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   Chapter 16 A STRANGE TREASURE

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8283

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In the meantime, the girl from Kansas who had found a home on Maxwell Street had made a rather wonderful discovery and found herself well on the road to adventure.

At the moment Johnny and the two young detectives arrived at the street of the "House of Magic," far away on Maxwell Street Grace Krowl was staring into the friendly eyes of a white-haired book seller and saying, "Do-do you think it is val-valuable?"

"Valuable!" Frank Morrow, the genial, white-haired proprietor of the little book shop on Peoria, just off Maxwell Street, stared at her over his glasses. "Valuable! My child, if that signature is genuine it is priceless." For the second time he held a ponderous volume, an ancient Bible with hand-tooled leather cover, to the light and read aloud:

"'As a token of gratitude for a great service done to our nation and to the crown.

Her Majesty, the Queen,

Elizabeth.'"

"If that signature is genuine," he repeated, "and I have little doubt of it, this book is worth thousands of dollars."

"Thing is," Grace sighed, "to find the rightful owner."

"Rightful owner!" Frank Morrow stared at her. Nida McFay, his assistant, joined in the stare. "Rightful owner!" Morrow repeated. "You are the rightful owner. Your uncle bought that horsehair trunk at auction for three dollars. You purchased it from him for double that amount. This Bible was in the trunk. It is yours. The law will uphold you."

"Yes. But is the law always right? Is there not a law higher than man's law?" Grace's tone was deeply serious.

"That," said Frank Morrow, rather bluntly, "is for you to decide."

"Decide," she thought, "all I've done since I came to Chicago has been to decide, de-"

She broke off to stare at the door of the book shop. It had been quietly opened. A tall man stood there. He was well-dressed, far too well for Maxwell Street. He was neither young nor old. His features were regular. He seemed quite a gentleman. Then the girl got a look into his eyes. She shuddered. They were hard as steel.

Next instant she was staring at Nida McFay. Her face had gone ashy white. She was grasping the table as if about to fall.

When she was able to look again at the door, Grace found it closed. The man had vanished.

"It-it's as if I had not seen him," she told herself. One look at Nida, who was very white, told her that for the time at least it was better that the man should remain unseen.

"Whatever you do," Frank Morrow was saying-he had not seen the stranger-"you should guard this Bible with great care. Beyond doubt, it was given by Queen Elizabeth as a token of great esteem to some Protestant bishop. Someone doubtless inherited this Bible containing the Queen's signature and brought it to America. Where has it been since? Who knows? Enough that it is here and that many a collector of rare books would, even in these times, pay a king's ransom to possess it. So guard it with care!"

"The Bi-Bible. Oh, yes." The girl put her hands upon it.

That Bible had come from the little horsehair trunk she had saved from her uncle's purchase at an express auction.

She had taken the trunk to her room, but in her excitement over other matters had failed to open it at her first opportunity.

After looking at it a long time next day, without prying off the lock and peeking inside, she had decided that she must, if possible, have it for her very own. So she asked her uncle to sell her the trunk.

"What!" he exclaimed, "you have opened that little trunk? You have found a diamond, or maybe some stocks and bonds? Now you want to buy it for a little." His small, hard eyes gleamed.

"No." She had held her ground. "I have not opened it. You may go and see that it is still locked. But I-I like the trunk and I-I'm sure I should have loved its owner. That-that's why I want to buy it."

"All right." He had smiled broadly. "But I must have a profit. Six dollars. You may have it for that. I will take it from your pay.

"But, my child-" He had laid a hand gently on her arm. "You must not do these things. They make you soft. And soft you must not be in this business."

Neverthele

ss, she had remained "soft." She had purchased the trunk "with contents, if any." She had picked the lock with a hairpin and had spent three happy, tearful hours poring over its contents. The person who lost the trunk was named Emily Anne Sheldon. She had two sisters. Their pictures were all there.

"The sweetest little old ladies one may ever hope to see," Grace had assured herself. "What a shame that this trunk should have been lost!"

There were bundles of letters tied with faded ribbons. The letters were like a beautiful song, sung at sunset. "If only the whole world were like these three dear old ladies," she had sighed.

The blankets in that trunk were of finest wool, and very old. Perhaps they had been hand-woven. She could not tell. There was a blue and white bedspread that was hand-woven, she was sure of that. "And it's worth several times what I paid for the trunk," she told herself. "But I won't sell it. I'll get in touch with Emily Anne and send it all back for a Christmas present."

In the very bottom of the trunk she had found the ancient family Bible. For a long time she had left it there. Then she had decided to show it to Frank Morrow and his assistant, Nida McFay, and here she was. And Frank Morrow was telling her it was worth many hundreds of dollars!

"Wr-wrap it up." She all but shuddered at thought of the wealth she was about to bear away under her arm. "Wrap it up and I'll take it home."

Now wondering at Nida's sudden fear at sight of the stranger, and now puzzling over the problem of the apparently priceless book, Grace left the store to walk slowly down Maxwell Street.

At once her mind was filled with a hundred thoughts. "This," she whispered, "is my crowded hour." And indeed, since that strange day when she had walked into her uncle's unusual store and had begun a fight for her few possessions, every hour had seemed crowded.

There was the mysterious "Whisperer" and his strange visits at dawn. How did his whisper come to her? She had tried in every way to trap him, but with no success. Did he indeed talk to her "down a beam of light" from the window of a skyscraper a mile away? And could he see that far too? It seemed preposterous. And yet-

Drew Lane had visited the store three times. Always he wore the jaunty clothes of a college boy. But once she had gripped his arm and found it hard as steel. He was a man, no mistaking that, and a city detective of the highest type. Was he the Whisperer? It seemed absurd to suspect him. "We all whisper alike," she had told herself.

So, quite unconscious of her surroundings, she walked on, thinking hard. She had covered two blocks when of a sudden she felt a hand on her arm and heard in a low, chilling tone:

"Just a moment, please."

Next instant she found herself looking into the face of the man who, a half hour before, had so frightened Nida McFay.

Never in all her life had she wanted so much to scream. The precious Bible was still under her arm. Those cold eyes were fixed upon her.

Ten seconds of thought assured her that she was in no immediate danger. The shops were still open. She was surrounded by friends. In her brief stay on the street she had made many friends. Max Schmalgemeire, the baker, stood in his door; so too did Mamma Lebed, who sold geese. Peter Rapport was turning his hot dogs. Even Madam Jakolev, the gypsy fortune-teller, whom she strongly suspected of carrying a dagger up her sleeve, was a welcome sight at that moment.

"I merely wanted to ask you a question." The man was polite enough. "Do you know," his words were distinct and cold, "this girl Nida McFay is a police character?"

"Po-Police?" Grace stared.

"Practically that. Frank Morrow's is the only place she could sell books in this city. He is stubborn, foolhardy. Just thought I'd warn you. I am J. Templeton Semp, a detective."

He tipped his hat and was gone, leaving Grace with a sinking sensation at the pit of her stomach.

"A police character!" she whispered. "How could she be?"

She was to hear more of Nida next morning, for the "Whisperer" was to be with her once more at dawn.

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