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Chapter 26 THE BITER BIT

  • Mrs. Carshaw focused him again through her gold-rimmed eye-glasses. “Crazy?” she questioned calmly. “Not a bit of it—merely an old woman bargaining for he_on. Rex would not have done it. After thrashing you he would have left you t_he law, and, were the law to step in, you would surely be ruined. I, on th_ther hand, do not scruple to compound a felony—that is what my lawyers cal_t. My extravagance and carelessness have contributed to encumber Rex’_states with a heavy mortgage. If I provide his wife with a dowry which pay_ff the mortgage and leaves her a nice sum as pin-money, I shall have don_ell.”
  • “Half a million! I—I repudiate your statements. Even if I did not, I have n_uch sum at command.”
  • “Yes, you have, or will have, which is the same thing. Shall I give yo_etails of the Costa Rica cotton concession, arranged between you, and Jacob, and Helen Tower? They’re here. As for repudiation, perhaps I have hurrie_atters. Permit me to go through my story at some length, quoting chapter an_erse.”
  • She spread open her papers again, after having folded them.
  • “Stop this wretched farce,” he almost screamed, for her coolness broke up hi_ever too powerful nervous system. “If—I agree—what guarantee is there—”
  • “Ah! now you’re talking reasonably. I can ensure the acceptance of my terms.
  • First, where is Winifred?”
  • He hesitated. Here was the very verge of the gulf. Any admission implied th_ruth of Mrs. Carshaw’s words. She did not help him. He must take the plung_ithout any further impulsion. But the Senator’s nerve was broken. They bot_new it.
  • “At Gateway House, East Orange,” he said sullenly. “I must tell you that my—m_rother is a dare-devil. Better leave me to——”
  • “I am glad you have told the truth,” she interrupted. “She is not at Gatewa_ouse now. Rex and a detective were there last night. There was a fight. You_rother, a resourceful scoundrel evidently, carried her off. You must find hi_nd her. A train leaves for New York in half an hour. Come back with me an_elp look for her. It will count toward your regeneration.”
  • He glanced at his watch abstractedly. He even smiled in a sickly way as h_aid:
  • “You timed your visit well.”
  • “Yes. A woman has intuition, you know. It takes the place of brains. I shal_wait you in the hall. Now, don’t be stupid, and think of revolvers, an_oisons, and things. You will end by blessing me for my interference. Will yo_e ready in five minutes?”
  • She sat in the lounge, and soon saw some baggage descending. Then Meiklejoh_oined her. She went to the office and asked for a telegraph form. The Senato_ad followed.
  • “What are you going to do?” he asked suspiciously.
  • “I’m wiring Rex to say that you and I are traveling to New York together, an_dvising him to suspend operations until we arrive. That will be helpful. Yo_ill not be tempted to act foolishly, and he will not do anything to prejudic_our future actions.”
  • He gave her a wrathful glance. Mrs. Carshaw missed no point. A man driven t_esperation might be tempted to bring about an “accident” if he fancied h_ould save himself in that way. But, clever as a mother scheming for her son’_elfare proved herself, there was one thing she could not do. Neither she no_ny other human being can prevent the unexpected from happening occasionally.
  • Sound judgment and astute planning will often gain a repute for divination; yet the prophet is decried at times. Steingall had discovered this, and Mrs.
  • Carshaw experienced it now.
  • It chanced that Mick the Wolf, lying in Gateway House on a bed of pain, hi_njuries aggravated by the struggle with the detective, and his temper soure_y Rachel Craik’s ungracious ministrations, found his thoughts dwelling on th_entle girl who had forgotten her own sorrows and tended him, her enemy.
  • Such moments come to every man, no matter how vile he may be, and this lor_olf was a social castaway from whom, during many years, all decent-minde_eople had averted their faces. His slow-moving mind was apt to be dominate_y a single idea. He understood enough of the Costa Rican project to grasp th_ssential fact that there was money in it for all concerned, and mone_onestly earned, if honesty be measured by the ethics of the stoc_anipulator.
  • He realized, too, that neither Voles nor Rachel Craik could be moved b_rgument, and he rightly estimated Fowle as a weak-minded nonentity. So h_lowly hammered out a conclusion, and, having appraised it in his narro_ircle of thought, determined to put it into effect.
  • An East Orange doctor, who had received his instructions from the police, pai_ second visit to Mick the Wolf shortly before the hour of Mrs. Carshaw’_rrival in Atlantic City.
  • “Well, how is the arm feeling now?” he said pleasantly, when he entered th_atient’s bedroom.
  • The answer was an oath.
  • “That will never do,” laughed the doctor. “Cheerfulness is the most importan_actor in healing. Ill-temper causes jerky movements and careless—”
  • “Oh, shucks,” came the growl. “Say, listen, boss! I’ve been broke up twic_ver a slip of a girl. I’ve had enough of it. The whole darn thing is _istake. I want to end it, an’ I don’t give a hoorah in Hades who knows. Jus_ell her friends that if they look for her on board the steamer _Wild Duck_ , loadin’ at Smith’s Pier in the East River, they’ll either find her or strik_er trail. That’s all. Now fix these bandages, for my arm’s on fire.”
  • The doctor wisely put no further questions. He dressed the wounded limb an_ook his departure. A policeman in plain clothes, hiding in a neighborin_arn, saw him depart and hailed him: “Any news, Doc?”
  • “Yes,” was the reply. “If my information is correct you’ll not be kept ther_uch longer.”
  • He motored quickly to the police-station. Within the hour Carshaw, wit_rowning face and dreams of wreaking physical vengeance on the burly frame o_oles, was speeding across New York with Steingall in his recovered car. H_imply hungered for a personal combat with the man who had inflicted suc_ufferings on his beloved Winifred.
  • The story told by Polly Barnard, and supplemented by Petch, revealed ver_learly the dastardly trick practised by Voles the previous evening, while th_odge of smearing out two of the figures on the automobile’s license plat_xplained the success attained in traversing the streets unnoticed by th_olice.
  • Steingall was inclined to theorize.
  • “The finding of the car puzzled me at first, I admit,” he said. “Now, assumin_hat Mick the Wolf has not sent us off on a wild-goose chase, the locality o_he steamer explains it. Voles drove all the way to the East Side, quitted th_ar in the neighborhood of the pier, deposited Miss Bartlett on board th_essel under some plausible pretext, and actually risked the return journe_nto the only part of New York where the missing auto might not be noticed a_nce. He’s a bold rogue, and no mistake.”
  • But Carshaw answered not. The chief glanced at him sideways, and smiled. Ther_as a lowering fire in his companion’s eyes that told its own story.
  • Thenceforward, the run was taken in silence. But Steingall had decided on hi_ext move. When they neared Smith’s Pier Carshaw wished to drive straigh_here.
  • “Nothing of the sort,” was the sharp official command. “We have failed once.
  • Perhaps it was my fault. This time there shall be no mistakes. Turn along th_ext street to the right. The precinct station is three blocks down.”
  • Somewhat surprised by Steingall’s tone, the other obeyed. At the station-hous_ policeman, called from the men’s quarters, where he was quietly reading an_moking, stated that he was on duty in the neighborhood between eight o’cloc_he previous evening and four o’clock that morning. He remembered seeing _ar, similar to the one standing outside, pass about 9.15 P.M. It containe_wo people, he believed, but could not be sure, as the screens were raise_wing to the rain. He did not see the car again; some drunken sailors require_ttention during the small hours.
  • The local police captain and several men in plain clothes were asked t_ssemble quietly on Smith’s Pier. A message was sent to the river police, an_ launch requisitioned to patrol near the _Wild Duck_.
  • Finally, Steingall, who was a born strategist, and whose long experience o_ross-examining counsel rendered him wary before he took irrevocable steps i_ases such as this, where a charge might fail on unforeseen grounds, mad_nquiries from a local ship’s chandler as to the _Wild Duck_ , her cargo, an_er destination.
  • There was no secret about her. She was loading with stores for Costa Rica. Th_onsignees were a syndicate, and both Carshaw and Steingall recognized it_ame as that of the venture in which Senator Meiklejohn was interested.
  • “Do you happen to know if there is any one on board looking after th_nterests of the syndicate?” asked the detective.
  • “Yes. A big fellow has been down here once or twice. He’s going out as th_anager, I guess. His name was—let me see now—”
  • “Voles?” suggested Steingall.
  • “No, that wasn’t it. Oh, I’ve got it—Vane, it was.”
  • Carshaw, dreadfully impatient, failed to understand all this preliminar_urvey; but the detective had no warrant, and ship’s captains become crusty i_heir vessels are boarded in a peremptory manner without justification.
  • Moreover, Steingall quite emphatically ordered Carshaw to remain on the whar_hile he and others went on board.
  • “You want to strangle Voles, if possible,” he said. “From what I’ve heard o_im he would meet the attempt squarely, and you two might do each othe_erious injury. I simply refuse to permit any such thing. You have a much mor_leasant task awaiting you when you meet the young lady. No one will say _ord if you hug her as hard as you like.”
  • Carshaw, agreeing to aught but delay, promised ruefully not to interfere. Whe_he river police were at hand a nod brought several powerfully built officer_losing in on the main gangway of the _Wild Duck_. The police-captain, i_niform, accompanied Steingall on board.
  • A deck hand hailed them and asked their business.
  • “I want to see the captain,” said the detective.
  • “There he is, boss, lookin’ at you from the chart-house now.”
  • They glanced up toward a red-faced, hectoring sort of person who regarded the_ith evident disfavor. Some ships, loading for Central American ports at out- of-the-way wharves, do not want uniformed police on their decks.
  • The two climbed an iron ladder. Men at work in the forehold ceased operation_nd looked up at them. Their progress was followed by many interested eye_rom the wharf. The captain glared angrily. He, too, had noted the presence o_he stalwart contingent near the gangway, nor had he missed the police boat.
  • “What the—” he commenced; but the detective’s stern question stopped a_utburst.
  • “Have you a man named Voles or Vane on board?”
  • “Mr. Vane—yes.”
  • “Did he bring a young woman to this ship late last night?”
  • “I don’t see—”
  • “Let me explain, captain. I’m from the detective bureau. The man I a_nquiring for is wanted on several charges.”
  • The steady official tone caused the skipper to think. Here was no cringin_oreigner or laborer to be brow-beaten at pleasure.
  • “Well, I’m—” he growled. “Here, you,” roaring at a man beneath, “go aft an_ell Mr. Vane he’s wanted on the bridge.”
  • The messenger vanished.
  • “I assume there _is_ a young lady on board?” went on Steingall.
  • “I’m told so. I haven’t seen her.”
  • “Surely you know every one who has a right to be on the ship?”
  • “Guess that’s so, mister, an’ who has more right than the daughter of the ma_ho puts up the dough for the trip? Strikes me you’re makin’ a hash of things.
  • But here’s Mr. Vane. He’ll soon put you where you belong.”
  • Advancing from the after state-rooms came Voles. He was looking at the bridge, but the police-captain was hidden momentarily by the chart-room. He gazed a_teingall with bold curiosity. He had a foot on the companion ladder when h_eard a sudden commotion on the wharf. Turning, he saw Fowle, livid wit_error, writhing in Carshaw’s grasp.
  • Then Voles stood still. The shades of night were drawing in, but he had see_nough to give him pause. Perhaps, too, other less palpable shadows darkene_is soul at that moment.