Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale Part 2( Chapter 7)

Chapter VII: The “Hour”

As the minutes passed, many of them, Jimmie Dale sat there motionless, staring before him at the desk that was faintly outlined in the unlighted room. Then somewhere in the house a clock struck the hour. Five o’clock! He raised his head. YES! It could be done! There was a way! He had the germ of it now. And now the plan began to grow, to take form and shape in his mind, to dovetail, to knit the integral parts into a comprehensive whole. There was a way–but he must have assistance. Jason–yes, assuredly. Benson, his chauffeur–yes, equally as trustworthy as Jason. Benson was devoted to him; and moreover Benson was young, alert, daring, cool. He had had more than one occasion to test Benson’s resourcefulness and nerve!
Jimmie Dale rose abruptly, went to the rear window, and, parting the curtains cautiously, stood peering down into the courtyard. Yes, it was feasible; even a little more than feasible. The garage fronted the driveway, of course, to give free entrance and egress to the cars, but where the wall of the garage and the rear wall of the house overlapped, as it were, the space between them was not much more than ten yards; and here the shadows of the two walls, mingling, lay like a black, impenetrable pathway–not like that other shadow he had seen moving at the side of the garage, and that, if not for the moment discernible, was none the less surely still lurking there!
Satisfied, Jimmie Dale swung briskly from the window, and, going now to his bedroom across the hall, undressed and went to bed–but not to sleep. There would be time enough to sleep, all day, if he wished; now, there were still the little details to be thought out that, more than anything else, could make or wreck his plans. A point overdone, the faintest suggestion of a false note where men of the calibre of those against whom he was now fighting for his life were concerned, would not only make his scheme abortive, but would place him utterly at their mercy.
It was nine o’clock when he rang for Jason.
“Jason,” he said abruptly, as the other entered, “I want you to telephone for Doctor Merlin.”
“The doctor, sir!” exclaimed the old man anxiously. “You’re–you’re not ill, Master Jim, sir?”
“Do I look ill, Jason?” inquired Jimmie Dale gravely.
“Well, sir,” admitted Jason, in concern; “a bit done up, sir, perhaps. A little pale, sir; though I’m sure–”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Jimmie Dale, sitting up in bed. “The worse I look, the better!”
“I–I beg pardon, sir?” stammered Jason.
“Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, gravely again, “you have had reason to know that on several occasions my life has been threatened. It is threatened now. You know from last night that this house is now watched. You may, or you may not have surmised–that our telephone wires have been tapped.”
“Tapped, sir!"–Jason’s face had gone a little gray.
“Yes; a party line, so to speak,” said Jimmie Dale grimly. “Do you understand? You must be careful to say no more, no less than exactly what I tell you to say. Now go and telephone! Ask the doctor to come over and see me this morning. Simply say that I am not feeling well; but that, apart from being apparently in a very nervous condition, you do not know what is the matter.”
“Yes, sir–good Lord, sir!” gasped Jason–and left the room to carry out his orders.
An hour later, Doctor Merlin had been and gone–and had left two prescriptions; one written, the other verbal. With the written one, Benson, in his chauffeur’s livery, was dispatched to the drug store; the verbal one was precisely what Jimmie Dale had expected from the fussy old family physician: “Two or three days of quiet in the house James; and if you need me again, let me know.”
“Now, Jason,” said Jimmie Dale, when the old man had returned from ushering Doctor Merlin from the house, “our friends out there will be anxious to learn the verdict. I was to dine with the Ross- Hendersons to-morrow night, was I not?”
“Yes, sir; I think so, sir.”
“Make sure!” said Jimmie Dale. “Look in my engagement book there on the table.”
Jason looked.
“Yes, sir, that’s right,” he announced.
“Very good,” said Jimmie Dale softly. “Now go and telephone again, Jason. Present my regrets and excuses to the Ross-Hendersons, and say that under the doctor’s orders I am confined to the house for the next few days–and, Jason!”
“Yes, sir?”
“When Benson returns with the medicine let him bring it here himself–and I shall want you as well.”
Jimmie Dale propped himself up a little wearily on the pillows, as Jason went out of the room. After all, his condition was not entirely feigned. He was, as a matter of fact, pretty well played out, both mentally and physically. Certainly, that he should require a doctor and be confined to the house could not arouse suspicion even in the minds of those alert, aristocratic thugs of the Crime Club, prone as they would be to suspect anything–a man who had been knocked unconscious in an automobile smash the night before, had been in a fight, had been subjected to a terrific mental shock, to say nothing of the infernal drug that had been administered to him, might well be expected to be indisposed the next morning, and for several mornings following that! It might, indeed, even cause them to relax their vigilance for the time being– though he dared build nothing on that. Well, he had only to coach Benson and Jason in the parts they were to play, and the balance of the morning and all the afternoon was his in which to rest.
He reached over to the table, picked up a pencil and paper, and began to jot down memoranda. He had just tossed the pencil back on the table as the two men entered.
Jason, at a sign, closed the door quietly.
Jimmie Dale looked at Benson half musingly, half whimsically, for a moment before he spoke.
“Benson,” he said, “the back seat of the large touring car is hinged and lifts up, once the cushion is removed, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” Benson answered promptly.
“And there’s space enough for, say, a man inside, isn’t there?”
“Why, yes, sir; I suppose so–at a squeeze"–Benson stared blankly.
“Quite so!” said Jimmie Dale calmly. “Now, another matter, Benson: I believe some chauffeurs have a habit, when occasion lends itself, of taking, shall we say, their ’best girl’ out riding in their masters’ machines?”
“SOME might,” Benson replied, a little stiffly. “I hope you don’t think, sir, that–”
“One moment, Benson. The point is, it’s done–quite generally?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And you have a ’best girl,’ or at least could find one for such a purpose, if you were so inclined?”
“Yes, sir,” said Benson; “but–”
“Very good!” Jimmie Dale interrupted. “Then to-night, Benson, taking advantage of my illness, and to-morrow night, and the nights after that until further notice, you will acquire and put into practice that reprehensible habit.”
“I–I don’t understand, Mr. Dale.”
“No; I dare say not,” said Jimmie Dale–and then the whimsicality dropped from him. “Benson,” he said slowly, “do you remember a night, nearly four years ago, the first night you ever saw me? You had, indiscreetly, I think, displayed more money than was wise in that East Side neighbourhood.”
“I remember,” said Benson, with a sudden start; then simply: “I wouldn’t be here now, sir, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“Well,” said Jimmie Dale quietly, “the tables are turned to-day, Benson. As Jason already knows, this house is watched. For reasons that I cannot explain, I am in great danger. Bluntly, I am putting my life in your hands–and Jason’s.”
Benson looked for an instant from Jimmie Dale to Jason, caught the strained, troubled expression on the old man’s face, then back again at Jimmie Dale.
“D’ye mean that, sir!” he cried. “Then you can count on me, Mr. Dale, to the last ditch!”
“I know that, Benson,” Jimmie Dale said softly. “And now, both of you, listen! It is imperative that I should get away from the house; and equally imperative that those watching should believe that I am still here. Not even the servants are to be permitted a suspicion that I am not here in my bed, ill. That, Jason, is your task. You will allow no one to wait on me but yourself; you will bring the meal trays up regularly–and eat the food yourself. You will answer all inquiries, telephone and otherwise, in person–I am not seeing any one. You understand perfectly, Jason?”
“I understand, Master Jim. You need have no fear, sir, on that score.”
“Now, you, Benson,” Jimmie Dale went on. “A few minutes ago I sent you out in your chauffeur’s togs with that prescription. You were undoubtedly observed. I wanted you to be. It was quite necessary that they should know and be able to recognise you again–to disabuse their minds later on of the possibility that I might be masquerading in your clothes; and also, of course, that they should know who you were, and what your position was in the household. Very well! To-night, at eight o’clock exactly, you are to go out from the back door of the house to the garage. On the way out–it will be quite dark then–I want you to drop something, say, a bunch of keys that you had been jingling in your hand. You are to experience some difficulty in finding it again, move about a little to force any one that may be lurking by the garage to retreat around the corner. Grumble a bit and make a little noise; but you are not to overdo it–a couple of minutes at the outside is enough, by that time I shall be under the car seat. You will then run the machine out to the street and stop at the curb, jump out, and, as though you had forgotten something, hurry back to the garage. You must not be away long–enough only to permit, say, a passer-by to glance into the car and satisfy himself that it is empty. You understand, of course, Benson, that the hood must be down–no closed car to invite even the suggestion of concealment–that would be a fatal blunder. Drive then to the young lady’s home by as direct a route as you can– give no appearance of being aware that you are followed, as you will be, and much less the appearance of attempting to elude pursuit. Act naturally. Between here and your destination I will manage readily enough to leave the car. You will then take the young lady for her drive–that is what they will be interested in– your motive for going out to-night. And, as I said, take her driving again on each succeeding night–establish the HABIT to their satisfaction.”
Jimmie Dale paused, glanced at the paper which he still held in his hand, then handed it to Benson.
“Just one thing more, Benson,” he said: “Listed on that paper you will find a different rendezvous for each night for the next five nights, excluding to-night, which, after you have returned the young lady to her home, you are to pass by on your way back here. See that your drive is always over in time for you to pass each night’s rendezvous at half past eleven sharp. Don’t stop unless I signal you. If I am not there, go right on home, and be at the next place on the following night. I am fairly well satisfied they will not bother about you after to-night, or to-morrow night at the most; but, for all that, you must take no chances, so, except in the route you take in going to the young lady’s, always avoid covering the same ground twice, which might give the appearance of having some ulterior purpose in view–even in your drives, vary your runs. Is this clear, Benson?”
“Yes, sir,” said Benson earnestly.
“Very well, then,” said Jimmie Dale. “Eight o’clock to the dot, Benson–compare your time with Jason’s. And now, Jason, see that I get a chance to sleep until dinner time to-night.”
The hours that followed were hours of sound and much-needed sleep for Jimmie Dale, and from which he awoke only on Jason’s entrance that evening with the dinner tray.
“I’ve slept like a log, Jason!” he cried briskly, as he leaped out of bed. “Anything new–anything happened?”
“No, sir; not a thing,” Jason answered. “Only, Master Jim, sir"– the old man twisted his hands nervously–"I–you’ll excuse my saying so, sir–I do hope you’ll be careful to-night, sir. I can’t help being afraid that something’ll happen to you, Master Jim.”
“Nonsense, Jason!” Jimmie Dale laughed cheerfully. “There’s nothing going to happen–to me! You go ahead now and stay with the servants, and get them out of the road at the proper time.”
He bathed, dressed, ate his dinner, and was slipping cartridges into the magazine of his automatic when, within a minute or two of eight o’clock, Jason’s whisper came from the doorway.
“It’s all clear now, Master Jim, sir.”
“Right!” Jimmie Dale responded–and followed Jason down the stairway, and to the head of the cellar stairs.
Here Jason halted.
“God keep you, Master Jim!” said the old man huskily. “Good-night, Jason,” Jimmie Dale answered softly; and, with a reassuring squeeze on the other’s arm, went on down to the cellar.
Here he moved quickly, noiselessly across to the window–not the window of the night before, but another of the same description, almost directly beneath the one in his den above, that faced the garage and lay in the line of that black shadow path between the two buildings. Deftly, cautiously without sound, a half inch, an inch at a time he opened it. He stood listening, then. A minute passed. Then he heard Benson open and shut the back door; then Benson in the yard; and then Benson’s voice in a muttered and irritable growl, talking to himself, as he stamped around on the ground.
With a lithe, agile movement, Jimmie Dale pulled himself up and through the window–and began to creep rapidly on hands and knees toward the garage. It was dark, intensely dark. He could barely distinguish Benson’s form, though, as he passed the other, the slight sounds he made drowned out by the chauffeur’s angry mumblings, he could have reached out and touched Benson easily.
He gained the interior of the garage, and, as Benson, came on again, stepped lightly into the car, lifted the seat, and wriggled his way inside.
It was close, stuffy, abominably cramped, but Jimmie Dale was smiling grimly now. Thanks to Benson, there wasn’t a possibility that he had been seen. He both felt and heard Benson start the car. Then the car moved forward, ran the length of the driveway, bumped slightly as it made the street–and stopped. He heard Benson jump out and run back–and then he listened intently, and the grim smile flickered on his lips again. Came the sound of a footstep on the sidewalk close beside the car–then silence–the car shook a little as though some one’s weight was on the step–then the footsteps receded–Benson returned on the run–and the car started forward once more.
Perhaps ten minutes passed. Three times the car had swerved sharply, making a corner turn. Then Jimmie Dale pushed up the seat, and, protected from observation from behind by the back of the car itself, crawled out and crouched down on the floor of the tonneau.
“Don’t look around, Benson,” he said calmly. “Are we followed?”
“Yes, sir.” Benson answered. “At least, there’s always been a car behind us, though not the same one. They’re pretty clever. There must be three or four, each following the other. Every time I turn a corner it’s a different car that turns it behind me.”
“How far behind?” Jimmie Dale asked.
“Half a block.”
“Slow down a little,” instructed Jimmie Dale; “and don’t turn another corner until they’ve had a chance to accomodate themselves to your new speed. You are going too fast for me to jump, and I don’t want them to notice any change in speed, except what is made in plain sight. Yes; that’s better. Where are we, Benson?”
“That’s Amsterdam Avenue ahead,” replied Benson.
“All right,” said Jimmie Dale quietly. “Turn into it. The more people the better. Tell me just as you are about to turn.”
“Yes, sir,” said Benson; then, almost on the instant, “All ready, sir!”
Jimmie Dale’s hand reached out for the door catch, edged the door ajar, the car swerved, took the corner–and Jimmie Dale stepped out on the running board, hung there negligently for a moment as though chatting with Benson, and then with an airy “good-night” dropped nonchalantly to the ground, and the next instant had mingled with the throng of pedestrians on the sidewalk.
A half minute later, a large gray automobile turned the corner and followed Benson–and Jimmie Dale, stepping out into the street again, swung on a downtown car. The road to the Sanctuary was open!
In his impatience, now, the street car seemed to drag along every foot of the way; but a glance at his watch, as he finally reached the Bowery, and, walking then, rapidly approached the cross street a few steps ahead that led to the Sanctuary, told him that it was still but a quarter to nine. But even at that he quickened his steps a little. He was free now! There was a sort of savage, elemental uplift upon him. He was free! He could strike now in his own defense–and hers! In a few moments he would be at the Sanctuary; in a few more he would be Larry the Bat, and by to-morrow at the latest he would see–The Tocsin. After all, that “hour” was not to be taken from him! It was not, perhaps, the hour that she had meant it should be, thought and prayed, perhaps, that it might be! It was not the hour of victory. But it was the hour that meant to him the realisation of the years of longing, the hour when he should see her, see her for the first time face to face, when there should be no more barriers between them, when–”
“Fer Gawd’s sake, mister, buy a pencil!”
A hand was plucking at his sleeve, the thin voice was whining in his ear. He halted mechanically. A woman, old, bedraggled, ragged, was thrusting a bunch of cheap pencils imploringly toward him–and then, with a stifled cry, Jimmie Dale leaned forward. The eyes that lifted to his for an instant were bright and clear with the vigor of youth, great eyes of brown they were, and trouble, hope, fear, wistfulness, ay, and a glorious shyness were in their depths. And then the voice he knew so well, the Tocsin’s was whispering hurriedly:
“I will be waiting here, Jimmie–for Larry the Bat.”

 

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