Help via Ko-Fi


by Gordon Young

Author of "Dangerous Men," "Gaboreau the Terrible," etc.


I HAD been arrested on the eve of a State election, revolver in hand, a chamber empty, by the body of James H. Thrope, millionaire lumberman and candidate for governor.

I, Don Everhard, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death; which, in California, meant to be hanged.

From the day of my arrest until this, I spoke no word of defense, I offered no explanation and I made no statements.

The time has come when I may tell my story. Here it is:


JAMES THROPE was one of the men—and there are many of his kind—that I instinctively hated. And by hate I mean Hate. There are, I believe, certain tenets in theosophy which account for instinctive hatreds as old enmities carried down from a former incarnation. But I know nothing of theosophy beyond that, and I have always found, ultimately, sufficient reasons for hating such men without putting the responsibility on some vague life that I may never have lived in ages past.

Thrope was the sort of man that, had he been a Democrat, I would at once have declared myself a Republican. Had he been a Republican, I would have been a Democrat. I mention this because he was a powerful politician and a candidate, at the time this story ends, for governor. He was a man of powerful body, dominant personality, robust and more vigorous at sixty-five than most men in the earlier years of manhood. I believe that he was generally considered handsome. His face was covered with a short, neatly trimmed black beard.

He had married rather late in years and had continued to be a debauchee. But it was not merely wild roisterings that blackened his name; he was a ruthless, unscrupulous, bold fellow with no regard for laws, morals or solemn oaths. His friends said that he never broke a promise; but his friends, like himself, lied.

I may speak this way of the dead man, for I am saying less than I have said with his face turned toward me.

As a politician, I have no doubt that he faithfully gave the promised jobs and graft to those who served his party when it was in office. As a big business man, I suppose that he did discriminate in cheating his associates. Beyond that he may not be praised in my presence without evoking a flat contradiction, and I am likely to speak shortly and use short words when his name is mentioned.

Yet he was known as a "good fellow." His friends were legion. He spent money like water and he gathered it like a pirate.

I was rather young in those days. Because I had less discretion than has since been protectively acquired out of many troubles, I did some things that none but a young, high-tempered fellow would do. I -was rather proud of having a reputation as "a dangerous man"; and yet, in all seriousness, if I now encountered such a fellow as I was then, I would very much want to spank him.

I admit it would be risky, for I was then almost as good a shot as I am now; I was then, as now, almost physiologically incapable of being nervous or feeling fear.

The really brave man is like Marshal Ney, whom Napoleon called "the bravest of the brave." A battle was breaking, and Ney, it is said, stood waiting the order to charge. He happened to glance down and saw that his knees were trembling. "Shake, —— you, shake," he muttered, "and if you knew where I am going to take you before this day is over, you would shake worse than that!"

That is courage. My knees never tremble. They never did, no matter what the circumstances. I seem to have been born with something essentially human left out of me; and I mention this at some length to explain how it happened that a very young man, like myself at that time, had a certain prestige among gamblers and crooks who acknowledged no equals but men whom they had cause to admire or to fear.

Too, I may say that I was a born gambler, and what immobility my face may have lacked I painstakingly acquired. The inscrutable face is as essential to a successful gambler as sensitive fingers; there are not, and there never were, honest gamblers who lived by luck alone.

What the nimblest magician may do with cards on the stage, I could do with the deck at the poker-table—and perhaps some other things too. That was not a natural gift any more than the musician's fingers are bestowed by nature; and no pianist ran his scales more faithfully than I practised with cards in my room. I was, even in my teens, determined to be as fine a gambler as lived and I went at it thoroughly under the very excellent tutorage of an old fellow who, in his prime, had been one of the best.

He drank. His fingers were a bit slow one night in passing the bottom card to a confederate, and out of gratitude and friendship I paid for the funeral and monument. There it stands to this day, a shaft of marble among a field of solemn stones, and on it is the sardonic inscription—

As honest a man as ever palmed a card.

But I was young in those days. My family for some years did not speak my name even in the house where I was born. I was dead to all of them. It might have been different had I not been motherless at ten. Sisters, brothers, uncles, cousins, aunts—ours was and is yet a large and proud tribe—said I was born to be hanged; and the time came when they were considerate enough to remind me that—

"We told you so!"

A few words more to fill in some features of my background, for though this story is verifiable in the files of old San Francisco papers—not so very old at that—yet I wish to take the pains of making it credible without sending skeptics to dusty volumes of the Chronicle.

It has been my fortune, despite the attitude of eminently respectable relatives, even then as now, to have and to hold the friendship of a few fine and honest people who had what they called "faith" in me. This is, I suppose, largely because I never drank; never used an oath more than three or four times in my life; was invariably polite—as emotionless people are usually; never made a threat—that is a direct one; and never made a promise that I did not keep.

It happened that a pickpocket whom I knew quite well—he was a miserable rascal, reduced by hop and whisky to purse-snatching—nipped a woman's bag in a crowd and gloated over the contents in my presence.

A handful of bills was in it, and such other stuff as a woman usually pokes into her bag. But there was also a letter, and on the envelope, of course, an address—Mrs. Mary Curwen. The dope-fiend tried to tell me what was in the letter. He offered it to me to read. His words were rather jumbled for he was half-drunk, but what he said was somewhat borne out by the return address on the envelope.

This miserable rat saw a chance for blackmail and was drunk enough to suggest that I engage with him. The envelope was from the office of a congressman of the San Francisco district. The pickpocket said it was written by Congressman Bryan— who was just making an announcement of his willingness to run for governor—to Mrs. Mary Curwen and that it spoke of a "dreadful secret."

I did not read the letter. As nearly as I could gather the "dreadful secret" was not revealed, but was suggested in some way that seemed to the pickpocket sufficient to establish a basis for "a piece o' graft."

What that basis was he didn't exactly know. He urged me to read it. He was very drunk, and I never quarrel with a drunken man. I took the letter and put it aside for a day or two. I was tantalizingly interested and tempted to read it.

There is no shame in being tempted—it is giving way to temptation that knocks the inner props down. I would no more have read a letter found in a ripped envelope than I would have read one in which I had no personal interest and which was sealed. Let me make myself clear on this point.

Had it served some purpose of importance to me, I would not only have opened another man's letter, but I would have cut into a mail bag to get at the letter. But I have a quirk of what may possibly be called honor which would let me as readily peep into a woman's bedroom as read a letter that does not concern me.

And I was intensely interested. Congressman Bryan was no political puppet. He was a comparatively young man and a dynamic, hard-fighting, out-spoken fellow, brilliant and courageous; a man who seemed to have arisen by sheer work and brilliancy. Naturally I admired him. For one thing, Thrope and his party were against Bryan.

I SHALL not give any particulars of the political fight, for those details do not concern the story. It so chanced that Bryan's reelection to Congress had recently taken place, but he was willing to resign and run for governor. The State needed an honest governor. If Thrope should be elected, the skull-and-crossbones might as well have floated from the flagpole at Sacramento.

It was to be a hard and bitter campaign. It always was when Bryan and Thrope fought. One of the features of the Bryan workers' argument had always been the emphasis laid on the fact that he was a San Francisco boy orphaned in babyhood, whose whole life had been lived under the eyes of San Franciscans who might examine every feature of it and know that his record was stainless.

So I told the purse-snatcher that he was too drunk to have read straight.

I thought of returning the letter to Mrs. Curwen by mail; but, in case the letter did contain any matter that would trouble her if she knew it had passed under the eyes of strangers, she could not be reassured by anything I might write to accompany the letter itself.

So I returned the letter in person.

The house was a modest, solid little home; the yard was well kept, the lawn fresh, the shrubs trimmed, the paint new.

A young woman, neat and attractive— that is, intelligent of face as well as pretty, but with a wilful set to her bps—opened the door. She was slender and dark and, I judged, though nothing of an expert in matters of the kind, around twenty.

I asked for Mrs. Curwen and was shown into a little sun-lighted room.

Mrs. Curwen came in. My impression of strangers is always definite; I like them or I do not.

The moment I saw her I felt as deep sympathy for her as I ever felt for any one. Tragedy was written on her face, and worries were in her eyes. She had suffered at sometime or other, and deeply. Het eyes had the steady, wide-lidded stare of people who have been forbidden things and kept silent.

She was nervous and troubled, and I knew something of what the heavy lines that fell from her nostrils to the comers Of her mouth meant. The mouth itself was drawn tightly; the full lips Were thinned by having been set hard. Yet hers was a pleasant face lighted from an inner glow of contentment. I will call it a beautiful face. All beautiful faces have the mark of tragedy upon them.

She was tall, well-poised and, I would have guessed, somewhere above fifty—obviously the mother of the girl who had met me at the door.

"You wish to see me?" she asked.

I referred at once to a letter addressed to her that had come to my attention.

There was no mistaking the importance of that letter to her. At the first mention she stiffened as one does to receive a blow. I may have imagined it, but it seemed to me that she also assumed, for a second, a grim reconciliation to the blow that was expected. It was as if she rather knew blow after blow of some kind would reach her, and she had reached the age of passive resistance.

I then told her precisely what had happened and extended the letter.

"I do not know what the letter contains. I do not wish to know. It has been read only by a drunken fellow who may believe he merely dreamed what he read. And I have brought it in person so that you may be assured that nobody, except the fellow mentioned, has meddled with the contents."

She said nothing for a moment, but reached out a hand that trembled slightly and laid it on my arm, and the fingers closed for an instant in a way deeply expressive of gratitude.

Mrs. Curwen looked at me with a kind of suspended admiration in her eyes and asked—

"What did you say your name was?"

I told her. I had not at that time taken the name of Everhard. My family name is Richmond. I told her—"Don Richmond."

Almost incredulously she exclaimed:

"Don Richmond—you! A mere boy— and you are the man who struck Jim Thrope in the face? I—I—have often wondered about you. A mere boy!"

My shoulders stiffened a little as I remarked that I was twenty-four, and no doubt my manner implied that twenty-four was a full-grown, manly age.

"I understand," she said quietly, almost proudly as if in some way I was closely related to her, "why this letter has been returned—unread! And do you know, I would doubt almost any other man that brought it!"

I looked at her in puzzlement and asked— "Do you know me?"

"Yes—I know that you hit Jim Thrope in a crowded dance-hall; hit him in the face before all of his friends. Yes indeed, I do know you!" And she impulsively caught my hand into both of hers and pressed it. I did not understand.

With quick, maternal-like half-phrases she regretted that I was a gambler and lived such a life.

"A professional gambler for six years!" she exclaimed. "I knew you were young—but so young!"

She said that she had heard all about the affair—more even than was in the papers, some of which called me a young ruffian who was boasting he had insulted so distinguished and honorable a citizen as James H. Thrope. And one or two of the papers which told something like the truth colored it rather highly in my favor because they happened to be politically opposed to Thrope.

The basic fact, which nobody knew, was that I hated Thrope instinctively. His eyes—it is into the eyes that one looks for an understanding of people—were the insolent, lewd, vicious eyes of the bully.

I never saw him without wanting to, strike him in the face. Something of what that meant may be conveyed when I explain that, in all the troubles I have been into and got out of, I have never struck a half-dozen men with my fists.

A NIGHT came when Thrope was, on one of his periodical debauches and came into the Empress Dancehall, where I chanced to be awaiting an appointment. He was sober enough, but this time it would probably not have made any difference to me if he had been drunk. A little fool of a dance-hall girl, ambitious to get attention from so distinguished a rounder, clutched at his coat.

He turned, at one glance saw that she was not pretty, then drove his fist into her face; and many people laughed. Thrope was always followed on such occasions by friends of the kind—by men who would laugh if a woman's face ran blood.

I had gone up to him. There was nothing of haste or hurry in my manner. I said distinctly that perhaps he did not know how it felt to be struck in the face; then deliberately hit him a back-handed blow squarely across the mouth. Blood dripped from his lips.

I said nothing more. Without turning my face from him, I pushed a chair out from behind me and took one backward step so that my shoulders were against the wall. I did not care to be shot or slugged from the rear.

I heard my name tossed back and forth. I was pretty well known. There was a scrambling and stamping as some people made for places where they thought bullets would be least likely to hit; and others, full of gaping curiosity, crowded close behind Thrope's back.

But nothing happened. I mean nothing of importance. I was cursed and threatened. Friends of Thrope's, who but a few seconds before had laughed, scowled and cursed. Bullies usually try to save their faces by scowls when they are not ready to venture further.

Thrope half swung his hand toward his hip. So far as he could see I was unarmed. But he did not draw, or try to draw. Perhaps he had heard—and believed—the rumor that the reason I had never been tried for any one of a few little gun-plays, was because I never made a move until it became evident that I had to shoot in self-defense.

There was perhaps a little truth in that report, though much exaggeration. In those days I used a single action .44—two of them—and I wore a double-breasted coat. I don't know whether automatics had been invented or not; anyway they were not worth considering.

The Colt is meant for quick work. They were worn, diagonally across my stomach and carried cocked. That helped to cultivate in me a slow, deliberate manner and a certain unbending attitude—much as would be cultivated in a man who carried dynamite in his pocket. All I needed to do to shoot quick was to thrust my hand inside the coat on a level with the stomach— an entirely unsuspicious movement—and, half-turning my body to point the gun, press the trigger.

Of course I shot through the coat. The gun was very awkward to carry there, but the awkwardness had compensations in dangerous moments. Thrope probably suspected that I would not be unagitated if I did not feel secure.

It is fair, perhaps, to say that he may have believed there were as many friends of mine as of his in the room; that the insult had been planned, and that he was in a trap prepared beforehand. I offer that as an explanation, for, though Thrope was intrinsically a coward, he was proud and high-tempered, and it hardly seems likely that I—though even then men of stronger nerves than his hesitated to take up my challenge—could have, by mere poise, so humiliatingly have bluffed him.

He cursed in the way of a man who does not mean to fight, promised me sudden death at some future time, intimating that it would not be far distant, either; then withdrew with his friends, who glowered over their shoulders.

The incident attracted much more attention than the mere facts warranted; all, of course, because James Thrope was a figure of importance.

So it was not surprizing that Mrs. Curwen knew of it.

The surprizing thing was the interest that this quiet and lovely woman, grayed and wrinkled, showed in an incident of the tenderloin.

I SUGGESTED that it was strange she should have paid so much attention to a mere affair of the underworld.

"I know of Jim Thrope," she said.

But I must pause to tell as nearly as I can how she said it. Bitterly came the words, "I know—" then a perceptible pause. The "of" seemed forced into the sentence, and "Jim Thorpe" was spoken almost in a whisper as if, only by overcoming a strong repugnance, could she speak his name. What that manner of saying "I know of Jim Thrope" conveyed to me is obvious.

"I know of Jim Thrope. I have often wondered why no man dared to treat him as he deserves!"

I assured her that there were many who dared; that Thrope was by no means regarded as the terror she seemed to think. She seemed to doubt me.

When I started to go, her hand again touched my arm as if to check me.

"You will come to see me? To dinner? Helen and I are alone. We have few friends."

I suggested that she would probably have still fewer when it became known that she was friendly with me.

"You mean Thrope would do something?"

"I wasn't thinking of him but of your respectable neighbors. I am what is sometimes called a 'habitue of the tenderloin'."

She ignored that with a little gesture as if she knew too much about respectable people to care what they thought, and asked me anxiously if Thrope had made trouble for me since that affair.

He had not.

I did not go into details and explain to her that it was not an easy matter for anybody to make trouble for me unless they came to my face. I have known men and attended the funerals of some of them, who scorned the cowardly precaution of watching against shots and blows from the rear. I am not such a one.

I am very cautious. The more so because, though I always have had many friends, I have never used any of them as a body-guard. They have helped me many times. I have called on them often. What I mean is that I have always gone through darkened streets alone, if there was nothing but the suspicion that somebody might be lying in wait for me. My ears are keen, my hands are quick and I seldom miss. And I am never off guard, never to be taken unawares—if tense watchfulness is a preventive.

I have said that Thrope did not make trouble for me over the episode, then six months past; but, of course, I had no way of knowing whether the rooming-house in which I stayed had been fired because the incendiary wanted to burn me sleeping, or some one else in the house; or merely had a grudge against the proprietor.

I sleep lightly, too lightly for my own comfort. A creak, a voice at a distance, a draft puffing from an opened window, almost any sort of a noise, makes me at once alert. I had no way of knowing whether it was some one who had taken Thrope's money or who had mistaken me for another party, that sprang from a doorway one night, leaping for my back with an uplifted knife. Nothing was revealed of the man's identity at the inquest, for though I attended I was not called as a witness.

The instant I had shot I slipped into the doorway for a minute, then came out, pretending to be one of the scrambling crowd attracted by the report; and I did not remain long enough to have the police get mine among the names of those who had been first arrivals on the scene.

A few other little incidents of a much less menacing character than those just mentioned had happened within the six months, but I had no way of connecting them with Thrope.

So I assured Mrs. Curwen that Thrope had not, so far as I knew, made trouble.

She agitatedly assured me that he would. She begged me to leave the city, for a time anyway:

"If he is waiting like that—it means you won't have a chance. Please, please, listen to me. I do know James Thrope! I know every villainous drop of blood in his body. He is the vilest man that ever lived! If that letter had got to his hands——" She flung her hands up to her face, and did not finish.

There were tears in her eyes when her hands dropped away, but she was more composed in manner. She said that she could never, never thank me enough! And wouldn't I please come again to see her—soon?

She said one thing that stayed with me, and things of sentiment do not usually remain long in my ears—

"I know Jim Thrope so well that I want to treat you as my son!"

"Helen," she said, calling to the young girl that came past the door.

"This is the young man that struck James Thrope in the mouth!"

Tire girl's dark eyes flashed, and I saw her body stiffen slightly. She was far different from the pleasant, smiling girl who had welcomed me at the door.

"Oh!" she said, and nothing more. But she watched me steadily, her face expressionless but hard set; and her eyes burned strangely.

It was days before I could get those people and that visit out of my mind, or rather into the background of my thoughts.

There was not only mystery, but mystery compounded. At the name of Thrope, Mrs. Curwen had become a woman of almost tragic intensity. I can not, and never could, let puzzling circumstances be forgotten until I have thought them over from every conceivable angle; and the most plausible conclusion I could arrive at— taking the Bryan letter into consideration, as could not be avoided—was that Mrs. Curwen had suffered from some unusual villainy at Thrope's hands and had confided with Congressman Bryan for what use he cared to make of it politically.

Since the pickpocket had mentioned "dreadful secret" and spoken of blackmail— though he had been drunk when he read the letter—I concluded that he had seen possibilities of extortion from her.

All that was, in a way, easy enough to settle. It really troubled my thoughts less than the continual reappearance of the dark, pretty girl, who smilingly had met me at the door, but having spoken only a monosyllabic "Oh!" stared at me with enigmatic tenseness while I was leaving.

I could not imagine what it meant. But James Thrope was real and omnipresent in that little home; his personality shadowed it—and yet, when I had first come in there had been every indication of happiness.

I didn't understand. I did not greatly care to understand, except in so far as I am annoyed by the incomprehensible. That is one reason I have taken some pains to keep out of the way of women, particularly of young ones. They all have something of Helen Curwen in them: something enigmatic, inexplicable, something that may be taken either as sinister or as worshipful.

Whether she hated me, or was tense and inarticulate from gratitude, for having laid my knuckles in Thrope's face was something that could not be distinguished by her manner. 11 might have been either. Whichever way it was, she was deeply shaken; and obviously Miss Curwen was a passionate, tense, volatile young woman.


I WAS soon given some other things to think about, though in a way these too had a bearing on Miss and Mrs. Curwen.

Zellers, the pickpocket, more familiarly known as "Hop"—probably an abbreviation of "Hop-Head"—had evidently not been so drunk as I thought. He had talked, apparently, a good deal about "his letter." He had talked promiscuously.

The fact that he told conflicting reports, and elaborated what the letter contained at every recital, did not at all minimize the interest his drunken blabbering had stirred up in a most surprizing fashion.

I began to have people speak to me about the letter. Some ventured to intimate that they would like to read it. Two fellows of Zellers' stripe, with himself hanging sheepishly at their coat-tails, came to demand it of me. It was Zellers' letter. Not mine.

I ought to give it up, et cetera, et cetera, to the point of intimating that I had appropriated it for a little personal graft on my own behalf. For fellows who had put on such an assertive manner and talked at such length, they made rather abrupt apologies, and retired without knowing any more about the letter than when they came.

What I thought must certainly be the climax arrived the day after I had returned the letter in the presence of a stranger who introduced himself as Edwin Ellis and asked for a private conversation. He was obviously from the other world—the business world. He had brains and a knowledge of men in general, but I fancy that I added a little to his store of information concerning men in particular.

Mr. Edwin Ellis was a small man, neat as a burnished rapier and much like that most flexible, subtle and sharpest of all weapons. He opened with commendable directness, scrutinizing my face with flint-like gray eyes, and perhaps wondering how a young man of my age could have the reputation I had.

"I understand," he said in a straight businesslike manner and tone, "that you have come into possession of a letter from the office of Congressman Bryan."

A pause. His manner was sharply interrogatory. I said nothing.

"Am I correct?"

"Go on," I replied noncommittally.

"There is no occasion to go on until I have assurance on that point."

"Very well," I said.

I was curious, of course. I didn't want, him to get away without knowing why he came. But the supreme schooling in Bluff is had at the green table.

"You decline to answer yes or no?"

"I see no reason for answering yes or no until I understand why you ask."

He paused thoughtfully, not once shifting his eyes from mine. I reflected that he would have made a fine poker player; but I guessed that he had probably chosen law. It, too, is a fine game for clever crooks. An honest lawyer—that is, honest in spirit rather than merely scrupulously observant of what is called the "ethics of the profession—" will, I am sure, become as familiar with empty pockets as an honest gambler. He was, I found later, not a lawyer but a detective, and from the East; so different from such detectives as I knew that he had none of their mannerisms.

Mr. Ellis and I lapsed into silence. We would probably have remained all through the afternoon and all night, too, if he had not at last decided that I did not intend to say anything more until he advanced the conversation.

He did, with customary directness, thus—

"I am prepared to pay you any reasonable sum you may ask if you place the letter in my hands."

Figuratively, I sat up and took notice. Actually, I did not let a muscle of face or finger move.


My intonation finished the question, made it explicit: how much did fie consider the maximum of "reasonable"? I was really anxious to know of how much importance, measured in terms of money, that letter was considered.

With the air of a man who thought he was driving home his bargain, he said—

"Ten thousand!"

I let a second or two pass, then barely shook my head, but made no other reply.

That got under his armor. He exclaimed—

"You've read the letter—you know you can't possibly get more than that out of it?"

"How do you know its contents?" I asked quickly.

"I don't," he said as quickly. "But I know who the concerned parties are, and I know what they will pay."

"Concerned parties—how do you mean?"

"I will mention no names. No names." A pause. Then— "But how much will you take to give the address—the address of that letter?"

I wondered whether he was after information, after the address on that letter, or whether he wanted to find out whether or not I would give it up; or if possibly that it was a subtle play on his part to get some reassurance that I did have the letter. Again he might fear—or hope—that the letter had got out of my possession without my having noted the address.

I won't give further details of the conversation. In much the same manner as already related, I at last succeeded in getting him to offer five hundred dollars for the address, and I declined without comment.

It must be made plain that this Edwin Ellis was no ordinary person. He did not lose his temper, and he was straight business all the way; but, having discovered nothing of value, he prepared to go.

"Young man," he said quietly but rather impressively. "I did not believe a fraction of what I had heard of you—I made inquiries before coming. I have rather altered my opinion. You have brains, you have nerve and you are stubborn. Of course, what I want is the letter. But there is some altruism in my pointing out to you that any party or parties who are prepared to offer a voluntary blackmail of ten thousand dollars for the recovery of that letter will not be likely to hesitate at violence."

I thanked him, for he had been gentlemanly about it. But I have heard that as a child, as a mere baby, the surest way of getting me to do something was by threatening to punish me if I did it, which, of course, is only a kind of legend that my family kept alive to illustrate a certain stubbornness that has not wholly left me.

"Will you tell me this," he asked with a frank directness that I liked; "how much more is the other side bidding for that letter? Maybe I can meet it?"

I was tempted to tell him that there had been no other bid; but he would probably have thought I was lying—and that might have led to unpleasant complications—so I kept silent, beyond replying that I could say nothing.

The situation had reached the intensity where I felt it my right to know something definite about that letter, or at least to talk it over with Mrs. Curwen.

I went to her home. No one was in. The neighbors did not know where she was. She and her daughter had been gone for some days. It was evident that the departure had been sudden, for the neighbor on the right declared she and Mrs. Curwen were "the best of friends," were always running in and out of each other's back door, that Mrs. Curwen was a lovely woman, and that she had said nothing of planning to go away.

So I went my way and wished sincerely that I had had no scruples about prying into the content of that letter. I could have kept silent and lied. I am excellent at keeping silent, and on crucial occasions I am not likely to be called a liar—no matter what I say. I tell the truth more frequently than is comfortable because I have an aversion to lying: for one thing, I don't like to give any man credit for being too formidable for me to dare tell him the truth.

And then, too, there is something contemptible about lying—except when it becomes magnificent, a thing that can happen to no man more than once or twice in a lifetime, and then inevitably in connection with some woman's fate.

A poet, the one poet that I read, has said:

"If there be trouble to herward,
And a lie of the blackest can clear—
Lie—while thy lips can move,
Or a man is alive to hear."

My own regard for women is not that great; but my admiration for men who have such a regard for them is excessive.

THOSE remarks have not led me so far from my story as may appear; but to get back to that letter: Zellers waylaid me at every corner and whined for his letter. I would not explain; as well have tried to explain to a leech that it should not suck blood. Naturally he thought I was playing a lone graft, and he became something more than objectionable—a pest.

He circulated whatever report of me he felt like among whatever crowd gave him a drink. I did not greatly care about that. What people think of me is their own business, and I seldom interfere except when they meddle with my business—at such times I am at pains to correct wrong impressions of me, for people who judge me aright do not often try to meddle.

But when Zellers, accompanied by three men this time, two of them recognizable as liegemen of James Thrope, came at me in a body and tried to" talk what they called "business," I thought the time had come to be firm.

I was told pointedly that Thrope had "it in for me," and that of course I knew what that meant; but that Thrope was interested in Zellers' letter, and if I would give it up, I could name my price.

I suggested that Mr. Thrope's interest could not be so very great, since he had not come in person; and I said that if I heard any more about that letter of the same nature that had been coming back to me through friends that had listened to Zellers, I might give it up on the stipulation that Zellers was permanently silenced—and that I did not greatly care how!

The little malevolent rat was thoroughly frightened. He knew that the methods of obtaining silence in that quarter of the city ranged from Chinese hatchet-men to an overdose of chloral, from a blow in the dark to being pitched with tied hands and weighted feet into the bay.

Thrope's men made their bid, a somewhat larger one than Mr. Ellis had offered, so I imagined that, he having failed, men thought to be more nearly in my class were delegated to try their persuasive power; and they retired with somewhat more direct threats than Mr. Ellis had suggested. I was under the impression that Ellis himself was a Thrope man.

Zellers went with them, but he came furtively to me later in the evening. He was frightened. He whined as usual about being a poor fellow who needed a little honest money, and declared he knew that I wouldn't throw over a good friend like himself.

According to his interpretation of our "friendship," which on my part had never extended beyond giving him an occasional dollar or so for drugs and booze, though he always asked for the money under the euphemism of "food," we had been rocked in the same cradle and maintained a sort of Damon-Pythian friendship.

"Youse 'undn't trow me over fer dis bunch o' graf'ers, 'udju?"

I suggested that he tell me what was behind all this effort and rumor about that letter.

He didn't know. He really didn't. His memory was none of the best and, having been drunk at the time of reading it, he didn't know what was in the letter; but his imaginative tongue had overcome that little handicap until, by his report, the letter contained enough specific information to have convicted Congressman Bryan of compounded felony and implicated any number of other persons. He did not remember the party to whom the letter was addressed, but it was a woman and there was some kind of an intimate relation between her and Bryan.

That information, of course, did much to explain why such a persistent effort was being made to get hold of it.

The report had circulated among the tenderloin that Zellers had made a lucky find of "something" on Bryan; the report had percolated up into the ears of Thrope, and he would have any day given an arm to "get something on" Bryan. Political enemies never were more bitter.

My interest in the letter dropped to almost zero when I arrived at that conclusion. I told Zellers he had better make haste to start a contradictory report, because if the letter was produced Thrope and his gangsters would probably be furious to find he had so misled them.

He was shaken, but wanted to see the letter. I told him that I had sent it to the party whose name was on the envelope. He wanted the name and received the answer that might be expected.

So I thought the episode of the letter was definitely settled.

Then Mr. Ellis again called on me. He laid down ten one thousand dollar bills, said—

"There you are, sir," took up his hat and started to go without another word.

But he seemed amused—not amused exactly, but possessed of a great deal of knowledge that he didn't intend to reveal. It was my turn to ask questions, and I did. He knew as much about silence and evasiveness as I had on the previous occasion.

"Why the money?"

"It belongs to you."

"Marked?" I asked, eying the bills. An easy way to get a man into the penitentiary is by marked bills.

"Examine them."

"You could have kept a record of the numbers."

"Certainly," he admitted.

"But why offer this? I told you before——"

"I am not offering it. I am leaving it. The money is yours."

It irritates me to be puzzled. I looked at him for some time and said nothing. Neither did he. I wasn't in the mood to play a waiting game: it was I who wanted information this time.

"Tell me something definite—or take the money."

"Certainly," he said politely, with a slight, well-mannered trace of amusement. "The party I represent—though very severely condemned in certain quarters— is a man of his word. The letter which we know to have passed through your hands has been placed in the hands of the party to whom it belongs. Hence the price agreed upon. I would have given it to you before but I only lately learned all the facts. I congratulate you, sir, on your discretion and honesty."

With that he went out and left me standing there, ten thousand dollars on the table and ten thousand questions tugging at my thoughts.


SO THE letter had been delivered, but, I said to myself, the party who received it had paid the wrong person. That was something for him to worry about, not for me.

Yet Edwin Ellis did not look like the sort of man who would make mistakes of the kind.

I tried to find out something about him, but he was a stranger in the city. He had stayed at the Palace, had registered his address as "city," and disappeared the day following his mistake.

I again tried to locate Mrs. Curwen, but she had not returned, had not been heard from.

There was one way I could probably find out something. I had thought of it many times. I had even written and destroyed one letter to Congressman Bryan, who had returned and was opening his campaign in the southern part of the State. I came near writing another, but decided that I might as well let the matter drop.

It was not really a decision so much as the fact that something else of a different nature happened which interfered with my affairs. Some days later I left San Francisco for a time—took a little trip toward Honolulu. In fact, I was so anxious to go that I went on a windjammer. I decided to travel along about midnight and passed the Golden Gate about dawn.

I had known ever since the little incident with Thrope that the police, in their vernacular, wanted to "get something on me." It is easy enough for the police to "get Something" on anybody, but they had to get something definite and serious on me to make a case of it. For though Thrope was what is known as the "man higher up" in San Francisco at that time, I was a member in good standing of the gamblers who gave the police and the "men higher up" a large share of their graft.

It happened that "Spike" Delaney was what is known as the "boss" of the underworld; and Delaney was a hard-fisted, independent fellow who, though hand in glove with Thrope, yet stood on his own two feet and could not be worked over like putty to any purpose that did not appeal to him.

Delaney liked me; and Delaney—who was just about as square as a man of his position could be; which means little more than that he was square with the people he liked—would have thrown a wrench into the wheels of any ordinary frame-up designed to stow me in San Quentin.

I seldom played in tenderloin dives. There were two or three up-town "clubs," known on the q.t. to sporty rich men and their sons, and especially to tourists, where I sat in usually.

And I must pause here to say that I did not always or even frequently cheat. I gambled first because I liked it, only secondarily to make a modest living. There is no sport in sure-thing gambling; I mean there is no thrill, none of the thrilling impact of bluff and luck as one studies the inscrutable face across the table and wonders whether to call or raise, or do neither.

I must say here, too, though perhaps I shall not generally be believed, that I stacked and dealt from the bottom more times for the benefit of fellows who knew nothing about how their luck had changed than ever I did for myself.

Despite what many wise card players maintain, a deck can be stacked in the shuffle—if there are not more than three, or at the most four, players; but in a half-dozen riffles of the cards I can put a good hand at the bottom and deal it at will though the eyes of twenty men are on me. There is no way to tell when a good man is actually dealing from the bottom.

There is one way to tell when he actually is not: that is, if he holds the deck, as most people do—and professional gamblers never, unless under suspicion—with the forefinger of the left hand pressed against the front, and not the side—where the other three fingers are—of the deck.

It happened that Delaney one afternoon asked me to sit in at a certain table in the back of his saloon. Some friends of his had told him they were bringing on a "live one"; and as Delaney's best houseman was on a periodical drunk, I was requested to make sure that the fellow's fat pocketbook did not leave with him. Delaney had made a similar request two or three times before. It was pretty well known that when the houseman went on a bat I would take his place.

The table was put apart in a little private room. Two other men, strangers to me, but O. K.'d by Delaney, sat in the game; then a fellow, a regular Delaney come-on, brought in the "live one"— a Mr. Smith, the name evidently being taken as a convenience for a little fling at high life.

IT TOOK me just about three hands to discover that there were only two poker players at that table. Whoever had picked Mr. Smith for a sucker, a greenhorn, had made a monumental mistake. I knew it the minute I saw him pick up the deck. He tried to be awkward enough in the shuffle, but the position of his fingers as he dealt made me cautious about putting much faith in the three fair queens that came into my hand.

He played with that cool, steely quality that marks the real gambler and can not be assumed: it comes only after years of tense play, and to some men not even then.

I drew to the three queens, of course, although it cost a neat little sum, for everybody was staying. I was presented with two fives—flip, flip, just like that. Smith helped himself to three cards. It doesn't make any difference what the others drew.

A modest bet was made on my right. It was up to me to call, raise or quit. I carelessly tossed my hand away—and caught the expression in Smith's eyes as he saw me do it. I had wanted to see his face—not his hand.

But I saw the hand anyway. Smith threw it away—face up—and disclosed a pair of tens. He had palmed whatever else had been used to strengthen the hand, if indeed he had not relied on the fellow to his right who took the pot without being called. I saw Smith, however, dispose of the palmed cards.

I did not see the cards, for one never does when a skilful man has them, but he casually reached out and touched the discards, and when the hand was withdrawn there were three cards, one precisely on top of the other. Quite good—and incidentally, I made a note for my own future benefit of the fact that one should never deposit palmed cards in the discards without pretending to gather the cards up.

Nobody would, with their eyes open, ordinarily go to the trouble of trying to fleece a professional gambler. But here was a frame-up of some kind. Had these men learned that on the day before I had been given ten thousand dollars? Was Delaney in on the deal, or had he too been imposed on. Naturally the situation prodded my temper.

The climax was delayed for some time, but it came in an unexpected flash. I was dealing: both hands were engaged. Smith said—

"You're dealing from the bottom!"

And a muzzle of his gun appeared above the edge of the table.

As a matter of fact, I had not been dealing from the bottom. I was caught unprepared. There was nothing to do but sit motionless, hands across the table, holding the deck and a card that I had about to toss.

"You tin-horn," he said, "will you leave town by train or by hearse?"

I glanced right and left. The three other men at the table showed no surprize. They had known what was coming. I had been caught in a little frame-up. I guessed that Delaney knew of it and had insisted that I be given the chance to leave town.

There is a peculiar psychology in crooks: they knew I had not been cheating; they knew that I knew I had not been cheating; and yet they pretended to think I had so as to have an excuse to order me out of town.

I did not intend to go. I did not intend to promise to go. I let the deck slip quietly, at the same time raising my hands and sitting back in the chair—straightening up with hands raised, symbolic of surrender.

I had never advertized the fact that I wore a gun across my stomach, for half the efficacy of the device and position was in the fact that no one expected it to be there. But I couldn't possibly reach for it while covered. It would have been sheer idiocy.

I turned to the come-on who had introduced Smith into the game and said—

"Search me—so I can drop my hands and talk."

He looked inquiringly at Smith, and Smith nodded.

He removed the gun from my hip, ran his hand all around my trouser's band and tapped me right and left under the shoulders for a shoulder holster. I sat with stomach drawn in to do something to keep the gun from accidentally coming in contact with his fingers. He was satisfied.

I sat down, lowered my hands and tapped my fingers, moving them about with nervous gestures that I did not feel.

"Now just what is the proposition?" I asked.

"A train or hearse—and that goes."

His hand lay on the table, circling the handle of the revolver. A twist of the wrist and a pressure of the trigger was all that he need give. He had put the gun that had been taken from me into his own holster. It was a good gun.

Suddenly the table raised up, the round top like a great buckler cutting me off momentarily from Smith's eyes. But he fired anyway. The bullet splintered through the top of the table.

I had had to use both hands to tilt the table between us. I had had to have a tenth of a second of safety in which to reach under the breast of my coat for the gun. I don't care how subtle or quick a man is, he can't move quicker than the fellow with the drop can pull a trigger.

I was afraid to try to slip my hand up under the coat gradually, for suspicion might be aroused and another search made. And it would have been inviting death to have made an abrupt gesture. And though it took me longer to heave up that table, and the gesture was more conspicuous, yet it was safer.

Any one who doubts need only sit at a table and try the two movements. Smith was used to men reaching for a gun: he knew what that gesture meant, and the moment a hand flashed from sight he would have shot. But he was not used to tables rising. Both my hands were in sight, the fingers above the edge of the table—but the thumbs were not. He hesitated to see what was happening, then shot—too late.

When Delaney and some of the people in the saloon came on the bound, they found two men facing my gun with hands lifted. The man called Smith lay crumpled and limp on the floor, face down—in a witch's mirror of blood. He was dead.

I WAS cornered. The room had no windows and but one door. It was a small room, a poker room, and the one door was filled. Delaney stood in it, a gun in either hand and behind him rank on rank of men—risking their lives for the chance to crane a neck over the shoulder of the fellow in front.

"Spike," I said, "you've trapped me. Shoot if you want to commit suicide."

He might have been able to kill me—but not before a bullet would have been on its way toward him.

He started to speak, but I cut him short. There was no time to lose. Quickly, sharply, I told him that if he did not want to commit suicide to turn around, face the crowd with leveled guns and clear a way for me, for I was going to follow him with a gun pressed against the small of his back. I let it be known that if anybody made a move at me, I would get him, Delaney, first.

Spike Delaney turned his back and filled the door, and he put a lot of feeling into the words that he spoke to the crowd.

But there would be three men behind my back the moment my face was turned. I knew they were armed—or at least I never found out that they were not. There was no time to search.

"Down on your knees and face that way," I said, indicating the wall.

They went down and grotesquely assumed an attitude of prayer. Perhaps they were praying, as cowards do.

Then I realized that after I took five steps out into the saloon I would have even more men behind me, some of whom would not be cowards.

"Step slow, Spike, and step carefully," I said and pressed my shoulders against his own.

One gun, which I had recovered from Smith, I poked against Delaney's side; with the other I kept the people through whom we passed, not covered exactly, but bluffed.

Spike was roaring right and left.

"Can't you see he'll kill me if you don't get out of the way—get, you——!"

Spike was eloquent when aroused, but his words were not choice. People in that part of the town were used to obeying Spike Delaney; and, too, none of those around about appeared to be friends of Smith's—and it is only the police who go out of their way to fight with the victor of a duel. So we got through to the alley door safely enough.

"God, that was a clever stunt!" said Spike when we had cleared the crowd.

"Drop those guns. Face about." He did. "I never thought you would double-cross me," I said.

"I'd 'a' shot quick," he said. "You'd better go through. Keep up the bluff— tell me to beat it back toward the bar!"

It dawned on me that Spike Delaney did not know that he lured me into a trap by asking me to take the place of his houseman in that poker game, and I understood why with so much alacrity he had cleared the way through the crowd for me: he was gladly helping me make a getaway.

There was no time to parley so I sent him toward the bar and sprang through the alleyway door and was gone.

Let some one who knows explain why it is that a gambler always carries all the money that he has. I do not know. I only know that they all do it, and one of the things I was long in getting used to was a checking account.

My bank was my inside vest pocket. If I happened to be pretty well capitalized, I used both vest pockets and the hip. All the money that I had was on me; and when one is departing in a hurry that is the main thing—money.

I knew that I had to keep out of sight for a while. The three witnesses had been there ready to have sworn that Smith murdered me in self-defense; and they would as readily declare that I had shot him when he wasn't looking. Such evidence would have convicted a more innocent man than myself, a man with less powerful enmity directed at him from James Thrope. Delaney's friendship was valuable, but he could not without trouble for himself have bucked a combination such as I was up against. Besides, his regard for me was one only of friendship; his relation with Thrope and the police and judges was one of business.

When I was younger even than at that time, I used to vow that I would never run, never be a fugitive. I swore to stand and see it through—"it" being anything that might happen. But I have run frequently, far and fast. I ran that night—figuratively, of course, for nothing would so readily have started pursuit as for me to have been seen flying along.

I WENT down to the water-front and poked about cautiously. I did not want to be seen, that is to be noticed particularly, for I knew Thrope would urge the police to "do their duty" when he heard of what had happened. But I was not without a few friends scattered through the water-front saloons.

I have friends everywhere—I have always had them every place. That does not mean I am such a person as people are eager to know and help, though outside of my own family very few people have been ashamed to have their names linked with mine; but I like friends, particularly I like the socalled outcasts, who are the best and most loyal friends.

And I try never to refuse any man a favor so long as he is not up to some sort of deviltry that even my slack code occasionally, but at such times rigidly, refuses to countenance. I was young in those days, and youth likes vivid phrases; so I told myself that all of us, gamblers, crooks of one kind and another, belonged to the Legion of the Damned—and should go to —— together.

I have recovered a little from such imaginative crudities; but in doing so I have lost something irrecoverable of the zest of life. This flickering of reminiscence is intended to throw a little light on the fact that the reason I hovered watchfully that night at the rear of the Ship Saloon was because the bartender then on watch—as I could see by peeping through the door—was one Sam Tyler.

Sam Tyler was a sailorman, who, recovering consciousness after a free-for-all in Delaney's saloon, found himself not only empty of pockets, but with a cracked head and broken thigh. And because Sam Tyler, who was a stranger to me, had provoked the fight, taken on all-comers, fought a good fight and gone down without a murmur to accept the savage punishment that befalls the vanquished in a bar-room brawl, he went to the hospital—into private room—and I paid the bill.

His sheepish explanation, made from lips barely visible amid a swathing of bandages had been that he always ended a jag with a fight. But his forecastle days were over the doctors said the thigh would always be stiff and likely to cause pain.

So he had settled down to the comparative quiet of night bartender at the Ship Saloon, where he could get all the sea-news and keep in touch with old friends; among whom, though I knew less of sailing than a farm hand, he included me.

Three men were at the bar drinking and talking. It took me some time to attract Sam's attention, but I was cautious because I did not want him to be embarrassed the next day when the police came asking after a man of my description, if witnesses should happen to be around to call him a liar in case he denied having seen me.

When Sam found, out who it was and got a suspicion of why I was there, he set a bottle of whisky on the bar, told his customers to help themselves and keep tab— the last as a perfunctory concession to his duty—and came to the alley, standing in the half-closed door.

I told him that I thought I needed a little sea air.

He told me that the Eliza Jane had cleared the day before for Sydney; he could have put me on to her and no questions asked. The Northern Belle was due in ten days, and he and her skipper were old friends.

In my impatience, it seemed that he mentioned every ship that had ever been sent down the ways to a baptism of salt spray; it seemed that he knew all about her movements and the personnel of her crew, who her skipper was and his character, whether or not one could offer him money for a "safe" passage. Such a profusion of sea gossip was maddening—although I kept an attentive pose. I didn't understand what it meant. I did # not realize that he was talking of his great passion, the sea and her ships—the strong passion of strong men: stronger than love of women, for sailors leave women in every port to sing the ho-heave-ho of the creaking capstan.

At last he thought of what a normal man would have thought of the first thing. Two of the three men in there drinking at the bar at that moment were off the Jessie Darling—the mate and second officer they were, and waiting then for the captain. The Jessie Darling left at dawn. She was short-handed.

I protested. I have an aversion to unnecessary manual labor; and I have found very little of it that ever appealed to me as necessary.

The Jessie Darling was a little schooner recently out of copra trade in the South Seas, more recently refitted and dressed, and—well, he gave the history of the Jessie Darling, but he was rather in ignorance as to her future. He didn't know who owned her. The mate did, but the mate had looked wise and said it was secret. Perhaps he did not know. Ships with secrets are fine for trouble, was the information Sam gave me with a sigh as if he had remembered a childhood sweetheart.

He swore abruptly, jerked off his white apron, flung it down and declared:

"I'm goin' with you! To —— with me spliced leg!"

My bump of caution is enormous. It always has been large. A hard blow over the head will raise a bump and I had got some buffetings that made caution prominent in my life. Sam was for rushing in with arms wide-flung and announcing that we had decided to throw in our fortunes with the Jessie Darling. However, he merely introduced me as a friend and took it for granted that I would soon come into the conversation.

They plainly had no wish to cultivate my acquaintance: a condition that I sensed at once and respected. Besides they were all a little drunk. Moreover, as they were waiting for the captain, I thought I might as well wait too and make my proposition directly to him.

They talked and drank. I leaned over the bar, sipping a glass filled from the proprietor's own private bottle—of tea—and let Sam talk while I listened to them. I was tempted into this because they so many times dropped their voices into furtive, loud whispers, and did so no doubt under the impression that they were concealing what they had to say from prying ears.

Caution and suspicion are two very important characteristics in my make-up. So when I chanced to hear the phrase "—— old hypocrite" used in a way that seemed to refer to the captain, and immediately followed by a prophecy that he would be "shown," I began to pay very close attention, indeed, to the two mates and the third party to whom they paid a certain deference.

I gathered a number of things; among which that the Jessie Darling was likely to steer another course than that intended by the owner—who was also to be shown a thing or two. Just what the nature of the revelation would be I could not surmise from what was said.

However, it seemed that the Jessie Darling was being much sought after for passenger purposes—the third man, called Tom by the mates, was also waiting to make terms for passage with the captain. The mates were the ordinary tough-fibered, big breasted men of the sea, neither of them, I judged, under thirty-five.

The captain came in. He was a tall saturnine fellow, with deep-set eyes and a prominent nose and huge fists. He was a sea-going man all right: grizzled, furrowed, and hard.

THE atmosphere was chilled the moment he came through the door. The look in his eyes did it, the look he fastened on the three men as he came up.

"Mr. Swanson," he said frigidly, "why aren't you on board?"

The mate replied that it was all right, that the owner himself was on board and had him to come ashore on an errand. With a drunken snicker he added—

"He's got his girl with him."

The captain was plainly infuriated, but he kept very quiet. Only his eyes told the story as he turned toward the bar and asked for a drink. Swanson asked him to drink with them, but the captain coldly declined.

"Mr. Thompson—fren' o' mine—doctor— for his health 'd like passage," said Mr. Swanson, laboring with an introduction and embarrassed by something more than whisky.

I remember having heard some place— my knowledge of the sea and its ways is vague—that the mate, though under the direction of the captain, is responsible only to the owner, and that a captain can not dismiss a mate as he can any other member of the crew. Obviously the captain disliked the mate, and I suppose some strong influence kept him from summarily ridding himself of Swanson. As it was the captain said briefly and with decision—

"No passengers."

That was not pleasing to me.

Sam Tyler began to talk. He rambled on: said he used to be a sailor and was tired of dust and noise. Why, it wouldn't take two cents for him to throw his apron off and go to sea again! The captain asked a few questions, a few quick nautical questions—but I did not listen further.

Behind my back I was hearing Swanson whisper:

"You come out between three an' four. I'll have somebody on the lookout an' stow you away. An' after we get two days out ——" The mate gave the captain a look that indicated the events two days later would be highly disadvantageous to the captain.

"I'll be there," said Thompson.

He left.

The captain was saying to Sam:

"If you want to go as a boy all right. If you are A. B. so much the better. I'll give you the rate soon as you make it."

They left, and left me talking with the proprietor, who grumbled and roared and drank something stronger than tea, because he had been awakened from sleep to come down and fill the place of the bartender who had gone a-rambling.

In saying good-by to Sam I managed to tell him that he would probably see me later, but for him to keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut.

I talked with the proprietor. I let him think that I was going across to Oakland and from there in an auto toward Los Angeles. I dropped this information calculatingly, as if with no intention of letting him divine what I had in mind.

Then I went to the pier from which I heard Thompson say he would leave at three o'clock.

I waited some time. A figure moved into the shadows, detached itself presently from the gloom, and Thompson looked into the muzzle of a gun, gasped and raised his hands with that suddenness which shows good judgment on the part of a victim.

Then I backed him into the shadows for a little talk.

Captain Whibley, I told him, was perhaps ?not such a fool as he appeared; and since Captain Whibley did not care to have him on the Jessie Darling it would perhaps be well to explain to me—to convince me why I should disobey the captain's wish in the matter and let him get on board.

I don't know why it is that men, always when in a position similar to that in which Thompson found himself, say the first thing—

"Who are you?"

I explained—briefly—that I had not taken the trouble of meeting him to give information, but to get it.

"That —— —— —— Swanson's give me the double-cross!"

"Don't be so quick to suspect Swanson,' I told him. "You both made the mistake of not taking Captain Whibley into your confidence."

To make a short interview still shorter I may' say I found out the day of mutiny and piracy and treasure-trove searching was not entirely vanished from the sea Thompson knew, or said he did—had maps anyway—where there was a pirate cache on one of the Ladrones. His idea was with the connivance of mates and crew to take the Jessie Darling and find the loot a hundred or so years old.

Hunting for gold on a desert island never appealed to me as an enticing pastime. I have gone on a treasure hunt or two, but I didn't intend to go on the Jessie Darling. It was one thing to be dodging the San Francisco police for a justifiable homicide it was quite another to be dodging the maritime police of all nations for mutiny and piracy.

There was no doubt about the proposed mutiny succeeding; two mates, and six of the ten members of the short-handed crew were already acquainted with the plot.

I perhaps could have won the gratitude of Captain Whibley by acquainting him with the facts; but conspiring seamen are good liars, and I had nothing to prove my tale but a few pocket-worn charts which I removed from Thompson. Besides, attention would be attracted to my own identity before the Jessie Darling cleared the bay.

Once the police had their hands on me I would be in for a trial. From the lofty heights of his bossdom, Thrope would put on the pressure and if I escaped with a life sentence I would be lucky. Spike Delaney could do much. I did not know how much.

I did not know how much he would even be willing to try to do, for his business was so intertwined with the police graft and so subject to Thrope's approval that friendship would not be likely to count. I preferred to go to sea. Having got to sea, then I could meet the situations as they developed.

So, as often in complications of the kind, I bluffed. It was easy. Thompson thought Captain Whibley knew all about the conspiracy. The Jessie Darling was sailing before sunrise.

I took possession of the maps and told Thompson it was lucky for him that Captain Whibley was so anxious to sail that he did not stay even one day over to prefer charges against him. With that I let Thompson go on his way—never to be heard from again in my affairs—and I found a launch and was taken out to the ship.

The launch man did not want to put out his lights and shut off his engine as he approached the Jessie Darling, but a little money is very persuasive.

As we came alongside a low voice hailed us—

"Mr. Thompson."

"Righto," I answered.

I had a speech ready in case the lookout knew Thompson, but he didn't; that was obvious by the way he took it for granted that I was he.

"Where's Swanson?" I asked.

"Sleepin' it off. He an' the old man had words. Y'see, the owner's aboard— with his girl. Swanson'll see you in the mornin'."

The man led me down to a stuffy little hole. I found out afterward that it was the steward's room, but the Chinese steward slept in the galley with the Chinese cook. Two Chinamen can sleep in a match-box and have plenty of room left.

The man left me, saying he "guessed he'd turn in."

His back was scarcely tinned before a low knock at the door set me tense. I had hoped for an hour or so respite anyway.

I opened the door, and Sam Tyler limped in grinning.

Tyler—again at sea—had been too happy to sleep, and besides he wanted to see if I made it on board. So he had sprawled under a boat to soak in the watery air and watch.

I made my story brief and complete. It was the truth, clear down to the shooting of Smith and the need to go on the trip. I had only told Sam before that there had been "trouble" and I needed rest.

He whistled softly and grinned.

"This is goin' to be good," was his comment.

"Who owns this schooner?" I asked. He said that he did not know. He had asked, but none of the men seemed to know.

He had heard, too, that the owner was on board with "his girl."

"His daughter?" I inquired.

"Don't know—maybe somebody else's daughter. Usually is on mystery ships. What're we goin' do?"

"Sleep," I told him.


I DID not sleep late, but I lay in the bunk long after I had dressed. I had nothing to do but think, and I let thoughts come and go as it pleased them.

The bustling around, the shouting and clamor, the creak of the donkey-engine and the gentle sway of the moving ship pleased me: we were under weigh.

A Chinaman, a Cantonese, came down with coffee and rice about nine o'clock.

"What is your name?" I asked.

He shook his head slightly, but there was no expression on his face: a rather old empty face, and a Chinaman's face can be blank and empty as the inside of a scooped cantaloup.

"You are the steward?"

He nodded slightly.

"I may want to use your room for some time. Here."

I offered him a bit of money.

He took it as one takes his dues, and without comment, without expression.

"Can't you talk?"

He looked at me hard for some seconds and turned away and went out, saying nothing.

It is very easy to offend a Chinaman; but it is not easy to offend one to such an extent that he will show that he has been offended—until some time later when a hatchet or a knife acquaints one with the fact.

I had always kept out of trouble with the Chinamen, which was the more unusual be: cause I knew many of them and was close friends with seven or eight. They are—without exception—the cleverest gamblers in the world, and though this is largely due to the fact that they are the most crooked, they have the qualities of poise and bluff but, excepting the Cantonese, are not particularly distinguished for what in the Occident is regarded as courage.

They prefer to meet a man from behind rather than to his face: a Saxon doesn't feel that he has paid an enemy unless that enemy knows who has struck him to death; but a Chinaman's soul, and the soul of almost any Oriental, is satisfied with poison or a blow from the dark.

About noon Swanson came down.

I don't know what he was intending to say, but I imagine something indicative of surprize. He got his surprize from another angle.

In about twenty words I gave him a calling down that he could not soon forget, pointing out that he was a fine fellow to put any faith in—to go to bed drunk when important work was to be done. Why had he not been on deck to meet Thompson and me when we came? Why had he waited until half the day was gone before coming near me? A fine fellow to have to trust!

Where was Thompson?

If he, Swanson, had not been drunk and asleep when we came he might have learned.

Yes, I was the man that had loafed around in the Ship's bar. I was also the man who was a friend of the bartender's. I was the man who had "something on" Thompson; and I had impressed upon Thompson the need of taking me into the game. Swanson was invited to notice that Sam Tyler was on board; and he was invited to consider the matter of going on with the game under the new deal or trying to get out and save his own hide, in which case he would probably share the fate of the captain of whom we mutineers would soon dispose.

The lookout had not told him Thompson came with me?

Of course, the lookout hadn't. The lookout knew nothing: he had said the mate was asleep, and I had known that meant in a drunken sleep, so the launch had gone back without Thompson coming on deck. Thompson did not intend to come on deck anyway: he would have explained from the launch.

The mate was mystified: but when I showed the maps, he realized that I had got pretty close into the confidence of Thompson; and if I had not intended to go on with the plot, why had I not carried my story straight to the captain?

My procedure was a bit irregular, but effective. He was nervous, uneasy, but convinced. Besides, Swanson hated the captain.

What about Thompson?

I suggested that Thompson had seen fit to sell out his interest in the plan to me; that certain persuasions had been made which appealed to Thompson as irresistible; that whenever I saw a good thing, I naturally wanted to share.

"Is it or is it not a go?" I demanded.

He seemed to think I had the cards pretty well stacked; besides he wanted to even a grudge against the captain, and he believed in the map. A sailor always believes in a treasure-trove map. This one may have been genuine for all that I know.

It was never used. So, all things considered, and perhaps convinced that I would be as firm a leader as Thompson, he declared that it was "a go," and offered his hand. I ignored the hand and told him that he had better walk a straight line. That made him angry, of course. But I had a better card up my sleeve than he suspected to keep him from trying to do away with me and getting the maps.

"Look here," I said. "I know what is going on inside your head. Here are the maps—three of them. I have copies. I have concealed them. When you find them—the copies—it will be time to slug me over the head and drop me over the side. But not before. Remember, the copies—very accurately made—are all that is left." With that I struck a match and burned the maps under his nose, while his mouth hung agape.

"There are a half-dozen desperate fellows," I explained lest his slow brain did not fully appreciate the peril in which I had placed him, "enlisted by Thompson on this boat. They expect to go after gold. The ship can't be worked without them. You are their ringleader. If they find out you can't produce the maps, your life won't be worth a salted herring—and you can't produce the maps if anything should happen to me. That's all."

I deliberately turned my back that he might see how little I cared for the boiling anger that reddened his face and heaved his chest. I don't think he noticed that I could watch him very well out of the corners of my eyes in the small mirror that hung on the bulkhead.

As I have said, I am very cautious. When I seem to be taking a chance I am usually playing safe—dealing from the bottom of the deck.

He contained his anger and went out. I supposed he wished my soul on the toasting fork of his satanic majesty's chief cook, but Mr. Swanson had given himself a little lesson in self-control. Perhaps he did not play poker, except in the crude draw-and-bet manner of the win-or-bebroken gambler, and so understood nothing of the refinements of bluff.

THE Chinese steward brought me something for dinner. Withered and wise and rather old he was. And I imperturbably tried further conversation with him, and received no answer. He watched me with a steady scrutiny not at all reassuring—but one can't tell what is reassuring, or ominous, in a Chinaman.

By night my hole had become unbearably wearisome.

The Chinaman visited me again. But I paid no attention to him. But he seemed to me to hesitate, to linger. However, he did nothing, said nothing, and went away.

I waited until it was dark, then went on deck to stretch my legs. I was of the opinion that I had been a little impetuous in coming on board the Jessie Darling. The situation was by no means clear, the future not reassuring. It would be wrong to suggest that I was afraid.

When I get into a fix from which my wit and guns can not extricate me, then it is time to die—and as long as I am not shot from behind, my ghost will hold no grudge against the man that sends me across the Border. I was not afraid, but the need for having left San Francisco did not seem so pressing a score of leagues from the Golden Gate on a ship pledged to mutiny.

It was no easy matter to stretch my legs for the moon was bright and dodged in and out among the clouds in a way that annoyed me. I had not yet got what sailormen call my bearings. The moon made little difference in that though. I knew nothing of ships. I did not learn much about the Jessie Darling either. I was kept too busy.

As I stood identifying myself as much as possible with a mast shadow, I heard voices, excited voices, aft, then a pattering of feet. A figure scooted by me and shouted down a doorway:

"Turn out an' search the ship. Woman hid—or overboard."

I had been given to understand the ship was short-handed. It seemed overcrowded to me. Voices, harsh laughter and harder jokes, rose in every direction; figures scampered by, some with lanterns; calls rang to and fro. From the poop-deck I could hear the voice of Captain Whibley. Questions and answers and directions— and jokes—all around. And reports. A man came by and flashed a lantern in my face; it was the man who had been detailed by Swanson to let me—or rather Thompson—on board.

I made inquiries.

He said she itfust have jumped overboard. Sam Tyler had been at the wheel and said he saw her come up and go down amidships. Later he heard a splash— thought he did. Listened, but there was no outcry. Looked, but saw nothing. Supposed maybe it was only a porpoise or something. Must have been her. Ship was searched high and low. No trace. Old Man was furious—the captain, that is.

Was having words with the owner. Cussin' him out. Old Man could cuss some, he could. Seems like she wasn't the owner's daughter, but—— And wasn't that kind of a woman after all. Seemed like she'd been half-drunk or something When she come on board. And sick. Saw what she was into—and jumped.

"Who is the owner?"

"Don't know, sir. Ain't the owner after all. Old Man—I heard him—says, 'You're a —— liar. This boat is owned by John Collins.' They cussed back and forth. Owner a big man with—" the seaman swiped his cheeks to indicate a beard, and added, "black."

I was hot with anger, but I couldn't help anything. I could do nothing. I let women strictly alone because—well, I like them when they are not interfering with me, when they are at a distance, on other men's arms. But I don't like to, know of their being mistreated. I am cruel and at times cold-blooded, but I don't want to see anybody cruel to women, children or dogs. I was never put to the test, but I believe that I could without troublesome regret shoot a man who beat a dog.

I know I would if it was a stray that had ever poked its nose into my hand. And dogs are third on the list—though perhaps children are first—of the things it is not wise to abuse if my gun is not empty. In fact, I might be tempted in that case to overcome a strong aversion to using my fists on somebody's face.

I reflected that it was perhaps well that I had been on deck when the search was made. Somebody might have found me in the steward's hole—though I later heard that the steward had made his own report, and reported nothing.

I judged that I had better get out of the way in case somebody might take enough interest in my presence to carry a tale to the captain; though, I understood later, most of the crew knew I had taken Thompson's place.

I went to the hole. It was dark. I struck a match and lighted the lantern. It was a cubbyhole of a place. The bunk occupied almost a half of it. The lantern was smoky and dim, and flickered. I stood for a moment listening at the door. There was nothing to attract attention.

I closed the door and sat down and for a moment, rather fascinated, watched the lantern. It was spluttering away as if embarrassed. I loosed my shoes and placed them carefully by the chair. I am methodical. I removed my collar and tie and reached forward to the little shelf under the lantern. I unbuttoned my vest—and stopped.

There was some kind of a noise—only it wasn't loud enough to be a noise. My muscles became tense and the cold, rigidly icy contraction that always grips my body at the first whisper of alarm, and makes me appear so nerveless and calm, took hold of me.

"YOU can't stay here! Please. I'm here!"

I jerked my head back over my shoulder. A woman's face peered up out of the shadows from under the covers of my bunk.

I turned around in my chair and looked at her. I could not see her face very clearly. I said nothing for a few moments What is there one can say in a situation of the kind? I could not gallantly offer to withdraw myself. I had no place else to go on the ship. I had as good reasons as she for wishing to keep out of sight. So I looked hard and long and my eyes cleared a little and became accustomed to darkness.

She was in that bunk with the covers so ingeniously arranged that it would have taken more than a casual glance to tell that anybody was in it. There was no outline of the body visible. The covers had been drawn and bolstered evenly. Only her face showed and she only just before had drawn the cover from over it. Obviously she could not have made so ingenious arrangement of them herself— even if she had blundered accidentally into the room.

"Who put you there?" I asked.

"The steward."

"That Chinaman?"


There is no telling anything about a Chinaman.

A pause. I looked at her hard. My back was against the light—what there was of it. At last I was convinced. So I said—

"Well, Miss Curwen, how did you come to be on the Jessie Darling?"

She flung off the covers and sat upright, agitated, partly frightened:

"Then you are that man! I thought so— but—but you are in jail!"

"Let us not get excited," I said soothingly—or tried to say it soothingly. "You're supposed to be overboard and I seem supposed to be in jail. How do you account for it?"

She told me.

I have found that it is usually wisest to show surprize when you don't feel it; to pretend ignorance when you haven't it— and the reverse, too. So I did not seem surprised or appear to have heard anything not already very well known to me.

Miss Helen Curwen was of the slim dark type that are full of passions and wilfulness.

All women like to do things they have no business to do; but not all of them lack discretion, or, as a woman might call it if she is one of the kind that does do those things, the courage. The average woman feels that the world is cheating her: being filled with infinitely more desires, dreams, or whatever her urgent restlessness may be called, than can ever be gratified, she lives under a continual sense of repression— until at such a time as with a kind of volcanic folly she breaks loose.

The breaking loose may take the form of tearing up a dress that she really likes, of throwing a scalding coffee pot at her husband's head, or of throwing herself at some man mother and friends have warned her against. Incidentally, a sure way to make a normal girl interested in, if not in love with, a man—if he has any personality, good looks or suavity at all—is to try to tell her that he is "dangerous," color his reputation with black, call him those names that are sufficient to make him an outcast from society.

Let those who willingly make a study of the sex explain, if they can, why this is so. All, or at least most, of my experiences with women have been against my will. My knowledge of them has usually come from some such inescapable contact as discovering one of them ensconced in my bed, from which—as in this case literally, and in others figuratively, so to speak—they poke their heads to order me out of my own room.

In this case I went promptly, having found out some things of a really surprizing nature.

I went to the galley and roused the steward.

He looked at me steadily, quietly, but said nothing. He made no reply to my demand to know why he had stowed the woman in my bunk; and I am sure that he did not smile, though there were so many wrinkles in his face that I could not be positive about this. He said nothing.

I told him what I wanted and, without suggesting a threatening manner, conveyed to him that an easy way out would be to do it. I do not believe it is ever wise to threaten a Chinaman. Kill him if the situation requires—but threaten, no. His duplicity is so subterranean that he doesn't seem to hear the threat at all, though he is likely to accept it as a challenge to mortal combat and win by poison subsequently delivered with the humblest of smiles.

If he is a Cantonese he is more likely to use a dagger, gently slipping it between your ribs while you look upward to some spot on the ceiling, or to some cloud effect, that his esthetic perception points out. I am not, certainly not, a coward, but I never felt comfortable with strange Chinamen or any women.

He said nothing, but when I had finished he bowed and led the way.

I followed.

He indicated a door, stepped back and hesitated.

I made a gesture of dismissal and added a whispered—

"Thank you."

Gently, as gently as if screwing the lid from an infernal machine, I tried the door. It was not locked.

Cautiously, slowly, soundlessly, I opened it; inch by inch, imperceptibly, I opened it. And when it was wide open I stood in the doorway and waited—waited for the man who sat in a kind of heavy resignation, his face down, his arm thrown back over the chair and a tall, half-emptied glass of whisky in his hand, to look up.

He did.

I LIKE to make dramatic entrances when the opportunity affords. I like it for two reasons: one is that perhaps I am by nature a little theatrical, though certainly not melodramatic—there can't be melodrama anyway, without love of woman; the other and more sensible reason is that such an entrance is almost like a terrific nerve-bomb for the other person.

"My ——!" he muttered, every muscle frozen in fright, his mouth open, his eyes staring in widened horror.

I said nothing.

The light was good, but an oil light, and with the shadows of the passageway behind me perhaps I did take on a rather spectral effect in his crazed brain. The ship, a wooden ship, with long steady rolls veered from side to side, groaning and creaking as if built of dead men's bones.

He swerved abruptly around in his chair, dropping unnoticingly the glass, which fell and splintered, and continued to stare at me.

He passed his hands over his eyes to wipe out the vision, but flesh and blood like mine doesn't vanish so easily. "You!" he said at last in something between a hiss and prayer.

"Yes, Thrope, you've guessed it," I said, stepping inside and closing the door without taking my eyes from him.

Perhaps he wanted to fight, but he is not greatly to be blamed for not attempting it. I offered no menace, except such menace as he may have read in my face; but if he read anything there his eyes were better than my effort to show no expression, unless an inscrutable lack of feeling and purpose may in itself be called an expression. The tips of my fingers were in the side pockets of my coat; there was no threat in face or manner.

"You, you were—arrested?"

He half asked it, half declared it; that is, he was having difficulty in reconciling the conflicting evidence between his ears and his eyes, between what he seemed to have heard and what he seemed now to see.

"Arrested? What for?" I asked innocently.

"They told me they had you—or would have—or——"

Then suddenly, anxious to charge me with a great crime—

"You killed a man!"

"Oh, did I? Thrope, you seem to have me mixed with some one else."

I was not playing; I was tormenting him. The realities of the world, the things one knows and has heard, on land, take on almost misty distance, a sort of nebulous mirage, if their existence is contradicted at night in mid-ocean, when the ship is devoid of human sounds; particularly when the ship groans and wails—and a woman has just flung herself overboard or, which is just as effective, is thought to have done so.

"You did!" he shouted at me, saying it loudly to convince himself. "You killed Smith. Delaney was crazy because—because—" His voice trailed off indecisively. Then, strengthened by a new idea, he added—"Because it happened at his place!"

I understood. Thrope did not want me to know that Delaney was indignant, furious, because a frame-up had been planted against me—and especially so because it had been pulled off in his place.

No Thrope would not want me to know that. He would not want to believe it himself. Delaney was a power, a political power. He led the underworld to the polls. It was Delaney who knew best how to stuff and steal in a doubtful election, and Thrope was anxious to be governor. He would not want Delaney to be angry, even though he could shake much of the profit out of Delaney's business and graft. Still who could handle votes like Delaney?

If I had known precisely, as I did then where Delaney stood and how angry he was at the frame-up, I might have lain low and remained in San Francisco, not putting much faith in Delaney, but, so to speak, less distrust. But that was all behind me. Thrope and I were together on the high seas.

I looked the cabin over admiringly. It was capacious and beautifully furnished. So the Jessie Darling was something of a pleasure yacht.

A bottle of whisky and a piece of paper were on the table at which Thrope sat.

"How did you get here?" he demanded. Then quickly—"Won't you have a drink?"

I read his thoughts—not his thought either, but his intonations and expressions— as plainly as if he had put them into precise words. Between asking how I got there, and the proffer of a glass of whisky, it had occurred to him that if deftly managed I could be arrested on the ship, stowed away and carried back to stand trial.

The main thing, of course, in his mind was to keep me from shooting before help could arrive. I think that he was almost beginning to believe that fortune had played into his hands.

As he turned to pour out whisky for me his eye fell on the piece of folded paper. With a movement intended to be unobstrusive he placed his hand over it and with a very awkward effort at doing nothing suspicious was carrying it to his pocket.

"Something I would be interested in?' I inquired innocently.

"What?" And again and blusteringly, as he rammed it into his pocket—"What!"

Thrope was given to blustering. He seemed to think noise was strength. The world would be full of Samsons were it true.

"Let me share your confidence, Thrope," I said, extending a hand of which the forefinger beckoned slightly.

"Of all the——"

"Impudence. Yes. Let me see that paper!"

"It's personal. I—I—it's personal." I replied that I didn't care if it were intimate, or what it might be; that I was a very curious individual.

"Have a drink. We might as well make it up," he offered evasively.

I said nothing. I looked at him steadily. In about three seconds he handed me the paper.

"You keep both hands on the table and turn your face the other way," I instructed.

He hesitated, but did as told. I did not want him jumping at me while I was reading. I wouldn't greatly have minded having him do so if I had not already been in certain complications that would have become more embarrassing through having to explain how I happened to shoot millionaire Thrope, candidate for governor—and likely to be elected.

I glanced at the letter, and I came as near to feeling shame as ever I can. But I began and read it. I read it carefully. It was astounding.

"The envelope—the envelope," I said.

"You know to whom it's addressed— you've read it before," he replied half leering at me.

IT WOULD have been useless to deny the charge. I had not read it before. I had not even been able to identify it as that letter—but I had had suspicions. So I asked for the envelope. I really did not care whether he gave it to me, for he had given me its equivalent in his remark.

Perhaps I should have destroyed the letter. I find in looking back over my years, however, that I have seldom done the sensible thing at crucial moments: I have done the safe thing, or tried to. I had some influence over Thrope as long as I kept the letter.

He would have given a foot, leg and all, to get it again. Besides, I rather looked to Mrs. Curwen to feel more relieved if she destroyed it herself—rather than heard, even from me, that it was destroyed. I could, too, understand her hesitation in ever destroying it. A letter of the kind is not the sort that a woman would ever destroy—and then not without committing it to memory.

I put it into my pocket.

"Name your price," said Thrope.

"I prefer to auction it," I told him. "Congressman Bryan is not a rich man, but he has friends. Then, too, a woman may want to bid—and have nothing but tears. Did you ever try to bid against a woman's tears, Thrope? What in——would you have to offer then?"

Of course, he didn't know of what I was talking. All that got into his head was the idea that I was going to auction the letter.

He became excited and offered—it is useless to repeat his insane sums. Anyway he never expected to pay them, so he could afford to talk in large numbers. He never expected me to get off the ship with the letter. All he feared was that I might destroy it.

"By the way, Thrope, who was the woman that went overboard—to get away from you?"

I am all the time discovering that, though most men are better than the world thinks, yet some of whom I have the lowest opinion are worse even than I could have imagined. I don't like to repeat his exact words, but I believe it necessary: nothing else that the man ever did or said so vividly illuminated the utter meanness and subtlety within him.

Had I not known the facts even I—who was rather a sophisticated and suspicious youngster—would scarcely have doubted the truth, though I might have had contempt for his callousness. He said with a kind of careless regret:

"Her? Oh, a Tommy I picked up on the Coast. She was full of hop and got away from me—jumped the cabin when I wasn't looking."

A silence.

I don't think that I showed that I doubted him. I merely waited. Nothing so much as silence, nothing so much as pause, jangles the nerves of even the hardened guilty.

Then quietly I remarked—

"Helen Curwen never impressed me as a girl like that."

An explosion went off inside of him. For a third of a second he looked as if he was literally blowing up. He jumped and quivered in every muscle.

This governor-to-be was rather implicated in something more than mere scandal—he did not care for mere scandal— if I should tell my story to the public. He could lie, yes. His friends could He. A mere outcast girl could have been pretty well disposed off by Hes; but there were men courageous enough to investigate the facts concerning a reputable daughter, or the daughter of a reputable woman; and there is one thing that constantly reassures my faith in democracies.

Their publics never forgive at the polls the debauchery of young girls, of girls out of homes. The public will smirk and smile and say "Oh well, no men are saints," if a politician is merely a rounder—but let him even be suspected of having invaded the sanctuary of the hearthstone—neither money, lies nor stolen votes can save him.

But, of course, Thrope had the drop on me, figuratively—or thought that he had. Even if I got off the Jessie Darling alive, I could be turned over to the police, isolated by them, prevented from being communicated with any but attorneys of Thrope's own choosing, tried before a judge he held to heel and by a jury of the court's own choosing, convicted of Smith's murder, sent to San Quentin or hanged without ever a chance to tell my story; or if I did tell it, to have it reach none but ears of the cabal's own choosing.

Things like that had been done in San Francisco; they have been done in every dty at some time or other. Thrope knew all about the effectiveness of such procedure. What he did not fully appreciate was my aversion to putting myself into the hands of justice.

Much of my inveterate dislike of police and courts, and all the machinery of law, much of my often foolhardy efforts to play a lone game, do what I think is right even to lawlessness, may be traced as having had an origin in the experiences and knowledge of what murderous farces were perpetrated around me in my youth.

"Helen Curwen," he lied. "Who is she?"

The girl was supposed to be dead, and I suppose he had thought there were none to identify her, none who recognized her or knew her, until I admitted a certain familiarity with his newest closet-skeleton.

"A friend of mine," I said.

"How did you get on my ship?"

He was angry, but he was doing his best not to show it. Perhaps he was wondering again, as he may have wondered before, just how ready I am to shoot.

A fellow who had led my kind of life, and who has, on occasion, shot, has his reputation magnified and distorted; but such distortion has a wholesome effect on men like Thrope.

"Supposing," I suggested, ignoring his question, "we call in Captain Whibley."

Thrope swore and wanted to know if that—oh, I don't remember how many kinds of —— something or other—man had let me on this private ship, which, so Thrope said, belonged to him.

"Let the captain speak for himself. He didn't impress me as a man who would he easily."


CAPTAIN WHIBLEY came in. He was big, with a gaunt dark face. A very direct man, the captain.

He asked in so many words who I was, what I was doing on board his ship, and his general attitude was unfavorable.

Thrope fairly bounded to his chance. I was perfectly willing that he should play his hand first.

He told the captain, but not without having edged into a position almost putting the captain nearest my gun—in case I drew—that I was a dirty tin-horn gambler, wanted for murder; and that I had evidently slipped on board the Jessie Darling to escape the police; that I was trying to bluff him, Thrope, with a cock-and-bull story about having known the girl—or rather of having pretended that she came from a good home and wasn't a Barbary Coast creature.

Probably the girl was something to me; probably she had helped me on board. Thrope therefore ordered the captain to place me in irons, and as owner of the ship furthermore ordered him to go about and head for San Francisco.

"I have told you once before," said Captain Whibley, slowly, deliberately and with evident aversion for Thrope, "that Collins is the only owner I recognize."

"Collins is only a bookkeeper for me. I'm Thrope, Thomas Thrope."

"I know that," said Whibley, "but if you were King of England I would be the captain of my own ship—at sea. And sail her as my owner directed."

Thrope was set back. He looked it. But his spirit soon rose. Whibley was a firm man and turned his attention to me.

"You are armed?"

I barely nodded.

"Put your gun on the table."

I barely shook my head.

"You heard me say 'Put your gun on that table!'"

Captain Whibley was a strong man, in a way that a man is by his personality powerful. It was only with a psychological effort that I refused.

"No, captain—not yet. I'll break the gun and give it to you at the proper time. But I may want to plug that skunk without having to search around for something to do it with."

Evidently he sympathized with my feeling toward Thrope; and perhaps, too, he recognized that I would not give up the gun.

"What do you mean?" he asked, firmly but inquiringly rather than challengingly.

"Did you see the girl at all?"

"Yes. I saw her. She was very beautiful." He said it simply.

I did not tell the captain all I knew. Helen would not tell him all she had told me. Thrope would not tell all that he knew either. Then I did not know so much as I thought I did—not even after having read the letter which was carefully deposited in my own pocket.

I will try to be brief, for important things happened later on.

The captain went to Helen himself. He questioned her, but not as a sea captain might have been expected to do by those who have rarely met the type of Whibley. He was a strong and lonely man, with a fine sense of justice and an implacable honor.

He returned where I kept vigil over Thrope. And what he told Thrope did my heart good. With dignity, without profanity, with something of religious indignation but no mention of God—for, after all, such manhood as Whibley's is a higher religion than the maundering eye-rolling of the self-consciously holy, who can do nothing decent without calling His attention to their merits—Captain Whibley told the man of millions, the literal owner of that ship, the man powerful and unscrupulous enough to wreck any captain's career, exactly what kind of a dog he was. And Whibley said that as soon as the Jessie Darling reached port the full story of the affair would be made public.

"And I'll ruin you!" yelled Thrope.

I touched Thrope on the shoulder. It was something a little more than a touch perhaps, for he wheeled involuntarily and looked into my face.

"You forget," I reminded him, "that my affairs have first claim on your attention!"

It was then that Thrope appealed to Captain Whibley to have me disarmed. Whibley's sense of justice required him to make demands for the gun. I gave one over to him.

"He has another," shouted Thrope.

The captain asked if that was true. He said to hand it over. I refused, politely as possible. The captain, furious at this defiance of authority, reached for the one I had laid on the table; but I threw back the breast of my coat, and with a slight jerk of my wrist he was covered.

I apologized, but I was insistent. In fact I reached out and recovered the other gun.

I was sorry for Captain Whibley. I liked him. I would have liked him less had he not been so determined to disarm me: he had no fear, but turned his back on me and walked from the cabin.

Thrope and I were alone, but we did not talk. That is, he talked but I scarcely listened. He was offering "peace," he was suggesting an "offensive and defensive" alliance. If that story, which Whibley had declared was for the public, should reach its destination—Thrope's political honors would go glimmering, if his political influence would not be entirely destroyed.

Swanson and four men came to the cabin door. Their orders were to disarm and bind me. But I—I merely pointed toward Thrope and said—

"That's the man!"

With rough summary hands they searched him, and found nothing of firearms; they bound him in spite of his raving protests and stowed him on the bunk.

I rummaged through Thrope's effects and found a gun. I removed one of my own, took the shells from the two of them and told Swanson to take them and the report to Whibley.

The men knew very well that they had not been sent to tie up Thrope. But as a chief conspirator and a ringleader of the proposed mutiny which was already due, I was immune from their violence.

THAT is, I was immune just then. That night Sam Tyler gave me the ship news. First, Helen Curwen had been given other quarters than those offered by the steward, and placed under the protection of Captain Whibley.

Tyler had been at the wheel early in the evening when Helen, frightened and desperate, rushed from the companionway and asked where was the steward, the Chinese steward.

"He promised to help me! To hide me! Tell them you saw me jump!" She waved a frantic hand toward the black molten water.

Tyler thought she was fleeing from a dog to a snake by running from a white man to a yellow man. The average Chinaman may be trusted implicitly any place but St' a gambling-table and with a woman. But this old silent steward was of a different fiber than most men, white or yellow.

But the important thing that Tyler told me was that the mates, Swanson and the second officer, were spreading the feeling among the ruffians that there was no reason for allowing me to cut on their treasure trove.

That meant a certain danger, but I do not mind admitting that I welcomed it.

My room had been searched and I had been watched. Swanson wanted to find the copies of the maps. Perhaps he thought I had too much sense to keep them on my person, as that would probably be the first place anybody would have the first impulse to look. Perhaps he and his men would have tried to overpower me, to search me, when so ordered by the captain, but Tyler had spread my name and reputation—and Tyler had a vivid imagination. Too, that name and reputation was not unknown to some of them. Moreover, I had in that cabin given them no chance to take me off my guard. A man has to use up about half of his fife's blood writing a record of loyalty and true faith before I trust him. I liked Tyler, for instance; I believed in him, but I wouldn't have trusted him very far—though so far as I ever learned he was as good a friend as a man could want.

I play a lone game—go just as far alone as it is possible.

It was well into the morning when I lay down, again in the steward's cubbyhole. I did not undress, for dawn would come in an hour and I wanted to be up and see what was going on, though I had nothing in particular in mind to do.

I did not go to sleep. There was too much movement about; not too much to disturb sleep, but too much to disturb the peace of mind of one suspicious as myself. Feet were shuffling about, voices muttering.

A quiet rap came on my door.

I started to answer, but caught the words back. The approach to the door had been rather stealthy. I would wait. The door opened. Whispers. There was more than one person there. My name was softly called. I did not answer.

I was lying on my left side; my hand touched the handle of the gun that nestled in a skeleton holster on my stomach. I was ready—or thought I was, but a terrific blow fell through the darkness and nearly shattered my right shoulder. I was at once almost smothered beneath the weight of men. I can shoot as well with my left as with my right hand.

This dexterity has been acquired by the left hand after long effort, chiefly because it is the right hand that fellows, looking for an excuse to shoot first, watch. But I could use neither. I was in a bad way and very foolishly struggled. A few years ago a similar surprize was made on me, and I pretended to be unconscious, and presently two of my assailants were themselves unconscious—permanently so. But in that cabin I struggled, foolishly. And I was choked and beaten and gouged, and it seemed as if my clothes were being literally torn from me.

There is nothing, nothing that can be done to me personally that is so infuriating as for people to paw me. I don't want anybody's hands to touch me at any time. And when I am manhandled, my temper swells up like the poisonous throat of a cobra. But my gun had been taken away, and I have no doubt but that the handle of it is what some fellow used to strike me on what he thought was the head, but which was only my already pained shoulder.

I have never been knocked unconscious more than two or three times in my fife. That was one of them.

When I came to I found the old withered steward staring down into my face. In his hand he held a tumbler of brandy. Much of it had been poured on my face, and some of it. trickled between my teeth, and I felt almost strangled. I don't know how long he had worked with me, but he seemed to think his duties had just begun.

He offered me the rest of the brandy but said nothing.

"Why don't you talk?" I demanded.

He opened his mouth: he was a mute. At some time or other his tongue had been cut out. In China precautions are taken to keep secrets.

On board the Jessie Darling Yang Li and I became friends. Eventually, in years that followed, we were to become brothers. I was to find that for cunning and loyalty that Chinaman was incomparable. Why he had taken a fancy to me then, I do not know. I never did know. Not even Chinese wizardry could foretell that some months later my gun was to clear his trail of enemies. But that does not belong to this story.

I was washed and bandaged. My body was sore, but I was not weak. I was furious, but as my ferocity is never emotional, I said little and displayed patience.

I asked if he knew who had attacked me. He did. I repeated what names I knew, but he nodded at one only. Swanson's.

I was unarmed. He offered me a long knife, refined of edge to a razor's sharpness. I took it, though what I know of handling a knife is about the same as any other man knows—nothing except to grasp the handle and thrust. A knife in the hand of an expert is about the deadliest weapon made.

I ask him if he thought he could steal the gun of mine that had been given the captain the night before. He shook his head and tried to tell me something important.

The mutineers had broken loose; but it was not a mutiny according to the previous plan. Thrope wanted to turn back to San Francisco. He was the owner of the ship. He was rich. His name was known to every man. He was the big boss—and he was to give them protection for putting back, and later, so he promised, to fit them out with a ship of their own for the gold hunt.

The upshot of the thing was that I had been attacked and left for dead, not so much to secure the maps which I was supposed to have, as to secure the letter which Thrope wanted. Events had taken a sudden whirl.

I learned all that later. Yang tried to tell me, but he was not very successful. He could write a bit of English, but I found it hard to read his writing. However, he did make it clear to me that I had been thrown overboard.

Yang, Tyler and another seaman had dumped overboard a form made of a blanket and weighted with bricks out of the galley.

Captain Whibley, badly wounded, was barricaded in his cabin with Helen Curwen. The captain was no coward and he was armed, but he did not stand a chance. Swanson wanted to kill him and intended to, especially as Thrope had much the same wish. With Whibley dead and myself overboard, Thrope and the crew could tell any kind of a story and have it believed. Thrope was not the sort of man who would hesitate to take such measures as seemed necessary to silence Helen.

The situation was rather twisted. Yang painfully wrote out the question—

You kill him?

I found he meant Swanson. I told him that I would take pleasure in relieving Swanson of further earthly troubles at the first opportunity.

But Yang protested. He made me understand that it would be a particular favor to him if he were allowed the pleasure of settling with Mr. Swanson.

"Can you use this thing?" I asked, holding up the long, lean knife.

He snatched it up. His wrist was like a swivel. His arm flashed in and out and up and down. Balanced on his toes, his thin body swayed right and left, ducked, with dazzling rapidity the long blade played with thrust and feint. Then he stopped abruptly and held his arm upraised, poised to throw.

"I guess you had better keep it," I told him. "Bring me a meat cleaver or something I know more about."

He took my half-jesting words at face value. I was furnished with a heavy cleaver.


THE day passed.

The crew, naturally, got drunk. It was quiet weather, scarcely more than a breath on the ocean—and no reason for staying sober. The sails were drooped, the wheel made fast, and the Jessie Darling meandered lazily.

Tyler was drunk, too. I suppose he had had to show good fellowship with the mutineers. But my private opinion is that he did not try very hard to evade drunkenness.

I was patient. When there is no need for hurry, I can be extraordinarily patient. Besides, I had a headache and my body was sore. I waited for night.

Night came.

Yang Li led the way, but he remained behind me when the door opened and once more I stood waiting for Thrope to recognize me.

Thrope and Swanson were drinking together. What agreements and plans they were making I have no way of knowing. They sprang up, Swanson with a yell, as he saw me, half naked and bandaged—a big cleaver in my hand.

I was in earnest, and I meant it when I said—

"Up with your hands."

Why people think it is only a gun that commands the respect of uplifted hands, I do not know. A sober man would have had better sense than Swanson. Thrope, drunk as he was, raised his hands. But Swanson attempted to pull a gun—my gun—from the holster he had fastened on his hip.

He was slow as though untying a knot. I leaned forward to strike—but a streak of steel z-zz-zzzipped past my head. The thirsty point of that flexible blade went into Swanson's throat and pierced through his neck; whence the thin wrists of Yang Li got such driving power I do not know.

Swanson went over backward, his hands clawing at the knife. His head, in falling, struck the bulkhead, and he scarcely moved.

Thrope gasped something about it being me—again.

I told him that neither jails nor Davy Jones' locker seemed able to hold me.

"They hang men for aiding a mutiny," I told him. "The Federal Government—not the tenderloin judges."

I knew there was no chance of him ever being hanged, but I might as well give him something to think over when he would be alone. I wanted him to do much thinking, because I had an idea that this affair would have to end in a compromise all the way round.

I trussed Thrope up tightly, painfully tight in fact. I wanted him to have plenty to think of. Something more than mere deviltry.

From that time on I worked quick.

The man who stood a drunken guard over Captain Whibley's door, and no doubt kept awake only by cursing the captain and making remarks unfit for the ears of any woman, especially of her who was on the other side of the door, went down with a hole in his head. He happened to have been one of those who had pounded me, or he might have fared better.

The two mates left, Johnson and a young fellow by the name of Robbins, were alarmed by the shot and came to investigate. Robbins was the fuller of fight—and there was a chance of his surviving if he should be removed directly to a hospital as soon as we reached San Francisco.

Johnson did the discreet thing and surrendered.

With a rope end in one hand and the gun in the other I went on deck. Yang and the cook followed, but they carried water. A form that the rope could bring sufficiently to consciousness to understand what had happened was doused with water.

Three fellows of the drunken group around the capstan were sober enough to fight. No time was wasted in argument. It was stand to attention with a respectful "sir" or get hurt, and the man. who threw a marlin-spike at me from the rear served as an object lesson for those sober enough to realize what happened to him.

I found Tyler peacefully snoozing with his head in a bucket; no doubt the bucket had originally served as a pillow. I gave him some attention from the rope end and knocked him down with the butt of the gun when he came up fighting mad.

"Thank Gord it's you! I wouldn't take it off no other feller," he said as he sat on the deck and rubbed his head to see how big the bump was.

I told him that I did not know any more about working a ship than I knew of ping-pong, but if he would give the orders, I would see that they were carried out.

It was a drunken and sullen lot that turned to; but they knew very well that I did not carry a gun as an ornament. When they seemed sober enough to understand that what I was saying was not out of any fear of them, I let it be known that the chances of their being prosecuted for mutiny when they reached port—if they did their work well in the meantime—were rather slim.

I was perhaps taking a good deal on to myself in holding out that hope; but I have been accustomed to taking a good deal on to myself at various times, and I knew very well what I was about on the Jessie Darling.

Then—but not until the ship was under discipline—I went to the captain's cabin. I made myself known through the door, and with some hesitancy it was opened by Helen. The captain was rather badly wounded and lay on the bed, covering the door with a gun.

I told him that I had made a mistake in refusing to give up my gun to him; that the mutineers had taken it anyway so I had been reduced to a cleaver, reinforced by a very clever knife-fighter.

WHIBLEY had a broken thigh—I think it was the thigh. Anyway it was something above his knee that overcame even his saturnine determination to stand upright and walk. He did not complain. He did not make a whimper, and though he pushed away Helen when she offered help in the futile solicitious way of a woman touched by the sight of pain, he did it with a strange gentleness. There was no doubt as to how she regarded him.

He asked bluntly if I had killed Thrope.

I told him my story. Helen had already told him hers. I do not think she told him the contents of the letter—but she mentioned it in my presence.

I left the cabin so abruptly that they must have thought I had suddenly gone mad.

High and low I searched for that letter. It contained a secret, a woman's secret— more than a woman's secret, really the destiny of more than one person. It is an awful thing to find the decisive factor of a person's destiny put down on a little bit of paper that may be shifted from hand to hand, and I was determined to get it if possible.

It was not possible. The body of Swanson had been put overboard. The seamen had plundered his pockets—as is not unusual, I believe, among such men as will try a mutiny when one of their number goes down; but there was no getting trace of the letter.

I questioned Thrope, who writhed in pain, in obvious pain. But he denied all knowledge of the letter. For one of the few times in my life, I was deceived by a man's lies:— deceived when I looked right at him. But I was deceived, though not so much that I neglected to search him and to search his cabin. However, I believed the letter was gone. There was every reason to think that it had gone, either overboard with Swanson or been cast aside unthinkingly by any one of the crew that chanced to find it.

I had a talk with Thrope, and we came to an understanding.

He was to forget that I shot and killed his imported gunman, Smith; a gambler and dead-shot from Seattle brought down for the express purpose of running me out of San Francisco. As an aid to has forgetfulness he wrote out and signed a statement to the effect that he had often heard Smith say he would kill me. That Thrope had paid Smith to do this did not appear in the statement, but it was a sufficiently strong statement to give me evidence of self-defense.

Of course, its real importance lay in the fact that so long as I had it, Thrope would bring pressure to bear to keep me from being arrested and tried—or at least com? victed.

In return, I was to say nothing about his damnable conduct toward Helen Curwen. I was tempted to this less for my own safety than on her own behalf, though I also had Captain Whibley in mind.

The situation was simply this: Helen was not only a fine girl, tinctured with the folly congenital to all girls, but any exploitation of her shame would rebound to Mrs. Curwen and strike again at Congressman Bryan—Thrope's rival for the governorship. So in making the scandal public to injure Thrope's candidacy, that of Bryan's would also be—if not blackened, at least hurt.

The letter which had caused so much concern, and about which all events had pivoted, was from Congressman Bryan to Mrs. Curwen. The letter was not clear, by any means. It had evidently been written for Mrs. Curwen's birthday, and it was a letter of gratitude and love from a son to a mother, who appreciated her great love and sacrifices on behalf of his career; to a mother who had deliberately kept herself in the shadows, secretly, almost furtively, cheering and aiding her boy, willing—die letter said—"to make all of the sacrifices of motherhood, without publicly claiming any of the honors."

I judged, and the author, Congressman Bryan, evidently believed, that he had been born fatherless, and that Mrs. Curwen, rather than let such stigma cling to him had made arrangements for putting him into the world as a foundling.

I did not understand this at all. But it was not my business to understand. I could not see why, since she called herself a Mrs. and acknowledged Helen as a daughter, this brilliant son had not been given a home and name.

But people work out their own lives in their own way, and some of them do not make such mistakes as some of us, catching only furtive and half-revealed glances, think.

For another thing, in our compromise, Thrope agreed to hold no grudge against Whibley. I impressed upon him that this last was an agreement in which I had taken a very strong personal interest. Whibley was the type of man I will go far from my path any time to help. I intimated to Thrope that any interference with Whibley.'s career would be pressure on my toes, and he knew that I very much resented having my feet stepped on.

I let him up and he sat at the table caressing his bottle of whisky between glasses, feeling not at all ashamed of what he had gone through with and been exposed in, but rather pleased to think an "amiable" understanding had been reached that protected every one.

Without anger, but with evident distaste, I tried to tell Thrope just what manner of man he was and what I thought of him. It is needless to repeat: I simply said in a few words what I have been making clear. But even I did not know, did not suspect the worst about him. Had I done so, I believe I would have killed him.

I know that I would have killed him— tossed him a gun and invited him to try to shoot first. I might have let him fire the first shot. I have done so on rare occasions when I was perfectly willing to go down in return fof the satisfaction of being able, honorably, to murder a ruffian.

The man does not live who can shoot so juick or hit me in a spot so deadly that, in such a duel as I mention, I can not—if with nothing more than muscular reflex action— shoot in return; and there are seconds when I can not miss.

I must qualify that slightly: there is one spot which would be fatal to me in such circumstances, but it is not head or heart. It is the wrist, for a broken wrist would cut off the muscular reaction: that is one reason I have broken more gun-men's wrists than probably any other so-called gun-fighter on the Coast. Some people think that I have broken wrists because I hesitated to kill even human vermin.

But to return to Thrope. In the light of subsequent events, I will be bold enough to say that I would even have stooped to shoot him in the back, if in no other way I could have prevented what presently came to pass. That is, of course, if I had had prophetic vision and known what was going to happen.

He kept faith with me regarding the agreements about myself and Captain Whibley. It was something else, something ten times more inconceivably vile; nor did it directly concern Helen Curwen.

Thrope had reasons for keeping his eye on Mrs. Curwen. She was really Mrs. Curwen, and Curwen was less than five years dead.

Helen was her daughter. Thrope had remarked the beauty of Helen. He had insidiously and secretly become acquainted with her, flattered her, turned her head, promised—I don't know what all—and explained in some ingeniously specious way why Mrs. Curwen hated him so much.

Helen Curwen did not know the truth— not until after she had, at Thrope's instigation, stolen the letter which I returned to Mrs. Curwen. She had read it but not understood, scarcely suspected what it really meant until on board the Jessie Darling, when Thrope, gleefully, had made it clear.

Helen had been frightfully shocked; the idea that her mother had a "past" cut so deeply that it awakened her to her own folly, and in desperation she had appealed— for lack of any one else to whom she could appeal—to Yang Li; and that wily, wise old Chinaman showed himself a human being.

Being a reader of character, as most if not all Chinamen are, he thrust the girl unannounced uhder my protection; and that I came near failing in giving her the needed protection was not the fault of Yang Li.

The hardest part of the effort to effect a general compromise and secrecy of what had happened was with Captain Whibley. He swore by all the gods of a seaman that Thrope should be brought to the bar for his wickedness toward Helen.

A simple-hearted old sea captain—he believed in justice and the honor of courts. It was with difficulty I impressed the truth upon him; then he was incredulous. But he yielded to the appeal of protecting Helen, her name, her future. That touched him. He agreed.

So I helped Captain Whibley on to the quarter-deck; and Tyler—as good a man as could be found in the forecastle on any ship for holding a course—took the wheel; Thrope stood by himself at the windward -ail, and Helen and I remained by the captain—and we came back through the Golden Gate.


THE next day the papers had quite a story, and told everything but the truth. My name appeared conspicuously, for this was in a way what is called a "follow-up" story on the Smith affair, in which I had been referred to as the "notorious" et cetera. But I was not called the "notorious" et cetera in the papers which Thrope influenced upon my return.

No. "New facts had been discovered" which showed that I shot in self-defense. The three witnesses of the gambling game admitted that they lied, that the whole was a frame-up. I was not even to be arrested. The three witnesses had been arrested for perjury before the coroner's jury—such is the way, in graft and politics, henchmen are broken and thrown to the scrap-heap. True enough, they escaped prison, but they were scapegoats.

The dead seamen took the blame of the mutiny on the Jessie Darling, and Thrope, Whibley and myself had made a glorious fight against them. Not a word about Yang Li. Oh well, he never cared for publicity, any way.

And how was the name of Helen Cur wen cleared? With unsuspected brilliancy. I read it two times and remained incredulous. She was Mrs. Captain Whibley, making her honeymoon voyage with the captain. And so far as anybody ever found out to the contrary—excepting, of course—Mrs. Curwen—that was true. Helen and Captain Whibley were in love and they did marry in a way that interfered not at all with the rather premature announcement.

Thrope, as a friend of the bride and of the captain, had intended to take a little seavoyage to Honolulu and back before entering upon the last lap of his campaign. He had needed the rest. That was precisely what he had intended, for he felt certain that the letter would be a bombshell in the camp of Bryan, and he, Thrope, could afford the leisure of a sea trip even as a crucial moment of the campaign.

About the only two people I met who did not appear satisfied were Mrs. Curwen and Delaney.

Delaney almost wept. Then he swore loud and fervently. He cursed me for having ever suspected that he would give a friend a double-cross. I took his statement with sufficient salt to make it palatable and said nothing to ease his resentment against Thrope.

Much of that resentment was genuine. It had hurt Delaney's pride—however much or little it had hurt his honor—to think that anybody, even Thrope and the police, would arrange a frame-up against his friend in his own saloon.

He was angry. He asked if I thought I could ever have "got away" with the bluff I worked to get from the saloon if he had not willingly aided? I remarked that I probably could not have got away as easily as I had done if he had not been so agreeable, but that I would have shot—and he knew it.

But at that, I believe Delaney was more sincere than I really wanted to give him credit for. I am suspicious of everybody. Particularly of my friends.

I went to see Mrs. Curwen.

She was very distressed and showed it. Age seemed to have come suddenlyto claim his full debt and interest.

"I am desperate—desperate," she said. Again and again she repeated that, remarking that there was no one to whom she could go. "My boy wants to tell the world I am his mother," she said, after I had let her know the vicissitudes of the ill-fated letter, "but it can't be." She said^t with an intonation of finality. There was something more than a woman's sacrificial stubbornness in her voice.

"He doesn't know—even yet—all. And I can't tell him, ever!" she said.

I did not understand that remark. She did not appear to expect me to understand. I made no comment.

To make one sentence of it: Thrope, she said, was an enemy from of old; she had known him for many, many years, and for most of them had been afraid of him.

"I am terribly afraid of him," she repeated, looking at me in such a way that I could not very well help saying—

"Any time, just send word to me through Delaney of the Hoop-la Saloon."

She told me more than it is necessary to repeat of how she had watched over the boy, keeping her secret from every one but him. On his twelfth birthday she had ventured to tell him the truth.

"Or as much of it as my shame would let me. I said his father was dead and—" she broke off chokingly.

When I had first returned the letter to her she had learned that Thrope was after it and she determined to destroy it. But she could not. It meant too much. Mr. Ellis, who had been sent to San Francisco as soon as Bryan had learned of the letter being lost, and who, guided by gossip along the Barbary Coast, had searched me out, then discovered from Mrs. Curwen that it had already been returned; and he had returned to me and generously paid the money he had been given to offer as a reward.

Mrs. Curwen, afraid of Thrope, had given up the house and moved into an apartment. That was why I could not locate her. At last, determined to ease her mind for once and all, she had decided to bum the letter. Then she had found that it was gone and a blank piece of paper had been substituted. As she had read and reread it frequently, she knew the substitution had been but recently made.

She never suspected Helen, but was thoroughly frightened. She did not know that Helen and Thrope had even met. Mrs. Curwen had spent a terrible week—which had its anguish greatly increased by the disappearance of Helen.

All of her life, fear and tragedy had stalked beside her; and now she was tensely wrought up. The capacity for passive suffering had been exhausted.

"Thrope will try to use that letter against my boy," she cried, "and if he does— Oh, if he does——"

She broke off.

For a moment the tigress that is in every woman appeared. Her hands became claws and her face changed to a harpy's. Stir any woman—any man—to the ultimate depths of desperation, and there will appear the claws and gleaming teeth.

Anthropologists estimate that we were beasts of the clawing hands and teeth about four times as long as we of the so-called human race have been men and women. A moment of ferocious tenseness—and she was exhausted and fell back weakly into her chair. She muttered rather than said—

"Oh, if the people only knew—but I can't tell—I won't tell! I would die first!"

She said nothing more and I did not question her, but I was more moved than I shall try to express.

I haven't repeated and do not intend to repeat what she told me of how she suffered and worked and planned to help that boy, now the fine congressman; of how her heart would almost leap from her breast at mention of his name, and of the secret pride she felt when people praised him as fearless and brilliant; of how she hung in the agony of suspense at every election for fear he might not win—and now to think his career might be crumbled in one cowardly, shameful blow against which she could oppose no buckler!

I tried to assure her that her fear was largely anxiety; but she assured me that there was no infamy to which Thrope would not plunge with pleasure; that I had no conception of what he would do—that I had no conception of what he could do, and she would not tell me, would not tell any one! Never! Never!

I thought that I could understand her hysteria, but I was deeply touched by her sorrow, by her tragic situation. I again offered to do whatever I could at any time.


I SHALL say nothing of the political campaign, beyond the fact that it was unusually hot and bitter; and that Bryan spoke night after night and seemed to have aroused the State as it had never been aroused before against the old gang; and the old gang viciously distorted his record and attacked him.

For some weeks my life went on about the same as usual. I read the papers and played cards and people let me alone. I went every time Bryan spoke in San Franciso, and I liked him. He was a fighter— inspired by something more than the hankering for a governorship.

I looked him over carefully and felt that there was a man who could not be broken and would not bend; a man whose word and honor could be trusted. And though I knew very well that he would keep that word and run the gambling-joints out of the State—I told whoever took the trouble to inquire that I should vote for him.

"You're crazy," said Delaney.

"I'd rather have him for an enemy than Thrope for a friend."

"He'll ruin our business," said Delaney.

"Thrope's ruined our conscience," I said.

And Delaney blinked once or twice and opened his mouth like a fish; and at last he said incredulously that he believed I meant it!

"How far would you trust Thrope?" I asked.

"No farther 'an a .45 'll carry."

"There you are. Bryan keeps his word. Ive never broken mine. I shall vote for him. Australia's wide open—I'll go there and play cards."

The conversation was longer but as trivial and only confirmed Delaney in the opinion that I was crazy.

It was about ten days before election that Delaney gleefully told me my friend Bryan was a goner; Thrope had an ace up his sleeve and it was going to be published in his paper the next Sunday—"a letter of some kind."

I was a little jumpy every time "letter" was mentioned.

I wanted to find out definitely; but there was no way I knew of that I could. Thrope was out of the city—or was supposed to be. "Bryan was also out of the city. I found other people living in Mrs. Curwen's house. She had sold it.

They did not know where she was. Helen had gone to sea with her husband, Captain Whibley—a real honeymoon this time. I went to Bryan's headquarters, but there was nobody around there I would trust, so I came away. Then I went in search of a newspaper man whom I knew and rather liked.

He was an alert young fellow, full of ideas and rather flattered by being the friend of so notorious a figure as myself; besides he had once been fired from—I shall call it the Tribune, as it has changed hands since then and is now a decent paper—the Tribune, Thrope's paper.

"Supposing," I said to him, for I knew no more about the workings of a newspaper than the average editor does of poker, however much editors play at it. "Supposing the editor of the Tribune had something I wanted. That he intended to put it in the paper—a picture, or a letter? How would I go about getting it?"

"Best way'd be to blow up the building," he said. As I did not seem to appreciate the joke, he added soberly:

"A picture—maybe they've taken a copy and the original is stowed some place. Letter—anything like that, they photograph it. Nobody may know where the original is."

"How can I get in to the editor?"

I had heard that editors were as unapproachable as kings and things.

"Tell 'em you got a story—tell 'em who you are, and that you've got a story you won't turn loose to nobody but Old Man Blake himself."

I did. At eleven-thirty Friday night I was shown into the anteroom of Mr. Blake's private office and told to wait. I was left alone. I noticed that the anteroom door locked from the inside, though the lock did not appear ever to have been used.

I listened at the door marked Private.

Blake was not alone.

I gently tried the door. It was unlocked. I crossed the room and locked the anteroom door, then stepped through the one marked Private, saying as I came in—

"Just the very man I wanted to see, Mr. Thrope!"

Thrope started to roar, but perceived that it was I, and his glance apprehensively searched out my hands. He seemed to think that I went around ready to shoot.

Blake was a fat man, bald-headed, with protruding side-whiskers; and he drew in his breath with toad-like pomposity to order me out of the room, but he looked at Thrope and asked—

"Do you know him?"

"You do, too," said Thrope. "It's——"

he mentioned my name with a peculiar falling inflection, muttering it as though unwilling to speak it aloud.

I suppose that it was unpleasant on his tongue.

"Well, what'd you want?" said Thrope, trying not to be more unpleasant than he could help, for he knew by this time by something more than hearsay that I would —well, he remembered Smith, Swanson and certain other men on board the Jessie Dar-* ling. And though he wished me well out of his sight he did not make that wish too apparent.

"Bryan's letter," I told him briefly.

"Trapped, by ——!" said Blake apoplectically, and his hand reached toward a button at the end of his desk.

"Supposing you put your hands in your pockets, Mr. Blake!" I told him pointedly.

His puffed eyes bulged a little; but he followed my suggestion, ramming his hands into his pockets as if defying me instead of complying with my gentle request.

"She sent you here!" Thrope accused. " —— her!"

"Naturally," I said. "Why else do you suppose I happened to come—at this psychological moment?" I asked, not knowing what it was all about.

But I never hesitate to take any advantage that Fortune hands to me, and I have found Fortune a most generous mistress.

"The letter isn't here," said Blake, advancing some information in a manner that impressed me as too considerate.

"No?" I asked.

"No!" said Thrope.

"No!" echoed Blake emphatically.

"Then why do you lie to each other?" I demanded, stressing the words just as much as I thought was needed to make them uncomfortable.

Both men gave a slight start. I doubt if they did realize what I meant, but they did not feel comfortable.

"I had my ear to the keyhole there for some moments—before I came in. The letter is in that safe, or you are a liar!" I addressed the last to Blake.

He started to bound up, with something like—

"No man can call me that!"

But he sat down and finished his sentence in an inarticulate mumble.

I had made no move, no gesture. But he understood.

"You talk too —— much!" Thrope exclaimed accusingly at the editor.

Since I had heard Thrope ask him if the letter was in the safe, and Blake had only answered, I felt the accusation a little unjust; but I made no comment.

"I don't suppose she'll telephone now," said Thrope, looking at me inquiringly.

"Oh, my presence here will make no difference. She will telephone, I suppose." I assured him.

"It's time then," said Blake staring up at the clock.

"But the letter—first. Now," I said.

THEN I learned something of what it was all about. Mrs. Curwen was trying to get Thrope to give up the letter. He would not meet her, but he had made a telephone appointment. She had assured him that she could give reasons why he should return the letter to her, why he would be glad to return it.

Thrope was naturally incredulous. It seemed that he and Mrs. Curwen had known each other for many many years; and Thrope—though he did not say this—appeared to have taken a sort of pleasure all those years in keeping her afraid of him. He knew that she was afraid of him, and fie had enjoyed the bullying pleasure of keeping her frightened.

By chance I had stepped into the game and demanded cards at the crucial moment. Let me pause a minute to remark that nobody will be likely to convince me that I am religious; and yet anybody will have a hard time convincing me that there is not something—something sentient in Destiny that rules with an inexorable hand this thing we carelessly call "chance" and "luck."

In my own life—and I believe other men can look into their own lives and find the same—it has happened too often that by socalled chance I have made such entrances, and by chance played such part in the lives of men and women, as if my r61e were directed by a great and watchful dramatist.

This thing we call "luck" and "chance" is too pertinent, too advertent, too much the fabric of design, to be merely accidental. I know many lips will trace skeptical smiles upon themselves at such a statement; but let the more thoughtful reflect that every situation begins and develops from something—some meeting, word, introduction, from something, that can properly be called chance.

This is so true that it can not be denied once any one recognizes the viewpoint from which I make the statement. And I never, before or since, felt myself so much the pawn of some inscrutable chance as in the affair of Thrope and Mrs. Curwen.

The whole thing moved to its inexorable end, its inexorable and tragic end, too inevitably to have been mere happenchance. But, of course, I am telling a story —not offering a contribution to metaphysics.

Mrs. Curwen telephoned.

Naturally, with all the honesty of her nature, she denied that I had had anything to do with the plan to get in touch with Thrope; she denied that I had found from her where he could be located at that hour.

And I fancy that she was surprized at the sudden change in Thrope's manner over the telephone; for when he had said some fifty words in his characteristic manner— or at least the manner that he seemed to employ toward women whom he did not care to flatter—he abruptly became polite and almost gracious. The suggestion that he do so, of course, came from me, and came in such a way that he did not care to refuse.

I could make nothing of the conversation over the phone because I heard very little of it after Thrope quieted down. Mrs. Curwen seemed to be doing all of the talking; and it seemed to me that Thrope was strangely impressed and by something more than I had said.

1 noticed him biting his knuckles as if to restrain his emotion. But, I reflected, that might have been from suppressed anger. But his whole manner disclosed a nervousness that was remarkable. He glanced almost furtively from me to Blake as though fearful that we, too, were hearing.

The conversation lasted for some minutes. It ended with Thrope agreeing to make an appointment to meet her alone in his own office the following night.

I found out afterward—from her—that she had summoned one of the specters that haunted her past and set it on to Thrope. Mrs. Curwen in her younger days had been reckless, rash, even more so than Helen. She too had loved Thrope. He had murdered a man before her eyes. She had had no part in the crime but the love she then bore him, which constrained her to secrecy.

Always she had been afraid that the story would come out, and that Thrope would— as he threatened—make it appear that she had killed the man herself. At last, desperate, she had reversed the situation and declared that whatever the shame might be to her, she was going to force the story out and blast him, though it blasted her too! As a coward always is when the victim turns, Thrope was frightened.

But by the following night Thrope had summoned his ingenuity. He had made deductions and arrived at what seemed satisfactory conclusions for bullying the woman further: let her force the story out into the public. He ended by hoping she would do it, for he—he could make political capital of it. Besides, what is money for if not to prove alibis, even in a murder of twenty years ago!

I am getting a little ahead of my narrative. The letter was yet to be disposed of. That, however, did not take long.

When the telephone conversation was over I merely repeated that I wanted it, and at once; and Blake unlocked the little office safe and gave it to me. Then I struck a match and burned it and ground the ashes into the carpet with my heel.

I faced them and said:

"Something unpleasant will happen to somebody if the attempt is made to arrest me on the charge of robbing a girl, or fleecing a miner, or violating the ordinance about obstructing the traffic, or on any other of the trumped-up charges which you fellows usually make to get a man into jail. Think up something original, very original, if you want me to pay attention to it—then send a detective you don't care much about to serve it!"

I was young, and of course talked a little more than I would under similar circumstances now. About the last thing that a young man learns is that no words, or at most two or three, will usually be more impressive than a speech—such as playwrights like to give heroes.

But what I did say was brief enough to carry weight with Thrope and Blake— largely because they knew that Spike Delaney had, so to speak, put his sheltering wing over me and would, as the phrase goes, "start something" if another frame-up was pulled on me.


THIS ends my story. I will get to the concluding facts briefly. The following morning, through Delaney, Mrs. Curwen anxiously sent word for me to meet her.

It was to be a busy day for Thrope and he did not know how much, if at all, before midnight he could get to the office and keep his appointment with her. Mrs. Curwen was exceedingly nervous, but she said that she was not afraid. However, she wanted me to conceal myself in the office as a witness of what passed between them.

"I am afraid," she said tremulously, "I shall have to tell him something that no one on earth knows but myself—and—and I want you to know. I trust you—after what you did about that letter, and for Helen. And after what Mr. Ellis says."

Ellis, Edwin Ellis, I found—he was the man who had come to me offering ten thousand for the recovery of the letter and had later forced payment of that sum upon me—was a detective from Washington who had been hurried to San Francisco as soon as Mrs. Curwen had reported the loss of the letter. The first time we met he had learned that I had it, but not that I had returned it. As soon as he discovered that I had returned the letter he generously gave me the reward that Bryan had been willing to pay.

The elevator ran until ten o'clock on Saturday nights in the Thrope Building. Mrs. Curwen went up at ten, and I followed a minute later. She suggested that it might be best for us not to be seen together.

She opened the door direct from the hall into Thrope's private office and left it unlocked for me—or rather held it ajar for me, and held her finger warningly to her lip.

"Somebody's in there—I heard them move!" she whispered soundlessly, indicating a door that opened from the private office into another room.

Nobody could very well have proper business in there, since no light was burning—or at least none showed under the door. I tiptoed across and listened, but I heard nothing.

Perhaps Mrs. Curwen had been mistaken, but the chances always were that Thrope could not be trusted; and he might have somebody there—and that somebody's presence might be for any purpose.

I looked at Mrs. Curwen. She wore a long coat and a bonnet hat. The thick veil that had covered her face was lifted so I could see how brightly her eyes were burning, eyes that seemed much sunken since we last met; and how tightly thin her lips were pressed. She looked more like a figure of stately allegory than a woman come to plead with a man, for she stood erect and the long lines of the coat that fell below her knees gave her form a certain dignity such as one seldom sees.

She would not flinch. I could tell that much.

I spoke to her with lip movement rather than with sound—noiselessly. I told her to pretend to telephone that she would not wait, and was leaving; then to step into the hall and shut the door after her.

She did so.

I stood beside the door opening into the next room and waited. For some seconds all was quiet, then I detected the shuffling of feet. Silence again. The party on the other side was listening.

The lock turned in the door. It moved cautiously, then slowly opened so that a little furtive middle-aged man blinked in the light. He was near-sighted and wore heavy glasses; and, too, he had come from a dark room into a lighted one.

Mine is not a gentle hand. My fingers fastened on the back of his neck. The other hand went over his mouth and silenced the cry that he started to make. He was a weak little office-bred clerk, frightened and not even cunning. By occupation he was court reporter, very good at shorthand he said.

Some woman was coming to blackmail Mr. Thrope and he had been posted there to take a stenographic record, he said; and at once admitted that he had lied. He tried another evasion or two. then admitted that he was Thrope's stenographer. He had been with Thrope for years. He knew that a woman was coming to meet Thrope and he had been posted to take it down.

A little listening-hole had been made in the wall. I might almost say that it had been built in. He showed it to me and admitted that it had been used on many occasions. A small electric light, partly boxed in, illuminated a small shelf upon which he could rest his pad and make his notes with ease.

I took a towel, fashioned a gag, and locked Mr. Stenographer in the lavatory. I took his keys from him and investigated the various doors. I thought it might be well for me to have some way out in case I wanted to leave without interrupting the interview between Thrope and Mrs. Curwen. Thrope's offices—he was at the head of a big lumber company—occupied very nearly half of the space on one side of the building; and I found that I could open a door far down the corridor and near the stairs—almost a third of a block away from Thrope's private office.

Mrs. Curwen and I said a few words, but she was in no mood to talk; so, not knowing what minute Thrope might come, I went inside to the peep-hole and waited. I could watch her, and did. She sat very quiet, motionless, except that her breathing was deep and hurried as if she were making a severe effort to control herself.

THROPE came, big, hearty and sure of himself.

"Well, Mary," he said with kind of sardonic amusement, "we meet again."

"Yes, again."

"So you're going to try to rake up the past, eh? You know what 'll happen. I was a fool to ever try to protect you for that murder, Mary. But then, you see, I didn't really know you killed him and I loved you!"

Mrs. Curwen was amazed. She did not realize that Thrope was talking for the benefit of the stenographic report—that was not being taken.

"And so this Bryan is your brat, eh? And you want him elected. Trying to bluff me out of the running. I am too weak with women—they twist me around their fingers. You know. You used to do it. But you can't bully me! No. What do you want?"

She told him, speaking in a low, strained voice, that she wanted him to withdraw from the campaign, that she wanted him to give up the fight against Bryan.

"You will regret it—oh, how you will regret it, if you don't!"

It was more of a prophecy than a threat. She was not angry. She was pleading.

"He is your ——!" Thrope used the ugly word generally applied to the children of unfortunate mothers.

"And yours!" she cried.

I doubt if she had intended to say as much, to tell him that at all; but the retort was irresistibly drawn from her.

They stared at each other, and stared and stared, and made no move.

"Is that true?" he asked in a low, almost inaudible voice.

"Yes!" And quickly, pleadingly she sketched the history of how she had helped and guarded the boy, and never told him who his father was, and made him feel that it was better that he should not let the world know who his mother was, because she wanted him to rise—to go up and on, and be honest, to be noble.

"And he couldn't do it," she hissed, "if he knew such blood as yours was in his veins."

Thrope believed her. He knew she spoke the truth. But he was a politician, and there was less manhood in him than there is in the jackal, which will fight for its own.

"You lie, woman. You lie! You can't prove that I——"

"No," she cut in, "because I had a good father and mother. And met you secretly because they disliked you. I can prove nothing! I do not need proof. You know it. Oh, give up this campaign—let him win. Don't drag up my shame to light. I don't care. But it is for him. For my boy— your son! That letter—that horrible unlucky letter! How proud I was when he sent it to me. You might have made the letter public because you will do anything to get your end. But now—now you must not fight him! I didn't intend to tell you. It was my secret, mine and God's!"

"Leave God out of it, when you lie! You can't bluff me like that. He's yours---and you're trying to drag me into it! This is the craftiest political deal I've ever run up against. I suppose he put you up to come! Now look here, old girl, I'll show you what happens when anybody tries to put something over on me! Every word of this interview goes in the paper tomorrow morning—in the Tribune! There's a stenographer in there has taken down every word. I'm not afraid. Let the public judge between us. My son, ——! Your ——!"

The fold of Mrs. Curwen's cloak was pushed aside. A large ivory handled, nickel-plated revolver came into view, and as it came into view, she shot.

Thrope fell dead. A bullet in his brain.

WHEN people came a-pounding at the door and flung it open, for it was not locked, I turned hastily back from that door that led inside and, without seeming to have a purpose in doing so, barred the way. So Mrs. Curwen escaped alone. I had taken the gun from her hand as she stood motionless, looking down upon the man whom she had at last paid with the full measure of vengenace.

The shot that killed Thrope seemed, too, to have numbed her realization of what she had done. It was not until I took the gun from her hand and pushed her inside the room from which I had just come that she seemed to understand that there was a chance to escape. She had not appeared to think of trying to, or of caring to escape. I am inclined to believe that she had come determined to kill him anyway. Certainly she knew that she had nothing to fear from the stenographic report of the conversation upon which Thrope had depended.

It was not gallantry or. even forethought on my part that caused me to turn and take the blame. I did it instinctively. But, having done so, I could not refuse to carry the role out. I would make no statement to any one. The evidence was incontrovertible. I could not escape conviction.

Let me review the situation briefly. If Mrs. Curwen kept silent I could not escape hanging. If she confided with Bryan and he, as the governor, declined to injure his career by pardoning me, I could not escape. True, I could have stirred up a sensation, but I could have proved nothing. Blake of the Tribune offered to use his influence— preposterous! he had none and I told him so—in getting me a pardon if I would tell the truth.

He suspected that Mrs. Curwen was implicated. He also thought of using the copy and photograph of one page of the letter, but was afraid to go through with it. But Bryan, who was readily elected, was in almost as bad a fix as I: if he pardoned me, people would say that he had connived with me to put his personal and political enemy out of the way; if he did not pardon me—well, he had his own conscience to live with.

The truth could not come out unless his own mother was thrown into the prisoner's dock and the hideous and sordid story exhausted to its last detail.

Anyway out somebody's life would be ruined—some innocent person's life, for I refuse to consider Mrs. Curwen guilty, though I think she had been touched by madness. A jury might have acquitted her, but Thrope's friends would have been powerful; besides, her son's career would have been ruined—and that was more to her than life.

I felt sorry for her, and for the young governor; but not sorry enough to be hanged, though I showed some patience in the trial and conviction.

In fact, I had to be convicted before the governor could help me! I was convicted and was sentenced by a judge of Thrope's own choosing to be hanged.

That judge put much feeling into the reading of the death sentence. He had shown all through the trial plenty of gratitude to the memory of the man who had raised him on stuffed ballots to the bench.

I have never had much use for circumstantial evidence or belief in capital punishment since those trying days.

What happened? In some mysterious manner I got hold of a revolver and held up the turnkey one morning between midnight and dawn. My good friend Delaney had paid that turnkey the sum of ten thousand dollars to give me this revolver and to be held up; and of course Delaney had no objections to paying out such a large sum because it was the ten thousand dollars that Bryan, through Ellis, had given me as a reward for returning that letter—of malignant influence.

By an odd coincidence that nobody seemed to remark, I escaped on the night before Captain Whibley—who had left the Thrope Lumber Company's service—sailed on a windjammer for Sydney.

But four people knew: Delaney, Sam Tyler, who met me at the wharf and took me to Whibley's ship, and Whibley and Helen. Mrs. Curwen had told her. So the bread I had cast upon the water came back to me, and the governor had not connived at my escape, nor was he embarrassed by having to pardon me. I believe that he would have done so—still, it is a terrible thing to make a politician, even an honest one, choose between his conscience and his career.

SICKNESS, death, cut Governor Bryan off as he was finishing his second term. Shortly afterward Mrs. Curwen died. With the death of her son she had nothing more to live for. The confession that cleared my name was found under her pillow.