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The Crimson Thread: An Adventure Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 10766

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Florence started back at sight of the one who opened the door in response to Meg's "Come in." It was indeed the small man of the burning, hawk-like eyes. His disposition appeared to have been changed by his battle with the storm. It was plain from the first that he was now a man not to be trifled with; at least not by two girls in a lonely ship's cabin at an hour fast approaching midnight. He twisted his face into an ugly grin. His smile was more horrible than a snarl would have been. His white teeth showed like an angry dog's.

"The bag!" he said in a tone that was a command. It was evident that he was both angry and desperate.

"What bag?" said Meg, rising as her companion, wrapping her blanket closer about her, slunk further into the corner.

"My bag!" His tone was threatening. He advanced a step.

Florence could see a deep red stealing up beneath the natural tan of the daughter of the sea as she too advanced a step. Meg showed not the slightest fear.

"There's no bag here." Her hand was behind her, gripping the belaying pin. "No bag at all unless you call that thing a bag." She pointed to a canvas duffel bag that hung in the corner. "That's mine. You can't have it. You can't have anything in this cabin. You can't even touch anything or anybody, so you better get out."

"So!" The man's word was more like a hiss than a real expression of the word. At the same time his teeth were so uncovered that one might count them.

"So!" He advanced another step.

There came a faint click. Something bright gleamed in his right hand. A scream came to Florence's lips, but she did not utter it; she only sat and stared.

"Yes," said Meg in an even tone, while the red mounted to the roots of her hair. "We get your kind on the ships too. We get all kinds."

Then, like a tiger in the jungle, she leaped forward. There followed a resounding thwack; a heavy knife went jangling to the floor. The stranger's usually dark face turned a sickly white as, gripping a bruised wrist, he backed out of the room.

Stepping to the door Meg closed it, but did not bother to lock it.

Stooping, she picked up the knife and examined it carefully.

"That," she said in a matter of fact tone, "is a good knife, much better than the one I use for slicing bacon. I shall keep it.

"See," she said, holding it close to Florence, "it has a six-inch blade that locks when you open it. That's what made it click."

Florence shrank from the thing.

"He had no right to carry it," said Meg, closing it and dropping it into a chest. "It's a concealed weapon, and they're against the law. So I'll keep it. Now what about this bag?" she asked suddenly.

"Why, you see," smiled Florence, "to-morrow's Christmas. Since I didn't expect a surprise from anyone, I decided to buy myself one. So I went down to an auction sale and bought a bag with 'contents if any.' I meant to buy a bag anyway, and the 'contents if any' was to be my surprise."

"What did you get?" Meg asked, leaning forward eagerly.

"I didn't look. I meant to keep the bag until to-morrow. It wouldn't be a Christmas surprise if I opened it before hand. And now it's gone!"

"What-what did you expect to find?"

"It might have been anything-silk scarfs, some splendid furs, jewelry, a watch-anything. And then again," her voice lost its enthusiasm, "it might have contained a man's collar and a suit of pajamas. I couldn't tell. Maybe it was just nothing at all. It was awful light."

"All those things," said Meg, her eyes shining, "or any of them. What a pity! What fun you would have had!"

For a moment she sat there in silence. Then suddenly, "Where's it gone?"

"I-I lost it on the pier."

"Where?" Meg sat up all alert.

Florence told her as best she could.

"I'll go get it." Meg dragged her coat from its hanger.

"No! No! Don't!" Florence exclaimed, springing up. "It's dangerous."

"What's to be afraid of?" laughed Meg. "Don't everybody on the pier know me? Even the watch-dog knows me? As for your late friend and follower, I'll just take my belaying pin along. But I guess he's far enough away by now. Watch me. I'll be back in half an hour with that bag-you wait and see."

With a rush that let in a great gust of cold air and snow, she was out of the cabin and away.

The greater part of what she had said to Florence was true. She did know the dock as well as any ship on which she had ever sailed. She knew the watchman and his dog. But, without her knowledge, there was one person in authority by the pier that night who did not know her and this the two girls were to learn to their sorrow.

* * * * * * * *

Seeing a heavy dressing gown hanging in the corner, Florence rose and, discarding her blanket, put this robe on. Then, after feeling of her slowly drying clothes and moving her skirt closer to the stove, she walked to the door and locked it.

"Meg may not be afraid of that man," she whispered to herself, "but I am."

At once, as she began walking the floor of the narrow cabin, her mind went to work on the many unanswered questions stored away in her mind. Like some scientist examining specimens, she drew these questions one at a time from their mental pigeon holes.

Why did this evil looking man with the scar above his eye want her bag so badly? Suddenly it occurred to her that he might be a thief, or a safe blower, and th

is bag might contain some of his valuable loot. She remembered reading of criminals who had locked their booty in trunks or bags and stored them in some public place until the police had gotten off their trail.

"In that case," she told herself, "my surprise will be a disappointment. No matter how wonderful the contents may be, I will not keep the least bit of it, but turn it over to the police.

"But then," she thought again, "probably Meg will not be able to get the bag. She may not be able to get in. Probably the watchman heard the dog and closed the door and window. And again, she may find it and that terrible man may take it from her."

This last she doubted. Meg appeared abundantly able to take care of herself. Florence could not but admire her strength and bravery. It had been magnificent, the way she had put that villainous intruder to flight. She thought of what the girl had said about being reared on a steamship and wanting more education. She found herself longing to help her. And why not? She roomed alone. Hers was a large bed, large enough for two, and she thought she could get a scholarship for her in the academy connected with the university. Anyway, it could be managed somehow. There were elevators in great hotels close to the school that must be run. Perhaps she could find her a part time position on one of these. She would talk to her about it as soon as opportunity offered.

But who was she, after all? She had been telling her story when that man broke in upon them. Would she have told why she asked Florence to wear her clothes for a half day and play the role of Meg? If she had, what would her reason have been?

During the time that these problems had passed in review in her memory she had been walking the cabin floor. Now she came to a sudden pause. Had she heard footsteps on the deck below? She thought so. Yes, there it was again, more plainly now. They were mounting the stairs. Who could it be? Was it that man? She shuddered. Springing to the corner, she put out a hand for Meg's belaying pin. It was gone. The door was locked, but the lock looked very weak. What was she to do? It did not seem possible that Meg could be back so soon. She had--

A hand tried the door. What should she do? Should she let the person in?

Certainly she should, for in Meg's unmistakable voice she heard:

"Let me in."

When Florence threw open the door she saw at a glance that Meg had the bag and that the seal was unbroken.

"Tell you what," began Florence, "you go home with me to-night. To-morrow is Christmas. We don't have to get up early. We'll have something hot to drink and some cakes, and we'll talk a little. Then, just as the clock strikes twelve, we'll break the seal to the bag. Won't that be romantic?"

"I should say!" said Meg with gleaming eyes. "That would be spiffy! When do we start?"

"At once," said Florence, pulling her clothing from the line.

They were not destined to get away so easily, however. Unfortunately for them, there was a person near the entrance to the pier that night whom Meg did not know, had in fact never seen.

The wharf to which the boats were tied lay a distance of about a block south of the entrance to the pier, and the particular boat on which Meg had taken up quarters was tied about two blocks from the end of the pier. In order to reach the car line they were obliged to battle their way against the storm, which had increased in violence, until they were near the entrance to the pier.

They had covered these three blocks and had paused to catch their breath and to watch for the light of a street car boring its way through the whirl of snow, when a gruff voice said:

"Where y' think y'r goin'?"

"Why, we-" Florence hesitated.

"What you got in that bag?"

Florence turned to find herself looking into the face of a young policeman.

She flashed a glance at Meg. That one glance convinced her that Meg did not know him.

"Where-where's Tim?" Meg faltered.

"Tim who?"

"Tim McCarty. This is his beat."

"'T'aint now. It's mine. He's been transferred. What's more," he paused to lay a gloved hand on the travelling bag, "since this is my beat, part of my job's findin' out what comes off them ships at night. What y' got in that bag?"

"I-I don't know," Florence said the words impulsively, and regretted them the instant they were said.

"Don't know-" he ceased speaking to stare at her. "Say, sister, you're good! Don't know what you've got in that bag! In that case all I can do is take you to the station for questioning.

"No," he said in a kindlier tone after a moment's thought, "maybe if you'll unlock it and let me see what's inside I'll let you go."

Open it and let him see what was inside? Florence's head was in a whirl. Open it? What if her fears proved true? What if it contained stolen goods? Why, then she would see the first light of Christmas morning behind prison bars. Was ever anyone in such a mess? Did ever a girl pay so dearly for her own Christmas surprise?

But Meg was speaking: "Say, you see here," she said to the young policeman, her voice a low drawl. Florence heard them indistinctly against the roar of the storm. So there she stood with her back to the wind, clinging tightly to the handle of her bag and hoping against hope that she would not be obliged to reveal her secret there and then.

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