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Jimmie Dale shot a glance around him--there was stillness, quiet everywhere--no sign of life--no sound.
Jimmie Dale's face became tense, his lips tight--and he stepped suddenly from the sidewalk in among the trees. They were not thick here, of course, the trees, and the turf beneath his feet was well kept--and, therefore, soundless. He moved quickly now, but cautiously, from tree to tree, for the moonlight, flooding the lawn and house, threw all objects into bold relief.
A minute, two, three went by--and a shadow flitted here and there across the light-green sward, like the moving of the trees swaying in the breeze--and then Jimmie Dale was standing close up against one side of the house, hidden by the protecting black shadows of the walls.
But here, for a moment, Jimmie Dale seemed little occupied with the house itself--he was staring down past its length to where the woods made a heavy, dark background at the rear. Then he turned his head, to face directly to the main road, then back again slowly, as though measuring an angle. Jimmie Dale had no intention of making his escape by the roundabout way in which he had been forced to come in order to make certain of locating the right house, the second one from the gates--and he was getting the bearings of his car and the wagon track now.
"I guess that'll be about right," Jimmie Dale muttered finally. "And now for--"
He slipped along the side of the house and halted where, almost on a level with the ground, the French windows of the dining room opened on the lawn. Jimmie Dale tried them gently. They were locked.
An indulgent smile crept to Jimmie Dale's lips--and his hand crept in under his vest. It came out again--not empty--and Jimmie Dale leaned close against the window. There was a faint, almost inaudible, scratching sound, then a slight, brittle crack--and Jimmie Dale laid a neat little four-inch square of glass on the ground at his feet. Through the aperture he reached in his hand, turned the key that was in the lock, turned the bolt-rod handle, pushed the doors silently open--wide open--left them open--and stepped into the room.
He could see quite well within, thanks to the moonlight. Jimmie Dale produced a black silk mask from one of the little leather pockets, adjusted it carefully over his face, and crossed the room to the hall door. He opened this--wide open--left it open--and entered the hall.
Here it was dark--a pitch blackness. He stood for a moment, listening--utter silence. And then--alert, strained, tense in an instant, Jimmie Dale crouched against the wall--and then he smiled a little grimly. It was only some one coughing upstairs--Markel--in his sleep, perhaps, or, perhaps--in wakefulness.
"I'm a fool!" confided Jimmie Dale to himself, as he recognised the cough that he had heard at the club. "And yet--I don't know. One's nerves get sort of taut. Pretty stiff business. If I'm ever caught, the penitentiary sentence I get will be the smallest part of what's to pay."
A round button of light played along the wall from the flashlight in his hand--just for an instant--and all was blackness again. But in that instant Jimmie Dale was across the hall, and his fingers were tracing the telephone connection from the instrument to where the wires disappeared in the baseboard of the floor. Another instant, and he had severed the wires with a pair of nippers.
Again the quick, firefly gleam of light to locate the stair case and the library door opposite to it--and, moving without the slightest noise, Jimmie Dale's hand was on the door itself. Again he paused to listen. All was silence now.
The door swung under his hand, and, left open behind him, he was in the room. The flashlight winked once--suspiciously. Then he snapped its little switch, keeping the current on, and the ray dodged impudently here and there all over the apartment.
The safe was set in a sort of clothes closet behind the desk, she had said. Yes, there it was--the door, at least. Jimmie Dale moved toward it--and paused as his light swept the top of the intervening desk. A mass of papers, books, and correspondence littered it untidily. The yellow sheet of a telegram caught Jimmie Dale's eye.
He picked it up and glanced at it. It read:
"Vein uncovered to-day. Undoubtedly mother lode. Enormously rich. Put the screws on at once. THURL."
Under the mask, Jimmie Dale's lips twitched.
"I think, Markel, you miserable hound," said he softly, that God will forgive me for depriving you of a share of the profits. Two hundred and ten thousand, I think it was, you said the sparklers cost." A curious little sound came from Jimmie Dale's lips--like a chuckle.
Jimmie Dale tossed the telegram back on the desk, moved on behind the desk, opened the door of the closet that had been metamorphosed into a vault--and the white light travelled slowly, searchingly, critically over the shining black-enamelled steel, the nickelled knobs, and dials of a safe that confronted him.
Jimmie Dale nodded at it--familiarly, grimly.
"It's number one-four-three-two-one, all right," he murmured. "And one of the best we ever made. Pretty tough. But I've done it before. Say, half an hour of gentle persuasion. It would be too bad to crack it with 'soup'--besides, that's crude--Carruthers would never forgive the Gray Seal for that!"
The light went out--blackness fell. Jimmie Dale's slim, sensitive fingers closed on the dial's knob, his head touched the steel front of the safe as he pressed his ear against it for the tumblers' fall.
And then silence. It seemed to grow heavier, that silence, with each second--to palpitate through the quiet house--to grow pregnant, premonitory of dread, of fear--it seemed to throb in long undulations, and the stillness grew LOUD. A moonbeam filtered in between the edge of the drawn shade and the edge of the window. It struggled across the floor in a wavering path, strayed over the desk, and died away, shadowy and formless, against the blackness of the opened recess door, against the blackness of the great steel safe, the blackness of a huddled form crouched against it. Only now and then, in a strange, projected, wraithlike effect, the moon ray glinted timidly on the tip of a nickel dial, and, ghostlike, disclosed a human hand.
Upstairs, Markel coughed again. Then from the safe a whisper, heavy-breathed as from great exertion:
The dial whirled with faint, musical, little metallic clicks; then began to move slowly again, very, very slowly. The moonbeam, as though petulant at its own abortive attempt to satisfy its curiosity, retreated back across the floor, and faded away.
Time passed. Then from the safe again, but now in a low gasp, a pant of relief:
The ear might barely catch the sound--it was as of metal sliding in well-oiled grooves, of metal meeting metal in a padded thud. The massive door swung outward. Jimmie Dale stood up, easing his cramped muscles, and flirted the sweat beads from his forehead.
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