It was a whimsical movement, a whimsical trick of Jimmie Dale’s—that outward thrust of his hand that he might study it in a curiously impersonal, yet mercilessly critical way. He laughed a little harshly, as he allowed his hand to drop again to the arm of his chair. No, there was no tremor there—mentally he might be near the breaking point, his nerves raw and on edge; but physically, outwardly, he gave no sign of the strain that, cumulative in its anxiety, had increased hourly, it seemed, in the three days that had passed since the night he had so narrowly escaped the trap laid by that unknown master criminal, whose cunning, power and malignant genius was dominating and making itself felt in every den and dive of the underworld, and for whom the Pippin and the Mole that night had been but blind tools, pawns moved at the will of this unseen, evil strategist upon a chessboard of inhuman deviltry.

An evening newspaper lay open on the table. Jimmie Dale’s eyes fixed for an instant on a glaring headline, then travelled slowly around the little room—one of the St. James’ Club’s private writing rooms—and came back to the paper again. The failure of that night, the Pippin’s death, the stir and publicity, the stimulus given to police activity, had, it seemed, in no way acted as a deterrent upon the sinister ingenuity which, he made no doubt, was likewise the author of the mysterious crime that to-night was upon every tongue in the city—the murder of one of New York’s most prominent bankers under almost incredible circumstances, and the coincident disappearance of a number of documents which were vaguely hinted at as being of international importance and of priceless worth. The crime had been committed in broad daylight, in mid-afternoon, in the banker’s private office, and within call of the entire staff of the bank. No one had been seen either to enter or leave the office during an interval of some fifteen to twenty minutes, previous to which time it had been established by one of the staff that the banker was engaged in his usual occupation at his desk, and at the expiration of which he had been discovered by the cashier lying dead upon the floor, his skull fractured by a blow that had evidently been dealt him from behind, the desk in disorder as though it had been hurriedly searched, and the papers, known to have been in the banker’s possession at that time, gone.

Jimmie Dale brushed his hand across his eyes in a dazed way. No, of course, he did not know, he could not actually know that it was the same guiding evil genius at work here that had murdered both Forrester and old Melinoff, but something beyond actual proof, a sense of intuition, made of it a certainty in his own mind, at least, which left no room for argument. There had been viciously clever work here, as daring and crafty as it was remorseless in its brutality, and—he laughed suddenly, harshly as before, and, rising abruptly from his chair, stepped to the window, pushed aside the portières, and stood staring down on Fifth Avenue, whose great, wide, lighted thoroughfare seemed a curiously and incongruously lonely spot now in its evening quiet and emptiness.

Suppose it was so! Granted that his intuition was in no way astray! What did it matter? It was a thing extraneous, of no personal significance to him! It was even strange that it had succeeded in intruding itself upon his thoughts at all, when mind and soul in these last few days had fought and groped and stumbled against the sickness of a fear that, growing upon him, had blotted out all other things from his consciousness. The Tocsin! Where was she? What had happened? Had she——no, he dared not let himself believe what a brutal logic told him now he should believe. He would not! He could not! And yet since that night when her note had come, the note that had been so full of a glad spontaneity, so full of victory—“It is the beginning of the end ... The way is clearing ... I am very happy tonight, and I wanted to tell you so”—since that night there had been no word from her.

No, that was not literally true. There had been word from her; but, rather than having brought hope and reassurance to him, it had only increased his fear and anxiety. That night, after a return to the Sanctuary, where, in lieu of the character of Larry the Bat, he had resumed his own personality again, he had hurried to his home to await the expected word from her that would tell him her success, which her note had indicated was to be looked for at any moment, had been achieved. The night, however, had brought forth nothing; but in the morning, amongst the mail which old Jason, his butler, had handed him, had been a letter from her. It had been written evidently in leisure, and evidently prior to the hurried little note that happiness, a surge of joy, a gladness and a hope whose share she could not hold back from him, had undoubtedly prompted her to write; it had been born out of impulse, that note, an impulse due, apparently, to a sudden turn in the brave fight she was waging which seemed to place the final victory almost within her grasp. The letter was not at all like that; it struck a far sterner note—the possibility of defeat—not in despair, not in a tone of failing courage, but as one who, weighing the chances, was not blind to an opponent’s strength, but who, even in one’s own defeat, still sought to snatch final victory even after death.

Jimmie Dale turned from the window, sat down again in his chair, and drew the letter from his pocket—and, sitting there, the strong jaws clamped and locked, his face drawn in rigid lines, the dark, steady eyes cold and hard, read it again, as he had read it many times before since Jason had handed it to him that morning several days ago:

“Dear Philanthropic Crook: I wonder if I am writing those words for the last time? I believe I am. I do not mean I am in such danger that I will never have the opportunity again; but, rather, that I will never have the need to do so. But to-night should tell. It is very near the end—one way or the other—and I believe it is my way. Oh, Jimmie, I pray God it is, and that tomorrow—but I did not start this letter to you to talk of that.

“Long ago—do you remember, Jimmie?—I wrote you that I would not, could not bring you into the shadows again for me, and that I must fight this out alone. It must be that way, Jimmie; there is no other way, and what I am about to say must not lead you to think that I am hesitating now, or have changed my mind. It is only this—that the game is not won until the last card is played, and, while I am almost certain that I see the way now, there is still that last card to play. Do not let us mince matters, Jimmie. If I fail, you know what it means. But, in the bigger way, Jimmie, I can only count for but very little in the balance. There is the afterwards that is of far more moment—that justice, swift and sure, should put an end to the depredations and the menace to society that exists to-day in the person of one of the cleverest and most conscienceless fiends that ever plotted crime. Nor, in case you should have to take up the work where I leave off, would you be even then obliged to come into those shadows again. It is very strange, Jimmie. It is almost like some grim, terribly grim, ironical joke. Everything, all the power, all the resources that this man possesses have been used against me in the last few months, because he knows that unless he accomplishes my death he must remain in hiding just as he has forced me into hiding; and yet at the same time—and this he does not know, because he does not know that he is known to you, and that you, as Jimmie Dale, a man whose position and prominence would carry conviction with every word you might say, are in a position to testify against him—with my death he automatically accomplishes his own destruction. And so you see, Jimmie, in one sense at least, I cannot fail! No, I do not mean to speak lightly—I—I have as much as you, Jimmie—to live for.

“Listen, then! We knew, you and I, that while both my supposed uncle and the head of the Crime Club were killed that night of the old Sanctuary fire, and that the greater number, almost all in fact, of the members of the band were caught by the police, that a few of them still evaded the trap and escaped. But we believed these were so few in number and were so thoroughly disorganised that nothing more was to be feared from them. And this in a very great measure is true; but it is not altogether true. No, I am not going to tell you that the Crime Club rose from its ashes and is in operation again; but one of the men who escaped that night, one of the Club’s leaders, possessed evidently of the secret as to where the Club’s surplus funds were hidden, is the man who, through a lavish use of those funds, is operating now through the underworld, who is responsible for Forrester’s murder, and is the man who through all these months has sought to reach me. I referred to him as ‘one of the leaders’—I believe him now to have been the most dangerous of them all. You know him as—Clarke. Do you remember, Jimmie? He was the man who so cleverly impersonated Travers as the chauffeur, after they had killed Travers. He was the man who was at the house that night when Travers first learned that my father and my uncle had been murdered, and that the same fate was in store for me. I told you that from where he sat in the room that night I could not see his face, that Travers told me who he was—but, apart from not being able to recognise him on that particular occasion, I knew him well, for he had been a frequent visitor to the house even prior to my father’s death, and subsequently in company with Travers as one who appeared to have struck up an intimacy with my supposed uncle.

“The day after the Crime Club was raided by the police, you will remember that Clarke not being amongst those caught, I gave the authorities what particulars I could in reference to the man. But nothing came of it. A description and the name of ‘Clarke’ was little enough to work on. The man had disappeared. Time passed, and I supposed, as no doubt you, as well, supposed, that Clarke had made good his escape, that he was probably well content with such good fortune, and that nothing more, if he could help it, would ever be heard of him. Jimmie, I was wrong. Within a month a series of narrow escapes from accidents, any one of which might easily have accomplished my death, seemed to follow me persistently. I will not take the time now to enumerate them all—they were so commonplace, so liable to happen to any one, such for instance as escaping by a hair’s-breadth from being run down by a speeding car swerving, around the corner as I started to cross the street, or again by an iron tackle falling from a scaffolding where work was in progress on the building in which, pending the remodelling of my own house, as you know, I had taken an apartment, that at first I attached no ulterior significance to them. But finally, as they persisted, I became convinced that they were deliberate and premeditated attempts upon my life. I said nothing to you, as I did not wish to alarm you. And then one night Clarke showed himself.

“Do you remember the colourless liquid, the poison instantaneous in its action and defying detection by autopsy, which was so favourite a method of murder with the Crime Club? I had expected to be out for the evening, and had given the maids permission to go out together. It was about halfpast eight when I left the apartment. I had only gone a few blocks when I returned for something I had forgotten. I was in my bedroom when I heard the hall door open stealthily. I switched off the bedroom light instantly, and slipped into the clothes closet, leaving the door just ajar. I knew, of course, that if it were another attack directed against me, it was one that was prearranged and that was being made on the presumption that I was out and that the apartment was empty. There was silence for a moment or two, then a step crossed the threshold of the bedroom, and the light went on. It was Clarke. There was a little night table beside the bed on which my maid, before she had gone out, had placed as usual a carafe of ice water and a small tray of biscuits. Clarke was evidently very well acquainted with this fact. He stepped at once to the table, took a vial from his pocket, poured the contents into the carafe—and the next instant the room was in darkness again, and Clarke was gone. I acted as quickly as I could. I dared not move or give any sign of my presence until he was out of the apartment, for I would have accomplished nothing except my death. But the minute the outer door closed I picked up the telephone to communicate with the vestibule. It was a ground-floor apartment, as you know. The one chance was to have the hall porter intercept Clarke in the vestibule. As a matter of fact, the telephone was not answered for fully a minute or so—too late, of course! Clarke had vanished. The boy at the telephone desk said he had been busy with another call. That is all, Jimmie. I saw clearly that night that there was only one thing left for me to do if I hoped to save my life, and that was to fight Clarke with his own weapons. And so I wrote you; and you know now why Marie LaSalle ‘left the city for an extended trip,’ as her bankers informed you, and why during all these months I have ‘disappeared.’

“I come now to the last thing I have to say—the reason for writing this letter. My death was essential to Clarke, because he believed that I was the only one who could positively identify him as ‘Clarke,’ and that, therefore, as long as I lived he could not resume his own identity and personal freedom of action for fear that I might, even if only through inadvertence, recognise him. He could take no chances. But I believe I have beaten Clarke. I have discovered that ‘Clarke’ is in reality Peter Marre, the shyster lawyer, better known among his clientele as Wizard Marre. But Marre, too, has disappeared—you understand, Jimmie? And now, hidden, under cover, never showing himself personally, ‘Clarke’ is working, not only to reach me, but to further all his other schemes, through some agency without appearing himself either as Marre or as ‘Clarke.’ I believe it is only a matter of a few hours now before I shall either have got to the bottom of who and what this agency is, or else—again do not let us mince matters, Jimmie—‘Clarke’ will have been too much for me. And in that latter case is found the whole object of this letter. Once I am removed from his path, and believing that no one else could, or would, link ‘Clarke’ and Peter Marre together, he will naturally resume the freedom of his former life, and Peter Marre will appear again in his old-time surroundings, a Peter Marre unhampered by fear of discovery, and therefore a Peter Marre a hundredfold more dangerous than ever before. And so, Jimmie, if that should happen, you have simply to get this information into the hands of the police without appearing yourself, say, through the agency of the Gray Sealand I shall not have brought you into the shadows again.”

The letter was signed simply—“Marie.” But there was a postscript:

“You will hear from me the moment that I can tell you I am free at last.”

Jimmie Dale sat staring at the postscript. He made no movement; and there was no sound in the room, save that the sheets of paper crackled slightly in his hand. He was afraid to-night, afraid as he had never been in his life before; and the fear that was gnawing at his heart was mirrored in a gray, rigid face, and in the misery that had crept into the dark, half-closed eyes. It was three days ago since he had received that letter, and the awaited, promised word had not come—three days, and the letter stated that it would be but a matter of a few hours before the decision that meant life or death was reached. And the hurried little note, so obviously written subsequent to the letter, though it had been received prior to it, but bore out in its very optimism the fact that the final card was then almost in the very act of being played. And since then—there had been nothing.

He put little faith in the Pippin’s belief that she had gone to Chicago. He found no relief in that possibility at all. That they had seen her buy a ticket and board a train—yes. That for her own ends she had let them see her do that—yes. But whether she had ever gone or not was quite a different matter! Her letter would certainly indicate that she had not. But even if she had! She could have communicated with him from Chicago just as easily as she could have communicated with him from any place here in New York!

Jimmie Dale’s hand lifted and pressed hard against his temple, as though to still the dull, constant throbbing that brought to his mental agony the added torment of physical pain. For these three days now he had fought with mind and body and soul against the one conclusion that was tenable—the conclusion which to-night, robbing him of every hope in life, bringing a grief and anguish greater than he could bear, cold logic was finally forcing him to accept. She would have known the torment of anxiety in which he lived, and if her plans had only been delayed or checked, if it had been no more than that, she would surely have communicated with him and allayed his fears.

A low sound, a moan of bitter pain, came from Jimmie Dale’s lips. Logic had won at last, and was triumphant in the blackest hour that had ever come into his life. The one glimmer of hope to which, as time went on and one by one other hopes had vanished, he had still clung tenaciously, had surrendered, too, and gone down before the face of that brutal logic that weighed neither human agony nor suffering in its remorseless conclusions. Clarke, it was true, had not yet resumed his former life as Peter Marre—but he, Jimmie Dale, was forced to admit now that that meant little or nothing. A thousand and one reasons might account for Clarke postponing his re-entry into his old life—that the man had allowed three days to pass proved nothing.

Marre! Peter Marre! Wizard Marre! A smile that held no mirth hovered for an instant over Jimmie Dale’s lips. Yes, he knew Marre, Marre of the underworld, well! The man was brilliant, clever—and possessed of a devil’s soul! Also Marre, as certainly no other man had ever held it, held the confidence of crimeland—and crime-land had supplied the tricky lawyer with his clientele. And so Marre was “Clarke,” one of the leaders of the old Crime Club! Jimmie Dale’s smile disappeared, and his lips drew straight and tight together. It was quite easily understood now. The returns in a financial sense from such a clientele, large even as they perhaps might be, were meagre and pitiful in comparison with the huge sums which, in one way and another, the Crime Club would have acquired; but the returns in another sense had been vast and of incalculable value, not only to Clarke, but to the Crime Club as well. Clarke’s power in the underworld as Marre had reached the height where the underworld itself eulogised that power by bestowing on the man the “moniker” of Wizard, investing him, as it were, with a title and a peerage in that inglorious realm. And this power, supplying a foreknowledge of events through intimacy with those whispered secrets in the innermost circles of the citizenry of crimeland, must have been of immeasurable worth. And now Clarke, hidden away somewhere, acting, it appeared, through some unknown agency and go-between, was utilising that power with deadly cunning and effect—not only against the Tocsin, but against society at large, as witness the murder of Forrester of a few days ago, and presumably the murder of Jathan Lane, the banker, not longer ago than this afternoon.

Jimmie Dale shook his head suddenly. Acting through some unknown agency? The Tocsin had not said that. Indeed, if she had been as near to the final move in this battle of wits which she had been playing for months, as her letter indicated, she must have known by now who and what and where that agency was. And he could see plainly enough why she had kept her own counsel in that respect. It was through her great, unselfish love for him that she had intentionally refrained from giving him any clue that would enable him to find his way into the danger zone which she reserved for herself alone. Yes, he understood that—but it only made what he feared now the harder to bear. She had been right, of course, in her conclusion as to what he would have done had she given him the opportunity! It was the one thing he had been fighting for, struggling for, battling for all these months, that clue—and she had told him only that “Clarke” was behind it all, and that “Clarke” was Peter Marre. And it had served him little! As though the earth had opened and swallowed the man and his alias up, there was neither trace nor sign of Peter Marre.

He knew that well! He had not been idle since that letter came! He had instantly seized upon what he had hoped would prove the clue that he could follow to the heart of the web—and the clue had led him nowhere. Marre, like the Tocsin, was somewhere “on a trip.” Marre’s office was not closed. A year ago Marre had taken in with him as partner a young lawyer by the name of Cleaver, who lacked only, through experience, the same degree of dishonest finesse and cunning possessed by Marre himself—a defect which Marre had doubtless counted on speedily rectifying under his own unholy tutelage! Cleaver was carrying on the business. To all inquiries Cleaver’s replies had been the same—Mr. Marre, through overwork, had been obliged to take a rest; he did not know where Mr. Marre was other than that Mr. Marre was making an extended tour through the Orient, nor did he know when Mr. Marre might be expected to return; Mr. Marre, purposely, in order that he might escape all thought and care of business, and to preclude the possibility of anything of that nature reaching him, had refrained from giving the office any specific address. But he, Jimmie Dale, had not been content with inquiries alone in those last few days—though the result here again had been nothing. He was satisfied only that, in so far as the main issue was concerned, Cleaver was not in Marre’s confidence, and that Cleaver not only did not know Marre’s exact whereabouts, but believed, as he had said, that Marre was travelling somewhere in the Orient.

Jimmie Dale drew his hand heavily again across his forehead. It seemed as though the very act of sitting here was a traitorous act to her, that even in this momentary inaction he had cause for bitter self-reproach and even for contempt—and yet he could see no way now to take. In the last three days, as Smarlinghue, as Jimmie Dale, yes, even as Larry the Bat again, working with feverish intensity, with almost sleepless continuity, he had exhausted every means and effort within his power of running Marre, alias Clarke, to earth. There seemed nothing now left to do but to wait until Marre should resume his own identity; nothing left but the promise of a vengeance that—again Jimmie Dale laughed harshly, and, as the laugh died away, a smile took its place on the thinned lips that was not good to see. Yes, she was right in that; he knew Marre—he knew Marre, with his thin, cruel face, his black, sleepy eyes; his suave, ingratiating manner that hid under its veneer a devil’s treachery! Nor, well as he knew the man, was it strange that he had not known Clarke as Peter Marre, for he had seen Clarke only once—that night in the long ago, in Spider Jack’s when the man, with consummate art, a master of disguise, had impersonated Travers, the dead chauffeur, and had succeeded in fooling even Spider Jack himself. But he, Jimmie Dale, knew now. Yes, she had been right—a whiteness came and gathered on his lips—in that sense she could not fail, Marre at least would pay! But perhaps not quite as she suggested, perhaps not quite by the simple act of a denunciation to the police, perhaps not quite in so simple a way as that, for, after all—his hand clenched over the sheets of her letter—though it would be easy enough to establish Marre’s alias now that the alias was known, there might be another way in which Marre would answer, a more intimate way, a more personal way! Not murder—the skin was ivory white across his knuckles—not murder, but—

Jimmie Dale was quietly folding the sheets of paper in his hand. Some one was knocking at the door.

“Come in!” said Jimmie Dale—and slipped the letter back into his pocket, as the door opened.

It was one of the club’s attendants.

“I beg pardon, Mr. Dale, sir,” said the man; “but there is a ‘phone call for you.” He glanced toward the telephone on the table. “I was not sure just where you were, sir. Shall I ask them to connect you here?”

“Thank you!” said Jimmie pleasantly. “Very good, Masters. No—I’ll attend to it myself.”

The man withdrew, and closed the door again. Jimmie Dale rose from his chair, and, stepping to the table, picked up the instrument.

“There is a call for me, I believe,” he said. “This is Mr. Dale.”

There was a moment’s silence, then Jimmie Dale spoke again.

“Yes—hello!” he said. “Yes, this is Mr. Dale. What—”

The room seemed suddenly to swirl about him—the hand so steady a few moments ago was trembling palpably now as it held the instrument. Her voice? No—he was mad! It was his brain, overwrought, strained, not to the breaking point, but beyond, that had broken at last, and was mocking at him now in some cruel phantasy. Her voice? No, it could not be, for she—for she was—

“Jimmie! Jimmie!”—the voice came hurriedly again, almost frantically this time. “Jimmie—are you there?”

“You!” His lips were dry, he moistened them with his tongue. “You!” he whispered hoarsely. “You, Marie—and I thought—I thought that you were—”

“Jimmie,” she broke in, a quick, wistful catch in her voice, “I cannot stay here a moment—you understand, don’t you? There is not an instant to lose—on the floor by the Sanctuary window—a note—will you hurry, Jimmie—good-bye.”

She was gone. Mechanically he replaced the receiver on the hook. She was gone—but it was her voice he had heard—hers—and she was alive. The play of emotion upon him robbed him for the moment of coherent thought, and came and swept over him in a mighty surge and engulfed him; and now in the sudden revulsion from despair and the bitterest of agony his mind was dazed and numbed. It seemed as though he were obeying some subconscious power, as he turned and left the room; as though some influence outside of, and extraneous to, himself gave him a spurious self-mastery, a self-command, a mask of nonchalance, as he walked calmly through the club lobby and out to the street.

Benson, his chauffeur, held the door of his car open for him.

“Where to, sir?” Benson asked.

“The Palace—Bowery,” Jimmie Dale answered. “And hurry, Benson!”

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook