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   Chapter 14 A HUMAN SPIDER

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9762

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was a wonderful dinner they enjoyed in Madame LeClare's snug little home. And not the least of the joys for the Captain on that occasion-Johnny was sure of this-were the smiling eyes of the kindly hostess. As for Johnny, he had more than one smile from another pair of dark eyes.

Dinner over, they sat about the fire while Lucian, a slender boy of twelve, entertained them with quaint French melodies played upon an ancient violin that had been his grandfather's.

"You are to be a musician," Johnny said to Lucian.

"But what will you be?" He turned to Gluck, a sturdy boy of ten with flashing eyes.

"Tell him, Gluck." There was pride in the mother's tone.

"I am going to be an officer of the law, like my father." Gluck squared his shoulders.

"That's the boy!" his mother applauded.

"There's a woman for you!" the Captain murmured. His eyes glistened. "Gave her husband for our country's good. Now she offers her son. This country needs more mothers such as this."

It was mid-afternoon when they bade Madame LeClare and her fine family a hearty farewell.

"I wanted you to know them," the Captain rumbled as once more they entered the great city. "You are to be one of us. You may have an opportunity to be of great service. Danger and death may threaten you. It will help you to understand the war we are waging, and why we must win."

"Thank you," said Johnny humbly. "I am sure it will."

"This is a tough neighborhood," the Captain said a moment later as they rolled down a narrow street. "'Hell's Half Acre,' I guess you might call it.

"I wonder what those young hoodlums are looking at." He slowed down his car to a crawl. At the corner of a five story apartment building a dozen or more of flashily dressed youths stood staring upward. From time to time one or the other of them might have been heard shouting something.

Stopping his car, the Captain stepped out. Johnny followed.

To their astonishment, they saw clinging to the bricks of the corner, and near to the very top of the building, a huge youth with a thick crop of hair. He was tossing his mane, laughing and roaring like a gorilla, which he resembled slightly.

"Come down from there!" the Captain thundered.

"Come and get me," the youth roared back.

"Come down!" The Captain threw open his coat, revealing his star.

"Oh! All right, I'll come." The young giant's face sobered. The crowd of flashily dressed youths vanished. At the same time a square of paper came fluttering to the pavement. Apparently it had fallen from the climber's pocket.

Johnny picked it up and read:

"Gunderson Shotts,

22 Diversey Way.

Everybody's Business."

"Why that," he said with a start, "must be the young savage with a stout heart who helped us out of a jam last night. Don't be too hard on him, Captain." Hastily he outlined the night's adventure with the runaway balloon, and the part this youth had played.

"I'll not be too hard on him," the Captain promised. "In fact I think this may be the changing point in his career. Stranger things have happened.

"What's your name?" he demanded as the young giant reached the pavement.

"Gunderson Shotts, that's my name." The youth grinned broadly. "But they call me Spider. I can climb, climb just anything at all."

"Spider," Johnny thought, "it's a name that will stick. Looks like a giant spider, long arms, long legs, hairy head, big eyes. Spider." He chuckled.

"Don't you know," the Captain demanded of the one who called himself Spider, "that you're likely to break your neck?" He examined the lay of the bricks that had given the boy only an overlapping half inch at intervals of a foot, on which to cling and climb. "And if you fell, you'd like as not kill someone else in that fall."

"They dared me, these-" He looked about in surprise. "Why! Where are they?"

"They've blown," the Captain replied dryly. "Hawks go flapping away fast enough when a hunter comes round a corner. They're a bad lot, and this is no place for a lad like you. Hop into the car."

"You-you're not going to take me to the station!" Spider's cheeks paled.

"No," the Captain laughed, "not the station. Just to a shack we have for a hangout. We eat there sometimes. Like to eat?"

"Do I? Try me!" The young giant grinned at his captors broadly.

"We will."

"Have much luck minding everybody's business?" the Captain asked as they paused for a red light.

"Not much," the big boy chuckled, "but what's a fellow to do? No one would let me work for him, so I went to work for everybody."

"Did yourself a good turn once anyway," said the Captain.

"How's that?"

The Captain reminded him of his adventure with Beth Van Loon.

"That," the big boy chuckled, "was funny."

"It might not have been. That fellow might have put his knife through your heart."

"But he didn't." The big boy laughed hoa


They stopped at a delicatessen. Here Captain Burns purchased half a baked ham, piping hot, a huge loaf of rye bread and a gallon pot of coffee.

Arrived at the shack, he spread this crude but wholesome meal out upon the table. He and Johnny drank coffee but ate little. When they had finished, save for the dishes, the board was clear.

"Spider," the Captain said, slapping the big boy on the back, "you're a fighter, an eater, and a climber. That's all it takes to make a first class cop. Stick with me and I'll make you one."

Spider stuck. And that, as you will see, is why certain things came out as they did in the unwinding of events that were to follow.

* * * * * * * *

It was with a guilty feeling that Grace Krowl that evening began delving into the personal letters and papers taken from the thin trunk with orange stripes.

"It is as if someone were looking over my shoulder," she told herself, "saying, 'See here! Those are my letters! What right have you to read them?'

"And yet," she philosophized, "if I am to help them in any way I must know something about these people."

So she kept on reading. There were three bundles of letters and a diary. The more she read, the more deeply disgusted she became.

"I did not dream there could be such a person as that girl is!" she exclaimed, throwing the letters back into the box and sliding it into a corner out of her sight. "That girl deserves nothing. False to her friends who try to help her, a flirt and a cheat. How-how terrible!"

For some time she sat and stared into space. "I suppose," she murmured dejectedly, "that very few of them are worthy of any aid. And yet, there must be some."

She took up the box from the big family trunk. In this she read a beautiful sad story of a father, mother and two little girls. Their pictures were all there. So too were the girls' baby books and the father's sharp-shooter's badge.

The letters told the story of a brave but futile fight against poverty that had advanced upon them like a storm in the night.

"They lost their home," she whispered. "Next they lost their furniture, all those things that had become dear to them. And now, here, last of all, is their trunk. The wreck of the grandest thing God's eyes ever rested upon-a home.

"But at least-" She clenched her hands fiercely. "At least they shall have these trophies back. I shall write to the mother and offer them to her without charge.

"Why not in every deserving case?" she exclaimed, springing to her feet and hopping about the room. Here was a big idea. This should be a beginning. Perhaps in time she could arrange to hold the entire contents of a trunk until the real owner could redeem it.

She fancied her uncle frowning upon this. "But let him frown!" she exclaimed belligerently.

The thought was a comforting one. With it, after a trying day, she soon fell fast asleep.

She was awakened, as on the previous day, by a whisper at dawn. There was no "Good morning," no "Cheerio!" this time. Words came short and quick.

"I have just a moment." Thus the whisper began. "There is a girl," it went on. "Her name is Nida McFay. She works in the bookstore around the corner on Peoria Street."

Grace started. "Why! That's the girl I know!" She spoke aloud, then ended abruptly.

"Ah! I see you know her! Fine!" The whisper rose. "No, I didn't hear you. Had to read your lips. For the moment I am deaf. I am a mile away but I have eyes that see you and lips that speak to you down a beam of light. You cannot see me."

"But perhaps I have seen you." The thought popped unbidden into the girl's mind.

"Listen carefully!" The whisperer's tone was insistent. "You are to become very well acquainted with this girl, Nida; so well that she will tell you her story. And let me assure you-she has a story to tell.

"You must invite her to your room, seat her by your table, then induce her to tell the story."

"But that would be spying!" the girl burst out.

"Nothing dishonorable. Remember, I promise this. You like to help people. This is your chance. You may help many. Good morning."

The whisper was gone, leaving the girl in a daze.

"I must think," she told herself. "Think clearly."

Then of a sudden her eyes fell upon the little horsehair trunk. "I forgot to open it! And uncle said I should have it only for a day. Just for a day!" She was filled with consternation.

"He will have to give me one more day," she decided at last. "He just must! I can't turn it over to-to vandals."

For one full moment after that she stood in sober thought. Nida McFay. So that was the girl's name. She was to win her confidence. Get her story. Would she do it? Something told her that she would. But why? Because the whisper requested. Who was the whisperer? At that she shook herself free from these thoughts and went off to breakfast.

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