- CHAPTER XXI THE TELEPHONE
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THE boudoir was stuffy and smelled of moth powder.
With its ivory-white walls and masses of sheeting it looked crudely bright in the glare of electricity switched on by Logan. A glance at the closed bay window showed that outside the glass was a screen of unpainted wood. There was no door save that through which Win had just entered.
All the furniture was pushed against the walls, except a writing-desk with gilded legs, which stood in the embrasure of the big window, and to this the girl ran softly, on tiptoe, across the bare parquet floor. The desk was covered with sheeting, which she turned carefully back that nothing might be disturbed and, in falling, make a noise. Almost she had reached the limit of her strength and had no breath even to whisper the "Thank Heaven!" she felt, seeing what she had prayed to find—a telephone and directory.
It was the hope of this that had upheld her through the scene which already seemed dreamlike. But though telephone and book were here, she was far enough yet from being out of danger. She had not seen the house number, as the boards which covered the front door covered it also. Knowing the street and the name of the man who owned the house (if Logan had told the truth), she could find the telephone number in the book, but it meant a waste of time.| | 232
And then, Logan might have lied. This might not be his father's house. Or, if it were, the telephone might have been cut off for the summer in the family's absence. She could not be sure of that till the last moment, for the instant Logan heard her talk he would try to tear her away from the telephone. If only there were a key or a bolt—the frailest, slightest bolt, just strong enough to keep the man out for five minutes! But it was useless to wish for what could not be. She must do her best with the ammunition at hand, and be quick about it, for here was her fort of refuge, and she must hold it while she fired her one shot.
On the desk lay a large tortoise-shell paper-knife. That, thrust under the door as a wedge, would be almost as good as a lock. At least she might count on it to protect her for those so necessary five minutes. But if she pushed it through to the other side Jim Logan would see the flat, brown blade stick out like a defiant tongue over the door-sill if he were in the hall keeping watch. Knowing that she could not escape, perhaps he had returned to the dining-room, perhaps he was giving instructions to his servant—perhaps any one of a dozen things, yet she could not count on any of them!
She took the paper-knife, and holding it firmly by its carved handle, she put the blade under the sole off her foot and thus snapped it off short.
The thick end, still attached to the handle, was just not too thick to push part way under the door. Win could only hope that it might hold when need came.
Now for the book! As she began turning over the pages she found that her hands were trembling. She had to repeat the alphabet from the beginning before she could remember where the letter "L" came in.
Yes, there was the name—Logan. There were many Logans, but only one in this particular street. With | | 233 a blunt pencil attached to a small writing-pad she scribbled down the telephone and house number to have them before her eyes, lest in her frantic excitement she might confuse the two in her mind.
These preparations made, the girl's heart quickened as the fateful moment came. The prompt response from Central was heavenly music. The Logan family had not studied economy and cut off their telephone. "Give me the nearest police station quick!" she added to the number, and at the sound of an hysterical note in her voice Logan's hand was on the door-knob.
If the wedge failed she was lost. But bending over the desk, the receiver at her ear, she dared not turn to see what was happening.
"You young devil! Let me in, or you'll be sorry all your life!" Logan shouted through the door, giving the heavy oak panels a kick.
"Is that the police?" Win spoke loudly that Logan might hear. She gave the number of the house, then hurried on: "For God's sake send at once. The house is shut up, but by a trick a girl has been brought in by young Mr. Logan. She's in great danger. It's she who is calling—begging for help—quick—quick—he's here!"
Crash! The door flew wide and banged against the wall, Logan almost falling into the room as the wedge shook loose. Slipping on the smooth parquet, he lost his balance for an instant, and before he could reach the girl to snatch the receiver from her hand, she had dashed through the door and into the hall. There she would have been stopped by the servant if she had not dodged under his arm and darted into the dining-room. Once in, she slammed the door shut in the face of Logan's man and fumbled wildly to turn the key her trembling fingers found.
Something was wrong—or else it was the fault of | | 234 those shaking fingers. The key would not turn. Win set her shoulder to the door and pushed against the panels with the whole strength of her slim body. But it was not enough. The door gave and pushed her back. Then, realizing that she could not hold it against superior force, she suddenly let go and ran to stand at bay behind the table.
When Jim Logan, all the latent brutality in him wideawake, came bounding over the threshold, she faced him across his silver and flowers and glittering glass.
"Come here!" he said in a voice curiously unlike the jovial tones she had known as his.
"No!" she panted. "I'll stay where I am till the police arrest you as a kidnapper."
"You'll not stay!" he flung at her. "If you won't come out of that, I'll fetch you."
The girl stood behind one of the two chairs drawn up to the table and both hands convulsively clutched the high, carved back. But seeing him spring toward her, she lost her nerve for the first time. Trying to make a screen of the chair, she felt the floating gauze of her dress catch on some unseen nail or splinter of broken wood, struggled to tear it free, and found herself in Logan's arms. The shrill sound of ripping stitches and tearing gauze mingled with the sharp blow of the girl's palm on the man's ear, and his oath breathed hot on her cheek.
"You fool, do you think I wish to keep you after what you've done?" he blurted out. "All I ask is to be rid of you before those fellows get here. I thought I'd have one kiss—but I wouldn't take it now if you gave it to me. Sims, run down into the basement and let her out that way. Now, you young devil, after him, if you don't want to be choked and buried in the cellar."| | 235
Hardly knowing what she did, Win obeyed. Tripping in the rags of her torn gown, she followed the man, who opened a door that led to a narrow stairway. Next came a vague vision of a basement corridor and a disordered kitchen. A minute later she was pushed into a dark area, a door was shut behind her, she was stumbling up some stone steps; then hurrying along the street as fast as she could go, conscious only that danger was behind her, that she must fly from it and put a long distance between her and that closed house.
If Win had known that the door had shut upon Jim Logan also, and that he had walked out of the house almost on her heels, she would have hurried even faster. But she did not know. And luckily he took the opposite direction, making straight for the New Cosmopolitan Club at the corner, which she had noticed when passing in the taxi.
Hardly five minutes after he had interrupted his guest in her call to the police, Jim Logan was inquiring of the hall porter whether Mr. Fred Fortescue had come in that evening.
"He came, sir, but has gone out again," replied the man, thinking that the immaculate Mr. Logan—one of the best-dressed, best-groomed members of the New Cosmopolitan—appeared to be feeling the heat severely.
"Jove, I'm sorry to hear that," and Logan's expression confirmed his words. "I wanted to see him badly. Let me think. Who else is here? What about Mr. Pindar?"
"Hasn't been in, sir, for weeks," was the reply.
"Gee!" muttered Logan. He seemed worried, and in the brilliant light of the fine hall—white-panelled, and hung with clever caricatures of well-known men | | 236 —his face was pale and even drawn. He looked, it occurred to the hall porter (a man of imagination), rather like a caricature of himself, not so well coloured as those on the walls. Evidently conning the names of friends who might be useful in an emergency, Logan's eyes were fixed on the stairway, as if thence inspiration or salvation might come. He wore the air of having sent his astral body hastily upstairs to search the reading and smoking rooms, but at that minute Peter Rolls junior appeared on the landing, and Logan and his astral body joined forces again.
"Hello, Rolls!" he called out. "You're just the man I want. Will you do me a great favour in a big hurry?"
Petro, whose inmost self had also been absent on some errand, came to earth again with a slight start. "Hello!" he echoed, hastening his steps.
He did not care much for Logan, who had been a classmate of his at college, and whose acquaintance he had not cultivated since. Still he had nothing against the fellow except that he was a "dude" and something of an ass whose outlook on life was so different from Petro's that friendship was impossible. They met occasionally at the New Cosmopolitan Club, of which they had both been members for some years, and at houses where their different "sets" touched distantly. If they talked at all, they talked of old times, but each bored the other. Petro, however, could never bear to refuse anyone a favour, even if granting it were an uncongenial task. This peculiarity was constitutional and too well known for his comfort.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked in a tone polite, but void of personal interest.
"To come home with me quick and get me out of a horrid scrape. No trouble for you—but a lot for me without a pal to see me through. I won't keep you | | 237 more than a few minutes, if you're engaged anywhere."
"I'm not engaged. But——" Petro began, only to be cut short.
"Come along, then, for the Lord's sake. Tell you everything when we're there." And taking Rolls affectionately by the arm, the other rushed him out of the club.
"House shut up, you know. But I stay there. My man'll let us in the basement way, if you don't mind," Logan explained disjointedly as they hurried along the street to the dwelling four doors away.
Sims, obedient to instructions flung at him over his master's shoulder when the girl had been let out, now awaited Logan's return at the tradesfolks' entrance. The two young men were admitted and the door locked behind them. A minute more and they were in the rosily glowing dining-room where the white table still offered attractive refreshment.
"Sit down," said Logan, and as he said it a great knocking began somewhere.
Listening in surprise, Petro forgot to accept the invitation—which might have been more tempting if he had not, about half an hour ago, finished dinner. Logan repeated the words, however, and even pulled out a chair for Petro, who took it. Logan seized the other, and Petro, following his host's example, drew up to the table. Still the pounding went on, more loudly than before, if possible. It began to seem rather like something in a play when you had missed the first scene and didn't quite understand what it was all about.
"I think, sir, it's some one at the door," calmly announced Sims, raising his voice decorously, to be heard over the noise. "Shall I see who it is, or shall I let them knock and go away?"| | 238
"See who it is, and if it's the police, make no objection to their coming in. Be surprised, but not frightened and say Mr. Logan has a friend supping with him! Savvy?"
"Yes, sir," responded Sims, and vanished.
"No time to let you into this stunt on the ground floor," went on Logan. "But I will as soon as the turn's over. For all sakes, keep mum while I talk."
Before Petro could answer, if he had an answer ready, there were deep voices in the hall. Then the door was opened by Sims and two plain-clothes policemen stepped briskly in.
"Hello! What's up? House on fire?" exclaimed Logan, pausing in the act of handing a dish of iced caviare to his guest.
"We're not from the fire department," said the younger and smarter-looking of the pair civilly, yet with a certain grimness. "I guess you know that well enough. We've been sent here on a hurry call on your 'phone to the police—a girl supposed to be detained in the house against her will." And keen eyes took in the details of the room.
Logan broke into a jovial guffaw. "Girl? Well, of all—the freak—stunts!" he chortled. "Say, Rolls, are you the great female impersonator? Ha, ha!"
"Sorry to interrupt you and your friend," remarked the detective, still grimly, though he had caught and been slightly impressed by the name of Rolls, as the speaker had, perhaps, intended. Logan as a name also carried some weight in New York. One was not rude to a Logan until sure how far and fast duty compelled one to proceed. "But I gotta ask you straight whether there's a girl in this house, and you'd better answer the same way."
Logan stopped laughing. "Really, I thought at first you were some of the fellows from the club got up | | 239 in disguise for a joke," he said. "Of course I'll answer you straight. There's no girl in this house so far as I know, and hasn't been since my sister went away with the rest of the folks, 2nd of June. I can't think how such a—but gee! yes, I can! The silly old sucker! I bet it's a put-up job."
"What d'ye mean?" the plain-clothes man wanted to know.
"Why, does the name of Frederick Doland Fortescue mean anything to you?"
"We know who he is."
"Well, then, I guess you know he's the champion practical joker of this burg. He was here a while ago—hasn't been gone a quarter of an hour. Went just before Mr. Rolls came in. Asked if he could use the telephone. I said yes, and my servant showed him into my mother's boudoir next to this room. I heard him ring up some one, but didn't get what he said. I noticed when he was through he came out chuckling, and then he was off like a shot—told me he had a date up-town somewhere. That's all I know, but it would be like him to play just such a fool trick on you and me."
"Seems 'twas a woman's voice at the 'phone."
"Gee! I did sort of get onto it, he was mimicking a girl! Sounded kind of shrill, but I didn't pay attention. He's always up to some lark. You're welcome to go over the house, though, if you don't believe me."
"It ain't a question of believing or not," said the detective. "But we'll have to look around."
"All right!" returned Logan, still with that perfect good nature which was having its effect on the two intruders. "Would you rather do the job by your tones, or shall my man show you the way? I suppose you don't mind us going on with our supper if I spare you Sims and we help ourselves to food?"| | 240
"You can stay where you are," was the answer.
"Thanks. But when you're satisfied that a mosquito or so's the only live-stock on the premises, I should like you both to crack a bottle of champagne with us."
"It wouldn't be quite in order——"
"Hang order! The police and I are pals. Now you'll do me proud if you'll look in on your way out. Bring the girl, if you find her!" And Logan laughed at his own joke.
"Don't think I've let you in for anything!" He turned to Rolls as the door shut. "They'll find no one, for the good reason there's no one to find. All the same, I should have been in a mess if you hadn't come right along like a brick and helped me out."
"I don't quite see yet how I have helped you," rather dryly remarked Petro.
"But I guess you're guessing."
"If I've guessed right, I'm not enjoying the joke."
"Then maybe you haven't guessed right! Give me the benefit of the doubt till those good men and true are the other side of the front door, will you? I'm as rattled as they make 'em now! Say, this is a raid, ain't it? Wonder if they've got the Black Maria outside? Can't you eat any caviare? Wish you would. Well, shall we skip along to the consommé?"
"I've just got down my dinner," said Rolls, who was guessing too hard to taste anything with salt in it, in his old classmate's house.
"Well, a little of this champagne cup, anyhow? It's girls' drink, but not bad this weather, and old Sims is a nailer at mixing——"
"No, thanks, nothing at all."
"You must let me half fill your glass, or those chaps will get onto it that you're playing dummy!" As he spoke Logan poured champagne cup into Peter's tall tumbler and his own. The latter he filled with the | | 241 ice-cold, sparkling liquid which, as he said, was "girls' drink," and then, seizing the glass, emptied it in one long draught.
It was he who did most of the talking that whiled away time till the policemen returned from their tour of the house; and when they opened the door of the dining-room once more he was eating chicken salad while Peter crumbled toast.
"I don't see the lady!" Logan exclaimed facetiously, with his mouth full.
"Neither did we," said the man who had taken the lead.
"Hope you did the thing thoroughly while you were about it? Garret to cellar and all the rest?"
"You bet we did," returned the policeman, allowing himself the relief of a grin now. "I guess you was right about the practical joker. But you must excuse us if we look behind these curtains."
"Under the table, too!" laughed Logan, jumping to his feet. "Stand and deliver, Rolls!"
Petro obeyed rather reluctantly, feeling that he had been made a fool of, at best, in his stupid wish to be good-natured. It might be a joke, as Logan insisted, but something told him it was not. The look on the fellow's face as he gulped down the champagne cup had not been funny. It was in Petro's mind that he had been brought in to cover up with his presence an unpleasant incident and ignorantly to trick the police.
Of course, if there were a girl in the house, the police would have found her. But—there was something queer. He meant to have it all out with Logan when the police were gone. Meantime, however, he behaved loyally and stood up to leave the table clear while one of the detectives did actually bend down to peer under it. As the policeman stooped Peter mechanically pulled the chair back, and doing so he caught sight of a thin | | 242 blue streak lying, like solidified cigarette smoke, across the red brocade cushion. In this smoke-blue streak there were little things that glistened—little silver things shaped like crescent moons set at regular intervals from each other. Peter had been unconsciously sitting on the smoke wreath, and as the policeman rose he deliberately sat down on it again. He felt suddenly sick, and his heart was large and cold in his breast, where it did not beat, but floundered like a caught fish.
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