The White Moll by Frank L. Packard
XIX. Dread Upon the Waters
For a moment after Danglar had gone, Rhoda Gray stood motionless; and then, the necessity for instant action upon her, she moved quickly toward the doorway herself. There was only one thing she could do, just one; but she must be sure first that Danglar was well started on his way. She reached the doorway, looked out - and suddenly caught her breath in a low, quick inhalation, In the semi-darkness she could just make out Danglar's form, perhaps twenty-five yards away now, heading along the lane toward the street; but behind Danglar, at a well-guarded distance in the rear, hugging the shadows of the fence, she saw the form of another man. Her brows knitted in a perplexed and anxious frown. The second man was undoubtedly following Danglar. That was evident. But why? Who was it? What did it mean?
She retreated back into the shed, and commenced hastily to disrobe and dress again in her own clothes, which she had flung down upon the floor. In the last analysis, did it matter who it was that was following Danglar - even if it were one of the police? For, supposing that the man who was shadowing Danglar was a plain-clothes man, and suppose he even followed Danglar and the rest of the gang to the old iron plant, and suppose that with the necessary assistance he rounded them all up, and in that sense effected the Adventurer's rescue, it scarcely meant a better fate for the Adventurer! It simply meant that the Adventurer, as one of the gang, and against whom every one of the rest would testify as the sole means left to them of wreaking their vengeance upon one who had tricked and outwitted them again and again for his own ends, would stand his trial with the others, and with the others go behind prison bars for a long term of years.
She hurried now, completing the last touches that transformed her from Gypsy Nan into the veiled figure of the White Moll, stepped out into the lane, and walking rapidly, reached the street and headed, not in the direction of Harlem, but deeper over into the East Side. Even as Danglar had been speaking she had realized that, for the Adventurer's own sake, and irrespective of what any premature disclosure of her own identity to the authorities might mean to her, she could not call upon the police for aid. There was only one way, just one - to go herself, to reach the Adventurer herself before Danglar returned there and had an opportunity of putting his worse than murderous intentions into effect.
Well, she was going there, wasn't she? And if she lost no time she should be there easily ahead of them, and her chances would be excellent of releasing the Adventurer with very little risk. From what Danglar had said, the Adventurer was there alone. Once tied and gagged there had been no need to leave anybody to guard him, save that the watchman would ordinarily serve to keep any one off the premises, which was all that was necessary. But that he had been left at all worried her greatly. He had, of course, already refused to talk. What they had done to him she did not know, but the 'solitary confinement' Danglar had referred to was undoubtedly the first step in their efforts to break his spirit. Her lips tightened as she went along. Surely she could accomplish it! She had but to evade the watchman - only, first, the lost revolver, the one safeguard against an adverse turn of fortune, must be replaced, and that was where she was going now. She knew, from her associations with the underworld as the White Moll in the old days, where such things could be purchased and no questions asked, if one were known. And she was known in the establishment to which she was going, for evil days had once fallen upon its proprietor, one "Daddy" Jacques, in that he had incurred the enmity of certain of his own ilk in the underworld, and on a certain night, which he would not be likely to forget, she had stood between him and a manhandling that would probably have cost him his life, and - Yes, this was the place.
She entered a dirty-windowed, small and musty pawnshop. A little old man, almost dwarf-like in stature, with an unkempt, tawny beard, who wore a greasy and ill-fitting suit, and upon whose bald head was perched an equally greasy skull cap, gazed at her inquiringly from behind the counter.
"I want a gun, and a good one, please," she said, after a glance around her to assure herself that they were alone.
The other squinted at her through his spectacles, as he shook his head.
"I haven't got any, lady," he answered. "We're not allowed to sell them without -"
"Oh, yes, you have, Daddy," she contradicted quietly, as she raised her veil. "And quick, please; I'm in a hurry."
The little old man leaned forward, staring at her for a moment as though fascinated; and then his hand, in a fumbling way, removed the skull cap from his bead. There was a curious, almost wistful reverence in his voice as he spoke.
"The White Moll!" he said.
"Yes," she smiled. "But the gun, Daddy. Quick! I haven't an instant to lose."
"Yes, yes!" he said eagerly - and shuffled away.
He was back in a moment, an automatic in his hand.
"It's loaded, of course?" she said, as she took the weapon. She slipped it into her pocket as he nodded affirmatively. "How much, Daddy?"
"The White Moll!" He seemed still under the spell of amazement. "It is nothing. There is no charge. It is nothing, of course."
"Thank you, Daddy!" she said softly - and laid a bill upon the counter, and stepped back to the door. "Good-night!" she smiled.
She heard him call to her; but she was already on the street again, and hurrying along. She felt better, somehow, in a mental way, for that little encounter with the shady old pawnbroker. She was not so much alone, perhaps, as she had thought; there were many, perhaps, even if they were of the underworld, who had not swerved from the loyalty they had once professed to the White Moll.
It brought a new train of thought, and she paused suddenly in her walk. She might rally around her some of those underworld intimates upon whose allegiance she felt she could depend, and use them now, to-night, in behalf of the Adventurer; she would be sure then to be a match for Danglar, no matter what turn affairs took. And then, with an impatient shake of her head, she hurried on again. There was no time for that. It would take a great deal of time to find and pick her men; she had even wasted time herself, where there was no time to spare, in the momentary pause during which she had given the thought consideration.
She reached the nearest subway station, which was her objective, and boarded a Harlem train, satisfied that her heavy veil would protect her against recognition. Unobtrusively she took a window seat. No one paid her any attention. Hours passed, it seemed to her impatience, while the black walls rushed by, punctuated by occasional scintillating signal lights, and, at longer intervals, by the fuller glare from the station platforms.
In the neighborhood of 125th street she left the train, and, entering the first drug store she found, consulted a directory. She did not know this section of New York at all; she did not know either the location or the firm name of the iron plant to which Danglar, assuming naturally, of course, that she was conversant with it, had referred; and she did not care to ask to be directed to Jake Malley's saloon, which was the only clew she had to guide her. The problem, however, did not appear to be a very difficult one. She found the saloon's address, and, asking the clerk to direct her to the street indicated, left the drug store again.
But, after all, it was not so easy; no easier than for one unacquainted with any locality to find one's way about. Several times she found herself at fault, and several times she was obliged to ask directions again. She had begun to grow panicky with fear and dread at the time she had lost, before, finally, she found the saloon. She was quite sure that it was already more than half an hour since she had left the drug store; and that half an hour might easily mean the difference between safety and disaster, not only for the Adventurer, but for herself as well. Danglar might have been in no particular hurry, and he would probably have gone first to whatever rendezvous he had appointed for those of the gang selected to accompany him, but even to have done so in a leisurely way would surely not have taken more than that half hour!
Yes, that was Jake Malley's saloon now, across the road from her, but she could not recall the time that was already lost! They might be there now - ahead of her.
She quickened her steps almost to a run. There should be no difficulty in finding the iron plant now. "Behind Jake Malley's saloon," Danglar had said. She turned down the cross street, passed the side entrance to the saloon, and hastened along. The locality was lonely, deserted, and none too well lighted. The arc lamps, powerful enough in themselves, were so far apart that they left great areas of shadow, almost blackness, between them. And the street too was very narrow, and the buildings, such as they were, were dark and unlighted - certainly it was not a residential district!
And now she became aware that she was close to the river, for the sound of a passing craft caught her attention. Of course! She understood now. The iron plant, for shipping facilities, was undoubtedly on the bank of the river itself, and - yes, this was it, wasn't it? - this picket fence that began to parallel the right-hand side of the street, and enclose, seemingly, a very large area. She halted and stared at it - and suddenly her heart sank with a miserable sense of impotence and dismay. Yes, this was the place beyond question. Through the picket fence she could make out the looming shadows of many buildings, and spidery iron structures that seemed to cobweb the darkness, and - and - Her face mirrored her misery. She had thought of a single building. Where, inside there, amongst all those rambling structures, with little time, perhaps none at all, to search, was she to find the Adventurer?
She did not try to answer her own question - she was afraid that her dismay would get the better of her if she hesitated for an instant. She crossed the street, choosing a spot between two of the arc lamps where the shadows were blackest. It was a high fence, but not too high to climb. She reached up, preparatory to pulling herself to the top - and drew back with a stifled cry. She was too late, then - already too late! They were here ahead of her - and on guard after all! A man's form, appearing suddenly out of the darkness but a few feet away, was making quickly toward her. She wrenched her automatic from her pocket. The touch of the weapon in her hand restored her self-control.
"Don't come any nearer!" she cried out sharply. "I will fire if you do!"
And then the man spoke.
"It's you, ain't it?" he called in guarded eagerness. "It's the White Moll, ain't it? Thank God, it's you!"
Her extended hand with the automatic fell to her side. She had recognized his voice. It wasn't Danglar, it wasn't one of the gang, or the watchman who was no better than an accomplice; it was Marty Finch, alias the Sparrow.
"Marty!" she exclaimed. "You! What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to keep you from goin' in there!" he answered excitedly. "And - and, say, I was afraid I was too late. Don't you go in there! For God's sake, don't you go! They're layin' a trap for you! They're goin' to bump you off! I know all about it!"
"You know? What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "How do you know?"
"I quit my job a few days after that fellow you called Danglar tried to murder me that night you saved me," said the Sparrow, with a savage laugh. "I knew he had it in for you, and I guess I had something comm' to him on my own account too, hadn't I? That's the job I've been on ever since - tryin' to find the dirty pup. And I found him! But it wasn't until to-night, though you can believe me there weren't many joints in the old town where I didn't look for him. My luck turned to-night. I spotted him comin' out of Italian Joe's bar. See? I followed him. After a while he slips into a lane, and from the street I saw him go into a shed there. I worked my way up quiet, and got as near as I dared without bein' heard and seen, and I listened. He was talkin' to a woman. I couldn't hear everything they said, and they quarreled a lot; but I heard him say something about framin' up a job to get somebody down to the old iron plant behind Jake Malley's saloon and bump 'em off, and I heard him say there wouldn't be any White Moll by morning, and I put two and two together and beat it for here."
Rhoda Gray reached out and caught the Sparrow's hand.
"Thank you, Marty! You haven't got it quite right - though, thank Heaven, you got it the way you did, since you are here now!" she said fervently. "It wasn't me, it wasn't the White Moll, they expected to get here; it's the man who helped me that night to clear you of the Hayden-Bond robbery that Danglar meant to make you shoulder. He risked his life to do it, Marty. They've got him a prisoner somewhere in there; and they're coming back to - to torture him into telling them where I am, and - and afterwards to do away with him. That's why I'm here, Marty - to get him away, if I can, before they come back."
The Sparrow whistled low under his breath.
"Well, then, I guess it's my hunt too," he said coolly. "And I guess this is where a prison bird horns in with the goods. Ever since I've been looking for that Danglar guy, I've been carryin' a full kit - because I didn't know what might break, or what kind of a mess I might want to get out of. Come on! We ain't got no time. There's a couple of broken pickets down there. We might be seen climbin' the fence. Come on!"
Bread upon the waters! With a sense of warm gratitude upon her, Rhoda Gray followed the ex-convict. They made their way through the fence. A long, low building, a storage shed evidently, showed a few yards in front of them. It seemed to be quite close to the river, for now she could see the reflection of lights from here and there playing on the black, mirror-like surface of the water. Farther on, over beyond the shed, the yard of the plant, dotted with other buildings and those spidery iron structures which she had previously noticed, stretched away until it was lost in the darkness. Here, however, within the radius of one of the street arc lamps it was quite light.
Rhoda Gray had paused in almost hopeless indecision as to how or where to begin her search, when the Sparrow spoke again.
"It looks like we got a long hunt," whispered the Sparrow; "but a few minutes before you came, a guy with a lantern comes from over across the yard there and nosed around that shed, and acted kind of queer, and I could see him stick his head up against them side doors there as though he was listenin' for something inside. Does that wise you up to anything?"
"Yes!" she breathed tensely. "That was the watchman. He's one of them. The man we want is in that shed beyond a doubt. Hurry, Marty - hurry!"
They ran together now, and reached the double side-door. It was evidently for freight purposes only, and probably barred on the inside, for they found there was no way of opening it from without.
"There must be an entrance," she said feverishly - and led the way toward the front of the building in the direction away from the river. "Yes, here it is!" she exclaimed, as they rounded the end of the shed.
She tried the door. It was locked. She felt in her pocket for her skeleton keys, for she had not been unprepared for just such an emergency, but the Sparrow brushed her aside.
"Leave it to me!" he said quickly. "I'll pick that lock like one o'clock! It won't take me more'n a minute."
Rhoda Gray did not stand and watch him. Minutes were priceless things, and she could put the minute he asked for to better advantage than by idling it away. With an added injunction to hurry and that she would be back in an instant, she was already racing around the opposite side of the shed. If they were pressed, cornered, by the arrival of Danglar, it might well mean the difference between life and death to all of them if she had an intimate knowledge of the surroundings.
She was running at top speed. Halfway down the length of the shed she tripped and fell over some object. She pushed it aside as she rose. It was an old iron casting, more bulky in shape than in weight, though she found it none too light to lift comfortably. She ran on. A wharf projected out, she found, from this end of the shed. At the edge, she peered over. It was quite light here again; away from the protecting shadows of the shed, the rays of the arc lamp played without hindrance on the wharf just as they did on the shed's side door. Below, some ten or twelve feet below, and at the corner of the wharf, a boat, or, rather, a sort of scow, for it was larger than a boat though oars lay along its thwarts, was moored. It was partly decked over, and she could see a small black opening into the forward end of it, though the opening itself was almost hidden by a heap of tarpaulin, or sailcloth, or something of the kind, that lay in the bottom of the craft. She nodded her head. They might all of them use that boat to advantage!
Rhoda Gray turned and ran back. The Sparrow, with a grunt of satisfaction, was just opening the door. She stepped through the doorway. The Sparrow followed.
"Close it!" said Rhoda Gray, under her breath. She felt her heart beat quicken, the blood flood her face and then recede. Her imagination had suddenly become too horribly vivid. Suppose they - they had already gone farther than...
With an effort she controlled herself - and the round, white ray of her flashlight swept the place. A moment more, and, with a low cry, she was running forward to where, on the floor near the wall of the shed opposite the side door, she made out the motionless form of a man. She reached him, and dropped on her knees beside him. It was the Adventurer. She spoke to him. He did not answer. And then she remembered what Danglar had said, and she saw that he was gagged. But - but she was not sure that was the reason why he did not answer. The flashlight in her hand wavered unsteadily as it played over him. Perhaps the whiteness of the ray itself exaggerated it, but his face held a deathly pallor; his eyes were closed; and his hands and feet were twisted cruelly and tightly bound.
"Give me your knife - quick - Sparrow!" she called. "Then go and keep watch just outside."
The Sparrow handed her his knife, and hurried back to the door.
She worked in the darkness now. She could not use both hands and still hold the flashlight; and, besides, with the door partially open now where the Sparrow was on guard there was always the chance, if Danglar and those of the gang with him were already in the vicinity, of the light bringing them all the more quickly to the scene.
Again she spoke to the Adventurer, as she removed the gag - and a fear that made her sick at heart seized up on her. There was still no answer. And now, as she worked, cutting at the cords on his hands and feet, the love that she knew for the man, its restraint broken by the sense of dread and fear at his condition, rose dominant within her, and impulse that she could not hold in least took possession of her, and in the darkness, since he would not know, and there was none to see, she bent her head, and, half crying, her lips pressed upon his forehead.
She drew back startled, a crimson in her face that the darkness hid. What had she done? Did he know? Had he returned to consciousness, if he really had been unconscious, in time to know? She could not see; but she knew his eyes had opened.
She worked frantically with the bonds. He was free now. She cast them off.
He spoke then - thickly, with great difficulty.
"It's you, the White Moll, isn't it?"
"Yes," she answered.
He raised himself up on his elbow, only to fall back with a suppressed groan.
"I don't know how you found me, but get away at once - for God's sake, get away!" he cried. "Danglar'll be here at any minute. It's you he wants. He thinks you know where some - some jewels are, and that I - I -"
"I know all about Danglar," she said hurriedly. "And I know all about the jewels, for I've got them myself."
He was up on his knees now, swaying there. She caught at his shoulder to support him.
"You!" he cried out incredulously. "You - you've got them? Say that again! You - you've -"
"Yes," she said, and with an effort steadied her voice. He - he was a thief. Cost her what it might, with all its bitter hurt, she must remember that, even - even if she had forgotten once. "Yes," she said. "And I mean to turn them over to the police, and expose every one of Danglar's gang. I - you are entitled to a chance; you once stood between me and the police. I can do no less by you. I couldn't turn the police loose on the gang without giving you warning, for, you see, I know you are the Pug."
"Good God!" he stammered. "You know that, too?"
"Try and walk," she said breathlessly. "There isn't any time. And once you are away from here, remember that when Danglar is in the hands of the police he will take the only chance for revenge he has left, and give the police all the information he can, so that they will get you too.
He stumbled pitifully.
"I can't walk much yet." He was striving to speak coolly. "They trussed me up a bit, you know - but I'll be all right in a little while when I get the cramps out of my joints and the circulation back. And so, Miss Gray, won't you please go at once? I'm free now, and I'll manage all right, and-"
The Sparrow came running back from the door.
"They're comm'!" he said excitedly. "They're comm' from a different way than we came in. I saw 'em sway up there across the yard for a second when they showed up under a patch of light from an arc lamp on the other street. There's three of 'em. We. got about a couple of minutes, and -"
"Get those side doors open! Quick! And no noise!"' ordered Rhoda Gray tersely. And then to the Adventurer: "Try - try and walk! I'll help you."
The Adventurer made a desperate attempt at a few steps. It was miserably slow. At that rate Danglar would be upon them before they could even cross the shed itself.
"I can crawl faster," laughed the Adventurer with bitter whimsicality. "Give me your revolver, Miss Gray, and you two go - and God bless you!"
The Sparrow was opening the side door, but she realized now that even if they could carry the Adventurer they could not get away in time. Her mind itself seemed stunned for an instant - and then, in a lightning flash, inspiration came. She remembered that iron casting, and the wharf, and the other side of the shed in shadow. It was desperate, perhaps almost hopeless, but it was the only way that gave the Adventurer a chance for his life.
She spoke rapidly. The little margin of time they had must be narrowing perilously.
"Marty, help this gentleman! Crawl to the street, if you have to. The only thing is that you are not to make the slightest noise, and -"
"What are you going to do?" demanded the Adventurer hoarsely.
"I'm going to take the only chance there is for all of us," she answered.
She started toward the front door of the shed; but he reached out and held her back.
"You are going to take the only chance there is for me!" he cried brokenly. "You're going out there - where they are. Oh, my God! I know! You love me! I - I was only half conscious, but I am sure you kissed me a little while ago. And but for this you would never have known that I knew it, because, please God, whatever else I am, I am not coward enough to take that advantage of you. But I love you, too! Rhoda! I have the right to speak, the right our love gives me. You are not to go - that way. Run - run through the side door there - they will not see you.
She was trembling. Repudiate her love? Tell him there could be nothing between them because he was a thief? She might never live to see him again. Her soul was in riot, the blood flaming hot in her cheeks. He was clinging to her arm. She tore herself forcibly away. The seconds were counting now. She tried to bid him good-by, but the words choked in her throat. She found herself running for the front door.
"Sparrow - quick! Do as I told you!" she half sobbed over her shoulder - and opening the door, stepped out and dosed it behind her.