How far away last night, with Forrester’s murder and the sordid denouement in Reddy Mull’s room, seemed! How far away even half an hour ago this very night seemed! Just half an hour ago! Then, with no thought but one of dogged perseverance to keep up his quest, with neither hint nor sign that his quest was any nearer the end than it had ever been, he had entered Bristol Bob’s, here, in the role of Smarlinghue; and now, as a rift that had opened in the clouds, there had come sudden and amazing joy. It held him now in thrall. It threatened even to make him forget that he was for the moment Smarlinghue—forget what, as Smarlinghue, Smarlinghue dare not forget—the role he played.

He leaned forward suddenly and caught up his whisky glass—whose contents had previously and surreptitiously been spilled into the cuspidor on the floor beside his chair. He lifted the glass to his mouth, his head thrown back as though to drain a final, lingering drop, then he thumped the glass down on the table, licked his lips—thin and distorted by “Smarlinghue’s” makeup—and wiped them with the sleeve of his threadbare coat.

A man at the next table, well known as the Pippin, young, flashily dressed, his almost effeminate features giving an added touch of viciousness, through incongruity, to his general appearance, twisted his head around and grinned with malicious derision.

Jimmie Dale’s fingers searched hungrily now through first one and then another of his ragged pockets, and finally extricated a dime and a nickel. With these he tapped insistently on the table, until an attendant answered the summons and supplied him with another drink.

He sat back then for a time; now eyeing the liquor, as though greedy for its taste, yet greedy, too, to prolong the anticipation, since from his actions there was apparently no means of further replenishing the supply; now glancing around the smoke-laden room where, on the polished section of the floor in the centre, a score of laughing, shrieking couples whirled and pranced in the unrestrained throes of the underworld’s latest dance; now permitting his eyes to rest with a sudden scowl on the man at the next table. He had no concern with the Pippin—nor had the Pippin any concern with him. The man, as he imbibed a number of drinks, simply seemed to find a certain: malevolent amusement in a contemptuous appraisal of his, Jimmie Dale’s, person; but the other, in spite of the new, glad exhilaration Jimmie Dale was experiencing, annoyed Jimmie Dale—the blatant expanse of pink shirt cuff, for instance, in order to display the Pippin’s diamond-snake links, famous from One end of the underworld to the other, was eminently typical of the man. The cuff links were undoubtedly an object of envy to the society in which the Pippin moved; they were even beautiful cuff links, it was true, oriental in design, never to be mistaken by any one who had ever seen them, and the stones with which they were set were credited generally in the underworld as being genuine, but—Jimmie Dale was hesitantly lifting his glass again in a queer, miserly sort of way. The Pippin had jerked a cigarette box from his pocket, stuck what was evidently the single cigarette it had contained between his lips; and now, tossing away the box, he pushed back his chair and stood up—but on the floor beneath the table, where it had fluttered unobserved when the cigarette box had been jerked from the pocket, lay a small folded piece of paper.

“If you hang around long enough, Smarly,” gibed the Pippin, as he passed by on his way toward the door, “maybe some of the rubber-necks off the gape-wagon will take pity on you and buy you another—the slumming parties are just crazy about broken-down artists!”

“You go chase yourself!” said Smarlinghue politely, through one corner of his twisted mouth.

Jimmie Dale’s eyes followed the other. The Pippin, threading his way amongst the tables, gained the door, and passed out into the street. And then Jimmie Dale’s eyes reverted to the piece of paper under the adjacent table. It was not at all likely that it was of the slightest importance or significance, and yet—Jimmie Dale stretched out his foot, drew the paper toward him, and, stooping over, picked it up. He unfolded it, and found it to contain several typewritten lines. He frowned in a puzzled way as he read them; then read them over again, and his frown deepened.

Melinoff has the goods. Go the limit if he squeals. Not later than ten-thirty to-night.

Jimmie Dale’s eyes lifted and strayed around the noisy, riotous dance hall. Just what exactly did the message mean? The Pippin was a bad actor—literally, as well as metaphorically. The Pippin, if asked, would probably still have styled himself an actor; but, though still young, his career on the stage had ended several years ago rather abruptly—with a year’s imprisonment! Jimmie Dale did not recall the details of the particular offence of which the Pippin had been found guilty, save that it had been for theft. It did not, however, matter very much. The Pippin of to-day as he was known to the underworld, to which strata of society he had immediately gravitated on his release from prison, was all that was of immediate interest. He had associated himself with a gang run by one Steve Barlow, commonly known as the Mole, and under this august patronage and protection had already more than one “job” of the first magnitude to his credit. The Pippin, in a word, was both an ugly and an unpleasant customer.

Jimmie Dale’s eyes continued to circuit the seedy dance hall. What was it that the Pippin was to procure from Melinoff, and for which, if necessary, the Pippin was to go “the limit”? Melinoff himself was not without reproach, either! What was the game? Melinoff was an old-clothes and junk dealer, and, as a side line, at times a very profitable side line, had been known to act as a “fence” for stolen goods. He had skirted for years on the ragged edge with the police, and then, caught red-handed at last, had changed his occupation for a more useful one during a somewhat prolonged sojourn in Sing Sing. Affairs after that had not prospered with Melinoff. His wife, honest if her husband was not, and already an old woman, had been hard put to it with the shabby shop and the meagre business she was able to transact; so hard put to it, indeed, that the wonder had been that she had managed to keep the roof over her head. She had died a few months after her husband’s release. Melinoff, if he had had no other virtue, had at least loved his wife, and the Melinoff of old, then a sprightly enough man for his years, was no more, and it was a decrepit, stoop-shouldered, dirty and grey-bearded figure that shuffled now around the old-clothes shop, apathetic of “bargains,” where before it had been a man whose keenness was matched only by the sort of eager craft and low cunning with which he had conducted his business.

A smile, half grim, half whimsical, flickered across Jimmie Dale’s lips. There were strange lives, strange undercurrents, always, ceaselessly, at work here in the underworld, here where the grist from the human mill found its place. Melinoff, the Pippin, each of those whirling figures out there on the floor, each of those men and women whose laughter rose raucously from the tables, or whose whisperings, as heads were lowered and held close together, seemed an unsavoury, vicious thing, had known a strange and tortuous path; yet strangest, most tortuous of them all, was—his own!

His fingers, as he thrust the Pippin’s note into the side pocket of his coat, touched the torn fragments of another note, tiny little particles of paper, torn over and over again into fine and minute shreds—the Tocsin’s note—the note that seemed suddenly to have changed all his life. It had come as her communications had always come—without bridging the way that lay between them, without furnishing him with a clue through the method employed for their transmission that would avail him anything, or supply him with any means of reaching her. It had been thrust into his hand by a street urchin, as he had entered the door of Bristol Bob’s that half an hour before. He had not even questioned the urchin—it would have been useless, futile, barren of results. A hundred previous experiences had at least taught him that! He could surmise about it, though, if he would; and, in view of the contents of the note itself, surmise, in all probability, with fair accuracy. The Tocsin had satisfied herself that he was neither at home nor at the club, and had, therefore, chosen an inconspicuous messenger to search for “Smarlinghue” through the underworld. And there would have been no risk. For the first time in all the years that her letters had been the motive force, the underlying basis of the Gray Seal’s acts, it would not, as far as dangerous consequences were concerned, have mattered if the note had gone astray, or had even been read by others. He need not even have torn it up, as he had done through force of habit, for there was no “plan” to-night, no coup to carry through. The note, for the first time, was not a “call to arms;” it was what he had been longing for, always hoping for, yet never permitting himself to build too strongly upon lest he should lay up for himself a store of disappointment too bitter for endurance—it was a note of hope. There were just a few lines, a few sentences; and it had contained neither form of address nor signature. To any one save himself it meant nothing, it had no significance. Snatches of it ran through his mind again:

“... It is the beginning of the end.... The way is clearing ... I am very happy to-night, and I wanted to tell you so....”

The end at last! The end of the years of peril; the end of that fear gnawing always at his heart that she might never live to come out into the sunlight again; the end of this dual life he led; the return to a normal existence where surroundings like the present, where the dens and dives of the underworld, the secret rookeries nursing their hell-hatched crimes, the taint and smell of evil, and the reek of soul-filth would be hereafter no more than a memory! To be through with it all, through with it all, and to know her love instead—because she was safe!

He stared about him, and stared with queer incredulity at his own miserable clothing. Was it true, was it reality—this figure that the underworld knew as Smarlinghue, who sat here, and with dirty fingers played with a whisky glass on the cheap, liquor-spotted table, and out of half-closed, well-simulated drug-laden eyes gazed on those dancing figures out there on the floor to whom the law from cradlehood had been a natural enemy, and to the door of hardly one of whom but lay crimes that ranged from the paltry to the hideous!

Reality! Yes, it was real! God knew the abysmal depths of its reality. Months piled on months there had been of it! Those voices out there that rose in a jangle of ribald mirth were the same voices that, hushed in deadlier menace, had whispered that grim slogan, “Death to the Gray Seal!” through every hidden cranny in the underworld; these men and women here around him were of the same breed as those who only last night had struck down and brutally murdered Forrester, and not content with murder had plotted to rob their victim of his good name as well!

Jimmie Dale’s hand clenched suddenly—his mind was off at a tangent, away for the moment from her. Well, they had failed last night in all save murder! Failed—and one of them had already paid the price, and another, in the Tombs awaiting trial, faced the certainty of the death chair in Sing Sing! But those two, Reddy Mull, and English Dick, had been little more than tools. Whose was the hidden master brain behind them, controlling this evil power that struck in the dark; that lately, though unseen, was permeating the underworld with its presence; that intuitively he had felt was reaching out, feeling its way, to grapple with and, if it could, to strangle him the Gray Seal! He had felt the menace, known that it existed, and the slogan ringing always in his ears, the Whispered “Death to the Gray Seal” had taken on a deeper significance, had brought him a more acute and imminent sense of peril than ever before; but it was only last night, for the first time, that he had equally felt that he had had any concrete knowledge of, or contact with this new antagonist. And last night, if there had been a challenge he had accepted it, and if there had been no challenge he had at least thrown down the gauntlet himself! If this was actually the criminal organisation that was arrayed against him, the master brain at the head of it would now have a greater incentive than ever to trap and exterminate the Gray Seal, for English Dick lay dead, and Reddy Mull was behind the bars, and twenty thousand dollars in cash that they had schemed for was in the hands of the police—thanks to the Gray Seal! Added incentive! They would move heaven and earth to reach him now! All the trickery, all the hell-born ingenuity that they possessed would be launched against him now, and—Jimmie Dale’s face, that had been set and hard, relaxed suddenly. Well, granted all that! What did it matter now? They would but hunt a myth! Between them and himself now there stood the Tocsin’s note. “The way is clearing.... I am very happy to-night.” She would not have written that unless she were very sure. To-morrow, perhaps, and Smarlinghue, and the Gray Seal, and Larry the Bat would have passed forever out of existence, and there would be only Jimmie Dale, and she, and love—and a phantom left behind in the underworld against whom the underworld and this evil genius of crime might pit their wits to their hearts’ content!

There was an uplift upon him, a sense of freedom so great that it seemed actually physical as well as mental. Peril, danger, the strain of the dual life until the nerves were worn raw, the constant anxiety for her safety—all were gone now. “It is the beginning of the end ... the way is clearing”—she had written that tonight. And it meant that, refusing, as she had said, to let him come into the shadows again, she had won through—alone. It brought a little, curious pang of disappointment to him that he should share now only in the reward; but the pang was swallowed up in that it brought him a deeper knowledge of her unselfish love, her splendid courage, and—he could find no other word—her wonderfulness.

Jimmie Dale’s fingers stole into the side pocket of his coat to play again in a curiously caressing way with the little torn fragments of her note—and touched again the piece of paper that the Pippin had dropped. He took it out mechanically, and read it over once more. One sentence seemed suddenly to have become particularly ominous—“if he squeals go the limit.” He knew nothing as to the authorship of those words, but from what he knew of the Pippin there was a certain ugliness to the word “limit” that he did not like. The “limit” with the Pippin might mean—anything.

He thrust the paper back into his pocket, and sat for a moment staring musingly at his whisky glass. Well, why not? Before half past ten, the message said; and it was scarcely ten o’clock yet. In view of the Tocsin’s note, he had intended returning to the Sanctuary, resuming his own proper character, and, either at the St. James Club, or at his home, wait for further word from her. There was, indeed, nothing else that he could do—and Melinoff’s, for that matter, was on the way from Bristol Bob’s to the Sanctuary. Yes, why not? If the Pippin was up to any dirty work, or even if the two of them, Melinoff and the Pippin, were in it together, and the word “squeal” implied that Melinoff was to be held strictly up to his full share of some mutual villainy should he show any inclination to waver, it might not be an altogether unfitting exit from the stage if the Gray Seal should make his final bow to the underworld by playing a role in the Pippin’s little drama, whatever that drama might prove to be!

Yes, why not! He passed Melinoff’s place in any event, and there was no reason why he should remain any longer here in Bristol Bob’s. The second glass of whisky followed the first—into the cuspidor. Again the threadbare sleeve was drawn across the thin, distorted lips, and, pushing back his chair, Jimmie Dale rose from the table and made his way out into the street.

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