For a moment longer he held her close to him, as though he could not let her go—then bent and kissed her passionately. And in that moment all the emotions he had known as he had walked blindly from Spider Jack’s that night surged again upon him; and that voice was whispering, whispering, whispering: “It is the only way—it is the only way.”
And then, not daring to trust his voice, he released her suddenly, and stepped back out from under the stoop—and the next instant he was across the deserted avenue. Another, and he had slipped through the iron gates that opened on the street driveway—and in yet another he was crouched close up against the front door of the LaSalle mansion.
It was a large house, a very large house, one of the few that, even amid the wealth and luxury of that quarter, boasted its own grounds, and those so restricted as scarcely to deserve the name; but it was set far enough back from the street to escape the radius of the street lamps, and so guarantee in its shadows security from observation. It was not the Magpie’s way, the front door—the obvious to the Magpie and his ilk was a thing always to be shunned. Jimmie Dale’s lips were set in a grim smile, as his fingers worked with lightning speed, now taking this instrument and now that from the leather pockets in the girdle beneath his shirt—the penitentiaries were full of Magpies who shunned the obvious!
Very slowly, very cautiously the door opened. He listened breathlessly, tensely. The door closed again—behind him. He was inside now. Stillness! Blackness! Not a sound! A minute went by—another. And then, as he stood there, strained, listening, the silence itself began, it seemed, to palpitate, and pound, pound, pound, and be full of strange noises. It was a horrible thing—to kill a man!
OUT OF THE DARKNESS
A moment later, Jimmie Dale stepped forward through the vestibule. He was quite calm now; a sort of cold, merciless precision in every movement succeeding the riot of turbulent emotions that had possessed him as he had entered the house.
The half hour, the maximum length of time before the Magpie would appear, as he had estimated it when out there under the stoop with the Tocsin, had dwindled now to perhaps twenty minutes, twenty-five at the outside. Twenty-five minutes! Twenty-five minutes was so little that for an instant the temptation was strong upon him to sacrifice, rather than any of those precious minutes, the Magpie instead! And then in the darkness, as he stole noiselessly across the hall, he shook his head. It would be a cowardly, brutal thing to do. What chance would a man with a record like the Magpie’s stand if caught there? How easy it would be to shift the murder of the supposed Henry LaSalle to the Magpie’s shoulders! Jimmie Dale’s lips closed firmly. Self-preservation was, perhaps, the first law, but he would save the Magpie if he could—the Magpie should have his chance! The man might be a criminal, might deserve punishment at the hands of the law, his liberty might be a menace to the community—but he was not a murderer, his life forfeit for a crime he had never committed!