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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 30
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The Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 30 Post by :Arina Category :Long Stories Author :Harold Macgrath Date :May 2012 Read :3495

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The Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 30

CHAPTER XXX

Cutty arrived at the apartment in time to share dinner with Hawksley. He had wisely decided to say nothing about the escapade of Hawksley and Kitty Conover, since it had terminated fortunately. Bernini had telegraphed the gist of the adventure. He could readily understand Hawksley's part; but Kitty's wasn't reducible to ordinary terms of expression. The young chap had run wild because his head still wobbled on his shoulders and because his isolation was beginning to scratch his nerves. But for Kitty to run wild with him offered a blank wall to speculation. (As if he could solve the riddle when Kitty herself could not!) So he determined to shut himself up in his study and shuffle the chrysoprase. Something might come of it. Looking backward, he recognized the salient, at no time had he been quite sure of Kitty. She seemed to be a combination of shallows and unfathomable deeps.

From the Pennsylvania Station he had called up the office. Kitty had gone. Bernini informed him that Kitty was dining at a cafe on the way home. Cutty was thorough. He telephoned the restaurant and was advised that Miss Conover had reserved a table. He had forgotten to send down the operative who guarded Kitty at that end. But the distance from the office to the Subway was so insignificant!

"You are looking fit," he said across the table.

"Ought to be off your hands by Monday. But what about Stefani Gregor? I can't stir, leaving him hanging on a peg."

"I am going into the study shortly to decide that. Head bother you?"

"Occasionally."

"Ryan easy to get along with?"

"Rather a good sort. I say, you know, you've seen a good deal of life. Which do you consider the stronger, the inherited traits or environment?"

"Environment. That is the true mould. There is good and bad in all of us. It is brought into prominence by the way we live. An angel cannot touch pitch without becoming defiled. On the other hand, the worst gutter rats in the world saved France. Do you suppose that thought will not always be tugging at and uplifting those who returned from the first Marne?"

"There is hope, then, for me!"

"Hope?"

"Yes. You know that my father, my uncle, and my grandfather were fine scoundrels."

"Under their influence you would have been one, too. But no man could live with Stefani Gregor and not absorb his qualities. Your environment has been Anglo-Saxon, where the first block in the picture is fair play. You have been constantly under the tutelage of a fine and lofty personality, Gregor's. Whatever evil traits you may have inherited, they have become subject to the influences that have surrounded you. Take me, for instance. I was born in a rather puritanical atmosphere. My environments have always been good. Yet there lurks in me the taint of Macaire. Given the wrong environment, I should now have my picture in the Rogues' Gallery."

"You?"

"Yes."

Hawksley played with his fork. "If you had a daughter would you trust me with her?"

"Yes. Any man who can weep unashamed over the portrait of his mother may be trusted. Once you are out there in Montana you'll forget all about your paternal forbears."

Handsome beggar, thought Cutty; but evidently born under the opal. An inexplicable resentment against his guest stirred his heart. He resented his youth, his ease of manner, his fluency in the common tongue. He was theoretically a Britisher; he thought British; approached subjects from a British point of view. A Britisher--except when he had that fiddle tucked under his chin. Then Cutty admitted he did not know what he was. Devil take him!

There must have been something electrical in Cutty's resentment, for the object of it felt it subtly, and it fired his own. He resented the freedom of action that had always been denied him, resented his host's mental and physical superiority. Did Cutty care for the girl, or was he playing the game as it had been suggested to him? Money and freedom. But then, it was in no sense a barter; she would be giving nothing, and the old beggar would be asking nothing. His suggestion! He laughed.

"What's the joke?" asked Cutty, looking up from his coffee, which he was stirring with unnecessary vigour.

"It isn't a joke. I'm bally well twisted. I laugh now when I think of something tragic. I am sorry about last night. I was mad, I suppose."

"Tell me about it."

Cutty listened intently and smiled occasionally. Mad as hatters, both of them. He and Kitty couldn't have gone on a romp like this, but Kitty and Hawksley could. Thereupon his resentment boiled up again.

"Have you any idea why she took such a risk? Why she came here, knowing me to be absent?"

"She spoke of a problem. I fancy it related to your approaching marriage. She told me."

Cutty laid down his spoon. "I'd like to dump Your Highness into the middle of East River for putting that idea into my head. She has consented to it; and now, damn it, I've got to back out of it!" Cutty rose and flung down his napkin.

"Why?" asked the bewildered Hawksley.

"Because there is in me the making of a first-rate scoundrel, and I never should have known it if you and your affairs hadn't turned up."

Cutty entered his study and slammed the door, leaving Hawksley prey to so many conflicting emotions that his head began to bother him. Back out of it! Why? Why should Kitty have a problem to solve over such a marriage of convenience, and why should the old thoroughbred want to back out?

Kitty would be free, then? A flash of fire, which subsided quickly under the smothering truth. What if she were free? He could not ask her to be his wife. Not because of last night's madness. That no longer troubled him. She was the sort who would understand, if he told her. She had a soul big with understanding. It was that he walked in the shadow of death, and would so long as Karlov was free; and he could not ask any woman to share that.

He pushed back his chair slowly. In the living room he took the Amati from its case and began improvising. What the chrysoprase did for Cutty the fiddle did for this derelict--solved problems.

He reviewed all the phases as he played. That dish of bacon and eggs, the resolute air of her, that popping fan! (Allegretto.) She had found him senseless on the floor. She had had the courage to come to his assistance. (Andante con espressione.) What had been in her mind that night she had taken flight from his bedroom, after having given him the wallet? Something like tears. What about? An American girl, natural, humorous, and fanciful. Somehow he felt assured that it had not been his kisses; she had looked into his eyes and seen the taint. Always there, the beast that old Stefani had chained and subdued. He knew now that this beast would never again lift its head. And he had let her go without a sign. (Dolorosomente.) To have gone through life with a woman who would have understood his nature. The test of her had been last night in the streets. His mood had been hers. (Allegretto con amore.)

"Love," he said, lowering the bow.

"Love," said Cutty, shifting his chrysoprase. There was no fool like an old fool. It did not serve to recall Molly in all her glory, to reach hither and yon for a handhold to pull him out of this morass. Molly had become an invisible ghost. He loved her daughter. Double sunset; the phenomenon of the Indian Ocean was now being enacted upon his own horizon. Double sunset.

But why should Kitty have any problem to solve? Why should she dodder over such a trifle as this prospective official marriage? It was only a joke which would legalize his generosity. She had sent that telegram after leaving this apartment. What had happened here to decide her? Had Hawksley fiddled? There was something the matter with the green stones to-night; they evoked nothing.

He leaned back in his chair, listening, the bowl of his pipe touching the lapel of his coat. Music. Queer, what you could do with a fiddle if you knew how.

After all there was no sense in venting his anger on Hawksley. He was hoist by his own petard. Why not admit the truth? He had had a crack on the head the same night as Hawksley; only, he had been struck by an idea, often more deadly than the butt of a pistol. He would apologize for that roaring exit from the dining room. The poor friendless devil! He bent toward the green stones again. In the living room Hawksley sat in a chair, the fiddle across his knees. He understood now. The old chap was in love with the girl, and was afraid of himself; couldn't risk having her and letting her go.... A curse on the drums of jeopardy! Misfortune followed their wake always. The world would have been different this hour if he--The break in the trend of thought was caused by the entrance of Kuroki, who was followed by a man. This man dropped into a chair without apparently noticing that the room was already tenanted, for he never glanced toward Hawksley. A haggard face, dull of eye. Kuroki bobbed and vanished, but returned shortly, beckoning the stranger to follow him into the study.

"Coles?" cried Cutty delightedly. Here was the man he had sent to negotiate for the emeralds, free. "How did you escape? We've combed the town for you."

"They had me in a room on Fifteenth Street. Once in a while I got something to eat. But I haven't escaped. I'm still a prisoner."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I am here as an emissary. There was nothing for me to do but accept the job."

"Did he have the stones?" asked Cutty, without the least suspicion of what was coming.

"That I don't know. He pretended to have them in order to get me where he wanted me. I've been hungry a good deal because I wouldn't talk. I'm here as a negotiator. A rotten business. I agreed because I've hopes you'll be able to put one over on Karlov. It's the girl."

"Kitty?"

"Karlov has her. The girl wasn't to blame. Any one in the game would have done as she did. Karlov is bugs on politics; but he's shrewd enough at this sort of game. He trapped the girl because he'd studied her enough to learn what she would or would not do. Now they are not going to hurt her. They merely propose exchanging her for the man you've been hiding up here. There's a taxi downstairs. It will carry me back to Fifteenth; then it will return and wait. If the man is not at the appointed place by midnight--he must go in this taxi--the girl will be carried off elsewhere, and you'll never lay eyes on her again. Karlov and his gang are potential assassins; all they want is excuse. Until midnight they will not touch the girl; but after midnight, God knows! What message am I to take back?"

"Do you know where she is?"

Cutty spoke without much outward emotion.

"Not the least idea. Whenever Karlov wanted to quiz me, he appeared late at night from some other part of the town. But he never got much."

"You saw him this evening?"

"Yes. It probably struck him as a fine joke to send me."

"And if you don't go back?"

"The girl will be taken away. I'm honestly afraid of the man. He's too quiet spoken. That kind of a man always goes the limit."

"I see. Wait here."

At Cutty's approach Hawksley looked up apathetically.

"Want me?"

"Perhaps."

"You are pale. Anything serious?"

"Yes. Karlov has got Kitty."

For a minute Hawksley did not stir. Then he got up, put away the Amati, and came back. He was pale, too.

"I understand," he said. "They will exchange her for me. Am I right?"

"Yes. But you are not obliged to do anything like that, you know."

"I am ready."

"You give yourself up?"

"Why not?"

"You're a man!" Cutty burst out.

"I was brought up by one. Honestly, now, could I ever look a white man in the face again if I didn't give myself up? I did begin to believe that I might get through. But Fate was only playing with me. May I use your desk to write a line?"

"Come with me," said Cutty, unsteadily. This was not the result of environment. Quiet courage of this order was race. No questions demanding if there wasn't some way round the inevitable. Cutty's heart glowed; the boy had walked into it, never to leave it. "I'm ready." It took a man to say that when the sequence was death.

"Coles," said Cutty upon reentering the study, "tell Karlov that His Highness will give himself up. He will be there before midnight."

"That's enough for me. But if there's the least sign that you're not playing straight it will be all off. Two men will be watching the taxi and the entrance. If you appear, it's good-night. They told me to warn you."

"I promise not to appear."

Coles smiled enigmatically and reached for his hat. He held his hand out to Hawksley. "You're a white man, sir."

"Thanks," said Hawksley, absently. To have it all over with!

As soon as the captive Federal agent withdrew Hawksley sat down at the desk and wrote.

"Will this hold legally?" he asked, extending the written sheet to Cutty.

Cutty saw that it was a simple will. In it Hawksley gave half of his possessions to Kitty and half to Stefani Gregor. In case the latter was dead the sum total was to go to Kitty.

"I got you into a muddle; this will take you out of it. Karlov will kill me. I don't know how. I am his obsession. He will sleep better with me off his mind. Will this hold legally?"

"Yes. But why Kitty Conover, a stranger?"

"Is a woman who saves your life a stranger?"

"Well, not exactly. This is what we might call zero hour. I gave you a haven here not particularly because I was sorry for you, but because I wanted those emeralds. Once upon a time Gregor showed them to me. Until I examined your wallet I supposed you had smuggled in the stones; and that would have been fair game. But you had paid your way in honestly. Now, what did you do to Kitty Conover last night that decided her to accept that fool proposition? She sent her acceptance after she left you.

"I did not know that. I played for her. She became music-struck, and I took advantage of it--kissed her. Then she told me she was going to marry you."

"And that is why you asked me if I would trust you with a daughter of mine?"

"Yes."

"Conscience. That explains this will."

"No. Why did you accept my suggestion to marry her?"

"To make her comfortable without sidestepping the rules of convention."

"No. Because you love her--the way I do."

Cutty's pipe slipped from his teeth. It did not often do that. He stamped out the embers and laid the pipe on the tray.

"What makes you think I love her?"

"What makes me tell you that I do?"

"Yes, death may be at the end of to-night's work; so I'll admit that I love her. She is like a forest stream, wild at certain turns, but always sweet and clear. I'm an old fool, old enough to be her father. I loved her mother. Can a man love two women with all his heart, one years after the other?"

"It is the avatar; she is the reincarnation of the mother. I understand now. What was a beautiful memory takes living form again. You still love the mother; the daughter has revived that love."

"By the Lord Harry, I believe you've struck it! Walked into the fog and couldn't find the way out. Of course. What an old ass I've been! Simple as daylight. I've simply fallen in love with Molly all over again, thinking it was Kitty. Plain as the nose on my face. And I might have made a fine mess of it if you hadn't waked me up."

All this gentle irony went over Hawksley's head. "When do you wish me to go down to the taxi?"

"Son, I'm beginning to like you. You shall have your chance. In fact, we'll take it together. There'll be a taxi but I'll hire it. I'm quite positive I know where Kitty is. If I'm correct you'll have your chance. If I'm wrong you'll have to pay the score. We'll get her out or we'll stay where she is. In any event, Karlov will pay the price. Wouldn't you prefer to go out--if you must--in a glorious scrap?"

"Fighting?" Hawksley was on his feet instantly. "Do you mean that? I can die with free hands?"

"With a chance of coming out top-hole."

"I say, what a ripping thing hope is--always springing back!"

Cutty nodded. But he knew there was one hope that would never warm his heart again. Molly!... Well, he'd let the young chap believe that. Kitty must never know. Poor little chick, fighting with her soul in the dark and not knowing what the matter was! Such things happened. He had loved Molly on sight. He had loved Kitty on sight. In neither case had he known it until too late to turn about. Mother and daughter; a kind of sacrilege, as if he had betrayed Molly! But what a clear vision acknowledged love lent to the mind! He understood Kitty, who did not understand herself. Well, this night's adventure would decide things.

He smiled. Neither Kitty nor the drums of jeopardy; nothing. The gates of paradise again--for somebody else! Whoever heard of a prompter receiving press notices?

"Let's look alive! We haven't any time to waste. We'll have to change to dungarees--engineer togs. There'll be some tools to carry. We go straight down to the boiler room. We come up the ash exit on the street side. Remember, no suspicious haste. Two engineers off for their evening swig of beer at the corner groggery. Through the side door there, and into my taxi. Obey every order I give. Now run along to Kuroki and say night work for both of us. He'll understand what's wanted. I'll set the machinery in motion for a raid. How do you feel? I want the truth. I don't want to turn to you for help and not get it."

Hawksley laughed. "Don't worry about me. I'll carry on. Don't you understand? To have an end of it, one way or the other! To come free or to die there!"

"And if Kitty is not where I believe her to be?"

"Then I'll return to the taxi outside."

To be young like that! thought Cutty, feeling strangely sad and old. "To come free or to die there!" That was good Anglo-Saxon. He would make a good American citizen--if he were in luck.

At half after nine the two of them knelt on the roof before the cemented trap. Nothing but raging heat disintegrates cement. So the liberation of this trap, considering the time, was a Herculean task, because it had to be accomplished with little or no noise. Cold chisels, fulcrums, prying, heaving, boring. To free the under edge; the top did not matter. Not knowing if Kitty were below--that was the worst part of the job.

The sweat of agony ran down Hawksley's face; but he never faltered. He was going to die to-night, somehow, somewhere, but with free hands, the way Stefani would have him die, the way the girl would have him die. All these thousands of miles--to die in a house he had never seen before, just when life was really worth something!

An hour went by. Then they heard Kitty's signal. Instinctively the two of them knew that the taps came from her. They were absolutely certain when her signal was repeated. She was below, alone.

"Faster!" whispered Cutty.

Hawksley smiled. To say that to a chap when he was digging into his tomb!

When the sides of the trap were free Cutty tapped to Kitty again. There was a long, agonizing wait. Then three taps came from below. Cutty flashed a signal to the warehouse windows. In five minutes the raid would be in full swing--from the roof, from the street, from the cellar.

With their short crowbars braced by stout fulcrums the two men heaved. Noise did not matter now. Presently the trap went over.

"Look out for your hands; there's lots of loose glass. And together when we drop."

"Right-o!" whispered Hawksley, assured that when he dropped through the trap the result would be oblivion. Done in.

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CHAPTER XXIXNot unusually, when we burn our bridges, we have in the back of our minds the dim hope that there may be a shallow ford somewhere. Thus, bridges should not be burned impulsively; there may be no ford. The idea of retreat pushed forward in Kitty's mind the moment she awoke; but she pressed it back in shame. She had given her word, and she would stand by it. The night had been a series of wild impulses. She had not sent that telegram to Cutty as the result of her deliberations in the country. Impulse; a flash, and the
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