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   Chapter 24 A STRANGE VICTORY

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8304

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Apparently it is true that, under certain circumstances at least, one can recognize a person by his whisper. Certain it is that Grace Krowl, upon opening her door for a second time that night and upon hearing the whispered message, "Merry Christmas, Grace Krowl," said without a moment's hesitation:

"You are the Whisperer."

"I am." The slim, gray-haired man before her smiled. "May I come in?"

She stepped aside. He entered and took a seat.

"It was generous of you to trust me," he said. "You will not regret it.

"You see-" His eyes strayed about the place. "I fitted these rooms up for myself. Then, for reasons you shall know of later, I was obliged to leave them. When I learned of your presence here, I decided to trust you, and to use you. I- You have Nida's story?"

Grace nodded.

"She is the daughter of a very old friend." The little, gray-haired man leaned forward. "Will you tell me the story?"

Grace told the story as best she could.

"It is as I thought." The Whisperer sprang to his feet. "That man, J. Templeton Semp, is a rascal. He tried to hide his evil deeds by persecuting others. I must go!" He seized his hat.

"But who-who are you?" Grace cried.

"I-" He smiled. "I am Newton Mills." Then he was gone.

What a commotion that declaration would have caused among the watchers in the little gray house on the prairies! Newton Mills, Joyce Mills' father, boon companion of Drew Lane, Tom Howe and Johnny Thompson-Newton Mills come to life and he, of all men, the Whisperer! But no word of this could reach them now.

* * * * * * * *

It was cold over there by the north window of the little gray house. Before he and Alice established themselves there, Johnny gathered up his heavy coat and wrapped it about the girl. He was very close to her now, this brave and beautiful child of a slain policeman. They were facing death together, these two. And death drew them closer.

Bleak night was outside, and out there somewhere in hiding, creeping up behind that barn or the grove where the Captain had played as a boy, or perhaps behind the great cottonwood just before them, death was coming nearer. Johnny was seized with an involuntary shudder.

"What is it, my friend Johnny?" The little Canadian's shoulder touched his.

"Nothing. Only thinking." He laughed a low, uncertain laugh.

"Do you know," he said a moment later in a voice that was all but a whisper, "that old barn behind the cottonwood was standing when the Captain was a boy? On rainy days they played in the hay, climbed high and pushed one another down, made swings of the hay ropes and leaped into the mow from twenty feet in air. They played hide and seek, boys and girls together. Sounds sort of peaceful and joyous, doesn't it? Not-not like this."

"You make it seem so real. Perhaps, after all, this is only a dream. Or, or only a trick to frighten us. Christmas morning will come as it came in those good days. Stockings all in a row." Her voice was dreamy. "Presents, and a fire laughing up the chimney. All that and-

"Johnny!" She broke off suddenly to grip his arm. "What was that? A shot?"

"I-I don't know."

Johnny's right hand gripped his automatic. Surely there had come a sharp crack. It sounded strange in the night.

"Board nails snapping in the frost perhaps." He relaxed a little.

"Look, Johnny!" She gripped his arm till it hurt. "Look! Some dark object tumbling about under that huge tree. It-I think it looks like a man!"

Johnny was on his feet. "Drew! Drew Lane! Come here quick!" He all but shouted the words.

Before the call died on his lips, Drew was at his side. By that time not one dark object, but three were to be seen tumbling about on the snow beneath the giant cottonwood. Their antics were grotesque in the extreme-like men sewed into canvas sacks.

"Something's happening," Johnny hazarded.

"Or it's a decoy to call us out," Drew replied dryly.

What was to be done? Surely here was a quandary. One of the figures had stiffened and lay quite still like a corpse.

"May be faked," Drew said grimly. "But a fellow has to see." One hand on the door, the other gri

pping his automatic, he was prepared for a dash, when Johnny pulled him back.

"No! No! Let me go! You are older. If anything goes wrong, you'll be needed here. You must remember the women."

"All-all right." Drew backed away reluctantly. Then, standing up at full height, ready for instant action, he prepared to protect Johnny as best he might.

Johnny was out of the door and away like a shot. Not so fast, however, but that a dark, muffled figure followed him.

Reaching the first prostrate form, he uttered a low exclamation. It was a man. Apparently quite unconscious, he lay there, his face half buried in the snow. There was a curious odor about the place. Johnny felt a faint dizziness in his head.

He stepped to the next figure. To his surprise and horror he saw it was Spider. He too lay motionless.

"Gas!" a voice said in his ear. "Can't you see they've been gassed?"

He wheeled about to find himself staring in the face of the little French Canadian girl, Alice.

"You!" he murmured.

"Come out of it!" She dragged him away. "There is still some of that gas in the air."

Johnny had got a little more of that gas than he thought. He did not lose consciousness, but he did have only a hazy notion of that which went on about him. It will always remain so-how the other members of the party came swarming out, how they found four members of the "Massacre Parade" prostrate on the snow, and Spider beside them on the ground with a broken arm-all this will always be a dream to Johnny. So too will be the story of how Drew and Tom went after the missing Iggy, who was not one of the four under the tree, and how they found him waiting in a high-powered car, and, having been fired upon, how they mowed him down with the very machine gun that had been loaded for the purpose of massacring women, men and girls alike.

The effect of the gas did not last more than twenty minutes. The words used by the four would-be savage massacre men when they found handcuffs on their wrists and clothes-line rope bound round their legs, were scarcely in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. It will not seem strange that no one cared.

As for Spider, he had some explaining to do. When a doctor had set his broken arm and he had fully recovered from his share of the gas, he told a strange story.

He had caught a glimpse of someone dodging behind the old barn. Putting the whole thing together, he had decided that the men with machine guns would take their stand behind the giant cottonwood. Its thick base would offer perfect protection from bullets.

"I thought," he went on, "if only I can beat them to the tree and climb it, with that gas bomb on my back, I'll be in a position to put them all to sleep at once. There wasn't a minute to lose, so, without saying anything, I made a dash for it."

"But it's twenty feet to the first branch!" Johnny protested. "How'd you make it?"

"The bark of that old tree," said Spider with a smile, "is like the edge of inch-thick boards sticking out. Nothing easier than getting a grip and going up."

"For you," Johnny agreed. "But you were found on the ground," he objected.

"Things didn't go just right." Spider indulged in a wry smile. "I got up the tree all right. They did their part, came and got under. Then I saw something I hadn't counted on-saw the tops of heads, yours and Alice's by that window.

"Ten seconds more, and they'd have riddled you with bullets. Guess I got excited; must have moved. Anyway, one of 'em spotted me and fired.

"Bullet hit my arm. Lost my balance, and down I came, gas bomb and all. The bomb burst all right. And, well, you know the rest."

"Alice!" Johnny was looking into the little Canadian's eyes. He was thinking, "What if that machine gun had stuttered just once!"

When he realized that in the face of death Alice had followed him into the night, he wanted awfully to cry, then to seize the little Canadian and kiss her on both cheeks. Being a modest youth, he merely flushed and did neither the one nor the other, which was just as well, since Alice could understand blushes quite as readily as tears and other things.

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