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THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC EARDRUMS

 

CHAPTER I

 

THE MAN IN THE MOONLIGHT

 

It was close upon 9 o’clock in the evening when I first met that gifted—and yet pitiful—individual, “The Man With the Magic Eardrums.”

At least, I shall always think of him by the name: “The Man With the Magic Eardrums!” For, of course, I subsequently learned his right name. As well as many facts in his unusual life history.

And my meeting with him took place under curious circumstances—to say the least!

For, at the time we met, he was effecting a most perfect job of—well, had there been a blue-coated police officer near by witnessing the job, he would have been writing painstakingly in his notebook: “Breaking and Entering,” while, had there been instead, near by, a detective from the detective bureau, more technical in his description of things criminal, he would have been writing “Burglarious Entry.” Though whatever the proper description of the job being done by the individual I call “The Man With the Magic Eardrums,” it was being done in front of my very eyes.

And the doing of which, quite naturally, he would never have attempted had the big room into which he was securing ingress been lighted up!

And why it was not lighted up was simply because I had not, myself, yet had time, since arriving, to snap those lights on!

In fact, I was just hanging up my imported black velour hat and English tweed topcoat on the vertical coat hanger which stood at the north side of the huge room’s arched doorway when I first heard the sounds that heralded his entry—received, in fact, the first intimations that there was a man on the outside of the big window which, at least in the daytime, gazed southward over the block and a half of desolate unbuilt Minneapolis prairie lying between the house and Ludlow Street. And fortunately—as I have already remarked—so far as capturing him went, I hadn’t yet snapped on any lights since closing the downstairs door behind me, and coming leisurely up the broad flight of stairs which led to this particular room on the second floor. Indeed, there had been no need to do so, for the moonlight, filtering through the drawn shade of that big south window, not only lighted up—in considerable measure—the huge room, but percolated, at least in half-measure, through the arched doorway with its velvet drapes on either side, and down those very stairs to the front door. And so thus, turning quickly about—a full 180 degrees—as I completed the hanging up of my topcoat, I was able to see everything that told plainly what was just about to take place: the silhouetted tops of the uprights of the intruder’s tall 2-story ladder—and it would have had to be at least a 20-foot ladder to reach that isolated window—its equally silhouetted top rung—and the animated shadowgraph of the fellow himself, with his stocky shoulders and his cap, moving against the windowpane.

For the moment I went no further with the stripping off of my pigskin gloves—which act my discovery had interrupted—interrupted so completely, in fact, that the front door key was still held momentarily between my teeth where I had placed it while unsheathing my fingers from their stiff leather coverings. Indeed, with my right glove but half off, I felt quickly for my back pocket. The hard lump there assured me that my small pearl-handled silver-plated revolver was on my person—and not in my luggage at the depot—as might easily have happened to be the case. Lucky, I told myself grimly then and there, that when I had last packed that luggage I had tossed up a mental coin—and, as a result, had slipped that unobtrusive weapon into my pocket instead of burying it in a lot of clothing!

The man outside was still fumbling around. So I peeled off my gloves hastily, and let them fall where they might. And slipped the front door key back into the change pocket of my overcoat. And then, divested of all these several incumbrances, stood quietly where I was and watched the individual who was separated from me by only one sheet of glass and one thickness of window shade linen. Even—and to my own surprise!—speculating a bit, as well, while I did so. That ladder—now? Brought by him, undoubtedly, across such of the vacant weed-grown prairieland as lay between this house and that unfinished 2-story bungalow lying dark and skeletal-like, half the distance to Ludlow Street: prairie land someday destined to bloom as the Hobury Heights Development —but today just a 4-square-block blob of outer Minneapolis hemmed in by Ludlow and Weddles Streets on the south and north, and Northdale and Chando Avenues on the west and east, and crisscrossed by lonely, narrow new sidewalks which, thanks to the low streetlights installed here and there along them, resembled more white ribbons crossing a black expanse of ocean. Brought from the unfinished bungalow, undoubtedly, that ladder. And so this fellow must be—I reasoned on the spot—a professional—who knew well that always—some place on the upper floor of every inhabited house—there is bound to be at least one unlocked window.

And I was right, in this latter respect, too. Otto—or else Rozalda—had left that window unlocked! For the man outside, pressing outward obviously with his two palms—for his arms seemed now to be horizontally outstretched—against the two narrow wooden edges of the lower sash, and making a peculiar seesawing motion at the same time, was managing to get it slightly raised. And once the fraction of an inch up—he dropped his arms, and seemed to put his fingertips under its lower edge. And up it came still further. And now his hands—and, heavy as it was, it slid upward easily. About a foot—and no further. In fact, his hand slithered in under the now-gently flapping shade-stick—he gave the shade a businesslike jerk—and up it flew clatteringly, clear to the top of the window. And now, since a large and clear-cut oblong patch of moonlight lay athwart the Persian rug—or at least lay half on the rug and half on the polished waxed floor alongside the rug—and acted as a secondary source of illumination itself, I drew a bit further back in the shadow of the arched doorway.

Though still watching every move of the man with the cap.

Now that the shade was out of his way, he shoved the window up the rest of the distance. And rising a rung or two on the ladder, thrust one leg over the sill, and drew in the rest of his body. For an instant he stood, glancing with some uncertainty at the raised window in back of him.

Then it was that I slid my right hand carefully along the wall to the left of the arched doorway, until my fingers came in contact with the electric-light switchbutton. While at the same time, with my left hand, I drew out that tiny revolver.

“Put ’em up!” I grunted. And snapped on the lights.

Transferring the gun to my right hand before he could blink.

He was no sluggard in thought, that was certain. At least where his life was concerned. He thrust his hands instantly above his head, and stood blinking in the sudden flood of light from the bright ceiling fixture. And I had opportunity then, for the first time, to survey him from head to foot.

He was a somewhat undersized—at least so far as height went—individual, though rather stockily built; he was clad in an ill-fitting brown suit with bags at the knees. About 45 years of age; no more. His face, I would say, could be aptly described by the phrase rolypoly. And though it had no bristle peeping from its coarse florid skin, there was yet a darkness about the hairline which proclaimed that he could do with a once-over shave! On his head reposed a checked and more or less crumpled wool cap, and dropping from his collar—which was a bit too low even for his thick neck—was a flaming red tie that lent the final touch to his uncouth appearance.

“Well,” I remarked, advancing a few steps toward him. with my weapon still extended, “what’s the idea, old boy?”

He seemed to be dazed by the sudden turn of affairs for him. And stood with eyes staring first at me—then wandering rightward of me—and even leftward once back of me as well. It occurred to me—a few minutes later, that is—that he was perhaps more dazed by the room into which he had climbed than the fact that he had been caught squarely doing it! For, at least where he stood, a few feet from the window, the room presented truly the barnlike appearance almost of a small convention hall; and, by comparison with it, the library table in its center—the swivel chair drawn up to it, its back toward him—the huge safe far, far back of me across the room, cemented into the fancy red brickwork that made up that particular wall—gave forth the illusion, in spite of their size, that they were actually undersized. As for the phone on the table—and the silver trophy cup, too—the former must have seemed, from that window, like a Woolworth toy phone, and the latter like some sort of an ornate paperweight; a child’s plaything of some sort; while the oak closet door in that brick wall containing the safe, and some ten feet or so to the side of the safe—must have seemed no larger than the door of a telephone booth. As for the skull, perched on the brick mantel protruding from that wall between safe and closet door, it must truly have seemed no larger than a papier-mâché match-tray ornament. And, in turn, the onyx clock alongside it must have resembled a dainty boudoir timepiece!

Thus ran my reflections later as to the cause of his first daze; but whatever, at the instant, was the cause, I had to jar him back to the world of reality.

“Snap out of it,” I said. “Speak up—no!—arms above head there—that’s right!—well—what’s your game!”

Now he found his tongue.

“My—game? Well—t’tell you th’ truth—I—I don’t—just know. Minute ago, I was sliding in that window back o’ me—and now—I seem to be—well—just waiting—for somep’n to happen.”

“Which, of course,” I told him grimly, “will happen! In the shape of a wagonload of bluecoats from the Northwest Minneapolis Police Station.” Gun still extended, I traversed part of the distance between the arched doorway and the table, which itself stood halfway between him and the walled safe, watching him curiously all the while. He didn’t blink an eye. Cool, all right. So I stopped.

“I suppose,” I said, “you’re one of these fly-by-night birds they call ‘second-story men,’ eh?” And I daresay my voice, at that juncture, grew a bit sarcastic. “Or perhaps,” I added, “you’re just walking in your sleep? Eh? And in a few minutes you’ll wake up and tell me it’s an old habit of yours—from childhood? Or—or possibly you’ve stumbled into the wrong house by error? How about it?”

But his upraised arms, long held aloft, were losing their rigidity, crooking quaintly like the arched legs of negro children who have rickets. To satisfy myself as to how much he was armed, I stepped over to him.

“Turn around. Back to me. Arms higher again.”

He turned obediently, making a last upward thrust of his arms.

I kept my gun muzzled into his spine. Pressed my hand into each of his coat pockets in turn. Reached around in front and patted his breast pocket. The same, his trousers pockets. And particularly his hip pockets. He had no weapons.

“Smart boy, eh?” I commented. “Turn around now.” I started off again. “Robbery with a gun—” I remarked, as he slowly pivoted about—“10 years. Robbery without a gun—only 5. Brains!”

He coughed, almost appreciatively, it would seem, at my veiled allusion to his sagacity.

“All right,” I said, “Let ’em down.” I went over to the window now in his rear again, though keeping his back in sight, by my own turned head, all the time; and shoving the window down, drew down the shade as well, the string being still in reach in spite of the way it had clattered itself up a minute or so previous.

And back past him again, past the table too. Ever keeping my eye on him. And over to the wall next the archway, where I requisitioned the gilt-legged red velvet-seated Louis Quatorze chair which seemed too dainty for him, though its seat certainly did match his flamboyant tie! I placed it across the table from the swivel chair.

“Over here. No—around the other side. Sit down. Before I turn you over to the Minneapolis police, I want to have a talk with you.”

He came obediently around the end of the table, opposite to the one nearest me, while I rounded that one; we were, in truth, like a couple of geldings running in a length-handicap race—one of us with exactly half a track handicap on the other! The race was a draw, however, for we both sank into our respective chairs at the same moment, the table between us, he diffidently, hands on knees, on the gilt-legged chair, myself into the more comfortable swivel chair facing him. And well out of arms’ reach, too—thanks to the table and the margin between it and each chair—of those chunky arms of his which looked as though they might contain steel muscles. I confess that at the time I should have kept in mind the idea of a possible confederate coming up that ladder—right in the rear of myself in that swivel chair—but I didn’t—and, as it eventuated, I had no need to fear that.

“Well,” I began, sliding over to the right edge of the table—and out of the line of our mutual vision—the silver trophy cup that threatened slightly to keep us dodging about in our chairs, “before I call the police—might I ask, do you know where you are?”

I placed my gun carefully in my right-hand coat pocket, but kept my right hand on my thigh so that, long before he could say Jack Robinson—or scratch his ear—or do whatever one might do before lunging at an adversary—I could have my hand on it and shoot him dead, right through the pocket.

He made no answer to my question, but turned his head about and swept his eyes across the entire room—including the skull on its brick shelf far in back of him—and the big safe door, almost ash with that brickwork wall. Then he replied to me.

“Well,” he countered, “I’m in a room, ain’t I? A big room?”

“Come off it,” I ordered him peremptorily. “Cut the shenaniging. Before I call the police—do you know where you are? And no more foolish answers now—like that one.”

He surveyed me gloomily.

“Well—I’m in a house, ain’t I?” he said belligerently. “And it says on the mailbox outside—in the entrance—King—Mort’mer King. So—I s’pose I’m in the home o’ Mort’mer King.”

“Right,” I said. “Though your rendition of my first name is a bit sloppy. A fact! The ‘i’ in Mortimer is, as a rule, pronounced! Likewise,” I added sardonically, “aren’t you being a little bit informal?—just tossing aside, willy-nilly, the part of my handle that makes me one definite person out of all of America’s 130,000,000 people? Yes—that middle initial Q?” I paused. “Pick my house—just at random?”

The sudden crafty look that flashed across his face made me change my tack.

“Sa-ay—you weren’t hired by any chance, were you, by that new association of bookmakers to place a pineapple in my place, were you!” I wrinkled up my own brows. For of pineapple bombs, the fruit so common on the Minneapolis industrial tree, there had certainly been none on him.

“I ain’t placing no pineapples—on anybody,” he said. “And don’t you figure to plant none on me, neither.”

“Well—I have none to plant,” I told him. “But I think, at that, that after you’re locked up—I’d like to look into your connections. What’s your name?”

He remained obdurately silent.

“Come on. Come on. I’ll only get it from the police—who’ll beat it out of you.”

“Peter Givney.” And he spelled it out.

“Where do you live?”

“2375 South Humboldt Street.”

“Oh—South Humboldt Street, eh? I know that district—around the 2700’s. Married?”

“No. I live in a room.”

“Rooming house, eh?”

“Yes. Cheap one.”

“Got a phone there?”

“Who wants to know?” he inquired belligerently.

“I,” I told him. “And the Northwest Minneapolis police. Who can find out, in one minute, the phone that corresponds to that South Humboldt Street address.”

“All—right. You win. But if you want to make any inquiries about me, you’ll have to look up the phone yourself. I live in the dump, yes, but Christ knows I don’t have occasion to call myself up! The Workers’ Rest is the name o’ th’ place.”

With my foot I shoved over towards his feet the big Twin-Cities telephone directory lying on the footrest of the table.

“Look your number up,” I commanded him.

He took up the book disgruntledly from the floor, and with it on his knee leafed over its pages, following its fine-type columns with a pudgy forefinger. “All—right,” he said glumly. “Workers’ Rest. Colonial 0329. So—What?”

“Keep your shirt on,” I told him. And drew over the phone toward me. For I was still suspicious of him, particularly his not knowing the telephone of his own rooming house. Not that that wasn’t a likely possibility, however under certain conditions.

Hand on phone, I regarded him curiously.

“And now,” I said, “suppose they tell me no Pete Givney lives there? Then so—what?”

“They won’t,” he said, quite confidently.

“Or,” I continued, “what if Peter himself comes to the phone? Then so—what?”

“Listen,” he retorted grumpily. “How in hell can I come to that phone—when I’m here? If anybody calling theirself Peter Givney comes to that phone, I give you permission to sink one o’ your slugs through my guts, here and now. One hundred per cent—permission!”

So utterly confident did he appear to be, that only for the first time did I feel certain that he was handing out the truth.

Nevertheless, for I was still suspicious of him, I dialed Colonial 0329. One eye ever on him.

A woman with a nasal, whining, irritable voice came to the phone. I heard infants wailing somewhere in the background.

“Does Peter Givney live there?” I asked.

“Yes. O’ny he ain’t in.”

“Are you certain of that?”

“Certain? Well, ain’t I jest been up to his room five minutes ago when another party called?”

“I see. Well, can you tell me anything about him?”

“No I can’t. An’ this ain’t no credit information bureau, neither. He jes’ rooms here. By hisself. If that’ll be any use to you. An’ there’s 40 other roomers in this here house. Some employed—an’ some not. But all payin’ their rent—or else!”

“Are you the landlord? Or landlady?”

“For Christ’s sake, mister, what is this? No, I ain’t the landlord or landlady. I’m just tendin’ th’ telephone tonight. And I ain’t gonna chase all over this here house lookin’ for the landlord, who wouldn’t know nothin’ anyway.”

“O.K.!” I said hastily. “I guess that’s all I want to—no—wait—what kind of a looking man is this Givney?”

“Listen, mister, make it snappy—I got my kids to tend to—make it snappy, or else come over here in person and squat in his room for him. He’s a sort of a runt, in one direction, if you want to know what he looks like, an’ sort of built like a gorilla in the other direction—crosswise. Looks like—like an ex-pug. And I don’t know what his grandmother died of, neither.”

“O.K.!” I told her hastily. And hung up. For I could see that I had not only a virago on the end of that telephone line, but a very tired irritable virago, and one who was ready to launch out into one vitriolic tongue-lashing!

“Well, Givney,” I said to the little man across from me, “so far you’ve told the truth. Now come on with the rest of it. Come to burgle my house?”

He waxed sarcastic. “I wanted a cup o’ tea—and my black tea was all out—so I thought I’d step in—and get some green tea!”

I smiled. “Tell that to the judge—and he’ll add 2 years on your sentence for impudence.” I paused. “But translating the tea story, Givney, into hard facts, those facts are, I rather take it, that you read in some St. Paul or Minneapolis paper, in connection with some recent story concerning myself, or the bookmaking game, the usual stock family history to the extent that my wife would be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tonight? On her annual 3-day ‘novena’ at the Convent of—goddamn the filthy newsmongers,” I broke off. “Well, come on. Fill out the rest of the story.”

He was stubbornly silent.

“Come on, man. Speak up. This is the only chance you’ll ever have to talk yourself out of 5 years in Stillwater. Or 7—in case you hand the judge the green-tea story! For no matter what made you enter my house—your sentence isn’t going to be any different. Burglary—without a gun. 5 years. Contempt of court—green tea!—2 years.”

He pursed his lips reflectively. “Well, aside from the green tea—for I ain’t telling that to any judges!—what you say is logic, Mr. King. Yeah, it’s logic. So all right. For I hear you saying I maybe got a chance to talk myself out. O-K! Maybe I can—at that. Sure, I saw that story that was in th’ Minneapolis Despatch just a week ago—which o’ course you saw yourself. So—”

“No,” I told him. “I didn’t see it. Since, one week ago, I was in Frisco. And therefore reading only Frisco news.”

“The hell!” he retorted. “The story said you were—

“Yes, I know. But even the Minneapolis Despatch can be wrong sometimes!”

“Ain’t it th’ truth?” he said delightedly. ‘That’s always what I said about that goddamned sheet. It’s—”

“Never mind trying to fix your case up by being a professional agreer,” I warned him. “Get going! So there was a story about me a week ago, eh?”

“Yes. And it—but I got it here now—the clipping, I mean—in my hip packet—if you want to see it. That is, I got all o’ the story but some fool tail end of it that spilled over inside on some inside page—which page was missing from the copy o’ the Despatch what I had. I kept th’ story because—”

“Because it contained some valuable information, that’s undoubtedly why.”

“Well, since you ain’t seen it, do you want to see it?” he asked undecidedly. “Though without your permission,” he explained, “I can’t dig it out. For,” he went hurriedly on, “I ain’t aiming to reach for my hip pocket—and then have you start sprinkling all the slugs out of that gat of yours, in the hopes of laying one in my carcass. For—”

“For that profound insult,” I remarked dryly, “I ought to start shooting—now.

“Start—shooting—now?” he ejaculated, licking his lips fearfully. “What—what insult did I give you?

I nodded toward the silver trophy cup I had slid over to the right of the desk. “Lean forward,” I instructed him, “take up that trophy cup—turn it around so the engraved letters reach your optics!—and figure out, yourself, your own insult.”

He reached forward gingerly, took the cup, and turned it clear around. And, reading them, raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“Oh-oh! Champeen pistol shot of the Twin Cities Shooting Club. ‘Mortimer Q. King’ ”—now he was punctiliously pronouncing that “i” on which I had called him a while back—” ‘First Prize!’ Oh-oh! I get it now—how I insulted you. But I didn’t mean nothing. And after all, Mr. King—shooting at me, y’ know, wouldn’t be like—like leveling your sights careful-like onto a bright lighted bull’s-eye—and pulling the old trigger when you get good and ready?”

“Quite right,” I conceded. “And if I shot at you while I drew—I might have to shoot—twice—altogether. Yes. To ‘lay that one slug’!” I shook my head again. “But oh, that crack—about having to sprinkle all my ‘slugs’ out—to try and land just one—in your carcass. Even my own friends in the T-C-S Club would tell me that dirty crack warranted my letting fly on you.”

“Let’s forget that,” he said hurriedly, evidently not so sure I was joking. “I’ll chop it down to—to two shots. Yes. Two. And now about that clipping again—in my back pocket. Do you want to see it?”

“Not interested,” I told him. “Without even reading it, I can tell you that it started out on some fool subject or other—”

“Yeah—that’s right.” He did indeed seem to be trying to be a professional agreer. “The police found some nitro out here on the prairie, and—”

“Oh, they did, eh? Probably at least a full block from my place—yet I’ll bet the story was one quarter about the nitro­glycerine—one quarter about my house—one quarter about me—and one quarter about my wife?”

“That’s—right,” he said wonderingly. “How—how do you know that—when you didn’t see the story?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his very naïveté. “Givney, that’s the way most news stories are filled out. 10 per cent facts, padded out with personalities and life history of all the people even remotely concerned in ’em—that is, when the people themselves are in the public eye. So never mind the story. Go on with what you saw in it that made you decide to burgle my place.”

“We-ell,” he said, “it says, further on in it, as how your wife goes ev’ry year and becomes a nun or somethin’—f’r three days—on October 21, 22, an’ 23—in the Convent of—of—now—”

“St. Ethelreda,” I put in.

“Yeah, that’s it! In Milwaukee. It says she does it, ev’ry year, in mem’ry of her old man, who give the convent to these here sisters of the—now—”

“Ethelredan Order,” I illuminated.

“Yes. An’ it said her pappy was sick over exactly those three days—and durin’ ’em he willed the Order that money for their convent.”

I nodded slowly. “So far,” I told him, “the same old story that runs every time any member of this family even stubs his or her toe. And what else did the Minny Despatch have to say this time?”

“Well—it says that you—‘Bring-a-Friend’ King, th’ bookie—‘Bring-a-Friend’ King, they called you!—was—listen, do you mind telling me why the papers call you ‘Bring-a-Friend’?”

“Why?” I repeated. “Why, because I’ve always made it a point”—I started to explain, and then broke off, angry at myself for wasting words on him, and not at all realizing that before very long I would be answering that identical query—logical as it was to any non-Minneapolisan—put to me by another man—only a man who did not have to enter houses by their windows. “Never you mind asking questions,” I told him. “It’s you that’s on the witness stand just now. And what did the paper say about me?”

“Well, it says you was alleeged—”

“Alleged,” I corrected him. “That’s a famous new paper phrase designed to avoid libel suits. Alleged to what?”

“Alleeged,” he went on stubbornly, “to be in a sanitarium down in Virginia somewheres, under a psoodaname—recuperating from some kind of rundown condition.”

I laughed. “While unluckily for you, Givney, I was in San Francisco—which is just about as far as one can get from Minneapolis!—under a ‘psoodaname’ yes!—and hiding out from a threatened Senatorial Investigation subpoena. And reaching my house tonight from Weddles Street—to the north—all the while you were toting that ladder across the prairies of Hobury Heights—from the south. And—but where did you get that ladder?”

He pointed across my shoulder at the window facing the prairies. “That unfinished house a block away.”

“The Leightonstone house, eh? I thought so,” I nodded. “And how’d you make sure my servants here wouldn’t nab you?”

“Well—nobody answered the phone—so I knew there wasn’t nobody here.”

“And that’s logic!” I said, mimicking his own remark of a while back.

“And,” I pressed on, “what did you expect to pick up here tonight?”

“Listen,” he said gruffly, getting frankly angry, “are we rehearsing some kind o’ catychyzation that’s going to be all did anyway at my trial? If so—just cut it! Call the coppers—and be done. F’r I ain’t going to sit here all night and be baited by you.”

“Come, come,” I chided. “Don’t get huffy. I’m not a bad fellow—I’m a pretty good guy at times—and this is the one time in your life that you want to make friends with me.” I watched him narrowly.

And then continued.

“Confess though now—and remember, it makes no difference in your jail sentence whether—for instance—you just came in here to pick up yonder worthless skull—” I pointed to the brick mantel back of him, which held that object—“to sell, for five dollars or so, to some medical specialties dealer out near the Minneapolis County Hospital—or whether you came here to pick up the famous diamonds which my wife, quite naturally, could not carry into a convent—when she’s on a 3-day ‘novena’—in sackcloth and ashes—and praying for her father. So confess,” I continued. “Was it the diamonds—which were duly catalogued a year or so ago—at the time of that customs dispute on the star-shaped tiara we bought in Brussels?—or was it—well—just the paper knife in this open drawer here, the ink alongside it, and the other things in this upstairs library you wanted?”

His answer was noncommittal.

“I ain’t confessing nothing now. You’re only baiting me, Mr. King. So ring up the cops—and be done with it. Or—or let me go. What’s the idea o’ all the gabfest between us, anyway?” He paused. “You’re baiting me, that’s plain. You’ll be callin’ the coppers shortly anyhow. So let’s—get going. Besides,” he added quizzically, “all the good cells’ll be filled with drunks in another hour.”

I sat back reactively. In something less than 6 hours from now—by the clock ticking over there on the mantel—the notorious English Negress, Jemimah Cobb—keeper of London’s worst dive, and murderess of her rich Chinese lover—was to hang in Pentonville Prison, London. And was—according to today’s afternoon newspapers—and as a revenge against the entire white race!—going to name—when she stepped on the gallows, and had her opportunity to say the usual “last words”—the “white American” to whom she was legally married, as well as give the location of the mutually signed marriage certificate—all of which made her, so she claimed, an American citizen, and because of which—so the ignorant black fool fatuously believed!—America and England would go to war. War—over a degenerate black murderess!

But in naming that man—and giving the location of that double-signed certificate, to be reproduced in the world’s 10,000 newspapers—Jemimah Cobb would, as I happened to know, smash a woman’s soul. A fine highly bred white woman who had subsequently married that man. And which man—as I happened also to know—had never, for adequate reasons, bothered to obtain a divorce from Jemimah Cobb. And thus that white woman would, upon that gallows-revelation—carried in the newspapers of every hamlet in America, and on the broadcasts of every radio station—learn for the first time that she had been, from the very second of her own marriage, a bigamous wife—in short, no wife at all!—and that the man she had once honored with her hand had once in his own life stooped so low as to become the husband of the world’s most notorious Negress.

And upon all this I reflected. While, at the same time, I considered the man across from me. For the more I thought of the unusual situation here tonight, the more I felt convinced that this man was not prowling the place for mere articles of bric-a-brac such as skulls, sellable at most for $5—and trophy cups worth $3—but for something—something!—something perhaps of real value; and again perhaps not!—yet something he positively knew he could lay his hands on, once inside.

And so it might be—yes, it might be!—that he could be the solution for stopping that mad Negress over there in London from wrecking a human soul.

For I—I was the white American who had married that black degenerate wench in the long long ago!

 

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