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CHAPTER IV IN THE HOUSE ON NINTH STREET
The house fronting Greg was built according to an old-fashioned plan imported from Continental countries, of which there are two or three examples still extant in the older parts of New York. Though but a small house it was laid out on a liberal plan. At one side great double doors carried a driveway through to the rear. In other words, in the old days the carriage and pair of the owners had driven right in the front door.

Greg pulled the old-fashioned bell, and presently one side of the big door swung open of itself operated by a lever within the house. This in itself had an uncanny effect. Inside Greg found himself in a well-proportioned corridor running through to the yard behind. He took the precaution to leave the big door slightly ajar behind him. At his right hand were severally a service entrance, a wicket and the main door of the house.

The corridor was empty. It was lighted by an electric globe in the ceiling. At the wicket appeared the head of a negro servant who with a villainous scowl demanded to know what he wanted. After all it was four o'clock in the morning; a servant might reasonably be indignant at being called up at such an hour (though, by the way, this man was fully dressed), but there was more in it than that. Greg thought he had never seen so evil a face, and his hand instinctively closed tighter around the revolver in his pocket.

In a firm voice he named the man that he wished to see, and the negro after a hard stare directed him with a nod to the main door beyond. He closed the wicket. Greg waited with a fast beating heart.

After no great space of time the door was opened and de Socotra himself stood before Greg with an expression of strong curiosity. It was borne in on Greg afresh that he was an uncommonly handsome man; moreover, villain though he might be, there was a superb boldness in his air that commanded an unwilling admiration. Recognizing the chauffeur that had driven him earlier in the night, he fell back warily.

Greg gave him no time to think. Stepping close to him, he drew the revolver and pressed the muzzle to his ribs.

"If you cry out I'll pull the trigger," he whispered harshly.

The man's ruddy brown face paled yellow, yet he kept a certain measure of self-possession, his eyes did not quail. "What do you want?" he asked in a firm, low voice.

"The little black book."

The man's eyes narrowed. "I don't know what you mean," he said quickly.

Greg saw a tell-tale bulge over his right breast. "You lie!" he said. "It's in your pocket. Quick with it, or I'll shoot!"

A curious glint showed in the other's jetty eyes which never left Greg's. His hand went slowly inside his coat and reappeared with the little black book. Greg with a leaping heart took it in his free hand; this had come easier than he had dared hope. He started to back down the corridor, keeping de Socotra covered with the gun. The latter came to the door and stood watching him with expressionless face.

Greg dared not look behind him. It was about twenty-five feet to the big doors; he had measured it with his eyes; say, eight long paces. He had taken five, when the sound of the door softly latching behind him caused his heart to contract sharply. He whirled around. At the same instant de Socotra sprang at him. Greg was seized from both sides before he could find a mark to aim at.

The second who had seized him was the negro servant, a fellow of gigantic stature with muscles like steel bands. As Greg started to run he had caught him in his embrace, pinning Greg's arms close to his sides and keeping the gun deflected downwards. De Socotra with a blow on Greg's wrist disarmed him. Greg's struggles were as vain as those of an infant. He ceased to struggle, designing to save his strength for a better occasion. Moreover he was afraid the sounds of a struggle might reach the girl outside and provoke her to some rash act. With her puny strength she could not help him now.

De Socotra repocketed the little black book, also Greg's revolver. He relaxed and laughed mockingly. "I don't know what your game is, my man, but evidently it was a little beyond you!"

Greg glared at him. "Murderer!" was on his tongue's tip, but prudence restrained him from uttering it.

"Look here," said the other suddenly; "tell me who sent you here, and the door shall be opened for you to go. I don't fight with cabmen. You may go back freely to him who sent you and give him my compliments."

Greg obstinately closed his mouth.

"It's a fair offer," said de Socotra mildly. "Better take it. There are men up-stairs who will not let you off so easily."

Again he waited to give Greg a chance to speak.

Finally he said: "I can't wait here all night, you know."

"You needn't wait," said Greg. "I'm not going to tell you."

De Socotra favored him with a sharp look. "I beg your pardon," he said ironically; "I see you're no cabman. Milio, bring him up-stairs."

He led the way into the house through the main door. The negro followed, half carrying Greg, half pushing him before him. At the steps he tossed him up as easily as a straw man. Greg ground his teeth at the humiliating posture, but still forbore to struggle. The first room of the house was a foyer hall, handsomely finished in paneled walnut, but without any furniture. A finely carved stairway came down at one side. De Socotra mounted with leisurely tread; the man was as straight as a tree, his small head poised with inimitable arrogant grace. The negro carried Greg after. Greg might have given him considerable trouble on the stairs, but he still saved his strength until he should see some chance of getting away.

On the floor above they passed into the front room, their entrance creating a veritable sensation among the small crowd of men gathered there. No sound had warned of trouble below. This was likewise a handsome room but without any furnishings except some cheap pine tables and chairs. Heavy stuff curtains hung before the three windows, but these were evidently for the purpose of darkening them, rather than for decoration. It looked like the hastily improvised meeting-place of a political circle or a gang of plotters.

There were about a dozen men in the room, some Spanish-Americans, others undoubtedly of these United States. The two men who had come to de Socotra at the Meriden were both present. All stared at the negro and his burden with amazed eyes, and questions in both Spanish and English were fired at de Socotra.

The latter moved among these men with the air of an undisputed leader. Their agitation amused him, and he made them wait awhile before he answered. To the negro he said:

"Put the man down. He can't escape. Stand by the door."

When he finally deigned to answer their questions he spoke in English. Greg marked that he said nothing about having ridden in his cab earlier, but let them assume that he had never seen Greg before. Greg supposed this was because he did not care to confess that the explanation of Greg's reappearance was a complete mystery to him; for all his cool airs de Socotra was deeply puzzled by that. The two men who had seen to the disposal of the body apparently did not recognize Greg. They could not have seen him but for a moment as he drove on the ferry in the dark.

All the men in the room were amazed and panic-stricken to learn that some outsider knew of the little black book, but no word was dropped that gave Greg any hint of the contents. A furious polyglot discussion arose. The more frightened demanded that Greg be put out of the way instanter—one spoke of burying his body under the cellar pavement. Others who kept their heads better insisted on the necessity of first finding out who had sent him, and how much he knew of their affairs.

De Socotra listened with a cynical, detached air. Finally he said: "Well, gentlemen, there's no advantage in letting him hear more than he knows already. I would suggest that you confine him in another room, until you settle what is to be done with him."

At this moment one of the Spaniards, a stocky, scowling youth with a purplish scar on his left cheek bone, peeped through the curtains hanging before one of the windows. He said in English: "His cab is still at the door. The engine is running."

"Who can run it?" asked de Socotra.

"I can," said the previous speaker.

"Then go down and run it away somewhere—anywhere, and leave it."

The man moved toward the door. Greg's heart sunk, thinking of the girl. The door was well guarded, but there was no one in front of him at the moment. He sprang across the room. Taken by surprise they were not quick enough to stop him. Snatching a curtain aside, with a blow of his two fists he smashed out the glass behind and cried:

"Beat it! Beat it!"

He was instantly snatched away from the window, but he had the satisfaction of hearing the old flivver get under way long before the man could get down stairs; he had the satisfaction, too, of seeing the cool and cynical de Socotra grind his teeth and mutter a curse as he realized that the explanation of what he so much wanted to know had been just outside the door all this time.

The uproar in the room was redoubled. They rushed at Greg now, pummeling him, and trying to kick him. He fought back blindly. He would have been worse hurt had they not got in each other's way. It was some moments before de Socotra could make his voice heard.

"Gentlemen! You forget yourselves! Hands off him! The window is out. Do you want to arouse the neighborhood?"

They drew back scowling. The room became quiet again. Greg, bruised, fiery-eyed and panting, had his back against the wall.

De Socotra went on in his icy voice: "If it is necessary to execute this man in the interest of the Cause all right. But I will not have you maul him like a pack of terriers. You, Sforza, conceal yourself behind the curtains and see if an alarm has been raised in the street."

One disappeared through the curtains. The negro was dispatched for rope. When he returned Greg's wrists were unceremoniously tied behind his back, and his ankles tied. The man at the window reappeared to say that while several windows near by had been thrown up, the aroused ones had apparently gone back to bed without taking action. The negro picked up the helpless Greg and carrying him into the back room on the same floor dropped him like a sack, and left him alone.

For awhile he took no notice of his surroundings. To be trussed up like a fowl ready for roasting seemed to be the lowest degree of ignominy possible to a man: a despairing rage filled him; his heart seemed like to burst his breast; he rolled helplessly on the floor.

Then dimly he began to realize that his impotent rage was only destroying him, and little by little with a great effort of the will he succeeded in disciplining it. He had to think, and in order to think a clear brain was necessary.

Must he end in that house like a trapped rat? Youth at the flood could not conceive of coming to an end. He put that thought from him. "I will get out! I will!" he told himself. "They dare not kill me if I am not afraid!"

Meanwhile the girl outside might contrive to aid him. But he determined not to count on her. She was so little and young and inexperienced she would not know what to do. What could she do? If she applied for help it would be only to betray her own secret. She ran her own terrible danger. He shuddered. Well, that thought must be put out of his mind too. Let him once get out and he would save her.

Greg took careful stock of his surroundings. The room he was in was a companion to the room in front. It occupied the whole width of the house, and it had but the one door opening into the central hall. Opposite were three tall windows looking to the rear. Enough light came through them to show Greg that this room like the others was bare of furniture. There was a handsome chimney piece against the right hand wall. The house was solidly built and no sounds reached him.

Suddenly the door was opened softly, and for an instant Greg's astonished eyes beheld a woman's figure outlined against the faint light in the hall. She came in and closed the door behind her, and he heard her hand feeling softly along the wall for the switch. It clicked and the room was flooded with light. Greg saw her, then the light went out again. Her startled eyes had taken in the fact at a glance that the windows were uncovered. Presumably they were commanded by the windows of houses in the rear.

In that briefest of glimpses she was unforgettably impressed on Greg's vision. It was a strange apparition in that empty and sinister house; a beautiful woman, a lady in evening dress! It was black velvet, snugly fitting, against which her arms and neck gleamed like marble. She was a dark beauty, another Spanish-American perhaps, but taller than the run of Latin women; she had hair like a raven's wing, eyes like twin black pools and voluptuous crimson lips. She was carrying something, but he had not time to see what it was.

She came towards him in the dark, bringing a subtle perfume. "You poor fellow!" she murmured. "Can I do anything for you?"

Greg's feelings were mixed; he took it for granted that she was one of the same lot; moreover he was ashamed to be found by a woman in so lowly a posture. "Who are you?" he asked sullenly.

"Your friend," she breathed.

One in Greg's position could hardly refuse an offer of friendship. His heart warmed to her. Yet he did not altogether abandon caution. Something about her still repelled him; her foreignness perhaps. She spoke excellent English, but not with the unconsciousness of the native born.

"How can I help you?" she murmured.

"Help me to get out of here," said Greg bluntly.

"I daren't!" she whispered. "They would kill me if they found out. Besides it is useless. The house is full of men. All the doors are guarded."

"Cut this rope and I'll take my chances of getting out."

"I daren't," she wailed. "But maybe I can loosen it a little."

Careless of her fine dress, she dropped to her knees on the dusty floor beside him. What she had in her hand she put down. It sounded like a plate. Greg rolled over, and with her soft warm hands she fumbled with the knots at his wrists, not with much success. Her hands trembled a little as if in confusion at being forced to touch a strange man. Greg was thinking principally of the plate.

"What was that you brought?" he asked.

"You are hungry?"

"Famished. I suppose it's ten hours since I ate."

"There was nothing cooked in this house, but I brought biscuits and chocolate. Are your hands more comfortable now?"

"Not much. How can I eat with my hands tied?"

"I will feed you," she said with a charming confusion in her voice.

She proceeded to do so, feeling for his lips with her fingers and pressing chocolate and sweet biscuits between them. In good sooth the situation was romantic enough, the warm breathing woman bending over him in the dark, fragrant as a flower; there was something infinitely caressing in the touch of her fingers, nevertheless Greg remained cold. He could think of nothing but how to get out.

"You are not like a common taxi-driver," she said presently.

Greg was reminded with a little pang of the other woman who had said that. "I'm a taxi-driver," he replied. "As to common that's not for me to say."

"You speak like an educated man."

He shrugged. "Who are you?" he asked for the second time.

"A prisoner like yourself."

It occurred to him as strange that a prisoner should have been so anxious to keep lights from showing in the windows. "What sort of joint is this anyhow?" he asked.

"Joint?"

"Who are these men? What are they?"

"I don't know. They tell me nothing."

"But if you live here you must hear and see what goes on. What do you make of it?"

"It's politics of some kind," she said vaguely. "I don't understand. How did you happen to come here?"

"I was sent."

"By whom?"

"A fare who engaged me on the street."

"What sort of person?"

"Well, I'm not much of a hand at description. An ordinary looking fellow, middle-aged, plainly dressed, nothing special about him."

"You're just fooling me!" she said reproachfully. "You don't trust me."

"Why should I trust you?" said Greg bluntly. "You don't answer my questions but only ask me others."

"Ask me anything, anything!" she said passionately. "I look to you to save me!"

"Who are you, and what are you doing in this house?"

"It's a miserable story!" she said in a shamed voice. "My name is Clelie Mendizabal. I am a Peruvian. My father died a few years ago leaving us penniless. I had to go to work. Well, in Peru a girl who works for her living is looked down upon, so I determined to come to New York. They said that the streets of New York were fairly paved with gold. I had no difficulty in finding work here, but I soon found that a working girl has no easy time in America either. There was a man from my own country who made believe to be my friend—I trusted him—Ah! I was so friendless here! I thought no wrong. I went about with him—Oh, how can I go on! One night a month ago he brought me to this house saying that it was a restaurant. I—I have not been out of it since!"

Somehow this piteous tale failed of conviction. For one thing the teller, in the one brief glimpse he had had of her, had seemed much too radiant and blooming to be the victim of so terrible a fate. Moreover, she had seemed to tell it with a certain gusto that suggested the pride of authorship. It might be true, but Greg resolved to keep an open mind.

"Why don't you throw up the window yonder and call for help?" he asked.

"They're locked."

"Windows are never locked on the outside," he said dryly. "You could hang from the sill and drop without danger. It can't be more than twelve feet or so to the ground. And climb over the fence into one of the other back yards. Or if you couldn't get over the fence you could scream for help until the neighbors rescued you."

"People don't want to rescue one like me," she said mournfully.

"Nonsense! Times have changed. They're crazy about it nowadays. Cut me loose, and I'll undertake to get you out."

"But I'm afraid of you. Who are you? Tell me truly."

"Elmer Fishback," said Greg, grinning in the dark.

"Who sent you here, really?"

"I told you. A fare who picked me up. I don't know his name."

She put her two hands on his shoulders and brought her face close to his; he sensed the great languorous eyes in the dark. "Trust me," she whispered. "You will never regret it!"

Greg was exquisitely uncomfortable. He desired to make use of this woman if he could, but he found himself unable to produce the slightest semblance of warmth. He got out of it the best way he could.

"A man bound hand and foot like this can feel nothing for a woman," he said. "He is not a man but a mere log! Free my hands and I'll show you!"

Her instinct was not deceived. She drew away with a sharp little movement in which Greg apprehended danger. "How can I trust you if you will not trust me?" she said somberly.

"What difference does it make how I came here if the main thing for both of us is to get out?"

"I couldn't go with you unless I knew who you were. Won't you tell me how you came here?"

Greg was already at the end of his powers of dissimulation. "No," he said curtly.

She rose with a single movement, and gliding to the door threw it open. "Francisco!" she called.

De Socotra's leisurely figure appeared in the light of the doorway. "Well, my dear?" he drawled mockingly.

She was glad to throw off the mask, it seemed. "I can get nothing out of this fellow. Better hand him over to the men."

Greg had suspected her throughout, nevertheless this frank unmasking outraged his sense of decency. "You liar!" he cried involuntarily.

She was clearly revealed in the doorway. He saw her elevate her fine shoulders and smile at de Socotra. No man surely could have displayed such hardihood. "If there's nothing further for me to do I believe I'll go home," she said, affecting to stifle a yawn.

"Very well, my dear. Pleasant dreams."

She passed from Greg's sight.

De Socotra made a signal to those outside, and two men followed him into the room. He had a small pocket flash which he threw on Greg. To the two men he said:

"I give him in your charge now to be treated as you see fit. Better have Milio carry him down cellar for you where his cries cannot be heard."

The brawny negro appeared and hoisted Greg on his back. Greg believed he had heard his doom pronounced, and his heart was low. All of a sudden life seemed ineffably sweet. He set his jaw hard, and glared at his enemies. They should not see him weaken.

Greg was carried back down the carved stairway. The two men whom he looked upon as his appointed executioners followed, and in the position in which he was being carried there was nothing for Greg to do but look in their faces. He saw no mercy there. The one had a stiff, rough crop of hair that started to grow far back on his head, and a long, scraggy neck. He swallowed continually. He looked like a carrion-eating bird. The other was still more horrible: short and dumpy with a moist, livid face like something half-cooked in too much grease. These two were followed by others of their ilk. The more human-looking individuals remained up-stairs. With every step of the descent something seemed to whisper to Greg: "Take your last look at light and life!"

The dark beauty, closely cloaked and veiled for the street, had preceded them down the stairs. When they got half way down Greg heard the door from foyer to corridor close behind her. Her exquisite heartlessness surprised him. "It's nothing to her what they do to me," he thought, feeling a little pin-prick of wounded self-love even in the face of the horror that awaited him at the foot of the cellar stairs.

Greg's bearer turned under the stairs to a door that stood presumably at the head of another flight. But even as he laid his hand on the knob they all heard the sound of running feet in the corridor and the negro paused. Two soft little fists beat frantically on the house door. One ran to open it. There stood the dark girl beside herself with terror.

"The police!" she gasped. "Outside in the street!"

They didn't require her warning. The house was filled with the sound of a pounding on the big doors. A peremptory voice demanded admittance.

"They know we're inside," gasped the girl. "They saw me as I opened the door to go out."

Instantly the house was in confusion. The negro dropped Greg on the floor. All thought of their intentions towards him was forgotten. Those above came scampering down the stairs. De Socotra was the only one who retained his presence of mind.

"Keep cool!" he admonished them. "The door is strong. We have time to get out. Get your hats and coats. Abanez, you know the way; lead the others. I will come last."

Grabbing up their outer wear they fled as softly as mice through the door into the corridor. The negro Milio, leaving with the rest, was sharply recalled by de Socotra.

"Take this man with you," he commanded. "Do you want to leave him behind to identify us all?"

Very unwillingly the negro picked up Greg again and followed the others out into the corridor. De Socotra put out all lights and brought up the rear. They turned to the right in the corridor, that is to say, towards the rear of the lot. Through a covered way at the back they gained another building, presumably the original stable of the establishment. As the stable door closed behind them, Greg heard the blows of a heavy piece of timber on the front doors. De Socotra locked the doors that they passed through.

In the back wall of the stable there was a door which admitted them to still another building, a rear tenement apparently on the lot abutting behind. It was empty. They then crossed a narrow paved court, and struck through a long close passage. The lights of a street gleamed at the far end; a trolley car rumbled in the distance—inexpressibly friendly sound to the prisoner.

At the mouth of the passage the fugitives all clung together, apparently afraid to venture out into the lighted street.

De Socotra coming up with them commanded: "Do not linger here. There is no one in sight. Scatter in different directions. Do not run. You are safe enough. There is nothing to connect you with the Ninth Street house. Go! You will hear from me in due course."

They melted away, leaving only de Socotra and the negro in the passage. The latter had dropped Greg to the pavement. It was of brick, and a tiny trickle of cold water ran down the middle of it. The negro made some whining complaint to his master that Greg could not catch.

"Oh, crack him over the head!" said de Socotra impatiently. "Stick his body in some out of the way corner, and go to your own place. Don't leave the rope behind for evidence."

That was the last Greg knew. Oddly enough he heard the sound of the blow that he did not feel. Consciousness was snuffed out.


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