Two weeks had gone by—or was it three? How long was it since he had found the Tocsin’s letter in the secret hiding place of the new Sanctuary! It had seemed to him then that he had been given a new lead, a new hope; for, once he had recovered from his startled amazement at the realisation that she was as conversant with the secrets of the new Sanctuary as she had been with the old, there had come the thought of turning that very fact to his own account—that if he were unable to reach or find her by any other means, he might succeed, instead, by letting her unwittingly come to him. She had come there once to the Sanctuary when he had been absent; she was almost certain to come there again—when she thought he was absent! He had put his plan into execution. For days at a stretch he had remained hidden in the Sanctuary—and nothing had come of it—and then the inaction, coupled with the knowledge that the peril which faced her, even though his previous efforts to avert it had all been abortive, had made it unbearable to remain longer passive, and he had given it up, and gone out again, combing and searching through the dens and dives of the underworld.

That had been two weeks ago—or three. And the net result had been nothing!

Jimmie Dale allowed the evening newspaper to slip from his fingers. It dropped to the arm of his lounging chair, and from there to the floor. It was no use. He had been reading mechanically ever since he had returned from the club half an hour ago, and he was conscious in only the haziest sort of way of what he had been reading. The market, the general news items, the editorials, had all blended one into the other to form a meaningless jumble of words; even the leading article on the front page, that proclaimed as imminent the final and complete exposé of what had come to be known as “The Private Club Ring”—an investigation that, from its inception, he had hitherto followed closely, promising as it did to involve and link in partnership with the lowest of the underworld names that heretofore had stood high up in the social circles of New York—seemed uninteresting and unable to hold his attention to-night.

He rose impulsively from his chair, and, walking down the length of the richly furnished room, his tread soundless on the thick, heavy rug, drew the portières aside, and stood looking out of the rear window; It was dark outside, but presently the shadows formed into concrete shapes, and, across the black space of driveway and yard, the wall of the garage assumed a solid background against the night. He passed his hand over his forehead heavily, and a wanness came into his face and eyes. Once before he had stood here at this window of his den, the room that ran the entire depth of his magnificent Riverside Drive residence, and old Jason had stood at the front window—and they had watched, Jason and he—watched the shadows, that were not shadows of walls and buildings, close in around the house. That was the night before he had escaped from the trap set by the Crime Club; the night before the old Sanctuary had burned down, and police and underworld alike had believed the Gray Seal buried beneath the charred and fallen walls; the night before she, the Tocsin, had come for a little while into her own, and for a little while—into his arms.

His lips twisted in pain. A little while! Days of glad and glorious wonder! They were gone now; and in their place was emptiness and loneliness—and a great, overmastering fear and terror that would clutch at times, as it clutched now, cold at his heart.

It was not so very long ago that night, only a few months ago, but it seemed as though the years had come and rolled away since then. She was gone again, driven by a peril that menaced her life into hiding again—a peril that she would not let him share—because she loved him.

The pain that showed on his twisted lips was voiced in a low, involuntary cry. Because she loved him! His hands clenched hard. Where was she? Who was it that dogged and haunted her, that was wrecking and ruining her life? God knew! And God knew, employing every resource he possessed, he had done everything he could to reach her. And all that he had accomplished had been the creation of a new character in the underworld! That was all—and yet, strangely enough, in that way there had come to him the one single gleam of relief that he had known, for out of the creation of that character had sprung again the activities of the Gray Seal, and with the resumption of those activities, since, as in the old days, those “calls to arms” of hers had come again he knew that, at least, she was so far alive and safe.

Jimmie Dale swung from the window, and began to pace rapidly up and down the room. Safe—yes! But for how long? She had outwitted those against her up to now, but for how long would—

He had halted abruptly beside the table. Some one was knocking at the door.

“Come!” he called.

And old Jason entered—and it seemed to Jimmie Dale that he must laugh out like one suddenly over-wrought and in hysteria. In the old butler’s hand was a silver card tray, and on the tray was—but there was no need to look on the tray, old Jason’s face, curiously mingling excitement and disquiet, the imperturbability of the butler gone for the nonce, was alone quite eloquent enough. But Jimmie Dale, master of many things, was most of all master of himself.

“Well, Jason?” His voice was quiet and contained as he spoke. He reached out and took from the tray a white, unaddressed envelope. It was from her, of course—even Jason knew that it was another of those mysterious epistles, one of the many that had passed through the old butler’s hands, that had in the last few years so completely revolutionised, as it were, his, Jimmie Dale’s, mode of life. “Well, Jason?” He was toying with the envelope in his hand. “How did it come this time?”

“It was in another envelope, Master Jim, sir—addressed to me, sir,” explained the old butler nervously. “A messenger boy brought it, sir. I opened the outside envelope, Master Jim, and—and I knew at once, sir, that—that it was one of those letters.”

“I see.” Jimmie Dale smiled a little mirthlessly. What, after all, did the “how” of it matter? It was a foregone conclusion that, as it had been a hundred times before, it would avail him nothing so far as furnishing a clue to her whereabouts was concerned! “Very well, Jason.” His tones were a dismissal.

But Jason did not go; and there was something more in the act than that of a well-trained servant as the old man stooped, picked up the newspaper from the floor, and folded it neatly. He laid the paper hesitantly on the table, and began to fumble awkwardly with the silver tray.

“What is it, Jason?” prompted Jimmie Dale.

“Well, Master Jim, sir,” said Jason, and the old face grew suddenly strained, “there is something that, begging your pardon for the liberty, sir, I would like to say. I don’t know what all these strange letters are about, and it’s not for me, sir, it’s not my place, to ask. But once, Master Jim, you honoured me with your confidence to the extent of saying they meant life and death; and once, sir, the night this house was watched, I could see for myself that you were in some great danger. I—Master Jim, sir—I—I am an old man now, sir, but I dandled you on my knee when you were only a wee tot, sir, and—and you’ll forgive me, sir, if I presume beyond my station, only—only—” His voice broke suddenly; his eyes were full of tears.

Jimmie Dale’s hand went out, both of them, and were laid affectionately on the old man’s shoulders.

“I put my life in your hands that night, Jason,” he said simply. “Go on. What is it?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, Master Jim, sir.” Jason swallowed hard; his voice choked a little. “It isn’t much, sir, I—I don’t know that it’s anything at all; but nights, sir, when I’m sitting up for you, Master Jim, and you don’t come home, I—”

“But I’ve told you again and again that you are not to sit up for me, Jason,” Jimmie Dale remonstrated kindly.

“Yes, I know, sir.” Jason shook his head. “But I couldn’t sleep, sir, anyway—thinking about it, Master Jim, sir. I—well, sir—sometimes I get terribly anxious and afraid, Master Jim, that something will happen to you, and it seems as though you were all alone in this, and I thought, sir, that perhaps if—if some one—some one you could trust, Master Jim, could do something—anything, sir, it might make it all right. I—I’m an old man, Master Jim, it—it wouldn’t matter about me, and—”

Jimmie Dale turned abruptly to the table. His own eyes were wet. These were not idle words that Jason used, or words spoken without a full realisation of their meaning. Jason was offering, and calling it presumption to do so, his life in place of his, Jimmie Dale’s, if by so doing he could shield the master whom he loved.

“Thank you, Jason.” Jimmie Dale turned again from the table. “There is nothing you can do now, but if the time ever comes—” He looked for a long minute into Jason’s face; then his hands were laid again on the other’s shoulders, and he swung the old man gently around. “There’s the door, Jason—and God bless you!”

Jason went slowly from the room. The door closed. For the first time that he had ever held a letter of hers in his hand Jimmie Dale was for a moment heedless of it. If the time ever came! He smiled strangely. The love and affection that had come with the years of Jason’s service were not all on one side. Not for anything in the world would he put a hair of that gray head in jeopardy! It was not lack of faith or trust that held him back from taking Jason into his full confidence—it was the possibility, always present, that some day the house of cards might totter, the Gray Seal be discovered to be Jimmie Dale, and in the ruin, the disaster, the debacle that must follow, the less old Jason knew, for old Jason’s own sake, the better! It was the one thing that would save Jason. The charge of complicity would fall to the ground before the old man’s very ingenuousness!

And then Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, a sort of whimsical fatalistic philosophy upon him, and, as he tore the envelope open, he sat down in the lounging chair close to the table. Another “call to arms”! An appeal for some one else—never for herself! He shook his head. How often had he hoped that the summons, instead, would prove to be the one thing he asked and lived for—to take his place beside her, to aid her! Not one of these letters had he ever opened without the hope that, in spite of the intuition which told him his hope was futile, it would prove at last to be the call to him for herself! Perhaps this one—he was eagerly unfolding the pages he had taken from the envelope—perhaps this one—no!—a glance was enough—it was far remote from any personal relation to her.

“Dear Philanthropic Crook”—he leaned back in his chair, as his eyes travelled hurriedly over the opening paragraphs, a keen sense of disappointment upon him, despite the intuition that had bade him expect nothing else—and then suddenly, startled, tense, he sat upright, strained forward in his seat. He could not read fast enough. His eyes leaped over words and sentences.

“... They are playing their last card to-night ... David Archman ... it is murder, Jimmie ... letter signed J. Barca ... Sixth Avenue stationer ... Martin Moore ... Gentleman Laroque, the gangster ... Niccolo Sonnino ... end house to left of courtyard entrance ... safe in rear room ... lives alone ... tonight ...”

For a moment Jimmie Dale did not move as he finished reading the letter, save that his fingers began to tear the pages into strips, and the strips over and over again into tiny fragments—then, mechanically, he dropped the pieces into the pocket of his dinner jacket and mechanically reached for the newspaper that Jason had picked up and laid on the table. And now a dull red burned in his cheeks, and the square jaw was clamped and hard. Strange coincidence! Yes, it was strange—but perhaps it was more than mere coincidence! He had an interest, a very personal, vital interest in that article on the front page now, in this combine of those who were frankly of the dregs of the criminal world and those of a blacker breed who hid behind the veneer of respectability and station.

He read the article slowly. It was but the résumé of the case that had been under investigation for the past few weeks, the sensation it had created the greater since the publicity so far given to it had but hinted darkly at the scope of the exposure to come, while as yet no names had been mentioned. “The Private Club Ring,” as set forth in the paper, operated a chain of what purported to be small, select and very exclusive clubs, but which in reality were gambling traps of the most vicious description—and the field of their operations was very wide and exceedingly lucrative. Men known to have money, whether New Yorkers or from out of town, were “introduced” there by “members” whose standing and presumed respectability were beyond reproach—and they were bled white; while, to add variety to the crooked games, orgies, revels and carousals of the most depraved character likewise furnished the lever for blackmail—the “member” ostensibly being in as bad a hole, and in as desperate a predicament as the “guest” he had introduced!

The article told Jimmie Dale nothing new, nothing that he did not already know, save the statement that the evidence now in the possession of the authorities was practically complete, and that the arrest and disclosure of those involved might be expected at any moment.

He put down the paper, and stood up—and for the second time that night began to pace the room. If the article had told him nothing new, it at least explained that sentence in the Tocsin’s letter—they are playing their last card to-night. They must strike now, or never—the exposure could be but a matter of a few hours off!

A face crowned with its gray hair rose before him, a kindly face, grave and strong and fine, the face of a man of sterling honesty and unimpeachable integrity—the face of David Archman, the assistant district attorney, who had both instituted and was in charge of the investigation that now threatened New York with an upheaval that promised to shake many a social structure to its foundations. Yes, they would play their last card, a vile, despicable and hellish card—but how little they knew David Archman! They would break his life; it would, indeed, as the Tocsin had said, be murder—but they would never break David Archman’s unswerving loyalty to principle and duty! They had tried that—by threats of personal violence, by the offer of bribes in sums large enough to have tempted many!

His face hard, his forehead gathered in puzzled furrows, Jimmie Dale stepped to the door, and locked it; then, drawing aside the portière that hung before the little alcove at the lower end of the room, knelt down before the squat, barrel-shaped safe, and his fingers began to play over the knobs and dials.

Yes, it was a vitally personal matter now; there was an added incentive to-night spurring the Gray Seal on to act. David Archman had been his father’s closest friend; and he, Jimmie Dale, himself had always looked on David Archman, and with reason, as little less than a second father. His frown grew deeper—he did not understand. But Tocsin did not make mistakes. He had had evidence of that on too many occasions when he had thought otherwise to question it now—but David Archman’s son in this! It seemed incredible! The boy, he was little more than a boy, scarcely twenty, was and always had been, perhaps, a little wild, but a thief, an associate and accomplice of the city’s worst crooks and criminals was something of which he, Jimmie Dale, had never dreamed until this instant, and now, while it staggered him, it brought, too, a sense of merciless fury—a fury against those who would stab like inhuman cowards, pitilessly, at the father through the son. Their last card! The safe swung open. Their last card was—Clarie Archman, the son!

He reached into the safe, took out an automatic, and placed it in his pocket. There was no necessity to go to the Sanctuary—what he would need was here in duplicate, and it would be Jimmie Dale, not Smarlinghue, who played the rôle of the Gray Seal to-night. A dozen small steel picklocks in graded sizes followed the revolver, and after these a black silk mask and a pocket flashlight—the thin, metal insignia case containing the little diamond-shaped, gray-coloured paper seals, never absent from his person since the night he had lost and recovered it again, was already reposing in an inner pocket of his clothes.

His face was still hard, as he stood up and closed the safe. The way out, the way to save David Archman was plain, of course. It was even simple—if it was not too late! And the way out was another “crime” committed by the Gray Seal! Instead of Clarie Archman and J. Barca, alias Gentleman Laroque, robbing the safe of one Niccolo Sonnino, dealer in precious stones, it would be the Gray Seal—if it was not already too late to forestall the others!

If it was not too late! He looked at his watch. It was twenty minutes after eleven. Yes, there should be time; but, if not—what then? And what of that letter? His teeth clamped. Well, he would try it; and he would make every second count now! He was lifting the telephone receiver of the private house installation now, calling the garage. Benson, his chauffeur, answered him almost on the instant.

“The light touring car, Benson, please, and as quickly as possible,” said Jimmie Dale pleasantly.

“Yes, sir—at once,” Benson answered.

Jimmie Dale replaced the receiver on the hook, and, running now across the floor, unlocked the door, crossed the hall, and entered his dressing room. Here, he changed his dinner clothes for a dark tweed suit—the location of Niccolo Sonnino’s place of business was in a neighbourhood where one in evening dress, to say the least of it, would not go unobserved—transferred the metal case and the articles he had taken from the safe to the pockets of the tweed suit, and descended the stairs.

Standing in the hallway, Jason, that model of efficiency, with an appraising glance at his master’s changed attire, handed Jimmie Dale a soft hat—and opened the door.

“Benson is outside, Master Jim,” said Jason; but the look in the old man’s eyes was eloquent far beyond the respectful and studied quiet of his words. The old face was pale and grave with anxiety.

“It’s all right, Jason—all right this time,” Jimmie Dale smiled reassuringly.

“Thank you, sir,” said Jason, in a low voice. “I hope so, sir. And, begging your pardon, Master Jim, sir, I pray God it is.”

And for answer Jimmie Dale smiled again, and passed down the steps, and entered the car. But the smile was gone as he leaned back in his seat after giving Benson his directions—speed, and a corner a few blocks away from Chatham Square—he was not so sure that it was all right. It was entirely a question of time. Given the time and the opportunity—Niccolo Sonnino out of the road, for instance—given twenty minutes ahead of Clarie Archman and Gentleman Laroque, it would be simple enough. But otherwise—his lips thinned—otherwise, he did not know. Otherwise, there was promise of strange, grim work before daylight came, work that might lead him out of necessity to the role of Smarlinghue, and as Smarlinghue—anywhere! He did not know; he knew only one thing—that, at any cost, if it lay within any power of his to prevent it, David Archman should not live a broken man.

The car speeded its way rapidly along in a downtown direction, Benson keeping, wherever possible, to the unfrequented streets. Jimmie Dale, busy with his problem, his mind sifting and turning this way and that the curious, and in some cases apparently conflicting details of the Tocsin’s letter, paid little attention to his surroundings, save to note approvingly from time to time that a request to Benson to hurry was equivalent to something perilously near to a contempt of speed laws. It still seemed incredible that Clarie Archman was a thief, a safe-tapper, even if but an amateur one. The boy must have travelled a pace of late that was fast and furious. How had he ever become intimate enough with Gentleman Laroque to be associated with the other in such a crime as this? How had Laroque come to play a part in the miserable scheme of trickery that was the Private Club Ring’s last card.

Jimmie Dale shook his head helplessly at the first question—and shook it again at the second. He knew Laroque—he knew him for one of the most degraded, as well as one of the most dreaded, gang leaders in crimeland. Laroque, in unvarnished language, was a devil, and, worse still, a most callous devil. Laroque stood first and all the time for Laroque. If murder would either further or safeguard Laroque’s personal interests, Laroque was the sort of man who would stop only to consider, not whether the murder should be committed, but the method that might best be employed in order to implicate as little as possible one Laroque! Also, to those in the secrets of the underworld, Gentleman Laroque added to his accomplishments, or had done so before he rose to the eminence of gang leader, the profession of “box-worker”—not a very clever exponent of the art, crude perhaps in his methods, but at the same time efficacious, as a dozen breaks and looted safes in the years gone by bore ample witness.

Grimly whimsical came Jimmie Dale’s smile. Gentleman Laroque would have made a very much better “confidence” man than safe-worker. The man was suave, polished when he wanted to be, educated; he possessed all the requisites, and, in abundance, the prime requisite of all—a cunning that was the cunning of a fox. This might even have explained his acquaintanceship with Clarie Archman, except for the fact that it did not explain Clarie Archman’s co-operation in a premeditated robbery with any one!

Again Jimmie Dale shook his head—and there came another question, one for which no answer, even of a suggestive nature, had been supplied in the Tocsin’s letter. Why had Niccolo Sonnino’s safe been selected as the one especial and desirable nut to crack? He knew Niccolo Sonnino, too, in a general way, as all who resided near or had any dealings in the neighbourhood where Sonnino lived, knew the man. True, combined with a small trade in jewelry and precious stones, the former cheap and the latter of an inferior grade to fit the purses of his customers, the man was a money-lender—but in an equally small way. Loans of minor amounts, a very few dollars as a maximum, was probably the extent of Sonnino’s ventures along this line. Sonnino himself was a crafty little man, but craftiness, if it did not transgress the law, was not a crime; he was undoubtedly a usurer in his petty way, and he was both feared and disliked, but beyond that no one pretended to know anything about him. Ordinarily, Sonnino’s safe, then, might be expected to be rather a barren affair, hardly a lure for a Gentleman Laroque brand of crook! Why, then, Sonnino’s safe to-night? What was in that letter signed “J. Barca” that Clarie Archman had received? J. Barca was Gentleman Laroque; that would have been evident in any case, even if the Tocsin had not expressly said so—but the letter! Did the letter, apart from its incriminating ingenuity, supply the answer to his question? Had Sonnino, for instance, by some lucky turn, disposed of his stock in bulk, and was thus for the moment in possession of an unusually large amount of cash; or, inversely, had Sonnino received an unusual stock of stones? Either of these theories, and equally neither one of them, might furnish the answer! Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders grimly. He would find the answer—in Sonnino’s safe! One thing, however, one thing that might have had some bearing on Laroque’s choice, one thing for which he, Jimmie Dale, was grateful to Laroque for making such a choice, was that Sonnino’s place lent itself admirably to attack—from the standpoint of the attacker! A black courtyard, screened completely from the street; a house that—

Jimmie Dale looked up suddenly, and, as suddenly, leaning forward, he touched Benson’s shoulder. They were just approaching a restaurant and music hall known as “The Sphinx,” that was popular for the moment with the slumming parties from uptown.

“This will do. You may let me out here at The Sphinx, Benson,” he said quietly; and then, as the car stopped: “I shall not be long, Benson—perhaps half an hour—wait for me.”

Benson touched his cap. Jimmie Dale ran up the steps of the restaurant, entered, threaded his way through several crowded rooms where the midnight revelry was in full swing—and passed out of the place by a convenient rear exit that gave on the adjoining cross street. The car standing in front of The Sphinx would attract no notice; and he was now on the same street as Sonnino’s place, and only two short blocks away.

He started forward from the restaurant door—and paused, struggling with a refractory match in an effort to light a cigarette. A man brushed by him, making for the restaurant door, a tall, wiry-built, swarthy, sharp-featured man—and Jimmie Dale flipped the stub of his match away from him, and went on. Sonnino himself! There was luck then at the start—the coast was clear!

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