|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8||Next|
Jimmie Dale's smile was mirthless as he turned back to the car, and picked up the glove. Why had she dropped it there? It could not have been intentional. Why had--he began to tear suddenly at the glove's little finger, and in another second, kneeling on the car's step, his shoulders inside, he was holding a ring close under the little electric bulb.
It was a gold seal ring, a small, dainty thing that bore a crest: a bell, surmounted by a bishop's mitre--the bell, quaint in design, harking the imagination back to some old-time belfry tower. And underneath, in the scroll--a motto. It was a full minute before Jimmie Dale could decipher it, for the lettering was minute and the words, of course, reversed. It was in French: SONNEZ LE TOCSIN.
He straightened up, the glove and ring in his hand, a puzzled expression on his face. It was strange! Had she, after all, dropped the glove there intentionally; had she at last let down the barriers just a little between them, and given him this little intimate sign that she--
And then Jimmie Dale laughed abruptly, self-mockingly. He was only trying to deceive himself, to argue himself into believing what, with heart and soul, he wanted to believe. It was not like her--and neither was it so! His eyes had fixed on the seat beside the wheel. He had not used the lap rug all that day, he couldn't use a rug and drive, he had left it folded and hanging on the rack in the tonneau-- it was now neatly folded and reposing on the front seat!
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale, a sort of self-pity in his tones, "I might have known."
He lifted the rug. Beneath it on the leather seat lay a white envelope. Her letter! The letter that never came save with the plan of some grim, desperate work outlined ahead--the call to arms for the Gray Seal. SONNEZ LE TOCSIN! Ring the Tocsin! Sound the alarm! The Tocsin! The words were running through his brain. A strange motto on that crest--that seemed so strangely apt! The Tocsin! Never once in all the times that he had heard from her, never once in the years that had gone since that initial letter of hers had struck its first warning note, had any communication from her been but to sound again a new alarm--the Toscin! The Tocsin-- the word seemed to visualise her, to give her a concrete form and being, to breathe her very personality.
"The Tocsin!"--Jimmie Dale whispered the word softly, a little wistfully. "Yes; I shall call you that--the Tocsin!"
He folded the glove very carefully, placed it with the ring in his pocketbook, picked up the letter--and, with a sharp exclamation, turned it quickly over in his fingers, then bent hurriedly with it to the light.
Strange things were happening that night! For the first time, the letter was not even SEALED! That was not like her, either! What did it mean? Quick, alert now, anxious even, he pulled the double, folded sheets from the envelope, glanced rapidly through them--and, after a moment, a smile, whimsical, came slowly to his lips.
It was quite plain now--all of it. The glove, the ring, and the unsealed letter--and the postscript held the secret; or, rather, what had been intended for a postscript did, for it comprised only a few words, ending abruptly, unfinished: "Look in the cupboard at the rear of the room. The man with the red wig is--" That was all, and the words, written in ink, were badly blurred, as though the paper had been hastily folded before the ink was dry.
It was quite plain; and, in view of the real explanation of it all, eminently characteristic of her. With the letter already written, she had come there, meaning to place it on the seat and cover it with the rug, as, indeed, she had done; then, deciding to add the postscript, and because she would attract less attention that way than in any other, she had climbed into the car as though it belonged to her, and had seated herself there to write it. She would have been hurried in her movements, of course, and in pulling off her glove to use the fountain pen the ring had come with it. The rest was obvious. She had but just begun to write when he had appeared on the steps. She had slipped instantly down to the floor of the car, probably dropping the glove from her lap, hastily inclosed the letter in the envelope which she had no time to seal, thrust the envelope under the rug, and, forgetting her glove and fearful of risking his attention by attempting to close the door firmly, had stolen along the body of the car, only to be noticed by him too late--when she was well down the street!
And at that latter thought, once more chagrin seized Jimmie Dale-- then he turned impulsively to the letter. All this was extraneous, apart--for another time, when every moment was not a priceless asset as it very probably was now.
"Dear Philanthropic Crook"--it always began that way, never any other way. He read on more and more intently, crouched there close to the light on the floor of his car, lips thinning as he proceeded-- read it to the end, absorbing, memorising it--and then the abortive postscript:
"Look in the cupboard at the rear of the room. The man with the red wig is--"
For an instant, as mechanically he tore the letter into little shreds, he held there hesitant--and the next, slamming the door tight, he flung himself into the seat behind the wheel, and the big, sixty-horse-power, self-starting machine was roaring down the street.
The Tocsin! There was a grim smile on Jimmie Dale's lips now. The alarm! Yes, it was always an alarm, quick, sudden, an emergency to face on the instant--plans, decisions to be made with no time to ponder them, with only that one fact to consider, staggering enough in itself, that a mistake meant disaster and ruin to some one else, and to himself, if the courts were merciful where he had little hope for mercy, the penitentiary for life!
And now to-night again, as it almost always was when these mysterious letters came, every moment of inaction was piling up the odds against him. And, too, the same problem confronted him. How, in what way, in what role, must he play the night's game to its end? As Larry the Bat?
The car was speeding forward. He was heading down Broadway now, lower Broadway, that stretched before him, deserted like some dark, narrow canyon where, far below, like towering walls, the buildings closed together and seemed to converge into some black, impassable barrier. The street lights flashed by him; a patrolman stopped the swinging of his night-stick, and turned to gaze at the car that rushed by at a rate perilously near to contempt of speed laws; street cars passed at indifferent intervals; pedestrians were few and far between--it was the lower Broadway of night.
|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8||Next|