« PreviousContinue »
It Was a hideous nightmare for Miss Morland, except that she knew she was awake and not dreaming.
After the clanging of the burglar alarm and the two shots she listened in dread to the opening of windows in neighboring houses and the hurry of footsteps on the sidewalk and excited voices.
Summoning all her strength, she opened her door upon the now brilliantly lighted house and called out.
"Herman, Herman, what is the matter?"
"The burglar alarm, miss. I guess somebody's been try in' to break in."
From down the street came the clang of the police patrol, and a moment later a cordon of officers with drawn revolvers was encircling the house.
After a long time the old caretaker tapped on Lucille's door.
"Don't worry, Miss Lucille. We've searched the whole house and found nobody. I guess the alarm scared 'em away."
But there was no sleep for Miss Morland. Uppermost in her mind was the dread of being involved, but in the background was a persistent fear for what had happened to Tom.
She assumed, and rightly, that he, leaving her darkened house so late, could not explain his presence at that hour without compromising her, and, rather than risk this, had toppled over the night watchman and fled. It pleased Lucille to think he had acted the gentleman for her sake, even at the risk of being killed.
But when morning came the fear of being involved restrained her from inquiring about him. Her one thought was to get away as quickly as possible—to put miles and miles between her and the chance of unpleasant publicity.
As the morning passed, and no message came from Tom, her fears became more intense. Suppose he had been mortally wounded, or captured; and, if the latter, would he be subjected to the third degree until he confessed why he was leaving the darkened Morland house at two o'clock in the morning? She shuddered at the thought, and hastened her preparations for departure.
At two-thirty heavily veiled, she started for her summer home ignorant of what had happened to Tom and moved by one impulse—to save herself from possible annoyance and embarrassment.
The early afternoon papers contained accounts of the shooting. Liquor thieves were suspected, but the most popular police theory was that it had been a frustrated Red plot to blow up Mr. Morland, because of his huge war profits obtained by speculating in foodstuffs. Some days before, a radical daily had charged him rather malignantly with having doubled his fortune during the war.
The night watchman, interviewed, described his assailant as a powerful young man, heavily armed, who had attempted to kill him. He himself had fired two shots, but didn't know whether either had taken effect.
What the newspapers did not print was how Tom Wickham, shot through the left shoulder, made his way to his room, and with the knowledge of surgical dressing gained in the war and the little first-aid kit he always kept, cleaned and bandaged the wound as best he could.
He dared not go to a doctor, for that would necessitate explanations, or else lead to his arrest and a possible third-degree inquisition.
Sadie Johnson heard him come in, and heard him moving about for some time afterward. She fancied she caught the faint, penetrating odor of antiseptics.
When Mrs. Johnson tapped on his door at the usual hour Tom called out that he was not feeling well, and requested her to ask Sadie to telephone the office from the drug store that he would not be down.
"Can I do anything for you?"
"No, thank you. I'll be all right after a while."
Sadie went to her work at the Alert Garage, her quick mind entirely preoccupied with speculation. It was very mysterious. But it was not until she saw the account of the shooting at the Morland house that her conclusions began to take form. She folded up the papers and took them home.
Her mother was bringing Tom his supper. He was sitting up in bed, and did not look ill.
"Here's something that may interest you," she said, handing him the papers. He started and looked at her queerly. She smiled.
"Interesting story, isn't it?" she commented, and observed how stiffly he held his left arm. "He must have been a terrible person, that big, burly burglar!"
The significance of her tone did not escape Tom. He grinned.
"You're pretty smart, Sadie. Would you mind doing