MoboReader> Literature > Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye

   Chapter 4 BACK IN THE OLD SHACK

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8271

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Johnny was not out for good. But his return to consciousness was gradual. He began to hear things dimly as in a dream. There was a certain melody and harmony about the sounds, like a pipe organ played softly at night. This was shot through at times by a loud pop-pop-crack. Had memory returned, the boy might have thought they were fighting it out over his prostrate form, those men and the police.

Memory did not return. A drowsy feeling of painless well-being swallowed him up. He did not struggle against it, did not so much as wish to struggle. For all that, his eyes began seeing things-one more step on the way to full consciousness.

Like someone seen dimly in the clouds, as they do it in the movies, a vaguely familiar face appeared above him. A narrow, rather dark, tense face it was, with large eyes that seemed to burn with a strange fire.

"Joy-Joyce Mills," his lips whispered.

"Yes, Johnny. We're glad you're back."

"Back?" He pondered that last word. "Back to what?"

He began to feel things-a third step in his return to the realm of reality. The cold fog was gone, he knew that. The darkness too was gone. A subdued light was all about him.

"Back," he thought once more, "back to what?"

Then, as if reading this thought, the girl said, "You are back in the shack on Grand Avenue. Don't you remember?"

At that all his memories came flooding in. The shack, Drew Lane and Tom Howe, keen young detectives, his staunch friends; Newton Mills, the one-time derelict and veteran detective, and Joyce Mills, his vivacious, ambitious daughter who at times had proven herself the keenest detective of them all.

"The shack!" he exclaimed, making a brave attempt to sit up. "The shack! How-how wonderful!" He sank back dizzily. A sharp pain had shot across his temples.

When this pain was gone, he gave himself over entirely to memories. The girl's face had vanished. Something told him, however, that she was seated close by his side.

Memories, gorgeous, thrilling memories! They would be with him until he died. He and this slim, dark-haired girl had not been lovers; much more than that, very much more. They had been pals. And as pals they had shared dangers. They had dared together and had won. Drew Lane had been with them, Newton Mills too, and Tom Howe. Men there had been who would gladly have killed them. Yet, standing side by side and fighting for the good of all, they had won.

"And now?" He said the words aloud.

"Now you have only to rest," came in that same melodious voice. "Someone hit you rather hard on the head. That's what you get for going it alone. You might have known we were still in Chicago. You did not look us up. You can't go it alone. No one can-not in this world of today. We stand shoulder to shoulder, or we don't stand at all.

"But now-" the girl's voice fell. "Now you are here in the shack and Drew Lane is here. Others are not far away. You must rest." Her voice trailed off into silence.

Johnny wanted to tell her he had tried to find Drew Lane at the shack and had failed; that he had not wished to go it alone, that he did appreciate his friends. But somehow the words would not come. His thoughts were all mixed up with dreams, dreams of eyes blinking from the wall, animated skeletons and mysterious packages. Truth was, he had fallen asleep.

* * * * * * * *

"I went to an auction." Five hours Johnny had slept on a cot in the corner of the large room at the back of the shack. Now he was sitting up on the cot, talking eagerly. From beneath his crown of bandages his two eyes gleamed like twin stars. "I bought a library, a professor's library, bought it at auction. Because he was a professor I had to get it back to him.

"I found his address. I went there. I was in the hall. Eyes gleamed at me. A skeleton danced before me, my skeleton. I-"

"Your skeleton?" Drew Lane, the keen detective, grinned at him.

"Sure it was my skeleton! Don't you suppose a fellow knows his skeleton when he sees it?"

Drew Lane laughed, a low laugh, but made no reply.

"Then," Johnny went on rapidly, "a girl opened the door, a taffy-haire

d, boyish sort of girl, and said she was sorry. It is a house of magic, the 'House of a Thousand Eyes.'"

"Eyes?" Joyce Mills leaned forward eagerly. "What sort of eyes?"

"That," said Johnny, "is what I don't know. They seem to do things, those eyes, open doors and shut 'em, make coffee maybe, I don't know. That's why I'm going back. I want to know. Oh! Don't I though!"

"So you're going back?" Drew smiled.

A large man sitting before the fire, a man Johnny had never seen until that night, turned and looked at him in a strange way.

"Sure I'm going back. I'm to help them!"

"Help them at what?" Drew Lane was curious.

"Don't know." Johnny's brow wrinkled.

Had Johnny been a little wider awake and a little more alive, he would have realized that the young detective and Joyce Mills were humoring him as they might a drunken man. "He was hit on the head in that alley-I found him and brought him here," Drew was saying to himself. "He's slightly cuckoo from that terrible bump he got. All this stuff he's talking is sheer nonsense. He's delirious. He'll come round all right." Joyce Mills was thinking much the same. Not knowing their thoughts, Johnny rambled on:

"We put some wires and things in a place nearby. Two queer ones live there, a long one and a short one. One carries a knife up his sleeve."

"Nice friendly sort." Drew grinned. "Was he the fellow that hit you?"

"Hit me?" Johnny's hand went to his head. "I-I doubt that. It-it was a different place."

"Of course," he added thoughtfully, "they might have followed me all that time. But why? I hadn't done anything to them-not yet."

"Not yet? Are you going to later?" Joyce Mills gave him a look.

"Something tells me I am. Fellow gets hunches, you know that. That old professor interests me and so does that 'House of a Thousand Eyes.' He said there'd be danger. But who cares for danger?" Once more his hand went to his head. "They-they didn't get me, not yet. But if I find that fellow who hit me with that iron bar-and I will find him, don't doubt that-when I find him, well-" He did not finish.

"Did you see him?" Drew asked eagerly.

"Not out there in-"

"In the 'Wild Garden of Despair'?" Drew laughed low. "That's what they call West Madison Street. You didn't see him there, did you?"

Drew was beginning to believe that Johnny was all right in his head after all.

"He's the only one I didn't see." Johnny's tone was thoughtful. "All the same, I have a notion I've seen him right enough. Unless I've got him all wrong, he sat beside me in that auction house and prodded me in the ribs, telling me to bid on a package I had no notion of buying."

"Did you buy it?"

"Sure did."

Johnny told of his experience in the auction house, then of the battle in the "Garden of Despair."

"Perhaps you're right," Drew said slowly when the story was told. "The fellow who talked you into buying that package may have belonged to the gang that beat you up in that alley. Package was gone right enough when I found you. You're sure there was nothing in that box but a broken lamp?"

"I wouldn't swear to that." Johnny dropped back to his place on the cot. "I didn't untie it; just explored it with my hands."

"It's a toss-up," Drew concluded. "Man who carries a knife up his sleeve, or the fellow who made you buy what you didn't want. One of these hit you. Which one? Nice little riddle. We'll help you solve it, won't we, Joyce?"

"Yes, and let me in on it!" The large man by the fire stood up.

"Johnny," Drew said, and there was a note of deep respect in his voice, "this is Captain Burns, a chief in the detective bureau. He-he seems to like being here in our shack now and then. But keep it dark," he warned. "There are people who would like to meet the Captain here in a very unsocial way-boys of the under-world who've felt his steel. Right, Captain?"

"Maybe so," the Captain rumbled. "Anyway, I wouldn't want our happy retreat broken up.

"But this 'House of a Thousand Eyes'?" He turned to Johnny. "Tell me more about it."

"I will," said Johnny with a broad grin, "when I have more to tell."

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