Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Madeline took two floors of a large brown stone house in Bleecker Street, and the accommodating landlady found a colored wench to keep her rooms in order and cook her meals. A room at the back and facing the south was fitted up for Masters. It was a masculine-looking room with its solid mahogany furniture, and as his books were stored in the cellar of the Times Building she had shelves built to the ceiling on the west wall. Lacey obtained an order for the books without difficulty, and Madeleine disposed of several of her long evenings filling the shelves. When she had finished, one side of the large room at least looked exactly like his parlor in the Occidental Hotel. She also hung the windows with green curtains and draped the mantelpiece with the same material. Green had been his favorite color.
She had rebelled at giving up her original purpose of making a personal search for Masters, but one look at New York had convinced her that if Lacey would not help her she must employ a detective. Nevertheless, she went every mid-day to one or other of the restaurants below Chambers Street; and, although nothing had ever terrified her so much, she ventured into Nassau Street at least once a day and struggled through it, peering into every face.
Nassau Street was only ten blocks long and very narrow, but it would seem as if, during the hours of business, a cyclone gathered all the men in New York and hurled them in compact masses down its length until they were met by another cyclone that drove them back again. They filled the street as well as the narrow sidewalks, they poured out of the doorways as if impelled from behind, and Madeleine wondered they did not jump from the windows. No one sauntered, all rushed along with tense faces; there were many collisions and no one paused to apologize, nor did any one seem to expect it. There were hundreds, possibly thousands, of offices in those buildings high for their day, and every profession, every business, every known or unique occupation, was represented. There were banks and newspaper buildings, hotels, restaurants, auction rooms, the Treasury and the old Dutch Church that had been turned into the General Post Office. There were shops containing everything likely to appeal to men, although one wondered when they found time for anything so frivolous as shopping; second-hand book stores, and street hawkers without number.
In addition to the thousands of men who seemed to be hurrying to and from some business of vital import, there were the hundred thousand or more who surged through that narrow thoroughfare every day for their mail. The old church looked like a besieged fortress and Madeleine marvelled that it did not collapse. She was thankful that she was never obliged to enter it. Holt and her lawyer had been instructed to send their letters to Lacey's care, and Lacey when obliged to communicate with her, either called or sent his note by a messenger.
Madeleine was so hustled, stepped on, whirled about, that she finally made friends with an old man who kept one of the secondhand shops, and, comparatively safe, used the doorway as her watch tower.
One day she thought she saw Masters and darted out into the street. There she fought her way in the wake of a tall stooping man with black hair as mercilessly as if she were some frantic woman who had risked her all on the Stock Exchange. He entered the door of one of the tall buildings, and when she reached it she heard the sound of footsteps rapidly mounting.
She followed as rapidly. The footsteps ceased. When she arrived at the fourth floor she knocked on every door in turn. It was evidently a building that housed men of the dingiest social status. Every man who answered her peremptory summons looked like a derelict. These were mere semblances of offices, with unmade beds, sometimes on the floor. In some were dreary looking women, partners, no doubt, of these forlorn men, whose like she sometimes saw down in the street. But her breathless search was fruitless. She knew that one of the men who grudgingly opened his door--looking as if he expected the police-- was the man she had followed, and she was grateful that it was not Masters.
She went slowly down the rickety staircase feeling as if she should sink at every step. It had been her first ray of hope in two weeks and she felt faint and sick under the reaction.
She found a coupe in Broadway and was driven to her lodgings. The maid was waiting for her in the doorway, evidently perturbed.
"There's a strange gentleman upstairs in the parlor, ma'am," she said. "Not Mr. Lacey. I didn't want to let him in but he would. He said--"
She thrust the girl aside and ran up the steps. But when she burst into the parlor the man waiting for her was Ralph Holt.
She dropped into a chair and began to cry hysterically. He had dealt with her in that state before, and Amanda had lived in Bleecker Street for many years. She was growing bored with the excessive respectability of her place, and was delighted to find that her mistress was human. Cold water, sal volatile, and hartshorn soon restored Madeleine's composure. She handed her hat to the woman and was alone with Holt.
"I thought--perhaps you understand--"
"I understand, all right. I hope you are not angry with me for following you."
"I am only too glad to see you. I never knew a city could be so big and heartless. I have felt like a leaf tossed about in a perpetual cold wind. When did you arrive?"
"The day after you did."
"What? And you--you--have been looking for him?"
"That is what I came for--partly. Yes, Lacey and I have combed the town."
Madeleine sprang to her feet. "You've found him! I know it! Why don't you say so?"
"Well, we know where he is. But it's no place for you."
"Take me at once. I don't care what it is."
"But I do. So does Lacey. His plan was to shanghai him and sober him up. But--well--it is your right to say whether he shall do that or not. You wanted to find him yourself. But Five Points is no place for you, and I want your permission to carry out Lacey's program."
"What is Five Points?"
"The worst sink in New York. Just imagine the Barbary Coast of San Francisco multiplied by two thousand. There is said to be nothing worse in London or Paris."
"If you and Mr. Lacey do not take me there I shall go alone."
"My reason works quite as clearly as if my heart were chloroformed. Langdon will know, when I track him to a place like that, what he means to me."
"He probably will be in no condition to recognize you."
"I'll make him recognize me. Or if I cannot you may use your force then, but he shall know later that I went there for him. Have you seen him?"
Holt moved uneasily and looked away. "Yes, I have seen him."
"You need not be so distressed. I shall not care what he looks like. I shall see him inside. Did you speak to him?"
"He either did not recognize me or pretended not to."
"Well, we go now."
"Won't you think it over?"
"I prefer your escort to that of a policeman. I shall not be so foolish as to go alone."
"Then we'll come for you at about eleven tonight. It would be useless to go look for him now. People who lead that sort of life sleep in the day time. I have not the faintest idea where he lives."
"Very well, I shall have to wait, I suppose."
Holt rose. "Lacey and I will come for you, and we'll bring with us two of the biggest detectives we can find. It's no joke taking a woman--a woman like you--Good God!--into a sewer like that. Even Lacey and I got into trouble twice, but we could take care of ourselves. Better dine with me at Delmonico's and forget things for a while."
"I could not eat, nor sit still. Nor do I wish to run the risk of meeting my brother; or any one else I know. Come for me promptly at eleven or you will not find me here."