EARLE ASHLEY WALCOTT
I A DANGEROUS ERRAND
II A CRY FOR HELP
III A QUESTION IN THE NIGHT
IV A CHANGE OF NAME
V DODDRIDGE KNAPP
VI A NIGHT AT BORTON'S
VII MOTHER BORTON
VIII IN WHICH I MEET A FEW SURPRISES
IX A DAY IN THE MARKET
X A TANGLE OF SCHEMES
XI THE DEN OF THE WOLF
XII LUELLA KNAPP
XIII A DAY OF GRACE
XIV MOTHER BORTON'S ADVICE
XV I AM IN THE TOILS
XVI AN ECHO OF WARNING
XVII IN A FOREIGN LAND
XVIII THE BATTLE IN THE MAZE
XIX A DEAL IN STOCKS
XX MAKING PROGRESS
XXI AT THE BIDDING OF THE UNKNOWN
XXIII A PIECE OF STRATEGY
XXIV ON THE ROAD
XXV A FLUTTER IN THE MARKET
XXVI A VISION OF THE NIGHT
XXVII A LINK IN THE CHAIN
XXVIII THE CHASE IN THE STORM
XXIX THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY
XXX THE END OF THE JOURNEY
XXXI THE REWARD
A DANGEROUS ERRAND
A city of hills with a fringe of houses crowning the lower heights;
half-mountains rising bare in the background and becoming real
mountains as they stretched away in the distance to right and left; a
confused mass of buildings coming to the water's edge on the flat; a
forest of masts ships swinging in the stream and the streaked
yellow gray-green water of the bay taking a cold light from the
setting sun as it struggled through the wisps of fog that fluttered
above the serrated sky-line of the city--these were my first
impressions of San Francisco.
The wind blew fresh and chill from the west with the damp and salt of
the Pacific heavy upon it as I breasted it from the forward deck of
the ferry steamer _El Capitan_. As I drank in the air and was
silent with admiration of the beautiful panorama that was spread before
me my companion touched me on the arm.
"Come into the cabin" he said. "You'll be one of those fellows who
can't come to San Francisco without catching his death of cold and
then lays it on to the climate instead of his own lack of common sense.
Come I can't spare you now I've got you here at last. I wouldn't lose
you for a million dollars."
"I'll come for half the money" I returned as he took me by the arm
and led me into the close cabin.
My companion I should explain was Henry Wilton the son of my
father's cousin who had the advantages of a few years of residence in
California and sported all the airs of a pioneer. We had been close
friends through boyhood and youth and it was on his offer of
employment that I had come to the city by the Golden Gate.
"What a resemblance!" I heard a woman exclaim as we entered the cabin.
"They must be twins."
"There Henry" I whispered with a laugh; "you see we are discovered."
Though our relationship was not close we had been cast in the mold of
some common ancestor. We were so nearly alike in form and feature as to
perplex all but our intimate acquaintances and we had made the
resemblance the occasion of many tricks in our boyhood days.
Henry had heard the exclamation as well as I. To my surprise it
appeared to bring him annoyance or apprehension rather than amusement.
"I had forgotten that it would make us conspicuous" he said more to
himself than to me I thought; and he glanced through the cabin as
though he looked for some peril.
"We were used to that long ago" I said as we found a seat. "Is the
business ready for me? You wrote that you thought it would be in hand
by the time I got here."
"We can't talk about it here" he said in a low tone. "There is plenty
of work to be done. It's not hard but as I wrote you it needs a man
of pluck and discretion. It's delicate business you understand and
dangerous if you can't keep your head. But the danger won't be yours.
I've got that end of it."
"Of course you're not trying to do anything against the law?" I said.
"Oh it has nothing to do with the law" he replied with an odd smile.
"In fact it's a little matter in which we are--well you might say--
outside the law."
I gave a gasp at this disturbing suggestion and Henry chuckled as he
saw the consternation written on my face. Then he rose and said:
"Come the boat is getting in."
"But I want to know--" I began.
"Oh bother your 'want-to-knows.' It's not against the law--just
outside it you understand. I'll tell you more of it when we get to my
room. Give me that valise. Come along now." And as the boat entered the
slip we found ourselves at the front of the pressing crowd that is
always surging in and out of San Francisco by the gateway of the
As we pushed our way through the clamoring hack-drivers and hotel-
runners who blocked the entrance to the city I was roused by a sudden
thrill of the instinct of danger that warns one when he meets the eye
of a snake. It was gone in an instant but I had time to trace effect
to cause. The warning came this time from the eyes of a man a lithe
keen-faced man who flashed a look of triumphant malice on us as he
disappeared in the waiting-room of the ferry-shed. But the keen face
and the basilisk glance were burned into my mind in that moment as
deeply as though I had known then what evil was behind them.
My companion swore softly to himself.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Don't look around" he said. "We are watched."
"The snake-eyed man?"
"Did you see him too?" His manner was careless but his tone was
troubled. "I thought I had given him the slip" he continued. "Well
there's no help for it now."
"Are we to hunt for a hiding-place?" I asked doubtfully.
"Oh no; not now. I was going to take you direct to my room. Now we are
going to a hotel with all the publicity we can get. Here we are."
"Internaytional! Internaytional!" shouted a runner by our side. "Yes
sir; here you are sir. Free 'bus sir." And in another moment we were
in the lumbering coach and as soon as the last lingering passenger had
come from the boat we were whirling over the rough pavement through a
confusing maze of streets past long rows of dingy ugly buildings to
Though the sun had but just set the lights were glimmering in the
windows along Kearny Street as we stepped from the 'bus and the
twilight was rapidly fading into darkness.
"A room for the night" ordered Henry as we entered the hotel office
and saluted the clerk.
"Your brother will sleep with you?" inquired the clerk.
"That's right--if you are sure you can tell which is which in the
morning" said the clerk with a smile at his poor joke.
Henry smiled in return paid the bill took the key and we were shown
to our room. After removing the travel-stains I declared myself quite
ready to dine.
"We won't need this again" said Henry tossing the key on the bureau
as we left. "Or no on second thought" he continued "it's just as
well to leave the door locked. There might be some inquisitive
callers." And we betook ourselves to a hasty meal that was not of a
nature to raise my opinion of San Francisco.
"Are you through?" asked my companion as I shook my head over a
melancholy piece of pie and laid down my fork. "Well take your bag.
This door--look pleasant and say nothing."
He led the way to the bar and then through a back room or two until
with a turn we were in a blind alley. With a few more steps we found
ourselves in a back hall which led into another building. I became
confused after a little and lost all idea of the direction in which we
were going. We mounted one flight of stairs I remember and after
passing through two or three winding hallways and down another flight
came out on a side street.
After a pause to observe the street before we ventured forth Henry
"I guess we're all right now. We must chance it anyhow." So we dodged
along in the shadow till we came to Montgomery Street and after a
brief walk turned into a gloomy doorway and mounted a worn pair of
The house was three stories in height. It stood on the corner of an
alley and the lower floor was intended for a store or saloon; but a
renting agent's sign and a collection of old show-bills ornamenting the
dirty windows testified that it was vacant. The liquor business
appeared to be overdone in that quarter for across the alley hardly
twenty feet away was a saloon; across Montgomery Street was another;
and two more held out their friendly lights on the corner of the street
In the saloons the disreputability was cheerful and cheerfully
acknowledged with lights and noise here of a broken piano there of a
wheezy accordion and beyond of a half-drunken man singing or
shouting a ribald song. Elsewhere it was sullen and dark--the lights
where there were lights glittering through chinks or showing the
outlines of drawn curtains.
"This isn't just the place I'd choose for entertaining friends" said
Henry with a visible relief from his uneasiness as we climbed the
worn and dirty stair.
"Oh that's all right" I said magnanimously accepting his apology.
"It doesn't have all the modern conveniences" admitted Henry as we
stumbled up the second flight "but it's suitable to the business we
have in hand and--"
"What's that?" I exclaimed as a creaking rasping sound came from the
We stopped and listened peering into the obscurity beneath.
Nothing but silence. The house might have been a tomb for any sign of
life that showed within it.
"It must have been outside" said Henry. "I thought for a moment
perhaps--" Then he checked himself. "Well you'll know later" he
concluded and opened the door of the last room on the right of the
As we entered he held the door ajar for a full minute listening
intently. The obscurity of the hall gave back nothing to eye or ear
and at last he closed the door softly and touched a match to the gas.
The room was at the rear corner of the building. There were two
windows one looking to the west the other to the north and opening on
the narrow alley.
"Not so bad after you get in" said Henry half as an introduction
half as an apology.
"It's luxury after six days of railroading" I replied.
"Well lie down there and make the most of it then" he said "for
there may be trouble ahead." And he listened again at the crack of the
"In Heaven's name Henry what's up?" I exclaimed with some temper.
"You're as full of mysteries as a dime novel."
Henry smiled grimly.
"Maybe you don't recognize that this is serious business" he said.
"I don't understand it at all."
"Well I'm not joking. There's mischief afoot and I'm in danger."
"From whom? From what?"
"Never mind that now. It's another person's business--not mine you
understand--and I can't explain until I know whether you are to be one
of us or not."
"That's what I came for isn't it?"
"Hm! You don't seem to be overly pleased with the job."
"Which isn't surprising when I haven't the first idea what it is
except that it seems likely to get me killed or in jail."
"Oh if you're feeling that way about it I know of another job that
will suit you better in--"
"I'm not afraid" I broke in hotly. "But I want to see the noose before
I put my head in it."
"Then I'm sure the assistant bookkeeper's place I have in mind will--"
"Confound your impudence!" I cried laughing in spite of myself at the
way he was playing on me. "Assistant bookkeeper be hanged! I'm with you
from A to Z; but if you love me don't keep me in the dark."
"I'll tell you all you need to know. Too much might be dangerous."
I was about to protest that I could not know too much when Henry
raised his hand with a warning to silence. I heard the sound of a
cautious step outside. Then Henry sprang to the door flung it open
and bolted down the passage. There was the gleam of a revolver in his
hand. I hurried after him but as I crossed the threshold he was coming
softly back with finger on lips.
"I must see to the guards again. I can have them together by midnight."
"Can I help?"
"No. Just wait here till I get back. Bolt the door and let nobody in
but me. It isn't likely that they will try to do anything before
midnight. If they do--well here's a revolver. Shoot through the door
if anybody tries to break it down."
I stood in the door revolver in hand watched him down the hall and
listened to his footsteps as they descended the stairs and at last
faded away into the murmur of life that came up from the open street.
A CRY FOR HELP
I hastily closed and locked the door. It shut out at least the eyes and
ears that to my excited imagination lurked in the dark corners and
half-hidden doorways of the dimly-lighted hall. And as I turned back to
the room my heart was heavy with bitter regret that I had ever left my
This was not at all what I had looked for when I started for the Golden
Gate at my friend's offer of a "good place and a chance to get rich."
Then I rallied my spirits with something of resolution and shamed
myself with the reproach that I should fear to share any danger that
Henry was ready to face. Wearied as I was with travel I was too much
excited for sleep. Reading was equally impossible. I scarcely glanced
at the shelf of books that hung on the wall and turned to a study of
The room was on the corner as I have said and I threw up the sash of
the west window and looked out over a tangle of old buildings
ramshackle sheds and an alley that appeared to lead nowhere. A wooden
shutter swung from the frame-post of the window reaching nearly to a
crazy wooden stair that led from the black depths below. There were
lights here and there in the back rooms. Snatches of drunken song and
rude jest came up from an unseen doggery and vile odors came with
them. Shadows seemed to move here and there among the dark places but
in the uncertain light I could not be sure whether they were men or
only boxes and barrels.
Some sound of a drunken quarrel drew my attention to the north window
and I looked out into the alley. The lights from Montgomery Street
scarcely gave shape to the gloom below the window but I could
distinguish three or four men near the side entrance of a saloon. They
appeared quiet enough. The quarrel if any there was must be inside
the saloon. After an interval of comparative silence the noise rose
again. There were shouts and curses sounds as of a chair broken and
tables upset and one protesting struggling inebriate was hurled out
from the front door and left with threats and foul language to
collect himself from the pavement.
This edifying incident which was explained to me solely by sound had
scarcely come to an end when a noise of creaking boards drew my eyes to
the other window. The shutter suddenly flew around and a human figure
swung in at the open casing. Astonishment at this singular proceeding
did not dull the instinct of self-defense. The survey of my
surroundings and the incident of the bar-room row had in a measure
prepared me for any desperate doings and I had swung a chair ready to
strike a blow before I had time to think.
"S-h-h!" came the warning whisper and I recognized my supposed robber.
It was Henry.
His clothes and hair were disordered and his face and hands were grimy
"Don't speak out loud" he said in suppressed tones. "Wait till I
fasten this shutter. The other one's gone but nobody can get in from
that side unless they can shin up thirty feet of brick wall."
"Shall I shut the window?" I asked thoroughly impressed by his manner.
"No you'll make too much noise" he said stripping off his coat and
vest. "Here change clothes with me. Quick! It's a case of life and
death. I must be out of here in two minutes. Do as I say now. Don't
ask questions. I'll tell you about it in a day or two. No just the
coat and vest. There--give me that collar and tie. Where's your hat?"
The changes were completed or rather his were and he stood looking as
much like me as could be imagined.
"Don't stir from this room till I come back" he whispered. "You can
dress in anything of mine you like. I'll be in before twelve or send a
messenger if I'm not coming. By-by."
He was gone before I could say a word and only an occasional creaking
board told me of his progress down the stairs. He had evidently had
some practice in getting about quietly. I could only wonder as I
closed and locked the door whether it was the police or a private
enemy that he was trying to avoid.
I had small time to speculate on the possibilities for outside the
window I heard the single word "Help!"
The cry was half-smothered and followed by a gurgling sound and noise
as of a scuffle in the alley.
I rushed to the window and looked out. A band of half a dozen men was
struggling and pushing away from Montgomery Street into the darker end
of the alley. They were nearly under the window.
"Give it to him" said a voice.
In an instant there came a scream so freighted with agony that it
burst the bonds of gripping fingers and smothering palms that tried to
close it in and rose for the fraction of a second on the foul air of
the alley. Then a light showed and a tall broad-shouldered figure
"These aren't the papers" it hissed. "Curse on you you've got the
There was a moment's confusion and the light flashed on the man who
had spoken and was gone. But that flash had shown me the face of a man
I could never forget--a man whose destiny was bound up for a brief
period with mine and whose wicked plans have proved the master
influence of my life. It was a strong cruel wolfish face--the face of
a man near sixty with a fierce yellow-gray mustache and imperial--a
face broad at the temples and tapering down into a firm unyielding
jaw and marked then with all the lines of rage hatred and chagrin at
the failure of his plans.
It took not a second for me to see and hear and know all this for the
vision came and was gone in the dropping of an eyelid. And then there
echoed through the alley loud cries of "Police! Murder! Help!" I was
conscious that there was a man running through the hall and down the