He glanced about him—and with a growing sense of disaster saw that two houses farther on the stretch of roof appeared to end. There would be a lane or a street there! And in another minute or two, if it were not already the case, others would be following the gunmen to the roof, and then he would be—he caught his breath suddenly in a queer little strangled cry of relief. Just back of him, a few yards away, his eyes made out what, in the darkness, seemed to be a glass skylight.
A dark form sped like a deeper shadow across the black in front of him, making for a chimney nearer by, closing in the range. Jimmie Dale fired—wide. Tight as was the corner he was in, little as was the mercy deserved at his hands, he could not, after all, bring himself to shoot—to kill.
A voice, the Skeeter’s, bawled out raucously:
“Rush him all together—from different sides at once!”
A backward leap! Jimmie Dale’s boot was crashing glass and frame, stamping at it desperately, making a hole for his body through the skylight. A yell, a chorus of them, answered this—then the crunch of racing feet on the gravel roof. He emptied his revolver, sweeping the darkness with a semicircle of vicious flashes.
It seemed an hour—it was barely the fraction of a second, as he hung by his hands from the side of the skylight frame, his body swinging back and forth in the unknown blackness below. The skylight might be, probably was, directly over the stair well, and open clear to the basement of the house—but it was his only chance. He swung his body well out, let go—and dropped. With the impetus he smashed against a wall, was flung back from it in a sort of rebound, and his hands closed, gripping fiercely, on banisters. It had been the stair well beyond any question of doubt, but his swing had sent him clear of it.
Above, they had not yet reached the skylight. Jimmie Dale snatched a precious moment to listen, as he rose, and found himself, apart from bruises, perhaps unhurt. There was commotion, too, in this house below, the alarm had extended and spread along the block—but the commotion was all in the front of the house—the street was the lure.
Jimmie Dale started down the stairs, and in an instant he had gained the landing. In another he had slipped to the rear of the hall—somewhere there, from the hall itself, from one of the rear rooms, there must be an exit to the fire escape. To attempt to leave by the front way was certain capture.
They were yelling, shouting down now through the sky-light above, as Jimmie Dale softly raised the window sash at the rear of the hall. The fire escape was there. Shouts from along the corridor, from the tenement dwellers who had been crowding their neighbours’ rooms, craning their necks probably from the front windows, answered the shouts now from the roof and the skylight; doors opened; forms rushed out—but it was dark in the corridor, only a murky yellow at the upper end from the opened doors.