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Title: Out of the Ashes
Author: Mumford, Ethel Watts, 1878-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Out of the Ashes" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



OUT OF THE ASHES

BY
ETHEL WATTS MUMFORD


1913


I


Marcus Gard sat at his library table apparently in rapt contemplation of
a pair of sixteenth century bronze inkwells, strange twisted shapes,
half man, half beast, bearing in their breasts twin black pools. But his
thoughts were far from their grotesque beauty--centered on vast schemes
of destruction and reconstruction. The room was still, so quiet, in
spite of its proximity to the crowded life of Fifth Avenue, that one
divined its steel construction and the doubled and trebled casing of its
many windows. The walls, hung with green Genoese velvet, met a carved
and coffered ceiling, and touched the upper shelf of the breast-high
bookcases that lined the walls. No picture broke the simple unity of
color. Here and there a Donatello bronze silhouetted a slim shape, or a
Florentine portrait bust smiled with veiled meaning from the quiet
shadows. The shelves were rich in books in splendid bindings, gems of
ancient workmanship or modern luxury, for the Great Man had the instinct
of the masterpiece.

The door opened softly, and the secretary entered, a look of uncertainty
on his handsome young face. The slight sound of his footfall disturbed
the master's contemplation. He looked up, relieved to be drawn for a
moment from his reflection.

"What is it, Saunders?" he asked, leaning back and grasping the arms of
his chair with a gesture of control familiar to him.

"Mrs. Martin Marteen is here, very anxious to see you. She let me
understand it was about the Heim Vandyke. I knew you were interested, so
I ventured, Mr. Gard--"

"Yes, yes--quite right. Let her come in here." He rose as he spoke,
shook his cuffs, pulled down his waistcoat and ran a hand over his bald
spot and silvery hair. Marcus Gard was still a handsome man. He remained
standing, and, as the door reopened, advanced to meet his guest. She
came forward, smiling, and, taking a white-gloved hand from her sable
muff, extended it graciously.

"Very nice of you to receive me, Mr. Gard," she said, and the tone of
her mellow voice was clear and decisive. "I know what a busy man you
are."

"At your service." He bowed, waved her to a seat and sank once more into
his favorite chair, watching her the while intently. If she had come to
negotiate the sale of the Heim Vandyke, let her set forth the
conditions. It was no part of his plan to show how much he coveted the
picture. In the meantime she was very agreeable to look at. Her strong,
regular features suggested neither youth nor age. She was of the goddess
breed. Every detail of the lady's envelope was perfect--velvet and fur,
a glimpse of exquisite antique lace, a sheen of pearl necklace, neither
so large as to be ostentatious nor so small as to suggest economy. The
Great Man's instinct of the masterpiece stirred. "What can I do for
you?" he said, as she showed no further desire to explain her visit.

"I let fall a hint to Mr. Saunders," she answered--and her smile shone
suddenly, giving her straight Greek features a fascinating humanity--"
that I wanted to see you about the Heim Vandyke." She paused, and his
eyes lit.

"Yes--portrait? A good example, I believe."

She laughed quietly. "As you very well know, Mr. Gard. But that, let me
own, was merely a ruse to gain your private ear. I have nothing to do
with that gem of art."

The Great Man's face fell. He was in for a bad quarter of an hour. Lady
with a hard luck story--he was not unused to the type--but Mrs. Martin
Marteen! He could not very well dismiss her unheard, an acquaintance of
years' standing, a friend of his sister's. His curiosity was aroused.
What could be the matter with the impeccable Mrs. Marteen? Perhaps she
had been speculating. She read his thoughts.

"Quite wrong, Mr. Gard. I have not been drawn into the stock market. The
fact is, I _have_ something to sell, but it isn't a picture--autographs.
You collect them, do you not? Now I have in my possession a series of
autograph letters by one of the foremost men of his day; one, in fact,
in whom you have the very deepest interest."

"Napoleon!" he exclaimed.

She smiled. "I have heard him so called," she answered. "I have here
some photographs of the letters. They are amateur pictures--in fact, I
took them myself; so you will have to pardon trifling imperfections. But
I'm sure you will see that it is a series of the first importance." From
her muff she took a flat envelope, slipped off the rubber band with
great deliberation, glanced at the enclosures and laid them on the
table.

The Great Man's face was a study. His usual mask of indifferent
superiority deserted him. The blow was so unexpected that he was for
once staggered and off his guard. His hand was shaking, as with an oath
he snatched up the photographs. It was his own handwriting that met his
eye, and Mrs. Marteen had not exaggerated when she had designated the
letters as a "series of the first importance." With the shock of
recognition came doubt of his own senses. Mrs. Martin Marteen
blackmailing him? Preposterous! His eyes sought the lady's face. She was
quite calm and self-possessed.

"I need not point out to you, Mr. Gard, the desirability of adding these
to your collection. These letters give clear information concerning the
value to you of the Texas properties mentioned, which are now about to
pass into the possession of your emissaries if all goes well. Of course,
if these letters were placed in the hands of those most interested it
would cause you to make your purchase at a vastly higher figure; it
might prevent the transaction altogether. But far more important than
that, they conclusively prove that your company _is_ a monopoly framed
in the restraint of trade--proof that will be a body blow to your
defense if the threatened action of the federal authorities takes place.

"Of course," continued Mrs. Marteen, as Gard uttered a suppressed oath,
"you couldn't foresee a year ago what future conditions would make the
writing of those letters a very dangerous thing; otherwise you would
have conducted your business by word of mouth. Believe me, I do not
underrate your genius."

He laid his hands roughly upon the photographs. "I have a mind to have
you arrested this instant," he snarled.

"But you won't," she added--"not while you don't know where the
originals are. It means too much to you. The slightest menacing move
toward me would be fatal to your interests. I don't wish you any harm,
Mr. Gard; I simply want money."

In spite of his perturbation, amazement held him silent. If a shining
angel with harp and halo had confronted him with a proposition to rob a
church, the situation could not have astonished him more. She gave him
time to recover.

"Of course you must readjust your concepts, particularly as to me. You
thought me a rich woman--well, I'm not. I've about twenty-five thousand
dollars left, and a few--resources. My expenses this season will be
unusually heavy."

"Why this season?" He asked the question to gain time. He was thinking
hard.

"My daughter Dorothy makes her début, as perhaps you may have heard."

Gard gave another gasp. Here was a mother blackmailing the Gibraltar of
finance for her little girl's coming-out party. Suddenly, quite as
unexpectedly to himself as to his hearer, he burst into a peal of
laughter.

"I see--I see. 'The time has come to talk of many things.'"

She met his mood. "Well, not so _much_ time. You see, not _all_ kings
are cabbage heads--and while pigs may not have wings, riches have."

"You are versatile, Mrs. Marteen. I confess this whole interview has an
'Alice in Wonderland' quality." He was regaining his composure. "But I
see you want to get down to figures. May I inquire your price?"

"Fifty thousand dollars." There was finality in her tone.

"And how soon?"

"Within the next week. You know this is a crisis in this affair--I
waited for it."

"Indeed! You seem to have singular foresight."

She nodded gravely. "Yes, and unusual means of obtaining information, as
it is needless for me to inform you. I am, I think, making you a very
reasonable offer, Mr. Gard. You would have paid twice as much for the
Vandyke."

"And how do you propose, Mrs. Marteen, to effect this little business
deal without compromising either of us?" His tone was half banter, but
her reply was to the point.

"I will place my twenty-five thousand with your firm, with the
understanding that you are to invest for me, in any deal you happen to
be interested in--Texas, for instance. It wouldn't be surprising if my
money should treble, would it? In fact, there is every reason to expect
it--is there not? If all I own is invested in these securities, I would
not desire them to decline, would I? I merely suggest this method," she
continued, with a shrug as if to deprecate its lack of originality,
"because it would be a transaction by no means unusual to you, and would
attract no attention."

He looked at her grimly. "You think so?" Let me hear how you intend to
carry out the rest of the transaction--the delivery of the autographs in
question."

"To begin with, I will place in your hands the plates--all the
photographs."

"How can I be sure?" he demanded.

"You can't, of course; but you will have to accept my assurance that I
am honest. I promise to fulfill my part of the bargain--literally to the
letter. You may verify and find that the series is complete. Your
attorneys, to whom you wrote these, will doubtless tell you that they
personally destroyed these documents, but they doubtless have a record
of the dates of letters received at this time. You can compare; they are
all there; I hold out nothing."

"But if they say they have destroyed the letters--what in the name of--"

"Oh, no; they destroyed your communications perhaps, after 'contents
noted.' But they never had your letters, for the simple reason that they
never received them. Very excellent copies they were--most excellent."

Mr. Marcus Gard was experiencing more sensations during his chat with
Mrs. Marteen than had fallen to his lot for many a long day. His
tremendous power had long made his position so secure that he had met
extraordinary situations with the calm of one who controls them. He had
startled and held others spellbound by his own infinite foresight,
resource and energy. The situation was reversed. He gazed fascinated in
the fine blue eyes of another and more ruthless general.

"My dear madam, do you mean to infer that this _coup_ of yours was
planned and executed a year ago, when I, even I," and he thumped his
deep chest, "had no idea what these letters might come to mean? Do you
mean to tell me _that_?"

"Yes"--and she smiled at his evident reluctance to believe--"yes,
exactly. You see, I saw what was coming--I knew the trend. I have
friends at court--the Supreme Court, it happens--and I was certain that
the 'little cloud no larger than a man's hand' might very well prove to
contain the whirlwind; so--well, there was just a flip of accident that
makes the present situation possible. But the rest was designed, I
regret to admit--cold-blooded design on my part."

"With this end in view?" He tapped the photographs strewn upon his desk.

"With this end in view," she confessed.

He was silent a moment, lost in thought; then he turned upon her
suddenly.

"Mind, I haven't acceded to your demands," he shouted.

"Is the interview at an end?" she asked, rising and adjusting the furs
about her throat. "If so, I must tell you the papers are in the hands of
persons who would be very much interested in their contents. If they
don't see me--hearing from me won't do, you understand, for a situation
is conceivable, of course, when I might be coerced into sending a
message or telephoning one--if they don't _see_ me personally, the
packet will be opened--and eventually, after the Texas Purchase is
adjusted, they will find their way into the possession of the District
Attorney. I have taken every possible precaution."

"I don't doubt that in the least, madam--confound it, I don't! Now when
will you put the series, lock, stock and barrel, into my hands?"

"When you've done that little turn for me in the market, Mr. Gard. You
may trust me."

"On the word--of a débutante?" he demanded, with a snap of his square
jaws.

For the first time she flushed, the color mantling to her temples; she
was a very handsome woman.

"On the word of a débutante," she answered, and her voice was steady.

"Well, then"--he slapped the table with his open hand--"if you'll send
me, to the office, what you want to invest, I'll give orders that I will
personally direct that account."

"Thank you so much," she murmured, rising.

"Don't go!" he exclaimed, his request a command. "I want to talk with
you. Don't you know you're the first person, man or woman, who has _held
me up_--me, Marcus Gard! I don't see how you had the nerve. I don't see
how you had the idea." He changed his bullying tone suddenly. "I wish--I
wish you'd _talk_ to me. I'm as curious as any woman."

Mrs. Martin Marteen moved toward the door.

"I'm selling you your autographs--not my autobiography. I'm _so_ glad to
have seen you. Good afternoon, Mr. Gard."

She was gone, and the Great Man had not the presence of mind to escort
his visitor to the door or ring for attendance. He remained standing,
staring after her. His gaze shifted to the table, where, either by
accident or design, the photographs remained, scattered. He chuckled
grimly. Accident! Nothing was accidental with that Machiavelli in
petticoats. She knew he would read those accursed lines, and realize
with every sentence that in truth she was "letting him down easy." There
was no danger of his backing out of his bargain. Seated at the desk, he
perused his folly, and grunted with exasperation. Well, after all, what
of it? He had coveted a masterpiece; now he was to have two in one--the
contemplation of his own blunder, and Mrs. Marteen's criminal
genius--cheap at the price. How long had this been going on? Whom had
she victimized? And how in the world had she been able to obtain the
whole correspondence? That his lawyers should have been deceived by
copies was not so surprising--they never dreamed of a substitution; the
matter, not the letter, was proof enough to them of genuineness. But--he
thumped his forehead. He had been staying with friends at Newport at the
time. Had Mrs. Marteen been there? Of course! He took up the
incriminating documents again and thoroughly mastered their contents,
every turn of phrase, every between-the-line inference. Accidents could
happen; he must be prepared for the worst. Not that negotiations would
fail--but--not until the originals were in his hands and personally done
away with would he feel secure. He recalled Mrs. Marteen's graceful and
sumptuously clad figure, her clear-cut, beautiful head, the power of her
unwavering sapphire eyes, the gentle elegance of her voice. And this
woman--had--held him up!

He turned on the electric lamp, opened a secret compartment drawer in
the table, abstracted a tiny key, and, deftly making a packet of the
scattered proofs, unlocked a small hidden safe behind a row of first
editions of Bunyan and consigned them to secure obscurity.

A moment later his secretary entered the room in response to his ring.

"I'm going out," he said. "Lock up, will you, and at any time Mrs.
Marteen wants to see me admit her at once."

Mr. Saunders' face shone. He, too, was a devout worshiper at the shrine
of art.

"The Vandyke?" he inquired hopefully.

"Well, no--but I'm negotiating for a very remarkable series of
letters--of--er--Napoleon--concerning--er Waterloo."

       *       *       *       *       *



II


When Marcus Gard dressed that evening he was so absent-minded that his
valet held forth for an hour in the servants' hall, with assurances that
some mighty _coup_ was toward. Not since the days of B.L. & W. or the
rate war on the S. & O. had his master shown such complete absorption.

"He's like a blind drunk, or a man in a trance, he is--he's just not
there in the head, and you have to walk around and dress his body, like
he was a dumb wax-work. If I get the lay, Smathers, I'll tip you off.
There might be something in it for us. He's due for dinner and bridge at
the Met., but unless Frenchy puts him out of the motor, he won't know
when he gets there"--which proved true. Three times the chauffeur
respectfully advised his master of their arrival, before the wondering
eyes of the club _chasseur_, before the Great Man, suddenly recalled to
the present, descended from his car and was conducted to his waiting
host.

The first one of the company to shake hands with him was Victor
Mahr--and Victor Mahr was a friend of Mrs. Marteen. The sudden
recollection of this fact made him cast such a glance of scrutiny at the
gentleman as to quite discompose him.

"What's the old man up to, gimleting me in the eye like that? He's got
something up his sleeve," thought Mahr.

"I wonder did she ever corner _him_?" was the question uppermost in
Gard's mind. He hated Mahr, and rather hoped that the lady had, then
flushed with resentment at the thought that she would stoop to blackmail
a man so obviously outside the pale. His mood was so unusual that every
man in the circle was stirred with unrest and misgiving. Dinner
brightened the general gloom, though there were but trifling inroads
into the costly vintages. One doesn't play bridge with the Big Ones
unless one's head is clear. Not till supper time did the talk drift from
honors and trumps. Gard played brilliantly. His absent-mindedness
changed to savage concentration. He played to win, and won.

"What's new in the art world?" inquired Denning, as he lit a cigar.
"There was a rumor you were after the Heim Vandyke."

"Nothing new," Gard answered. "Haven't had time to bother. By the way,
Mahr, what sort of a girl is the little débutante daughter of Mrs.
Marteen--you know her, don't you?" He was watching Mahr keenly, and
fancied he detected a shifty glance at the mention of the name. But Mahr
answered easily:

"Dorothy? She's the season's beauty--really a stunning-looking girl. You
must have seen her; she was in Denning's box with her mother at 'La
Bohème' last week."

"And," added Denning, "she'll be with us again to-morrow night."

"Oh," said Card, with indifference. "The dark one--I
remember--tall--yes, she's like her mother, devilish handsome. Must send
that child some flowers, I suppose."

Gard returned home, disgusted with himself. Why had he forced his mood
upon these men? Why, above all things, had he mentioned Mrs. Marteen to
Mahr, whom he despised? For the simple pleasure of speaking of her, of
mentioning her name? Why had he suspected Mahr of being one of her
victims? And why, in heaven's name, had he resented the very same
notion? He lay in bed numbering the men of money and importance whom he
knew shared Mrs. Marteen's acquaintance. They were numerous, both his
friends and enemies. What had _they_ done? What was her hold over
_them_? Had she in all cases worked as silently, as thoroughly, as
understandingly as she had with him? Did she always show her hand at the
psychological moment? Did she rob only the rich--the guilty? Was she
Robin Hood in velvet, antique lace and sables? Ah, he liked that--Mme.
Robin Hood. He fell asleep at last and dreamed that he met Mrs. Marteen
under the greenwood tree, and watched her as with unerring aim she sent
a bolt from her bow through the heart of a running deer.

He awoke when the valet called him, and was amused with his dream. Not
in years had such an interest entered his life. He rose, tubbed and
breakfasted, and went, as was his wont, to his sister's sitting room.

"Well, Polly," he roared through the closed doors of her bedroom, "up
late, as usual, I suppose! Well, I'm off. By the way, we aren't using
the opera box next Monday night; lend it to Mrs. Marteen. That little
girl of hers is coming out, you know, and we ought to do something for
'em now and again. I'll be at the library after three, if you want me."

At the office he found a courteous note thanking him for his kindness in
offering to direct her investments and inclosing Mrs. Marteen's cheque
for twenty-five thousand dollars. Gard studied the handwriting closely.
It was firm, flowing, refined, yet daring, very straight as to alignment
and spaced artistically. Good sense, good taste, nice discrimination, he
commented. He smiled, tickled by a new idea. He would not give the usual
orders in such matters. When a lovely lady inclosed her cheque, begging
to remind him of his thoughtful suggestion (mostly mythical) at Mrs.
So-and-So's dinner, he cynically deposited the slip, and wrote out
another for double the amount, if he believed the lady deserving; if
not, a polite note informed the sender that his firm would gladly open
an account with her, and he was sure her interests "would receive the
best possible attention and advice." In this case he determined to
accept the responsibility exactly as it was worded, ignoring the
circumstances that had forced his hand. He would make her nest egg hatch
out what was required. It should be an honest transaction in spite of
its questionable inception. Every dollar of that money should work
overtime, for results must come quickly.

He gave his orders and laid his plans. Never had his business interests
appealed to him as keenly as at that moment, and never for a moment did
he doubt the honesty of the lady's villainy. She would not "hold out on
him."

His first care that morning had been to make a luncheon appointment with
his lawyer, and to elicit the information that, as far as his attorney
knew, the incriminating correspondence had been destroyed when received.
"As soon as your instructions were carried out, Mr. Gard. Of course,
none of us quite realized the changes that were coming--but--what those
letters would mean now! Too much care cannot be taken. I've often
thought a code might be advisable in the future, when the written word
must be relied on."

Gard smiled grimly and agreed. "Those letters would make a pretty basis
for blackmail, wouldn't they? Oh, by the way, you are Victor Mahr's
lawyers, aren't you?"

As he had half expected, he surprised a flash of suspicion and knowledge
in the other's eyes.

"What makes you speak of him in that connection?" laughed the lawyer.

"I don't," said Gard. "I happened to be playing bridge with him last
night and from something he let fall I gathered your firm had been
acting for him. Well, he needs the best legal advice that's to be had,
or I miss my guess." He rose and took leave of his friend, entered his
motor and was driven rapidly uptown.

Still his thoughts were of Mrs. Marteen, and again unaccountable
annoyance possessed him. Confound it! Mahr _had_ been held up. Clifton
knew about it; that argued that Mahr had taken the facts, whatever they
were, to them. Had he told them who it was who threatened him? Then
Clifton knew that Mrs. Marteen was a--Hang it! What possible right had
he to jump to the wild conviction that Victor Mahr had been blackmailed
at all? Because he was a friend of the lady's--a pretty reason that! Did
men make friends of--Yes, they did; he intended to himself; why not that
hound of a Mahr? Clifton _did_ know something. Mahr was just the sort of
scoundrel to drag in a woman's name. Why shouldn't he in such a case?
Then, with one of his quick changes of mood, he laughed at himself. "I'm
jealous because I think I'm not the only victim! It's time I consulted a
physician. I'm going dotty. She's a wonder, though, that woman. What a
brain, and what a splendid presence! But there's something vital
lacking; no soul, no conscience--that's the trouble," he commented
inwardly--little dreaming that he exactly voiced the criticism
universally passed upon himself. Then his thoughts took a new tack.
"Wonder what the daughter is like? I'll have to hunt her up. It's a
joke--if it _is_ on me! Must see my débutante. After all, if I'm paying,
I ought to look her over. She's going to the Opera--in Denning's
box--h'm!"

Gard broke two engagements, and at the appointed hour found himself
wandering through the corridor back of the first tier boxes at the
Metropolitan. Its bare convolutions were as resonant as a sea shell.
Vast and vague murmurs of music, presages of melodies, undulated through
the passages, palpitated like the living breath of Euterpe, suppressed
excitement lurked in every turn, there was throb and glow in each
pulsating touch of unseen instruments. Gard found his heart tightening,
his nostrils expanding. A flash of the divine fire of youth leaped
through his veins. Adventure suddenly beckoned him--the lure of the
unknown, of the magic _x_ of algebra in human equation. So great was his
enjoyment that he savored it as one savors a dainty morsel, lingering
over it, fearful that the next taste may destroy the perfect flavor.

He paced the corridor, nodding here and there, pausing for a moment to
chat with this or that personage, affable, noncommittal,
Chesterfieldian, handsome and distinguished in his clean, silver-touched
middle age.

Inwardly he was fretting for their appearance--his débutante and Mme.
Robin Hood. Of course they must do the conventional thing and be late.
But to his pleased surprise, just as the overture was drawing to its
close, he saw Denning and his wife approaching. Behind them he discerned
the finely held head and chiseled features of the Lady of Compulsion,
and close beside her a slender, girlish figure, shrouded in a silver and
ermine cloak, a tinsel scarf half veiled a flower face, gentle,
tremulous and inspired--a Jeanne d'Arc of high birth and luxurious
rearing. Something tightened about his heart. The child's very
appearance was dramatic coupled with the presence of her mother. What
the one lacked, the other possessed in its clearest essence.

With a hasty greeting to Denning and his diamond-sprinkled spouse, Gard
turned with real cordiality to Mrs. Marteen.

"This _is_ a pleasure!" He beamed with sincerity. "Dear madam, present
me to your lovely daughter. We must be friends, Miss Dorothy. Your very
wise and resourceful mamma has given me many an interesting hour--more
than she has ever dreamed, I believe."

He turned, accompanied them to the box and assisted the ladies with
their wraps. Dorothy turned upon him a pair of violet eyes, that at the
mention of her mother's name had lighted with adoration.

"Isn't she wonderful!" she murmured, casting a bashful glance at Mrs.
Marteen; then she added with simple gratefulness: "I'm glad you're
friends." In her child's fashion she had looked him over and approved.

A glow of pride suffused him. The obeisance of the kings of finance was
not so sweet to his natural vanity. "She's one in a million," he
answered heartily. "She should have been a man--and yet we would have
lost much in that case--you, for instance." He turned toward Mrs.
Marteen. "I congratulate you," he smiled. "She's just the sort of a girl
that _should_ have a good time--the very best the world can give her;
the world owes it. But aren't you"--and he lowered his voice--"just a
little afraid of those ecstatic eyes? Dear child, she must keep all the
pink and gold illusions--" The end of his sentence he spoke really to
himself. But an expression in his hearer's face brought him to sudden
consciousness. Quite unexpectedly he had surprised fear in the classic
marble of the goddess face. The woman, who had not hesitated to commit
crime, feared the contact of the world for her child. It was a curious
revelation. All that was best, most generous and kindly in his nature
rose to the surface, and his smile was the rare one that endeared him to
his friends. "Let her have every pleasure that comes her way," he added.
"By the way, I'm sending you our box for Monday night. I hope you will
avail yourself of it. My sister will join you, and perhaps you will all
give me the pleasure of your company at Delmonico's afterward."

She hesitated for a moment, her eyes turning involuntarily toward the
girl. Then the human dimple enriched her cheeks, and it was with real
_camaraderie_ that she nodded an acceptance.

His attitude was humbly grateful. "I'll ask the Dennings, too," he
continued. "They're due elsewhere, I know, but they could join us."

The curtain was already rising and Gard, excusing himself, found his way
to the masculine sanctuary, the directors' box, of which he rarely
availed himself, and from a shadowy corner observed his débutante and
her beautiful mother through his powerful opera glasses. He found
himself taking a throbbing interest in the visitors at the loge
opposite. He was as interested in Dorothy Marteen's admirers as any fond
father could be; and yet his eyes turned with strange, fascinated
jealousy to the older woman's loveliness. Suddenly he drew in the focus
of his glasses. A face had come within the rim of his observation--the
face of a man sitting in the row in front of him. That man, too, had his
glasses turned toward the group on the other side of the diamond
horseshoe, and the look on his face was not pleasant to see. A lean,
triumphant smile curled his heavy purple lips, the radiating wrinkles at
the corner of his eyes were drawn upward in a Mephistophelian hardness.

It was Victor Mahr. His expression suddenly changed to one of intense
disgust, as a tall young man entered the Denning box and bent in evident
admiration over Dorothy's smiling face. Victor Mahr rose from his seat,
and with a curt nod to Gard, who feigned interest elsewhere, disappeared
into the corridor.

       *       *       *       *       *



III


Mrs. Marteen stood at her desk, a mammoth affair of Jacobean type,
holding in her hand a sheet of crested paper, scrawled over in a large,
tempestuous hand.


     MY DEAR MRS. MARTEEN:

     If you will be so good as to drop in at the library at
     five, it will give me great pleasure to go over with you
     the details of my stewardship. The commission with
     which you honored me has, I think, been well directed
     to an excellent result. Moreover, a little chat with you
     will be, as always, a real pleasure to--

      Yours in all admiration,

      J. MARCUS GARD.

     P.S.--I suggest your coming here, as the details of
     business are best transacted in the quiet of a business
     office,
     and I therefore crave your presence and indulgence.--

     J.M.G.


Mrs. Marteen was dressing for the street; her hands were gloved, her
sable muff swung from a gem-studded chain, her veil was nicely adjusted;
yet she hesitated, her eyes upon a busy silver clock that already marked
the appointed hour. The room was large, wainscoted in dark paneling; a
capacious fireplace jutted far out, and was made further conspicuous by
two settees of worm-eaten oak. The chairs that backed along the walls
were of stalwart pattern. A collection of English silver tankards was
the chief decoration, save straight hangings of Cordova leather at the
windows, and a Spanish embroidery, tarnished with age, that swung beside
the door. Hardly a woman's room, and yet feminine in its minor touches;
the gallooned red velvet cushions of the Venetian armchair; the violets
that from every available place shed their fresh perfume on the quiet
air, a summer window box crowded with hyacinths, the wicker basket, home
of a languishing Pekinese spaniel, tucked under one corner of the table.
Mrs. Marteen continued to hesitate, and the hands of the clock to travel
relentlessly.

Suddenly drawing herself erect, she walked with no uncertain tread to
the right-hand wall of the mantel and pushed back a double panel of the
wainscoting, revealing the muzzle of a steel safe let into the masonry
of the wall. A few deft twirls opened the combination, and the metal
door swung outward. Within the recess the pigeonholes were crammed with
papers and morocco jewel cases. Pressing a secret spring, a second door
jarred open in the left inner wall. From this receptacle she withdrew
several packets of letters and a set of plates with their accompanying
prints. Over them all she slipped a heavy rubber band, laid them aside
and closed the hiding place with methodical care. The compromising
documents disappeared within the warm hollow of her muff, and with a
last glance around, Mrs. Marteen unlocked the door and descended to the
street, where her walnut-brown limousine awaited her. Her face, which
had been vivid with emotion, took on its accustomed mask of cold
perfection, and when she was ushered into the anxiously awaiting
presence of Marcus Gard, she was the same perfectly poised machine,
wound up to execute a certain series of acts, that she had been on the
occasion of her former visit. Of their friendly acquaintance of the last
ten days there was no trace. They were two men of business met to
consult upon a matter of money. The host was thoroughly disappointed.
For ten days he had lost no opportunity of following up both Dorothy and
her mother. Dorothy had responded with frank-hearted liking; Mrs.
Marteen had suffered herself to be interested.

"How's my débutante?" he asked cordially, as Mrs. Marteen entered.

"She's very well, thank you," the marble personage replied. "I came in
answer to your note."

"Rather late," he complained. "I've been waiting for you anxiously, most
anxiously--but now you're here, I'm ready to forgive. Do you know, this
is the first opportunity I have had, since you honored me before, of
having one word in private with you?"

She ignored his remark. "I have brought the correspondence of which I
spoke."

"I never doubted it, my dear lady. But before we proceed to conclude
this little deal I want to ask you a question or two. Surely you will
not let me languish of curiosity. I want to know--tell me--how did you
ever hit upon this plan of yours?"

She unbent from her rigid attitude and answered, almost as if the words
were drawn from her against her will: "After Martin, my husband
died--I--I found myself poor, quite to my astonishment, and with Dorothy
to support. Among his effects--" She paused and turned scarlet; she was
angry at herself for answering, angry at him for daring to question her
thus intimately.

"You found--" prompted Gard.

"Well--" she hesitated, and then continued boldly--"some letters
from--never mind whom. They showed me that my husband had been most
cruelly robbed and mistreated; men had traded upon his honor, and had
ruined him. Then and there I saw my way. This man--these men--had
political aspirations. Their plans were maturing. I waited. Then I
'wondered if they would care to have the matter in their opponents'
hands.' The swindle would be good newspaper matter. They replied that
they would 'mind very much.' I succeeded in getting back something of
what Martin had been cheated out of--"

He beamed approval. "And mighty clever and plucky of you. And then?"

This time the delayed explosion of her anger came. "How dare you
question me? How dare you pry into my life?"

"You dared to pry into mine, remember," he snapped.

"For a definite and established purpose," she retorted; "and let us
proceed, if you will."

Gard shifted his bulk and grasped the arms of his chair.

"As you please. You deposited with me the sum of twenty-five thousand
dollars. I personally took charge of that account, and invested it for
you. The steps of these transactions I will ask you to follow."

"Is it necessary?"

"It is. Also that now you set before me the--autographs, together with
their reproductions of every kind, on this table, and permit me to
verify the collection by the list supplied by my lawyers."

She frowned, and taking the packet from its resting place, unslipped the
band and spread out its contents.

"They are all there," she said slowly, and there was hurt pride in her
voice.

Without stopping to consult either the memoranda or the letters, he
swept the whole together, and, striding to the fireplace, consigned them
to the flames.

"The plates!" she gasped, rising and following him. "They must be
destroyed completely."

He smiled at her grimly. "I'll take care of that. And now, if you will
come to the table, I will explain your account with my firm. I bought
L.U. & Y. for you at the opening, the day following our compact, feeling
sure we would get at least a five-point rise, and that would be earning
a bit of interest until I could put you in on a good move. I had private
information the following day in Forward Express stock. I sold for you,
and bought F.E. If you have followed that market you will see what
happened--a thirty-point rise. Then I drew out, cashed up and clapped
the whole thing into Union Short. I had to wait three days for that, but
when it came--there, look at the figures for yourself. Your account with
Morley & Gard stands you in one hundred thousand dollars, and it will be
more if you don't disturb the present investment for a few days."

Mrs. Marteen's eyes were wide.

"What are you doing this for?" she said calmly. "That wasn't the
bargain. I'll not touch a penny more."

"Why did I do it? Because I won't have any question of blackmail between
us. Like the good friend that you are, you gave me something which might
otherwise have been to my hurt. On the other hand, I invested your money
for you wisely, honestly, sanely and with all the best of my experience
and knowledge. It's clean money there, Mrs. Marteen, and I'm ready to do
as much again whenever you need it. You say you won't take it--why, it's
yours. You must. I want to be friends. I don't want this thing lying
between us, crossing our thoughts. If I ask you impertinent questions,
which I undoubtedly shall, I want them to have the sanction of good
will. I want you to know that I feel nothing but kindness for
you--nothing but pleasure in your company."

He paused, confounded by the blank wall of her apparent indifference.
Marcus Gard was accustomed to having his friendly offices solicited.
That his overtures should be rebuffed was incredible. Moreover, he had
looked for feminine softening, had expected the moist eye and quivering
lip as a matter of course; it seemed the inevitable answer to that cue.
It was not forthcoming. Again the conviction of some great psychic loss
disturbed him.

"My dear Mr. Gard," the level, colorless voice was saying, "I fear we
are quite beside the subject, are we not? I am not requesting anything.
I am not putting myself under obligations to you; I trust you
understand."

Had an explosion wrecked the building, without a doubt Marcus Gard, the
resourceful and energetic leader of men, would, without an instant's
hesitation, have headed the fire brigade. Before this moral bomb he
remained silent, paralyzed, uncertain of himself and of all the world.
He could not adjust himself to that angle of the situation. Mrs. Marteen
somehow conveyed to his distracted senses that blackmail was a mere
detail of business, and "being under obligations" a heinous crime. At
that rate the number of criminals on his list was legion, and certainly
appeared unconscious of the enormity of their offense. It dawned upon
him that he, the Great Man, was being "put in his place"; that his
highly laudable desire for righteousness was being treated as forward
and rather ridiculous posing. The buccaneer had outpointed him and taken
the wind out of his sails, which now flapped ignominiously. The pause
due to his mental rudderlessness continued till Mrs. Marteen herself
broke the silence.

"You appear to consider my attitude an inexplicable one. It is merely
unexpected. I feel sure that when you have considered the matter you
will see, as I do, that business affairs must be free from any
hint--of--shall we say, favoritisms?"

Gard found his voice, his temper and his curiosity at the same instant.

"No, hang it, I _don't_ see!"

She looked at him with tolerance, as a mother upon an excited child.

"I have specified a certain sum as the price of certain articles. You
accepted my terms. I do not ask you for a bonus. I do not ask you to
take it upon yourself to rehabilitate me in your own estimation. I
cannot accept this cheque, Mr. Gard, however I may appreciate your
generosity." She pushed the yellow paper toward him.

The action angered him. "If," he roared, "you had obtained these by any
mere chance, I might see your position. But according to your own
account you obtained them by elaborate fraud, feeling sure of their
eventual value; and yet you sit up and say you don't care to be
reinstated in my regard--just as if money could do that--you--"

She interrupted him. "Then why this?" and she held out the statement. He
was silent. "I repeat," she said, "I will not be under obligations to
you or to anyone." She rose with finality, picked up the statement and
cheque, crossed to the fire and dropped both the papers on the blazing
logs. "If you will have the kindness to send me the purchase money, plus
the sum I consigned to your keeping--as a blind to others, not to
ourselves--I shall be very much indebted to you."

Gard watched her with varying emotions. "Well," he said slowly, "that
money belongs to you. I made it for you and you're going to have it. In
the meantime, as you may require the 'purchase money,' as you call it,
to settle bills for soda water and gardenias, I'll make you out another
cheque; the remainder will stay with the firm on deposit for
you--whether you wish it or not. This is one time when I'm not to be
dictated to--no, nor blackmailed." He spoke roughly and glanced at her
quickly. Not an eyelash quivered. His voice changed. "I wish I
understood you," he grumbled. "I wish I did. But perhaps that would,
after all, be a great pity. You're an extraordinary woman, Mrs. Marteen.
You've 'got me going,' as the college boys say--but I like you, hanged
if I don't. And I repeat, at the risk of having you sneer at me again, I
meant every word I said, and I still mean it; and I'm sorry you don't
see it that way."

Her smile glorified her face.

"Please don't think I reject your proffered friendship," she said,
extending her hand.

He would have taken it in both of his, but something in her manner
warned him to meet it with the straight, firm grasp of manly assurance.

"_Au revoir, mon ami_." She nodded and was gone.

For several moments he stood by the door that had closed after her. Then
he chuckled, frowned, chuckled again and sat down once more before his
work table.

       *       *       *       *       *



IV


The _salons_ of Mrs. Marteen's elaborate apartment were gay with flowers
and palms, sweet with perfumes and throbbing with music. Dorothy, an
airy, dazzling figure in white, her face radiant with innocent
excitement, stood by her mother, whose marble beauty had warmed with
happiness as Galatea may have thrilled to life. Everyone who was anybody
crowded the rooms, laughing, gossiping, congratulating, nibbling at
dainties and sipping beverages. The throng ebbed, renewed, passed from
room to room, to return again for a final look at the lovely débutante
and a final word with her no less attractive mother. A dozen
distinguished men, both young and old, sought to ingratiate themselves,
but Dorothy's joyous heart beat only for the day itself--her coming out,
the launching of her little ship upon the bright waters frequented by
Sirens, Argonauts and other delightful and adventurous people hitherto
but shadow fictions. It was as exciting and wonderful as Christmas. She
had been showered with presents, buried in roses. Everyone was filled
with friendly thoughts of which she was the center. There was no envy,
hatred or malice in all the world.

Marcus Gard advanced into the drawing room, the sound of his name,
announced at the door, causing sudden and free passage to the center of
attraction. He beamed upon Mrs. Marteen with real pleasure in her
stately loveliness, and turned to Dorothy, who, her face alight with
greeting, came frankly toward him. From the moment of their first
meeting there had been instant understanding and liking. Gard took her
outstretched hands with an almost fatherly thrill.

"You are undoubtedly a pleasing sight, Miss Marteen," he smiled; "and a
long life and a merry one to you. Your daughter does you credit, dear
lady," he added, turning to his hostess.

Dorothy, bubbling over with enthusiasm, claimed his hand again. "It was
so sweet of you to send me that necklace in those wonderful flowers.
See--I'm wearing it." She fondled a slender seed pearl rope at her
throat. "Mother told me it was far too beautiful and I must send it
back. But I was most undutiful. I said I wouldn't--just wouldn't. I know
you picked it out for me yourself--now, didn't you?" He nodded somewhat
whimsically. "There! I told mother so; and it would be rude, most rude,
not to accept it--wouldn't it?"

He laughed gruffly. "It certainly would--and, really, you know your
mother has a mania for refusing things. Why, I owe her--never mind, I
won't tell you now--but I would have felt very much hurt, Miss
Debutante, if you'd thrown back my little present. I'm sure I selected
something quite modest and inconspicuous.... Dear me, I'm blocking the
whole doorway. Pardon me."

He stepped back, nodding here and there to an acquaintance. Finally
catching sight of his sister in the dining room, he joined her, and
stood for a moment gazing at the commonplace comedy of presentations.

Miss Gard yawned. "My dear Marcus, who ever heard of you attending a
tea? Really, I didn't know you knew these people so well."

Gard was glad of this opportunity. His sister had a praiseworthy manner
of distributing his slightest word--of which he not infrequently took
advantage.

"Well, you see, I was indebted to Marteen for a number of kindnesses in
the early days, though we'd rather drifted apart before he died--had
some slight business differences, in fact. But I'd like to do all I can
for his widow and that really sweet child of theirs. I have a small nest
egg in trust for her--some investments I advised Mrs. Marteen to make.
Who is that chap who's so devoted?" he asked suddenly, switching the
subject, as his quick eye noted the change of Dorothy's expression under
the admiring glances of a tall young man of athletic proportions, whose
face seemed strangely familiar.

Miss Gard lorgnetted. "That? Oh, that's only Teddy Mahr, Victor Mahr's
son. He was a famous 'whaleback'--I think that's what they call it--on
the Yale football team. They say that he's the one thing, besides
himself, that the old cormorant really cares about."

Marcus Gard stiffened, and his jaw protruded with a peculiar bunching of
the cheek muscles, characteristic of him in his moments of irritation.
He looked again at Dorothy, absorbed in the conversation of the
"whaleback" from Yale, recognized the visitor at the Denning box, and,
with an untranslatable grunt, abruptly took his departure, leaving his
sister to wonder over the strangeness of his actions.

Once out of the house, his anger blazed freely, and his chauffeur
received a lecture on the driving and care of machines that was as
undeserved as it was vigorous and emphatic.

Moved by a strange mingling of anger, curiosity and jealousy, Gard's
first act on entering his library was to telephone to a well known
detective agency--no surprising thing on his part, for not infrequently
he made use of their services to obtain sundry details as to the
movements of his opponents, and when, as often happened, cranks
threatened the thorny path of wealth and prominence, he had found
protection with the plain clothes men.

"Jordan," he growled over the wire, "I want Brencherly up here right
away. Is he there?....All right. I want some information he may be able
to give me offhand. If not--well, send him now."

He hung up the receiver and paced the room, his eyes on the rug, his
hands behind his back, disgusted and angry with his own anger and
disgust.

Half an hour had passed, when a young man of dapper appearance was
ushered in. Gard looked up, frowning, into the mild blue eyes of the
detective.

"Hello, Brencherly. Know Victor Mahr?"

"Yes," said the youth.

"Tell me about him," snapped Gard. "Sit down."

Brencherly sat. "Well, he's the head of the lumber people. Rated at six
millions. Got one son, named Theodore; went to Yale. Wife was Mary
Theobald, of Cincinnati--"

Gard interrupted. "I don't want the 'who's who,' Brencherly, or I
wouldn't have sent for you. I want to know the worst about him. Cut
loose."

"Well, his deals haven't been square, you know. He's had two or three
nasty suits against him; he's got more enemies than you can shake a
stick at. His confidential lawyer is Twickenbaur, the biggest scoundrel
unhung. Of course nobody knows that; Twickenbaur's reputation is too
bad--Mahr goes to _your_ lawyers, apparently."

"There isn't any blackmail in any of _that_," the older man snarled.

"Oh!" cried the youth, his blue eyes lighting. "Oh, it's blackmail you
want! Well, the only thing that looks that way is a story that nobody
has been able to substantiate. We heard it as we hear lots of things
that don't get out; but there was a yarn that Mahr was a bigamist; that
his first wife was living when he married Miss Theobald. She died when
the boy was born, and in that case she was never his legal wife, and of
course now never can be. The other woman's dead, too, they say; but
who's to prove it? That would be a fine tale for the coin, if anyone had
the goods to show."

"I suppose the office looked that up when they got it, didn't they? Good
for the coin, eh? What did you find?"

The informant actually blushed. "You aren't accusing us, Mr. Gard!"

"Accusing nothing. I know a few things, Brencherly, remember. Baker
Allen told me your office held him up good and plenty to turn in a
different report when his wife employed you, and you 'got the goods on
him.' Now, don't give me any bluff. I want facts, and I pay you for
them, don't I? Well, when you got that story, you looked it up hard,
didn't you?"

Brencherly, thoroughly cowed, nodded assent. "But we couldn't get a line
on it anywhere. If there were any proofs, somebody else had them--that's
all."

"U'm!" said Marcus, and sat a moment silent. When he spoke again it was
with an apparent frankness that would have deceived the devil himself.
"See here, I'll tell you my reason for all this, so perhaps you can
answer more intelligently. Martin Marteen was a friend of mine, and I'm
interested in his little daughter, who has just come out. Theodore Mahr
is attentive to her, and I'm not keen about it, and what you tell me
about his father doesn't make me any happier. What sort of a woman is
Mrs. Marteen--from your point of view? Of course I know her well
socially, but what's her rating with you?"

"Ai, sir," Brencherly answered promptly. "Exceptionally fine woman--very
intelligent. I should say that, with a word from you, she ought to be
able to handle the situation, and any girl living. But the boy's all
right, Mr. Gard, even if Mahr isn't. And after all, there may not be a
word of truth in that romance I spun to you. We couldn't land a thing.
What made us think there might be something in it was that we got it
second hand from an old servant of Mahr's. _He_ told the man that told
us; but the old boy's gone, too."

Gard rose from his chair and resumed his pacing. Brencherly remained
seated, patiently waiting. Presently Gard turned on him.

"That'll do, Brencherly. You may go; and don't let me catch you tipping
Mahr off that I've been having you rate him, do you understand?"

The detective sprang to his feet with alacrity. "Oh, no, Mr. Gard--never
a word. You know, sir, you're one of our very best clients."

Left alone, Gard sat down wearily, ran his hands through his hair, then
held his throbbing temples between his clenched fists. Somehow, on his
slender evidence, that was no evidence in fact, he was convinced of the
truth of Mahr's perfidy; convinced that the lady rated A1 by the keenest
detective bureau in the country had obtained the proofs of guilt and
used them with the same perfect business sagacity she had used in his
own case. It sickened him. Somehow he could forgive her handling such a
case as his. It was purely commercial; but this other was uglier stuff.
His soul rebelled. He would not have it so; he would not believe--and
yet he was convinced against his own logic. He had tried to cheat the
arithmetic when he had tried to make her extortion money an honestly
made acquisition. And she had refused to be a party to the flimsy
self-deception.

Mrs. Marteen was a blackmailer, an extortioner--that was the truth, the
truth that he would not let himself recognize. Her depredations probably
had much wider scope than he guessed. He must save her from herself; he
must somehow reach the submerged personality and awaken it to the
hideousness of that other, the soulless, heartless automaton that
schemed and executed crimes with mechanical exactitude. He took a long
breath of determination, and again grinned at the farce he was playing
for his own benefit. Through repetition he was beginning to believe in
the fiction of his former intimacy with Marteen. True, he had known him
slightly, had once or twice snatched a hasty luncheon in his company at
one of his clubs; but far from liking each other, the two men had been
fundamentally antagonistic. Neither was Dorothy an excuse for his
peculiar state of mind. He was drawn to her with strong protective
yearning. Her childlike beauty pleased him. He wished she were his
daughter, or a little sister to pet and spoil. But it was not for her
sake that he savagely longed to make the mother into something
different, "remolded nearer to his heart's desire." Was it the woman
herself, or her enigmatic dual personality that held him? He wished he
knew. He found his mind divided, his emotions many and at cross
purposes. His keen, almost clairvoyant intuition was at fault for once.
It sent no sure signal through the fog of his troubled heart.

How would it all end? Ah, how would it end? He sensed the situation as
one of climax. It could not quietly dissolve itself and be absorbed in
the sea of time and forgotten commonplace.

As an outlet for his mental discomfort, his restless spirit busied
itself in hating Victor Mahr. He had always disliked the man; now he
malignantly resented his very existence; Mahr became the personification
of the thing he most wished to forget--the victimizing power of the
woman who had enthralled him. Gard had met the one element he could not
control or change--the past; and his conquering soul raged at its own
impotence.

"There shall be no more of this!" he said aloud. "She sha'n't again.
I'll--"

"I'll what?" the demon in his brain jeered at him. "What will you do?
She will not 'be under obligations.' Perhaps, even, she likes her
strange profession; perhaps she finds the delight of battle, that you
know so well, in pitting her wits against the brains of the mighty;
perhaps she has a cynic soul that finds a savage joy in running down the
faults of the seemingly faultless--running them to earth and taking her
profit therefrom. Who are you, Marcus Gard, to cavil at the lust of
conquest--to sneer at the controlling of destinies?"

"I won't be beaten," declared his ego, "even if I have no weapon. I'll
search till I find the way to the citadel, and if there is none open,
I'll smash one through!"

       *       *       *       *       *



V


"Mrs. Martin Marteen requests the pleasure of Mr. Marcus Gard's company
at dinner"--the usual engraved invitation, with below a girlish scrawl:
"You'll come, won't you? It's my very last dinner before we go
South.--D."

He took a stubby quill, which, for some occult reason, he preferred for
his intimate correspondence, and scribbled: "Of course, little friend.
The crowned heads can wait." He tossed the envelope on the pile for
special delivery, and speared the invitation on a letter file.

Two months had passed, and he was no nearer the solution of the problem
he had set himself. His affection for the girl had deepened--become
ratified by his experience of her sweetness and intelligence. They were
"pally," as she put it, happily contented in each other's society. On
the other hand, the fascination that Mrs. Marteen exercised over him was
far from being placid enjoyment. She continued to vex his heart and
irritate his imagination. Her tolerance of young Mahr's attentions to
Dorothy drove him distracted, his only relief being that Miss Gard, his
sister, swayed, as always, by his slightest wish, had developed a most
maternal delight in Dorothy's presence, and was doing all in her power
to make the girl's season a most successful one; also, in accord with
his obvious desire--her influence was antagonistic to Mahr, his son and
his motor car, his house and his flowers, everything that was his; in
spite of which, Dorothy's manner toward Teddy Mahr was undoubtedly one
of encouragement. Honesty compelled Gard to own that he could not find
in the boy the echo of the objectionable sire. Perhaps the long dead
mother, who was never a lawful wife, had, by some retributive turn of
justice, endowed him wholly with her own qualities. Gard could almost
find it in his breast to like the big, large-hearted, gentle boy, but
for a final irony of fate--the son's blind adoration of his father, and
that father's obvious but helpless dislike of the impending romance.
Every element of contradiction seemed to be present in the tangle and to
bind the older watchers to silence. What could anyone do or say? And
meanwhile, in the pause before the storm, Dorothy's violet eyes smiled
into her Teddy's brown devoted ones with tender approval.

One move only had Gard made with success, and the doing thereof had
given him supreme satisfaction. The account opened in his office in Mrs.
Marteen's name had been transferred to Dorothy, and with such publicity
that Mrs. Marteen was unable to raise objections. Right and left he told
the tale of his having desired to advise the widow of his old friend, of
his successful operations, of Mrs. Marteen's refusal to accept her just
gains as "too great," and his determination that the account,
transferred to the daughter, should reach its proper destination. The
first result of his outwitting of the beneficiary was a doubling of the
usual letters inclosing a cheque and requesting advice. The secretary
was plainly disgusted, but Gard grimly paid the price of his checkmate,
and by his generosity certainly precluded any accusation of favoritism.
As he read Dorothy's note on the invitation, he chuckled at the thought
of his own cleverness, and rejoiced in the knowledge that his débutante
had become somewhat his ward and protégée.

The bell of his private telephone rang--only his intimates had the
number of that wire--and he raised the receiver with sudden conviction
that the voice he would hear was Dorothy's. "Well, my dear?" he said.
There was a little gurgle, and an obviously disguised voice replied:

"And who do you think this is?"

"Why, the queen of the débutantes, of course. I felt it in my bones; it
was a pleasurable sensation."

"Wrong," the voice came back, "quite wrong. This is the superintendent
of the Old Ladies' Home, and we want autographed photographs of you for
all the old ladies' dressers--to cheer them up, you know."

"Certainly, my dear madam; they shall be sent at once. To your
apartment, I suppose. Is there anything else?"

"Yes; you might bring them yourself. Did you know that mother has been
ordered off to Bermuda at once? The doctor says she's dreadfully run
down. She won't let me go with her. She wants me to do a lot of things;
and then in three weeks we all go South. Mother's doctor says she
mustn't wait. Isn't it a bore? And Tante Lydia is coming to-day to
chaperon me. Did you get my invitation?"

Gard's heart sank. "Dear me! That's bad news. How long will your mother
be gone?"

"Oh, just the voyage and straight home again. But do come in this
afternoon and have tea; perhaps you could persuade her to stay a week
there--she won't obey me."

"They are very insubordinate in the Old Ladies' Home. I'll drop in this
afternoon. Good-by, my dear."

He hung up the receiver and glowered. "Not well! Mrs. Marteen in the
doctor's care!" He could not associate her perfection with illness of
any kind. It gave him a distinct pang, and for the first time a feeling
of protective tenderness. This instantly translated itself into a lavish
order of violets, and a mental note to see that, her stateroom was made
beautiful for her voyage.

Adding his signature to the pile of letters that Saunders handed him
served to pass the moments till he could officially declare himself free
for the day and be driven to the abode of the two beings who had so
absorbed his interest.

He found Mrs. Marteen reclining on a _chaise-longue_ in her
library-sitting room, the Pekinese spaniel in her lap and Dorothy by her
side. She looked weary, but not ill, and Gard felt a glow of comfort.

"Dear lady, I came at once. Dorothy advised me of your impending
journey, and led me to believe you were not well. But I am
reassured--you do not seem a drooping flower."

Mrs. Marteen laughed. "How 1830! Couldn't you put it into a madrigal? It
really is absurd, though, sending me off like this. But they threatened
me with nerves--fancy that--nerves! And never having had an attack of
that sort, of course I'm terrified. I shall leave my butterfly in good
hands, however. My sister is to take my place; and I sha'n't be gone
long, you know."

"We hope not, don't we, Dorothy? What boat do you honor, and what date?"

Mrs. Marteen hesitated. "I'm not sure. The _Bermudian_ sails this week.
If I cannot go then, and that is possible, I may take the _Cecelia_, and
make the Caribbean trip. It's a little longer, but on my return I would
join Dorothy and Mrs. Trevor, crossing directly from Bermuda to Florida.
It's absurd, isn't it, to play the invalid! But insomnia is really
getting its hold on me. A good sleep would be a novelty just now, and
bromides depress me, so--there you are! I suppose I must take the
doctor's advice and my maid, and fly for my health's sake."

In spite of the natural tone and her apparent frankness, Gard remained
unconvinced. He could not have explained why. All his life he had found
his intuitions superior to his logical deductions. They had led him to
his present exalted position and had kept him there. No sooner had this
inner self refused to accept Mrs. Marteen's story than his mind began
supplying reasons for her departure--and the very first held him
spellbound. Was it another move in her perpetual game? Was she on the
track of someone's secret? Was her scheming mind now following some new
clew that must lead to the discovery of a hidden or forgotten crime--the
burial place of some well entombed family skeleton? He shivered.

Mrs. Marteen observed him narrowly.

"Mr. Gard is cold, Dorothy. Send for the tea, dear--or will you have
something else? Really, _you_ look like the patient who should seek
climate and rest."

"Perhaps you're right," he said slowly. "Perhaps I _will_ go--perhaps
with you. It would be pleasant to have your society for so many weeks,
uninterrupted and almost alone. I'll think of it--if I can arrange my
affairs."

He had been watching her closely, and seemed to surprise in the depths
of her eyes and the slow assuming of her impenetrable manner, that his
suggestion was far from receiving approval.

"But, my dear sir," she answered, "much as that would be my pleasure,
would it be wise for you? Everyone tells me the next few weeks will be
crucial. Your presence may be needed in Washington."

"Well, I suppose it will," he retorted almost angrily. "But I've a
pretty good idea what the result will be, and my sails are trimmed."

"Then do come," she invited cordially; "it will be delightful!" She had
read the meaning of his tone; knew quite as well as he that her words
had brought home to him the impossibility of his leaving. She could
afford to be pressing.

More and more convinced of some ulterior motive in Mrs. Marteen's
departure, his irritation made him gruff. Even Dorothy, seeing his
ill-temper, retired to the far corner of the room, and eyed him with
surprise above her embroidery. Feeling the discord of his present mood,
he rose to take his leave.

"Do arrange to come," smiled Mrs. Marteen, with just a touch of irony in
her clear voice.

"You are very kind," he answered; "but, somehow, I'm not so sure you
want me."

He bowed himself out and, sore-hearted, sought the crowded solitude of
the Metropolitan Club. His next move was characteristic. Having got
Gordon on the wire, he requested as complete a list as possible of the
passengers to sail by the _Bermudian_ and the _Cecelia_. A new
possibility had presented itself. If the psychological moment in
someone's affairs was eventuating, something for which she had long
planned the dénouement. That person might be sailing. If only he could
accompany her, perhaps in the isolated world of a steamer's life, he
might bring his will to bear--force from her a promise to cease from her
pernicious activities, and an acceptance of his future aid in all
financial matters--two things he had found it impossible to accomplish,
or even propose, heretofore. But she was right; the moment was critical,
and his presence might be necessary in Washington at any moment.

When, later that night, the lists were delivered at his home, he spent a
throbbing half-hour. There were several possibilities. Mrs. Allison was
Bermuda bound; so was Morgan Beresford. Both had fortunes, a whispered
past and ambitions. The Honorable Fortescue, the wealthy and impeccable
Senator, the shining light of "practical politics," was Havana bound on
the _Cecelia_, so was Max Brutgal, the many-millioned copper baron. Mrs.
Allison he discarded as a possibility. He was sure that Mme. Robin Hood
would disdain such an easy victim and refuse to hound one of her own
sex. Looking over the list, he singled out Brutgal, if it were the
_Cecelia_, and Beresford, if it were the _Bermudian_. Beresford was
devoted to the lovely and somewhat severe Mrs. Claigh. He might be more
than willing to suppress some event in his patchwork past.

Gard threw the lists from him angrily. After all, what right had he to
interfere? What business of his was it which fly was elected to feed the
spider? He went to bed, and passed a sleepless night trying to
determine, nevertheless, which was the doomed insect. He would have
liked to prevent the ships from leaving the harbor, or invent a
situation that would make it as impossible for Mrs. Marteen to leave as
it was for him to accompany her.

A few days later, when Mrs. Marteen finally announced her intention of
departing on the longer cruise, Gard seriously contemplated a copper
raid that would keep Brutgal at the ticker. Then he as furiously
abandoned the idea, washed his hands of the whole affair and did not go
near Mrs. Marteen for three days. At the end of that time, having
thoroughly punished himself, he relented, and continued to shower the
lady with attentions until the very moment of her final leave taking. He
accompanied her to the steamer, saw her gasp of pleasure at the bower of
violets prepared for her and formally accepted the post of sub-guardian
to Dorothy.

As the tugs dragged out the unwilling vessel from her berth, he caught a
glimpse of Brutgal, his coarse, heavy face set off by an enormous
sealskin collar, join Mrs. Marteen at the rail and bid blatantly for her
attention. Gard turned his back, took Dorothy by the arm, and, in spite
of her protestations, left the wharf. His motor took Tante Lydia and
Dorothy to their apartment, where he left them with many assurances of
his desire to be of service.

He sent a wireless message and was comforted. He wondered how, in the
old days that were only yesterdays, people could have endured separation
without any means of communication, and he blessed the name of Marconi
as cordially as he cursed the name of Brutgal. To exasperate him
further, the rest of the day seemed obsessed by Victor Mahr. He was in
the elevator that took him up to his office; he was at the club in the
afternoon; he was a guest at the Chamber of Commerce banquet in the
evening, and was placed opposite Marcus Gard. Despite his desire to let
the man alone, he could not resist the temptation to talk with him.

Mahr, whatever else he might be, was no fool, and even as Gard seemed a
prey to nervous irritation, so Mahr appeared to experience a bitter
pleasure in parrying his adversary's vicious thrusts and lunging at
every opening in the other's arguments. Both men appeared to ease some
inner turbulence, for they calmed down as the dinner progressed, and
ended the evening in abstraction and silence, broken as they parted by
Gard's sudden question:

"And how's that good-looking son of yours, Mahr?"

Mahr shot an underbrow glance at Gard, and took his time to answer.

"If he does what I want him to," he said at last, "he'll take a year or
two out West and learn the lumber business--and I think he will."

"Good idea," said Gard curtly. "Good-night."

One day of restlessness succeeded another. Ill at ease, Gard felt
himself waiting--for what? It was the strain of anxiety, such as a miner
feels deep in the heart of the earth, knowing that far down the black
corridor the dynamite has been placed and the fuse laid. Why was the
expected explosion delayed? One must not go forward to learn. One must
sit still and wait. A thousand times he asked himself the meaning of
this latent dread. He set it down to his suspicions of Mrs. Marteen's
departure. Then why this fibril anxiety never to be long beyond call?
Surely, and the demon in his brain laughed with amusement, he did not
expect her to send him a cryptic wireless--"Everything arranged;
operation a success; appendix removed without opposition," or "Patient
unmanageable; must use anesthetic."

Four days had passed, four miserable days, relieved only by a few
pleasant hours with Dorothy and the enjoyment he always found in
watching her keen delight in every entertainment. He went everywhere,
where he felt sure of seeing her, and could he have removed Teddy Mahr
from the obviously reserved place at Dorothy's side, he could have
enjoyed those moments without the undercurrent of his troubled fears.
That Mahr was rebelliously angry at the situation was evident. Gard had
seen the look in his eyes on more than one occasion, and it boded evil
to someone. What had he meant when he spoke of his son's probable
absence of a year or more "to study the lumber business"? Gard
approached the young man and found him quite innocent of any such plan.

"Oh, yes," he had answered, "father's keen on my being what he calls
practical, but," and he had smiled frankly at his questioner, "I
wouldn't leave now--not for the proud possession of every tree, flat or
standing, this side of the Pacific."

Dorothy, when questioned, blushed and smiled and evaded, assuring Gard
that of all the men she had met that season he alone came up to her
ideal, and employed every artifice a woman uses between the ages of nine
and ninety, when she does not want to give an answer that answers. The
very character of her replies, however, convinced Gard that there was
more than a passing interest in her preference. There was something
sweetly ingenuous in her evasions, a softness in her violet eyes at the
mention of Teddy's prosaic name that was not to be misunderstood. Gard
sighed. Still the sense of impending danger oppressed him. He found
himself neglectful of his many and vital interests. He took himself
severely in hand, and set himself to unrelenting work, fixing his
attention on the matters in hand as if he would drive a nail through
them. Heavy circles appeared under his eyes, and the lines from nose to
chin sharpened perceptibly. More than ever he looked the eagle, stern
and remote, capable of daring the very sun in high ambitious flight, or
of sudden and death-dealing descent; but deep in his heart fear had
entered.

       *       *       *       *       *



VI


"Hello! Oh, good morning. Is that you, Teddy? Yes, you did wake me
up--but I'm very glad. Half past ten?--good gracious!--you never
telephone me before that?--Oh, what a whopper! You called me at half
past eight--day before yesterday--Why, of course--I know that--but you
did just the same. Why, yes, I'd love to. What time to-morrow? That will
be jolly; but do have the wind-shield--I hate to be blown out of the
car--no, it _isn't_ becoming--You're a goose!--besides, my hair tickles
my nose. No, I haven't had a word from mother, and I don't understand it
at all. She might have sent me a wireless. Yes, I'm awfully lonely--who
wouldn't miss her?--Well, now, you don't have a chance to miss me
much--Oh, really!--I'm dreadfully sorry for you!--poor old dear! Well, I
can't, positively, to-day--to-morrow, at three; and I'll be ready--yes,
_really_ ready. Good-by."

Dorothy hung up the receiver, yawned as daintily as a Persian kitten,
rubbed her eyes and rang the maid's bell. She smiled happily at the
golden sunlight that crept through the slit of the drawn pink curtains.
Another beautiful brand new day to play with, a day full of delightful,
adventurous surprises--a débutante's luncheon, a matinée, a thé dansant,
a dinner, too. Dorothy swung her little white feet from under the covers
and crinkled her toes delightedly ere she thrust them in the cozy satin
slippers that awaited them; a negligee to match, with little dangling
bunches of blue flower buds, she threw over her shoulders with a
delicate shiver, as the maid closed the window and admitted the full
light of day. Hopping on one foot by way of waking up exercises, she
crossed to the dressing-table, dabbed a brush at her touseled hair, then
concealed it under a fluffy boudoir cap. She paused to innocently admire
her reflection in the silver rimmed mirror, turning her head from side
to side, the better to observe the lace frills and twisted ribbons of
her coiffe. Breakfast arrived, steaming on its little white and chintz
tray, and Dorothy smacked hungry lips.

"Oo--oo--how perfectly lovely--crumpets! and scrambled eggs! I'm
starved!" She settled herself, eagerly cooing over the fragrant coffee.
"Now, if only Mother were here," she exclaimed. "It's so lonely
breakfasting without her!"

But her loneliness was not for long. An avalanche of Aunt Lydia entered
the room, quite filling it with her fluttering presence. Tante Lydia's
morning cap was quite as youthful as that of her niece, her flowered
wrapper as belaced and befurbelowed as the lingière could make it, and
her high heeled mules were at least two sizes too small, and slapped as
she walked.

"My dear," she bubbled girlishly, thrusting a stray lock of questionable
gold beneath her cap, "I thought I'd just run in and sit with you. I've
had my breakfast ages ago--indeed, yes--and seen the housekeeper, and
ordered everything. It was shockingly late when we got in last night, my
dear. I really hadn't a notion it was after three, till you came after
me into the conservatory. That _was_ a delightful affair last night, I
must say, even if Mrs. May _is_ so loud. She isn't stingy in the way she
entertains, like Mrs. Best's, where we were Wednesday. That was
positively a shabby business. Now, dear, what do we do to-day? I've just
looked over my calendar, and I want to see yours. Really, we are so
crowded that we've got to cut something out--we really have." As she
spoke she crossed to Dorothy's slim-legged, satin wood writing desk, and
picked up an engagement book. "You lunch with the Wootherspoons--that's
good. Then I can go to the Caldens for bridge in the afternoon at four.
You won't be back from the matinée and tea at the Van Vaughns' until
after six, and we dine at the Belmans' at eight. That'll do very nicely.
And then, dear, about my dress at Bendel's; I do wish you could find a
minute to see my fitting. I can't tell whether I ought to have that
mauve so near my face, or whether it ought to be pink; and you know that
fitter doesn't care _how_ I look, just so she gets that gown _of_ her
hands, and I _can't_ make up my mind--when I can't see myself at a
distance _from_ myself, and those fitting rooms are _so_ small!"

Dorothy paused in the midst of a bite. "Tante Lydia, you _know_ if she
said 'mauve' you'd want 'pink' and 'mauve' if she said 'pink,' and all
you really need is somebody to argue with; and, besides, they both look
the same at night."

Mrs. Mellows pouted fat pink lips, and looked more than ever an elderly
infant about to burst into tears.

"Dorothy," she sniffed, "I do think you are the most trying child! I
only wish to look well for _your_ sake. I have no vanity--why should I
have? It's only my desire to be presentable on your account." Her blue
orbs suffused with tears.

Dorothy leaped from the divan, to the imminent danger of the breakfast
tray. "Now, Aunt Lydia, don't be foolish. I didn't mean to hurt your
feelings, and, besides, you know you are the really, truly belle of the
ball. Why, you bad thing! Where were you all last evening? Didn't I have
to go after you--and into the conservatory, at that! And what did I
find, pray--you and a beautiful white-haired beau, with a goatee! And
now you say you are _only_ dressing for _me_--Oh, fie!--oh, fie!--oh,
fie!" She kissed her aunt on a moist blue eye, and bounced back to her
seat.

The chaperon was mollified and flattered. "But, my dear," she returned
to the charge, "you know mauve is so unbecoming; if one should become a
trifle pale--"

Dorothy snipped a bit of toast in her aunt's direction. "But, why, my
dear Lydia," she teased, "should one ever be pale? There are first aids
to beauty, you know--and a very _nice_ rouge can be had--"

"Dorothy, how can you!" exclaimed the lady, overcome with horror.
"Rouge! What _are_ you saying, and what _are_ young girls coming to! At
your age, I'd never heard the word, no, indeed. And, besides, my love,
it is indecorous of you to address me as 'Lydia.' I am your mother's
sister, remember."

Her charge giggled joyously. "Nobody would believe it, never in the
world! You aren't one day older than I am, not a day. If you were, you
wouldn't care whether it was mauve or pink--nor flirt in the
conservatories."

"You're teasing me!" was Mrs. Mellows' belated exclamation. "And, my
dear, I don't think it _quite_ nice, really."

The insistent call of the telephone arrested the conversation. Dorothy
took up the receiver, and Aunt Lydia became all attention.

"Hello!--Oh, it's you again--I thought I rang off--Oh, really--no, I'm
not!"

"Who is it?" questioned Aunt Lydia in a sibilant whisper.

Dorothy went on talking, carefully refraining from any mention of names.
"Yes--did you?--that's awfully kind--yes, I love violets; no, they
haven't come, by messenger--how extravagant! No, I'm not going out
_just_ yet--not in this get up. What color? Pink--_and_ a lace cap--a
duck of a lace cap. Send the photographs around--Oh, _that's_ all right;
Aunt Lydia is here--aren't you, Aunt Lydia?--Oh, oh--what a horrid
word!--unsay it at once! All right, you're forgiven. I'm busy _all_
day--_all, all_ day--yes, and this evening. No, orchids won't go with my
gown to-night--don't be silly--of course, gardenias go with everything,
but--now, what nonsense!--I'm going to hang up--Indeed, I _will_.
Good-b--what? Now, listen to me--"

A tap at the door, and Aunt Lydia, hypnotized as she was by the
telephone conversation, had presence of mind enough to open the door and
receive a square box tied with purple ribbon. She dexterously untied the
loose bow knot, and withdrew from its tissue wrappings, a fragrant
bouquet of violets. An envelope enclosing a card fell to the floor. With
suppleness hardly to be expected from one of her years, she stooped to
pick it up, and in a twinkling had the donor's name before her.

Dorothy hung up the receiver and turned. "So you know who sent the
flowers, and who was on the 'phone," she laughed. "Tante, you should
have been a detective--you really should."

"How can you!" almost wept Mrs. Mellows. "I only opened it to save you
the trouble. Of course, I knew all along that it was Teddy Mahr--I
guessed--why not? Really, Dorothy, you misinterpret my interest in you,
really, you do."

Dorothy laughed. "Now, now," she scolded, "don't say that. Here, I'll
divide with you." She separated the fragrant bunch into its components
of smaller bunches, snipped the purple ribbon in two, and neatly devised
two corsage adornments. "Here," she bubbled, "one for you and one for
me--and don't say such mean things about me any more. If you do, I'll
tell Mother about all your flirtations the minute she gets back--I will,
too!"

"That reminds me, my dear," said Mrs. Mellows, her apple-pink face
becoming suddenly serious, "I don't understand why we haven't had any
news from your mother, really, I don't. She might have sent us just a
wireless or something."

"It _is_ odd." Dorothy's laugh broke off midway in a silvery chuckle.
"But something may have gone wrong with the telegraphic apparatus, you
know. We might get the company, and find out if any other messages have
been received from her."

"I never thought of that," exclaimed Mrs. Mellows. "You are quick
witted, Dorothy, I will say that for you. Suppose you do find out."

Dorothy turned to the telephone and made her inquiry. "There," she said
at length, "I guessed it--no messages at all; they are sure it's out of
order. Well, that does relieve one's mind. It isn't because she's ill,
or anything like that. Now, Aunt Lydia, that's _my_ mail."

"Why, child!" the mature Cupid protested, "_I_ wasn't going to open your
letters. Indeed, I think you are positively insulting to me! Here,
that's from your cousin Euphemia, I know her hand; and that's just a
circular, I'm sure--and Tappe's bill. My dear, you've been perfectly
foolish about hats this winter. This is a handwriting I don't know, but
it's smart stationery--and, dear me, look at all these little cards. I
really don't see how the postman bothers to see that they're all
delivered; they're such little slippery things--more teas--and bridge."

"And how about yours?" questioned Dorothy, amused. "What did you get?"

Aunt Lydia bridled. "Oh, nothing much. Some cards, a bill or two--"

"Bill or coo, you mean," said her niece with a playful clutch at her
chaperon's lap-full of missives. "If that isn't a man's letter, I'll eat
my cap, ribbons and all--and that one, and that one."

Mrs. Mellows rose hastily, gathered her flowing negligee about her and
beat a retreat.

She turned at the door, "You're a rude little girl, and I shan't count
on you to go to Bendel's. If you want me, I'll be here from half past
two to four, when I go for bridge." With the air of a Christian martyr
she betook herself to the seclusion of her own rooms.

Dorothy suffered herself to be dressed as she opened her mail. Aunt
Lydia had diagnosed it with almost psychic exactness, and its mystery
had ceased to be interesting. Last of all she opened a plain envelope
with typewritten directions. The enclosure, also typewritten, gave a
first impression of an announcement of a special sale, or request for
assistance from some charitable organization. Idly she glanced at it,
flipped it over, and found it to be unsigned. A word or two caught her
attention. She turned back, and read:



     Miss DOROTHY MARTEEN:

     "That the sins of the parents should be visited upon
     the children is, perhaps, hard. But we feel it time for
     you to understand thoroughly your situation, in order
     that you may determine what your future is to be. You
     have been reared all your life on stolen, or what is worse,
     extorted money. We hope you have not inherited the
     callous nature of your mother, and that this information
     will not leave you unashamed. Not a gown you have
     worn, nor a possession you have enjoyed, but has been
     yours through theft. That you may verify this statement,
     open the steel safe, back of the second panel of the
     library wall to the left of the fireplace. The combination
     is, 2.2.9.6.0. A button on the inner edge on the
     right releases a spring, opening a second compartment,
     where the material of your future luxuries is stored. A
     look will be sufficient. I hardly think you will then
     care to occupy the position in the lime light to which
     you have been brought by such means. Obscurity is
     better--perhaps,
     even exile. Talk it over with your
     mother. We think she will agree with us.


The words danced before Dorothy's eyes, a sudden stopping of the heart,
a hot flush, a painful dizziness that was at once physical and mental,
made her clutch at the table for support. She dropped the letter, and
stood staring at it, fascinated, as in a nightmare.

An anonymous letter, a cruel, hateful, wicked atrocity! Why should she
receive such a thing? she, who never in her whole life, had wished
anyone ill. It couldn't be so. She had misread, misunderstood. She
picked up the message and looked at it again. It was surely intended for
her, there could be no mistake. Then fear came upon her. The abrupt
entrance of the maid, carrying her hat and veil, gave her a spasm of
panic. No one must see, no one must know. The wretched sender of this
hideous libel must believe it ignored--never received. She thrust the
paper hastily into the bosom of her dress. Its very contact seemed to
burn.

"That will do," she said. "I'm not going out just yet. I--I have some
notes to write; don't bother me now."

Her voice sounded strange. She glanced quickly at the maid, fearing to
surprise a look of suspicion. It seemed impossible that that cracked
voice of hers would pass unnoticed. But the maid bowed, carefully placed
a pair of white gloves by the hat and jacket, and went out as if nothing
had happened.

Dorothy, left alone, stood still for a moment as if robbed of all
volition. Then, with a suppressed cry, she dragged out the accusing
document and carried it to the light. Who could do such a thing! Who
would be such a lying coward! Her helplessness made her rage. Oh, to be
able to confront this traducer, this libeler. To see him punished, to
tell him to his face what she thought of him I Somewhere he was in the
world, laughing to himself in the safety of his namelessness--knowing
her futile anger and indignation--satisfied to have shamed and insulted
her--and her mother--her great, resourceful, splendid mother, away and
ill when this dastardly attack was made. Impulsively she turned to run
to her aunt, and lay the matter before her, but paused and sat down on
the little chair before her writing desk. Covering her eyes with her
clenched hands she tried to think. Tante Lydia was worse than useless,
scatterbrained, self-centered, incapable. What would she do? Lament and
call all her friends in conclave; send in the police; acknowledge her
fright, and give this nameless writer the satisfaction of knowing that
his shaft had found its mark?

Teddy! Teddy would come to her at once. But what could he do? Sympathy
was not what she wanted; it was support and guidance. With a trembling
hand she smoothed the paper before her and, controlling herself, reread
every word with minutest care. But this third perusal left her more at
sea than before. What did this enmity mean? What could have incited it?
Why did this wretch give her such minute instructions? She knew of no
safe in the library--could it be just possible that such a thing _did_
exist? Could it be possible that this liar had obtained knowledge of her
mother's private affairs to such an extent that he knew of facts that
had remained unknown even to her?--the daughter! A new cause for fear
loomed before her. Had this venomous enemy access to the house? Was he
able to come and go at will, ferreting out its secrets?

Dorothy turned about quickly, almost expecting to see some sinister
shadow leering at her from the doorway, or disappearing into the
wardrobe. Her terror had something in it of childish nightmare. Acting
as if under a spell of compulsion, she rose and tiptoed to the door. She
looked down the hall, and found it empty. The querulous voice of Mrs.
Mellows came to her, raised in complaint against hooked-behind dresses.
Like a lovely little ghost she flitted down the corridor to the library,
paused for an instant with a beating heart, and, entering, closed the
door with infinite precautions and shot the bolt.

She was panting as if from some painful exertion. Her hands were damp
and chill, her temples throbbed. The room seemed strange, close
shuttered and silent, as if it sheltered the silent, unresponsive dead.
The air was oppressive, and the light that filtered through the dim
blinds was vague and uncanny.

It was some moments before she felt herself under sufficient control to
cross by the big Jacobean table, and face the hooded fireplace--"to the
left, the second panel." She stared at it. To all appearances it was
reassuringly the same as all the others. Gently she pushed it right and
left, then up and down, but her pressure was so slight and nervous that
it did not stir the heavy wood. She breathed a great sigh of relief, and
beginning now to believe herself the victim of some cruel hoax, she
dared a firmer pressure. The panel responded--moved--slid slowly behind
its fellow--revealing the steel muzzle of a safe let into the solid
masonry. It seemed the result of some evil witchcraft; her blood
chilled. Yet, with renewed eagerness, she turned the combination. She
did not need to refer to the letter, she knew it by heart--the numbers
were seared there. The heavy door swung outward. Within she saw
well-remembered cases of velvet and morocco. This contained her mother's
diamond collar; that her lavallière; the emerald pendant was in the box
of ivory velvet; the earrings and the antique diamond rings in the
little round-topped casket, embossed and inlaid. Sliding her finger
along the inner frame of the safe, she felt a knob, and pressed it. One
side of the receptacle clicked open, revealing an inner compartment.

Then panic seized her. She could never recall shutting the safe door and
replacing the panel, the movements were automatic. She was out of the
library and running down the corridor before she realized it. Once more
in the sanctuary of her own room, she threw herself upon the bed, buried
her face in the tumbled pillow and gasped for breath.

"What shall I do!--what shall I do!" she moaned aloud. "I'm afraid--Oh,
I'm afraid!" like a little child crying in the night in the awful
isolation of an empty house. Suddenly she sat up. The tears dried upon
her curved lashes. Of course, of course--Mr. Gard, her friend, her
mother's friend. The very thought of him steadied her. The terrified
child of her untried self, vanished before the coming of a new and
active womanhood. She thought quickly and clearly. "He would be at his
office," she reasoned. "He had mentioned an important meeting. She would
go there at once--cancelling her luncheon engagement on the ground of
some simple ailment. Tante Lydia must not know. Once let Gard, with his
master grip, control the situation, and she would feel safe as in a
walled castle strongly defended. A tower of strength--a tower of
strength." She repeated the words to herself as if they were a talisman.
She felt as if, from afar, her mother had counseled her. She would go to
him. It was the right thing, the only thing to do.

       *       *       *       *       *



VII


The morning of the fifth day since Mrs. Marteen's departure found Gard
in early consultation in the directors' room of his Wall Street office,
facing a board of directors with but one opinion--he must go at once to
Washington. Strangely enough, the plan met with stubborn resistance from
his inner self. There was every reason for his going, but he did not
want to go. His advisers and fellow directors looked in amazement as
they saw him hesitate, and for once the Great Man was at a loss to
explain. He knew, and they knew, that there was nothing that should
detain him, nothing that could by any twist be construed into a valid
excuse for refusal. He amazed himself and them by abruptly rising from
his seat, bunching the muscles of his jaw in evident antagonism and
hurling at them his ultimatum in a voice of defiance.

"Of course, gentlemen, it is evident that I must go, and I will. The
situation requires it. But I ask you to name someone else--the
vice-president, and you, Corrighan--in case something arises to prevent
my leaving the city."

Langley, the lawyer, rose protesting.

"But, Mr. Gard, no one _can_ take your place. It's the penalty, perhaps,
of being what and who you are, but the honor of your responsibilities
demands it. There is more at stake than your own interests, or the
interest of your friends. There's the public, your stockholders. You owe
it to them and to yourself to shoulder this responsibility without any
'ifs,' 'ands' or 'buts.'"

Gard turned as if to rend him. "I have told you I'll go, haven't I?
But--and there _is_ a but--gentlemen, you must select another delegate,
or delegation, in case circumstances arise--"

Denning's voice interrupted from the end of the table. "Gard, what
excuse is the only excuse for not returning one's partner's lead? Sudden
death."

"Or when you _must_ have the lead yourself," snapped Gard. "I cannot go
into this matter with you, gentlemen. The contingency I speak of is very
remote--if it is a contingency at all. But I must be frank. I cannot
have you take my enforced absence, if such should be necessary, as
defalcation or a shirking of my duty--so I warn you."

"The chance is remote," Denning replied in quiet tones that palliated.
"Let us decide, then, who, in case this vague possibility should shape
itself, will act as delegates. I do not think we can improve on the
president's suggestion, but," and he turned to Gard sternly, "I trust
the contingency is _so_ remote that we may consider it an impossibility
for all our sakes, and your own."

Gard did not answer. In silence he heard the motion carried, and
silently and without his usual affability he turned and left the room.
The others eyed each other with open discomfiture.

"Well, gentlemen, the meeting is over," said Denning gloomily. "We may
as well adjourn."

A very puzzled and uneasy group dispersed before the tall marble office
building, while in his own private office Gard paced the floor, from
time to time punching the open palm of his left hand with the clenched
fist of his right, in fury at himself.

"Am I mad--am I mad?" he repeated mechanically. "Has the devil gotten
into me?" His confidential clerk knocked, and seeing the Great Man's
face, paused in trepidation. "What is it? What is it?" snapped Gard.

"There's Brenchcrly, sir, in the outer office. He wouldn't give his
message--said you'd want to see him in private; so I ventured--"

"Brencherly!" Gard's heart missed a beat. He stopped short. He felt the
mysterious dread from which he had suffered to be shaping itself from
the darkness of uncertainty. "Show him in," he ordered, and, turning to
the window, gazed blindly out, centering his self-control. "Well?" he
said without turning, as he heard the door open and close again.

"Mr. Gard," came the quiet voice of the detective, "I've a piece of
information, that, from what you told me the other day, I thought might
interest you. I have found out that Mr. Mahr is making every effort to
find out the combination of Mrs. Marteen's private safe."

"What!"

"Yes. I learned it from one of the men in the Cole agency. Mr. Mahr
didn't come to us. I'm not betraying any trust, you see. It was Balling,
one of the cleverest men they've got, but he drinks. I was out with him
last night, and he let it out; he said it was the rummiest job they'd
had in a long day, and that his chief wouldn't have taken it, but he had
a lot of commissions from Mahr, and I guess, besides, he gave some
reason for wanting it that sort of squared him. Anyhow, that's how it
stands."

"Have they got it?" Gard demanded.

"No, they hadn't, but he said they expected to land it O.K. They know
the make, and they've got access to the company's books, and the
company's people, and if she hasn't changed the combination lately,
they'll land that all right. I tried to find out if they'd put anyone
into the apartment, but Balling sobered up a bit by that time and shut
down on the talk. But it's dollars to doughnuts he's after something,
and they've put a flattie around somewhere. Of course I don't know how
this frames up with what you told me about young Mahr, but I thought you
might dope it out, perhaps."

Gard sat down before his writing table, and wrote out a substantial
cheque.

"There, Brencherly, that's for you. Thank you. Now I put you on this
officially. Find out for me, if you can, if they have put anyone in the
house. Find out what they're after. Anything at all that concerns this
matter is of interest to me. Put a man to shadow Balling; have a watch
put on anyone you think is acting for Mahr. I will take it upon myself
to have the combination changed. I'll send a message to Mrs. Marteen."

Brencherly shook his head. "If you do that they'll tumble to you, Mr.
Gard. It's an even chance Mr. Mahr would have any messages reported. He
could, you know; he's a pretty important stockholder in the transmission
companies. You'd better have a watchman or an alarm attachment on the
safe, if you can."

Gard sat silent. He was reasoning out the motive of Mahr's move. Did
Mrs. Marteen still retain evidence against him which he was anxious to
obtain during her absence? It seemed the obvious conclusion, and yet
there was the possibility that Mahr contemplated vengeance, that in the
safe he hoped to obtain evidence against Mrs. Marteen herself that would
put her into his hands. On the whole, that seemed the most likely
explanation, and one that offered such possibilities that he ground his
teeth. He was roused from his reverie by Brencherly's hesitating voice.

"I think, Mr. Gard, I'd better go at once. I want to get a trailer after
Balling, and if I'm a good guesser, we haven't any time to lose."

"You're right; go on. I was thinking what precautions had best be taken
at Mrs. Marteen's home. I'll plan that--you do the rest. Good-by."

Brencherly sidled to the door, bowed and disappeared.

The telephone bell on the table rang sharply. Gard took down the
receiver absently, but the voice that trembled over the wire startled
him like an electric shock. It was Dorothy's, but changed almost beyond
recognition, a frightened, uncertain little treble.

"Is this Mr. Gard?" A sigh of relief greeted his affirmative. "Please,
please, Mr. Gard, can I see you right away?"

"Where are you, Dorothy? Of course; I'm at your service always. What is
it?" he asked, conscious that his own voice betrayed his agitation.

"I'm downstairs, in the building. You don't mind, do you?"

"Mind! Come up at once--or I'll send down for you."

"No--I'm coming now; thank you so much."

The receiver clicked, and Gard, anxious and puzzled, pressed the desk
button for his man.

"Miss Marteen is coming. Show her in here."

A moment later Dorothy entered. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed
doubled in size. She sat down in the chair he advanced for her, as if no
longer able to stand erect, gave a little gasp and burst into tears.

"Dorothy, Dorothy!" begged Gard, distressed beyond measure. "Come, come,
little girl, what is the matter? Tell me!"

She continued to sob, but reaching blindly for his hand, seemed to find
encouragement and assurance in his firm clasp. At last she steadied
herself, wiped her eyes and faced him.

"This morning," she began faintly, "a messenger brought this." From an
inner pocket she took out a crumpled letter, and laid it on the table.
"I didn't know what to do. Read it--read it!" she blazed. "It's too
horrid--too cowardly--too wicked!"

He picked up the envelope. It was directed to Dorothy in typewritten
characters. The paper was of the cheapest. He withdrew the enclosure,
closely covered with typewriting, glanced over the four pages and turned
to the end. Then he read through.

Gard crushed the letter in his hand in a frenzy of fury. So this--this
was Mahr's objective, this the cowardly vengeance his despicable mind
had evolved! He would strike his enemy through the heart of a child--he
would humiliate the girl so that, with shame and horror, she would turn
away from all that life held for her! He knew that if the bolt found
lodgment in her heart she would consider herself a thing too low, too
smirched, to face her world. The marriage, that Mahr feared and hated,
would never take place. Doubtless that evidence which Mrs. Marteen had
once wielded was now in his possession and with all precautions taken he
was fearless of any retaliation. The obscurity and exile he suggested
would be sought as the only issue from intolerable conditions. No, no, a
thousand times no! Mahr had leveled his stroke at a defenseless girl,
but the weapon that should parry it would be wielded by a man's strong
arm, backed by all the resources of brain and wealth.

As these thoughts raced through his mind, he had been standing erect and
silent, his eyes staring at the paper that crackled in his clenched
fist. Dorothy's voice sounded far away repeating something. It was not
till a strange hysterical note crept into her voice that he realized
what she was saying.

"Speak to me, please! What shall I do? What ought I to do? Tell me, tell
me!"

"Do?" he exclaimed. "Do? Why, nothing, my dear. It's a damnable,
treacherous snake-in-the-grass lie! Shake it out of your pretty head,
and leave me to trace this thing and deal with the scoundrel who wrote
it; and I'll promise you, my dear, that it will be such punishment as
will satisfy _me_--and I am not easily satisfied."

Dorothy rose from the table. "Mr. Gard," she whispered, "you won't think
badly of me, will you, if I tell you something? And you will believe it
wasn't because I believed one word of that detestable thing that I did
what I did--you promise me that?"

He could feel his face grow ashen, but his voice was very gentle. "What
was it, my dear? Of course I know you couldn't have noticed such a vile
slander. What do you want to tell me?"

"I was frightened." Dorothy raised brimming eyes to his, pleading excuse
for what she felt must seem lack of faith. "I felt as if the house were
filled with dangerous people. I wanted to see how much they really knew.
I never heard mother speak of the safe in the library. I didn't want to
speak to Tante Lydia. I--"

Gard's heart stood still. "You went to the library and located the
safe--and then?"

"The combination they give is the right one--I opened it with that. Then
I was so terrified that anyone--a wicked person like that--could know so
much about things in our house--I slammed it shut and ran away. I could
not stay in the house another minute. I felt as if I were suffocating."

The sigh that he drew was one of immeasurable relief. "Well, you are
awake now, my dear, and the goblin sha'n't chase you any more. But I'm
greatly troubled about what you tell me, about your having opened the
safe. I want you to come with me now. Is your aunt home? Yes? Well, I'll
telephone my sister to call for her and take her out somewhere. Then
we'll return, and I will take all the responsibility of what I think
it's best to do. One thing is quite evident: your mother's valuables are
not safe, if they haven't already been tampered with and stolen. You
see--well, I'll explain as we go. I'll get rid of Mrs. Mellows first."

A few telephone calls arranged matters, and a message brought his motor
from its neighboring waiting place. "You see," he continued, as the
machine throbbed its way northward, "there are several possibilities.
One is, that this anonymous person is mad. In that case, we can't take
too many precautions. The ingenuity of the insane is proverbial. Then,
this may be a vicious vengeance; someone who hates your splendid mother,
and would hurt her through you. You can see that if you had believed
this detestable story it would have broken her heart. Now such a person,
hoping that you would investigate, would have been quite capable of
stocking your mother's secret compartment with stuff that at the first
glance would have seemed to substantiate the story. You see, they knew
all about the combination and the inner compartment, and they must have
had access to your home. They probably took you for a silly little fool,
full of curiosity, and counted on the shock of falling into their trap
being so great that you would be in no condition to reason matters out;
that you and your mother would be hopelessly estranged, or at least that
you would so hurt and distress her that they could gloat over her
unhappiness. You know you are the one thing she loves in all the world,
Dorothy."

He had talked looking straight ahead of him, striving to give his words
judicial weight. Now he glanced down at Dorothy's face. It was calm, and
a little color was returning to her cheeks. She pressed his hand
fervently.

"But it's so wicked!" she repeated. "It frightens me to think of such
viciousness so near to us, and we don't know and can't guess who it is."

"We'll find a clew. I'll have detectives to watch the house, and to
trace the messenger who brought that letter, if possible. Say nothing to
anyone, not even to Tante Lydia. Perhaps it would be best not to worry
your mother at all about it. She's not well, you see. In the meantime,
I'm going to take everything out of the safe, and transfer it to my own.
I'll make a list. Then we'll change the combination."

"Oh, I wish I'd come to you the very first minute," sighed Dorothy.
"You're such a tower of strength, and you make everything so easy and
simple. I'm ashamed of my fright, and my crying like a baby. You are so
good to me--I--I just love you."

For a second she rested her head on his shoulder with an abandon of
childlike confidence, and his heart thrilled. His inner consciousness,
however, warned him that a deeper motive than his desire to save Dorothy
actuated him--he must shield the mother from the danger that had
threatened the one vulnerable point in her armor of indifference, the
love and respect of her child.

At the apartment, inquiry for Aunt Lydia elicited the information that
the lady had that moment left in company with Miss Gard, and the two
conspirators proceeded alone to the library.

Gard closed the door, drew the heavy leather curtain, and turned
questioningly to Dorothy. With slow, reluctant movements she approached
the wall, released the panel and exposed the front of the safe. With
inexpert fingers, she set the combination and pulled back the door.

"Where is the spring?" demanded Gard. He could not bear to have her
touch what might lie behind the second partition. "Here, dear, take out
these jewel cases and see if they are all right." He swept the velvet
and morocco boxes into her hands, and felt better as he heard their
clattering fall upon the table. He paused, listening for an instant to
the beating of his own heart. He pressed the spring, and with swimming
eyes looked at what the shelves revealed. "Dorothy," he called, and his
voice was brittle as thin glass, "take a pencil and make a list as I
dictate: One package of government bonds; a sheaf of bills, marked
$2,000; two small boxes, wrapped and sealed; three large envelopes,
sealed; two vouchers pinned together. Have you got that? I'll take
possession for the present. Make a copy of that list for me." He snapped
fast the inner door, and turned as he thrust the last of the packets
into an inner pocket. "Now, thank you, my dear; and how about the
valuables?"

"There's nothing missing," said Dorothy, handing him a written slip,
"except things I know mother took with her. So robbery wasn't the
motive. I think you must be right. It's some crank. But, oh, if you only
knew how afraid I am to stay here! I'm afraid of my own shadow; I'm
afraid of the clock chimes; when the telephone rings I'm in a panic.
Don't you think I could go away somewhere, with Tante Lydia--just go
away?"

Gard grasped at the suggestion. He could be sure that she would be
beyond the reach of Mahr and his poisonous vengeance until he had time
to crush him once and for all.

"Yes," he nodded, "you should go away. This crank may be dangerous. We
know he is cunning. You should go with your chaperon--say nothing about
where to anyone, not to a soul, mind; not to the servants here, not even
to Teddy Mahr. Just run down incognito to Atlantic City or Lakewood, or
better still, to some little place where you are not known. Write your
polite little notes, and say your first season has been too strenuous,
and run away. When can you go? To-night? To-morrow morning?"

"Yes, I could be ready to-night; but what shall we say to Tante Lydia?"

"Half the truth," he answered. "I'll take the responsibility. I'll tell
her I've been informed by my private people that an anonymous person has
been threatening you; that they are trying to locate him; and that as he
is known to be dangerous, I've advised your leaving at once and quietly.
I'll tell her a few of my experiences in that line, that will make her
believe that 'discretion is the better part of valor.'" He laughed
bitterly. "The kind attentions I've had in the way of infernal machines
and threats by telephone and letter. And I see only a few, you know.
What my secretaries stop and the police get on to besides would exhaust
one. It's the penalty of the limelight, my dear. But don't take this too
seriously. I'll have everything in hand in a day or two. Now I'm off to
put your mother's valuables in a place of safety. Let's stow those jewel
cases in a handbag. Can you lend me one?" She left the room and returned
presently with a traveling case, into which Gard tossed the elaborate
boxes without ceremony. "I've been thinking," he said presently, "that
my sister's place in Westchester is open. She goes down often for week
ends. There's a train at eight that will get you in by nine-thirty, and
I can telephone instructions to meet you and have everything ready. If
you motored down, you see, the chauffeur would know and you must be
quite incognito. It'll be dead quiet, my dear, but you need a rest, and
we can keep in touch with one another so easily."

Dorothy leaned forward and gazed at him with burning eyes. "You are so
good," she murmured. "Of course I'll go. I know mother would want me
to--don't you think so?"

He smiled grimly. "I'm certain she would. Now here are your directions;
I'll attend to all the rest. All you have to do is pack. I'll send for
you." He wrote for a moment, handed Dorothy the slip and began a note of
explanation for Mrs. Mellows. "There," he said, as he handed over the
missive for Dorothy's approval, "that covers the case. And now, my dear,
the rest is my affair, and whoever he is--may God have mercy on his
soul!"

       *       *       *       *       *



VIII


Early on the morning following Dorothy's hurried departure, Marcus Gard,
having dismissed his valet, was finishing his dressing in the presence
of Brencherly.

"I tried to get you last night," he rasped; "anyhow, you're here. What
have you to report to me?"

Brencherly shook his head. "As far as I can learn, sir, there's nobody
slipped in the Marteen place, sir. All the information about the safe
they have they got from the manufacturers and the people who installed
it--only a short time ago."

Gard frowned. "Well, I happen to know they got what they were after in
the way of information. But I took the liberty of being custodian of the
contents of that strong box--with Miss Marteen's permission, of
course--so there is nothing more to be done in that direction. Now, have
you had a man trailing Mahr? What I want is an interview with him in
informal and quiet surroundings, with a view to clearing the matter up,
you understand. But I'd rather not ask him for a meeting. All I know
about his mode of life is: Metropolitan Club after five, usually; the
Opera Monday nights. Neither of these habits will assist me in the
least. I want by to-morrow a pretty good list of his engagements and a
general map of his day--or perhaps you know enough now to oblige me with
that information."

Brencherly cast an inquisitive look at Gard. He had never accepted
Gard's explanation of his interest in Mahr's affairs.

"Well," he began slowly, "I put our men on the other end of the
case--Balling, the Essex Safe Company and all that, and I went after
Mahr myself. I think I can give you a fair idea of his daily life. He's
at the office early--before nine, usually--and by twelve he's off,
unless something unusual happens. He lunches with a club of men, as I
guess you know. He goes for an hour to Tim McCurdy's, the ex-pugilist,
for training. Then he's home for an hour with his secretary, going over
private business and correspondence. Then he goes to the club for
bridge, and in the evening he's usually out somewhere--any place that's
A1 with the crowd. His son he has tied as tight to the office as any
tenpenny clerk; doesn't get off till after five, and then he makes a
beeline for the Marteens' or goes wherever he'll find the girl. I
think--but, perhaps you know best." He paused, with one of his
characteristic shuffles.

Gard noted the sign and interpreted it correctly.

"If you've got a good idea, it's worth your while," he said shortly.

Brencherly blushed as guilelessly as a girl. "Oh, it's nothing, only I
think--perhaps if you want to see him alone, you might pretend some
business and go to his house about the time he's there every afternoon."

"And discuss our affairs before a secretary?" sneered Gard. "You can bet
Mahr'd have him in the office--I know his way."

"Well, his den is pretty near sound-proof, like yours, sir. And besides,
I could arrange with Mr. Long, the secretary, to have a headache, or a
bad fall, or any little thing, the day you might mention--he's a
personal friend of mine."

"Well, just now I don't much care how you manage it. What I want is that
interview. Is your friend, Mr. Long, a confidential secretary?"

"I don't think," said Brencherly demurely, "that Mr. Mahr is very
confidential even to himself."

"Could you reach him--Mr. Long, I mean--at any time?" asked Gard--he was
planning rapidly.

The detective nodded toward the telephone.

"Well," growled his employer, "could your man suggest to Mahr that he
had had wind of something in Cosmopolitan Telephone? I'll see that
there's a move to corroborate it by noon to-day, if Long gets in his tip
early. And suggest, too, that I'm sore because he bought the Heim
Vandyke; but that if he asked me to come and see it, I'd go, and he
might have a chance to pump me. I happen to know that Mahr is in the
telephone pool up to his eyes, and he'd do anything to get into quick
communication with me. He is probably going to the club to-day, and I'll
not be there--see?"

Brencherly shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, if things turn
out--um--fishy, Long loses his job. But he's a good man to have well
placed. I guess we could land him a berth."

Gard sickened. He could read the detective's secret satisfaction in the
association of that "we" in a shady transaction. Naturally, to have a
man on whom they "had something" in a place of trust might be a great
asset.

"Long will be taken care of," he snapped, replacing his scarf pin for
the twentieth time, and making an unspoken promise to himself to send
the secretary so far away from the scene of Brencherly's activities that
he would at least have a chance to begin life anew without fear of the
past.

"May I?" queried Brencherly, with a jerk of his head toward the
telephone.

"Rather you didn't--from here. Go out, get your man and tell me when he
will tip Mahr. That means my orders in the Street. Tell him there is
news of federal action. I drop out enough stock to sink the quotations a
few points--it's the truth, too, hang it! But it won't get very far."

A crafty smile curled the detective's lips as he rose to go. "Very good,
sir. We'll pull it off all right. I suppose the office will find you?"

"Yes," said Gard. "And I see you intend to take a flier on your inside
information. Well, all I say is, don't hang on too long. Get busy now;
there's no time to waste."

He rang for his valet to show the man out, descended to the dining room,
dispatched his simple breakfast and turned his face and thoughts
officeward. With that move came the thought of Washington. He cast it
from him angrily, yet when the swirl of business affairs closed around
him he experienced a certain pleasure and relief in stemming its tides
and battling with its current. True, the current was swift and boded the
whirlpool, but the rage that was in him seemed to give him added
strength, added foresight. At least in this struggle he was gaining,
mastering the flood and directing it to his will. Would his mastery be
proven in this other and more personal affair? He set his teeth and
redoubled his efforts, intent on proving his own power to himself. Even
as Napoleon believed in his star, Gard trusted in his luck, and it was
with a smothered laugh of sardonic satisfaction that news of the first
move in his campaign came over the wire.

"My man has tipped his hand," came Brencherly's voice. "The other one is
more than interested--excited. Make your cast and you get a bite on your
picture bait."

Gard telephoned his orders to several brokers to sell and sell quickly
and make no secret of it, then returned to work with a laugh upon his
lips.

Contrary to his habit he remained in his office during the luncheon
hour, having a tray sent in. He was to remain invisible. Mahr would
doubtless make every effort to find him by what might appear accident.
Later a message, asking him to join a bridge game at the Metropolitan
Club, caused him to chuckle. His would-be host was a friend of Mahr's.
He answered curtly that he was sick of wasting his time at cards, and
had decided to drop it for a while, hanging up the receiver so abruptly
that the conversation ceased in the midst of a word. An hour later Mahr
addressed him over the wire.

"Ah, Gard, is that you? I called you up to tell you the Heim Vandyke has
just been sent up to me. I hear you were interested in it yourself,
though you saw only the photograph. Don't you want to stop in on your
way uptown and see it? It's a gem. You'll be sorry you didn't bid on it.
But, joking aside, you're the connoisseur whose opinion I want. I don't
give a continental about the dealers; they'll fill you up with
anything." Gard growled a brief acceptance. "I'll be glad to see you.
Good-by."

Abruptly he terminated his interviews and conferences, adjourning all
business till the following day. Mentioning an hour when, if necessary,
he might be found in his home, he dismissed his officials, slipped into
his overcoat, secured his hat, turned at the door of his private office,
muttering something about his stick, and, quickly crossing the room,
opened a drawer of his writing table and drew forth a small, snub-nosed
revolver. He hesitated a moment, tossed it back, and squaring his
shoulders strode from the room.

Half an hour later he entered the spacious lobby of Victor Mahr's
ostentatious dwelling.

"Mr. Mahr is expecting you, sir," said the solemn servant, who conducted
him to a vast anteroom, hung with trophies of armor, and bowed him into
a second room, book-lined and businesslike, evidently the secretary's
private office, deserted now and in some confusion, as if the occupant
had left in haste. The servant crossed to a door opposite, and having
discreetly knocked and announced the distinguished visitor, bowed and
retired. The lackey would have taken Gard's overcoat and hat, but he
retained his hold upon them, as if determined that his stay should be
short.

Mahr rose to greet him, his hand extended. Gard's impedimenta seemed to
preclude the handshake, and the host hastened to insist upon his guest
being relieved.

Gard shook his head. "I have only a moment to inspect your picture,
Mahr," he said coldly.

"Oh, no, don't say that. Have a highball; you will find everything on
the table. What can I give you? This Scotch is excellent."

"No," said Gard sternly. "Excuse me; I am here for one purpose."

Mahr was chagrined, but switched on the electric lights above the canvas
occupying the place of honor on the crowded wall. The portrait stood
revealed, a jewel of color, rich as a ruby, mysterious as an autumn
night, vivid in its humanity, divine in its art, palpitating with life,
yet remote as death itself. The marvelous canvas glowed before them--a
thing to quell anger, to stifle love, to still hate itself in an impulse
of admiration.

Suddenly Marcus Gard began to laugh, as he had laughed that day long
ago, at his own discomfiture.

"What is it?" stuttered Mahr, amazed. "Don't you think it genuine?"
There was panic in his tone.

Gard laughed again, then broke off as suddenly as he had begun; and
passion thrilled in his voice as he turned fierce eyes upon his enemy.

"I am laughing at the singular role this painting has played in my life.
We have met before--the Heim Vandyke and I. If Fate chooses to turn
painter, we must grind his colors, I suppose. But what I intend to grind
first, is you, Victor Mahr! You--you cowardly hound! No--stand where you
are; don't go near that bell. It's hard enough for me to keep my hands
off you as it is!"

The attack had been so unexpected that Mahr was honestly at a loss to
account for it. He looked anxiously toward the door, remembered the
absence of his secretary and gasped in fear. He was at the mercy of the
madman. With an effort he mastered his terror.

"Don't be angry," he stammered. "Don't be annoyed with me; it's all a
mistake, you know. Are you--are you feeling quite well? Do let me give
you something--a--a glass of champagne, perhaps. I'll call a servant."

Gard's smile was so cruel that Mahr's worst fears were confirmed. But
the torrent of accusation that burst from Gard's lips bore him down with
the consciousness of the other's knowledge.

"You scoundrel!" roared the enraged man. "You squirming, poisonous
snake! You would strike at a woman through her daughter, would you! You
would send anonymous letters to a child about her mother! You would hire
sneaks for your sneaking vileness!--coward, brute that you are! Well, I
know it all--_all_, I say. And as true as I live, if ever you make one
move in that direction again, I shall find it out, and I will kill you!
But first I'll go to your boy, Victor Mahr, and I shall tell him: 'Your
father is a criminal--a bigamist. Your mother never was his wife. Sneak
and beast from first to last, he found it easier to desert and deceive.
You are the nameless child of an outcast father, the whelp of a cur.'
I'll say in your own words, Victor Mahr: 'Obscurity is best, perhaps,
even exile.' Do you remember those words? Well, never forget them again
as long as you live, or, by God, you'll have no time on earth to make
your peace!"

Mahr's face was gray; his hands trembled. He looked at that moment as if
the death the other threatened was already come upon him. There was a
moment of silence, intense, charged with the electricity of emotions--a
silence more sinister than the noise of battles. Twice Mahr attempted to
speak, but no sound came from his contracted throat. Slowly he pulled
himself together. A look awful, inhuman, flashed over his convulsed
features. Words came at last, high, cackling and cracked, like the voice
of senility.

"It's you--it's _you_!" he quavered. "So she told you everything, did
she? So you and she--"

The sentence ended in a hoarse gasp, as Mahr launched himself at Gard
with the spring of an animal goaded beyond endurance.

Gard was the larger man, and his wrath had been long demanding
expression. They closed with a jar that rocked the electric lamp on the
desk. There was a second of straining and uncertainty. Then with a jerk
Gard lifted his adversary clear off his feet, and shook him, shook him
with the fury of a bulldog, and as relentlessly. Then, as if the
temptation to murder was more than he could longer resist, he flung him
from him.

Mahr fell full length upon the heavy rug, limp and inert, yet conscious.

Gard stooped, picked up his hat and gloves from where they had fallen
and turned upon his heel.

At that moment the outside door of the secretary's office opened and
closed, and footsteps sounded in the room beyond.

"Get up," said Gard quietly, "unless you care to have them see you
there."

The sound had acted like magic upon the prostrate man. He did not need
the admonition. He had already dragged his shaking body to an upright
position, ere he slowly sank down into the embrace of one of the huge
armchairs.

A quick knock was followed by the appearance of Teddy Mahr. The room was
in darkness save for the light on the table and the clustered radiance
concentrated upon the glowing portrait, that had smiled down remote and
serene upon the scene just enacted, as it had doubtless gazed upon many
another as strange.

"Father!" exclaimed the boy, and as he came within the ring of light,
his face showed pale and anxious.

Gard did not give him time for a reply. "Good evening," he said. "I have
been admiring the Vandyke. A wonderful canvas, and one thing that your
father may well be proud of."

At the sound of the voice the young man turned and advanced with an
exclamation of welcome. "Mr. Gard, the very one I most wanted to see.
Tell me--what is the matter? Where has Dorothy gone? I've been to the
house, and either they don't know or they won't tell me. She didn't let
me know. I can't understand it. For heaven's sake, tell me! Nothing is
wrong, is there?"

"Why, of course, you should know, Teddy." For the first time he used the
familiar term. "I quite forgot about you young people. You see, Dorothy
received threatening letters from some crank, and as we weren't sure
what might occur I sent her off. _Mahr, shall I tell your son?_"

He turned to where the limp figure showed huddled in the depths of red
upholstery. There was a question and a threat in the measured words.

"Of course, tell him Miss Marteen's address," and in that answer there
was a prayer.

"Then here." Gard wrote a few words on his card and gave it into the
boy's eager hand. "Run up and see her. She's with her aunt. I can bring
her home any time now, however. We've located the trouble and got the
man under restraint. Good-night."

       *       *       *       *       *



IX


Though the heat in the Pullman was intense the tall woman in the first
seat was heavily veiled. She had come out from the drawing room to allow
more freedom to her maid, who was packing a dressing-case and rolling up
steamer rugs. Her fellow travelers eyed her with curiosity. She was
doubtless some great and exclusive personage, for she had not appeared
in public, not even in the diner. She sank into the vacant seat with an
air of hopeless weariness, yet her restless hands never ceased their
groping, her slim fingers slipped in and out, in and out of the loop of
her long neck chain, or nervously twined one with another in endless
intertouch.

The long journey north was over at last. The weary days and nights of
hurried travel. Only a moment more and the familiar sights and sounds of
the great city would greet her once again. She was going home--to what?
Mrs. Marteen did not dare to picture the future. Pursued, as if by the
Furies themselves, she had been driven, madly, blind with suffering,
back to the scene of disaster--to know--to know--the worst, perhaps--but
to know!

Day and night, night and day, her iron will had fought the fever that
burned in her veins. Silent, self-controlled, she had given no sign of
her suffering and her terror, though her eyes were ringed with
sleeplessness and her mouth had grown stiff with its effort to command.
The tension was torture. Her heart strings were drawn to the snapping
point; her mind was a bowstring never relaxed, till every fiber of her
resistant body ached for relief.

At last they had arrived. At last the hollow rumble of the train in the
vast echoing station warned her of her journey's end. Instinctively she
gave her orders, thrusting her baggage checks into the hands of her
maid.

"I'm going on at once," she said. "Attend to everything. Give me my
little nécessaire. I don't feel quite well, and I want to get home as
quickly as possible."

She hurried away before the servant could ask a question, and was
directed to the open cab stand. As she stepped in, she reeled.
Trepidation took hold upon her, but with enforced calm, she seated
herself, and gave the address to the starter. As the motor drew away
from the great buildings, she threw back her veil for the first time,
and opened a window. The rush of cool air revived her somewhat, but her
heart beat spasmodically, her blood seemed a thin, unliving stream.
Street after street slipped by like a panorama on a screen, familiar,
yet unreal. The world, her world, had changed in its essence, in its
every manifestation.

At last the taxi drew up before the door of her home--was it home still?
she wondered. Her hand trembled so she could not unfasten the latch, and
the chauffeur, descending from his seat, came to her assistance.

"Wait," she said in a strangled voice. "Wait; I may want you."

At the door of her apartment she had to pause, before she rang, to
gather courage, to obtain control of her whirling brain. At last the
ornate door swung inward and her butler faced her with welcoming eye.

"Mrs. Marteen! Pray pardon the undress livery! No word had been
received."

She took note of the darkened rooms. Only one switch, whose glow she had
seen turned on as the servant came to the door, gave light. The place
was hollow and unlived in as an outworn shell.

"Miss Dorothy?" she said, striving to give her voice a natural tone.

The butler h'mmed. "Miss Dorothy has gone, Madam, with Madam's
sister--since yesterday. They left no address, and said nothing about
when they might be expected. Mr. Gard had been with Miss Dorothy in the
afternoon."

Mrs. Marteen caught hold of the broad and solid back of a carved hall
chair and stood motionless, leaning her full weight on its ancient oak
for support.

"That's all right, Stevens," she said at length. "You needn't notify the
other servants that I have returned--for the present. I'm going right
out again. I just stopped in for some important papers I may have need
of. Just light the hall and the library, will you?"

With the falling of the sword that severed her last hope a new
self-possession came to her--the quiet of despair. Her brain cleared,
her fevered pulse became normal, the weariness that had racked her frame
passed from her. She only asked to be alone for a little--alone with her
love and her memories. She quarreled no more with Fate.

The butler preceded her, lighting the way. At the door of the library,
she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. Calmly she entered and softly
closed the door behind her. In the blaze of the electrics she saw every
nook and corner of the room--photographically--every tone and color,
every glint and gleam, but her mind fastened itself with remorseless
logic to one thing only--the sliding panel. In her distracted vision it
seemed to move, to slip back even as she gazed. The grain of the wood
appeared to writhe, to creep up and down and ripple as if with the evil
life of what lay behind. She forced herself to walk across the room to
lay her weakened fingers, from which all sense of touch seemed to have
withdrawn, upon that vibrating panel. The face of the safe stood
revealed. Slowly with growing fear she turned the numbers of the
combination and paused--she could not face the ordeal, but with the
releasing of the clutch, the weight of the door caused it to open
slowly, as if an invisible force drew it outward and Mrs. Marteen saw
before her the empty shelves within. As if in a dream she pressed the
spring, and realized that the carefully planned hiding place, was hiding
place no more. She stood still with outstretched arms, as if crucified.
The mute evidence of that opened door was not to be refuted. Her enemy
had triumphed; her own sin had found her out. No self-pity eased the
awful moments. Hot pity poured in upon her heart, but not for herself in
this hour of misery--but for her daughter, for the innocent sweet soul
of truth, whose faith had been shattered, whose deepest love had been
betrayed, whose belief in honor had been destroyed. Where had she fled?
Into whose heart had she poured the torrent of her grief and shame?
Could there be one thought of love, of forgiveness? Ah, she was a mother
no longer. She had sold her sacred trust. She had no rights, no
privileges. She must go--go quickly, efface herself forever. That was
her duty, that was the only way. Like a mortally wounded creature, she
thought only of some small, cramped, sheltered corner, some lair wherein
to die.

With an effort she turned from the room, closed the door, and stood
uncertain where to turn. Down the corridor, at its far end, was
Dorothy's room. The thought drew her. She turned the knob, found the
switch, and hesitated on the thresh-hold. Should she go in? Should she,
the sin-stained soul, dare profane the sanctuary, the virginal altar of
the pure in heart! Yes--ah, yes!--for this last time! She was a mother
still.

She entered, and cast herself on her knees by the little pink and white
bed. She had no tears--the springs of relief were dried in the flame of
her heart's hell. She found Dorothy's pillow, a mass of dainty
embroidery and foolish frills. She laid her hot cheek on its cool linen
surface. In a passion of loss she kissed each leaf and rose of its
needlework garland.

Then she rose to her feet. She must go, she must disappear--now, and
forever from the world that had known her. She would send one message
when the time came--one message--to the one man she trusted, to the one
man who would fulfill her wish--that in the years to come, his watchful
care should guard her child from further harm. But that, too, must wait.
She rose to her feet, and crossed to the dressing-table. There was
Dorothy's picture--her little girl's picture, the one she preferred to
all the others. She slipped it from its silver frame, and clasped it to
her breast. She could not bear to look upon the room as she left it. She
turned off the light, and crept away like a thief. She was trembling
now. The calmness that had been hers as she heard her death sentence,
was gone. Her overtaxed body and mind rebelled. It was with difficulty
that she made her way through the deserted rooms and stumbled to the
street and the waiting cab.

"Where to?" the chauffeur asked.

She gave the name of one of the large hotels. Yes, once in some such
caravanserai, she might elude all pursuit. In one door and out of
another--and who was to find her trace in the seething mass of the
city's life? The simple transaction of paying her fare, and entering the
hotel became strangely difficult. Words eluded her, she was conscious
that the chauffeur eyed her oddly as he handed her her bag.

Then came a blank. She found herself once more out-of-doors, in an
unfamiliar cross street. She saw a number on a lamppost, and realized
that she had walked many blocks. She imagined that she was
pursued--someone was lurking behind her in the shadow of an
area--someone had peeped at her from behind drawn blinds. She started to
run, but her bursting heart restrained her. She tried to still its
beating; it seemed loud, clamorous as a drum; everyone must hear it and
wonder what consciousness of guilt could make a heart beat so loudly in
one's breast. She began walking again as rapidly as she dared. She must
not attract attention. She must not let the shadows that followed her
know that she feared them. If they guessed her panic they would lurk no
longer; they would crowd close, rush upon her in vaporous throngs,
stifling her like hot smoke.

She paused for breath in her painful flight. The glare from the entrance
of a moving picture show fell upon her. Somehow, in that light she felt
safe. The shadows could not cross its yellow glare. She breathed more
easily for a moment, then became tense. A man was coming out of the
white and gold ginger-bread entrance, like a maggot from some huge cake.
The man was small, middle-aged, dark, with unwieldy movements and evil,
predatory eyes--"Like Victor Mahr!" she said aloud; "like Victor Mahr!"
The man passed before her and was gone from the circle of light into the
darkness of the outer street. She gave a gasp, and her mad eyes dilated.
The suggestion had gripped her. Sudden furious hate entered her soul.
Victor Mahr--her enemy! The cause of all her heart break. She had
forgotten how or why this was the case; but she knew herself the
victim--he, the torturer. She wanted vengeance, she wanted relief from
her own torment. It was he who held the key to the whole trouble. She
must find him out. She must tear it from him. She strove to think
clearly, to remember where she might find him. She started walking
again; standing still would not find him, that was certain.
Unconsciously she followed the directions her subconscious mind offered.
As she walked, there came a sense of approval. She was on the right
track now. Her footfalls became less dragging and aimless. She was going
somewhere--to a definite place, where she would find something vastly
necessary, imperative to her very life.

She neared a church; passed it. Yes, that was right. It was a landmark
on her road. A white archway loomed before her in the gloom. Her
journey's end--her journey's end! With that realization fatigue mastered
her. She must rest before making any further effort, or she could not
accomplish anything. Her limbs refused to do her bidding. The weight of
her traveling case had become a crushing burden. But before she rested
she must find something important that she had come so far to see--a
house, a large house--what house?

She looked about her at the stately mansions fronting the square. Then
recognition leaped into her eyes, and she sank upon a bench facing the
familiar entrance. Now she could afford to wait. Her enemy could not
escape while she sat watching. He--could--not--escape--

       *       *       *       *       *



X


As Marcus Gard stood upon the steps of Mahr's residence, and heard the
soft closing of its door behind him, he shut his eyes, drew himself
erect and breathed deep of the keen, cold air. A rush of youth expanded
every vein and artery. He experienced the physical and mental exultation
of the strong man who has met and conquered his enemy. The mere personal
expression of his anger had relieved him. He felt strong, alert, almost
happy. He descended to the street and turned his steps homeward. At last
something was accomplished. The serpent's fangs were drawn. He
experienced a cynical amusement in the thought that the path of true
love had been smoothed by such equivocal means. Neither of the children
would ever know of the shadows that had gathered so closely around them.

But, Mrs. Marteen--what of her? Again the longing came upon him--to know
her awake to herself and to her own soul; to know the predatory instinct
forever quieted, that upsurging of some remote inconscience of the
race's history of rapine in the open, and acquisition by stealth,
forever conquered; to know her spirit triumphant. The momentary joy of
successful battle passed, leaving him deeply troubled. All his fears
returned. The sense of impending disaster, that had withdrawn for the
moment, overwhelmed him once more.

He entered his own home absently, listened, abstracted, to the various
items Saunders thought important enough to mention, dismissed him, and
turned wearily to a pile of personal mail. His eye caught a familiar
handwriting on a thick envelope.

From Mrs. Marteen evidently--postmarked St. Augustine. He broke the
seal, wondering how her letter came to bear that mark. What change had
been made in her plans? He hesitated, panic-stricken, like a woman
before an unexpected telegram. He withdrew the enclosure, noting at a
glance a variety of papers--the appearance of a diary.

"Dear, dear friend," it began, "I must write--I must, and to you,
because you know--you know, and yet you have made me your friend--to
you, because you love my little girl. They are killing me, killing me
through her. I'm coming home, as fast as I can; I don't yet know how,
for I'm heading the other way, and I can't stop the steamer, but I'm
coming. I received a message, the second day out. It had been given to
the purser for delivery and marked with the date--that's nothing
unusual; I've had steamer letters delivered, one each day, during a
whole crossing. I never gave it a thought when he handed it to me, I
never divined. It seems to me now that I should have sensed it. I read
it, and--but how to tell you? I have it here; I'll send it to you."

A sheet of notepaper was pinned to the letter. Sick at heart, Gard
unfastened it. Mahr's name appeared at the bottom. Gard read: "Dear
lady, you forgot to give your daughter the combination of the jewel safe
and its inner compartment before you sailed. I am attending to that for
you, and have no doubt that she will at once inventory the contents. We
are always glad to return favors conferred upon us."

Gard's heart stood still. A sweeping regret invaded him that he had not
slain the man when his hands were upon him. He threw the note aside and
turned again to Mrs. Marteen's letter.

"You see," he read, "there is nothing for me to do. A wireless to
Dorothy? She has doubtless had the information since the hour of my
departure. What can I do? I have thought of you; but how make you, who
know nothing of Victor Mahr, understand anything in a message that would
not reveal all to everyone who must aid in its transmission? That at
least mustn't happen. I am praying every minute that she will go to
you--you, who know and have tolerated me. I can't bear for her to
know--I can't--it's killing me! My heart contracts and stops when I
think of it."

Further down the page, in another ink, evidently written later, was a
single note:

"I've left a message with the wireless operator, a sort of desperate
hope that it may be of some use--to Dorothy, telling her to consult you
on all matters of importance. I've written one to you, telling you to
find her. The man says he'll send them out as soon as he gets into touch
with anyone."

A still later entry:

"Two P.M.--I'm in my cabin all the time. I think that I shall go mad.
That sounds conventional, doesn't it--reminiscent of melodrama! I assure
you it's worse than real. I feel as if for years and years I've been
asleep, and now've wakened up into a nightmare. I _can_ write to you;
that's the one thing that gives me relief. Your kindness seems a shield
behind which I can crawl. I can't sleep; I can only--not think--no, it
isn't thinking I do--it's realizing--and everything is terrible. The
sunlight makes ripples on my cabin ceiling; they weave and part and
wrinkle. I try to fix my attention on them, and hypnotize myself into
lethargy. Sometimes I almost succeed, and then I begin realizing again.
And in the night I stare at the electric light till my eyes ache, and
try to numb my thoughts. Must my little girl know what I am? Can't that
be averted? I know it can't--I know, and yet I pray and
pray--I--_pray!"_

Another sheet, evidently torn from a pad: "The wireless is out of order;
they couldn't send my messages. You don't know the despair that has
taken hold of me. My mind feels white--that's the only way I can
describe it--cold and white--frozen, a blank. My body is that way, too.
I hold my hands to the light, and it doesn't seem as if there was even
the faintest red. They are the hands of a dead person--I wish they were!
But I must know--must know. We are due in Havana to-morrow. I shall take
the first boat out--to anywhere, where I can get a train, that's the
quickest. Oh, you, who have so often told me I must stop and think and
realize things! Did you know what it _was_ you wanted me to do? Have you
any idea what torture _is?_ You couldn't! I don't believe even Mahr
would have done this to me--if he had known; nobody could--nobody could.
Now, all sorts of things are assailing me; not only the horror that
Dorothy should _know_, but the horror of having _done_ such things. I
can't feel that it was I; it must have been somebody else. Why, I
couldn't have; it's impossible; and yet I did, I did, I did! Sometimes I
laugh, and then I am frightened at myself--I did it just then; it was at
the thought that here am I, _writing letters_--I, who have always
thought letters that incriminate were the weakness of fools, the blind
spot of intelligence--I, who have profited by letters--written in anger,
in love, in the passion of money-getting--everything--I'm
writing--writing from my bursting heart. Ah, you wanted me to realize;
I'm fulfilling your wish. Oh, good, kind soul that you are, forgive me!
I'm clinging to the thought of you to save me; I'm trusting in you
blindly. It's five days since I left."

The sheet that followed was on beflagged yachting paper:

"What luck! I happened on the Detmores the moment I landed. They were
just sailing. I transferred to them. I'm on board and homeward bound. We
reach St. Augustine to-morrow night; then I'm coming through as fast as
I can. I've thought it all over now. Since the wireless messages weren't
sent, I shall send no cable or telegram. I shall find out what the
situation is, and perhaps it will be better for me just to disappear. It
may be best that Dorothy shall never see me again. I shall go straight
home. I'm posting this in St. Augustine; it will probably go on the same
train with me. When you receive this and have read it, come to me. I
shall need you, I know--but perhaps you won't care to; perhaps you won't
want to be mixed up in an affair that may already be the talk of the
town. It's one thing to know a criminal who goes unquestioned and
another to befriend one revealed and convicted. Don't come, then. I am
at the very end of my endurance now. What sort of a wreck will walk into
that disgraced home of mine? And still I pray and pray--"

Gard stood up. A sudden dizziness seized him. Go to her! Of course he
must, at once, at once; there was not a moment to be lost. He calculated
the length of time the letter had taken to reach him since its delivery
in the city--hours at least. And she had returned home to find--what? He
almost cried out in his anguish--to find Dorothy gone, no one at the
house knew where. What must she think?

He snatched up the telephone and called her number, his voice shaking in
spite of his effort to control it.

The butler answered. Yes; madam had returned suddenly; had gone to the
library for something; had asked for Miss Dorothy, and when she heard
she was away, had made no comment, and left shortly afterwards. Yes, she
appeared ill, very ill.

"I'm coming over," Gard cut in. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

He rang, ordered the servant to stop the first taxi, seized his coat and
hat, left a peremptory order to his physician not to be beyond call,
tumbled into his outer garments and made for the street. The taxi
sputtered at the curb, but just as he dashed down the steps a limousine
drew up, and Denning sprang from its opened door. His hand fell heavily
upon Gard's shoulder as he stooped to enter the cab. Gard turned, his
overwrought nerves stinging with the shock of the other's restraining
touch.

Denning's hand fell, for the face of his friend was distorted beyond
recognition. The words his lips had framed to speak died upon his
tongue, as with a furious heave Gard shook him off, entered the cab and
slammed the door. Denning stood for a moment surprised into inaction,
then, with an order to follow, he leaped into his own car and started in
pursuit.

When Gard reached the familiar entrance, his anxiety had grown, like
physical pain, almost to the point where human endurance ceases and
becomes brute suffering. He felt cornered and helpless. At the door of
Mrs. Marteen's apartment a sort of unreasoning rage filled him. To ring;
the bell seemed a futility; he wanted to break in the painted glass and
batter down the door. The calm expression of the butler who answered his
summons was like a personal insult. Were they all mad that they did not
realize?

"Where is Mrs. Marteen?" he demanded hoarsely.

The servant shook his head. "She left two hours ago, at least," he
answered, with a glance toward the hall clock.

"What did she say--what message did she leave?" Gard pushed by him
impatiently, making for the stairs leading to the upper floor and the
library.

The butler stared. "Why, nothing, sir. She asked for Miss Dorothy, and
when none of us could tell her where she went, or why--which we all
thought queer enough, sir--she didn't seem surprised; so I suppose she
knows, sir. Madam just went upstairs to the library first, and then to
Miss Dorothy's room--the maid saw her, sir--and then she came down and
went out. She had on a heavy veil, but she looked scarce fit to stand
for all that, and she went--never said a word about her baggage or
anything--just went out to the cab that was waiting. Then about a half
hour later, Mary, her maid, came in with the boxes. I hope there's
nothing wrong, sir?"

Gard listened, his heart tightening with apprehension. "Call White
Plains, 56," he ordered sharply. "Tell Miss Dorothy to come at once and
then send for me, quick, now!" he commanded; and as the wondering flunky
turned toward the telephone, he sprang up the stairs, threw open the
library door and entered. The electric lights were blazing in the heat
and silence of the closed room. The odor of violets hung reminiscent in
the stale air. The panel by the mantelpiece was thrust back, and the
door of the safe, so uselessly concealed, hung open, revealing the empty
shelves within and the deep shadow of the inner compartment. He saw it
all in a flash of understanding; the frantic woman's rush to the place
of concealment,--the ravaged hiding place. What could she argue, but
that all that her enemy had planned had befallen? Her child knew all,
and had gone--fled from her and the horror of her life, leaving no sign
of forgiveness or pity.

Sick, and faint, Gard turned away. One door in the corridor stood open,
left so, he divined, by the hurried passing of the mother from the empty
nest, Dorothy's room, all pink and white and girlish in its simplicity.
One fragrant pillow, with its dainty embroidered cover, was dented, as
if still warm from the burning cheek that had pressed it in an agony of
loss. Nothing about the chamber was displaced; only an empty photograph
frame lying upon the dressing table told of the trembling, pale hands
that had bereft it of its jewel. She had taken her little girl's picture
with the heartbroken conviction that never again would she see its
original, or that those girlish eyes would look upon her again save in
fear and loathing. The empty case dropped from his hands to the
silver-crowded, lace-covered table; he was startled to see in the
mirror, hung with its frivolous load of cotillion favors and dance
cards, his own face convulsed with grief, and turned, appalled, from his
own image. His resourceful brain refused its functions. He could not
guess her movements after that silent, definitive leave taking. He could
but picture her tall, erect figure, outwardly composed and nonchalant,
as she must have stood, facing the outer world, looking out to what--to
what? A mad hope rose in his breast. Would she turn to him? Would her
instinctive steps lead her to seek his protection.

Yes. He must be where she could find him; he must be within reach. It
could not be that she would pass thus silently into some unknown
life--or-- He would not concede the other possibility.

Turning blindly from the room, he descended to the lower floor, where
the butler, with difficulty suppressing his curiosity, informed him that
Miss Dorothy had answered that she would return to town at once.

Gard hesitated, then turned sharply upon the servant. "Your mistress has
been ill, as you know. We have reason to believe that she is not quite
herself. If you learn anything of her, notify me at once. No matter what
orders she may give, you understand, or no matter how slight the
clew--send for me."

Once again in the street, he paused, uncertain. His eye fell upon
Denning's limousine drawn up behind his waiting cab. Fury at this
espionage sent him toward it. Thrusting his face In at the open window,
he glared at his pursuer.

"What are you here for?" he snarled.

Denning looked at him coldly. "To see that you keep faith, that's all.
Your personal concerns must wait. Have you forgotten that you are to
take the midnight train to Washington? I'm here to see that you do it."

Gard wrenched open the door of the car. "You are, are you? Let the whole
damned thing go!" he cried. "Send your proxies. This is a matter of life
and death!"

"I know it," said Denning; "it is--to a lot of people who trust you; and
you are going to do your duty if I have to kidnap you to do it. You have
two hours before your train leaves. My private car is waiting for you.
Make what plans you like till then; but I'll not leave you; neither will
Langley--he's following you, too. Come, buck up. Are you mad that you
desert in the face of shipwreck?"

Gard turned suddenly, ordered his taxi to follow and got in beside
Denning. His mood and voice were changed. "I've got to think. Don't
speak to me. Get me home as soon as you can."

He leaned back, closed his eyes and concentrated all his energies. In
the first place, Denning was right--he must not desert, even with his
own disaster close upon him. He owed his public his life, if necessary.
As a king must go to the defense of his people in spite of every private
grief or necessity, so he must go now. The very form of his decision
surprised him. He realized that his yearning for another soul's
awakening had awakened his own soul. He had willed her a conscience and
developed one himself. But, his decision reached with that sudden
precision characteristic of him, his anxious fears demanded that every
possible precaution be taken, every effort made that could tend to save
or relieve the desperate situation he must leave behind him. First of
all his physician--to him he must speak the truth, and to him alone.
Brencherly should be his active tool. Mahr must be impressed.

Springing from the motor at his own door, he snapped an order to his
butler, and sent him with the cab to bring the doctor instantly. Once in
the library, he telephoned for the detective. He then called up Victor
Mahr, requested that however late he might call, a visitor be admitted
at once, on a matter of the first importance and received the assurance
that his wishes would be complied with; he asked Denning, who had
followed him, to wait in another room, thrust back the papers on his
table and settled himself to write.

"No one knows anything," he scrawled, "neither Dorothy nor anyone else."
With succinct directness he covered the whole story--explained,
elucidated. Through every word the golden thread of his deep devotion
glowed steadily. Would the letter ever reach her? Would her eyes ever
see the reassuring lines? He refused to believe his efforts useless. She
must come. He sealed and directed the letter, as Brencherly was
admitted. Gard turned and eyed the young man sharply, wondering how
much, how little he dared tell him.

"Brencherly," he said slowly, "I'm giving you the biggest commission of
your life. You've got to take my place here, for I'm going to the front.
I've got to rely on you, and if you fail me, well, you know me--that's
enough. Now, I want discretion first, last and all the time. Then I want
foresight, tact, genius--everything in you that can think and plan. Here
are the facts: Mrs. Marteen has come back--suddenly. She's been ill. Her
mind, from all I can learn, is affected. She has delusions; she may have
suicidal mania. She has disappeared, and she must be found--as secretly
as possible. Her delusions and illness must not become a newspaper
headline. I needn't tell you it would make 'a story.' There's one chance
in fifty that she may come here, or telephone for me. You are not to
leave this room. Answer that telephone--you know her voice, don't you?
You are to tell her that I have her letter and she has nothing to worry
about; that I have had charge of all her affairs in her absence; that
her daughter knows of her return and wants her at once. Tell her that I
have left a letter for her--this one. When Miss Marteen calls up, tell
her to go to her home; that her mother has come back, but has left
again, and is ill; that I'm doing all in my power to find her. Tell her
to call me at once on the long distance telephone to Washington, at the
New Willard. Wherever I have to be I'll arrange that I can be called at
once. Do you understand?

"Dr. Balys will be here in a few moments. He will have the hospitals
canvassed. If you locate her, Brencherly, send my doctor to her at once.
Get her to her own apartment, and don't let her talk. I want you to pick
a man to watch the morgue; to look up every case of reported suicide
that by any chance might be Mrs. Marteen--here or in other cities." Gard
felt the blood leave his heart as he said the words, though there was no
quaver in his voice. "If they should find her, don't let her identity be
known if there is any chance of concealing it, not until you reach me.
Don't let Miss Marteen know. Put another man on the hotel arrivals. She
left St. Augustine--Here--" He--jotted down times and dates on a slip.
"Work on that. Keep the police off. I'll have Balys stay here, unless he
locates her in any of the hospitals. My secretary is yours; and there
are half a dozen telephones in the house; you can keep 'em all going.
But, mind, there must be no leak. Watch her apartment, too. Question her
maid up there. Of course that letter on the table there might interest
you, but I think I had better trust you, since I make you my deputy.
This is no small matter, Brencherly. Honesty is the best policy--and
there _are_ rewards and punishments."

The strain of grief and anxiety had set its mark on Gard's face. His
deadly earnestness and evident effort at self-control sent a thrill of
pitying admiration through the detective's hardened indifference. A rush
of loyalty filled his heart; he wanted to help, without thought of
reward or punishment. He felt hot shame that his calling had deserved
the suspicion his employer cast upon it.

"I'll do my honest best," he said with such dear-eyed sincerity that
Gard smiled wanly and held out his hand.

"Thank you," he said simply.

The interview with the doctor lasted another half-hour. Time seemed to
fly. Another hour and he must leave to others the quest that his soul
demanded. Unquestioning and determined, Denning took him once more in
the limousine. They were silent during the drive to Victor Mahr's
address. Gard descended before the house, leaving Denning in the car.

"Don't worry," he said as he closed the door of the automobile. "I'll
not be long; I give you my word."

Denning smiled. "That's all that's wanted in Washington, old man. You've
got a quarter of an hour to spare."

Denning switched on the electric light and, taking a bundle of papers
from his inside pocket, began to pencil swift annotation.

Gard ran lightly up the steps. It was quite on the cards that Mrs.
Marteen in her anguish and despair might make an effort to see and
upbraid the man whose hatred and vengeance had wrecked her life. Mahr
must be warned of all that had taken place, and schooled to meet the
situation--to confess at once that his plans had been thwarted, that his
tongue was forever bound to silence and that his intended victim was
free. He, Marcus Gard, must dictate every word that might be said,
foresee every possible form in which a meeting might come, and dictate
the terms of Mahr's surrender. Words and sentences formed and shifted in
his mind as he waited impatiently for his summons to be answered. The
butler bowed, murmuring that Mr. Mahr was expecting Mr. Gard, and
preceded him across the anteroom to the well-remembered door of the
inner sanctum, which he threw open before the guest, and retired
silently.

Closing the door securely behind him, Gard turned toward the sole
occupant of the room. Mahr did not heed his coming nor rise to greet
him. The ticking of the carved Louis XV clock on the mantel seemed
preternaturally loud in the oppressive silence.

Suddenly and unreasonably Gard choked with fear. In one bound he crossed
the room and stood staring down at the face of his host. For an instant
he stood paralyzed with amazement and horror. Then, as always, when in
the heart of the tempest, he became calm, and his mind, as if acting
under some heroic stimulant, became intensely clarified. Mahr was dead.
He leaned forward and lifted the head; the body was still warm, and it
fell forward, limp and heavy. On the left temple was a large contusion
and a slight cut. The cause was not far to seek. On the table lay an
ancient flintlock pistol, somewhat apart from a heap of small arms
belonging to an eighteenth century trophy.

Murder! Murder--and Mrs. Marteen! His imagination pictured her beautiful
still face suddenly becoming maniacal with fury and pain. Gard
suppressed an exclamation. Well, he would swear Mahr was alive at half
after eleven, when he had seen him. If anyone knew of her coming before
that, she would be cleared. No one knew of his own feud with Mahr; no
one suspected it. His word would be accepted.

Mahr's face, repulsive in life, was hideous in death--a mask of
selfishness, duplicity and venomous cunning from which departing life
had taken its one charm of intelligence. He looked at the wound again.
The blow must have been sudden and of great force. Acting on an impulse,
he tiptoed to one of the curtained windows, unlocked the fastening and
raised it slightly. A robbery--why not? Silently moving back into the
room, he approached the corpse and with nervous rapidity looted the dead
man of everything of value, leaving the torn wallet, a wornout crumpled
affair, lying on the floor. He opened and emptied the table drawers, as
if a hurried search had been made. Slipping the compromising jewels into
his overcoat pocket, he turned about and faced the room like a stage
manager judging of a play's setting. The luxurious furnishings, the long
mahogany table warmly reflecting the lights of the heavily shaded lamp;
the wide, gaping fireplace; the lurking shadows of the corners; the
curtain by the opened window bellying slightly in the draught; above, in
the soft radiance of the hooded electrics, the glowing, living, radiant
personality of the Vandyke; below, the stark, evil face of the dead,
with its blue bruised temple and blood-clotted hair.

Gard strove to reconstruct the crime as the next entrant would judge
it--the thief gliding in by the window; the collector busy over the
examination of his curios; the blow, probably only intended to stun; the
hasty theft and stealthy exit.

His heart pounded in his breast, but it was with outward calm that he
crossed the threshold, calling back a "Good-night," whose grim irony was
not lost upon him. In the hall, as he put on his hat, he addressed the
servant casually:

"Mr. Mahr says you may lock up and go. He does not want to be disturbed,
as he has some papers that will keep him late. Remind Mr. Mahr to call
me at the New Willard in the morning; I may have some news."

As he left the house he staggered; he felt his knees shaking. With a
superhuman effort he steadied himself--Denning must not suspect anything
unusual. He descended the steps with a firm tread, and pausing at the
last step, twisted as if to reach an uncomfortably settled coat
collar--his quick glance taking in the contour of the house and the
probability of access by the window. The glimpse was reassuring. By
means of the iron railing a man might readily gain the ledge below the
first floor windows. He entered the limousine and nodded to Denning.

"All right," he said. "On to Washington."

       *       *       *       *       *



XI


Through the long, hours of the night Gard lay awake, living over the
gruesome moments spent in the ill-omened house on Washington Square. The
ghastly face of the dead man seemed to stare at him from every corner of
the luxurious room.

Had he done wisely, Gard wondered, in setting the scene of robbery? Had
he done it convincingly? That he could become involved in the case in
another character than that of witness, occurred to him, but he
dismissed it with a shrug. He was able, he felt, to cope with any
situation. Nevertheless, the valuables he had taken from the corpse
seemed to take on bulk. He thanked his stars that his valet was not with
him--at least he would not have to consider the ever present danger of
discovery. He had hoped to dispose of the compromising articles while
crossing the ferry, but when, on his suggestion of the benefits of cool
night air, he had descended from the motor and advanced to the rail,
Denning had accompanied him and remained at his elbow, discussing future
moves in their giant financial game. Once on board the private car, he
had considered disposing of the jewels from the car window or the
observation platform, but abandoned that scheme as worse than useless.
The track walkers' inevitable discovery would only bring suspicion upon
someone traveling along the line--and who but himself must eventually he
suspected?

There was nothing for it but to break up the horde piece by piece and
lose the compromising gems in unrecognizable fragments. The impulse was
upon him to switch on the electrics and begin the work of destruction
here in his stateroom at once. But he feared Denning; he feared Langley.
Then his thoughts reverted to Mrs. Marteen. Where was she? Where was she
hiding? Had she made away with herself after her desperate deed? His
heart ached and yearned toward her while his senses revolted in horror
of the crime. His world was torn asunder. The awful discovery he had
made had once and for all precluded a change of plans. Sudden resistance
on his part would have been enigmatical to Denning--or he must confess
the state of affairs in the silent house he had just left. At least by
his ruse he had gained time for her, perhaps even protection.

Her letter, her frantic record of pain and misery, was in his pocket. He
found it, and feeling that even if he were observed to be absorbed in
reading, it could only appear natural in view of his mission, he propped
himself with pillows and reread the tear-blistered pages. His spirit
rebelled. No, no; the woman who had written those searing, bitter lines
of awakening could not be guilty of monstrous murder. He hated himself
that his mind had accused her. He cursed himself that by his
intervention he had perhaps thrown investigation upon the wrong scent,
while the truth, he assured himself, must exonerate her and bring the
real criminal to justice. What could have made him be such a fool? The
next instant he thanked his stars that he had been cool enough to plan
the scene. As he read the throbbing pages, tears rose to his eyes again
and again; he had to lay the letter down and compose himself. Ah, he was
wrong, always at fault. By his well-intended interference, he had
arranged Dorothy's flight, with results he trembled to foresee. And
Dorothy! What was he to tell the child? How was he to prepare her to
bear the present strain and the knowledge of what might come?

The fevered hours passed slowly. It was with a wrenching effort that he
forced his mind to concentrate on the business in hand for the coming
day. Yet, for his own honor and the sake of his people, it must be done,
and well done. Moreover, there must be no wavering on his part, nothing
to let anyone infer an unusual disturbance of mind. He must be prepared
to play shocked surprise when the tragic news reached him.

Utter exhaustion finally overpowered his fevered brain and he fell into
a troubled sleep, from which he was aroused by Denning's voice. The car
was not in motion, and he divined that it had been shunted to await
their pleasure. He dressed hastily, his heart still aching with dread
and uncertainty.

As he faced himself in the mirror he noted his sunken eyes and ghastly
color, and Denning, entering behind him, noted it, too, with a quick
thrill of sympathy. He had come to accept as fact his fear, expressed in
the directors' room. Gard must be suffering from some deadly disease.

"You look all in, Gard," he said regretfully. "I'm sorry I had to drive
you so." He hesitated. "Has--have the doctors been giving you a scare
about yourself?"

Gard divined the other's version of his strange actions, and jumped at
an excuse that explained and covered much.

"Don't talk about it," he said gruffly. "You know it won't do to have
rumors about my health going round."

Denning took the remark as a tacit acquiescence. His face expressed
genuine sympathy and compassion.

"I'm sorry," he said slowly.

Gard looked up and frowned, yet the kindliness extended, though it was
for an imaginary reason, was grateful to him.

"Well, I can take all the extra sympathy anyone has just now," he
answered in a tone that carried conviction. "I've had a good deal to
struggle against recently--but I'm not whipped yet."

"Oh, you'll be all right," Denning encouraged. "You're a young man
still, and you've got the energy of ten young bucks. I'll back you to
win. Cheer up; you've got a hard day ahead." Gard nodded. How hard a day
his friend little guessed. "We'll go on to the hotel when you are ready.
Your first appointment is at nine thirty. Jim is making breakfast for us
here."

"All right," said Gard; "I'll join you in a minute. Go ahead and get
your coffee." Left alone, he hurriedly pocketed Mahr's jewelry, paused a
moment to grind the stone of the scarf pin from its setting--among the
cinders of the terminus the gem and its mangled mounting could both be
easily lost. His one desire now was to put himself in telephonic
communication with New York, but he did not dare to be too pressing.
However, once at the hotel, he made all arrangements to have a call
transferred, and opened connection with Brencherly. He was shaking with
nervousness. "Any news?" he asked.

"None, Mr. Gard, I'm sorry," the detective's voice sounded over the
wire, "except that I've followed your instructions with regard to the
young lady. I've not left the 'phone, sir; slept right here in your
armchair. The hospitals have been questioned, and there is nothing
reported at police headquarters that could possibly interest you. I've
looked over the morning papers carefully to see if there was anything
the reporters had that might be a clew. There's nothing. I took the
liberty of sending Dr. Balys over to the young lady this morning--she
seemed in such a state; he'll be back any minute, though. I've got every
line pulling on the quiet. I've done my best, sir."

Brencherly's voice ceased, and Gard drew a sigh of relief. At least
there was no bad news, and as yet nothing in public print concerning the
tragedy. The discovery had probably been made early that morning by the
servant, whose duty it was to care for the master's private apartments.
The first afternoon papers would contain all the details, and perhaps
the ticker would have the news before. He realized that all the haggard
night he had been fearing that the morning would bring him knowledge of
Mrs. Marteen's death--drowned, asphyxiated, poisoned--the many shapes of
the one terrible deed had presented themselves to his subconscious mind,
to be thrust away by his stubborn will. Dorothy, summoned to the
telephone, had nothing to add to Brencherly's information, but seemed to
derive comfort and consolation from Gard's assurances that all would be
well. She would call him again at noon, she said.

He came from the booth almost glad. His step was light, his troubled
eyes clear once more. He was ready to play his part in every sense,
grateful for the respite from his pain. His confidence in himself
returned, and he went to the trying and momentous meetings of the
morning with his gigantic mental grasp and convincing methods at their
best.

Dorothy's message did not reach him till after midday had come and gone.
Once Larkin had left the conclave and returned with his face big with
consternation and surprise. Gard divined that the news of the murder was
out, but nothing was brought up except the business of the corporation.

When at last he left the meeting he motored back to the hotel, refusing
the hospitality cordially extended to him, his one desire to be again in
touch with events transpiring in New York. He had hardly shown himself
in the lobby when a page summoned him to the telephone.

It was Dorothy, her voice faint with fright.

"It's you," she cried--"it's you! Have you learned anything about
mother? We haven't any news--nothing at all. Mr. Brencherly and the
doctor tell me that everything's being done. But I'm almost wild--and
listen; something awful has happened. It's your friend, Mr. Mahr,
Teddy's father--he's been murdered!"

"What!" exclaimed Gard, thankful that she could not see his face.

"Yes, yes," she continued, "murdered in his own room--they found him
this morning--they say you were the last person to see him before it was
done. Oh, Mr. Gard, aren't you coming home soon? It seems as if terrible
things happen all the time--and I'm frightened. Please, come back!"

The voice choked in a sob, and her hearer longed to take her in his arms
and comfort her, shield her from the terrible possibilities that loomed
big on their horizon.

"My darling little girl, I'm coming, just as fast as I can. I wouldn't
be here, leaving you to face this anxiety alone, if I could possibly
help it--you know that, dear," he pleaded. "I've one more important,
unavoidable interview; then my car couples on to the first express. Give
Teddy all my sympathy. I can hardly realize what you say. Why, I saw him
only last night just before I took the train. Keep up your courage, and
don't be frightened."

"I'll try," came the pathetic voice; "I will--but, oh, come soon!"

Gard excused himself to everyone, pleading the necessity of rest, and
once alone in his room, set about ripping and smashing the incriminating
evidence, until nothing but a few loose stones and crumpled bits of gold
remained. He broke the monogrammed case of the watch from its fastening
and crushed its face. Now to contrive to scatter the fragments would be
a simple matter. He secreted them in an inner pocket, and his pressing
desire of their destruction satisfied, he telephoned to Langley to join
him in his private room at a hurried luncheon. Next he sent for the
afternoon papers. Not a line as yet, however; and Langley and Denning
having evidently decided it to be unwise to deflect his thoughts from
matters in hand, did not mention Mahr. Even when he brought up the name
himself with a casual mention of the possibility of acquiring the Heim
Vandyke, there was nothing said to give him an opportunity to speak and
he was breathless for details, to learn if his ruse had succeeded. At
last he called Brencherly, both Denning and Langley endeavoring to
divert him from his intention.

"Yes, yes," snapped Gard; "what's the news?"

His companions exchanged dubious glances.

"Nothing learned yet about the matter, sir, on which you engaged me,
nothing at all. But--there's something else--I think you ought to
know--Victor Mahr is dead!"

"Dead! How? When?" Gard feigned surprise.

"Murdered last night," came the reply. "Found this morning. Our man
watching the house learned it as soon as anyone did. A case of robbery,
they say--but the coroner's verdict hasn't been given yet. He was hit in
the head with a pistol--but--I think, sir, they'll want you; you saw him
last night, they say--after you left me. Have you any instructions to
give me, sir?"

Gard reflected. "I don't know," he wavered. "Hold all the good men in
your service you can for me--and remember what I told you." He turned to
the two men. "Mahr's dead--murdered!" he blurted out, as if startled by
the news.

They nodded. "Yes, we knew. But," Denning added, "we didn't want to
upset you any further. It came out on the ticker at eleven. How are you
feeling?" he asked with friendly solicitude. "I wish you'd eat
something--you've not touched anything but coffee for nearly twenty-four
hours."

"I can't," said Gard grimly. "Let's go to the Capitol and get it over
with. Have you 'phoned Senator Ryan? I'm all right," he assured them, as
he caught sight of Langley's dubious expression. "I want to get through
here as quickly as possible and get back. I suppose you realize that
I'll be wanted in the city in more ways than one. I was the last person,
except the murderer, to see Mahr. Come on."

As they came from the Capitol at the close of their conference, Langley
and Denning fell behind for a moment.

"What a wonder the man is!" exclaimed Denning with enthusiasm. "Sick as
he is, and with all these other troubles on him, he's bucked up and
buffaloed this whole thing into shape. He forgets nothing!"

Gard entered the motor first, and, as he leaned forward, dropped from
the opposite window a fragment of twisted gold. An hour later, in the
waiting room they had traversed, a woman picked up a pigeon blood ruby,
but the grinding wheels of trains and engines had left no trace of the
trifles they had destroyed. In the yard near the private siding, a
coupling hand came upon a twisted gold watch case, so crushed that the
diamond monogram it once had boasted was unrecognizable.

"At every stop, Jim," said Gard, as he threw himself wearily into a
lounging chair in the saloon end of the car, "I want you to go out and
get me all the latest editions of the New York papers."

The negro bowed, disappeared into the cook's galley and returned with
glasses and a bottle of champagne. He poured a glass, which Gard drank
gratefully.

Gard heard Langley and Denning moving about their stateroom. The noise
of the terminal rang an iron chorus, accompanied by whistles and the
hiss of escaping steam. The private car was attached to the express, and
the return journey began. His irritated nerves would have set him
tramping pantherwise, but sheer weariness kept him in his chair.
Presently his fellow travelers joined him, but he took little or no heed
of their conversation. Once he drank again, a toast to the successful
issue of their combined efforts. He lay back, striving to control his
rising anxiety. What would the story be that would greet him from the
heavy leads of the newspapers?

"Baltimore--Baltimore--Baltimore"--the wheels seemed to pound the name
from the steel rails; the car rocked to it. By the time they reached
that city the New York afternoon editions would have been distributed.
At last they glided up to the station and the porter swung off into the
waiting room. Gard rose and stood waiting, chewing savagely on his
unlighted cigar.

"It's Mahr," he apologized to Denning. "I want to learn the facts." His
hand shook as he snatched the smudgy sheets from the negro.

In big letters across the front page he caught the headline:


    MURDER OF VICTOR MAHR

    FAMOUS CLUBMAN AND FINANCIER
    STABBED TO DEATH IN HIS OWN LIBRARY

    EVIDENCE OF ROBBERY

    WOMAN SUSPECTED OF THE CRIME

"Stabbed to death ... Woman suspected." His brain reeled. How "stabbed
to death"? He himself had seen--"Woman suspected." Then all his
despairing efforts to save her had been in vain! The train, starting
suddenly, gave him ample excuse to clutch the back of the chair for
support, and to fall heavily upon its cushions. He could not have held
himself upright another moment. An absurd scheme flashed through his
brain. He would, if necessary, take the blame upon himself--anything to
shield her. He would say they had quarreled over the Vandyke.

He became aware that Denning was asking for one of the three papers he
was clutching. He gave it to him, suddenly realizing that he was not
alone. He knew his face was deathly, and he could feel his heart's slow
pound against his ribs. If they did not believe him a sick man, they
must believe him a guilty one. To control his agitation seemed
impossible. The page swam before his eyes, and it was some moments
before he could focus upon the finer print of the sensational article.

The gruesome discovery was made by a servant, entering the library at
eight that morning. She found her master lying in the chair and thought
him asleep. She knew that the night before he had dismissed the butler,
declaring his intention to sit up late over some important business. He
might have been overcome by weariness. She tiptoed out and went in
search of the valet. His orders had been to call his master at nine and
he hesitated about waking him earlier, but at last decided to do so, as
it was nearing the hour. On entering the apartment he had noticed the
disorder of the room. He put out the electric light from the switch by
the door, drew the curtains and raised the blind. At once he realized
that death confronted him. Terrified, he had rushed to the hall calling
for the servants. Theodore Mahr, Victor Mahr's only son, who was on his
way to breakfast, rushed at once upon the scene.

There was a cut and contusion on the temple of the victim, evidently
inflicted by a weapon lying upon the table, which was believed to be the
cause of death, until the arrival of the coroner and Mr. Mahr's own
physician, when it was discovered that the victim's heart had been
pierced by a very slender blade or stiletto. The wound was so small and
the aperture closed by the head of the weapon in such a manner that no
blood had issued.

An enterprising reporter had gained access to the chamber of death, and
described in detail the rifling of the drawers, the partially open
window; he had picked up a small gold link, evidently torn from the
sleeve buttons of the deceased. Mr. Mahr was last seen alive by his
friend, Marcus Gard, who called to see him on important business before
taking his departure to Washington. Just prior to this, however, a
strange woman, heavily veiled, had sent in a note and been admitted to
Mr. Mahr. This woman was not seen to leave the house; in fact, the
servant had supposed her present when Mr. Gard called, and a party to
the business under discussion; it was now believed that she might have
remained concealed in the outer room until after the great financier had
taken his departure. Of this, however, there was no present evidence.
Mahr had dismissed the butler and told him to lock up--yet the woman had
not been seen to leave. Of course she could have let herself out, or Mr.
Mahr could have opened the door for her--no one seemed to recall whether
the chain was on in the morning or not.

Was the crime one of anger or revenge? Why, then, the robbery? The
appearance of the table drawers would seem to indicate someone in search
of papers, yet the dead man's valuables appeared to have been removed by
force--the cuff link had been broken, the watch snatched from its pocket
with such violence that the cloth had been torn. At present the mystery
that surrounded the crime was impenetrable. The dead man's son was
prostrated with grief.

Gard finished reading and rose, crushing the paper in his hand. "It's a
horrible thing--horrible! I hope you gentlemen will excuse me. I am not
well, and this--has affected me--unaccountably." He turned to his
stateroom. "I'm going to rest, if I can."

The two men looked at each other in deep concern.

"I hope we don't lose him," muttered Denning.

Alone in the silence of his swaying room, Gard threw himself face down
upon the bed. He could not reason any longer. His whole being gave way
to a voiceless cry. He shook as if with cold, and beat his hands
rhythmically on the pillows. He rolled over at last, and lay staring at
the curved ceiling of the car. One thought obsessed him. She had been
there, in that room, hidden--watching him, doubtless, as he committed
the ghastly theft. Even in the awful situation in which she found
herself, what must she think of _him_? Criminal, blackmailer, murderess,
perhaps--but what could she think of him? The blood tingled through his
veins and his waxen face flushed scarlet with vivid shame. In his
weakened, overwrought condition, this aspect of the case outranked all
others. He forgot the horrible publicity that threatened not only
Dorothy and her mother but Victor Mahr's son--when the motive of the
crime was learned. He forgot the yearning of his soul for the saving of
its sister spirit. He forgot the dread vision of the chair of death in
the keen personal shame of the creature she must believe him to be.

Suddenly a new angle of the case presented itself--Brencherly! He sat up
gasping. Brencherly must have guessed--the inevitable logic of the
situation led straight to the solution of the enigma. The detective knew
of Mahr's efforts to obtain the combination of Mrs. Marteen's safe; he,
himself, had told him that those efforts had been successful. Brencherly
knew of Mrs. Marteen's sudden return, her visit to her home and her
mysterious disappearance. The motive of the murder was supplied, the
disappearance accounted for. Already the detective's trained mind had
doubtless pieced together the fragments of these broken lives. It was
Brencherly who had told him of Mahr's former marriage. Everything,
everything was in his hands. Would the man remain true to him? What
wouldn't one of the great newspapers pay for the inside story! Could
Brencherly be trusted? His well seasoned dislike of the whole detective
and police service made him sure of treachery. But before him rose the
vision of the boyish, candid face, as the detective had taken the Great
Man's proffered hand, the honesty in his voice as he had given his
word--"I'll do my best, sir," and into Gard's black despair crept a pale
ray of hope.

Gard had not been mistaken when he surmised that Brencherly must
inevitably connect the murder with the sequence of events. But the
conclusion reached with relentless finality by that astute young man was
far from being what Gard had feared. To the detective's mind the answer
was plain--his employer was guilty.

The motive obviously concerned Mrs. Marteen. It was evident, from Mahr's
efforts to gain access to that lady's safe, that she possessed something
of which Mahr stood in fear or desired to possess. It was possible that
she had obtained proof against Mahr. Perhaps she opposed young Teddy's
attentions to her daughter. Perhaps Mahr was responsible for the
disappearance. At any rate, Gard had been the last person to see Mahr as
far as anyone knew; and a bitter feud existed, which no one guessed.
Brencherly did not place great reliance in the woman theory. Doubtless
one had called, but she had probably left. That she had gone out unseen
was no astonishing matter. A servant delinquent in his hall duty was by
no means a novelty even in the best regulated mansions. The robbery in
that case could have been only a blind for an act of anger or revenge.
The search for papers might have a deeper significance.

He intended to "stand by the boss," Brencherly told himself. Gard was a
great man and a decent sort; Mahr was an unworthy specimen. Brencherly
decided that at all Costs Marcus Gard must be protected. He cursed the
promise that kept him at his post. He longed to get into personal touch
with every tangible piece of evidence, every clew, noted and unnoted.
His men were on the spot and reporting to him; but that could not make
up for personal investigation. In view of these new developments, what
would be Mrs. Marteen's next move? Some secret bond connected the
three--Mahr, Gard and Mrs. Marteen.

Brencherly, alone in Gard's library, rose and paced the room, glancing
at the desk clock every time his line of march took him past the table.
His employer was coming home fast as steam could bring him. He longed
for his arrival and the council of war that must ensue; longed to be
relieved of the tedium of room-tied waiting. He no longer looked for any
communication from Mrs. Marteen. She had her reasons for concealment, no
doubt, and he felt assured that neither hospital nor morgue would yield
her up. It was with genuine delight that he at last heard the familiar
voice on the telephone, though it was but a hurried inquiry for news.

Half an hour later, haggard and worn beyond belief, Gard hurried into
the library and held out his hand.

The young man looked at his face in astonishment as Gard threw himself
into the chair and turned toward him.

"You'll pardon me," he faltered. "There's nothing that can't wait, and
you need rest, sir."

"Not till I can get it without nightmares," he snapped. "Now give me
this Mahr affair--all of it. I've seen the papers, of course, but I
imagine you have the inside; then I want to hear what you think."

The detective gave a start and colored to the roots of his hair. No
doubt about it, Gard was a great man, if he could meet such a situation
in such a manner and get away with it.

"Well, sir, the papers have it straight enough this time, as it happens.
There's nothing different."

"What was the weapon?"

"A stiletto paper cutter, that he always had on his table. It had a top
like a fencing foil; in fact, that's what it was in miniature, except
that it was edged. It was that top, flattened close down, that stopped
any flow of blood, so that everyone thought at first it was the blow on
the temple that killed him. There's this about it, though: I'm told they
say he was stunned first and stabbed afterward. That doesn't look like
the work of a common thief, does it?"

His hearer could not control a shudder. "Why not?" he parried. "He may
have known the knockout was only temporary, and he was afraid he'd come
to; or the man might have been known to Mahr, and he'd recognized him."

Brencherly shook his head incredulously.

"And the woman? What description did the servants give?" There was a
perceptible pause before he asked the question.

"The woman? The description is pretty vague--dressed in black, a heavy
veil, black gloves; nothing extraordinary. The servant did say he
thought her hair was gray, or it might have been light. He caught a
glimpse of the back of her head when he showed her into the room. She
sent in a note first; just a plain envelope; it wasn't directed."

"Did they find any letter or enclosure that might explain why she was
admitted?"

"No, sir, nothing."

The two men eyed each other in silence. Each felt the other's reticence.

"And what do you advise now?" Gard inquired.

Brencherly's gaze shifted to the bronze inkwells.

"If I knew just how this event affected you, sir, I might be able to
advise."

It was his employer's turn to look away.

"I know absolutely nothing about the cause of Mahr's death. I do know
that there was no love lost between us; also that I was the last person
known to have been with him. Isn't that enough to show you how I am
affected?"

"And the motive of your quarrel?" The detective felt his heart thump and
wondered at his own daring.

"We were rival competitors for the Heim Vandyke--he got it away from
me."

"Does that answer my question, sir?" Again Brencherly gasped at his own
temerity.

"Young man," bellowed Gard, half rising from his chair, "what are you
trying to infer?"

Brencherly stood up. "Please, Mr. Gard, be frank with me. I want to help
you; I want to see you through. It can be done--I'm sure of it. No one
knows about your trouble with Mahr. What he wanted with the combination
of that safe I can't guess, but it was for no good; and you told me
yourself that he had secured it. But everything may work out all right
if you let me help you. I'm used to this cross-examination business, and
I can coach you so they won't get a thing. I don't pretend to be in a
class with you, sir; don't think I'm so conceited. I'm just specialized,
that's all. I want to help, and I can if you'll let me."

Gard's face underwent a kaleidoscopic series of changes; then
astonishment and relief finally triumphed, and were followed by
hysterical laughter. Brencherly was disconcerted.

"Oh, so you think _I_ did it!" he said at last. "I wish I had!" he
added. "That wouldn't worry me in the least."

"Mrs. Marteen!" Brencherly exclaimed, and stood aghast and silent.

"No!" thundered Gard, and then leaned forward brokenly with his head in
his hand.

Slowly the detective's mind readjusted itself, and the look in his eyes
fixed upon Gard's bowed figure was all pitying understanding. Then he
shook his head.

"No, she didn't do it," he said--"never! I don't believe it!"

The stricken man looked up gratefully, but his head sank forward again.
"He had done a horrible thing to her," he said. "You're right; you must
have my confidence if you are to help--us. He had tried to estrange
Dorothy from her mother. I--happened to be able to stop that. I used
what you told me to quiet him. I threatened to tell his son the whole
story. It was bluffing, for we knew nothing positive. But the story is
all true. He was putty in my hand when I held that threat over
him--putty. I went to him that night to dictate what he was to do in
case he obtained any clew of Mrs. Marteen. I thought she might try to
see him--to--reproach him. We knew she was very ill, had been when she
went away, and then--nerve shock. I went to him--and found him already
dead. You understand--Mrs. Marteen--I couldn't but believe--so I set the
stage for robbery. I bluffed it off with everyone. I gave the message to
lock up and leave Mahr undisturbed. I wanted an alibi for her--or at
least to gain time."

Brencherly remained silent. A man's devotion to another commands awed
respect, however it may manifest itself. But he was thinking rapidly.

"You know District Attorney Field, don't you?" he asked at length.

Gard nodded. "An old personal friend; but I can't go to him with that
story. I'd rather a thousand times he suspected me than give one clew
that would lead to her. I'll stick to my story. Field wouldn't cover up
a thing like that--he couldn't."

"I know," returned Brencherly; "there's got to be a victim for justice
first, or else prove that nothing, not even the ends of justice, can be
gained before you can get the wires pulled. But that's what I'm setting
out to do. I don't believe, Mr. Gard, that Mrs. Marteen committed that
murder--not that there may not have been plenty of reason for it, but
the way of it--no! I've got an idea. I don't want to say too much or
raise any hopes that I can't make good; but there's just this: when I
leave the house it will be to start on another trail. In the meantime,
everything is being done that is humanly possible to find Mrs. Marteen.
There's only one other way, and that, for the present, won't do--it's
newspaper publicity, photographic reproductions and a reward. I think
she is somewhere under an assumed name. But there are two lodestones
that will draw her if she is able to move. One is the house of Victor
Mahr, and the other her own home. There is love and hate to count on,
and sooner or later one will draw her within reach. I'll have the
closest watch put about that I can devise. There's nothing you can do,
sir--now. If you'll rest to-night, you'll be better able to stand
to-morrow, and if I can verify my idea in the least I'll tell you. Let
your secretary watch here; and good night, Mr. Gard."

       *       *       *       *       *



XII


The woman in the narrow bed tossed in a heavy, unnatural sleep. Her lips
were swollen and cracked with fever, her cheeks scarlet and dry. She was
alone in a narrow, plain room, sparsely but newly furnished. On a
dressing table an expensive gold-fitted traveling bag stood open. Over a
bent-wood chair hung a costly dark blue traveling suit, and the garments
scattered about the room were of the finest make and material. On the
floor lay a diamond-encrusted watch, ticking faintly, and a gold mesh
bag, evidently flung from under the pillow by the movements of the
sleeper. This much the landlady noticed as she softly opened the
unlocked door and stood upon the threshold.

"Dear, dear!" she murmured, and, habit strong upon her, she gathered up
the scattered garments, folded them neatly, and hung up the gown in the
scanty closet, having first examined the tailor's mark on the collar.
"Dear, dear!" she said again. "It's noon; now whatever can be the
matter? Is she sick? Looks like fever." Again she hesitated and paused
to pick up a sheer handkerchief-linen blouse, upon the Irish lace collar
of which a circle of pinhead diamonds held a monogram of the same
material. "H'm," ruminated the landlady. "Martin! Yes, there's an 'M,'
and a 'Y' and a 'J'--h'm! She said she's a friend of Mrs. Bell's, but
Mrs. Bell has been in Europe six months. Wonder who her friends are, if
she's going to be sick?"

She moved toward the bed to examine her guest more closely, but her
attention was distracted by the luxuriousness of the objects in the
dressing case. She fingered them with awe and observed the marking. She
stooped for the purse and watch, which she examined with equal
attention. Once more her eyes turned to the flushed face on the tumbled
pillow. The sleeper had not awakened. The woman leaned over and took one
of the restless hands in hers. "It's fever, sure," she said. At the
touch and sound of her voice the other opened her eyes, wide with sudden
astonishment. "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Martin," said the visitor, "but
it's after twelve o'clock, and I began to get anxious--you a stranger
and all. I think, ma'am, you've a fever. Better let me call the doctor;
there's one on the block."

The woman sat up in bed. "Mrs. Martin?" she said faintly. "Yes--I've--My
head hurts--and my eyes--" She stared about her with a puzzled
expression that convinced her observer that delirium had set in. "A
doctor? Do I need a doctor? Why? What was it the doctor said? That my
nerves were in--in--what was it? And I must travel and rest--yes, that
was it; I remember now."

"Well," the other woman commented, "he doesn't seem to have done you a
world of good, and you better try another."

"No," said Mrs. Marteen with decision, "no, I don't want one--not now,
anyway. It's a headache. May I have some tea? Then I'll lie quiet, if
you'll lower that blind, please."

"I'm sorry Mrs. Bell's away, or I'd send for her," ventured the
landlady.

"Mrs. Bell?" the sick woman echoed with the same tone of puzzled
surprise. "Why, she's away--yes--she's away." She sank back among the
pillows and waved a dismissing hand.

Still the landlady waited. She deemed it most unwise not to call a
doctor, but feared to make herself responsible for the bill if her guest
refused. But she had seen enough to convince her that the lady's visible
possessions were ample to cover any bill she might run up through
illness, provided, of course, it were not contagious. She turned
reluctantly and descended to the kitchen to brew the desired tea.

Left alone, the patient sat up and looked about her with strained and
frightened eyes. Then she began to wring her hands, slowly, as if such a
gesture of torment was foreign to her habit. Her wide, clear brow
knitted with puzzled fear. Her lips were distorted as one who would cry
out and was held dumb. Presently she spoke.

"Where am I?" There was a long pause of nerve-racking effort as she
strove to remember. "_Who_ am I?" she cried hysterically. She sprang out
of bed and ran to the mirror over the dressing table. The face that
looked back at her was familiar, but she could not give it its name. A
muffled scream escaped her lips, and she held her clenched fists to her
temples as if she feared her brain would burst. "Martin!" she said at
last. "Martin--she called me Mrs. Martin. Who is she? When did I come
here?"

She seized her dressing case and went through its contents. Each article
was familiar; they were hers; she knew their faults and advantages. The
letter case had a spot on the back; she turned it over and found it
there. Letter case--the thought was an aspiration. With trembling
eagerness she clutched at the papers in the side pocket. Yes, there were
letters. She read the address, "Mrs. Martin Marteen"--yes, that was
herself. How strange! She had forgotten. The address was a steamer--that
seemed possible. There was a journey, a long journey--she vaguely
recalled that. But why? Where? She read the notes eagerly; casual _bon
voyage_ and good wishes; letters referring to books, flowers or bonbons.
The signatures were all familiar, but no corresponding image rose in her
brain. The last she read gave her a distinct feeling of affection, of
admiration, though the signature "M.G." meant nothing. She reread the
few scrawled sentences with a longing that frightened her. Who was
M.G.--that her bound and gagged mentality cried out for? She felt if she
could only reach that mysterious identity all would be well. M.G. would
bring everything right.

Suddenly the idea of insanity crossed her mind. She sat down abruptly.
The room began to sway; her head ached as if the blows of a hammer were
descending on her brow. She clutched the iron foottrail to keep from
being tossed from the heaving, rocking bed. The ceiling seemed to lower
and crush her. Then an enormous hand and arm entered at the window and
turned off the sun which was burning at the end of a gas jet in the
room. All was dark.

She recovered consciousness slowly, aware of immeasurable weakness. She
lay very still, lying, as it were, within her body. She felt that should
she require that weary body to do anything it must refuse. Through her
half-closed lids she saw the woman who had first aroused her enter the
room with a tray.

"Dear, dear!" she heard her say. "You must cover up. Don't lie on the
outside of the bed; get under the covers."

To Mrs. Marteen's intense inner surprise, the weary body obeyed,
crawling feebly beneath the sheets. She had not realized that she had
lain where she had fainted, at the foot of the bed.

"Now take some tea," the controlling will ordered; "you'll feel better;
and a bit of dry toast. Sick headaches are awful, I know, and tea's the
best thing."

Once more the body obeyed, and sat up and drank the steaming cup to the
great comfort of the inner being. So reviving was its influence that
Mrs. Marteen decided to try her own will and speak.

"Thank you--" her lips spoke, and she felt elated. She made another
effort. "Thank you very much; it's most refreshing. No--no toast
now--but is there some more tea?"

She drank it greedily and lay back upon the pillows with a sigh. Images
were forming; memories were coming back now--scraps of things. There was
a young girl whom she loved dearly. She had brown hair, very blue eyes
and a delicious profile. She was tall and slender. She wore a blue serge
suit. Her name--was--was Dorothy. She spread her palms upon the sheet
and felt it cool and refreshing.

"I'm afraid I've had a fever," she said slowly. "I think I have it
still. I--I have such nightmares when I sleep--such nightmares." She
shuddered.

"Well," said the landlady cheerfully, "you'll feel better now. Take it
from me, tea's the thing." She gathered up the napkin, cup and saucer
and placed them on the tray. "Well, I'll let you be quiet, and I'll drop
in again about five."

Now another memory came, a conscious thought connection. She remembered
that Mrs. Bell had told her of her faithful landlady, Mrs. Mellen, with
whom she always stopped when she came North; she remembered calling
there many times for Mary, her smart motor waking the quiet,
unpretentious street. Now she remembered recalling the boarding house
and seeking shelter there in her fear and pain. Fear and pain--why, what
was it? There was something cataclysmic, overpowering, that had
happened. What could it be? Something was hanging over her head, some
dreadful punishment. Her struggle to clear the mists from her brain
rendered her more wildly feverish, then stupefied her to heavy sleep.

When she awoke again it was to see the kindly fat face of Mrs. Mellen
beaming at her from the foot of the bed.

"That's it," she nodded approvingly; "you've had a nice nap. Head's
better, I'm sure. Here's another cup of tea, and I brought you up the
evening paper; thought you might want to look it over. And if you'll
give me your trunk checks, I'll send the expressman after your baggage."

"My trunk checks--what did I do with them? Why, of course, I gave them
to my maid."

A sudden instinct that she did not wish to see her maid, or be followed
by her baggage, made her stop short in her speech.

"Oh, your maid!" said Mrs. Mellen. "I'm glad you told me--I'll have to
hold a room. You didn't say anything about her last night, so I hadn't
made any provision. Dear, dear! And when do you calculate she's liable
to get here?"

Mrs. Marteen took refuge in her headache. "I don't know," she said
wearily; "perhaps not to-day."

"Oh, well, never mind. I dare say I can manage," Mrs. Mellen assured
her. "If you've got everything you want, I'll have to go. Do you think
you'll be able to get down to dinner--seven, you know; or would you
rather have a plate of nice hot soup up here? Here, I guess. Well, it's
no trouble at all, and you're right to starve your head; it's what I
always do."

She backed smiling out of the door, which she closed gently.

Mrs. Marteen lay back with closed eyes for a moment, then restlessness
seizing her, she sat bolt upright and firmly held her own pulse. "I'm
certainly ill," she said aloud. "I wonder where Marie is? Of course I
left her at the station, and told her to bring the baggage on. But that
was long ago; what has kept her? But this isn't my home," she argued to
herself. She was too weak to trouble with further questioning.
Instinctively she put out her hand and drew the newspaper toward her.
She raised it idly.

"Murder of Victor Mahr"--the big headlines met her eyes.

She felt a shock as if a blinding flash of lightning had enveloped her;
she remembered.

She sat as if turned to stone, staring at the ominous words. Her nerves
tingled from head to foot; her very life seemed a strained and vibrating
string that might snap with any breath. Slowly, as if the Fates had
decided not as yet to break that attenuated thread, the tingling,
stinging shock passed. She found strength to read the whole article,
almost intelligently, though at times her mind would wander to
inconsequent things, and the beat of her own heart seemed to deaden her
understanding. She remembered now everything, nearly everything, till
she turned from her own door, a desperate, homeless outcast. She
recalled a cab going somewhere, and then after what appeared to be an
interval of unconsciousness, she was walking, walking, instinctively
seeking the darkened streets, a satchel in her hand. Somewhere, footsore
and exhausted, she had sat upon a bench. Then came the inspiration to go
to the quiet house where her friend had stayed. The friend was far away;
she could remain there and not be found--stay until she had courage to
do the thing that had suggested itself as the only issue--to end it all.

But who had killed Victor Mahr? She gave a gasp of horror and held up
her hands--was there blood upon them? But how--how? Try as she would, no
answering picture of horror rose from her darkened mind. There was a
long, long period she could not account for--not yet; perhaps it would
come back, as these other terrible memories had returned to assail her.
She rolled over, hiding her face in the pillow, and groaned. The
twilight deepened; the shadows thickened in the room.

Suddenly she rose and began dressing in frenzied haste, overcoming her
bodily weakness with set purpose. Habit came to her rescue, for she was
hardly conscious of her movements. Her toilet completed, she began
hastily packing her traveling case, the impulse of flight urging her to
trembling speed. But when she lifted the bag its weight discouraged her.
Setting it down again upon the dressing table, she lowered her veil and
staggered into the dark hallway. Economy dictated delayed illumination
in the Mellen household. All was quiet. Somewhat reassured, she
descended the stairs, leaning heavily on the rail. The fever which had
relaxed for a brief interval renewed its grip, and filled with vague,
indescribable fears, she fled blindly. Something in her subconscious
brain suggested Victor Mahr, and it was toward Washington Square that
she bent her hurried steps.

She entered the park, forcing her failing strength to one supreme
effort, and sank, gasping, upon a bench. It faced toward the darkened
residence of the murdered man. A few stragglers stood grouped on the
pavement before the house, of asked questions of the policeman stationed
near by. The electric lights threw lace patterns that wavered over the
unfrequented paths. She leaned back, staring at the dark bulk of the
mansion with the darker streak at the doorway, which one divined to be
the sinister mark of death. Suddenly she sat erect, her aching weariness
forgotten. She knew, past peradventure, that _she had sat there upon
that very seat the night before_. The memory was but a flash. Already
delirium was returning. She was powerless to move. Hours passed, and
still she sat staring, unseeing, straight before her. Once a policeman
passed and turned to look at her, but her evident refinement quieted his
suspicions, and he moved on.

She was roused at last by a movement of the bench as someone took a
place beside her. She looked up and vaguely realized that it was a
woman, darkly dressed and heavily veiled like herself. She, too, leaned
back and seemed lost in contemplation of the house opposite. Presently
she raised the veil, as if it obstructed her vision too greatly,
revealing a withered face, narrow and long, with a singularly white
skin. She had the look of a respectable working woman, and her
black-gloved hands were folded over a neat paper package. Her curious
glance turned toward the lady beside her, and seemed to find
satisfaction in the elegance that even the darkness could not quite
conceal. She moved nearer, and with a birdlike twist of the head, leaned
forward and frankly gazed in her companion's face. The other did not
resent the action.

The woman slowly nodded her head. "Don't know what she's doin', not she.
She's one of the silly kind." She put out a hand like a claw, and
touched Mrs. Marteen's shoulder. Mrs. Marteen turned her flushed and
troubled face toward the woman with something akin to intelligence in
her eyes. "What are you settin' here fur, lady?" asked the woman
harshly. "Watchin' his house? Well, it's no use; he won't come out again
for you or your likes--never again, never again," and she chuckled.

"I was here last night. I sat here last night," said Mrs. Marteen, her
mind reverting to its last conscious moment.

The woman peered at her closely, striving to see through the meshes of
the veil where the electric light touched her cheek.

"You did? What fur? Was he comin' out to ye, or did ye want to be let
inside?"

The insult was lost on the sufferer.

The woman shifted her position, and changed her tone to one of cunning
ingratiation.

"Goin' to the funeral?" she inquired, and without waiting for an answer,
continued to talk. "I am. I won't be asked, of course--they don't know
I'm here; but I'm goin'. I wouldn't miss it--no, not for--nothing. I
ought to have some crape, I know, but I don't see's I can. It would be
the right thing, though. I'll ride in a carriage," she boasted. "I
suppose they'll have black horses. I haven't seen anything back where I
come from, so's I'd know just what _is_ the fashionable thing. It'll be
a fashionable funeral, won't it? He's a great big man, he is. Everybody
knows him--and everybody _don't_ know him; but I do--he's a devil I And
women love him, always did love him, the fools! Why, _I_ used to love
him. You wouldn't think that now, would you? Well, I did." She laughed a
broken cackle, and seemed surprised that her listener remained mute.
"Did you love him?" demanded the crone sneeringly.

"Love him--love him?" exclaimed Mrs. Marteen, her emotions responding
where her mind was unreceptive. "I hated him--I hated him!"

"Of course you hated him. How could a lady help hating him?" murmured
the questioner. "But would _you_ have the courage to kill him--that's
what I want to know!"

Under the inquisition Mrs. Marteen half roused to consciousness. She was
in the semi-lucid state of a sleepwalker.

"Kill him!" She held up her hands and looked at them as she had done
after reading the account of the murder. "I'm not sure I didn't kill
him; perhaps I did--I can't remember--I can't remember," she moaned more
and more faintly.

"Don't you take the credit of _that_!" shouted the woman, so loudly that
a young man who had been aimlessly walking up and down as if intent upon
some rendezvous, stopped short to gaze at them keenly.

The older woman, with a movement so rapid that it seemed almost
prestidigitation, lifted and threw back her companion's veil. The young
man gave a start and approached hastily, amazement in every feature. But
the two women were unaware of his presence, and what he next heard made
him pause, turn, and by a slight detour come up close behind the bench.

"Keep your hands off. Don't you say you killed him. What right have
_you_ to take his life, I'd like to know! Don't let me hear you say that
again--don't you dare! Just remember that killing him is _my_ business.
You sha'n't try to rob me--it's my right!" She leaned forward
threateningly.

A hand closed over her wrist. The woman screamed.

"Hold on, Mother, none of that." The young man, still retaining his
hold, came from behind the seat and stood over her.

She began to whimper and tremble. "Don't hit me," she begged pitifully.
"Don't hit me, and I'll be good, indeed, I will."

Mrs. Marteen had taken no notice of her providential protector. Her head
was sunk upon her breast and her hands hung limp in her lap.

The young man whistled twice, never relaxing his hold. A moment later a
form detached itself from the group before the door of the house
opposite, crossed the street and joined them quickly, yet with no
impression of hurry.

"What's up?" the newcomer asked quietly.

"Here, take hold. Don't let her get away from you." With a glance round,
he took a hypodermic needle from hi» pocket, and a quick prick in the
wrist instantly quieted the struggling, captive. "Get a cab," he
ordered, "and bring her over to my rooms. The utmost importance--not a
sound to anybody. I've got my job cut out for me--no police in this,
mind."

He turned, his manner all gentleness. "Mrs. Marteen--Mrs. Marteen," he
repeated. She raised her head slightly. "Will you come with me? My name
is Brencherly, and Mr. Gard sent me for you. Come."

She rose obediently. The name he had spoken seemed to inspire
confidence, trust and peace, like a word of power; but her limbs refused
to move, and she sank back again. Brencherly took her unresisting hand
in his, felt her pulse and shook his head.

"Long!" he called. "Get a cab. I'll take Mrs. Marteen; stop somewhere
and send a taxi back for you; it might look queer to see two of us with
unconscious patients."

When his subordinate turned to go, Brencherly leaned toward the drugged
woman, took the bundle from her listless hands and rapidly examined its
contents. A coarse nightdress, a black waist and a worn and ragged empty
wallet rewarded his search. He tied them up again, put the package in
its place and turned once more to Mrs. Marteen. "She's a mighty sick
woman," he murmured. "Well, it's home for hers, and then me for the old
man."

A taxi drove up, and his assistant descended. With his help Brencherly
half supported, half carried his charge to the curb.

Directing the chauffeur to stop at a nearby hotel before proceeding to
Mrs. Marteen's apartment, he climbed in beside the patient, and as the
machine gathered headway, murmured a fervent "Thank God!"

Mrs. Marteen lay back upon the cushioned seat inert and passive. In the
flash of each passing street-light her face showed waxen pale, a cameo
against the dark background; so drawn and pinched were her features,
that Brencherly, in panic, seized her pulse, in order to assure himself
that life had not already fled. Obedient to his orders the cab ran up to
an hotel entrance, and Brencherly, leaning out, called the starter.

"Here!" he snapped, "send a taxi over to the park--the bench opposite
No. --, and pick up a man with an old lady. She's unconscious."

For an instant the light glinted on his metal badge as he threw back his
coat. The starter nodded. Brencherly settled back again in his place
with a sigh of relief. It was only a matter of moments now, and he would
have brought to an unexpectedly successful close the task he had set
himself. He began to build air castles; to construct for himself a
little niche in his own selected temple of Fame. He was aroused from his
revery by a voice at his side. Mrs. Marteen was speaking, at first
indistinctly, then with insistent repetition.

"I can't remember--I can't remember."

He turned to her with gentle questioning, but she did not heed him.
Slowly, with infinite effort, as if her slender hands were weighted
down, she lifted them before her face. She stared at them with growing
horror depicted on her face. He was suddenly reminded of an electrifying
performance of Macbeth he had once witnessed. A red glare from a ruby
lamp at a fire-street corner splashed her frail fingers with vivid color
as they passed it by. She gave a scream that ended in a moan, and
mechanically wiped her hands back and forth, back and forth, upon her
coat. Brencherly's heart ached for her. Over and over he repeated
reassuring words in her deafened ears, striving to lay the awful ghost
that had fastened like a vampire on her heart. But to no avail. She was
as beyond his reach as if she were a creature of another planet. Never
in his active, efficient life had he felt so helpless. It was with
thanksgiving that at last he saw the ornate entrance of Mrs. Marteen's
home.

"Watch her!" he ordered the chauffeur, as he leaped up the steps and
into the vestibule to prepare for her reception.

A message to her apartment brought the maid and butler in haste. With
many exclamations of alarm and sympathy they bore her to her own room
once more, and laid her upon the bed. She lay limp and still, while they
hurried about her with restoratives.

Brencherly was at the telephone. Almost at once, in answer to his ring,
Doctor Balys' voice sounded over the wire in hasty congratulations and
promises of immediate assistance. Hanging up the receiver, he turned
again to his patient.

Through the silent apartment the sound of the doorbell buzzed with
sudden shock. The butler stood as if transfixed.

"It's Miss Dorothy!" he exclaimed in consternation. "She went out to
walk a little, with young Mr. Mahr. She was nervous and couldn't rest,
and telephoned for him to come--in spite of--in spite of--" He
hesitated. "Anyway, Mr. Mahr--young Mr. Mahr--came for her, sir.
Mr.--Mr.--I think you'd better break it to her, sir. She mustn't see her
mother like this--without warning!"

Brencherly ran down the hall, the servant preceding him. As the door
swung wide, Dorothy, followed by Teddy Mahr, entered the hallway. She
stopped suddenly, face to face with a stranger.

"Who are you? What do you want?" she asked, sudden fear and suspicion in
her eyes.

Brencherly explained quickly.

"Mr. Gard employed me, Miss Marteen, to find your mother, if
possible--and--she is here. Don't be alarmed."

Dorothy sank into a chair, weak with relief. Teddy put forth his hand to
help her. Instinctively she remained clasping his arm as if his presence
gave her strength.

"And she's all right--she isn't hurt--or--or anything?" she implored
breathlessly.

"She's very ill, I'm afraid," said Brencherly. "I think you--had better
not go to her till the doctor comes. I've sent for him."

"Oh! but I must--I must!" she cried, tears in her voice.

In the rush of happenings no one had thought of Mrs. Mellows. Hers was
not a personality to commend itself in moments of stress. Now she
suddenly appeared, her eyes swollen with sleep, her ample form swathed
in a dressing gown.

"What _is_ the matter?" she complained. "I told you, Dorothy, that I
thought it very bad form, indeed, for you and Mr. Mahr to go out. In
bereavements, such as yours, sir, it's not the proper thing for you to
be making exhibitions of yourself. Like as not the reporters have been
taking pictures. And at any time they may find out that my poor dear
sister is ill and wandering. I don't know _what_ to say! The papers will
be full of it. And you!" she exclaimed, having for the first time become
aware of the detective's presence. "Who are you. How did you get in? I
hope and pray you're not a reporter!--Dorothy, don't tell me you've
brought a reporter in here--or I shall leave this house at once!"

"No, Aunt, no!" cried Dorothy. "This--this gentleman, has brought my
mother home. She's in her room now--she's--"

Mrs. Mellows turned and made a rush down the corridor. Four pairs of
hands stayed her in her flight.

"No--no!" begged Dorothy. "This gentleman says she is very ill. We
mustn't disturb her--Aunt--please--the doctor is coming."

As if the name had conjured him, a ring announced Doctor Balys' arrival.
He entered hastily, his emergency bag in his hand.

"Mr. Brencherly, come with me, please," he ordered. "You can tell me the
details as I work. Miss Marteen and Mrs. Mellows, wait for me, and I'll
come and tell you the facts just as soon as I know them myself." He
nodded unceremoniously and followed Brencherly.

As they neared Mrs. Marteen's room the silence was suddenly broken by a
cry. Balys strode past his guide and threw open the door.

Mrs. Marteen, sitting erect in the bed, held out rigid arms as if in
desperate appeal. The terrified maid stood by, wringing her hands.

"Gard!" she called. "Marcus Gard! help me! Tell me--I'll believe
you--I'll believe you--will you tell me the truth!" Her strength left
her suddenly, and as the physician placed a supporting arm about her,
she sank back, her eyes closed wearily. As he laid her gently back upon
the pillows, she sighed softly, her heavy lids unclosed a moment. "I
knew you'd come," she murmured. "You'll take care of--of Dorothy--you
will--" Her voice trailed off into nothingness; then "Marcus"--she
whispered.

The two men turned away. Brencherly coughed. "Is there any hope?" he
asked, breaking the tense silence that seemed suddenly to have entered
the room like an actual presence.

The doctor nodded without speaking. "Yes--hope," he said at length, as
he opened his leather satchel.

       *       *       *       *       *



XIII


It was well into the small hours of the morning when Brencherly sought
his own rooms in an inconspicuous apartment hotel, where he, his
activities and, at times, strange companions, were not only tolerated,
but welcomed. He was weary, but too excited and elated to desire sleep.
He nodded to the friendly night clerk, and received a favorable response
to his request, even at that unwholesome hour, for coffee and scrambled
eggs to be served in his rooms.

He found Long, his assistant, slumbering sonorously in an armchair in
the living-room of his modest suite. The open door to the chamber
beyond, sufficiently indicated where his charge had been placed.

Long awoke, and stretched himself with a yawn.

"Three o'clock," he observed, with a glance at the mantel clock. "Made a
good haul, hey? Well, your kidnapped beauty is in there, dead to the
world. I tied her feet together before I went to sleep. You can't tell
when they're going to come to, you know, and I thought it would be
safer. Now, tell a feller, what's the dope?"

Brencherly entered the adjoining apartment without deigning an answer,
switched on the lights and approached the bed. The wizen little woman,
with her disheveled white hair and tumbled garments looked pitifully
weak and helpless; her thin, claw-like hands clutching at the pillow in
a childish pose. Her captor stared at her intently, his brain crowded
with strange thoughts. Who was she? What was her history? He had his
suspicions, but they all remained to be verified.

He took one of the emaciated wrists in his hand. How frail and small it
was, and yet, perhaps, an instrument in the hands of Fate. She moved
uneasily, and, glancing down, he noticed how securely she was bound.
Leaning over, he loosened the curtain cord with which she had been
secured. She sighed as if relieved, and, turning, he left her, as a
discreet tapping at his door announced the coming of the meal he had
ordered.

A night watchman in shirt sleeves brought in the tray softly and set it
upon the table, with a glance of curiosity at the adjoining room. There
was usually an interesting story to be gleaned from the guests that the
detective brought.

"Come on," said the host eagerly, "fall on it, I'm starved."

"Anything I can do?" inquired the night watchman hopefully.

But Brencherly was still uncommunicative. "Nope, thanks."

"Sure?"

"Yes. Good-night--or good-morning. Tell 'em down stairs I'm much
obliged, as usual."

The two men ate heartily and in silence. It was not till the plates were
scraped that either spoke. With the last sip of the soothing beverage
Brencherly closed his eyes peacefully.

"Old man," he said, "this night's work is the best luck I've ever had.
Now, tell me, did the lady say anything at any time? or did she remain
as she is?"

"She didn't say much. Grumbled a little at being moved around; in fact,
I thought she was coming out of it for a minute when we first got her in
here. Then she straightened out for another lap of sleep. Here's her
kit."

He rose as he spoke, and took from the mantel the package she had clung
to during all her enforced journey. He untied the parcel, and both men
bent over its meager contents. Though Brencherly had seen them under the
wavering arc lights of Washington Square, he now gave each article the
closest scrutiny. Nothing offered any clew, except the wallet. That,
worn as it was, showed its costly texture, and the marks of careful
mountings. It was unmistakably a man's wallet, and its flexibility
denoted constant use. Brencherly set it on one side.

"Anything else?" he asked.

The other nodded. He had the most important find in reserve.

"These," he said, and drew from his pocket a bunch of newspaper
clippings. He laid each one on the table. "Now, _what_ do you think of
_that_?" His lean, cadaverous face took on a look of satisfied cunning.
If his colleague had not chosen to take him into his confidence, he
could show him that he was quite capable of drawing his own inferences
and making his own conclusions. He sat back and nonchalantly lit a
cigarette.

There were at least twenty cuttings, of all sizes, from a half page from
a Sunday supplement to a couple of lines from a financial column. But
all bore the name of Victor Mahr more or less conspicuously displayed.
Two scraps showed conclusively that they had been cherished and handled
more than all the others. One was a sketch of the millionaire's country
estate; the other, a reproduction from a photograph of his old-fashioned
and imposing city residence.

"H'm!" said Brencherly. "It's pretty clear that she had a reason for
occupying that park bench, hey? And she certainly has patronized the
news bureau, or been a patient collector herself. See that?" He pushed
forward the largest of the clippings. "That's three years old. I
remember when that came out. It was after Teddy's sensational playing at
the Yale-Harvard game. They had the limelight well turned on then, you
remember. And that"--he smoothed another slip--"that announcement of his
purchase of 'Allanbrae' is at least five years old. She's been
treasuring all this for a long time. Where did you find them?"

"When I put her on the bed," Long replied, "her collar seemed to be
choking her, so I loosened it, and a button or two. There was a pink
string around her throat and a little old chamois bag--like you might
put a turnip-watch in. I took it in here and found--that stuff--what do
you think?"

"I think that we're getting near the answer to something we all want to
know," said Brencherly. "But it means a lot to a lot of people to keep
the police off--for the present. I want to be sure."

"How do you suppose she got in?" said Long, insinuatingly.

"Don't know yet--but we'll find that out. Meantime, don't use the
telephone for anything you have to say to anybody. And the other woman,
let me tell you, has nothing to do with this case. I'll tell you now,
before your curiosity makes you make a fool of yourself--she's been
hunted for high and low, because she's had aphasia--forgets who she is,
and all that, every once in a while, and her people have been offering a
reward. Just happened to make a double haul, that's all. But you don't
get in on the first one. Now are you satisfied?" Brencherly looked at
his companion quizzically.

Long grunted. He was rather annoyed at having the occurrence so simply
explained.

"Oh, well," he yawned, "you're on this case, and I'm only your lobbygow;
so I suppose I've got to let it go at that. But, say, I'm tired. Let's
turn in, or, if you don't want me in your joint, I'll go down stairs and
get them to bunk me somewhere in the dump." He rose. "I suppose they'll
fix me up?"

Brencherly went to the telephone and spoke for a moment. "All right," he
said; "they'll give you number seventy-three on this floor. I want you
to do something for me to-morrow, so set the bellboy for eight o'clock,
will you?" A moment later he turned his assistant over to the hotel
roundsman, and turned to his own well earned rest. Making a neat packet
of the clippings, he stowed them away once more in their worn
receptacle--he hesitated, then nodded to himself, having decided to
replace them. He must gain this woman's confidence. She must not be made
suspicious. Above all, her anger must not be roused. She might become
stubborn and uncommunicative. He stepped into the adjoining room and
turned on the electrics. The quick flash of the light made him shut his
eyes. When he opened them he gave a cry of dismay. The tumbled bed was
empty--the window stood wide open. It flashed into his mind, that as he
had talked with Long over the incriminating bits of paper, he had felt a
draft of air; but his knowledge that his captive was securely tied had
eliminated from his mind any idea of the possibility of an attempt at
escape. Then, cursing himself, he recalled how he had loosened the cords
about her ankles. With a bound he was at the window, looking down at the
spidery threads of fire escape ladders, leading down to the utter dark
of the service alley.

"My God!" he exclaimed aloud. "My God!" He feared to find a crushed and
broken little body at the foot of those steep iron ladders. It seemed
impossible for such a frail and aged woman to have, unaided, made her
way down the sides of that inky precipice. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed
again, "if only she isn't killed!" He stood looking out, leaning as far
over the iron railing as he dared, waiting till his eyes should become
accustomed to the darkness. Gradually the details of the structure
became clear to his vision. No ominous dark mass took shape on the
pavement, far beneath. He could vaguely make out the contours of an ash
can or two and an abandoned wheelbarrow. But the alley from end to end
held no human form. She had succeeded in making her escape! Then at all
costs he must find her; and the police must not get hold of her. The
evidence of the clippings, her angry words as she prepared to attack
Mrs. Marteen--all outlined a possible solution to the tragedy in
Washington Square.

He hesitated a moment. His first impulse was to descend the fire escapes
in turn and look below for further trace of her going. But he realized
that he could reach the alley quicker by going through the house. He
cursed himself for a careless fool. How could he have allowed this to
happen!

He turned quickly, intent on losing no further moments, when he was
frozen into immobility by a sound, the most curiously unexpected of all
sounds--a laugh, a faint treble chuckle! It seemed to come from the
outer air, from nowhere, to hang suspended in the damp air of the shaft.
It was eerie, ghostly. Was the spirit of the dead man laughing at his
folly? The detective stepped back on the grating, flattening himself
against the outer sill of his window. Again the chuckler--now an
unmistakable laugh floated to his ears. With a smothered exclamation he
stepped forward again, and looked upward. There, against the violet-gray
of the star-sprinkled sky, bulked a crouching shape, cuddled on the
landing above.

Brencherly held his breath. It seemed that the woman must fall from her
perch, so insecure it seemed. He controlled himself, thinking rapidly.
Then he laughed in return.

"That _was_ a good joke you played on me," he said. "How did you ever
think of it?"

"Oh," came the answer, punctuated by smothered peals of laughter.
"That's the way I got away from the Sanatorium. I just went up instead
of down, and stayed there, till they'd hunted all the place over. Then
when I saw where they weren't, I just went down and walked out."

"That was clever," he exclaimed. "But you can't be comfortable up there.
Won't you come down, and I'll get something for you to eat. You must be
hungry, and cold, too."

"No," came the response. "I sort of like it here. It reminds me of the
way I fooled them all back there; and they thinking themselves that
sharp, too. It's sort of nice, too, looking at the stars--sort of feels
like a bird in a nest, don't it?"

"I hope to goodness, she don't take it into her head she can fly,"
thought Brencherly. Aloud he said: "Say, do you mind if I come up there
and sit with you a while? I'm sort of lonesome here myself." He had
already moved silently forward, and was slowly mounting the iron
ladder--very slowly, a rung at a time, talking all the while in a
cordial, friendly voice. He feared she might take fright and precipitate
herself to the stones below. But her mood was otherwise.

"I don't mind," she said. "I don't seem to know just how I got here, and
perhaps you can tell me. I just woke up and found myself sleepin' on
somebody's bed. I thought at first that I was back in the ward, when I
found my feet was tied up. Then when I got loose and had time to feel
around, I saw 'twas some strange place. Then the fire escapes sort of
looked nice and cool, so I came out."

By this time her visitor had climbed beside her and had seated himself
on the landing in such fashion that no move of hers could dislodge
either of the strange couple. He noted with relief that they were
outside of a door instead of a window, as was the case on all the floors
below. The drying roof of the hotel only was above them. He did not wish
this extraordinary interview to be interrupted. His airy nest-mate
seemed amenable to conversation.

"Well, well!" he resumed, "so _that_ was the way you worked it. Wouldn't
that make the doctor mad, though--what was the old duffer's name,
anyway? You did tell me, but I've got such a poor memory--now, yours is
good, I'll bet a hat."

"Well," she said, "'tain't what it used to be, but I'll never forget old
Malbey's name as long as I live, nor what he looks like, either. He
looks like a potato with sprouts for eyes."

Brencherly laughed. He had a very clear, if unflattering, picture of the
learned physician.

"But, say," she cried suddenly, "you're not trying to get me, are you?"

"Oh, _I'm_ no friend of the doctor's," he said easily. "Why, I brought
you up here to hide you away safely. That was one of my rooms you woke
up in. You see, I found you on a bench in the park out there, and you
went to sleep so suddenly right while I was talking to you, that I
thought you must be tired out."

She leaned forward, peering at him through the dusk. Her white pinched
face looked skull-like in the faint light.

"Yes," she said slowly, "seems to me that I remember some woman saying
she killed Victor Mahr, and me getting angry about it--and then I don't
seem to know just _what_ happened. Well, young man, I'm much obliged to
you, I'm sure. 'Tain't often an old woman like me gets so well taken
care of."

"But why," he questioned softly, "were you so annoyed with the other
lady? She had just as much right as you had, I suppose, to kill the
gentleman?"

"She had not!" she shrilled. "She had not!" Then lowering her voice to a
whisper, she murmured confidentially: "_My_ name ain't Welles!"

"Why, Mrs. Welles," he exclaimed, "how can you say so? If you aren't
Mrs. Welles, who are you?"

"Just as if you didn't know!" she retorted scornfully.

"Well, perhaps," he admitted. "But never mind that now. Do you know that
you lost your bag of clippings?"

Her hand flew to her breast. "Now, gracious me! How could I?"

"Oh, don't worry about them," he soothed. "I've got them all in my room.
You shall have them again. Don't you want to come down and get them?" He
was cramped and chilled to the bone; moreover, the stars had paled, and
a misty fog of floating, impalpable crystal was slowly crossing the
oblong of sky left visible by the edifices on both sides of the alley.
He waited anxiously for her to reply, but she seemed lost in thought. He
looked at her closely. She was asleep, her head resting against the
blistered paneling of the door. He shifted his position slightly, and
gazed at the coming of the dawn. Gradually the crystal white gave place
to faintest violet, then flushed to rose color. The details of the
coping above them became sharply distinct. Below them the canyon was
full of blue shadow, but already the depths were becoming translucent.
He looked at his strange companion. Should he wake her, he wondered.
Softly he tried the door. It was locked from within. If he allowed her
to slumber in peace, she might, on awakening, be terrified at the
visible depths below. Now, all was vague in the blue canyon.

Very gently he pressed her hand and called her. "Mrs. Welles."

She awoke with such a violent start that for an agonized instant he felt
his hold slipping. He held her firmly, however, and steadied her with
voice and hand.

"Let's go indoors," he said quite casually. "You see if we sit here much
longer, it's growing light, and people will see us. Then it won't be
easy for me to keep you hidden. Now, if you'll just turn about and let
me go first, I'll get you down quite easily and nobody the wiser for our
outing."

She looked at him for a moment as if puzzled, then her brow cleared.
"Very well, young man," she said. "I must have had a nap. Now, how do
you want me to turn?"

He showed her, and with his arms on the outside of the ladder, her body
next the rungs--as he had often seen the firemen make their rescues, he
slowly steadied her to the landing below and assisted her in at the
window.

With a sigh of relief he closed the window behind them and drew down the
blinds.

"Now! that's all right, Mrs. Mahr. You're quite safe."

She turned on him her beady eyes and laughed her shrill chuckle. "There,
didn't I tell you, you knew all the time? I guess you'll own up that
it's the wife who's got the right to kill a husband, won't you?"

"Sure," he said. "I'll see that nobody else gets the credit, believe
me!"

       *       *       *       *       *



XIV


With Dorothy clinging to his hand, Marcus Gard watched the door of Mrs.
Marteen's library with an ever-growing anxiety. Only the presence of the
child, who clasped his hand in such fear and grief, kept him from giving
way. The long reign of terror that had dragged his heart and mind to the
very edge of martyrdom had worn thin his already exhausted nerves, and
now--now that the lost was found again, it was to learn by what a
slender thread of life they held her with them.

Every moment he could spare from the demands of his responsibilities was
spent in close companionship with Dorothy in the house where only the
sound of soft-footed nurses, the clink of a spoon in a medicine glass or
the tread of the doctor mounting the stairs broke the waiting silence.
For many days she had not known them. Now came intervals of
consciousness and coherence, but weakness so great that the two anxious
watchers, unused to illness, were appalled by the change it wrought. Now
for the twentieth time they sat longing for and yet fearing the moment
when Dr. Balys, with his friendly eyes and grim mouth, would enter to
them with the tale of his last visit and his hopes or fears for the
next.

The lamps were lighted, the shades drawn; the fire crackled quietly on
the hearth. The room was filled with the familiar perfume of violets,
for Dorothy, true to her mother's custom, kept every vase filled with
them.

Silently Gard patted the little cold hand in his, as the sound of
approaching footsteps warned them of the doctor's coming. In silence
they saw the door open, and welcomed with a throb of relief the smile on
the physician's face.

"A great, a very great improvement," he said quickly, in answer to
Dorothy's supplicating eyes. "Quite wonderful. She is a woman of such
extraordinary character that, once conscious, we can count on her own
great will to save the day for us--and to-morrow you shall both see her.
To-night, little girl, you may go in and kiss her, very quietly--not a
word, you know. Just a kiss and go."

"Now?" whispered Dorothy, as if she were already in the sick room. "May
I go now?"

"Yes. No tears, you know, and no huggings--just one little kiss--and
then come back here."

Dorothy flew from the room, light and soundless as blown thistledown.
The doctor turned to his friend.

"There is something troubling her," he said gravely, "something that is
eating at her heart. Ordinarily I wouldn't consent to anyone seeing her
so soon; but she called for you in her delirium; and now that she is
conscious, she whispers that she must consult you. Perhaps you can
relieve her trouble, whatever it is. I'm going to chance it; after
Dorothy has seen her, you may. I don't know exactly what to say,
but--well, answer the question in her eyes, if you can--but only a
moment--only give her relief. She must have no excitement."

Gard nodded.

"I think I know," he said slowly.

The doctor nodded in understanding, as the girl appeared, her face drawn
by emotion.

"Oh, poor mother!" she gasped. "She seemed--so--I don't know
why--grateful--to me--thanked me for coming to her--_thanked_ me, Dr.
Balys, as if I wasn't longing every minute to be with her! She is not
quite over her delirium yet, do you think?"

Balys smiled. "Of course she is grateful to see you. Your mother has
been very close to the Great Divide, and she, more than any of us,
realizes it. Now," he said, turning to Gard, "go in and make your little
speech; and, mind you, say your word and go. No conversation with my
patient."

Gard stood up, excitement gripping him. He was to see her eyes again,
open and understanding. He was to hear her voice in coherent tones once
more! The realization of this wonder thrilled him. He went to her
presence as some saint of old went to the altar, where, in a dream, the
vision of miracle had been promised him. All the pain and torture of the
past seemed nothing in the light of this one thing--that she was herself
again, to meet him hand to hand and eye to eye. He entered the quiet
room and crossed its dimly lighted spaciousness to the bed. The nurse
rose tactfully and busied herself among the bottles on the distant
dresser.

At last, after the ordeal that they had gone through, in the lonely,
hollow torture chamber of the heart, they met, and knew. With a sigh of
understanding, she moved her waxen fingers, and, comprehending her
gesture, he took her hand and held it, striving to impart to her
weakness something of his own vigor. For a moment they remained thus.
Then into her eyes, where at first great repose had shone, there came a
gleam of questioning. He leaned close above her to catch her whispered
words.

"She doesn't know?"

"No," he answered. "Dorothy came to me with his letter. I got everything
from the safe, and I sent her away so no further messages might reach
her. Now do you see?"

She looked up at him.

Again he took her hand in his and strove to give it life, as a
transfusion of blood is given through the veins.

There was silence for a moment. Then her white lips framed a request.

"Bring them--all the things from the inner safe--bring them to-morrow to
me." Her eyes turned toward the fire that glowed on the hearth.

He comprehended her intention.

"To-morrow," he murmured, and, turning, softly left the room. With a few
words to Dorothy he hurried from the house.

Instinctively he turned to seek the sanctuary of his library, but paused
ere he gave the order to his chauffeur. No, before he could call the day
complete, there was something else to do. He gave the address of the
house on Washington Square. The mansion, as the limousine drew up before
it, looked dark, almost deserted. He mounted the steps slowly, his mind
crowded with memories--with what burning hatred in his heart he had come
to face the owner of that house, to disarm Victor Mahr of his revengeful
power. With what primeval elation he had stood upon that topmost step
and drawn long breaths of satisfaction at the thought of the encounter
in which, with his own hands he had laid his enemy low! Its thrill came
to him anew. Again he recalled the hurried purposeful visit that had
ended with his finding the enemy passed forever beyond his reach.
Vividly he saw before him the silent room--soft lighted, remotely quiet;
the waxen hand of a man contrasting with the scarlet damask of a huge
winged chair, that hid the face of its owner. And more distinct than all
else, staring from the surrounding darkness of the walls, the glorious,
palpitating semblance of a warrior of long ago. The strangely living
lips, the dusky hollows where thoughtful eyes gleamed darkling. The
glint of armor half covered by velvet and fur. A gloved hand that seemed
to caress a sword hilt, that caught one crashing ruby light upon its
pommel--the matchless Heim Vandyke--the silent, attentive watcher who
had seen his sacking of the dead; who seemed, with those deep eyes of
understanding, to realize and know it all--the futile clash of human
wills, the little day of love and hate, the infinite mercy, and the
inexorable law.

Gard paused, his hand upon the bell. Now at last he could enter this
house, and wish it peace. His errand, even the all-comprehending eyes of
the dead and gone warrior could look upon without their half-cynic
sadness.

As he entered the great silent hall, where the footfalls of the servant
were hushed, as if overawed by tragedy, he seemed to leave behind him,
as distinctly as he discarded the garment he gave into the lackey's
hands, the bitterness of the past. He was ushered into a small and
elaborate waiting room to the right. And a moment later Teddy Mahr
entered to him, with extended hands.

The boy had aged. His face was white and drawn, but the eyes that looked
into Gard's face were courageous and clear.

"Thank you for coming," he said frankly. "Shall we sit here, or--in
Father's room?" His mouth twitched slightly. "It really must be part of
the house, you know. It was his workshop--and I want it to be mine in
the future. I haven't been in there since, and, somehow, if you don't
mind, sir, I'd like you to come with me--to be with me, when I first go
back."

Gard nodded and smiled rather grimly. "Yes, boy--I'd like to myself. I
would have asked it of you, but I feared to awaken memories that were
too painful for you. Let us go in. What I have to talk over with you
concerns him, too."

They crossed the hall, and Teddy unlocked the heavy door and paused to
find the switch. The anteroom sprung into light. In silence they crossed
the intervening space to the inner door, which was in turn unlocked.

As the soft lights were once more renewed, Gard started, so vividly had
he reconstructed the scene as he had last looked upon it, with that
hasty yet detailed scrutiny of the stage manager. He was almost
surprised to find the great damask-covered easy chair untenanted, and
order restored to the length and breadth of the library table.
Involuntarily his eyes sought the wall behind the desk, where the
panoply of ancient arms glinted somberly, then scanned the polished
surface of the wood in search of what?--of the stiletto that was a foil
in miniature. Somehow, though he knew that it, along with other relics
of that dreadful passing, were in charge of the officials of the law, he
had expected to see it there. Something of the impermanence of life and
the indifferent, soulless permanence of things, flashed through his
mind. "Art and art alone, enduring, stays to us," he quoted the words
aloud unconsciously. "The bust outlasts the throne, the coin--Tiberius."
His eyes were fixed upon the picture, which, though thrown in no relief
by the unlighted globes above it, yet in its very obscurity, dominated
the room with its all but unseen presence.

"Oh, no, not that alone," Teddy Mahr objected. "Don't you think we live
on, in what we have done, in what we have been, in what we desire to
do?"

Gard was silent. The words seemed irony. "I believe," he said slowly,
"that the end is not yet. I believe that we are each accountable for our
individual being. I believe that every one of us is his brother's
keeper." He was silent. His own short, newly evolved credo, surprised
him.

Teddy crossed to the great armchair, and laid his hand on it reverently.

"It was here his Fate found him," he said with quiet self-control.
"Where will Fate find me--or you--I wonder?"

"Fate _has_ found me," said Gard. "Death isn't the only thing that Fate
means, but Life also; and it's of Life I came to speak to you--as well
as the Past, that we must realize _is_--the Past. Of course, you know
what has been learned--something about what happened here. Now, I want
to tell you of my plans. I want, if possible, to keep things quiet--Oh,
it's only comparatively speaking--but we can avoid a great deal of
publicity, if you will let me handle the matter. It's for your sake, and
I'm sure your father would desire it--and--pardon me, if I presume on
grounds I'm not supposed to know anything of--but for Dorothy's, too.
Dorothy may have to face bereavement too. Publicity, details, the nine
days' wonder--it's all unpleasant, distressing. I have arranged to see
the District Attorney to-morrow night. He can, if he will, materially
aid us. This poor insane woman has delusions that it would be painful
for you to even know. It would certainly be most unfortunate if she were
tried or examined in public. I'd rather you didn't come--did not even
see her at any time. Will you trust me? You have a perfect right to do
otherwise, I know--but--will you believe me when I say I've given this
my best thought, and I believe I am giving you the best advice?"

He stood very erect, speaking with formality, with a certainly stilted,
"learned by rote" manner, very different from his usual fiery
utterances.

Teddy respected his mood and bowed with courtly deference. "You were my
father's friend," he said. "You were the last to be with him. I know you
are giving me the wisest advice a wise man can give, and I accept it
gratefully, Mr. Gard--for myself, and father and for Dorothy, too."

The older man held out his hand. Their clasp was strong and responsive.
There were tears in Teddy's eyes, and he turned his head away quickly.

"Then," said Gard briskly, "it is understood. You also know and realize
why I have kept the whole matter under seal. Why I have secreted this
poor demented creature, have kept even you in ignorance of her
whereabouts. Oh, I know I have had your consent all along; I know you
have given me your complete trust long before this; but to-night I
wanted your final cooperation in the hardest task of all--to acquiesce,
while in ignorance, to permit matters that concern you, and you alone
most truly and deeply, to be placed in the hands of others. I thank you
for your faith, boy. God bless you."

Teddy saw his guest to the door, stood in the entry watching him descend
to the street and his car, and turned away with a sigh. He reëntered the
room they had left, and stood for a moment in grave thought. He sighed
again as he plunged the apartment in darkness and, leaving, locked the
doors one after the other. Something, some very vital part of his
existence was shut behind him forever. There were questions that he
might not ask himself--there were veils he must not lift--there was a
door in his heart, the door to the shrine of a dead man--it must be
locked forever, if he would keep it a sanctuary.

In the hall once more, he turned toward the entrance; his thoughts again
with the strong, kindly presence of the man who had just left him. He
wondered why he had never realized the vast, unselfish human force in
Gard. "What an indomitable soul," he said softly. "I must have been very
blind."

       *       *       *       *       *



XV


The following day found Marcus Gard at the usual morning hour in
conference with Dorothy. The girl was radiant. The nurses had reported a
splendid sleep and a calm awakening. She had been allowed a moment with
her mother, whose voice was no longer faint, but was regaining its old
vibrant quality.

The doctor entered smiling and grasped Gard's extended hand.

"You said it," he laughed. "Whatever it was, you said it, all right.
Mrs. Marteen slept like a child, and there's color in her face to-day.
See if you can do as well again. I'll give you five minutes--no, ten."

Preceded by the doctor, he once more found his way through the
velvet-hushed corridors to the softly lighted bedroom, where lay the
woman who had absorbed his every thought. Her eyes, as they met his,
were bright with anxiety, and her glance at the doctor was almost
resentful. But it was not part of the physician's plan to interfere with
any confidence that might relieve the patient's mind. With a casual nod
to Mrs. Marteen, he called to the nurse and led her from the room, his
finger rapidly tapping the sick-room chart, as if medical directions
were first in his mind.

Left alone, Gard approached the bed, and in answer to the unspoken
question in her eyes, fumbled in his pocket and brought forth the thin
packets of letters and the folded yellow cheques. One by one he laid
them where her hands could touch them. He dared not look at her. He felt
that her newly awakened soul was staring from her eyes at the mute
evidence of a degrading past.

A moment passed in silence that seemed a year of pain; then, without a
sob, without a sigh, she slowly handed him a bundle of papers,
withholding them only a moment as she verified the count; then, with a
slight movement she indicated the fireplace. He crossed to it and placed
the papers on the coals, where they flared a moment, casting wavering
shadows about the silent room, and died to black wisps. Again and again
he made the short journey from the bed to the grate; each time she
verified the contents of the envelopes before delivering them to his
hand.

Last of all the two yellow cheques crisped to ashes. He stood looking
down upon them as they dropped and collapsed into cinders, and from
their ashes rose the phoenix of happiness. A glow of joyful relief
lighted his spirit. There, in those dead ashes, lay a dead past--a past
that might have been the black future, but was now relinquished forever,
voluntarily--gone--gone! He realized a supreme moment, a turning point.
Fate looked him in the eyes.

He turned, and saw a face transfigured. There was a light in Mrs.
Marteen's eyes that matched the glow in his own heart. Very reverently
he raised her hand and kissed it; two sudden tears fell hot upon her
cheeks and her lips quivered.

He had never seen her show emotion, and it went to his heart. He saw her
gaze at her hands with dilating eyes, and divined before she spoke the
question she whispered:

"Who killed Victor Mahr?"

He bent above her gravely. "His wife. The wife he had cruelly
wronged--his wife, who escaped at last from an asylum. She is quite
mad--now. She is in our hands, and to-night, at eleven o'clock, the
district attorney will be at my house to see her and have the evidence
laid before him--to save Teddy," he added quickly.

She looked at him wildly. "His wife--the wife that I--"

He took her hand quickly. He feared to hear the words that he knew she
was about to say.

"Yes," he nodded. "Yes--she killed him."

Mrs. Marteen sank slowly back upon her pillows and lay with closed eyes.
A heavy pulse beat in the arteries at her throat, and a scarlet spot
burned on either cheek.

"Nemesis," she murmured. "Nemesis." She lay still for a moment. "Thank
God!" she said at length, and let her hands fall relaxed upon the
counterpane. She seemed as if asleep but for the quick intake of her
breath.

Gard gazed upon her with infinite tenderness, yet with sudden bitter
consciousness of the isolation of each individual soul. She was remote,
withdrawn. Even his eager sympathy could not reach the depths of her
self-tortured heart. But now at last he knew her, a completed being. The
soul was there, palpitant, awake. The something he had so sorely missed
was the living and real presence of spirit. It came over him in a wave
of realization that he, too, had been unconscious of his own higher self
until his love had made him feel the need of it in her. They two, from
the depths of self-satisfied power, had gone blindly in their paths of
self-seeking--till each had awakened the other. A strange, retarded
spiritual birth.

He looked back over his long career of remorseless success with
something of the self-horror he had read in her eyes as he had placed
the incriminating papers in her frail hands. And as she had cast
contamination from her, so he promised himself he would thrust predatory
greed from his own life. They were both born anew. They would both be
true to their own souls.

       *       *       *       *       *



XVI


The softened electric light suffused a glamour of glowing color over the
rich brocade of the walls of Marcus Gard's library, catching a glint
here and there on iridescent plaques, or a mellow high light on the
luscious patine of an antique bronze. The stillness, so characteristic
of the place, seemed to isolate it from the whole world, save when a
distant bell musically announced the hour.

Brencherly sat facing his employer, respecting his anxious silence,
while they waited the coming of the district attorney, to whose clemency
they must appeal--surely common humanity would counsel protective
measures, secrecy, in the proceeding of the law. The links in the chain
of evidence were now complete, but more than diplomacy would be required
in order to bring about the legal closing of the affair without
precipitating a scandal. Gard's own hasty actions led back to his fear
for Mrs. Marteen, that in turn involved the cause of that suspicion. To
convince the newsmongers that the crime was one of an almost accidental
nature, he felt would be easy. An escaped lunatic had committed the
murder. That revenge lay behind the insane act would be hidden. If
necessary, the authorities of the asylum could be silenced with a golden
gag--but the law?

Neither of the two men, waiting in the silent house, underestimated the
importance of the coming interview.

The night was already far spent, and the expected visitor still delayed.
At length the pale secretary appeared at the door to announce his
coming.

Gard rose from his seat, and extended a welcoming hand to gray-haired,
sharp-featured District Attorney Field.

Brencherly bowed with awkward diffidence.

Gard's manner was ease and cordiality itself, but his heart misgave him.
So much depended upon the outcome of this meeting. He would not let
himself dwell upon its possibilities, but faced the situation with grim
determination.

"Well, Field," he said genially, "let me thank you for coming. You are
tired, I know. I'm greatly indebted to you, but I'm coming straight to
the point. The fact is, we," and he swept an including gesture toward
his companion, "have the whole story of Victor Mahr's death. Brencherly
is a detective in my personal employ." Field bowed and turned again to
his host. "The person of the murderer is in our care," Gard continued.
"But before we make this public--before we draw in the authorities,
there are things to be considered."

He paused a moment. The district attorney's eyes had snapped with
surprise.

"You don't mean to tell me," he said slowly, "that you have the key to
that mystery! Have you turned detective, Mr. Gard? Well, nothing
surprises me any more. What was the motive? You've learned that, too, I
suppose?"

"Insanity," said Gard shortly.

"Revenge," said the detective.

"Suppose," said Gard, "a crime were committed by a totally irresponsible
person, would it be possible, once that fact was thoroughly established,
to keep investigation from that person; to conduct the matter so quietly
that publicity, which would crush the happiness of innocent persons,
might be avoided?"

"It might," said the lawyer, "but there would have to be very good and
sufficient reasons. Let's have the facts, Mr. Gard. An insane person, I
take it, killed Mahr. Who?"

"His wife." Gard had risen and stood towering above the others, his face
set and hard as if carved in flint.

Field instinctively recoiled. "His wife!" he exclaimed. "Why, man alive,
_you_ are the madman. His wife died years ago."

"No," said Gard. "Teddy Mahr's mother died. His wife is living, and is
in that next room."

"What's the meaning of this?" Field demanded.

"A pretty plain meaning," Gard rejoined. "The woman escaped from the
asylum where she was confined. According to her own story, she had kept
track of her husband from the newspapers. Mahr couldn't divorce her, but
he married again, secure in his belief that his first marriage would
never be discovered. Mad as she was, she knew the situation, and she
planned revenge. Dr. Malky, of the Ottawa Asylum, is here. We sent for
him. The woman has been recognized by Mahr's butler as the one he
admitted. There is no possible doubt. And her own confession, while it
is incomplete in some respects, is nevertheless undoubtedly true.

"But, Field, this woman is hopelessly demented. There is nothing that
can be done for her. She must be returned to the institution. I want to
keep the knowledge of her identity from Mahr's son. Why poison the whole
of his young life; why wreck his trust in his father? Convince yourself
in every way, Mr. Field, but the part of mercy is a conspiracy of
silence. Let it be known that an escaped lunatic did the killing--a
certain unknown Mrs. Welles--and let Brencherly give the reporters all
they want. For them it's a good story, anyway--such facts as these, for
instance: he happened by in time to see an attack upon another woman on
a bench opposite Mahr's house, and to hear her boast of her acts. But I
ask as a personal favor that the scandal be avoided. Brencherly, tell
what happened."

The detective looked up. "There was an old story--our office had had
it--that Mahr was a bigamist. In searching for a motive for the crime, I
hit on that. I had all our data on the subject sent up to me. I found
that our informant stated that Mahr had a wife in an asylum somewhere.
That gave me a suspicion. I found from headquarters that there were two
escapes reported, and one was a woman. She had broken out of a private
institution in Ottawa. I got word from there that her bills had been
paid by a lawyer here--Twickenbaur. I already knew that he was Mr.
Mahr's confidential lawyer. But all this I looked up later, after I'd
found the woman. You see, Mr. Gard is employing me on another matter,
and after he returned from Washington, I gave my report to him here.

"Then I went over to Mahr's house. I had a curiosity to go over the
ground. It was quite late at night, and I was standing in the dark,
looking over the location of the windows, when I saw a woman acting
strangely. She was threatening and talking loudly, crying out that she
had a right to kill him. I sneaked up behind just in time to stop her
attack on another woman who was seated on the same bench, and who seemed
too ill to defend herself. Well, sir, I had to give her three hypos
before I could take her along. Then I got her to my rooms, and when she
came around, she told me the story. Of course, sir, you mustn't expect
any coherent narrative, though she is circumstantial enough. Then I
brought over the butler, and he identified her at once. Mr. Gard advised
me not to notify the police until he had seen you. We got the doctor
from the asylum here as quickly as possible. He's with her in there
now."

The attorney sat silent a moment, nodding his head slowly. "I'll see
her, Gard," he said at length. "This is a strange story," he added, as
Brencherly disappeared into the anteroom.

Field's eyes rested on Gard's face with keen questioning, but he said
nothing, for the door opened, admitting the black-clad figure of a
middle-aged woman, escorted by a trained nurse and a heavily built man
of professional aspect.

"This is--" Field asked, as his glance took in every detail of the
woman's appearance.

"Mrs. Welles, as she is known to us," the doctor answered; "but she used
to tell us that that was her maiden name, and she married a man named
Mahr. We didn't pay much attention to what she said, of course, but she
was forever begging old newspapers and pointing out any paragraphs about
Mr. Victor Mahr, saying she was his wife."

Field gazed at the ghastly pallor of the woman's face, the maze of
wrinkles and the twinkling brightness of her shifting eyes, as she stood
staring about her unconcernedly. Her glance happened upon Brencherly.
Her lips began to twitch and her hands to make signals, as if anxious to
attract his attention. She writhed toward him.

"Young man," she whispered audibly, "they've got me--I knew they would.
Even you could not keep me so hidden they couldn't find me." She jerked
an accusing thumb over her shoulder at the corpulent bulk of her
erstwhile jailer. "They've been trying to make me tell how I got out;
but I won't tell. I may want to do it again, you see, and you won't
tell."

"But," said Brencherly soothingly, "you don't want to get out now, you
know. You've no reason to want to get out."

She nodded, as if considering his statement seriously.

"Of course, since I've got Victor out of the way, I don't much care. And
I had awful trouble to steal enough money to get about with. Why, I had
to pick ever so many pockets, and I do hate touching people; you never
can tell what germs they may have." She shook out her rusty black skirt
as if to detach any possible contagion.

"But, why," the incisive voice of the attorney inquired, "did you want
to kill Victor Mahr?"

"Why?" she screamed, her body suddenly stiffening. "Suppose you were his
wife, and he locked you up in places, and made people call you Mrs.
Welles, while he went swelling around everywhere, and making millions!
What'd you do? And besides, it wasn't only _that_, you see. _I_ knew,
being his wife, that he was a devil--oh, yes, he was; you needn't look
as if you didn't believe it. But I soon learned that when I said I was
'Mrs. Victor Mahr' in the places he put me into, they laughed at me, the
way they do at my roommate, who says she's a sideboard and wants to hold
a tea-set."

"Tell these gentlemen how cleverly you traced him," suggested
Brencherly.

"Oh, I knew where he lived and what he was doing well enough." She
bridled with conscious conceit; "I read the papers and I had it all
written down. So when I got out and stole the money, I knew just where
to go. But he's foxy, too. I knew I'd have to _make_ him see me. So I
stole some of the doctor's letterhead paper, and I wrote on it,
'Important news from the Institution'--that's what he likes to call his
boarding house--an institution." She laughed. "It worked!" she went on
as she regained her breath. "I just sent that message, and they let me
go right in. 'Well, what is it--what is it?' Victor said, just like
that." Her tones of mimicry were ghastly. She paused a moment, then
broke out:

"Now you won't believe it, but I hadn't the slightest idea what I was
going to kill him with when I went in there--I really didn't. The doctor
will tell you himself that I'm awfully forgetful. But there, spread out
before him, he had a whole collection of weapons, just as if he should
say, 'Mamie, which'll you have?' I couldn't believe my eyes; so I said
first thing, 'Why, you were expecting me!' He heard my voice, and his
eyes opened wide; and I thought: 'If I don't do it now, he'll raise the
house.' So I grabbed the big pistol and hit him! I'm telling you
gentlemen all this, because I don't want anyone else to get the credit.
There was a woman I met on a bench, and I just was sure she was going to
take all the credit, but I told her that was _my_ business. I hate
people who think they can do everything. There's a woman across my hall
who says she can make stars--" She broke off abruptly as for the first
time she became aware of Gard's presence in the room. "Why, there you
are!" she exclaimed delightedly. "Now, that's good! You can tell these
people what _you_ found."

"But Mr. Mahr was stabbed, Mrs. Welles," Gard interrupted. "You said you
struck him with a pistol."

"Oh, I did _that_ afterward." She took up the thread of her narrative.
"I selected the place very carefully, and pushed the knife way in tight.
I hate the sight of blood, and I sort of thought that'd stop it, and it
did. Then, dear me, I had a scare. There's a picture in that room as
live as life, and I looked up, and saw it looking at me. So I started to
run out, but somebody was coming, so in the little room off the big one
I got behind a curtain. Then this gentleman went through the room where
I was, and into the room where _he_ was. But he shut the door, and I
couldn't see what he thought of it. After a while he came out and said
'good-night' to me, though how he knew I was there I can't guess. So I
waited a very long time, till everything was quiet, and then I went back
and sat with him. It did me good just to sit and look at him; and every
little while I'd lift his coat to see if the little sword was still
there. The room was awful messy, and I tidied it up a bit. Then when
dawn about came, I got up and walked out. I had a sort of idea of
getting back to the institution without saying anything, because I was
afraid they'd punish me."

"Why did you rob Mr. Mahr?" asked Mr. Field.

"Rob nothing!" she retorted.

"But his jewels, his watch," the attorney continued, his eyes riveted on
her face with compelling earnestness. The woman gave an inarticulate
growl. "But," interposed Brencherly, "I found his wallet in your
package." He took from his pocket a worn and battered leather pocketbook
and held it toward her.

"Oh," she answered indifferently, "I just took it for a souvenir. In
fact, I came back for it--last thing."

Brencherly shrugged his shoulders expressively. Gard sat far back in his
chair, his face in shadow.

"How long has it been, Mrs. Welles, since you--accomplished your
purpose?" he asked slowly.

"You know as well as I do," she cried angrily.

"You were there. It was yesterday--no, the day before."

"It was just a week ago we found her," Brencherly said in a low voice.
"I had to look up everything and verify everything."

"You don't think I did it?" she burst out angrily. "Well, I'll prove it.
I tell you I did, and I thought it all out carefully, although the
doctor says I can't think connectedly. I'll show him." She fumbled in
the breast of her dress for a moment, and brought out her cherished
handful of newspaper clippings, which she cast triumphantly upon the
table. "There's all about him from the papers, and a picture of the
house. Why, I'd 'a' been a fool not to find him, and I had to. Oh, yes,
I suppose, as the doctor says, I'm queer; but I wasn't when he first
began sending me away--no, indeed. I wasn't good enough for him, that
was all; and I was far from home, and hadn't a friend, and he had money.
Oh, he was clever--but he's the devil. He used to file his horns off so
people wouldn't see, but I know. So, I'll tell you everything, except
how I got away. There's somebody else I may want to find." She glanced
with infinite cunning at Brencherly, and began her finger signals as if
practicing a dumb alphabet of which he alone knew the key.

"Where did you receive her from, Doctor?" Field asked.

"From Ogdensburg, sir. Before that they told me she was found wandering,
and put under observation in Troy. All I knew was that somebody wanted
her kept in a private institution. She'd always been in one, I fancy."

There was a pause as Field seemed lost in thought. Then he turned to
Gard.

"May I ask you to clear one point?" he asked "You gave evidence that he
was alive when you entered the room. According to her story--"

"I lied," said Gard, his pale face suffused with color. "I had to--I was
most urgently needed in Washington. I would have been detained, perhaps
prevented altogether from leaving. Who knows--I might even have been
accused. I plead guilty of suppressing the facts."

There was silence in the room. The attorney's eyes were turned upon the
self-confessed perjurer. In them was a question. Gard met their gaze
gravely, without flinching. Field nodded slowly.

"You're right; publicity can only harm," he said at last. "We will see
what can be done. I'll take the proper steps. It can be done legally and
verified by the other witnesses. The butler identifies her, you say.
It's a curious case of retribution. I can't help imagining Mahr's
feelings when he recognized her voice. Is your patient at all dangerous
otherwise?" He addressed himself to the nurse.

"No," she answered. "We've never seen it. Irritable, of course, but not
vicious. I can't imagine her doing such a thing. But you never can tell,
sir--not with this sort."

Field again addressed Gard, whose admission seemed to have exhausted
him. "And the son--knows nothing?"

"Nothing," answered Gard. "He worships his father's memory. He is
engaged, also, to--a very dear little friend of mine--the child of an
old colleague. I want to shield them--both."

"I understand." He nodded his head slowly, lost in thought.

The woman, childishly interested in the grotesque inkwells on the table,
stepped forward and raised one curiously. Her bony hands, of almost
transparent thinness, seemed hardly able to sustain the weight of the
cast bronze. It was hard to believe such a birdlike claw capable of
delivering a stunning blow, or forcibly wielding the deadly knife. She
babbled for a moment in a gentle, not unpleasant voice, while they
watched her, fascinated.

"She's that way most of the time," said the nurse softly. "Just like a
ten-year-old girl--plays with dolls, sir, all day long."

Suddenly her expression changed. Over her smiling wrinkles crept the
whiteness of death. Her eyes seemed to start from her head, her lips
drew back, while her fingers tightened convulsively on the metal
inkstand. The nurse, with an exclamation, stepped forward and caught
her.

There was a gleam of such maniacal fury in the woman's face that Mr.
Field shuddered. "Hardly a safe child to trust even with a doll," he
said. "I fancy the recital has excited her. Hadn't you better take her
away and keep her quiet? And don't let anyone unauthorized by Mr. Gard
or myself have access to her. It will not be wise to allow her delusion
that she was the wife of Victor Mahr to become known--you understand?"

Mr. Gard rose stiffly. "I will assume the expense of her care in future.
Let her have every comfort your institution affords, Dr. Malky. I will
see you to-morrow."

"Thank you, sir." The physician bowed. "Good night. Come, Mrs. Welles."

Obediently the withered little woman turned and suffered herself to be
led away.

As the door closed, Field came forward and grasped Gard's hand warmly.
"It is necessary for the general good," he said, his kindly face grown
grave, "that this matter be kept as quiet as possible. Believe me, I
understand, old friend; and, as always, I admire you."

Gard's weary face relaxed its strain. "Thanks," he said hoarsely. "We
can safely trust the press to Brencherly. He," and he smiled wanly,
"deserves great credit for his work. I'm thinking, Field, I need that
young man in my business."

Field nodded. "I was thinking I needed him in mine; but yours is the
prior claim. And now I'm off. Mr. Brencherly, can I set you down
anywhere?"

Confusedly the young man accepted the offer, hesitated and blushed as he
held out his hand. "May I?"

Gard read the good-will in his face, the congratulation in the tone, and
grasped the extended hand with a warm feeling of friendly regard.

"Good-night--and, thank you both," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *



XVII


Spring had come. The silvery air was soft with promises of leaf and bud.
Invitation to Festival and Adventure was in the gold-flecked sunlight.
Nature stood on tiptoe, ready for carnival, waiting for the opening
measures of the ecstatic music of life's renewal.

The remote stillness of the great library had given place to the faint
sounds of the vernal world. A robin preened himself at an open casement,
cast a calculating eye at the priceless art treasures of the place,
scorned them as useless for his needs, and fluttered away to an antique
marble bench in the walled garden, wherefrom he might watch for worms,
or hop to the Greek sarcophagus and take a bath in accumulated
rainwater.

Marcus Gard, outwardly his determined, unbending self again, sat before
his laden table, slave as ever to his tasks. Nine strokes chimed from
the Gothic clock in the hall; already his busy day had begun.

Denning entered unannounced, as was his special privilege, and stood for
a moment in silence, looking at his friend. Gard acknowledged his
presence with a cordial nod, and continued to glance over and sign the
typewritten notes before him. At last he put down his pen and settled
back in his chair.

"Well, old friend, how goes it?" he inquired, smiling.

Denning nodded. "Fine, thank you. I thought I'd find you here. I was in
consultation with Langley last night, and we have decided we are in a
position now to go ahead as we first planned over a year ago. The
opposition in Washington has been deflected. Besides, Langley dug up a
point of law."

Gard rose and crossed to Denning. His manner was quietly conversational,
and he twirled his _pince-nez_ absently.

"My dear man," he said slowly, "you will have to adjust yourself to a
shock. We will stick to the understanding as expressed in our interviews
of last February, whether Mr. Langley has dug up a point of law or not.
In short, Denning, we are not in future doing business in the old way."

"But you don't understand," gasped the other. "Langley says that it lets
us completely out. They can't attack us under that ruling--can't you
see?"

"Quite so--yes. I can imagine the situation perfectly. But we entered
into certain obligations--understandings, if you will--and we are going
to live up to them, whether we could climb out of them or not."

Denning sat down heavily.

"Well, I'll be--Why, it's no different from our position in the river
franchise matter, not in the least--and we did pretty well with that, as
you know."

Gard nodded. "Yes, we are practically in the same position, as you say.
The position is the same--but _we_ are different. I suppose you've heard
a number of adages concerning the irresponsibility of corporations?
Well, we are going to change all that. I fancy you have already noticed
a different method in our mercantile madness, and you will notice it
still more in the future."

Denning pulled his mustache violently, a token with him of complete
bewilderment.

"H'm--er--exactly," he murmured. "Of course, if that's the way you feel
now--and you have your reasons, I suppose--I'll call Langley up. He'll
be horribly disappointed, though. He's pluming himself on landing this
quick getaway for you. He's been staking out the whole plan."

Gard chuckled. "Do you remember, Denning, how hard you worked to make me
go to Washington--and how my 'duty to our stockholders' was your
favorite weapon? Where has all that noble enthusiasm gone--eh?"

Denning blushed. "But we were in a very dangerous hole. Things are
different now."

"Yes," said Gard with finality, "they are--don't forget it."

"Well," and Denning rose, discomfited, "I'm going. Three o'clock, Gard,
the directors' meeting. I'll see you then."

He shook hands and turned to the door, paused, turned again as if to
reopen the subject, checked himself and went out.

As the door closed Gard chuckled. "I bet he's cracking his skull to find
out my game," he thought with amusement. "By the time he reaches the
office, he'll have worked it out that I'm more far-sighted than the rest
of them, and am making character; that I'm trying to do business by the
Ten Commandments will never occur to him." He returned to the table and
resumed his task, paused and sat gazing absently at the contorted
inkwells.

His secretary entered quietly, a sheaf of letters in his hand.

"Saunders," said Marcus Gard, not raising his eyes from their absorbed
contemplation, "did you ever let yourself imagine how hard it is to do
business in a strictly honest manner, when the whole world seems to have
lost the habit--if it ever _had_ the habit?"

Saunders looked puzzled. "I don't know, sir. Mr. Mahr is in the hall and
wants to see you," he added, glad to change the subject.

"Is he? Good. Tell him to come in." Gard rose with cordial welcome as
Teddy entered.

There was an air of responsibility about the younger man, calmness,
observation and concentration, very different from his former
light-hearted, easy-mannered boyishness. Gard's greeting was
affectionate. "Well, boy, what brings you out so early? Taking your
responsibilities seriously? And in what can I help you?"

Teddy blushed. "Mr. Gard," he said, hurrying his words with
embarrassment, "I wish you'd let me _give_ you the Vandyke--please do. I
don't want to _sell_ it to you. Duveen's men are bringing it over to you
this morning; they are on their way now. I want you to have it. I--I--"
He looked up and gazed frankly in the older man's face, unashamed of the
mist of tears that blinded him. "I know father would want you to have
it. And I know, Mr. Gard, what you did to shield his memory. If you
hadn't gone to Field--if you hadn't taken the matter in charge--" He
choked and broke off. "I don't _know_ anything--but you handled the
situation as I could not. Please--won't you take the Vandyke?"

Gard's hand fell on the boy's shoulder with impressive kindliness. "No,"
he said quietly, "I can't do that, much as I appreciate your wanting to
give it to me. I have a sentiment, a feeling about that picture. It
isn't the collector's passion--I want it to remind me daily of certain
things, things that you'd think I'd want to forget--but not I. I want
that picture 'In Memoriam'--that's why I asked you to let me have it;
and I want it by purchase. Don't question my decision any more, Teddy.
You'll find a cheque at your office, that's all." He turned and
indicated a space on the velvet-hung wall, where a reflector and
electric lights had been installed. "It's to hang there, Teddy, where I
can see it as I sit. It is to dominate my life--how much you can never
guess. Will you stay with me now, and help me to receive it?"

Teddy was obviously disappointed. "I can't--I'm sorry. I ought to be at
the office now; but I did so want to make one last appeal to you.
Anyway, Mr. Gard, your cheque will go to enrich the Metropolitan
purchase fund."

"That's no concern of mine," Gard laughed. "You can't make me the donor,
you know. How is Dorothy--to change the subject!"

"What she always is," the boy beamed, "the best and sweetest. My, but
I'm glad she is back! And Mrs. Marteen, she's herself again. You've seen
them, of course?"

Gard nodded. "I met them at the train last night. Yes--she is--herself."

"She had an awful close call!" Teddy exclaimed, his face grown grave.

There was reminiscent silence for a moment. With an active swing of his
athletic body, Dorothy's adorer collected his hat, gloves and cane in
one sweep, spun on his heel with gleeful ease, smiled his sudden sunny
smile, and waved a quick good-by.

       *       *       *       *       *



XVIII


Teddy Mahr paused for a moment before descending to the street. He was
honestly disappointed. He had hoped with all his heart to overcome
Gard's opposition. Not that he was over anxious to pay, in some degree,
the debt of gratitude that he owed--he had come to regard his benefactor
as a being so near and dear to him that there was no question of the
ethics of giving and taking, but he had longed to give himself the keen
pleasure of bestowing something that his friend really wanted. There was
just one more chance of achieving his purpose--the intervention of
Dorothy; her caprices Gard never denied. If he could only induce
Dorothy--Early as it was he determined to intreat her intercession.

Walking briskly for a few blocks, he entered an hotel and sought the
telephone booth. The wide awake voice that answered him was very unlike
the sweet and sleepy drawls of protest his matutinal ringings were wont
to call forth when Dorothy had been a gay and frivolous débutante. The
enforced quiet of her mother's prolonged illness, and the sojourn in the
retirement of a hill sanitarium, had made of her a very different
creature from the gaudy little night-bird of yore. The experiences
through which she had passed, their anxiety and pain, had left her
nature sweetened and deepened; had given her new sympathies and
understandings. Now her laugh was just as clear--but its ring of light
coquetry was gone.

"Of course, I'll take a walk with you," came her answer,--"if you'll
stop for me. I'm quite a pedestrian, you know. I _had_ to take some sort
of a cure in sheer self-defense, up there in the wilds, so I decided on
fresh air--and now it's a habit. I'll be ready."

Teddy walked rapidly, his heart singing. He had quite forgotten his
errand in the anticipated joy of seeing her. If he thought at all of the
painting, it was an unformulated regret that no living artist could do
Dorothy justice, or ever hope to transfer to canvas any true semblance
of her many perfections.

She joined him in the hallway of her home, called back a last happy
good-by to her mother, and passed with him into the silver and crystal
morning light. She was simply dressed in a dark tailor suit, with a
little hat and sensible shoes--a very different silhouette from that of
the girl who left her room only in time to keep her luncheon
appointments. He looked at her with approval and laughed happily.

"Hello, Country!--how are the cows to-day?"

"Fine," she answered. "All boiled and sterilized, milked by electricity,
manicured by steam and dehorned by absent treatment, sir, she said--sir,
she said."

"May I go with you into your highly sanitary barnyard, my pretty maid?"
he asked seriously.

"Not unless you take a bath in carbolic solution, are vaccinated twice,
and wear a surgeon's uniform, sir, she said."

"But, I'm going to marry you, my pretty maid." The words were out before
he could check them. He blushed furiously. To propose in a nursery rhyme
was something that shocked his sense of fitness. He was amazed to find
that he meant what he said in just the very way he had said it.

But Dorothy took his answer as part of their early morning springtime
madness.

"Nobody asked you to be farm inspector, sir, she said," she replied
promptly.

But he was silent. His own words had choked him completely. She looked
at him quickly, but his head was turned away. Her own heart began to
beat nervously. She felt the magnetic current of his emotion vibrating
through her being. Her eyes opened wide in wonder. She had for so long
accustomed herself to the idea that Teddy was her own peculiar property,
and that, of course, she intended to marry him, that but for his
half-distressed perturbation, she would have thought no more of the
momentous "Yes" than of voicing some long-formed opinion. Now his
throbbing excitement had become contagious. She found herself fluttering
and tongue-tied. Though she realized suddenly that their ridiculous
child's-play had turned to earnest, she could not find word or look to
ease the strain. They walked on in silence, step for step, in a sort of
mechanical rhythmic physical understanding. Suddenly he spoke.

"Dolly, I wish you'd punch old Marcus!"

The remark was so unexpected that Dorothy slipped a beat in her step and
shuffled quickly to fall in tune.

"Good Gracious!--what for?" Her surprise was unfeigned.

"Because he won't let me give him the Heim Vandyke--wants to buy it,
insists on buying it. Asked me to let him have it--and then won't accept
it. Now, do me a favor, will you? You _make_ him take it. You're the
only person who can boss him--and he likes to have you do it. Will you
see him to-day, and fix it?"

"Well of all!--Why, _I_ can't make him do anything he doesn't want to
do. Of course, he ought to take it, if you want to give it to him; but I
really don't see--I wonder--" She meditated for a full block in silence.
"I'm going to lunch with him and Miss Gard and Mother. If I can,
I'll--no, I _can't_. It's none of my business. It's up to you. How can I
say--'You ought to do what Teddy says'? He'd tell me I was an
impertinent little girl, and that he knew how he wanted to deal with
little boys without being told by their desk-mates."

Teddy scowled. He wanted to get back to the barnyard he had left so
abruptly, impelled by his new and unaccountable fright. But having
hitched himself to his new subject of conversation, he felt somehow
compelled to drag at it. It was up-hill work. To be sure, he had come to
Dorothy for the purpose of soliciting her help, but Gard and Vandyke had
both lost interest. Against his will he kept on talking.

"Well, I've done everything I can to make him see my point of view. I've
told him I owe it to him; that Father would want him to have it; that
I'll give his money away if he sends it; that I've already shipped the
thing to him; that I don't want it; that it's unbecoming to my house--he
won't listen. Just says he's sent his cheque and we'll please change the
subject."

"Well, you don't have to _cash_ his cheque, do you?" she inquired
gravely.

"I know that," Teddy scoffed. "But if I don't, he'll send it in my name,
in cash, to some charity, and that'll be all the same in the final
addition. He's so confoundedly resourceful, you can't think around him."

"No, you can't," she agreed. "That's one of the wonderful things about
him. He thinks in his own terms, in terms of you or me, or the janitor,
or the President. He isn't just himself, he's everybody."

"He isn't thinking in terms of _me_," Teddy complained.

She shook her head. "No," she smiled wisely, "he's thinking in terms of
himself, this time, and we aren't big enough to see that, too, and
understand."

They had reached the entrance to the Park and crossed the already
crowded Plaza to its quieter walks. The tender greens of new grass
greeted them, and drifts of pink and yellow vaporous color that seemed
to overhang and envelop every branch of tree and shrub, like faint
spirits of flower and leaf, clustering about and striving to enter the
clefts of gray bark, that they might become embodied in tangible and
fragile beauty. Sweet pungent smells of damp earth rose to their
nostrils,--fragrance of reviving things, of stirring sap, of diligent
seeds moling their way to light and air. Mists shifted by softly, now
gray, now rainbow-hued, now trailing on the grass, now sifting slowly
through reluctant branches that strove to retain them.

Dorothy sighed happily. The restraint that had troubled them both slowly
metamorphosed itself into a tender, dreamy content. Why ask anything of
fate? Why crystallize with a word the cloudland perfection of the mirage
in which they walked? They were content, happy with the vernal joy of
young things in harmony with all the world of spring. They were silent
now--unconscious, and one with the heart of life, as were Adam and Eve
in the great garden of Eternal Spring--isolated, alone, all in all to
each other, and kin with all the vibrant life about them, sentient and
inanimate. For them the rainbow glowed in every drop the trailing mists
scattered in their wake; for them the pale light of the sun was pure
gold of dreams; every frail, courageous flower a delicate censor of
fragrance. There was crooning in the tree-tops and laughter in the
confidential whisper of the fountains--as if Pan's pipes had enchanted
all this ruled-and-lined, sophisticated, urban _pleasaunce_ into a dell
in Arcady.

Teddy looked down at his companion, trudging sturdily by his side. How
sweet and dear were her eyes of violet, how tender and gentle the slim
curves of her mouth, how wholly lovely the contour of cheek and chin,
and the curled tendrils of her moist, dark hair!

She was conscious of his gaze. She felt an impulse to take his arm--that
strong, strong arm; to walk with him like that--like the old, long
married couples, who come to sun themselves in the warm light of the
young day, and the sight of passing lovers. A Judas tree in full blossom
arrested her attention, and they came to a halt before its lavish
display.

"There's nothing in the world so beautiful as natural things," she said
slowly, breaking the enchanted silence.

Teddy was master of himself again. "I know," he said, "and I want to get
back again to the barnyard we left so suddenly. I said something then--I
want to say it over again."

It was Dorothy's turn to become frightened and confused.

"Oh," she said with an indifference she was far from feeling. "Barnyard!
It's such a commonplace spot after all. Don't you like the garden
better?"

But Teddy was determined. "My pretty maid," he began in a tender voice.

But she moved away suddenly down a tempting path, and, perforce, he
followed her.

"I've been thinking," she said hurriedly, "about Mr. Gard. I'm sure, if
he felt he was hurting your feelings, he wouldn't think _all_ his own
way. Now, if you want me to, I'll try and make him understand it. I'll
tell him that you came to me in an awful huff--all cut up. I'm sure I
can put it strongly enough."

"And I shall go to him, and complain that when I want to talk with you,
you put me off--won't listen to me. I'll ask him to make you listen to
reason. I'll tell him to put it to you. I'll show him that I _am_ cut
up, all around the heart. Perhaps he can put it to you strongly
enough--"

Dorothy stopped short and wheeled around to face him.

"Oh, very well, then," she smiled, "if you are going to get someone else
to do your love making for you, _I_ apply for the position. Teddy Mahr,
will you marry the milkmaid?--Honest and true, black and blue?"

"I will!" he cried ecstatically, and caught her in his arms.

Two wrens upon a neighboring branch, tilted forward to watch them, the
business of nest building for the moment forgotten. A gray squirrel,
with jerking tail and mincing gate, approached along the path. A florid
policeman, wandering aimlessly in this remote arbor, stopped short,
grinned, stuck his thumbs in his belt, and contemplated the picture,
then wheeled about and stole out of sight in fashion most unmilitary.
Across the lake the white swans glided, and two little "mandarin" ducks
sidled up close to shore, regarding the moveless group of humans with
bright and beady eyes.

Dorothy disengaged herself from his arms with a happy little gurgle, set
her hat straight upon her tumbled hair, and glanced at the ducks.

"There," she said softly, "that's a lucky sign. In China they always
send the newlyweds a pair. They are love birds; they die when
separated--which means, I'm a duck."

"You are," he agreed, and kissed her again.

"Now," she said seriously, "I've found a way to clear all difficulties."

He looked at her, troubled. "I didn't know there were any," he said
anxiously. "I think your mother likes me, and I don't see--I can keep
you in hats and candy; and Miss Gard is the only person who has seemed
to disapprove of me."

"All wrong," she said. "I don't mean that at all. I mean about the
picture. I have thought it all out while you were kissing me."

He grinned. "Did you, indeed? I'm vastly flattered, I'm sure. In that
case I shall go to kissing school no later than to-morrow. However,
since you work out problems in that way, I'll give you another to Q.E.D.
When will the wedding be?" He folded his arms about her rapturously.

The ducks waddled up the bank; the squirrel climbed to the back of the
bench; one wren captured a damaged feather from Dorothy's hat that had
fallen to earth, and made off with his nest contribution.

"Now," Teddy demanded as he released her. "Did you work _that_ out?"

She gasped. "If you act like that, I'll not tell you anything. I'll
leave you guessing all the rest of your life."

"I expect that," he laughed. "Who am I to escape the common lot?"

She frowned. "As I was saying before you interrupted me so rudely, I
have found a way to overcome the arguments and refusals of 'Old
Marcus'--by the way, if he heard you call him that, he'd beat you up,
and perfectly right. He isn't old, and I wish you had half his sense."

"Dolly, we are _not_ married yet, and I object to unfavorable
comparisons. Kindly get down to business."

"Well," she said, "I was thinking just this. We can give it to him as a
wedding present--we've got him there, don't you see?"

"No, I _don't_ see," he replied. "Will you kindly show me how you work
that out. He'll probably want to give you a Murillo and a town house and
a Cellini service, and a motor car upholstered in cloth of gold, a
Florentine bust and an order on Raphael to paint your portrait. If you
ask me if I see him accepting the Vandyke as a wedding present from
us--I don't."

"Goose!" she said with withering scorn.

He laughed. "Oh, very well, I'm back in the barnyard, so I don't mind.
Just a minute ago and you had me a duck. I've lost caste--I was a
mandarin then."

"I didn't say a wedding present for _our_ wedding, did I?" she inquired
loftily. "Why don't you stop and think a minute. They don't teach
observation in college, evidently."

Teddy was nonplussed. "You've got me," he said, his brows drawn together
in a puzzled frown.

She tapped her foot impatiently. "Well, how else could we be giving him
a wedding present?" she inquired.

"That's just what I don't see," he replied emphatically.

"When _he_ gets married, of course--heavens! you are dense!"

Teddy was stunned. "When he--why--what nonsense!--he's a confirmed old
bachelor. There! I knew you couldn't think out problems when I was
kissing you. I'm glad you didn't answer my second question, if that's
the way you work things out. Who in the world would he marry!"

"How would you like him for a step-father-in-law?" She looked at him
with an amused smile.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed. "Why, I never thought of that! Your
mother!--Oh, by golly! that's great, that's great! Of course, of course.
Here, I'll kiss you again--you can answer my second question." He
embraced her with hysterical enthusiasm. "Oh, when did it happen?" he
begged. "How did you know? Since when have they been engaged? My! I have
been a bat! Where were my eyes? Of all the jolly luck!" he leaped from
the bench and executed a triumphal war dance.

"You act just like the kids--I mean, the baby goats, up in the Bronx,"
she laughed. "Teddy, stop, somebody might see you, and they'd send us
both to an asylum. Stop it! And besides, my step-father hasn't proposed
yet."

Teddy ceased his gambols abruptly. "What in the world have you been
telling me, then?" he demanded, crestfallen. "Here I've been celebrating
an event that hasn't happened."

"Well, it's going to," she affirmed with an impressive nod of her head.
"_I_ know. Why, even Mother hasn't the slightest idea of it yet. Poor,
dear Mother, she's so really humble minded, she wouldn't let herself
realize how he loves her. But she leans on him, on the very thought of
him. When we were away recuperating, she used to watch for his
letters--like--like--I watched for yours, Teddy; and when I'd hand her
one, she had such a look of calm, of rest. I've found her asleep with
one crushed up in her hand. I'm sure she used to put them under her
pillow at night, just as--well--just as I used to put yours, Teddy,
under mine. Don't you know, that when two women are in love, they know
it one from another, without a word. Of course, Mother knew all about
how _I_ felt, I used to catch her looking at me, oh, so wistfully--but
she never dreamed that wise little daughter had guessed her secret--oh,
no--mothers never realize that their little chick-children have grown to
be big geese. But, _I_ know, and, well, Teddy, as you know, if he
doesn't ask her pretty soon, I'll go and ask him myself--and he never
refuses me anything. I shall say, 'Dear old Marcus, Teddy and I wish
you'd hurry up and ask Mother to marry you. We have set our hearts on
picking out our own "steps." We think of being married in June, and we
want it all settled.' There," she said with a radiant blush, "I've
answered all your questions--have you another problem?"

       *       *       *       *       *



XIX


Left alone before the empty space reserved for the masterpiece the
expression on Gard's face changed. Grave and purposeful, he continued to
regard the blank wall, then, turning, he caught up the desk telephone,
gave Mrs. Marteen's private number and waited.

A moment later the sweet familiar voice thrilled him.

"It's I--Marcus," he said. "I am coming for you this morning. Yes, I'm
taking a holiday, and I'm going to bring you back to the library to see
a new acquisition of mine--that will interest you. Then you and Dorothy
will lunch with Polly. Dorothy can join us at one o'clock. This is a
private view--for you alone.... You will? That's good! Good-by."

Noises in the resonant hall and the opening of the great doors announced
the arrival of the moving van and its precious contents, before
Saunders, his eyes bulging with excitement, rushed in with the tidings
of the coming of the world famous Heim Vandyke. With respectful care the
great canvas was brought in, unwrapped and lifted to its chosen hanging
place.

Seated in his armchair, Gard with mixed emotions watched it elevated and
straightened. The pictured face smiled down at him--impersonal yet
human, glowing, vivid with color, alive with that suggestion of eternal
life that art alone in its highest expression can give. Card's smile was
enigmatical; his eyes were sad. His imagination pictured to him Mrs.
Marteen as she had sat before him in her self-contained stateliness and
announced with indifferent calm that the Vandyke had been but a ruse to
gain his private ear.

Gard rose, approached the picture, and for an instant laid his fingers
upon its darkened frame. The movement was that of a worshiper who makes
his vow at the touch of some relic infinitely holy.

Then he returned to his seat and for some time remained wrapped in
thought. These moments of introspection, of deep self-questioning, had
become more and more frequent. He had made in the past few months a new
and most interesting acquaintance--himself. All the years of his
over-hurried, over-cultivated, ambitious life he had delved into the
psychology of others. It had been his pride to divine motives, to
dissect personalities, to classify and sort the brains and natures of
men. Now for the first time he had turned the scalpel upon himself. He
was amazed, he was shocked, almost frightened. He could not hide from
himself, he was no longer blind, the searchlight of his own analysis was
inexorably focused on his own sins and shortcomings--his powers misused,
his strength misdirected, his weaknesses indulged, because his strength
protected them. In these hours of what he had grown to grimly call his
"stock taking," he had become aware of a new and all-important group of
men. Where before he had reckoned values solely by capacities of brain
and hand, he found now a new factor--the capacity of heart. Ideals that
heretofore had borne to his mind the stamp of weakness, now showed
themselves as real bulwarks of character. The men who had fallen by the
wayside in the advance of his pitiless march to power, were no longer,
to his eyes, types of the unfit, to be thrust aside. Some were men,
indeed, who knew their own souls, and would not barter them.

In his mind a vast readjustment had taken place. Words had become
bodied, the unseen was becoming the visible--Responsibility, Honesty,
Fairness, Truth! they had all been words to conjure with--for use in
political speeches, in interviews--because they seemed to exercise an
occult influence upon the gullible public. "Law," "Peace," "Order," "The
Greatest Good to the Greatest Number," he had used them all as an Indian
medicine-man shakes bone rattles, and waves a cow's tail before the
tribe, laughing behind his gaping mask at the servile acceptance of his
prophecies. One and all these Cunjar Gods he had believed to be only
bits of shell and plaited rope, had come to life--they _were_ gods, real
presences, real powers. He had invoked them only to deceive others--and,
behold! he it was who knew not the truth.

The high tower of his heaven-grasping ambitions seemed suddenly insecure
and founded upon shifting sands. The incense the sycophant world burned
before him became a stench in his nostrils. The fetishes he had tossed
to the crowd now faced him as real gods; and they were not to be blinded
with dust, nor bought with gold. The specious and tortured verbiage of
twisted law never for one moment deceived the open ears of Justice, even
though it tied her hands, and her voice was the voice of condemnation.
Honor--he had sold it. Faith--he had not kept it. Truth--he had
distorted to fit whatever garb he had chosen for her to wear. And,
withal, he had hailed himself conqueror; had placed his laurels himself
upon his head, ranking all others beneath him. The clamor of the mob he
had interpreted as acclaim. Now he heard above the applause the hoarse
chorus of disdain and fear. It had been his pride to see men fall back
and make way at the very mention of his name. Now he felt that they
shrank from him--not before his greatness, but from his very contact. He
had driven his fellow creatures from him, and in return, they withdrew
themselves.

If they came to him fawning, they but showed their lower natures. He had
not called forth the power for good, from these the necromancy of his
personality had touched. He had conjured evil, he had pandered to base
forces.

The realization had not come easily. His habits of thought would return
and blind him as of old. He had laughed at himself; he had derided the
new gods, he had disobeyed them and their strange commands--only to
return crestfallen, contrite, feeling himself unworthy. He became aware
that he had run a long and victorious race for a prize he had
craved--only to find that the goal to which it brought him was not that
of his old desires. That was but withered leaves, spattered with the
blood of those who lost. He had turned from it, and now his steps sought
another conquest and another reward. He must strive for a goal unseen,
but more real and more worthy than the little crowns of little
victories.

His somber thoughts left him refreshed, as if from a bath of deep, clear
waters. His spirit felt clean and elated as it rose from the depths. It
was with a smile that he pushed back his chair and rose from the table
where, for a full hour, he had sat in silent self-communing. He still
smiled as he entered the motor and was driven to Mrs. Marteen's.

He found her awaiting him, with outstretched hands, and the look in her
eyes that he always longed for--the look he had divined rather than seen
on that day of days, when the Past had been renounced and consumed.
There was no embarrassment in their meeting. True, there had been daily
exchange of letters during the months of her enforced exile; but they
had been only friendly, surface tokens, giving no real hint of the
realities beneath. But they had grown toward one another, not apart. It
was as if they had never been sundered; as if all the experiences of all
the intervening days had been experiences in common.

He gazed at her happily now, rejoicing in the firmness of her step, the
brightness of her eyes, the healthy color of her skin. She came with him
gladly at his suggestion and they drove in silence through the crowded
streets and the silence was in truth, golden. At the door of the great
house he descended, gave her his hand and conducted her quickly through
the vast, soft-lighted hall to his own sanctum. He closed the door
quietly and pressed the electric switch. Instantly the mellow lights
glowed above the portrait, which throbbed in response, a glittering gem
of warmth and beauty.

Mrs. Marteen's body stiffened; the color receded from her face, leaving
it ashen. Her great eyes dilated.

"Do you know why it is there?" he asked at length in a whisper.

"Yes," she murmured. "We have traveled the same road--you and I. I
understand."

He took her hand and raised it to his lips. "You don't know all that
this picture recalls to me--and I hope you will never know; but you and
I," he said slowly, weighing his words, "are not of the breed of those
who cry out with remorse. We are of those who live differently. That is
the constant reminder of what _was_. I do not want to forget. I want to
remember. Every time the iron enters my soul I shall know the more
keenly that I have at last a soul."

Again they fell silent.

"According to the accepted code I suppose I should make a clean breast
of it, even to Dorothy, and go into retirement," she said at length. "I
have thought of that, too; but I cannot _feel_ it. I want to be active;
to be able to use myself for betterment; make of myself an example of
good and not of evil. What I did was because of what I was. I am that no
longer, and my expression must be of the new thing that has become me--a
soul!" she said reverently.

"A soul," he repeated. "It has come to me, too. And what is left to me
of life has no place for regrets. I have that which I must live up to--I
_shall_ live up to it."

"We have, indeed, traveled the same road; but you--have led me." She
looked at him with complete comprehension.

"We will travel the new road together," he said finally, "hand in hand."

THE END





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