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   Chapter 27 THE STRAITS OF CHANCE

Phantom Wires: A Novel By Arthur Stringer Characters: 6990

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


How his flight ended Durkin never clearly remembered. He had a dim and uneasy memory of the lapse of time, either great or little, the confused recollection of waking to his senses and fighting his way free from a smothering weight of wet and clinging clothes. As he struggled to his feet a stab of pain shot through his left hand, and up through his forearm. It was so keen and penetrating that he surmised, in his blank and unreasoning haste, that he must have torn a chord or broken a bone in his wrist. But on a matter like that, he felt, he could now waste no time.

If he had, indeed, been unconscious, he concluded, it had been but momentary. For as he groped about in search of his hat, dazed and bruised, he found himself still alone and unmolested. Creeping through the apartment-house cellar, and out past the door of the snoring and still undisturbed janitor, he crouched for a waiting moment or two behind an overloaded garbage-can, in the area.

Hearing nothing, he staggered up the narrow stairs to the level of the sidewalk, wet and ragged and disheveled, blackened and soiled and begrimed. The street seemed deserted.

He felt sick and faint and shaken, but he would not give up. He half-stumbled, half-staggered along, splashing through little pools of rain held in depressions of the stone sidewalk, supporting himself on anything that offered, hoping, if this were indeed the end, that he might crawl away into some dark and secluded corner of the city, to hide the humiliating ignominy of it all.

In front of a Chinese laundry window he saw that he could go no further. His first impulse was to creep inside, and make an effort to bribe his way to secrecy, although he knew that within another quarter of an hour the tightening cordon of the police would entirely surround the block.

As he swayed there, hesitating, he heard the thunder of hoofs and the rumble of wheel-tires on the soggy asphalt. His first apprehensive thought was that it would prove to be a patrol-wagon, with police reserves from some neighboring precinct. But as he blinked through the darkness he made out a high-platformed Metropolitan Milk Company's delivery-wagon swinging down toward him.

He staggered, with a slow and heavy wading motion, out to the centre of the street, a strange and spectral figure, with outstretched arms, uttering a sharp and halting cry or two.

The driver pulled up, thirty long and dreary feet past him.

"What in hell d'you want?" he demanded irately, raising his whip to start his team once more, as he caught a clearer view of the seemingly drunken figure.

"I'll give you a fiver," said Durkin thickly, "if you'll gi' me a lift!"

He held the money in his hand, as he stumbled and panted to the wagon-step. That put an end to all argument.

"Climb in, then-quick!" cried the big driver, as he caught his passenger by a tattered coat sleeve and helped him up into the high-perched seat.

"But for the love o' God, who's been doin' things to you?" he went on, in amazement, as he saw the bruised and bleeding and ash-colored face.

"They threw me out o' their damned dope shop!" cried Durkin, with an only half-simulated thickness of utterance, as he jerked a shaking thumb toward the lights of the Chinese laundry. "And I guess-I'm-I'm a bit knocked out!"

For he felt very weak and faint and weary, though the cold rain and the open night air beat on his upturned face with a sting that was gratefully refreshing.

"They certainly did

make a mess o' you!" chortled the unmoved driver, as they rumbled westward and took the corner with a skid of the great wheels that struck fire from even the wet car-tracks. He tucked the bill down in his oil-coat pocket.

"Feelin' sick, ain't you?"

"Yes!"

"Where d'you want to go?" he asked more feelingly.

"Where d'you go?" parried Durkin.

"Hoboken Ferry, for th' Lackawanna Number Eight!"

"Then that'll do me," answered the other weakly.

He leaned back in his high and rocking seat, grasping the back rail with his right hand. He felt as if the waves of a troubled and tumultuous sea were throwing him up, broken and torn, on some island of possible safety. He felt dizzy, as though he were being tossed and plunged forward to some narrow bar of impending release and rest. He did not ask of himself just what seas boomed and thundered on the opposing side of that narrow stretch of promised security. He knew that they were there, and he knew that the time would soon come when he must face and feel them about him. He had once demanded rest; but he knew that there now could be no rest for him, until the end. He might hide for a day or two, like a hunted animal with its hurt, but the hounds of destiny would soon be at his heels again. All he asked, he told himself, was his man's due right of momentary relapse, his breathing spell of quietness. He was already too stained and scarred with life to look for the staidly upholstered sanctuaries, the padded seclusions of simple and honest wayfarers. He was broken and undone, but his day would come again.

He looked at his limp and trailing left hand. To his consternation, he saw that it dripped blood. He tried to push back his coat sleeve, but the pain was more than he could endure. So with his right hand he lifted the helpless arm up before his eyes, as though it were something not his own flesh and blood, and for the first time saw the splinter of bone that protruded from the torn flesh, just below the wrist-joint.

He felt for his handkerchief, dizzily, and tried to bandage the wound. This he never accomplished, for with a sudden little gasp he fainted away, and fell prone across the oil-skinned lap of the big driver.

That astounded person drew up in alarm at the side entrance of a street-corner saloon. He was on the point of repeating his sturdy call for help, when a four-wheeler swung in beside his wagon-step, and delivered itself of a square-shouldered, heavy-jawed figure, muffled to the ears in a rain-coat. The newcomer took in the situation with a rapid and comprehensive glance of relief.

"So there he is, at last!" he said, as he came forward and caught up the relaxed and still unconscious figure.

"Where'd you get a license for buttin' in on this?" expostulated the surprised driver.

"Buttin' in?" cried the man in the raincoat, as he lifted the limp figure in his great, gorilla-like arms. "This isn't buttin' in-this is takin' care o' my own friends!"

"Friend o' yours, then, is he?" queried the weakening driver.

"A friend o' mine!" cried the other angrily, for his man was already safely in the cab. "You damned can-slinger, d'you suppose I'm wastin' cab-fare doin' church rescue work? Of course he's a friend o' mine.

"And not only that," he added, under his breath, as he swung up into the cab and gave the driver the number of Penfield's uptown house, "and not only that-he's a friend o' mine who's worth just a little over a quarter of a million to me!"

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