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

   Chapter 23 A PROMISE THAT IS A THREAT

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8653

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The silence in that little gray home out there on the snow-blown prairies lasted for ten long moments. To those who waited time seemed to creep at a snail's pace. Drew Lane, shifting uneasily in his chair, was about to suggest something-he will never know what-when, sudden as before, all thoughts were drawn to the mysterious talking reflector against the wall.

The instant a voice broke the silence in that corner, Drew Lane leaped to his feet. Tom Howe, crouching like a cat, remained motionless in his chair. There was something menacing, sinister, altogether terrible about that voice. The words, more spoken than whispered, caused Johnny's blood to freeze in his veins.

"Listen, you Hell hounds!" Those were the words. "Listen! You whisper, do you? Well, so do we! You narrow-cast, and you think we can't listen. Well, we can!

"Listen!" The voice became more terrible. "You have been on our trail long enough! Public enemies! Bah!"

As if choked with words, the voice ceased for a second. Everyone in the room had turned into a statue. Only the cat was unconscious of it all. He purred loudly in his place among the cushions. And the windmill, poor thing of rusty steel, it uttered one more unearthly scream.

"Listen!" The voice was hoarse with hate. "We got you, see? Got all of you. You'll never leave that place, see? Not one of you all! Christmas Eve. It's a laugh!" There came a hoarse chuckle that was terrible to hear. "Hang up your stockings! Get 'em up quick! We're coming to fill 'em, and we'll fill 'em right with machine gun slugs! That's how they'll be filled!

"Good-night, everyone!" The speaker's voice dropped to a mocking imitation of a radio announcer. "Good-night. And a Merry Christmas to all!"

For a full moment the silence in that little parlor, that through the years had witnessed so much of joy and sorrow, was profound.

"It's a joke," Spider said hoarsely at last.

"It's no joke!" Drew Lane's lips were white. "I know that voice.

"I only wish," he said slowly, "that you ladies were out of it. Those fellows have machine guns. If they cut loose, they'll riddle this place."

"I'm a detective's daughter." Joyce Mills stood up square shouldered and slim.

"And I a slain policeman's widow." Madame LeClare stood up at her side.

"And I his child." Alice was not smiling as she joined the two. There was a glint of fire in her dark eyes.

"Is-is that Iggy the Snake?" Madame LeClare asked.

"Beyond doubt it is." Drew's eyes were gleaming. "He and his gang, the men who killed Jack LeClare, the men we swore to get. And with God's help we'll get them yet!" He set his teeth hard.

"You ladies can shoot?" he said in a changed voice.

"As well as any man!" Madame held up her head proudly.

"That's good! Let's see." Drew moved to the cupboard by the stairs. "The Captain showed me a new sort of gas bomb. Yes, here it is. Puts 'em out completely for a full half hour. Be swell if we could use it."

"But they'll be a respectful distance away," Tom Howe objected. "How can we?"

"That's right. Have to trust our automatics, I guess. Here!" Drew handed one of his guns to Johnny.

"And you." Tom passed a thing of blue metal to Madame LeClare as if it were a bouquet of roses. She accepted it with a bow.

"There's no phone-no way of spreading an alarm." Drew spoke calmly. "No one passes this way at night. They've got till morning. Johnny, has the place a cellar?"

"Only a hole for vegetables-no windows."

"No use to us. They'd burn the house. Smother us like rats. We'll have to stand our ground, every one at a window. This is the way our forefathers fought savages." His voice had grown husky.

"These are more savage than they!" Madame LeClare added.

"We might make a dash for it. Try getting away in the cars," Tom Howe suggested.

"They may be all set to mow us down as we come out," Drew objected. "We've not been watching, you know. But we'd better be, right now!" His tone changed. "We'll set a watch at the windows. There's one on every side. We'll watch in pairs. Misery loves company. You and you there; you and you-" He pointed them to their places rapidly.

Johnny found himself settled upon a cushion behind the low window in the small southwest room. At his side, so close he fancied he felt her heart beat, was

Alice LeClare. He thanked Drew for that. If the watch were to be long, here was pleasant company. Then, too, he had learned by the glint in her dark eyes that, if worse came to worst, if he were wounded, out of the combat, this splendid girl would fight over him as bravely and savagely as any Indian fighter's wife had fought over her fallen man.

It was strange, the silence of the place, once they were all settled and the lights out. The fire in the cracked old stove shone red. The little clock that had ticked the good Captain's boyhood quite away, as if it would end the suspense and bring the dawn at once, raced more furiously than before. The girl at Johnny's side breathed steadily, evenly, as if this were but the night before Christmas and she waiting for Santa Claus in the dark.

"What a girl!" Johnny thought.

His eyes strayed through the open door at his back. Through it he caught the square of light from the north window. A semi-circle of shadow above its sill he knew to be Spider's head. Spider was watching there alone. His post was an important one. That window looked out upon a small barn and the towering cottonwood tree. The tree was fully six feet through. The Captain had told of swinging from its branches as a child.

"It's strange," Johnny whispered to the girl, "sitting here in this quiet little gray house where men and women have lived their lives away without a breath to disturb their calm, waiting for an attack. It-why, it's like the silence that must have hung over the fields of poppies in France during the Great War."

"Do you think they'll truly come?" Alice whispered back. "Or was it just a scare? They may be in Chicago, you know. The Whisperer is."

"They are not a mile away. They will come. Drew believes they'll come, and Drew seldom makes a mistake."

"Promise me-" She pressed his arm. "If I go to-to-to the Last Round-Up and you-you are spared, you'll look after the boys and-and help Gluck to be a good brave cop when he grows up." There was a little tremor in her voice.

"I promise!" Johnny whispered huskily.

A moment later Johnny's eyes swept the wide white field before him, then the narrow road that lay beyond. For a space of seconds his eyes remained fixed upon a dark spot on that road. "Does it move?" he asked himself. In the end he decided that it did not.

Breathing more easily, he turned to look through the door at his back, into the room beyond. He started and stared. Something was missing. The dark semi-circle that had been Spider's head was gone.

"That's queer!" he muttered low. To Alice he whispered: "Keep a sharp watch. I'll be back." Next instant he was gliding noiselessly across the floor.

Ten seconds and he was staring at a vacant spot where the other boy had been. "Spider!" He all but said the name aloud. "Spider! He is gone!"

Instinctively his hand sought the latch to the door close beside that north window. It gave to his hand. "It-it's not locked," he whispered. "But it was locked. I locked it myself." Spider was gone, sure enough, not alone from his post, but out of the building.

At once his head was in a whirl. What was he to make of it? Was Spider yellow, after all? Had he decided to make a break all by himself? With his uncanny power of climbing, of getting through places unobserved, he would almost surely escape. "And yet-" he whispered, "is that like Spider?" He could not feel that it was. He recalled times when the boy had appeared utterly fearless, absolutely loyal.

"And yet, he was only a boy from the city streets. Supposing-" Doubt assailed him. Supposing Spider had only pretended to be loyal. Supposing that during all this time he had been in league with Iggy the Snake and his gang? Supposing it had been he who had tipped off the gang to their plans for a Christmas party!

"Yes, and suppose it wasn't!" he whispered almost fiercely.

One fact stood out clearly. Spider's post was vacant. It must be filled at once.

After locking the door, he slid over to Drew's side.

"Spider's gone," he said.

"Gone? Where?" Drew did not raise his voice.

"Who knows? His place is empty."

"You take it," was Drew's instant command. "Take Alice with you. I'll move over where you were.

"Gone!" he murmured as Johnny glided away into the darkness. "Spider's gone!"

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