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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER XV NINA
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Once more the old flivver traveled the familiar way up-town. In thin extended Manhattan Island places are bound to be far from other places, and the inhabitants learn to take their long rides for granted. Greg and Hickey always took the same route, and in the course of their ride the whole panorama of town was spread before them in its variety.

First there was Houston Street, the heart of the ghetto with its tall old tenements, its narrow stores and vociferous push-cart venders. Then there was Second Avenue, the Great White Way of the East Side. Second Avenue was lined with great Jewish theaters and smoky Hungarian restaurants, bursting at this hour; the pavements thronged with the East Side crowd bound nowhere in particular; the young girls painted and bedizened, yet fresh young girls for all that; the loutish youths, the coiffed dames and the bearded elders. There followed a long, quiet interval where Hickey was able to open his throttle, through east Fourteenth Street, and up Fourth Avenue with its gigantic loft buildings now dark and empty. At Thirty-fourth Street they climbed a little hill and with another of the abrupt transitions for which the town is famous found themselves in the ultra-fashionable neighborhood of Murray Hill, where it was not yet dinner time, where discreet and perfectly-appointed town cars were waiting at the doors to take the Olympians out to dine.

Then circling the great new railway terminal they sped on up the newer Park Avenue with its empty spaces between the brand-new mighty apartment houses reaching Heavenwards, and with rents in accordance. They turned through Fifty-ninth Street, a narrow hybrid street of book-shops, studio-warrens, lunch counters and red trolley cars, and emerging at the Plaza, seat of fashion again, cut diagonally across the Park, where the night breathed quietly, and emerging at the West Seventy-second Street entrance, made their way to Riverside Drive, the Heaven of the unfashionable well-to-do and Manhattan's finest night-piece, where the street lights, the naked trees, the stars, the gleaming river and the twinkling lights on the further shore made an unforgettable harmony.

As they traveled Greg leaned forward on the sill of the front window, and while gratefully biting into Bessie's thick sandwiches told Hickey all that had happened during the afternoon. Hickey kept up a sort of terrified, delighted comment on the tale. Hickey made no pretensions to be a man of courage, but Greg had learned by this that he was quite as dependable as many a braggart.

"You opened her up on Riverside—and him after you and a lot of other cars and all! Oh Lordy! ... He picked up a cop, and still you didn't stop! It's a wonder he didn't pull his gun on you! ... All around through the streets! It's lucky it wasn't me at the wheel! I'd have fainted clean away!"

Presently Hickey asked nervously: "What's the program for to-night? Any more hold-ups or runaways? I tell you the flivver ain't runnin' so good."

"I can't tell," said Greg. "We have to be ready for anything."

"Lordy! I see my finish!" said Hickey.

Greg made him stop in the block below the Stickney Arms. Pa Simmons drew up behind. The four men gathered together, and Greg issued his instructions.

"You all wait here with the cabs. Shut off your engines. I'll go ahead and look over the ground. If I have to stay on watch I'll take cover in that clump of bushes opposite the entrance. Keep your eye on me. If I want you in a hurry I'll signal with my pocket flash. One flash, start your engines; two flashes move your cars up; three flashes shut your engines off; four flashes come on foot on the run."

After making them repeat this code after him, Greg went on to the apartment house. First from across the road he took a survey of the windows of the de Socotra apartment. All the windows including Amy's were lighted. This was reassuring since it suggested they were still within. Greg then boldly entered the building. To his disappointment he saw that another shift of servants was now on duty in the hall. This meant that new relations must be established. But proceeding further back, to his joy he discovered Frank, now shorn of his gorgeous livery, sitting in an inconspicuous corner under the stairs.

Frank seemed no less glad to see Greg. Eagerly coming forward he said: "I was looking for you, boss. It's my time off, but I thought there'd be somepin doing to-night, so I just stuck around."

"Good man!" said Greg.

"On the level, was it you here this afternoon, made up like a bum taxi-driver and all?"

"That was me," said Greg.

The boy's eyes sparkled with admiration. "Gee! you're some sport, fellow. You deserve to get her! That was some chase you give them. We watched it from the door as far as we could see down the Drive. But the old man got her back off you. Tough luck!"

"Well, I'll have another try to-night," said Greg.

"Say, count me in on it," begged Frank. "I don't care if I do lose me job!"

Greg's heart warmed towards the boy. "Much obliged," he said. "I shan't forget it. But I've already got my gang outside."

"Gee!" cried Frank. "Somepin doin' all right! I'm glad I didn't go home!"

"Is the family all up-stairs?" asked Greg.

Frank nodded.

"Find out who he's been telephoning to, will you? I suppose the operator's been listening in."

"You bet we ain't losing nothing from that apartment now. I can tell you without asking him. The Spanish bloke's been telephoning to a doctor guy that runs a sanitarium-like on Eighty-third Street; I took down the address for you; it's Doctor Tasker, 411 West Eighty-third. Seems her old man's going to take her there to-night. He's trying to make out she's looney."

"I know," Greg said. "Can I get up-stairs by the service elevator, and have a word with the maid?"

"She's fired," said Frank.

"The deuce you say!"

"Se?or Soak-oater turned her out soon as he come home. She's down in the basement now, crying to the engineer's wife, 'cause she ain't got no place to go."

"I'll fix that," said Greg. "Show me the way."

In the tidy sitting-room of an underground apartment Greg found the good-looking Spanish girl that he had seen in attendance on Amy. She was red-eyed and sniffing now. A burly, kindly Irishwoman was attempting to console her.

At the door Frank announced without ceremony: "Fellow to see you."

Nina looked at Greg with a fresh access of terror. Perhaps her first thought was that de Socotra had set the police after her.

Greg announced his name. "Do you know who I am?" he asked.

A wonderful change took place in the girl's face. "Si, si, se?or," she cried. Then in English to the Irishwoman. "It's all right now, Mrs. McArdle, I am saved!"

Her Latin enthusiasm was gratifying but a little disconcerting to an Anglo-Saxon male. "Sure, it's all right," he said grinning. "I want to have a little talk with you."

Mrs. McArdle rose. "Take my parlor, sir. Sure, it'll be a honor to me. I want to say that all of us that works in the house is on your side and the pretty little lady's!"

"Thank you, Mrs. McArdle," said Greg smiling and blushing. "It won't take but a few minutes. You don't need to go out."

"Sure I got me work in the kitchen," said she. At the door as she left she gave Frank a great shove before her. "Get along up-stairs with you, nosey! Have you nothin' better to do than pry on the affairs of your betters!"

Nina was sizing Greg up with a shy, delighted interest, very embarrassing to Greg, yet somehow encouraging too. What had the mistress confided to her maid, that made the latter look at him so? Nina spoke good English, which simplified matters.

"Tell me what happened this afternoon," said Greg.

"When the Se?orita come home from the theater this afternoon she show me little note hidden in the palm of her glove. She have tell me before about puttin' the notes in the old cab, and gettin' the answers back. She go into her room to read it. While she is in her room, he come home, Se?or Francisco; he say he want see her quick. When I go tell her she is scare'! She say: 'Nina! Nina! what I do! I got no time to think!'

"She give me little black book. She say: 'Where is his overcoat?' I say: 'Hangin' in the hall.' She say: 'Quick! Look in all the pockets! If you find a little book like this, put this in its place and hide the other. Then go quick and bring him here to me.'

"So I go look in his overcoat, but there was no book in any pocket. So I hide the book she give me in my dress, and I go to Se?or Francisco who was talkin' to the Se?ora and I say: 'Se?orita Amèlie say please come to her room.' He say: 'Is she sick?' I say I don' know. The Se?ora say: 'Poor child, I'll go with you.' He say: 'Better let me speak to her first, my dear.' He go to her room. I listen outside the door.

"Se?orita Amèlie say: 'Francisco, I 'ope I didn't upset your plans by sending you that telegram. Maybe you will think I am foolish, but I cannot stand it another hour!' Se?or Francisco say: 'For God's sake, what's the matter? You'll have to be quick, my dear, I only got five minutes.' She say: 'It's Bianca. I cannot stand that woman!'

"Se?or Francisco is moch surprise'. He say: 'What's the matter with Bianca?' The Se?orita say: 'I don' like her. Neither does mamma. Why do we have to put up with her? In Managuay she wouldn't think of coming to our house, but here she lives with us. She is like a spy. She watch everything I do. She will not let me be alone for a minute!' Here the Se?orita change her voice. She say: 'Why, Francisco, there's a spot of grease on your coat! You can't go away like that! Let Nina rub it out.' He say: 'I can't wait now.' She say: 'It won't take a minute.'

"Well, I hear her comin' to the door, and I ran down the hall a little way. She open the door, she see me, but she call as if I long way off: 'Nina! Quick!' I run to her. She say: 'Rub out this spot! Be quick! Two minutes! Se?or Francisco has a train!' She look at me hard. I understand.

"I run to the kitchen. I find the little black book in his pocket. I change it with the one in my dress. I rub a little cleaner on the coat to make it smell. I take the coat back. I hold it while Se?or Francisco slip his arms through. I see him give his breast a little pat to see if the book is there. He is sayin' to the Se?orita: 'My dear Amèlie, I've got to catch the six o'clock train. I can't make any change now. But I'll be back day after to-morrow. We'll see then.'

"So he goes. I give the little black book to my mistress. She is like crazy for joy. She give me her amethyst pin for my own. Before she can read the book, Se?orita Bianca knock at the door. She hide it. Well, I go to dress the Se?ora for dinner. I am with her when the door bell ring. I go to the door. It is that bell-boy, Frank.

"He say he got to see Se?orita Amèlie quick. He got an important message for her. I know that Se?orita Bianca is with her, so I say: 'Tell it to me.' He say: (Nina's unconscious imitation of Frank was comical to see) 'Nix, girlie, this is for her own private ear.' So I go back to my mistress's room, but the spy-woman is still there. That's what I call her. I hate her! I try to make Se?orita Amèlie look at me, but she will not. Se?orita Bianca say: 'Who was that at the door, Nina?' She don't miss nothing. I say: 'Just the boy with the evening paper.' She say: 'You needn't wait, Nina. I'm going to help Amèlie dress. I'm talking to her.'

"Well, I don' know what to do then. I wait around. Se?orita Bianca tell me to go again. But still I wait. At last Se?orita Amèlie look at me. She see by my face that somesing's the matter. Then I go out. In a minute she come. I tell her go to the door quick. There is a boy waiting.

"She speak to the boy. Right away she come running back from the door with a hard face. She say to me: 'Quick, Nina! A warm coat and a plain hat!' Se?orita Bianca come out and ask what is the matter, but Se?orita Amèlie not answer; she run in her room. Before I can move I hear a key in the front door. It bang open, and Se?or Francisco run in. Madre de Dios! what a face! It is a madman! I am turned to wood where I stand! He shake his fist to me and curse. I think I die then. He say: 'Get out! before I hurt you!' But I cannot move for fear.

"Se?orita Bianca ask him what's the matter, but he not answer her. He run down the hall to my mistress's room; he slam the door open and run in. My heart runs away like water. I think he kill her. But there is another door from her room to the salon—living-room. She slip into that room quiet. When the Se?or run into her room she run out of the living-room and down the hall to me. Se?orita Bianca try to stop her. I give Bianca a push, and she sit down hard. I run after my Se?orita. I whisper to her: 'Go to the roof.' I know the roof because the clothes are dried there.

"Se?or Francisco come out of the living-room as my mistress go out the front door. He telephone downstairs to stop her. He did not think of the roof. I run hide in my room. When I hear him slam the door I run out again. I run to the salon and look out of the window. The Se?ora and Se?orita Bianca lean out of other windows. The Se?ora say like a person in a dream: 'What is the matter? Oh, what is the matter?' Bianca say: 'I think Amèlie has lost her mind!'

"Well, I guess you know what happen after that. From the window I see Se?or Francisco come out and go back again. I see my little mistress run around the corner and get in a cab,—was it your cab? I see another cab, and Se?or Francisco get in it with two men. Then both cabs fly away down the Drive. We watch them as far as we can see.

"In half an hour Se?or Francisco comes back bringin' Se?orita Amèlie with him. I am sick and frightened. My dear little mistress is like a wooden woman. She say nothing. They take her to her room. He won't let me go in to her. He send me to the kitchen. Afterwards he come to me. He say: 'Where is the book you stole?'

"Well, I am glad he has not got it. But I am weak with fear. I cannot speak. I only shake my head. He twist my arm till I think I die with pain. He say: 'The truth! Where is it?' I say: 'I don' know. I give it to her.'

"He take me by the shoulders and shove me out on the service stairs. He say 'Get out of here!' with many bad words. He always swear in English so the Se?ora not understand. He say: 'If you show your face here again you'll wish you were dead!' He put me out like that without a coat to my back. And part me from my little mistress!"

Nina began to weep afresh.

"Don't you worry about that," said Greg. "You'll soon be with her again. Listen carefully, and I'll tell you what to do."

But the instructions were not delivered just then, for Frank came running down-stairs to say that Se?or de Socotra had just ordered a taxi to be at the door in three minutes.


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