The White Moll by Frank L. Packard
VII. Fellow Thieves
Reaching the courtyard, Rhoda Gray led the way without a word through the driveway, and finding the street clear, hurried on rapidly. Her mind, strangely stimulated, was working in quick, incisive flashes. Her work was not yet done. The Sparrow was safe, as far as his life was concerned; but her possession of even the necklace would not save the Sparrow from the law. There was the money that was gone from the safe. She could not recover that, but - yes, dimly, she began to see a way. She swerved suddenly from the sidewalk as she came to an alleyway - which had been her objective - and drew the Sparrow in with her out of sight of the street.
The Sparrow gripped at her hand.
"The White Moll!" he whispered brokenly. "God bless the White Moll! I ain't had a chance to say it before. You saved my life, and I - I -"
In the semi-darkness she leaned forward and laid her fingers gently over the Sparrow's lips.
"And there's no time to say it now, Marty," she said quickly. "You are not out of this yet."
He swept his hand across his eyes.
"I know it," he said. "I got to get those shiners back up there somehow, and I got to get that paper they planted on me."
She shook her head.
"Even that wouldn't clear you," she said. "The safe has been looted of money, as well; and you can't replace that. Even with only the money gone, who would they first naturally suspect? You are known as a safe-breaker; you have served a term for it. You asked for a night off to stay with your mother who is sick. You left Mr. Hayden-Bond's, we'll say, at seven or eight o'clock. It's after midnight now. How long would it take them to find out that between eight and midnight you had not only never been near your mother, but could not prove an alibi of any sort? If you told the truth it would sound absurd. No one in their sober senses would believe you."
The Sparrow looked at her miserably.
"My God!" he faltered. He wet his lips. "That's true."
"Marty," she said quietly, "did you read in the papers that I had been arrested last night for theft, caught with the goods on me, but had escaped?"
The Sparrow hesitated.
"Yes, I did," he said. And then, earnestly: "But I don't believe it!"
"It was true, though, Marty - all except that I wasn't a thief," she said as quietly as before. "What I want to know is, in spite of that, would you trust me with what is left to be done to-night, if I tell you that I believe I can get you out of this?"
"Sure, I would!" he said simply. "I don't know how you got wise about all this, or how you got to know about that necklace, but any of our crowd would trust you to the limit. Sure, I'd trust you! You bet your life!"
"Thank you, Marty," she said. "Well, then, how do you get into Mr. Hayden-Bond's house when, for instance, you are out late at night?"
"I've got a key to the garage," he answered. "The garage is attached to the house, though it opens on the side street."
She held Out her hand.
The Sparrow fished in his pocket, and extended the key without hesitation.
"It's for the small door, of course," he explained.
"You haven't got a flashlight, I suppose?" she smiled.
"Sure! There's plenty of 'em! Each car's got one with its tools under the back seat."
"And now, the library," she said. "What part of the house is it in? How is it situated?"
"It's on the ground floor at the back," he told her. "The little short passage from the garage opens on the kitchen, then the pantry, and then there's a little cross hallway, and the dining-room is on the left, and the library on the right. But ain't I going with you?"
She shook her head again.
"You're going home, Marty - after you've sent me a taxicab. If you were seen in that neighborhood now, let alone by any chance seen in the house, nothing could save you. You understand that, don't you? Now, listen! Find a taxi, and send it here. Tell the chauffeur to pick me up, and drive me to the corner of the cross street, one block in the rear of Mr. Hayden-Bond's residence. Don't mention Hayden-Bond's name. Give the chauffeur simply street directions. Be careful that he is some one who doesn't know you. Tell him he will be well paid - and give him this to begin with." She thrust a banknote into the Sparrow's hand. "You're sure to find one at some all-night cabaret around here. And remember, when you go home afterward, not a word to your mother! And not a word to-morrow, or ever-to any one! You've simply done as you told your employer you were going to do - spent the night at home."
"But you," he burst out, and his words choked a little. "I - I can't let you go, and -"
"You said you would trust me, Marty," she said. "And if you want to help me, as well, don't waste another moment. I shall need every second I have got. Quick! Hurry!"
She pushed him toward the street.
"Run!" she said tensely. "Hurry, Marty, hurry!"
She drew back into the shadows. She was alone now. The Sparrow's racing footsteps died away on the pavement. Her mind reverted to the plan that she had dimly conceived. It became detailed, concrete now, as the minutes passed. And then she heard a car coming along the previously deserted street, and she stepped out on the sidewalk. It was the taxi.
"You know where to go, don't you?" she said to the chauffeur, as the cab drew up at the curb, and the man leaned out and opened the door.
"Yes'm," he said.
"Please drive fast, then," she said, as she stepped in.
The taxi shot out from the curb, and rattled forward at a rapid pace. Rhoda Gray settled back on the cushions. A half whimsical, half weary little smile touched her lips. It was much easier, and infinitely safer, this mode of travel, than that of her earlier experience that evening; but, earlier that evening, she had had no one to go to a cab rank for her, and she had not dared to appear in the open and hail one for herself. The smile vanished, and the lips became, pursed and grim. Her mind was back on that daring, and perhaps a little dangerous, plan, that she meant to put into execution. Block after block was traversed. It was a long way uptown, but the chauffeur's initial and generous tip was bearing fruit. The man was losing no time.
Rhoda Gray calculated that they had been a little under half an hour in making the trip, when the taxi finally drew up and stopped at a corner, and the chauffeur, again leaning out, opened the door.
"Wait for me," she instructed, and handed the man another tip - and, with a glance about her to get her location, she hurried around the corner, and headed up the cross street.
She had only a block now to go to reach the Hayden-Bond mansion on the corner of Fifth Avenue ahead - less than that to reach the garage, which opened on the cross street here. She had little fear of personal identification now. Here in this residential section and at this hour of night, it was like a silent and deserted city; even Fifth Avenue, just ahead, for all its lights, was one of the loneliest places at this hour in all New York. True, now and then, a car might race up or down the great thoroughfare, or a belated pedestrian's footsteps ring and echo hollow on the pavement, where but a few hours before the traffic-squad struggled valiantly, and sometimes vainly, with the congestion - but that was all.
She could make out the Hayden-Bond mansion on the corner ahead of her now, and now she was abreast of the rather ornate and attached little building, that was obviously the garage. She drew the key from her pocket, and glanced around her. There was no one in sight. She stepped swiftly to the small door that flanked the big double ones where the cars went in and out, opened it, closed it behind her, and locked it.
For a moment, her eyes unaccustomed to the darkness, she could see nothing; and then a car, taking the form of a grotesque, looming shadow, showed in front of her. She moved toward it, felt her way into the tonneau, lifted up the back seat, and, groping around, found a flashlight. She meant to hurry now. She did not mean to let that nervous dread, that fear, that was quickening her pulse now, have time to get the better of her. She located the door that led to the house, and in another moment, the short passage behind her, she was in the kitchen, the flashlight winking cautiously around her. She paused to listen here. There was not a sound.
She went on again - through a swinging pantry door with extreme care, and into a small hall. "On the right," the Sparrow had said. Yes, here it was; a door that opened on the rear of the library, evidently. She listened again. There was no sound - save the silence, that seemed to grow loud now, and palpitate, and make great noises. And now, in spite of herself, her breath was coming in quick, hard little catches, and the flashlight's ray, that she sent around her, wavered and was not steady. She bit her lips, as she switched off the light. Why should she be afraid of this, when in another five minutes she meant to invite attention!
She pushed the door in front of her open, found it hung with a heavy portiere inside, brushed the portiere aside, stepped through into the room, stood still and motionless to listen once more, and then the flashlight circled inquisitively about her.
It was the library. Her eyes widened a little. At her left, over against the wall, the mangled door of a safe stood wide open, and the floor for a radius of yards around was littered with papers and documents. The flashlight's ray lifted, and she followed it with her eyes as it made the circuit of the walls. Opposite the safe, and quite near the doorway in which she stood, was a window recess, portiered; diagonally across from her was another door that led, presumably, into the main hall of the house; the walls were tapestried, and hung here and there with clusters of ancient trophies, great metal shields, and swords, and curious arms, that gave a sort of barbaric splendor to the luxurious furnishings of the apartment.
She worked quickly now. In a moment she was at the window portieres, and, drawing these aside, she quietly raised the window, and looked out. The window was on the side of the house away from the cross street, and she nodded her head reassuringly to herself as she noted that it gave on a narrow strip of grass, it could not be called lawn, that separated the Hayden-Bond mansion from the house next door; that the window was little more than shoulder-high from the ground; and that the Avenue was within easy and inviting reach along that little strip of grass between the two houses.
She left the window open, and retraced her steps across the room, going now to the littered mass of papers on the floor near the safe. She began to search carefully amongst them. She smiled a little curiously as she came across the plush-lined jeweler's case that had contained the necklace, and which had evidently been contemptuously discarded by the Cricket and his confederates; but it took her longer to find the paper for which she was searching. And then she came upon it - a grease-smeared advertisement for some automobile appliances, a well-defined greasy finger-print at one edge - and thrust the paper into her pocket.
And now suddenly her heartbeat began to quicken again until its thumping became tumultuous. She was ready now. She looked around her, using the flashlight, and her eyes rested appraisingly on one of the great clusters of shields and arms that hung low down on the wall between the window and the door by which she had entered. Yes, that would do. Her lips tightened. It would have been so easy if there had not been that cash to account for! She could replace the necklace, but she could not replace the cash - and one, as far as the Sparrow was concerned, was as bad as the other. But there was a way, and it was simple enough. She whispered to herself that it was not, after all, very dangerous, that the cards were all in her own hands. She had only to pull down those shields with a clatter to the floor, which would arouse some one of the household, and as that some one reached the library door and opened it, she would be disappearing through the window, and the necklace, as though it had slipped from her pocket or grasp in her wild effort to escape, would be lying behind her on the floor. They would see that it was not the Sparrow; and there would be no question as to where the money was gone, since the money had not been dropped. There was the interval, of course, that must elapse between the accident that knocked the shields from the wall and the time it would take any of the inmates to reach the library, an interval in which a thief might reasonably be expected to have had time enough to get away without being seen; but the possibility that she had not fully accomplished her ends when the accident occurred, and that she had stayed to make frantic and desperate efforts to do so right up to the last moment, would account for that.
She moved now to an electric-light switch, and turned on the light. They must be able to see beyond any question of doubt that the person escaping through the window was not the Sparrow. What was she afraid of now, just at the last! There was an actual physical discomfort in the furious thumping of that cowardly little heart of hers. It was the only way. And it was worth it. And it was not so very dangerous. People, aroused out of bed, could not follow her in their night clothes; and in a matter of but a few minutes, before the police notified by telephone could become a factor in the affair, she would have run the block down the Avenue, and then the other block down the cross street, then back to the taxi, and be whirling safely downtown.
Yes, she was ready! She nodded her head sharply, as though in imperative self-command, and running back, her footfalls soundless on the rich, heavy rug, she picked up the plush-lined necklace case. She dropped this again, open, on the floor, halfway between the safe and the window. With the case apparently burst open as it fell, and the necklace also on the floor, the stage would be set! She felt inside her bodice, drew out the necklace - and as she stood there holding it, and as it caught the light and flashed back its fire and life from a thousand facets, a numbness seemed to come stealing over her, and a horror, and a great fear, and a dismay that robbed her of power of movement until it seemed that she was rooted to the spot, and a low, gasping cry came from her lips. Her eyes, wide with their alarm, were fixed on the window. There was a man's face there, just above the sill - and now a man's form swung through the window, and dropped lightly to the floor inside the room. And she stared in horrified fascination, and could not move. It was the Adventurer.
"It's Miss Gray, isn't it? The White Moll?" he murmured amiably. "I've been trying to find you all night. What corking luck! You remember me, don't you? Last night, you know."
She did not answer. His eyes had shifted from her face to the glittering river of gems in her hand.
"I see," he smiled, "that you are ahead of me again. Well, it is the fortune of war, Miss Gray. I do not complain."
She found her voice at last; and, quick as a flash, as he advanced a step, she dropped the necklace into her pocket, and her revolver was in her hand.
"W - what are you doing here?" she whispered.
He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"I take it that we are both in the same boat," he said pleasantly.
"In the same boat?" she echoed dully. She remembered his conversation with her a few hours ago, when he had believed he was talking to Gypsy Nan. And now he stood before her for the second time a self-confessed thief. In the same boat-fellow-thieves! A certain cold composure came to her. "You mean you came to steal this necklace? Well, you shall not have it! And, furthermore, you have no right to class me with yourself as a thief."
He had a whimsical and very engaging smile. His eyebrows lifted.
"Miss Gray perhaps forgets last night," he suggested.
"No, I do not forget last night," she said slowly, "And I do not forget that I owe you very much for what you did. And that is one reason why I warn you at once that, as far as the necklace is concerned, it will do you no good to build any hopes on the supposition that we are fellow-thieves, and that I am likely either to part with it, or, through gratitude, share it. In spite of appearances last night, I was not a thief."
"And to-night, Miss Gray - in spite of appearances?" he challenged.
He was regarding her with eyes that, while they appraised shrewdly, held a lurking hint of irony in their depths. And somehow, suddenly, self-proclaimed crook though she held him to be, she found herself seized with an absurd, unreasonable, but nevertheless passionate, desire to make good her words.
"Yes, and to-night, too!" she asserted. "I did not steal this necklace. I - never mind how - I - I got it. It was planned to put the theft on an innocent man's shoulders. I was trying to thwart that plan. Whether you believe me or not, I did not come here to steal the necklace; I came here to return it."
"Quite so! Of course!" acknowledged the Adventurer softly. "I am afraid I interrupted you, then, in the act of returning it. Might I suggest, therefore, Miss Gray, that as it's a bit dangerous to linger around here unnecessarily, you carry out your intentions with all possible haste, and get away."
"And you?" she queried evenly.
"Myself, of course, as well." He shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "Under the circumstances, as a gentleman - will you let me say I prefer that word to the one I know you are substituting for it - what else can I do?"
She bit her lips. Was he mocking her? The gray eyes were inscrutable now.
"Then please do not let me detain you!" she said sharply. "And in my turn, let me advise you to go at once. I intend to knock one of those shields down from the wall before I go, in order to arouse the household. I will, however, in part payment for last night, allow you three full minutes from the time you climb out of that window, so that you may have ample time to get away.
He stared at her in frank bewilderment.
"Good Lord!" he gasped. "You - you're joking, Miss Gray."
"No, I am not," she replied coolly. "Far from it! There was money stolen that I cannot replace, and the theft of the money would be put upon the same innocent shoulders. I see no other way than the one I have mentioned. If whoever runs into this room is permitted to get a glimpse of me, and is given the impression that the necklace, which I shall leave on the floor, was dropped in my haste, the supposition remains that, at least, I got away with the money. I am certainly not the innocent man who has been used as the pawn; and if I am recognized as the White Moll, what does it matter - after last night?"
He took a step toward her impetuously - and stopped quite as impetuously. Her revolver had swung to a level with his head.
"Pardon me!" he said.
"Not at all!" she said caustically.
For the first time, as she watched him warily, the Adventurer appeared to lose some of his self-assurance. He shifted a little uneasily on his feet, and the corners of his eyes puckered into a nest of perturbed wrinkles.
"I say, Miss Gray, you can't mean this!" be protested. "You're not serious!"
"I have told you that I am," she answered steadily. "Those three minutes that I gave you are going fast."
"Then look here!" he exclaimed earnestly. "I'll tell you something. I said I had been trying to find you to-night. It was the truth. I went to Gypsy Nan's - and might have been spared my pains. I told her about last night, and that I knew you were in danger, and that I wanted to help you. I mention this so that you will understand that I am not just speaking on the spur of the moment, now that I have an opportunity of repeating that offer in person."
She looked at him impassively for a moment. He had neglected to state that he had also told Gypsy Nan he desired to enter into a partnership with her - in crime.
"It is very kind of you," she said sweetly. "I presume, then, that you have some suggestion to make?"
"Only what any - may I say it? - gentleman would suggest under the circumstances. It is far too dangerous a thing for a woman to attempt; it would be much less dangerous for me. I realize that you are in earnest now, and I will agree to carry out your plan in every detail once I am satisfied that you are safely away."
"The idea being," she observed monotonously, "that, being safely away, and the necklace being left safely on the floor, you are left safely in possession of - the necklace. Well, my answer is - no!"
His face hardened a little.
"I'm sorry, then," he said. "For in that case, in so far as your project is concerned, I, too, must say - no!"
It was an impasse. She studied his face, the strong jaw set a little now, the lips molded in sterner lines, and for all her outward show of composure, she knew a sick dismay. And for a moment she neither moved nor spoke. What he would do next, she did not know; but she knew quite well that he had not the slightest intention of leaving her here undisturbed to carry out her plan, unless - unless, somehow, she could outwit him. She bit her lips again. And then inspiration came. She turned, and with a sudden leap gained the wall, and the next instant, holding him back with her revolver as she reached up with her left hand, she caught at the great metal shield with its encircling cluster of small arms, and wrenched it from its fastenings. It crashed to the floor with a din infernal that, in the night silence, went racketing through the house like the reverberations of an explosion.
"My God, what have you done!" he cried out hoarsely.
"What I said I'd do!" she answered. She was white-faced, frightened at her own act, fighting to maintain her nerve. "You'll go now, I imagine!" she flung at him passionately. "You haven't much time."
"No!" he said. His composure was instantly at command again. "No," he repeated steadily; "not until after you have gone. I refuse - positively - to let you run any such risk as that. It is far too dangerous."
"Yes, you will!" she burst out wildly. "You will! You must! You shall! I - I -" The house itself seemed suddenly to have awakened. From above doors opened and closed. Indistinctly there came the sound of a voice. She clenched her hand in anguished desperation. "Go, you - you coward!" she whispered frantically.
"Miss Gray, for God's sake, do as I tell you!" he said between his teeth. "You don't realize the danger. It's not the pursuit. They are not coming down here unarmed after that racket. I know that you came in by that door there. Go out that way. I will play the game for you. I swear it!"
There were footsteps, plainly audible now, out in the main hall.
"Quick!" he urged. "Are we both to be caught? See!" He backed suddenly toward the window.
"See! I am too far away now to touch that necklace before they get here. Throw it down, and get behind the portiere of the rear door!"
Mechanically she was retreating. They were almost at the other door now, those footsteps outside in the main hall. With a backward spring she reached the portiere. The door handle across the room rattled. She glanced at the Adventurer. He was close to the window. It was true, he could not get the necklace and at the same time hope to escape. She whipped it from her pocket, tossed it from her to the floor near the plush-lined case - and slipped behind the portiere.
The door opposite to her was wrenched violently open. She could see through the corner of the portiere. There was a sharp, excited exclamation, as a gray-haired man, in pajamas, evidently Mr. Hayden-Bond himself, sprang into the room. He was followed by another man in equal dishabille.
And the Adventurer was leaping for the window.
There was a blinding flash, the roar of a report, as the millionaire flung up a revolver and fired; it was echoed by the splatter and tinkle of falling glass. The Adventurer was astride the window sill now, his face deliberately and unmistakably in view.
"A foot too high, and a bit to the right!" said the Adventurer debonairly - and the window sill was empty.
Rhoda Gray stole silently through the doorway behind her. She could hear the millionaire and his companion, the butler, probably, rush across the library to the window. As she gained the pantry, she heard another shot. Tight-lipped, using her flashlight, she ran through the kitchen. In a moment more, she was standing at the garage door, listening, peering furtively outside. The street itself was empty; there were shouts, though, from the direction of the Avenue. She stepped out on the side street, and walking composedly that she might not attract attention, though very impulse urged her to run with frantic haste, she reached the corner and the waiting taxicab. She gave the chauffeur an address that would bring her to the street in the rear of Gypsy Nan's and within reach of the lane where she had left her clothes, and, with an injunction to hurry, sprang into the cab.
And then for a long time she sat there with her hands tightly clasped in her lap. Her mind, her brain, her very soul itself seemed in chaos and turmoil. There was the Sparrow, who was safe; and Danglar, who would move heaven and hell to get her now; and the Adventurer, who - Her mind seemed to grope around in cycles; it seemed to moil on and on and arrive at nothing. The Adventurer had played the game - perhaps because he had had to; but he had not risked that revolver shot in her stead because he had had to. Who was he? How had he come there? How had he found her there? How had he known that she had entered by that rear door behind the portiere? She remembered how that he had offered not a single explanation.
Almost mechanically she dismissed the taxi when at last it stopped; and almost mechanically, as Gypsy Nan, some ten minutes later, she let herself into the garret, and lighted the candle. She was conscious, as she hid the White Moll's clothes away, that she was thankful she had regained in safety even the questionable sanctuary of this wretched place; but, strangely, thoughts of her own peril seemed somehow to be temporarily relegated to the background.
She flung herself down on the bed - it was not Gypsy Nan's habit to undress - and blew out the light. But she could not sleep. And hour after hour in the darkness she tossed unrestfully. It was very strange! It was not as it had been last night. It was not the impotent, frantic rebellion against the horrors of her own situation, nor the fear and terror of it, that obsessed her to-night. It was the Adventurer who plagued her.