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- Quill's Window - 50/55 -
case he got onto us and gave us the slip."
"How much of a reward is offered?" inquired Foss.
"We are not supposed to be rewarded for doing our duty," replied the Secret Service man curtly. "He got away from us and it's our business to catch him again. You can bet he's our man. He wouldn't be hanging around a burg like this for months unless he had a blamed good reason for keeping out of sight."
"He's been in mighty bad health,--and, if anybody should ask you, there ain't a healthier place in the world than right here in--"
"It's healthier than most jails," admitted the other with a chuckle.
"Umph!" grunted Mr. Foss, delivering without words a full and graphic opinion on the subject of humour as it exists in the minds of people who live in large cities. He chewed for a time in silence. "What became of the woman and the other man?"
"Oh, they were sent up,--I don't know for how long. They're old hands. Husband and wife. Steamship gamblers before the war. Fleeced any number of suckers. She must be a peach, judging from the pictures I've seen of her. They probably would have got away with this last job if she and Ritchie hadn't tried to put something over on friend husband. She had the can all ready to tie to him when he got wise and laid for her lover with a gun. The revenue people had been tipped off by agents in Paris and traced the couple to the hotel. They sprung the trap too soon, however, and the second man got away."
"Well, I guess there ain't any question but what this feller here is old Silas Thane's grandson. They say he's the livin' image of old Silas. So he must have sailed under a false name."
"They usually do," said the other patiently.
"And you want me to arrest him on suspicion, eh?"
"Certainly. You're a county official, aren't you?"
"I'm an officer of the law."
"Well, that's the answer. We are obliged to turn such matters over to the local authorities. What do you suppose I'm telling you about the case for? When I give the word, you land him and--well, Uncle Sam will do the rest, never fear."
"That's all right, but supposin' he ain't the man you're after and he turns around and sues me for false arrest?"
"You can detain anybody on information and belief, my friend. Don't you know that?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Foss with commendable asperity. "Supposin' he's got a revolver?"
"He probably has,--but so have we. Don't worry. He won't have a chance to use it. Hello! Isn't that a man standing up there by that telephone pole? We'll just stroll up that way. Don't hurry. Keep cool. Talk about the drowning."
They were halfway up the hill before Courtney moved. Every nerve was aquiver as he raised himself to his feet and looked cautiously about. The thing he feared had come to pass, but even as he crouched there in the shelter of the bushes the means of salvation flashed through his mind. He realized that the next fifteen or twenty minutes would convince these dogged, experienced man chasers that their quarry had "got wind of them" and was in flight. The hunt would be on in grim earnest; the alarm would go out in all directions. Men would be watching for him at every cross-roads, every railway station, every village, and directing the hunt would be--these men who never give up until they "land" their man.
His only chance lay in keeping under cover for a day or two,--or even longer,--until the chase went farther afield and he could take the risk of venturing forth from his hiding place. He had the place in mind. They would never think of looking for him in that sinister hole in the wall, Quill's Window! There he could lie in perfect safety until the coast was clear, and then by night steal down the river in the wake of pursuit.
Their first thoughts would be of the railroad, the highways and the city. They would not beat the woods for him. They would cut off all avenues of escape and set their traps at the end of every trail, confident that he would walk into them perforce before another day was done.
Like a ghost he stole across the little clearing that lay between the road and the willows above the ferry. The snapping of a twig under his feet, the scuffling of a pebble, the rustling of dead leaves and grass, the scraping of his garments against weeds and shrubbery, were sounds that took on the magnitude of ear-splitting crashes. It was all he could do to keep from breaking into a mad, reckless dash for the trees at the farther side of this moonlit stretch. With every cautious, fox-like step, he expected the shout of alarm to go up from behind, and with that shout he knew restraint would fail him; he would throw discretion to the winds and bolt like a frightened rabbit, and the dogs would be at his heels.
He was nearing the trees when he heard some one running in the road, now a hundred yards behind him. Stooping still lower, he increased his speed almost to a run. The sound of footsteps ceased abruptly; the runner had come to a sudden halt. Thane reached the thicket in another stride or two and paused for a few seconds to listen. A quick little thrill of relief shot through him. No one was coming along behind him. The runner, whoever he was, had not seen him; no cry went up, no loud yell of "There he goes!"
Picking his way carefully down the slope he came to the trail of the Indians, over which he had trudged recently on his trip to the great rock. He could tell by the feel of the earth under his feet that he was on the hard, beaten path by the river's edge. Now he went forward more rapidly, more confidently. There were times when he had to cross little moon-streaked openings among the trees, and at such times he stooped almost to a creeping position.
Occasionally he paused in his flight to listen for sounds of pursuit. Once his heart seemed to stop beating. He was sure that he heard footsteps back on the trail behind him. Again, as he drew near the rock-strewn base of the hill, a sound as of some one scrambling through the underbrush came to his straining ears, but the noise ceased even as he stopped to listen. He laughed at his fears. An echo, no doubt, of his own footsteps; the wind thrashing a broken limb; the action of the water upon some obstruction along the bank.
Nevertheless he dropped to his hands and knees when he came to the outlying boulders and jagged slabs close to the foot of the black, towering mass. There was no protecting foliage here. Never in his life had he known the moon to shine so brightly. He whispered curses to the high-hanging lantern in the sky.
The murmur of the river below brought a consoling thought to him. He would not suffer from thirst. He could go without food for a couple of days, even longer. Had not certain English women survived days and days of a voluntary hunger strike? But he could not do without water. In the black hours before dawn he would climb down from his eerie den and drink his fill at the river's brink.
Now a sickening fear gripped him. What if he were to find it impossible to scale that almost perpendicular steep? What if those hand-hewn clefts in the rock fell short of reaching to the cave's entrance? The processes of time and the elements may have sealed or obliterated the shallow hand and toe holds. His blood ran cold. He had dreaded the prospect of that hazardous climb up the face of the rock. Now he was overcome by an even greater dread: that he would be unable to reach the place of refuge.
He had no thought of Alix Crown now--no thought of her beauty, her body, her riches. His cherished dream was over. She took her place among other forgotten dreams. The sinister business of saving his own skin drove her out of his mind. It drove out all thought of Rosabel Vick. The hounds were at his heels. It was no time to think of women!
Anxiety that touched almost upon despair hastened his steps. Abandoning caution, he ran recklessly up the path among the rocks, stumbling and reeling but always keeping his feet, and came at last to the gloomy, forbidding facade of Quill's Window. Here he groped along the wall, clawing for the sunken cleats with eager, trembling hands. He knew they were there--somewhere. Not only had he seen them, he had climbed with ease, hand over hand, ten or a dozen feet up the cliff. He had shuddered a little that day as he looked first over his shoulder and then upward along the still unsealed stretch that lay between him and the mouth of the cave, seventy or eighty feet away. But that was in broad daylight. It would be different now, with darkness as his ally.
He remembered thinking that day how easy it would be to reach Quill's Window by this rather simple route. All that was required was a stout heart, a steady hand, and a good pair of arms. All of these were bestowed upon him by magic of darkness. It was what the light revealed that made a coward of him. Why, he could shut his eyes tight and go up that cliff by night as easily as--but where were the slots?
At last his hand encountered one of the sharp edges. He reached up and found the next one above,--and then for the first time realized that his eyes had been closed all the time he was feeling along the cold surface of the rock. He opened them in a start of actual bewilderment. The blackish mass rose almost sheer above him, like a vast wall upon which the moon cast a dull, murky light. He closed his eyes again and leaned heavily against the rock. His heart began to beat horribly. He felt his courage slipping; he wondered if he had the strength, the nerve to go on; he saw himself halfway up that endless wall, clutching wildly to save himself when a treacherous hand-hold broke loose and--
He opened his eyes and tried to pierce the shadows below the rocky path. Was it best to hide in that hole up there, after all? Would it not be wiser, now that he had a fair start, to keep on up the river, trusting to--
A chorus of automobile horns in the distance came to his ears suddenly,--a confused jumble of raucous blasts produced by many cars. The alarm! The search was on! The wild shriek of a siren broke the stillness near at hand, followed a few seconds later by the gradually increasing roar of an engine as it sped up the dirt
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