The change in the girl was so pronounced,
her action so impetuous, as to leave West startled
and silent. The thought came to him instantly
that she was not the innocent victim he had supposed.
Her words, and movements expressed disappointment,
rather than regret. She was angry at his choice,
ready to withdraw from him all sympathy, all assistance.
Her plea had failed, and the woman had become a tigress.
Then she must have been endeavouring to deceive him;
as deeply interested as these others in
getting him safely off the trail of this crime.
It was a hard lesson, one that instantly turned all
his theories upside down, but the truth came to him
with blinding, sickening force she was as
guilty as Hobart; they were both working to the same
end, endeavouring to get him safely out of the way.
They would accomplish this with lies if possible, if
not then with force. It was for no other purpose
he had been granted this interview alone in
the hope that he might thus be deceived by her.
Now he saw through the trick.
These thoughts swept West’s
brain in a sudden flash of revelation, but he had
no chance to act; to denounce her, to make a single
movement, before the door opened swiftly, and Hobart
slipped eagerly into the room. The first glance
the fellow had of the prisoner, standing erect and
unbound, must have deceived him into believing the
girl had succeeded in her quest.
“So you’ve set him free,”
he exclaimed. “The fellow has come to his
senses, has he?”
“No, he has not,” she
snapped with temper darkening her eyes. “I
was not afraid of him, so I let him loose, but he’s
made me no promise. Now it is up to you; I’m
She slipped out through the opening,
and Hobart leaned against the door, pushing it shut
behind her, his scowling eyes watching West intently.
“So, that is how it stands,
is it, my man?” he growled threateningly.
“You even refuse to accept the word of the lady,
“Those are very nearly the facts,”
West replied steadily. “Then I told her
I thought she must be mistaken; now I believe she was
sent here for no other purpose but to deceive me.
If I ever had any doubt of a crime, it has vanished
since this interview.”
“Murder; the killing of Percival
Coolidge. Is that plain enough, Hobart?
I want you to understand. I am fighting this case
from now on in the open; it is going to be man to
“What the hell do you mean, you cur?”
“I’ll tell you,”
went on West coldly, determined now to so anger the
fellow as to bring the whole matter to a climax, reckless
of the consequences. “I charge you with
murder. I haven’t the proof, but I’ll
get it; I do not know the object, but I’ll find
“You fool! you’ll never
get away from here. My God, you must be crazy!”
“Never was saner in all my life,
Hobart. I am a soldier, and am taking a soldier’s
chance. Now listen. I feel no particular
interest in the death of Percival Coolidge. In
my judgment the world is just as well off with him
dead as alive. But what this means to Natalie
Coolidge is another matter entirely.”
“She told you ”
“Yes, she told me a
lie. That is what hurts; what makes me ready to
take any chance to put you where you belong.
You have lied to her, deceived her, made her your
accomplice in crime. I’m fighting for a
woman, because she has got no one else to fight for
“Oh, I see; in love, hey with her,
or her money?”
“With neither so far as I know,”
frankly. “She is a woman helpless in your
hands; that is sufficient.”
“But, hell, she hasn’t
any use for you didn’t she tell you
“Quite plainly yes.
But that is no excuse for any man to play the coward.
I am not afraid of you, Hobart, or your gang.
You got me before by treachery; I was not looking
for trouble. But now I am. I am going through
that door, and if you try to stop me you are going
to get hurt.”
The fellow grinned, one hand thrust
into the outer pocket of his coat, his eyes narrowed
into ugly slits.
“You think so! You haven’t
a weapon on you, West, and if you take a step, I’ll
put you out of commission. I know how to handle
your kind, you big bluffer. What I want to know
is what you have got in your head, for, believe me,
I don’t take any stock in this woman stuff.
Are you after the coin?”
“Well, maybe a slice of old
Coolidge’s boodle. There’s enough
of it for all hands to have a dip. How does that
“Sounds interesting at least,”
admitted West, so earnestly as to attract the other’s
attention. “But let’s talk it over
among ourselves who is listening there?”
Hobart glanced behind at the nearly
closed door. It was for only a second he was
off guard, yet that was enough. With one leap
forward, West struck, his clinched fist smashing against
the side of the fellow’s jaw. It was a
wicked, vicious blow, with all the propelling force
of the body behind it, and Hobart went down stunned,
crashing the door tightly shut as he fell. Once
he strove blindly to reach his feet, tugging madly
at the weapon in his pocket, but West, feeling no
mercy, and wide awake to the fact that any shooting
would mean a call for help, struck again, sending
his groggy opponent flat, and unconscious. It
was all the swift work of a minute, and there had
been no noise to arouse alarm. Hobart had not
even cried out; the only audible sounds being the sharp
click of the door, and the dull thud of a falling
West emptied the man’s pockets,
slipping two revolvers into his own; then stood for
an instant motionless, staring down into the white
upturned face. He had followed the impulse of
the moment; had struck savagely; knowing it was his
only chance. Thus far he had done well; but what
next? He was conscious of but one thought, one
purpose to escape from this house, unpledged
and still free to act. Yet how could this be
accomplished? He had no plan, no knowledge even
of his surroundings, of what lay beyond the walls
of this room. His eyes swept the bare interior,
seeing nothing to inspire hope. Hobart had said
this room was practically a prison, and it looked
it the walls bare, and unbroken, and a rough
single cot. All possibility of egress lay in the
closed door, and a narrow window high up in the opposite
wall, also tightly shut, and shaded by a heavy curtain.
His hand tried the door cautiously;
the knob turned easily enough, but there was no yielding
to his pressure. The lock was evidently on the
outside, and he could discover no key-hole, no possibility
of operating it from within. Then, besides in
all probability, a guard would be posted outside in
the hall, waiting for some signal from Hobart.
West glanced again at the recumbent figure, bending
over to make sure of his condition, then, gripping
a chair, silently crossed the room.
There was not a minute to lose.
He knew that he must choose quickly whatever course
he pursued. Any instant Hobart might recover
consciousness, and gain assistance by a rap on the
door; indeed his confederates without might not wait
for the signal. The silence within, the length
of time, might arouse suspicion. The only chance
lay in immediate action. Standing on the chair
West found the window had been securely nailed into
place, but this had been done so long ago, it was
quite possible for him to work the nails loose, yet
it required all his strength to press up the warped
sash sufficiently far to enable him to gain a view
outside. It was not encouraging. Evidently
he was upon the third floor, at the rear of the building,
looking down into a cluttered up back yard. His
eyes could scarcely distinguish what was below, as
the only glimmer of light came from a far distant
street lamp at the end of an alley, the faint rays
creeping in through holes in the fence. Yet one
black shadow seemed to promise the sloping roof of
a shed directly below; but even with that to break
his fall, it was a desperate leap.
He stared into those uncertain depths,
endeavouring to measure the distance, deceived by
the shifting shadows, afraid of what lay hidden below.
For the moment he forgot all that was behind him, his
whole mind concentrated on the perils of so mad a
leap into the dark. The awakening came suddenly,
the chair jerked from beneath his feet, his body hurled
backward. He fell, gripping at the window seat,
so that he was flung against the support of a side
wall, able to retain his feet, but not to wholly ward
off a vicious blow, which left him staggering.
Half blinded, West leaped forward to grapple with
the assailant, but was too late. Hobart rushed
back out of reach of his arms, and rapped sharply on
the door panel. It opened instantly, and big
Mike, closely followed by another man, pushed forward
into the room. West was trapped, helpless; one
man pitted against three. He backed slowly away,
brushing tack the dishevelled hair from his eyes,
watching them warily, every animal instinct on the
Mike took one comprehensive glance
at the scene, at the overturned chair, the half-open
window, the trapped man crouching motionless against
the further wall. The meaning of it all was plain,
and his bar-room training gave quick insight as to
the part he was to play. He spoke gruffly out
into the dark of the hall behind him, an order to some
one concealed there; then shut the door tightly, and
faced West, his head lowered like a bull about to
charge. West understood; he was locked in to fight
it out three against one. Hobart was
nearest to him, his face swollen and red, his eyes
ugly slits, with teeth snarling between thin lips.
The fellow laughed sneeringly, as their glances met.
“Now we’ll take care of
you, Captain,” he taunted. “Never
mind his guns, Mike; there’s not a load in either
of them. Give the guy what he is looking for.
Come on you terriers!”
But West did not wait. There
was only one chance, and he took it to
carry the fighting to them. He had no doubt of
the emptiness of his guns, and hurled one straight
at Hobart’s head, leaping forward with the other
clutched in his hand straight at Mike, who had scarcely
time to fling up one hand in defence. The thrown
weapon missed its mark by a narrow inch, striking
the wall behind, and falling clattering to the floor,
but the other broke through the big saloon-keeper’s
guard, and sent him reeling to his knees, a gush of
blood reddening his hair. Again and again West
struck him, driving him prone to the floor before the
other two dragged him away, wrestled the weapon from
his hand, and closed with him in a desperate death
What followed he never could relate.
He was mad with fury of the fight. A mere animal
defending life with every means at hand, caring nothing
for either wound or hurt so that he won out in the
end. Mike was out of it, but the two grappling
him fought like wild cats, rough barroom fighters,
resorting to any tactics to disable their opponent.
Yet it was this that saved him. Crazed as he
was, madly as his brain whirled in the fierce struggle,
his long training held supreme he knew how
to fight, remembered instinctively every trick and
guard. Again and again his clinched fist reached
its mark, and slowly he broke away from clutching
hands, and regained his feet. It was a terrific
struggle, but luck, as well as skill, was with him.
The next he knew, out of the red ruck, was that he
had Hobart by the throat, jammed against the wall,
with fingers clinched in the throat. Then he
saw the other coming, a dim, shapeless thing, that
he kicked at viciously. The boot must have landed,
for he was suddenly free to strike the purple face
fronting him, and fling the helpless rocking body
in a huddled mass on the floor.
By God, it was over with; he had won
breathing space, a chance to see what was about him.
Yet that was all. The fellow he had kicked was
already up, doubled from the pain of the blow, but
with mad eyes glaring at him. Hobart had struggled
to his knees, cursing fiercely as he swept the blood
out of his eyes. They would both be on him again
in a minute, more desperate than ever, and the door
was locked there was no chance there.
The window! Ay! there was the window. Death
either way, yet a chance; and he was man enough to
take it. He leaped on the chair, and clambered
up; he heard Hobart swear, and felt the grip of a hand
on his dangling leg; kicked himself free, and was
on the ledge. He never looked below, or took
time to poise for the leap. Heedless, desperate,
scarcely realizing what he was doing, he flung his
body out over the edge, and fell.