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by Earle C. Wight

DENNY THE RAT was broke. Grogan, his erstwhile friend and sharer in many illicit spoils, had kicked him out of his saloon when he asked for a drink. And Mike Sweeny, his brother-in-law, proprietor of a doubtful hotel where bed could be had for five, ten and fifteen cents, had refused him shelter, His shoes had great rens in them through which the water sloshed in and out, and the crown of his limp black hat, several sizes too large for him, occasionally overflowed, sending a cascade of dirty, black water down his back.

Never in all his years along the waterfront could he remember when there was not at least one drunk to be "rolled," but now even this was denied him. No vinous sailor-man staggered into his snares, pedestrians kept their coats tightly buttoned over illusive gleams of gold watches, even shop-girls hurrying down gloomy streets displayed no gaudy, jingling purses. Fate made sport of the wise one, the biter was bitten, the hunter hunted; Denny was broke.

Out of the darkness a blue-coated arm suddenly shot; fingers clutched his shoulder. The arm belonged to Billy McShane, the fingers to a hand he had many times crossed with pieces of silver. This time the hand was not greedy, but was the embodiment of the law—of all that was fearful, of a black wagon, of clanging doors, of bars and brutal treatment.

Denny wiggled away with a convulsive movement, leaving a goodly portion of his coat with the officer. Half-way across the street he paused to heap upon the offending head all the choice assortment of vileness he had picked up in his thirty-odd years. Billy McShane waved a friendly hand and nodded. Some day the Rat would pay for this, they both knew it, and, worked up to a frenzy of fear and hatred, Denny continued to express his opinion of the other until, thinking the joke had gone far enough, the policeman raised his whistle to his lips. With that Denny vanished.

Seated in an alley where the raindrops seemed neither so large nor so cold, he took counsel with himself. Then, as fully born as Venus from her sea-foam, an idea sprang into his mind.

Under its watery dirt his face paled a trifle; what he Was about to do was a brave thing. Many men who did not deserve the appellation of Rat, or whose eyes were not set so close together, would have hesitated; but for the moment, between the gnawing at his belly and the goose-flesh on his skin, he was no longer the timid scavenger who pokes his nose fearfully about in the dark. That part of his nature which craved food, tobacco, alcohol, was in the ascendency. He turned the project carefully over in his mind; then, rising quickly, made his way to Grogan's saloon.

The barkeeper was in the act of drinking a glass at a hospitable stranger's expense. He paused to glare angrily at the intruder.

"Back again?" he snarled, reaching for the bung-starter. At any other time Denny would have fled, but for the present he was completely obsessed with Ins great idea. With his hand he made a motion well understood between the two. The barkeeper gave in sullenly, as if sorry to lose the opportunity of using his weapon. The thief slipped quietly into a back room. After a long time the garrulous stranger finished his drink and departed. Denny drew a deep breath and eyed the barkeeper stonily across the sloppy table.

"Gimme a poice o' poiper—none o' ye're dirty pad, cully—an enwelop and a stamp. Now chase yerself; this is me busy day!"

Grogan's night helper rose reluctantly. This was not the man he knew. Come to bully, he found himself relegated to the position of servant; nevertheless he went. Such is the dominance of a splendid conception.

The material at hand, the Rat wrote with many blotches, laborious lip-spelling of words, and hunching of elbows. With his letter finally finished, safe in the envelope and addressed, he rose to face the bartender leaning over his shoulder. That worthy stretched out a soft, white hand.

"Come in and have a dram," he said,' "and I'll wrap you up a pint."

"Where youse goin' to stay?" he asked when the drink was gone. "Now, I've got a cot," he added tentatively; "if you think——" And the Rat said he did think, in rather a bored tone, for he was still under the spell of his great idea.

BY THE time Denny awoke on his bravely earned cot the missive was in the hands of the Chief of Police. And, while it may have caused intense excitement in that individual's pouter-pigeon breast, he displayed no undue elation. Graft is a delicate thing, a butterfly whose gold-powdered wings must be brushed ever so gently. The Chief, therefore, having pondered long and thoughtfully, pushed a button and gave a careless order. Affairs of importance should be hid under a bushel.

A little later Denny, somewhat tremulous at having to invade this holy of holies, entered. The night's rest had not done him good. Twelve hours of contemplation had weakened his nerve, for the deed he was about to do sat uncomfortably upon his cowardly nature. He sidled crabwise to a chair and, clutching his limp, black hat, watched the Chief's movements apprehensively. The latter, without looking up, passed him the letter to read.

Denny, in a quavering voice, began. He wondered greatly at himself—where he, a robber of drunks, snatcher of womens purses, purloiner of fat men's watches, ever conceived the hardihood to formulate such a plan.

The Chief's attitude toward him had as subtly changed as had the barkeeper's. There was just a spark of contempt in his eyes where Denny had been accustomed to find a blaze. Also—which- warmed the cockles of his heart—there was a little hint of respect, which he thought due him now he was in a fair way of becoming a desperate character. Alas, Denny, it was only the fear of rubbing the dust from the butterfly's wings!

However, not being given to self-analysis, his chest took on an arch not unlike the Chief's own. He felt that fate, so long adverse, was beginning to relent.

The note read something like this:

Honored Sir—Yu kant find who has wrote this unles you gimme yure word not to prosecute fer past offenses. McShane tried to pull me last night as a vag, also I'm wanted on a charge of dipping. gimme a clean bill an Ill put yu wise on how to katch Larry Lackmore. we done several jobs together and got another framed up. I want haf the money five hundred plunks, pass the woid to Grogans nite man if yu mean biz. Signed a friend, p s this is no bum steer.

"Did you write that?" asked the Chief.

"I ain't no dip!" protested the Rat vehemently.

"Let's put it this way," said the Chief diplomatically: " Could you put your hand on the man who did write it?"

Denny thought that under certain conditions he might be able to find him. The agreement having reached a point where, as the law has it, "there is a meeting of minds," they proceeded amicably.


LARRY LACKMORE, as he was known at that time, was a peculiar if not eccentric character. Bom of rich and influential parents, he chose voluntarily to espouse a career of crime, and, strange as it may seem, his success in this new line of endeavor had been even greater than that he had achieved as a cotillion leader. He was a thorn in the side of the police of two continents —an irritating thorn which not only refused to be removed but which gave notice every time it was going to rob the social body of a bit of its precious cuticle.

Instead of eschewing the light, Larry seemed to take a malicious delight in turning his tricks under the sun of public notice. He invariably warned his victims, a detail which in no wise interfered with his getting what he went after. Many people laid this down to an inordinate vanity and predicted his speedy capture. Larry claimed it was the one straight rule in a crooked game.

At first the public howled while the police raved. To the country at large it was a tremendous joke on the thick-headed minions of the law. Larry slipped through all the traps set for him like a greased pig at a country picnic.

There was one more thing which should have made Larry an easy capture. For every operation that netted him a clear ten thousand dollars he changed his name. The aliases were alluring alliterations. The Byrd diamonds had disappeared from their resting-place in the vault by the aid of Adair Atkinson. The Commercial Security Company had been filched under the name of Barnaby Blackstone. Denny had assisted one Culberson Crothers in the matter of a few old paintings. According to Larry, it was a short cut to bookkeeping. He had only to count how many letters his name was from "A," multiply it by ten and he had the number of thousands he possessed. Anything over the ten-thousand limit and the results of his smaller operations went for cigarettes and tips.

By counting from "A" to "L" you get the figure twelve. It is thus easy to see that Larry was on velvet to the extent of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. The public, being able to solve this simple problem, arrived at the same conclusion. Their howls of laughter changed to roars of rage and like a thunderstorm on a high peak the conflict raged about the Chief of Police. No wonder, then, the grimy little sneak thief appeared to him in the guise of an angel.

LARRY was again in need of assistance and, being by nature a masterful man, preferred that his helper should be as feeble an instrument as possible. To this end he turned to the Rat, on whose unquestioned obedience he was depending.

In the Holland House every afternoon a very rich and very stingy old man could always be found. His name doesn't matter—we will call him the millionaire. In a way he, too, was nature-twisted. His money had been made by sly schemes, broken promises, betrayed friendships. His skating on the ice of the law had been wrong but not illegal. A writ had no terrors for him, but something else had. His conscience made him fearful of others, so it was that the remark of a casual stranger would send him back into his shell like a frightened mud-turtle.

He had only one failing. There reposed always in his pocket, like an amulet, a thick leather wallet, and rumor had it that this never contained a less amount than the sum necessary for Larry to choose another alias.

How the plan was to be worked the Rat had not been told. Dressed as a chauffeur, on the drop of a handkerchief he was to inform Mr. Lackmore that the car was waiting. The two, millionaire and burglar, would leave the hotel, arm in arm; they would be driven far out in the country. Here, on some pretext, he was to leave them. For this the Rat was to receive two hundred dollars. But this was the fly in the ointment. The money hinged on the contingency of the plan's being successful.

Denny had some improvements to offer. Instead of taking the direct route to the country he would circle around by the police station. It was then a simple matter for him to toot his horn and jam on the brakes. The rest of the performance interested him little.

Out in the sunlight, with the crisp rustle of bills hi his pocket, the Rat sighed almost happily. What danger could there be? For once he was with the law, not against it. Its forces were at his back to help. Even Billy McShane lost something of his fearful aspect. The Chief had assured him that Larry would get at least twenty-five years, * and .what might not happen in twenty-five Summers and Winters?

He had long had his eye on a little tobacco-shop. The five hundred would make it his, and then there was a girl. Even if she hated him, she was a good girl and would obey her mother. Mercury, protector of nimble-fingered rogues, enveloped his head in rosy clouds.


IN THE Holland House one afternoon two gentlemen were seated side by side. They were evidently strangers, for they did not speak. Presently the younger one, after puffing several times on a dead cigar, asked his neighbor for a light. The millionaire, for it was he, smiled disagreeably and was about to refuse, but somehow he didn't. He searched in his pocket and brought forth a dirty little pine stick with just a tinge of red on one end. It was not much of a match as matches go. In the pocket of a millionaire it was a crying offense. As might have been expected, the match flickered feebly and went out. The younger man turned around and talked. His words were not such as the Holland House is accustomed to hear. They were not directed toward the unoffending lucifer, but toward the man who would carry such a —— article. Larry then stalked solemnly to the cigarstand, lighted his cigar and returned to his seat.

The millionaire was charmed. He had never had any one talk to him like that. To his mind it represented the quintessence of what he most desired—disinterestedness. The words themselves fell from his back like water from a duck's. Like Achilles, he had only the one vulnerable spot, and his heel was in his pocketbook. At last he had found a man who wanted nothing. This was no beggar for a philanthropic cause, no soft-voiced confidence man!

An apology for the match, and the two fell into conversation. The millionaire had a hobby, like most of us. Two, in fact— books and municipal improvements. He thought every city should be beautiful. To this end he would abolish the ugly. The poor and ugly going together, he would abolish the poor likewise. The laboring class could be allowed to enter the city at daybreak. Having done their work, they should be driven out.

Larry, while hating him, agreed. He went one step further; he thought all poor should be isolated in some sort of colony such as lepers have. This idea met with the millionaire's instant approval.

Over a cocktail they talked of books—Larry paying for the drinks and showing a vaster knowledge than the millionaire's own. Toward the close of the afternoon they had another drink and some cigars for which the millionaire was too slow in finding his change. The Rat, transformed into a monkey, stiffly informed Larry that "de car was woitin'." Larry graciously offered the millionaire a lift. The millionaire as gracefully accepted. It was something for nothing; why not?

In the luxury of the car, Larry momentarily allowed former suspicions to be lulled to rest; it had seemed too easy. Like many successful young men, he was too prone to self-confidence. He forgot his own teaching—in time of greatest apparent security to be most vigilant. But his eyes ached from the study of civil improvement; the Spring air was soft and balmy, holding more than a hint of radiant Summer; the macadam smelled as though freshly boiled; the car scarcely bounced at afl; the millionaire's raucous voice seemed softened a little. He would be very gentle with the old man when he took his money.

The Rat, too, was not such a bad sort— sneaky, of course, and would bear watching, but he had played his part fairly well. He would give him three hundred instead of the promised two. After that he would go away. New York was no place for a gentleman in Summer. He was scarcely aware of his companion's saying, "Now, my idea of a model municipality"—or of his own vague answer when the car came to a sudden stop.

He saw the Rat leap from his seat and run to the shelter of a massive gray building, heard the millionaire's protest and felt those hands at which he had so often jeered seize him and drag him out.

Instantly his old-time alertness returned. He thought for a minute of trying to bluff it out, until he saw Denny talking with the sergeant. Then he knew he had been betrayed. He suffered peaceably the two officers to take his arms and lead him inside with only a backward glance at the avenue deepening into purple twilight, the low-bodied car panting eagerly to be off, the millionaire gesticulating wildly, and Denny, his twisted soul showing through' his crooked lips, going into the Chief's office to receive his blood-money.

It takes a thief to catch a thief, and Larry was caught red-handed. All his money, won under so many fascinating nom-deplumes, could only help. His work, however, had been clever and they could convict him on but one count. So for ten years the light of heaven was denied to Larry Lackmore. The great gate clanged for the last time on a slim, elegant figure; the prison barber shaved an aristocratic head and Larry became Number 935.


THE ten years had come and gone and Denny the Rat sat sipping beer at his old table at Grogan's. The night bartender might have been, but wasn't, the same. At all events the table seemed to be. It was in it's old condition of sloppiness; flies crawled stickily over thin streams of beer; the windows were no less dirty. Outside it was wet again; gust after gust of wind and rain swept through the narrow alley.

Time had dealt gently with the Rat. He was a little more bald, a little more weasely, a little more despicable. His thinness was accentuated by a slightly protruding paunch. In other respects he remained unchanged. His calling was even the same. The water-front was still his home, drunken sailors still his prey, but the years were neither so lean nor so hard, for with the five hundred dollars he had purchased the tobacco store and the woman. The one flourished; the other lived merely because of necessity.

There entered, with a whirlwind of rain and sleet, a workingman very far gone in the matter of liquor. The barkeeper eyed Denny and Denny eyed the barkeeper; then the latter's hand strayed from his bottle of knockout drops and substituted a bottle of whisky. It seemed extravagance to waste dope on one so nearly down.

The workingman, lurching heavily, brought up against the bar, at the same time awkwardly brushing back his hat. The head thus displayed was close cropped. Denny knew what that meant and prepared to go to sleep. But the man paid for his drink out of a handful of crumpled bills. One of these, unnoticed, slid to the floor. It was a twenty. The man then pushed open the swinging doors and disappeared into the night.

Instantly Denny was after him, pausing only long enough to pick up the bill and throw it to the bartender. He would claim his share of it later, for the present duty was urging him on.

The swaying figure was far down the street before its pursuer caught up with it, and then he had to fall back. Destiny directed the wavering footsteps through lighted streets ill fitted for the black-jack nursed carefully in the Rat's pocket. But he had learned patience with age; not for a second did he allow his quarry to be lost to view. There were few people about, and these, between the rain and minding their own business, gave scant attention to the two. The chase led up one street and down another, but finally the man veered toward the harbor. Denny, seeing his time approaching, crept closer.

Denny picked out the spot on the man's head where the blow was to fall. In previous years he would have gaged its force, taking into consideration his victim's lack of hair, but while the years had brought him caution concerning his own skin it had likewise brought with it that callousness of spirit always found in those who prey upon their fellows. Between a dead man and an unconscious one there is but a slight step.

So Denny drew closer, intent on nothing but the blow. In the shadow of a dingy warehouse the man suddenly stopped, wheeled and closed with his pursuer. There was a slight scuffle, a slighter squeal of fear and rage, and the Rat found himself picked up in strong arms. With a heavy hand on his windpipe he had no choice but to obey the hoarse command for silence.

A few yards away a catboat, tied fast to the wharf, lay tossing in the water. Thither with steady steps, quite at variance with his former erratic movements, the drunken man carried his burden. Once aboard he deposited him in the cabin and without explanation sought the deck. Denny could hear the ropes being cast off, the creak of blocks, and felt the gentle swaying of the boat.

Soon the movement grew stronger and he knew they were beating out of the harbor. The night was a hard one; its force in the alley was magnified a hundredfold on the water. By peering but of a small window he could see the lights of the city gradually fade from view. Several times they passed ships anchored in the roadway and he strained his lungs to make them hear his cry for help, but none answered. The wind roughly threw the words back in his face, as contemptuously as he had listened to his victims' cries. There was something malicious about the way it forced his breath back on him, something malicious and yet disdainful, as though he were of no more account than a withered Autumn leaf.

Later, by the dangerous rocking of the little craft, he knew they were out on the ocean. Swift-driven foam cut his cheeks; spume and the fear of death forced him back to a corner where he squatted close to the floor. His twisted lips drew back over his yellow teeth for all the world like a rat in a trap. Why any one should want to kidnap him he did not know, but, remembering the wrongs he had done in the past, Denny was afraid.

AT TWELVE o'clock the catboat came to anchor. His captor descended and, having first taken his weapons, bound his eyes and led him on deck. Then he felt himself being lifted over the side. The water crept from his knees to his waist, from his waist to his shoulders. It was cold and he cried out again and again. With the water lapping his neck, the inexorable pressure downward was withdrawn. He found himself resting easily in the water, supported by his hands on the gunnel. The bandage was whipped from his eyes and Denny the Rat found himself confronted with a face he had condemned to a ten years' death!

He did not cry out again; his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth, his brain lay dormant. In the minute they looked into each other's eyes he could think of nothing but the change Wrought in the countenance above him. The sharp features, clean-cut as a thoroughbred's, had broadened and coarsened. In place of the cool tolerance through which Larry had viewed the world there was a bigoted passion for one idea. The lips were as thin as before, but the years of imprisonment had straightened their bow. If anything, they curved downward with a cruel sweep. Wrinkles of laughter had been replaced by creases of suffering, the unnecessary suffering that sours the heart:* Between them, Denny and the prison had achieved a miracle—they had turned a man into a beast.

"Denny," said Larry at length, and the Rat trembled more at the sound of that half-forgotten voice than he had at the touch of the cold water, "here is where you and I square accounts. If I punished you as you deserved, you'd die by slow torture. Drowning is an easy death, they say." He clutched the thin shoulders and, twisting him fiercely around, pointed to some lights in the distance.

"That is shore," said Larry. "It is three miles away and you can't make it in this sea. You swim on and on and on. At first it won't be so hard, but later with every stroke you will sink lower in the water. Your arms will weaken first, then your legs. You will turn on your back and float, but always you will grow weaker. Every second of the time you will think. You'll remember each time you have seen me from the first to the last. You will recall I always treated you square. The faces of the men you have knocked on the head will haunt you and then, my dear friend Denny, water will creep up and into your mouth! You will sputter and struggle, maybe even scream a little. Your chest will split with agony and then, dear, dear Denny, you will go down, down to hell where you belong!"

He thrust the Rat's hands off and, lying flat downward on the deck, watched the swimmer being swallowed up in the darkness. While he was still a vague blot on the water, Larry made a trumpet with his hands and called after him, "And remember, Denny, the Baltic sails to-night!"

As for Denny he swam easily and chuckled to himself at the thought of what a great fool Larry was. Three miles to shore! Hadn't he seen the lights themselves? Three miles in a rough sea was nothing to one born on the docks. Prison had crazed Larry; there was no other explanation. When he landed he would buy dry clothes, have Billy McShane, now a sergeant, arrest his enemy and he, the Rat, would live long and prosper.

HE SWAM for an hour, pleased with these thoughts, then, rearing high in the water, looked toward the lights. In spite of the distance he had come they looked no nearer. The night must be getting misty or he must have water in his eyes. He rubbed them carefully and, after a short spell on his back, treaded water. Surely the lights were farther off now than before! His craven heart fluttered fiercely and in a panic he raced along. Winded, he finally brought up and set himself steadily and powerfully to overtake the lights.

His muscles still worked rhythmically; the years had done little to impair his powers. His mind reverted to Larry. What was it the fool had said about dead men mocking him? Men he hit never came back! With his black-jack he could crush their skulls like an eggshell! "Dead men tell, no tales" was his motto, and if they told no tales, surely they could not come back. But what else had Larry said? Oh, yes! That he would think over every time they had been together from first to last. This was easy, he could number them on the fingers of one hand.

The first time had been at Grogan's and the second at Atlantic City, when they had attached those priceless antiques. Every morning they had taken a dip in the ocean, swimming far out to sea. One of the lifeguards had told them they usually covered six miles, and here was Larry trying to drown him in half that distance! Then for some reason his thoughts shifted to the last time he had seen Larry, lying face downward on the deck and megaphoning his last words to him through his hands. At the remembrance of that, the Rat threw up his hands and screamed hoarsely. No wonder the lights were fading!

He had set himself to overtake an ocean liner! But such is the love we bear for life that Denny the Rat, totally without hope, swam on and on.