Initials Only, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter 8

Strange Doings for George

That evening George sat so long over the newspapers that in spite of my absorbing interest in the topic engrossing me, I fell asleep in my cozy little rocking chair. I was awakened by what seemed like a kiss falling very softly on my forehead, though, to be sure, it may have been only the flap of George’s coat sleeve as he stooped over me.

“Wake up, little woman,” I heard, “and trot away to bed. I’m going out and may not be in till daybreak.”

“You! going out! at ten o’clock at night, tired as you are — as we both are! What has happened-Oh!”

This broken exclamation escaped me as I perceived in the dim background by the sitting-room door, the figure of a man who called up recent, but very thrilling experiences.

“Mr. Sweetwater,” explained George. “We are going out together. It is necessary, or you may be sure I should not leave you.”

I was quite wide awake enough by now to understand. “Oh, I know. You are going to hunt up the man. How I wish —”

But George did not wait for me to express my wishes. He gave me a little good advice as to how I had better employ my time in his absence, and was off before I could find words to answer.

This ends all I have to say about myself; but the events of that night carefully related to me by George are important enough for me to describe them, with all the detail which is their rightful due. I shall tell the story as I have already been led to do in other portions of this narrative, as though I were present and shared the adventure.

As soon as the two were in the street, the detective turned towards George and said:

“Mr. Anderson, I have a great deal to ask of you. The business before us is not a simple one, and I fear that I shall have to subject you to more inconvenience than is customary in matters like this. Mr. Brotherson has vanished; that is, in his own proper person, but I have an idea that I am on the track of one who will lead us very directly to him if we manage the affair carefully. What I want of you, of course, is mere identification. You saw the face of the man who washed his hands in the snow, and would know it again, you say. Do you think you could be quite sure of yourself, if the man were differently dressed and differently occupied?

“I think so. There’s his height and a certain strong look in his face. I cannot describe it.”

“You don’t need to. Come! we’re all right. You don’t mind making a night of it?”

“Not if it is necessary.

“That we can’t tell yet.” And with a characteristic shrug and smile, the detective led the way to a taxicab which stood in waiting at the corner.

A quarter of an hour of rather fast riding brought them into a tangle of streets on the East side. As George noticed the swarming sidewalks and listened to the noises incident to an over-populated quarter, he could not forbear, despite the injunction he had received, to express his surprise at the direction of their search.

“Surely,” said he, “the gentleman I have described can have no friends here.” Then, bethinking himself, he added: “But if he has reasons to fear the law, naturally he would seek to lose himself in a place as different as possible from his usual haunts.”

“Yes, that would be some men’s way,” was the curt, almost indifferent, answer he received. Sweetwater was looking this way and that from the window beside him, and now, leaning out gave some directions to the driver which altered their course.

When they stopped, which was in a few minutes, he said to George:

“We shall have to walk now for a block or two. I’m anxious to attract no attention, nor is it desirable for you to do so. If you can manage to act as if you were accustomed to the place and just leave all the talking to me, we ought to get along first-rate. Don’t be astonished at anything you see, and trust me for the rest; that’s all.”

They alighted, and he dismissed the taxicab. Some clock in the neighbourhood struck the hour of ten. “Good! we shall be in time,” muttered the detective, and led the way down the street and round a corner or so, till they came to a block darker than the rest, and much less noisy.

It had a sinister look, and George, who is brave enough under all ordinary circumstances, was glad that his companion wore a badge and carried a whistle. He was also relieved when he caught sight of the burly form of a policeman in the shadow of one of the doorways. Yet the houses he saw before him were not so very different from those they had already passed. His uneasiness could not have sprung from them. They had even an air of positive respectability, as though inhabited by industrious workmen. Then, what was it which made the close companionship of a member of the police so uncommonly welcome? Was it a certain aspect of solitariness which clung to the block, or was it the sudden appearance here and there of strangely gliding figures, which no sooner loomed up against the snowy perspective, than they disappeared again in some unseen doorway?

“There’s a meeting on to-night, of the Associated Brotherhood of the Awl, the Plane and the Trowel (whatever that means), and it is the speaker we want to see; the man who is to address them promptly at ten o’clock. Do you object to meetings?”

“Is this a secret one?”

“It wasn’t advertised.”

“Are we carpenters or masons that we can count on admittance?”

“I am a carpenter. Don’t you think you can be a mason for the occasion?”

“I doubt it, but —”

“Hush! I must speak to this man.”

George stood back, and a few words passed between Sweetwater and a shadowy figure which seemed to have sprung up out of the sidewalk.

“Balked at the outset,” were the encouraging words with which the detective rejoined George. “It seems that a pass-word is necessary, and my friend has been unable to get it. Will the speaker pass out this way?” he inquired of the shadowy figure still lingering in their rear.

“He didn’t go in by it; yet I believe he’s safe enough inside,” was the muttered answer.

Sweetwater had no relish for disappointments of this character, but it was not long before he straightened up and allowed himself to exchange a few more words with this mysterious person. These appeared to be of a more encouraging nature than the last, for it was not long before the detective returned with renewed alacrity to George, and, wheeling him about, began to retrace his steps to the corner.

“Are we going back? Are you going to give up the job?” George asked.

“No; we’re going to take him from the rear. There’s a break in the fence — Oh, we’ll do very well. Trust me.”

George laughed. He was growing excited, but not altogether agreeably so. He says that he has seen moments of more pleasant anticipation. Evidently, my good husband is not cut out for detective work.

Where they went under this officer’s guidance, he cannot tell. The tortuous tangle of alleys through which he now felt himself led was dark as the nether regions to his unaccustomed eyes. There was snow under his feet and now and then he brushed against some obtruding object, or stumbled against a low fence; but beyond these slight miscalculations on his own part, he was a mere automaton in the hands of his eager guide, and only became his own man again when they suddenly stepped into an open yard and he could discern plainly before him the dark walls of a building pointed out by Sweetwater as their probable destination. Yet even here they encountered some impediment which prohibited a close approach. A wall or shed cut off their view of the building’s lower storey; and though somewhat startled at being left unceremoniously alone after just a whispered word of encouragement from the ever ready detective, George could quite understand the necessity which that person must feel for a quiet reconnoitering of the surroundings before the two of them ventured further forward in their possibly hazardous undertaking. Yet the experience was none too pleasing to George, and he was very glad to hear Sweetwater’s whisper again at his ear, and to feel himself rescued from the pool of slush in which he had been left to stand.

“The approach is not all that can be desired,” remarked the detective as they entered what appeared to be a low shed. “The broken board has been put back and securely nailed in place, and if I am not very much mistaken there is a fellow stationed in the yard who will want the pass-word too. Looks shady to me. I’ll have something to tell the chief when I get back.”

“But we! What are we going to do if we cannot get in front or rear?

“We’re going to wait right here in the hopes of catching a glimpse of our man as he comes out,” returned the detective, drawing George towards a low window overlooking the yard he had described as sentinelled. “He will have to pass directly under this window on his way to the alley,” Sweetwater went on to explain, “and if I can only raise it — but the noise would give us away. I can’t do that.”

“Perhaps it swings on hinges,” suggested George. “It looks like that sort of a window.”

“If it should — well! it does. We’re in great luck, sir. But before I pull it open, remember that from the moment I unlatch it, everything said or done here can be heard in the adjoining yard. So no whispers and no unnecessary movements. When you hear him coming, as sooner or later you certainly will, fall carefully to your knees and lean out just far enough to catch a glimpse of him before he steps down from the porch. If he stops to light his cigar or to pass a few words with some of the men he will leave behind, you may get a plain enough view of his face or figure to identify him. The light is burning low in that rear hall, but it will do. If it does not — if you can’t see him or if you do, don’t hang out of the window more than a second. Duck after your first look. I don’t want to be caught at this job with no better opportunity for escape than we have here. Can you remember all that?”

George pinched his arm encouragingly, and Sweetwater, with an amused grunt, softly unlatched the window and pulled it wide open.

A fine sleet flew in, imperceptible save for the sensation of damp it gave, and the slight haze it diffused through the air. Enlarged by this haze, the building they were set to watch rose in magnified proportions at their left. The yard between, piled high in the centre with snow-heaps or other heaps covered with snow, could not have been more than forty feet square. The window from which they peered, was half-way down this yard, so that a comparatively short distance separated them from the porch where George had been told to look for the man he was expected to identify. All was dark there at present, but he could hear from time to time some sounds of restless movement, as the guard posted inside shifted in his narrow quarters, or struck his benumbed feet softly together.

But what came to them from above was more interesting than anything to be heard or seen below. A man’s voice, raised to a wonderful pitch by the passion of oratory, had burst the barriers of the closed hall in that towering third storey and was carrying its tale to other ears than those within. Had it been summer and the windows open, both George and Sweetwater might have heard every word; for the tones were exceptionally rich and penetrating, and the speaker intent only on the impression he was endeavouring to make upon his audience. That he had not mistaken his power in this direction was evinced by the applause which rose from time to time from innumerable hands and feet. But this uproar would be speedily silenced, and the mellow voice ring out again, clear and commanding. What could the subject be to rouse such enthusiasm in the Associated Brotherhood of the Awl, the Plane and the Trowel? There was a moment when our listening friends expected to be enlightened. A shutter was thrown back in one of those upper windows, and the window hurriedly, raised, during which words took the place of sounds and they heard enough to whet their appetite for more. But only that. The shutter was speedily restored to place, and the window again closed. A wise precaution, or so thought George if they wished to keep their doubtful proceedings secret.

A tirade against the rich and a loud call to battle could be gleaned from the few sentences they had heard. But its virulence and pointed attack was not that of the second-rate demagogue or business agent, but of a man whose intellect and culture rang in every tone, and informed each sentence.

Sweetwater, in whom satisfaction was fast taking the place of impatience and regret, pushed the window to before asking George this question:

“Did you hear the voice of the man whose action attracted, your attention outside the Clermont?”

“No.”

“Did you note just now the large shadow dancing on the ceiling over the speaker’s head?”

“Yes, but I could judge nothing from that.”

“Well, he’s a rum one. I shan’t open this window again till he gives signs of reaching the end of his speech. It’s too cold.”

But almost immediately he gave a start and, pressing George’s arm, appeared to listen, not to the speech which was no longer audible, but to something much nearer — a step or movement in the adjoining yard. At least, so George interpreted the quick turn which this impetuous detective made, and the pains he took to direct George’s attention to the walk running under the window beneath which they crouched. Someone was stealing down upon the house at their left, from the alley beyond. A big man, whose shoulder brushed the window as he went by. George felt his hand seized again and pressed as this happened, and before he had recovered from this excitement, experienced another quick pressure and still another as one, two, three additional figures went slipping by. Then his hand was suddenly dropped, for a cry had shot up from the door where the sentinel stood guard, followed by a sudden loud slam, and the noise of a shooting bolt, which, proclaiming as it did that the invaders were not friends but enemies to the cause which was being vaunted above, so excited Sweetwater that he pulled the window wide open and took a bold look out. George followed his example and this was what they saw:

Three men were standing flat against the fence leading from the shed directly to the porch. The fourth was crouching within the latter, and in another moment they heard his fist descend upon the door inside in a way to rouse the echoes. Meantime, the voice in the audience hall above had ceased, and there could be heard instead the scramble of hurrying feet and the noise of overturning benches. Then a window flew up and a voice called down:

“Who’s that? What do you want down there?”

But before an answer could be shouted back, this man was drawn fiercely inside, and the scramble was renewed, amid which George heard Sweetwater’s whisper at his ear:

“It’s the police. The chief has got ahead of me. Was that the man we’re after — the one who shouted down?”

“No. Neither was he the speaker. The voices are very different.”

“We want the speaker. If the boys get him, we’re all right; but if they don’t — wait, I must make the matter sure.”

And with a bound he vaulted through the window, whistling in a peculiar way. George, thus left quite alone, had the pleasure of seeing his sole protector mix with the boys, as he called them, and ultimately crowd in with them through the door which had finally been opened for their admittance. Then came a wait, and then the quiet re-appearance of the detective alone and in no very amiable mood.

“Well?” inquired George, somewhat breathlessly. “Do you want me? They don’t seem to be coming out.”

“No; they’ve gone the other way. It was a red hot anarchist meeting, and no mistake. They have arrested one of the speakers, but the other escaped. How, we have not yet found out; but I think there’s a way out somewhere by which he got the start of us. He was the man I wanted you to see. Bad luck, Mr. Anderson, but I’m not at the end of my resources. If you’ll have patience with me and accompany me a little further, I promise you that I’ll only risk one more failure. Will you be so good, sir?”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37