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

   Chapter 15 A LIVING PICTURE

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8772

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Johnny Thompson had always supposed he loved mysteries. But in the "House of Magic," the old professor's house, they came so thick and fast, and apparently without reason, that at times he felt dizzy in his head and ready enough to run away from it all.

On the day following the visit to Madame LeClare's house, he was given a strange commission. It was Felix who said to him, "You will do us a great favor if you will sit and watch a certain picture on the wall."

"Watch a picture?" Johnny exclaimed. "Is it worth a million dollars? And do you expect it to be stolen?"

"It is worth," Felix said without breaking into a smile, "very little. I even doubt if you could sell it at all.

"And yet," he added, "if you watch it long enough, something may come of it after all!"

Something did come of it, you may be sure. But to Johnny, ever keen for action, this at first seemed a dull occupation.

The picture was in his own room, the tall room that during his first night had shown an inclination to become a short one.

"Nothing could be more stupid!" he told himself after a half hour of watching. "Picture isn't even halfway interesting."

This was true. Though quite evidently an oil painting, this canvas within a narrow gilt frame was very dark. An old Dutch master, one would say; a suggestion of some cabin in the foreground, clumps of trees behind. There might have been a sunset in the beginning. If there were, time had taken care of the sunset. It had put out the sun.

"Just to sit in this chair and look at that picture!" he grumbled to himself. "Nothing could be worse!"

His eyes strayed to the far side of the room where the strange round reflector rested.

"Whispers," he murmured. "Those whispers that wakened me at dawn. Wonder if they come from that thing? I feel sure they do. Person can tell what direction sound comes from. But who whispers? How? Why? That's what I'm going to find out." That the whisperer would speak again, that he would at last deliver some important message, perhaps many important messages, he did not doubt.

But now- It was with great reluctance that he dragged his eyes from this mysterious instrument to fix them once more upon the dull and quite commonplace Dutch master.

When at last he accomplished the feat, he fairly bounced from his chair. The Dutch master was gone! In its stead was a square of glass. Out from that square, well down toward the left-hand corner, shone a yellow spot of light.

"Like a moon in the midst of a black sky," he told himself. "What-"

The spot of light began revolving. It broke itself up into a hundred yellow moons. It became a golden circle, a hundred golden circles. Then, to Johnny's utter astonishment, a face, a living face appeared in that frame.

It was a wavering sort of face. Had Johnny been superstitious he might have said it was a ghost, for now the lips and eyes were distinct, and now they were irregular and all but lost.

Then with a sharp cry Johnny sprang to his feet.

"Where is he?" he cried. "I must find him!"

He had recognized that face. It was the man who sat beside him at the auction, who had all but forced him to bid in that package containing the bronze lamp, who had later more than likely struck him over the head in that dark alley.

"Iggy the Snake!" He fairly shouted the name aloud.

That this was the living image of Iggy he could not doubt. He was blinking his eyes. He was talking to someone; that is, his lips moved, though no sound reached Johnny.

That this was no mere moving picture Johnny knew well enough. That Iggy was not in the next room, looking in at him, he knew quite as well. Iggy could never have held the expression of quiet unconcern registered on his face had he known that any honest person, let alone Johnny, was looking upon him.

"It's magic!" Johnny exclaimed. At the same instant he knew this was not true.

"Where is he?" he exclaimed once again.

He leaped for the door. It was locked. It was a massive door. He could not hope to break it down, even should he desire to do so.

He raced to the window and threw up the sash. It was a quiet, sunshiny day. There were people passing in the street. To attract their attention would be an easy matter. But did he wish to do this? Had he a right to do so?

"You will promise to betray none of our secrets?" the professor had said. He

had promised. The outer air cooled his heated brow. Slowly he turned about, retraced his steps, then sank down in his chair. He would watch. That, after all, was what he had been told to do. Perhaps in the end he would learn a great deal, just watching.

The hour that followed will stand out in Johnny's mind as a vivid memory as long as Johnny draws a breath. He was looking, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, upon the living image of the one man he most feared and hated, Iggy the Snake. He was watching his every gesture, every movement of his lips and eyes; yet he could not touch him nor speak to him. He could not say to the policeman on the corner, "Officer, this man is a thief and a murderer! Arrest him!" He did not know even where the man was. He might, for all he knew, be in the next room or a mile away. He could only watch.

Watch he did, and that which he saw was well worth his hour of waiting.

But to wait, powerless to act, to sit there biting his lips, clenching his fists, watching that smiling, grimacing image, that was terrible.

For a long time there was only that face. Smiling, talking, bobbing his head, Iggy was beyond doubt telling a very interesting story. Once as he threw back his head his fist came swinging into view.

"As if he were showing how he struck me!" Johnny sprang from his chair. Then, reluctantly, he settled back.

Well that he did, for a moment later the man in that distorted living picture partially disappeared and a cardboard box came into view.

"That's it," Johnny muttered, "that's the box I bought, the very one!" There could be no doubt about that. He could even distinguish the yellow express label.

But this was not all, not nearly all. The package disappeared. Iggy's head bent low. Presently he held the metal lamp to view. He was laughing, was Iggy.

It was strange, sitting there looking on. That laugh was so real, so uproarious, Johnny felt that he should hear it.

"It's as if I were deaf," he told himself.

But wait! There was still more. Once again "the Snake" bent his head. When his hands came up this time they were filled with bundles of paper. At first, with their edges toward him, Johnny could make nothing of this. But now Iggy's hand turned about, and Johnny saw.

His mouth flew open in astonishment. Those papers were bonds. There were hundreds of them.

"The stolen bonds!" he muttered. "The bonds that broke a bank and made paupers of thousands!" He could not believe his eyes. The bonds had been in that package! It had been his, his! He had bought it. Had he looked closely, he would have found those bonds. And now-

A sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach caused him to double over. He saw it all now, clear as day. Those were "hot" bonds. Someone had taken them away, perhaps to New York. They had been frightened, had concealed them in that package and shipped them back. The person at the other end, more afraid than his confederate, had refused to accept the shipment. The package was to be sold at auction. Afraid to bid it in, Iggy had induced Johnny to buy it. When Johnny tried to take the package to his lodging, Iggy and his men had fallen upon him, robbed him of the package, and hit him on the head in the bargain.

"That," Johnny hissed, "is Chapter One. There will be other chapters to this little romance of the underworld."

Again his eyes were upon that square of glass. Iggy had, beyond doubt, replaced the treasure. He was smiling and going through the motions of drinking. A moment more and he was gone. The glass went black. The spot of yellow light reappeared. And then, to Johnny's vast amazement, he found himself looking once more at the uninteresting Dutch master.

"Never mind." He sprang from his chair. "Felix will return. He will know where Iggy was when he put on this little show. I'll get Drew Lane and Tom Howe. We'll crash the door, and then perhaps-"

He did not finish. Instead he sprang for the door. He was prepared now, if such a thing were possible, to break it down. He put his hand to the knob. It turned. The door opened. It was not locked.

He was a long time finding Felix; a much longer time finding Drew Lane and Tom Howe, who were out on a hot scent. It was dark when he at last led them to the street that faces the lake where the gaunt towers of the deserted Fair grounds hung dark against the sky.

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