There had been three years of it now—since she had come into his life. Jimmie Dale slouched down a little in his chair. The ice was thin, perilously thin, that he was skating on now. Each letter, with its demand upon him to match his wits against police or underworld, or against both combined, perhaps, made that peril a little greater, a little more imminent—if that were possible, when already his life was almost literally carried, daily, hourly, in his hand. Not that he rebelled against it; it was worth the price that some day he expected he must pay—the price of honour, wealth, a name disgraced, ruin, death. Was he quixotic? Immoderately so? He smiled gravely. Perhaps. But he would do it all over again if the choice were his. There were those who blessed the name of the Gray Seal, as well as those who cursed it. And there was the Tocsin!
Who was she? He did not know, but he knew that he had come to love her, come to care for her, and that she had come to mean everything in life to him. He had never seen her, to know her face. He had never seen her face, but he knew her voice—ay, he had even held her for a moment, the moment of wildest happiness he had ever known, in his arms. That night when he had entered his library, his own particular den in his own house, and in the darkness had found her there—found her finally through no effort of his own, when he had searched so fruitlessly for years to find her, using every resource at his command to find her! And she, because she had come of her own volition, relying upon him, had held him in honour to let her go as she had come—without looking upon her face! Exquisite irony! But she had made him a promise then—that the work of the Gray Seal was nearly over—that soon there would be an end to the mystery that surrounded her—that he should know all—that he should know her.
He smiled again, but it was a twisted smile on the mechanically misshapen lips of Larry the Bat. Nearly over! Who knew? That “nearly” might be too late! Even tonight he had been shadowed, was skulking even now in this place as a refuge. Who knew? Another hour, and the newsboys might be shrieking their “Uxtra! Uxtra! De Gray Seal caught! De millionaire Jimmie Dale de Jekyll an’ Hyde of real life!”
Jimmie Dale straightened up suddenly in his seat. There was a shout, an oath bawled out high above the riot of noise, a chorus of feminine shrieks from across the room. What was the matter with the underworld to-night? He seemed fated to find nothing but centres of disturbance—first a raid at Chang Foo’s, and now this. What was the matter here? They were stampeding toward him from the other side of the room. There was the roar of a revolver shot—another. Black Ike! He caught an instant’s glimpse of the gunman’s distorted face through the crowd. That was it probably—a row over some moll.
And then, as Jimmie Dale lunged up from his chair to his feet to escape the rush, pandemonium itself seemed to break loose. Yells, shots, screams, and oaths filled the air. The crowd surged this way and that. Tables were overturned and sent crashing to the floor. And then came sudden darkness, as some one of the attendants in misguided excitability switched off the lights.