A minute passed—two of them. Again Jimmie Dale listened. There was not a sound save the night sounds—the light breeze whispering through the branches of the trees; the far-off rumble of a train; the whir of insects; the hoarse croaking of a frog from some near-by creek or pond. The window sash was raised an inch, another, and gradually to the top. Like a shadow, Jimmie Dale pulled himself up to the sill, and, poised there, his hand parted the heavy portieres that hung within. It was too dark to distinguish even a single object in the room. He lowered himself to the floor, and slipped cautiously between the portieres.
From somewhere in the house, a clock began to strike. Jimmie Dale counted the strokes. Eleven o’clock. It was getting late—too late! Stangeist was likely to be back at any moment. The flashlight, in Jimmie Dale’s hand now, circled the room with its little round white ray, lingering an instant in a queer, inquisitive sort of way here and there on this object and that—and went out. Jimmie Dale nodded—the flat desk in the centre of the floor, the safe in the corner by the rear wall, the position of everything in the room, even to the chairs, was photographed on his mind.
He stepped from the portieres to the safe, and the flashlight played again—this time reflecting back from the glistening nickelled knobs. Jimmie Dale’s lips tightened. It was a small safe, almost ludicrously small; but to such height as the art of safe design had been carried, that design was embodied in the one before him.
“Type K-four-two-eight-Colby,” muttered Jimmie Dale. “A nasty little beggar—and it’s eleven o’clock now! I’d use ‘soup’ for once, if it weren’t that it would put Stangeist wise, and give him a chance to make his get-away before the district attorney got the nippers on the four of them.”
The light went out. Jimmie Dale dropped to his knees; and, while his left hand passed swiftly, tentatively over dials and handle, he rubbed the fingers of his right hand rapidly to and fro over the carpet. Wonderful finger tips were those of Jimmie Dale, sensitive to an abnormal degree; and now, tingling with the friction, the nerves throbbing at the skin surface, they closed in a light, delicate touch upon the knob of the dial—and Jimmie Dale’s ear pressed close against the face of the safe.
Time passed. The silence grew heavy—seemed to palpitate through the room. Then a deep breath, half like a sigh, half like a fluttering sob as of a strong man taxed to the uttermost of his endurance, came from Jimmie Dale, and his left hand swept away the sweat beads that had spurted to his forehead.
“Eight—thirteen—twenty-two,” whispered Jimmie Dale.
There was a click, a low metallic thud as the bolts slid back, and the door swung open.
And now the flashlight again, searching the mechanism of the inner door—then darkness once more.
Five minutes, ten minutes went by. The clock struck again—and the single stroke seemed to boom out through the house in a weird, raucous, threatening note, and seemed to linger, throbbing in the air.