feet. She had fought so long—alone. But now—now it was his turn to fight—for her. But how? She had not told him all—surely she had not told him all, for everything depended upon that package. There had been so much to tell that she had not thought of all, and she had not told him the details about that.
"That box—No. 428!" he cried quickly. "What is that? What does it mean?"
She shook her head.
"I do not know," she answered.
Then who is this John Johansson?"
"I do not know," she said again.
"Nor where the Crime Club is?"
He stared at her for a moment in a dazed way.
"My God!" Jimmie Dale murmured.
And then she turned away her head.
"It's—it's pretty bad, isn't it, Jimmie? I—I told you that we did not hold many trumps."