THE STRUGGLE IN THE “GO-DOWN.”

That Willis Round meant injury was plainly evident. But whether he came
as a thief or incendiary was yet to be ascertained. He knew the ground
well, so he lost little time in entering. After closing the door he
hesitated.

At his elbow stood the brave lad with lantern raised in readiness. At
the first sign of a light, or the scratch of a match, he meant to strike
with all the power of his arm. The lantern was a heavy iron affair, and
Willis Round was as near death at that moment as he probably had been
during his eventful career.

His knowledge of the “go-down’s” interior saved him. After a brief pause
he started toward the main portion of the warehouse. At his heels crept
Nattie, silent, determined, resolute.

The main room of the warehouse was crowded with bales of silk, chests of
tea, and various boxes containing lacquered ware. These had been
arranged in an orderly manner with passageways extending between the
different piles.

In one thing the lad had an advantage; he was thoroughly conversant
with the arrangement of the goods, while Round had only a general
knowledge of the interior. The latter stumbled several times, but he
made no move to show a light.

Presently Nattie felt his curiosity aroused. What could be the man’s
object? Was it theft of valuable silks or deliberate incendiarism? That
the fellow had a certain destination in view was made evident by his
actions.

During the day the place was lighted by large glazed windows at the ends
and on each side, but at night these were closed with iron shutters. In
the roof were several long skylights, and through them an occasional
glare came from the lightning, which still fitfully shot athwart the
sky.

It was by the aid of one of these that the lad finally saw the intruder
halt near a pile of tea chests. The flash lasted only an instant, but it
brought out in clear relief the attenuated figure of the scoundrel. He
was standing within reach of a number of boxes packed ready for shipment
on the morrow.

They were wrapped in straw matting, and nearby was a little heap of the
same material to be used on other chests. It was highly inflammable.
This fact recurred to the lad with startling significance, and he
involuntarily hurried forward.

Before he could realize his mistake he was within a step of Round. A
slight cough from the latter caused Nattie to abruptly check himself.
With a gasp of excitement he shrank back, and slipped behind a large
bale of silks.

The next moment a blinding flash of lightning revealed the interior of
the warehouse. Before it died away the plucky lad peered forth, but only
to find that a change had taken place in affairs. The ex-bookkeeper was
not in sight.

It was an unwelcome discovery, to say the least. With the enemy in view,
it was easy to keep track of his intentions. Now he might be retreating
to any part of the vast “go-down” where in temporary security he could
start a conflagration at his leisure.

“I must find him at all hazards,” muttered Nattie, somewhat discomfited.
“Why didn’t I bring matters to a point in the office? or why didn’t I
strike him down while I had the chance a moment ago? I’ll not fool any
more.”

Grasping the iron lantern in readiness for instant use, he slipped
forward step by step. At every yard he paused and listened intently. The
silence was both oppressive and ominous. He would have given a great
deal if even a rustle or a sigh had reached his ears.

As time passed without incident the lad grew bolder. His anxiety
spurred him on. He hastened his movements and peered from side to side
in vain endeavor to pierce the gloom. Where had the man gone? Probably
he was even then preparing to strike the match that would ignite the
building.

Unable to endure longer the suspense, Nattie swung into a side aisle and
ran plump into some yielding object. There was a muttered cry of
surprise and terror; then, in the space of a second, the interior
resounded with shouts and blows and the hubbub of a struggle.

At the very start Nattie lost his only weapon. In the sudden and
unexpected collision the lantern was dashed from his hand. Before he
could recover it he felt two sinewy arms thrown about his middle, then
with a tug he was forced against a bale.

It required only a moment for the athletic lad to free himself. Long
training at sports and games came to his aid. Wriggling toward the
floor, he braced himself and gave a mighty upward heave. At the same
time, finding his arms released, he launched out with both clinched
fists.

There was a thud, a stifled cry, and then a pile of tea chests close at
hand fell downward with a loud crash. Quick to realize his opportunity,
Nattie slipped away and placed a large box between his antagonist and
himself.

The scrimmage had only served to increase his anxiety and anger. When he
regained his breath he called out, hotly:

“You confounded scoundrel, I’ll capture you yet. I know you, Willis
Round, and if this night’s work don’t place you in prison it’ll not be
my fault.”




The words had hardly passed his lips when the lad was unceremoniously
brought to a realization of his mistake. There was a whiz and a crash
and a small box dropped to the floor within a foot of him. He lost no
time in shifting his position.

“Aha! two can play at that game,” he muttered.

Picking up a similar object, he was on the point of throwing it
haphazard when he became aware of a loud knocking in the direction of
the door. Almost frantic with relief and joy, he dropped the missile and
started toward the spot.

Fortunately gaining the little apartment without mishap, he inserted his
key in the lock with trembling hands, and attempted to turn it. Just
then a maudlin voice came from outside:

“Phwere is the lock, Oi wonder? By the whiskers av St. Patrick, Oi
never saw such a night. Cronin, ye divil, yer fuller than Duffy’s goat.
But ye are a good fellow.

“‘So Oi seized th’ capstan bar,
Like a true honest tar,
And in spite—-‘

“Murther! Oi can’t git in at all, at all. Oi’ll go back to the bottle.
Me new friend has–hic–left me, but Oi have his whiskey. Here goes for
th’ house once more.”

Disgusted at the discovery that it was only the tipsy watchman, Nattie
had again made his way back into the “go-down” proper. As he crossed the
threshold of the door leading from the office, he heard the rattling of
iron.

The sound came from the far end. A second later there was a faint crash,
and a gust of wind swept through the vast apartment.

“He has opened a window. He is trying to escape.”

Throwing all caution away, the lad recklessly dashed down the central
passageway. It did not take him long to reach the spot. The fury of the
storm caused the opened shutter to swing back and forth with a
melancholy grinding of the hinges.

Climbing upon the sill, Nattie slipped through the opening and dropped
outside. He had barely reached the ground when he was suddenly seized,
and, with a fierce effort, sent staggering across the walk separating
the building from the canal.

He made a frantic effort to save himself, but it was too late. With a
shrill cry trembling upon his lips, he felt himself falling through
space; then, with a loud splash, he struck the water’s surface!