The Closing Net/Part 2/Chapter 5
Sœur Anne Marie, for all her sweet gentleness, had the quiet finality of the angel with the Flaming Sword. Not a wriggle or so much as a word out of me were the orders for the next two days, not a glimpse of Rosalie or even a bon jour through the door; and as for a newspaper—what horror! She came in but little herself; so I did a Chinese rest cure, with the result that the evening of the second day my fever was gone, and Sœur Anne Marie said there was no more danger.
The next morning, as I rolled over, clean slept out, there came a little rustle at the door, and I looked round to see Rosalie peeping in at me.
"Good morning," said I. "Is my sentence commuted?"
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Like a hundred horse-power racer. Whenever you get tired holding that food——"
She laughed, and set down on my table de nuit a bowl of café au lait, some toast and a roll of fresh butter.
"And the arm—and shoulder?" she asked.
"I've forgot 'em!" And I started for the petit déjeuner in a way that made Rosalie smile. Wounds, after all, are nothing much to a man in perfect health. The blood-letting had made me feel nice and cool and relaxed. I always had too much blood; but what had knocked me over was getting it let out of me too suddenly. Nature gives good fighting men more blood than they really need.
Where is your angel companion?" I asked.
"She is visiting a woman who has a new baby. Isn't she a dear?"
"She is more than that. I can't say what she makes me feel. I'd rather not try. Why can't all children have mothers like that? The prisons would all have steeples on 'em in ten years, and graft would be as rare as cannibalism."
Rosalie nodded, looking rather thoughtful. "I suppose God cultivates them, just as He does rare flowers," said she. "When He thinks they're too good for us He takes them to heaven, where they'll be appreciated. There are actually people in the quarter who are nasty to Sœur Anne Marie simply because she is a nun."
"I'd like to catch 'em at it!" I growled.
Rosalie gave me a pensive look. You are a good deal of a savage, aren't you?" said she.
"My real nature is nearer the surface than most people's," I answered.
She nodded. "I know. I'm a bit that way myself. I could live a thousand years in a convent or work among the poor, or suffer, or enjoy, but I'd always be a bit of a savage. In spite of my convent training and Sœur Anne Marie's influence, it blazes out once in a while."
"How does it blaze out?" I asked.
Her colour deepened. Rosalie's skin was of that clear sort that the weather seems to have no effect upon, and the rich blood was always going and coming in a way that was very pretty to see. Her face was round rather than oval, and wore habitually an expression partly alert, partly saucy. It was not a beautiful face, nor was it by any means aristocratic in feature, the nose being small, turned up at the end and rather low in the middle, while her upper lip was pulled up in an habitual pout which showed the red, and the lower one was tucked in at the corners, like a baby's. You see lots of faces like Rosalie's in the front row of a pretty chorus, with figures to match; but Rosalie's expression had something which most of the show girls lack—and that was force and character, partly the result of a resolute little chin and partly from a sort of childish purity, such as you sometimes notice under the big hood of a Sister of Charity. One felt instinctively that she was a good girl; also that the person who tried to make her otherwise stood a good chance of getting hurt. Rosalie possessed the inherited virtue of the Irish girls, who are as proverbially careful of themselves as they are bountiful to the man with whom they choose to mate. A Celtic trait that; and French girls well brought up are very similar.
"I must go and start the déjeuner," said Rosalie. "Here's the Matin and here's the Herald. Sœur Anne Marie said you might see the papers if you had no fever—and you look cool enough." And with a bright little nod she went out.
Just as I had expected, the papers were full of the attempted robbery at Baron Hertzfeld's; and the artistes who assisted at the luncheon party must have thought they'd struck a good vein of advertising value.
Chu-Chu, who gave the name of Numas, was the hero of the yarn. He told how he had seen the thief climb over the wall and had followed him into the house and up the stairs. Spying from the curtains, Numas had seen him start to work on the safe, when he had waited for about five minutes hoping that somebody might come and assist in the capture. Numas had not wished to call or to go to look for assistance, for fear the thief might escape, but had finally determined to tackle him single-handed. In the scuffle he had managed to disarm the marauder, and had shot at him with his own revolver and received a knife-thrust in return. Then another chauffeur had come to his aid, but the burglar had managed to overcome them both and make his escape.
The beautiful Princess Petrovski, who was such a familiar figure in the theatres and fashionable restaurants, and was so often to be seen at the races with Prince Kharkoff—the chap who had got me deported, you know—had taken the chauffeur for the afternoon, her own car undergoing repairs. Acting from a sentiment impossible to commend sufficiently, she had ordered that the hero be sent to a maison de santé in her own quarter, where she might be able personally to superintend his nursing.
Then followed a lot of rot about the attempted burglary and the heroism of the other chauffeur. I had taken him for a wine-bibbing footman, but it appears he was a large, fat, private chauffeur in a fancy uniform. He described how he had first heard a suspicious noise in the conservatory—more flower-pots knocked off the shelf, I suppose—but, on entering the house, the pistol-shot had rung out and he had dashed up the stairs—this last was manifestly untrue, and in my private opinion he had been taking a little snoop round on his own hook. He had entered the boudoir to find his comrade, Numas, grappling with the desperado, a broad-shouldered man of prodigious strength. The chauffeur had flung himself upon the marauder, in spite of the fact that he was himself unarmed; but he was not in time to save his colleague from being stabbed, while he himself, though, as any one could see, a powerful man, was flung aside as though he had been a child, and dealt a blow upon the side of the jaw which had stretched him senseless on the floor.
The burglar was described as a man rather above the average height, very broad of shoulder, and dressed in ordinary street clothes, rather light in colour. He was said to have had dark hair and a black moustache—and here I began to rub my eyes. As you see, I am fairly tall, but I am by no means heavily built and of medium colouring. I was smooth-shaven, and wore tweed knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket.
A second's thought, however, showed me the reason. Chu-Chu naturally did not want me to be taken, so he had put them off as much as he could, considering that one or two others might have caught a glimpse of me. As for the fat chauffeur, he was a fool; and had been so excited that if Chu-Chu had described me as a red Indian in warpaint and feathers he would never have denied it.
The funniest part of all, though, was that the article went on to say that, in the opinion of the police and others, more or less au courant of the criminal world, the daring burglar was none other than the notorious Chu-Chu le Tondeur. Everything went to establish this identity—the physical appearance of the thief, his superhuman strength and activity, and his cleverness in escaping unseen except for a waiter, who caught a glimpse of him as he plunged into the shrubbery; the speed and skill with which he had done his work, for the door of the strong-box was on the point of being pierced, though Numas said that he had waited for only about five minutes in the corridor before trying to seize him, and had then made the attempt single-handed, as he was afraid to cry out or to leave the spot in search of help, fearing that the burglar might escape. When, after what had seemed to him not over ten minutes at the outside, he had decided to tackle the thief single-handed, the hole into the lock was already drilled.
The most significant fact, however, was that the object of the robbery was to steal a valuable diamond tiara which had been purchased by Monsieur le Baron von Hertzfeld as a gift for a friend. Intercepting gems in this way was known to be a specialty of le Tondeur's; and so on.
I laid the paper down, smiling to myself. Then it struck me all at once that here I had interfered with Ivan's schemes again, and I stopped smiling. Yes, come to think of it, the grin had better be kept for another time. Ivan was neutral so far as Chu-Chu's and my feud went; but breaking up trade was another business. Ivan had, no doubt, put Chu-Chu on this job, Léontine to dispose of the loot afterwards; so that, in jumping on Chu-Chu's back at this particular moment, I had probably done the concern out of at least a hundred thousand francs. And, now that I come to think of it, Léontine herself had looked rather sick when I met her in the park.
This was mighty serious business—more serious, as a matter of fact, than my feud with Chu-Chu. Ivan had squared things between us when he gave me back Mary Dalghren's pearls, and he had acted handsomely and on the level. Now, he might easily say to himself: "Being neutral is one thing, but standing pat while this virtuous young man interferes with my star worker, and takes the bread out of the mouths of the lot of us, is another. I will give orders that he be eliminated."
And I knew that, once such orders were issued from headquarters, it would be all up with me. Those ferrets of Ivan's would have been hanging from my throat in a week's time, no matter how deep I burrowed. The association was rooted in Paris like a cancer, and there was no telling where its fibres might penetrate. If Ivan made up his mind that I was de trop I would probably never know what finished me. The best thing, I thought, would be to go to Ivan and tell him how the thing had happened, and assure him that I had no intention of interfering with his work, even if I had chucked the game myself. Sounds a bit weak-livered? Well, maybe so; but, after all, there are limits to the nerve-strain a man can stand when it's long-continued; also, I'd like to state, it's the dash of caution with his courage that makes a man a master and carries him the greatest distance.
I went ahead and finished the papers, and was glad to see by the society column that Mr. and Mrs. John Cuttynge were touring the Lake Country in their sixty horse-power Franco-Helvetia, one of our new cars. I hoped they would stay across the Channel until I finished up my affair with Chu-Chu, as John and I looked too much alike to make it safe for him to knock about Paris.
Then Rosalie stuck her head in to tell me to be good, and was off for the afternoon and maybe most of the night. It struck me that if I had a wife I wouldn't want her to be a chauffeuse. Rosalie was well fitted for the job, because she had that peculiar combination of cheek and good-natured repartee which will take a woman almost anywhere, and can turn a bad intention into a laugh.
I was getting a bit tired of myself when I heard a little rustle and Sœur Anne Marie came in. She gave me a quick, smiling look, then said:
"There is no need to take your temperature, mon ami. Another day of such good behaviour and you can sit up. Now I will dress your arm."
So she went ahead, and I must say she was a master hand at it. The wound, though a nasty one, was so clean that Sœur Anne Marie was surprised.
"My son," said she, "if only your heart were as clean as your blood and tissues you would be a strong worker in God's garden."
"And what makes you think that it is not, ma Mère?" I asked.
"I do not think so," she answered; "but from what Rosalie tells me I fear that your soul is sick. You told her that you had an enemy whom you were seeking to destroy, did you not?"
"Yes," I answered. "That is quite true; but this man is not only my enemy, but one to all society. It is Chu-Chu le Tondeur; and every year of his life—every month, one might almost say—adds its new list of thievery and murder. Besides, if I do not manage to kill him, he will certainly kill me."
Her great, intelligent eyes rested thoughtfully on mine.
"It were perhaps better that he should destroy you, my son," she answered, "than that you should destroy your own soul. Will you tell me your story? Perhaps I may be able to help you."
It seemed to me that I owed her this confidence, so I told her all that had happened, holding back only the names. When I had finished she sat for a while, thinking deeply. Then she said:
"It is just as I thought when I first looked into your eyes. Your soul is not one of those poor, unfortunate, deformed ones. It has been ill, and now it is beginning to recover. Your own strength must make this recovery complete. My son, your duty is very plain."
"Perhaps you mean," said I, "that I ought to take the whole affair to the police?"
She nodded her silvery head.
"But that would be impossible," said I quickly. "I passed my word to the Chief that I would not betray him or any of his crowd."
"There are times, mon ami," said Sœur Anne Marie, "when it is necessary to break one's word rather than cling to a wrong resolve."
"Don't tell me that!" I cried. "My word's the only god I've got. It's the only thing that's never failed me!"
Maybe my voice was rough, for she drew back a little and seemed startled and a bit frightened. Then she looked at me, and her eyes softened.
"And you have always kept your word?" she asked.
"Always," I answered. "I don't give it lightly; but, once given, I stick to it."
Then, in this case, I will not advise you to break it, since to do so would be to break faith with yourself. But there is something else which has occurred to me. This man who is at the head of the criminal organisation is, you tell me, so powerful that if you were to incur his enmity you would feel as if already dead?"
"That is true," I answered.
"And if he were to forbid you to destroy this terrible criminal, Chu-Chu, you would not dare?"
"It would not be worth my while to try."
Then is it not possible that your enemy might feel the same way—that if he were forbidden by this same Chief to murder you he would not dare?"
I hesitated. It had never occurred to me to ask Ivan to call off Chu-Chu under pain of punishment from headquarters. Yet, when I came to think of it, I doubted that Chu-Chu would dare to go ahead against Ivan's strict injunction any more than I would. Sœur Anne Marie saw the hesitation in my face, and went on quickly:
"You tell me you have twice attempted the life of this man, and that he has narrowly escaped; that you have been saved from being a murderer by a miracle." (That was her way of looking at it.) "Do you not think it possible your enemy would be quite willing to obey the order for a truce if he knew you would do the same—especially since he would hardly dare to disobey? Why do you not see this Chief and suggest to him that he put a stop to the feud?"
"Then you would advise me to discontinue my efforts to put an end to a dangerous enemy to society?" I muttered.
"No, my son. I have already advised you to take the matter to the proper authorities, and you have told me that this was something which you could not do and remain true to yourself. So I urge you next, since you cannot protect society with due authority, at least to keep your own hands clean of blood. Might not this be possible?"
I thought hard for a moment.
"Ma Mère," I said finally, "I much doubt that it could be done. This enemy of mine is a human tiger, and I doubt if he knows what real fear is. In this way the man is superhuman—or, perhaps, less than human. For another thing, I doubt if the Chief himself would dare issue such an order; for le Tondeur, after all, is still a member of the association, while I am a renegade and a foreigner. It would be dangerous, I think, for the Chief to at tempt such a thing. It might weaken his influence with his followers; and, besides, Chu-Chu might kill him, secretly and without leaving any trace, if he thought himself in danger."
She was silent for a moment, then asked:
"At any rate, could you not see the Chief and ask his opinion? You tell me he has shown himself to be friendly disposed to you. Could you not have a talk with him?"
"That is possible," I answered.
"And, until you have heard what he has to say," she went on eagerly, "will you not promise me that you will not raise your hand against your enemy?"
"Not even in self-defence?" I asked quickly.
"It will not be necessary. God will protect you, and you shall go forth clothed in my prayers."
It occurred to me that the dear lady's prayers had not saved her from being driven from the convent and the institution broken up; but, of course, I did not hint at such a thing. What she asked of me was pretty stiff, as, for all I knew, Chu-Chu might be at that moment on the stairs. A flesh wound in the muscles of the chest isn't much, and the man had the vitality of a gorilla or timber wolf. I hesitated.
"You do not realise what you ask of me, Sœur Anne Marie," I said. "It is like sending a man into the arena unarmed."
She looked at me sorrowfully. "It is a terrible thing for a religieuse to nurse a man back to strength in the knowledge that, so soon as he is healed, he means to go forth to slay a fellowman," said she. "But if you are unwilling, my son, I will not urge you."
I raised myself on one elbow. "I will promise you this," said I, "that until I have seen the Chief and heard what he has to say I will take no offensive action. I will strike only in self-defence and to save my own life—if I should get the chance. And I will promise you, also, ma Mère, that if the matter can be settled without bloodshed it shall be so."
The old lady leaned over and patted my shoulder.
"Thank you, my son," said she. "God will reward you!"
A fortnight saw me practically sound again. The bullet hole in my shoulder had been drilled clean and closed up again without a drop of pus. The knife-wound was also clean, though in healing it left the outer side of my hand rather cold and numb.
Then came the time to say good-bye and it wasn't easy; for I had grown mighty found of these two sweet, brave women, each so different from the other, yet in a way so much alike. They liked me too—that was plain enough from their actions; and all three of us knew it was pretty uncertain when and where we would meet again. Naturally I had not stuck my head out of the door since the afternoon I came to the little studio apartment; and, once I had left it, I did not intend to risk going back. Neither would it do to meet either of them outside. Once Chu-Chu discovered that they were my friends, there was no telling what horrible thing might happen.
I had decided to leave at midnight and go straight to Ivan's house. Sœur Anne Marie was suffering from a headache and at nine o'clock I made her go to bed. She gave me her blessing and made me promise to send her a few words from time to time. Rosalie was resting, for she had come in at about two, after an eighteen-hour trick, and was going out again to get on the boulevards before the theatres were over.
My plan was to leave a little after Rosalie and go directly to Ivan's house, over by the Parc Monceau. After looking the ground over carefully, I would go in and try my luck with Ivan. It was very possible that I might not get out alive, as Ivan might consider the opportunity of suppressing me too good a one to let go by, and the armed weasels that were his servants would make quick and quiet work of it. I was getting rather tired of the whole filthy business, however, and asked nothing better than to have it over with, one way or the other. I felt like the old man whose wife had been a bedridden invalid for five years, when he said to the physician: "Wa'al, doc, I do wish she'd git better or—somethin!"
A little before ten Rosalie came out, clad in a kimono, her hair tumbled about her ears and her eyes red-rimmed and tired.
"I couldn't sleep," said she; "so I thought I'd come out and talk to you. Oh! Isn't it all horrid?"
She caught her breath and covered her face with her hands. She was pretty well used up, poor girl, for the tourist crowd had kept her on the trot night and day, and my own affair had got horribly on her nerves. More than once I'd cursed myself for a fool for having let her take me home.
"Rosalie," said I, "you are all fagged out. You've been going it too strong. Can't you take all night in and rest up a little?"
She turned and gave me a queer, sarcastic sort of look.
"Rest up!" she echoed scornfully. "I'd go crazy and jump down into the plum trees."
"That's what comes of getting overtired," said I.
"Oh!" snapped Rosalie—"is it?"
She stood under the glow of the tall reading lamp, nervously straightening the books and papers on the centre table. Her chestnut hair, which was full of natural waves, glowed and glistened like spun gold as she moved her head. She turned her back to me, and I couldn't help noticing how sweetly her pretty little neck rose from the fold of the kimono. Her restless hands stole in and out among the papers; and then, as I watched her thoughtfully, the rounded shoulders gave a little heave, there was the sound of a smothered sob and her bare arms slipped up out of the flowing sleeves as she covered her face with both hands.
"Rosalie!" said I sharply, and sprang up from the divan where I was sitting.
She turned away from me. The sobs came quickly and noiselessly.
My friend, I've seen some harrowing things in my sinful life, but I don't know when I've been so upset as I was at the sight of that little girl, sobbing quietly under the lamp. Even though it were no more than a combination of heat and overwork and insufficient sleep—and the chance of losing a friend who had grown companionable—it was mighty pathetic. Women or children in trouble always hit me hard; and the next moment I was standing beside Rosalie, my arm behind her and my hand resting on her shoulder.
"Rosalie," I said, "don't cry, little girl. There's nothing to cry about. It's coming out all right—you wait and see."
She shook her head, her face still covered with her hands and her body rocking back and forth. Once or twice before, when she had been tired and nervous, I'd seen her on the edge of a breakdown; but she'd always managed to laugh and chatter it off. This time, however, the storm had caught her aback, and her body shook and shuddered under the struggle. Yet, game little girl that she was, she was as silent as a wounded bird for fear of disturbing Sœur Anne Marie.
I left her for a moment to close the door of the corridor. Rosalie tottered to the divan and flung herself down in the corner. Her sobs were almost convulsions, and I got frightened. There's only one thing to do when a woman gets to crying like that, and that is to comfort her, no matter what comes of it. So I sat down beside her on the divan, slid my arm under her shoulders and transferred the chestnut head and the round arms and all to my own chest. She pulled back a little at first, but feebly—then yielded; in fact, she went me one better, for her pretty, round arms slipped out of the kimono and went up round my neck and her tear-stained face was buried under the rim of my jaw.
For several minutes I held her so; and it must have been the best thing to do, because the sobs slowed down and stopped and her breathing grew quieter. To help the cure, I lifted her face and kissed her eyes and lips. This was good for the sobs if not for the breathing, and I could feel her heart hammering against my chest.
Rosalie was fast coming to herself, however, and pretty soon she stirred uneasily, drawing her arms from round my neck and letting her head slip down against my shoulder.
"Whatever must you think of me, Frank?" said she.
"Just what I've always thought—that you're a brave, warm-hearted darling, and as good as they make 'em. After all, we're only human."
She caught her breath; then her laugh rippled out, quavering and unsteady.
"Look in the glass, Frank. What a picture!"
I looked across the room and saw the reflection of a young priest in a long black cassock sitting on a divan with his arms full of an uncommonly pretty girl with very red cheeks, hair tumbled round her ears, and a flowered kimono far enough open to show a very demoralising throat. That part of it was corrected while I looked in the glass and Rosalie drew herself up, then turned and looked at me thoughtfully.
"That was a bad breakdown, Frank—but I feel better now. I was 'all in,' as they say at home. You are a sort of Rock of Refuge, aren't you? I wonder how many men there are in this town to whom a girl could cling and cry with safety?" She stared at me, her eyes curious and alight. "You may be an ex-burglar, Frank, but——"
"But I never stole what I was trusted with," I answered. "Now go wash your face, my dear, and put on your dinky business clothes, and we'll eat a bite, and——"
"Don't!" She held out her hand.
"But, Rosalie, it's not so terrible. Something good will turn up, you see. And I'll write you every day."
"You might come into the Bon Cocher sometimes."
"It's too dangerous—for you, I mean."
"I'm not afraid."
"You weren't afraid a minute or two ago. Somebody's got to be afraid sometimes."
She looked at me with eyes curious and alight. Then she said:
"You are right, my rock of refuge. I shall do as you say. Now I'll go and put on my business clothes—and you can hook me up." She laughed gaily—a little too gaily, it seemed to me.
So she got into her khakis and I hooked her up—and dear old Sœur Anne Marie, who had put me in the most dangerous position of all my life by extracting the promise she had, resting and, I hope, sleeping in a room close by, and never guessing at the fierce little drama that had been played out right alongside her! For, if I had sat tight and been a rock of refuge and all that, let me tell you that it was not because I wanted to, but because my soul wasn't quite as sick as Sœur Anne Marie may have thought. Or maybe she knew it quite well, and had a pretty good idea of what might and did happen, and was lying there loving us and blessing us, and putting out prayers for us that governed the whole thing and made the naughty little devils crawl under the divan with their tails between their legs. I've seen too much of Bad not to know that Good can use a slung-shot when need be.
Rosalie stirred up an omelet, and we ate it with a bit of salad, some brioche and a bottle of beer. You'd have thought we were starting out for a joy ride and to do the town!
Then, our little supper finished and the clocks striking the half-hour—half-past eleven—I got up quickly.
"I'm off!" said I. "Au 'voir, my dear!"
Rosalie's face went white.
"Not—yet!" says she falteringly.
"Time's up. Be a good girl, and don't get nervous and blue."
She threw herself into my arms. I kissed her, then turned to the door and went out and down the dark stairs into the street. The last I saw of Rosalie she was standing in the middle of the room, staring with wide eyes and pale cheeks.
Once in the street, I'm ashamed to say I soon forgot—or, at least, put out of my mind—Rosalie sobbing on my shoulder and the look of her face when the door closed between us. The street was always a tonic for me—just what drink is to some and women to others, and the sea or the woods or the road to still others. Whenever I've been down I've slipped into the street, like an ash-cat, and there I've gradually bucked up and taken a fresh grip and got a new interest in things. The look of the houses and the guess at what's going on behind their walls, and the glimpse at the faces that pass you—let me tell you, my friend, that's my wine! It's to me what the jungle is to the hunter of big game, or the ice floe to the arctic explorer, or the desert to the Bedouin. My place is in the street—that maze of human purpose; it's my hunting ground—or was. And when the curiosity to know what was behind those inscrutable walls got too strong, or was mixed with the need of whatever there was to be found there, I went in and had a look round, and I seldom came out empty-handed.
Talk about crime! Faugh! I was a criminal, just as we all are; only when I got crowded a little I went after what I needed. I knew that if I made a false step or blundered the least bit they'd nab me and tuck me away for years and years where there'd be no more street or jungle or sea or desert, or freedom of any kind. And yet I risked it. Sometimes I think that many criminals take these risks merely because there is no other class that loves its liberty so much. Criminals are all gamblers, more or less; and, though I don't believe in such a thing as a "criminal class," I do believe in a class of gamblers. And I think that most of the real criminals—mind you, I'm not speaking of those silly, pitiful, weak honest folks who fall to a temptation because the payment on the car is due and the wife has run up a milliner's bill—the real criminal, the wolf of society, loves to play with the trap. He loves it just as another type, still higher in the scale of perversity, loves to gamble with his life—or another man with his fortune.
Well, the street was my passion; and when you've got that city-prowling in your blood there's no such place to gratify it as Paris or London. American cities are laid out too much on the plan of a safe-deposit vault or a model chicken farm. Everything is squared and angled and numbered and tallied and patrolled, and when a burglar wants to do a job he doesn't go out and slip over a wall, with his little kit swung from his shoulder, he turns lobbyist and starts with the mayor, and works down until he finds somebody whom he can "fix." That's not sport—it's business. No wonder American crooks call burglary and pocket-picking and a bill through the legislature all by the same name—"graft"!
It's different in the Old World cities, however, where a man goes about his job as a hunter might—but, there, I'm forgetting that I'd chucked all that and was out for something even bigger than cracking a safe—my life and the right to live in the open. And I was handicapped now, as a hunter might be who had lost all his ammunition. I'd given Sœur Anne Marie my word not to strike except to save my life—and if I'd promised her to roam round unarmed I'd have felt more secure, but this promise was good only until I'd had my talk with Ivan. So you see I was in some hurry to have this over with.
If Ivan thought it would be worth his while to call off the feud between Chu-Chu and myself, there was the possibility that he might manage it through Chu-Chu's avarice. Chu-Chu loved money even more than he loved revenge, and he had found out that he couldn't do much without Ivan. The Shearer had wonderful cunning, ruthless methods of getting rid of obstacles, the cautious but desperate courage of a wolf and a dexterity that was equal to that of any safe expert or prestidigitator; but his lacking quality was imagination. Once given the data and general directions, there was no living man so capable of pulling off a job; but without these Chu-Chu might easily have gone a year without turning a single trick. He had no criminal initiative. He was like a trained hunting dog of marvellous scent and instinct; taken out by the master, he could do his work and delight in it—left alone, he would have scratched his fleas round the house through the whole hunting season.
Ivan was, in his way, as remarkable as Chu-Chu. Through his underground system—which, as a matter of fact, was probably nine-tenths his own imagination—he always had a job on hand. Ivan seemed to know in some clairvoyant way when valuable jewels were about to make a journey, and where; and how much gold was in such and such a bank; and who had just bought a rope of pearls or a tiara or a dog-collar, and when they were to be delivered. Ivan had all of the data clear and distinct for the man detailed for the job; and he would let it pass unless he could see the whole business from beginning to end. Chu-Chu was his star man for this sort of work, and I had an idea that he operated on half shares, though Ivan made the bluff of paying only 15 per cent. for such jobs as he himself outlined.
It seemed to me, therefore, that Ivan, having no particular interest in the feud between us and having as much use for Chu-Chu as Chu-Chu had for Ivan, might persuade the Shearer that there was nothing in it, and rig up a truce between us. Ivan did not want me to kill Chu-Chu. When he told me to go ahead I think he felt quite sure that Chu-Chu would finish my affair within the week. On the other hand, I doubted very much that he wanted Chu-Chu to kill me. In spite of what I had said to him, Ivan would not be quite sure that I had not made a confidant of some friend who might get up and do a lot of talking if I were picked up somewhere with a knife through my gizzard. Ivan's methods were all for quiet and no scandal. He was, in his way, just like the church-going head of a big, dishonest corporation, and no doubt really felt himself a person of worth and consequence. He supported a charity for tuberculous children, and the devil knows how many needy young women. Ivan, all things being equal, would be quick to see the advantage of a peace treaty between a man who might yet bring him great profit and another who might land him in the Andamans. The only question was, Could he do it? And that's what I was going to try to find out.