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   Chapter 5 WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 12940

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Walking down Fifth Avenue, after buying tickets via Washington and New Orleans to Los Angeles, "Mrs. May" happened to see a poster advertising a recital by a violinist she had always contrived to miss. At once she decided to go; and as it was for that night, there was just time to hurry back to the hotel, dine, and dress. She was lucky enough to get a box, in which she sat hidden behind curtains, and the evening would have been a success if the carriage ordered to take her home had not been delayed by a slight accident. She had to wait for it, and was much later than she had expected to be in getting back to the hotel. Theatres were over; suppers were being eaten in the Louis Seize restaurant, into which Angela could see as she got into the lift; and upstairs shoes had already been put outside bedroom doors. In front of the one next her own, she saw two pairs which made her smile a little, for, though she could not be certain, she fancied that she recognized them. One pair was stout, unfashionable, made for country wear; the other looked several sizes smaller, glittered with the uncompromising newness of patent leather, and was ultra "smart" in shape.

"Poor statue!" she said to herself. "If they're his, how dreadfully the new ones must have hurt him!"

Then she went into her own room, where Kate presently came to undress her with affectionate if inexperienced hands.

Angela was still excited by all the events of the day, her first in her own country since childhood, and fancied that she would not be able to sleep. But soon she forgot everything and lay dead to the world, very still, very white in the light that stole through the window, very beautiful, drowned in the waves of her hair. Then, at last, she began to dream of Italy; that she was there; that she had never come away; and that there was no escape. She moaned faintly in her sleep, and roused herself enough to know that she was dreaming; tried to wake and succeeded, breathing hard after her fight to conquer the dream.

"It's not true!" she told herself, pressing her face caressingly against the pillow because it was an American pillow, not an Italian one in the Palazzo di Sereno, and because it made her feel safe.

So she lay for a minute or two, comforting herself with the thought that all bad and frightening things were left behind in the past, with a door, double-locked by a golden key, shut forever between it and her. Nothing disagreeable could happen now. And she was falling asleep once more, when a slight noise made her heart jump. Then she and her heart both kept very still, for it seemed that the noise was in the room, not far from her bed.

It came again, and Angela realized that it was at one of the two windows, both of which were open.

At her request, Kate had pulled the dark blinds halfway up, and Angela would have laughed at the suggestion that a thief could creep into a room on the twelfth story. Nevertheless, the night glow of the great city silhouetted the figure of a man black against the shining of the half-raised window-panes. It was kneeling on the wide stone sill outside, and slowly, with infinite caution, was pushing the heavy window-sash up higher, so that it might be possible to crawl underneath and slip into the room.

As she stared, incredulous at first, then driven to believe, Angela guessed how the seeming miracle had been performed. The man had crept along the cornice which belted the wall, on a level a few feet lower than the line of the window-sills. She remembered noticing this as one suddenly recalls some forgotten detail in a photograph. A clever thief might make the perilous passage, helping himself along by one window-sill after another until he reached the one he wanted.

Angela turned sick, her first thought being of the immense drop from her window to the ground. "If he should fall!" were the words that sprang to her lips. Then she remembered that it would be better for her if he should fall. He meant to rob and perhaps to murder her. She ought to wish that he might slip. But she seemed to hear a crash, to see a sight of horror, and could not make the wish.

She lay motionless, her thoughts confused by the knocking of her heart. If she jumped out of bed and ran across the room to the telephone, the man could see her. Then, knowing that she was awake, and caution on his part unnecessary, he would fling up the window, jump in, and choke her into silence.

"What can I do?" she asked herself. In two or three minutes more the slow, stealthy lifting of the window-sash would be finished, and the thief would be in the room.

Her rings, and her gold bag with a good deal of money in it, lay on the dressing-table. If only he would be satisfied with these, she might lie still and let him act; but her watch was under the pillow, and her pearls were round her throat. The pearls were worth far more than the bag, and the black shadow out there must know that she had many things worth taking, or it would not be at her window now.

"What can I do?"

Suddenly she thought of a thing she could do; and without stopping to ask whether there were something else better, she leaned out of bed and knocked on the door between her room and the next. The door was fastened, but, rapping with one hand, with the other she slipped back the bolt. "Quick-quick-help!" she called. "A thief is getting in at my window."

There was a faint click, the switching on of electric light, the swift pushing back of a bolt, and the door flew open. The shoes she had seen in the hall had told her the truth. It was the man she expected who stood for the fifth part of a second in the doorway of her darkened room, then, lithe and noiseless as an Indian, made for the window. The thief was taken completely by surprise. When Angela suddenly cried out, he had been in the act of letting himself down to the floor, by slipping under the window-sash, raised just high enough for him to squeeze through. He had half turned on the wide ledge, so as to get his legs through first and land on his knees; therefore, he was seized at a disadvantage. The most agile gymnast could not have pulled himself back from under the window-frame, balanced his body steadily again on the stone ledge outside, and have begun to crawl away toward safety, all in those few seconds before the cry and its answer. He did his snaky, practised best, but it was not quite good enough. The man from the next room was to

o quick for him, and he was caught like a rat in a trap.

Angela sat up in bed, watching. The thing did not seem real at all. It was but a scene in a play; the black figure, dragged along the floor like a parcel, then jerked to its feet to have both arms pinioned behind its back; and in a brief moment, with scarce a sound. The light from the next room let her see the two men clearly: the tall one in pajamas, as he must have sprung out of bed at her call: the little one in black, with a mask of crape or some thin material over the upper part of his face. Now, in the silent struggle, the mask had become disarranged, to show a small, light, pointed moustache. She recognized it, and knew in an instant why she had been thought worth robbing. This was the creature who had tried to pick up her gold bag; he had seen her rings, and perhaps had spied the pearls.

"Take care!" she gasped a warning. "He may have a revolver!" As she spoke, she sank back on the pillows, feeling suddenly limp and powerless, as she lay drowned in the long waves of hair that flowed round her like moonlight.

"The little sneak won't get to draw it if he has," said the tall man, in a tone so quiet that Angela was struck with surprise. It seemed wonderful that one who had just fought as he had could have kept control of breath and head. His voice did not even sound excited, though here was trembling. "Don't be scared," he went on. "The mean galoot! A prairie-dog could tear him to pieces."

"I'm not frightened-now," she answered. "Oh, thank you for coming. You've saved my life. Can't I help? I might go to the telephone and call--"

"No. Do nothing of the sort," her neighbour commanded. "There must be no ructions in your room. I'm going to take this thing to my quarters. The story'll be, he was getting into my window when I waked up and nabbed him."

"Oh!" exclaimed Angela, roused to understanding and appreciation. "For me, that would be good-but for you--"

"For me, it's all right, too. And you don't come on in this act, lady."

"He'll tell," she said.

"I guess not. Not unless he's in a hurry to see what it's like down where he goes next. If he so much as peeps while I'm in reach, I'll shake him till his spine sticks out of his head like a telegraph-pole. Or if he waits till he thinks I can't get at him, I'll scatter him over the landscape with my gun, if I fire across a court-room. He sees I'm the kind of man to keep my word." These threats were uttered in the same quiet voice, and the speaker went on in a different tone, "I'll tell you what you can do, lady, if you don't mind. I hate to trouble you; but maybe 'twould be best for me not to try it with one hand, and him in the other. If you'd slip into my room and push up the window nearest this way a few inches higher, it would bear me out better when I say he came through there."

Angela sat up again, and reached out for her white silk dressing-gown, which lay across the foot of the bed. Wrapping it hastily round her, she ran into her neighbour's room. As she flashed by him, where he stood holding his captive, he thought more and more of his angel vision with the moonlight hair, and it seemed a strange, almost miraculous coincidence that he should behold it in real life, after describing his dreams to Carmen Gaylor.

"The nearest window," Angela repeated, respecting the man's shrewdness and presence of mind. The nearest window was the one to open, because the thief had come crawling along in that direction on the cornice, and soon it would be found out which room he had occupied, since he must be staying in the hotel.

She pushed up the heavy sash, already raised some inches, and turning, saw that the silent, sulky prisoner had been dragged in by her champion.

"Thank you, lady," said the latter, briskly. "Now, you just go back to sleep and forget this-cut it out. The rest's my business."

"But-how can I let you have all this trouble on your shoulders?" stammered Angela. "You'll have to bear witness against him. There'll be a trial or something. You may be delayed, kept from doing things you want to do--"

"You can sure bet there's nothing on God's earth I want to do so much as keep a lady out of this business," her neighbour assured her. "Now go back to your room, please, and lock your door."

Their eyes met, and Angela felt herself thrill with admiration of this new type which had set her wondering. The forest creature turned into a man, was a man indeed!

"Good night, then," she said. "I can't thank you enough-for everything."

She flitted away, her small bare feet showing white and pink under the lace of night-dress and dressing-gown. She locked her door obediently, as she had been told, but she did not go back to bed, or try to forget. There was a big easy chair not far from the door she had just closed, and she subsided into it, limply, realizing that she had gone through a strenuous experience. Huddled there, a minute later she heard her neighbour's voice speaking through the telephone, and was consumed with curiosity as to how he was keeping the wriggling prisoner quiet.

"He must have contrived to tie the wretch somehow," she told herself. "Or perhaps he's strong enough to hold him with one hand. He's the sort of man who would always think of an expedient and know how to carry it out."

It seemed dreamlike, that such a scene as her imagination, pictured was really passing in the next room, where all was so quiet save for the calm voice talking at the telephone, and Angela could not help listening anxiously, hoping to catch a few words.

After the first murmur at the telephone, through the thick mahogany door, there fell a silence more exciting to the listener than the indistinct sounds had been. Then suddenly there was a stirring, and the mumble of several heavy, hushed voices. After that, dead silence again, which remained unbroken. Evidently the police had been sent for; had come; had listened to the story of the attempted theft as told by the thief's captor. Angela was sure his version had not been contradicted, or she would certainly have heard a shot. The forest creature would have kept his word! But he had not been tempted; and the thief had been carried away. Angela wondered whether her neighbour had gone too-or whether he remained in the next room, taking his own advice to her, and "trying to forget." She would not be surprised if he were able to sleep quite calmly.

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