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Jimmie Dale nodded to himself in the darkness. It was a spring lock; the signal was one long ring and three short ones--the Tocsin had not missed even those small details. Also, Burton was late for his appointment, for that must have been Burton--business such as old Isaac had in hand that night would have permitted the entrance of no other visitor but K. Wilmington Maddon's private secretary.
He moved down the lane to the door, and tried it softly. It was locked, of course. The slim, tapering, sensitive fingers, whose tips were eyes and ears to Jimmie Dale, felt over the lock--and a slender little steel instrument slipped into the keyhole. A moment more and the catch was released, and the door, under his hand, began to open. With it ajar, he paused, his eyes searching intently up and down the lane. There was nothing, no sign of any one, no moving shadows now. His gaze shifted to the window opposite. Directly facing it now, with the dull reflection upon it from the lighted window of old Isaac's den above his head, he could make out that it was open--but that was all.
Once more he smiled--a little tolerantly at himself this time. Some one had been in the lane; some one had opened the window of his or her room in that tenement house across from him--surely there was nothing surprising, unnatural, or even out of the commonplace in that. He had been a little bit on edge himself, perhaps, and the sudden movement of that shadow, unexpected, had startled him for the moment, as, in all probability, the opening of the window had startled the skulking figure itself into action.
The door was open now. He stepped noiselessly inside, and closed it noiselessly behind him. He was in a narrow hall, where a few yards away, a light shone down a stairway at right angles to the hall itself.
"Rear door of pawnshop opens into hall, and exactly opposite very short flight of stairs leading directly to doorway of Isaac's den above. Ramshackle old place, low ceilings. Isaac, when sitting in his den, can look down, and, by means of a transom over the rear door of the shop, see the customers as they enter from the street, while he also keeps an eye on his assistant. Latter always locks up and leaves promptly at six o'clock--" Jimmie Dale was subconsciously repeating to himself snatches from the Tocsin's letter, which, as subconsciously in reading, he had memorised almost word for word.
And now voices reached him--one, excited, nervous, as though the speaker were labouring under mental strain that bordered closely on the hysterical; the other, curiously mingling a querulousness with an attempt to pacify, but dominantly contemptuous, sneering, cold.
Jimmie Dale moved along the hall--very slowly--without a sound-- testing each step before he threw his body weight from one leg to the other. He reached the foot of the stairs. The Tocsin had been right; it was a very short flight. He counted the steps--there were eight. Above, facing him, a door was open. The voices were louder now. It was a sordid-looking room, what he could see of it, poverty-stricken in its appearance, intentionally so probably for effect, with no attempt whatever at furnishing. He could see through the doorway to the window that opened on the alleyway, or, rather, just glimpse the top of the window at an angle across the room--that and a bare stretch of floor. The two men were not in the line of vision.
Burton's voice--it was unquestionably Burton speaking--came to Jimmie Dale now distinctly.
"No, I didn't! I tell you, I didn't! I--I hadn't the nerve."
Jimmie Dale slipped his black silk mask over his face; and with extreme caution, on hands and knees, began to climb the stairs.
"So!" It was old Isaac now, in a half purr, half sneer. "And I was so sure, my young friend, that you had. I was so sure that you were not such a fool. Yes; I could even have sworn that they were in your pocket now--what? It is too bad--too bad! It is not a pleasant thing to think of, that little chair up the river in its horrible little room where--"
"For God's sake, Isaac--not that! Do you hear--not that! My God, I didn't mean to--I didn't know what I was doing!"
Jimmie Dale crept up another step, another, and another. There was silence for a moment in the room; then Burton again, hoarse-voiced:
"Isaac, I'll make good to you some other way. I swear I will--I swear it! If I'm caught at this I'll--I'll get fifteen years for it."
"And which would you rather have?" Jimmie Dale could picture the oily smirk, the shrug of his shoulders, the outthrust hands, palms upward, elbows in at the hips, the fingers curved and wide apart-- "fifteen years, or what you get--for murder? Eh, my friend, you have thought of that--eh? It is a very little price I ask--yes?"
"Damn you!" Burton's voice was shrill, then dropped to a half sob. "No, no, Isaac, I didn't mean that. Only, for God's sake be merciful! It is not only the risk of the penitentiary; it's more than that. I--I tried to play white all my life, and until that cursed night there's no man living could say I haven't. You know that--you know that, Isaac. I tell you I couldn't do it this afternoon--I tell you I couldn't. I tried to and--and I couldn't."
Jimmie Dale was lying flat on the little landing now, peering into the room. Back a short distance from the doorway, a repulsive- looking little man in unkempt clothes and soiled linen, with yellowish-skinned, parchment face, out of which small black eyes shone cunningly and shrewdly, sat at a bare deal table in a rickety chair; facing him across the table stood a young man of not more than twenty-five, clean cut, well dressed, but whose face was unnaturally white now, and whose hand, as he extended it in a pleading gesture toward the other, trembled visibly. Jimmie Dale's hand made its way quietly to his side pocket and extracted his automatic.
Old Isaac humped his shoulders, and leered at his visitor.
"We talk a great deal, my young friend. What is the use? A bargain is a bargain. A few rubies in exchange for your life. A few rubies and my mouth is shut. Otherwise"--he humped his shoulders again. "Well?"
Burton drew back, swept his hand in a dazed way across his eyes--and laughed out suddenly in bitter mirth.
"A few rubies!" he cried. "The most magnificent stones on this side of the water--a FEW rubies! It's been Maddon's life hobby. Every child in New York knows that! A few--yes, there's only a few--but those few are worth a fortune. He trusts me, the man has been like a father to me, and--"
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