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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 24. Isaac At Bay
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 24. Isaac At Bay Post by :markbc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2914

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 24. Isaac At Bay

CHAPTER XXIV. ISAAC AT BAY

Arnold had a swift premonition of what had happened. He led Ruth to a chair and stood by her side. Ruth gazed around the room in bewilderment. The curtained screen which divided it had been torn down, and the door of the inner apartment, which Isaac kept so zealously locked, stood open. Not only that, but the figure of a second man was dimly seen moving about inside, and, from the light shining out, it was obviously in some way illuminated.

"I don't understand who you are or what you are doing here," Ruth declared, trembling in every limb.

"My name is Inspector Grant," the man replied. "My business is with Isaac Lalonde, who I understand is your uncle."

"What do you want with him?" she asked.

The inspector made no direct reply.

"There are a few questions," he said, "which it is my duty to put to you."

"Questions?" she repeated.

"Do you know where your uncle is?"

Ruth shook her head.

"I left him here this morning," she replied. "He has not been out for several days. I expected to find him here when I returned."

"We have been here since four o'clock," the man said. "There was no one here when we arrived, nor has any one been since. Your uncle has no regular hours, I suppose?"

"He is very uncertain," Ruth answered. "He does newspaper reporting, and he sometimes has to work late."

"Can you tell me what newspaper he is engaged upon?"

"The _Signal_, for one," Ruth replied.

Inspector Grant was silent for a moment.

"The _Signal newspaper offices were seized by the police some days ago," he remarked. "Do you know of any other journal on which your uncle worked?"

She shook her head.

"He tells me very little of his affairs," she faltered.

The inspector pointed backwards into the further corner of the apartment.

"Do you often go into his room there?" he asked.

"I have not been for months," Ruth assured him. "My uncle keeps it locked up. He told me that there had been some trouble at the office and he was printing something there."

The inspector rose slowly to his feet. On the table by his side was a pile of articles covered over with a tablecloth. Very deliberately he removed the latter and looked keenly at Ruth. She shrank back with a little scream. There were half a dozen murderous-looking pistols there, a Mannerlicher rifle, and a quantity of ammunition.

"What does your uncle need with these?" the inspector asked dryly.

"How can I tell?" Ruth replied. "I have never seen one of them before. I never knew that they were in the place."

"Nor I," Arnold echoed. "I have been a constant visitor here, too, and I have never seen firearms of any sort before."

The inspector turned towards him.

"Are you a friend of Isaac Lalonde?" he asked.

"I am not," Arnold answered. "I am a friend of his niece here, Miss Ruth Lalonde. I know very little of Isaac, although I see him here sometimes."

"I should like to know your name, if you have no objection," the inspector remarked.

"My name is Chetwode," Arnold told him. "I occupy a room on the other side of the passage."

"When did you last see Isaac Lalonde?"

Arnold did not hesitate for a moment. What he had seen at Hampstead belonged to himself. He deliberately wiped out the memory of it from his thoughts.

"On Thursday evening here."

The inspector made a note in his pocket-book. Then he turned again to Ruth.

"You can give me no explanation, then, as to your uncle's absence to-night?"

"None at all. I can only say what I told you before--that I expected to find him here on my return."

"Was he here when you left this morning?"

"I believe so," Ruth assured him. "He very seldom comes out of his room until the middle of the day, and he does not like my going to him there. As we started very early, I did not disturb him."

"Have you any objection," the inspector asked, "to telling me where you have spent the whole of to-day?"

"Not the slightest," Arnold interposed. "We have been to Bourne End, and to a village in the neighborhood."

The inspector nodded thoughtfully. Ruth leaned a little forward in her chair. Her voice trembled with anxiety.

"Please tell me," she begged, "what is the charge against my uncle?"

The inspector glanced over his shoulder at that inner room, from which fitful gleams of light still came. He looked down at the heap of pistols and ammunition by his side.

"The charge," he said slowly, "is of a somewhat serious nature."

Ruth was twisting up her glove in her hand.

"I do not believe," she declared, "that Isaac has ever done anything really wrong. He is a terrible socialist, and he is always railing at the rich, but I do not believe that he would hurt any one."

The inspector looked grimly at the little pile of firearms.

"A pretty sort of armory, this," he remarked, "for a peace-loving man. What do you suppose he keeps them here for, in his room? What do you suppose--"

They all three heard it at the same time. The inspector broke off in the middle of his sentence. Ruth, shrinking in her chair, turned her head fearfully towards the door, which still stood half open. Arnold was looking breathlessly in the same direction. Faintly, but very distinctly, they heard the patter of footsteps climbing the stone stairs. It sounded as though a man were walking upon tiptoe, yet dragging his feet wearily. The inspector held up his hand, and his subordinate, who had been searching the inner room, came stealthily out. Ruth, obeying her first impulse, opened her lips to shriek. The inspector leaned forward and his hand suddenly closed over her mouth. He looked towards Arnold, who was suffering from a moment's indecision.

"If you utter a sound," he whispered, "you will be answerable to the law."

Nobody spoke or moved. It was an odd little tableau, grouped together in the dimly lit room. The footsteps had reached the last flight of stairs now. They came slowly across the landing, then paused, as though the person who approached could see the light shining through the partly open door. They heard a voice, a voice almost unrecognizable, a voice hoarse and tremulous with fear, the voice of a hunted man.

"Are you there, Ruth?"

Ruth struggled to reply, but ineffectually. Slowly, and as though with some foreboding of danger, the footsteps came nearer and nearer. An unseen hand cautiously pushed the door open. Isaac stood upon the threshold, peering anxiously into the room. The inspector turned and faced him.

"Isaac Lalonde," he said, "I have a warrant for your arrest. I shall want you to come with me to Bow Street."

With the certainty of danger, Isaac's fear seemed to vanish into thin air. He saw the open door of his ransacked inner room and the piled-up heap of weapons upon the table. Face to face with actual danger, the, courage of a wild animal at bay seemed suddenly vouchsafed to him.

"Come with you to Hell!" he cried. "I think not, Mr. Inspector. Are these the witnesses against me?"

He pointed to Ruth and Arnold. Ruth clutched her stick and staggered tremblingly to her feet.

"How can you say that, Isaac!" she exclaimed. "Arnold and I have only been home from the country a few minutes. We walked into the room and found these men here. Isaac, I am terrified. Tell me that you have not done anything really wrong!"

Isaac made no reply. All the time he watched the inspector stealthily. The latter moved forward now, as though to make the arrest. Then Isaac's hand shot out from his pocket and a long stream of yellow fire flashed through the room. The inspector sprang back. Isaac's hand, with the smoke still curling from the muzzle of his pistol, remained extended.

"That was only a warning," Isaac declared, calmly. "I aimed at the wall there. Next time it may be different."

There was a breathless silence. The inspector stood his ground but he did not advance.

"Let me caution you, Isaac Lalonde," he said, "that the use of firearms by any one in your position is fatal. You can shoot me, if you like, and my assistant, but if you do you will certainly be hanged. It is my duty to arrest you and I am going to do it."

Isaac's hand was still extended. This time he had lowered the muzzle of his pistol. The inspector was only human and he paused, for he was looking straight into the mouth of it. Isaac slowly backed toward the door.

"Remember, you are warned!" he cried. "If any one pursues me, I shoot!"

His departure was so sudden and so speedy that he was down the first flight of stairs before the inspector started. Arnold, who was nearest the door, made a movement as though to follow, but Ruth threw her arms around him. The policeman who had been examining the other room rushed past them both.

"You shall not go!" Ruth sobbed. "It is no affair of yours. It is between the police and Isaac."

"I want to stop his shooting," Arnold replied. "He must be mad to use firearms against the police. Let me go, Ruth."

"You can't!" she shrieked. "You can't catch him now!"

Then she suddenly held her ears. Three times quickly they heard the report of the pistol. There was a moment's silence, then more shots. Arnold picked Ruth up in his arms and, running with her across the landing, laid her in his own easy-chair.

"I must see what has happened!" he exclaimed, breathlessly. "Wait here."

She was powerless to resist him. He tore himself free from the clutch of her fingers and rushed down the stairs, expecting every moment to come across the body of one of the policemen. To his immense relief, he reached the street without discovering any signs of the tragedy he feared. Adam Street was deserted, but in the gardens below the Terrace he could hear the sound of voices, and a torn piece of clothing hung from the spike of one of the railings. Isaac had evidently made for the gardens and the river. The sound of the chase grew fainter and fainter, and there were no more shots. Arnold, after a few minutes' hesitation, turned round and reclimbed the stairs. The place smelt of gunpowder, and little puffs of smoke were curling upwards.

Arrived on the top landing, he closed the door of Isaac's room and entered his own apartment. Ruth had dragged herself to the window and was leaning out.

"He has gone across the gardens," she cried breathlessly. "I saw him running. Perhaps he will get away, after all. I saw one of the policemen fall down, and he was quite a long way ahead then."

"At any rate, no harm was done by the firing," Arnold declared. "I don't think he really shot at them at all."

They knelt side by side before the window-sill. The gardens were still faintly visible in the dim moonlight, but all signs of disturbance had passed away. She clung nervously to his arm.

"Arnold," she whispered, "tell me, what do you think he has done?"

"I don't suppose he has done anything very much," Arnold replied, cheerfully. "What I really think is that he has got mixed up with some of these anarchists, writing for this wretched paper, and they have probably let him in for some of their troubles."

They stayed there for a measure of time they were neither of them able to compute. At last, with a little sigh, he rose to his feet. For the first time they began to realize what had happened.

"Isaac will not come back," he said.

She clung to him hysterically.

"Arnold," she cried, "I am nervous. I could not sleep in that room. I never want to see it again as long as I live."

For a moment he was perplexed. Then he smiled. "It's rather an awkward situation for us attic dwellers," he remarked. "I'll bring your couch in here, if you like, and you can lie before the window, where it's cool."

"You don't mind?" she begged. "I couldn't even think of going to sleep. I should sit up all night, anyhow."

"Not a bit," he assured her. "I don't think it would be much use thinking about bed."

He made his way back into Isaac's apartments, brought out her couch and arranged it by the window. She lay down with a little sigh of relief. Then he dragged up his own easy chair to her side and held her hand. They heard Big Ben strike two o'clock, and soon afterwards Arnold began to doze. When he awoke, with a sudden start, her hand was still in his. Eastward, over the city, a faint red glow hung in the heavens. The world was still silent, but in the delicate, pearly twilight the trees in the gardens, the bridge, and the buildings in the distance--everything seemed to stand out with a peculiar and unfamiliar distinctness. She, too, was sitting up, and they looked out of the window together. Five o'clock was striking now.

"I've been asleep!" Arnold exclaimed. "Something woke me up."

She nodded.

"There is some one knocking at the door outside," she whispered. "That is what woke you. I heard it several minutes ago."

He jumped up at once.

"I will go and see what it is," he declared.

He opened the door and looked out onto the landing. The knocking was at the door of Isaac's apartment. Two policemen and a man in plain clothes were standing there.

"There is no one in those rooms," Arnold said. "The door shuts with a spring lock, but I have a key here, if you wish to enter."

The sergeant looked at Arnold and approved of him.

"I have an order to remove some firearms and other articles," he announced. "Also, can you tell me where the young woman--Ruth Lalonde--is?"

"She is in my room," Arnold replied. "She was too terrified to remain alone over there. You don't want her, do you?" he asked, anxiously.

The man shook his head.

"I have no definite instructions concerning her," he said, "but we should like to know that she has no intention of going away."

Arnold threw open the door before them.

"I am sure that she has not," he declared. "She is quite an invalid, and besides, she has nowhere else to go."

The sergeant gave a few orders respecting the movement of a pile of articles covered over by a tablecloth, which had been dragged out of Isaac's room. Before he had finished, Arnold ventured upon the question which had been all the time trembling upon his lips.

"This man Isaac Lalonde--was he arrested?"

The sergeant made no immediate reply.

"Tell me, at least, was any one hurt?" Arnold begged.

"No one was shot, if you mean that," the sergeant admitted.

"Is Isaac in custody?"

"He very likely is by this time," the sergeant said. "As a matter of fact, he got away. A friend of yours, is he?"

"Certainly not," Arnold answered. "I have an attic on the other side of the landing there, and I have made friends with the girl. My interest in Isaac Lalonde is simply because she is his niece. Can you tell me what the charge is against him?"

"We believe him to be one of a very dangerous gang of criminals," the sergeant replied. "I can't tell you more than that. If you take my advice, sir," he continued, civilly, "you will have as little as possible to do with either the man or the girl. There's no doubt about the man's character, and birds of a feather generally flock together."

"I am perfectly certain," Arnold declared, vigorously, "that if there has been anything irregular in her uncle's life, Miss Lalonde knew nothing of it. We both knew that he talked wildly, but, for the rest, his doings have been as much a mystery to her as to me."

The sergeant was summoned by one of his subordinates. The two men stood whispering together for a few moments. He turned finally toward Arnold.

"I shall have to ask you to leave us now, sir," he said civilly.

"There's nothing more you can tell me about this affair, I suppose?" Arnold asked.

The sergeant shook his head.

"You will hear all about it later on, sir."

Arnold turned reluctantly back to his own room, where Ruth, was anxiously waiting. He closed the door carefully behind him.

"Isaac has escaped," he announced, "and no one was hurt."

She drew a little sigh of immense relief.

"Did they tell you what the charge was?"

"Not definitely," he replied. "So far as I could make out from what the sergeant said, it was keeping bad company as much as anything."

"The police are in the rooms now?" she asked.

"Three more of them," he assented. "I don't know what they want but evidently you'll have to stay here. Now I'm going to light this spirit-lamp and make some coffee."

He moved cheerfully about the room, and she watched him all the time with almost pathetic earnestness. Presently he brought the breakfast things over to her side and sat at the foot of her couch while the water boiled. He took her hand and held it caressingly.

"I shouldn't worry about Isaac," he said. "I don't suppose he is really very much mixed up with these fellows. He'll have to keep out of the way for a time, that's all."

"There were the pistols," she faltered, doubtfully.

"I expect they saddled him with them because he was the least likely to be suspected," Arnold suggested. "There's the water boiling already. Now for it."

He cut some bread and butter and made the coffee. They ate and drank almost in silence. Through the open window now the roar of traffic was growing every minute in volume. Across the bridge the daily stream of men and vehicles had commenced to flow. Presently he glanced at the clock and, putting down his coffee cup, rose to his feet.

"In a few minutes, dear, I must be off," he announced. "You won't mind being left, will you?"

Her lips trembled.

"Why should I?" she murmured. "Of course you must go to work."

He went behind his little screen, where he plunged his head into a basin of cold water. When he reappeared, a few minutes later, he was ready to start.

"I expect those fellows will have cleared out from your rooms by now," he said, throwing open the door. "Hullo, what's this?"

A trunk and hatbox had been dragged out onto the landing. A policeman was sitting on a chair in front of the closed door, reading a newspaper.

"We have collected the young lady's belongings, so far as possible, sir," he remarked. "If there is anything else belonging to her, she may be able to get it later on."

"Do you mean to say that she can't go back to her own rooms?" Arnold demanded.

"I am sorry, sir," the man replied, "but I am here to see that no one enters them under any pretext."

Arnold looked at him blankly.

"But what is the young lady to do?" he protested. "She has no other home."

The policeman remained unmoved.

"Sorry, sir," he said, "but her friends will have to find her one for the time being. She certainly can't come in here."

Arnold felt a sudden weight upon his arm. Ruth had been standing by his side and had heard everything. He led her gently back. She was trembling violently.

"Don't worry about me, Arnold," she begged. "You go away. By the time you come back, I--I shall have found a home somewhere."

He passed his arm around her. A wild flash in her eyes had suddenly revealed her thought.

"Unless you promise me," he said firmly, "that I shall find you on that couch when I return this evening, I shall not leave this room."

"But, Arnold,--"

"The business of Samuel Weatherley & Company," he interrupted, glancing at the clock, "will be entirely disorganized unless you promise."

"I promise," she murmured faintly.

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