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´╗┐Title: The Auction Block
Author: Beach, Rex, 1877-1949
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 "The Auction Block" ***

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



THE AUCTION BLOCK

By REX BEACH


Author of "THE SILVER HORDE" "THE SPOILERS" "THE IRON TRAIL" Etc.


Illustrated



THE AUCTION BLOCK



CHAPTER I


Peter Knight flung himself into the decrepit arm-chair beside the
center-table and growled:

"Isn't that just my luck? And me a Democrat for twenty years. There's
nothing in politics, Jimmy."

His son James smiled crookedly, with a languid tolerance bespeaking
amusement and contempt. James prided himself upon his forbearance, and
it was rarely indeed that he betrayed more than a hint of the
superiority which he felt toward his parent.

"Politics is all right, provided you're a good picker," he said, with
all the assurance of twenty-two, "but you fell off the wrong side of
the fence, and you're sore."

"Of course I am. Wouldn't anybody be sore?"

"These country towns always go in for the reform stuff, every so often.
If you'd listen to me and--"

His father interrupted harshly: "Now, cut that out. I don't want to go
to New York, and I won't." Peter Knight tried to look forceful, but the
expression did not fit his weak, complacent features. He was a plump
man with red cheeks rounded by habitual good humor; his chin was short,
and beneath it were other chins, distended and sagging as if from the
weight of chuckles within. When he had succeeded in fixing a look of
determination upon his countenance the result was an artificial scowl
and a palpably false pout. Wearing such a front, he continued: "When I
say 'no' I mean it, and the subject is closed. I like Vale, I know
everybody here, and everybody knows me."

"That's why it's time to move," said Jim, with another unpleasant curl
of his lip. "As long as they didn't know you you got past. But you'll
never hold another office."

"Indeed! My record's open to inspection. I made the best sheriff in--"

"Two years. Don't kid yourself, pa. Your foot slipped when the trolley
line went through."

"What do you know about the trolley line?" angrily demanded Mr. Knight.

"Well, I know as much as the county knows. And I know something about
the big dam, too. You got into the mud, pa, but you didn't go deep
enough to find the frogs. Fogarty got his, didn't he?"

Mr. Knight breathed deep with indignation.

"Senator Fogarty is my good friend. I won't let you question his honor,
although you do presume to question mine."

"Of course he's your friend; that's why he's fixed you for this New
York job. He's not like these Reubs; he remembers a good turn and blows
back with another. He's a real politician."

"'Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity,'" sneered Peter.
"It sounds good, but the salary is fifteen hundred a year. A clerk--at
my age!"

"Say, d'you suppose Tammany men live on their salaries?" Jimmy
inquired. "Wake up! This is your chance to horn into the real herd. In
New York politics is a vocation; up here it's a vacation--everybody
tries it once, like music lessons. If you'd been hooked up with Tammany
instead of the state machine you'd have been taken care of."

"I tell you I don't like cities. It's no place to raise kids."

At this James betrayed some irritation. "I'm of age, and Lorelei's a
grown woman. If we don't get out of Vale I'll still be a brakeman on a
soda-fountain when I'm your age."

"If you'd worked hard you'd have had an interest in the drug store now."

"Rats!"

At this juncture Mrs. Knight, having finished the supper dishes and set
her bread to rise, entered the shoddy parlor. Jim turned to her,
shrugging his shoulders with an air of washing his hands of a
disagreeable subject. "Pa's weakened again," he explained. "He won't
go."

"Me, a clerk--at my age!" mumbled Peter.

"I've been trying to tell him that he'd get a half-Nelson on Tammany
inside of a year. He squeezed the sheriff's office till it squealed,
and if he can pinch a dollar out of this burg he can--"

"You shut up! I don't like your way of saying things," snarled Mr.
Knight.

His wife spoke for the first time, with brief conclusiveness.

"I wrote and thanked Senator Fogarty for his offer and told him you'd
accept."

"You--what?" Peter was dumfounded.

"Yes"--Mrs. Knight seemed oblivious of his wrath--"we're going to make
a change."

Mrs. Knight was a large woman well advanced beyond that indefinite
turning-point of middle age; in her unattractive face was none of the
easy good nature so unmistakably stamped upon her husband's. Peter J.
was inherently optimistic; his head was forever hidden in a roseate
aura of hopefulness and expectation. Under easy living he had grayed
and fattened; his eyes were small and colorless, his cheeks full and
veined with tiny sprays Of purple, his hands soft and limber. What had
once been a measure of good looks was hidden now behind a flabby,
indefinite mediocrity which an unusual carefulness in dress could not
disguise. He was big-hearted in little things; in big things he was
small. He told an excellent story, but never imagined one, and his
laugh was hearty though insincere. Men who knew him well laughed with
him, but did not indorse his notes.

His wife was of a totally different stamp, showing evidence of unusual
force. Her thin lips, her clean-cut nose betokened purpose; a pair of
alert, unpleasant eyes spoke of a mental activity that was entirely
lacking in her mate, and she was generally recognized as the source of
what little prominence he had attained.

"Yes, we're going to make a change," she repeated. "I'm glad, too, for
I'm tired of housework."

"You don't have to do your own work. There's Lorelei to help."

"You know I wouldn't let her do it."

"Afraid it would spoil her hands, eh?" Mr. Knight snorted,
disdainfully. "What are hands made for, anyhow? Honest work never hurt
mine."

Jim stirred and smiled; the retort upon his lips was only too obvious.

"She's too pretty," said the mother. "You don't realize it; none of us
do, but--she's beautiful. Where she gets her good looks from I don't
know."

"What's the difference? It won't hurt her to wash dishes. She wouldn't
have to keep it up forever, anyhow; she can have any fellow in the
county."

"Yes, and she'll marry, sure, if we stay here."

Knight's colorless eyes opened. "Then what are you talking about going
away to a strange place for? It ain't every girl that can have her
pick."

Mrs. Knight began slowly, musingly: "You need some plain talk, Peter. I
don't often tell you just what I think, but I'm going to now. You're
past fifty; you've spent twenty years puttering around at politics,
with business as a side issue, and what have you got to show for it?
Nothing. The reformers are in at last, and you're out for good. You had
your chance and you missed it. You were always expecting something big,
some fat office with big profits, but it never came. Do you know why?
Because YOU aren't big, that's why. You're little, Peter; you know it,
and so does the party."

The object of this address swelled pompously; his cheeks deepened in
hue and distended; but while he was summoning words for a defense his
wife ran on evenly:

"The party used you just as long as you could deliver something, but
you're down and out now, and they've thrown you over. Fogarty offers to
pay his debt, and I'm not going to refuse his help."

"I suppose you think you could have done better if you'd been in my
place," Peter grumbled. He was angry, yet the undeniable truth of his
wife's words struck home. "That's the woman of it. You kick because
we're poor, and then want me to take a fifteen-hundred-dollar job."

"Bother the salary! It will keep us going as long as necessary"

"Eh?" Mr. Knight looked blank.

"I'm thinking of Lorelei. She's going to give us our chance."

"Lorelei?"

"Yes. You wonder why I've never let her spoil her hands--why I've
scrimped to give her pretty clothes, and taught her to take care of her
figure, and made her go out with young people. Well, I knew what I was
doing; it was part of her schooling. She's old enough now; and she has
everything that any girl ever had, so far as looks go. She's going to
do for us what you never have been and never will be able to do, Peter
Knight. She's going to make us rich. But she can't do it in Vale."

"Ma's right," declared James. "New York's the place for pretty women;
the town is full of them."

"If it's full of pretty women what chance has she got?" queried Peter.
"She can't break into society on my fifteen hundred--"

"She won't need to. She can go on the stage."

"Good Lord! What makes you think she can act?"

"Do you remember that Miss Donald who stopped at Myrtle Lodge last
summer? She's an actress."

"No!" Mr. Knight was amazed.

"She told me a good deal about the show business. She said Lorelei
wouldn't have the least bit of trouble getting a position. She gave me
a note to a manager, too, and I sent him Lorelei's photograph. He wrote
right back that he'd give her a place."

"Really?"

"Yes; he's looking for pretty girls with good figures. His name is
Bergman."

Jim broke in eagerly. "You've heard of Bergman's Revues, pa. We saw one
last summer, remember? Bergman's a big fellow."

"THAT show? Why, that was--rotten. It isn't a very decent life, either."

"Don't worry about Sis," advised Jim. "She can take care of herself,
and she'll grab a millionaire sure--with her looks. Other girls are
doing it every day--why not her? Ma's got the right idea."

Impassively Mrs. Knight resumed her argument. "New York is where the
money is--and the women that go with money. It's the market-place. The
stage advertises a pretty girl and gives her chances to meet rich men.
Here in Vale there's nobody with money, and, besides, people know us.
The Stevens girls have been nasty to Lorelei all winter, and she's
never invited to the golf-club dances any more."

At this intelligence Mr. Knight burst forth indignantly:

"They're putting on a lot of airs since the Interurban went through;
but Ben Stevens forgets who helped him get the franchise. I could tell
a lot of things--"

"Bergman writes," continued Mrs. Knight, "that Lorelei wouldn't have to
go on the road at all if she didn't care to. The real pretty show-girls
stay right in New York."

Jim added another word. "She's the best asset we've got, pa, and if we
all work together we'll land her in the money, sure."

Peter Knight pinched his full red lips into a pucker and stared
speculatively at his wife. It was not often that she openly showed her
hand to him.

"It seems like an awful long chance," he said.

"Not so long, perhaps, as you think," his wife assured him. "Anyhow,
it's our ONLY chance, and we're not popular in Vale."

"Have you talked to her about it?"

"A little. She'll do anything we ask. She's a good girl that way."

The three were still buried in discussion when Lorelei appeared at the
door.

"I'm going over to Mabel's," she paused a moment to say. "I'll be back
early, mother."

In Peter Knight's eyes, as he gazed at his daughter, there was
something akin to shame; but Jim evinced only a hard, calculating
appraisal. Both men inwardly acknowledged that the mother had spoken
less than half the truth, for the girl was extravagantly, bewitchingly
attractive. Her face and form would have been noticeable anywhere and
under any circumstances; but now in contrast with the unmodified
homeliness of her parents and brother her comeliness was almost
startling. The others seemed to harmonize with their drab surroundings,
with the dull, unattractive house and its furnishings, but Lorelei was
in violent opposition to everything about her. She wore her beauty
unconsciously, too, as a princess wears the purple of her rank. Neither
in speech nor in look did she show a trace of her father's fatuous
commonplaceness, and she gave no sign of her mother's coldly
calculating disposition. Equally the girl differed from her brother,
for Jim was anemic, underdeveloped, sallow; his only mark of
distinction being his bright and impudent eye, while she was
full-blooded, healthy, and clean. Splendidly distinctive, from her
crown of warm amber hair to her shapely, slender feet, it seemed that
all the hopes, all the aspirations, all the longings of bygone
generations of Knights had flowered in her. As muddy waters purify
themselves in running, so had the Knight blood, coming through
unpleasant channels, finally clarified and sweetened itself in this
girl. In the color of her eyes she resembled neither parent; Mrs.
Knight's were close-set and hard; Peter's shallow, indefinite, weak.
Lorelei's were limpid and of a twilight blue. Her single paternal
inheritance was a smile perhaps a trifle too ready and too meaningless.
Yet it was a pleasant smile, indicative of a disposition toward
courtesy, if not self-depreciation.

But there all resemblance ceased. Lorelei Knight was mysteriously
different from her kin; she might almost have sprung from a different
strain, and except as one of those "throwbacks" which sometimes occur
in a mediocre family, when an exotic offspring blooms like a delicate
blossom in a bed of weeds, she was inexplicable. Simple living had made
her strong, yet she remained exquisite; behind a natural and a deep
reserve she was vibrant with youth and spirits.

In the doorway she hesitated an instant, favoring the group with her
shadowy, impersonal smile. In her gaze there was a faint inquiry, for
it was plain that she had interrupted a serious discussion. She came
forward and rested a hand upon her father's thinly haired bullet-head.
Peter reached up and took it in his own moist palm.

"We were just talking about you," he said.

"Yes?" The smile remained as the girl's touch lingered.

"Your ma thinks I'd better accept that New York offer on your account."

"On mine? I don't understand."

Peter stroked the hand in his clasp, and his weak, upturned face was
wrinkled with apprehension. "She thinks you should see the world
and--make something of yourself."

"That would be nice." Lorelei's lips were still parted as she turned
toward her mother in some bewilderment.

"You'd like the city, wouldn't you?" Mrs. Knight inquired.

"Why, yes; I suppose so."

"We're poor--poorer than we've ever been. Jim will have to work, and so
will you."

"I'll do what I can, of course; but--I don't know how to do anything.
I'm afraid I won't be much help at first."

"We'll see to that. Now, run along, dearie."

When she had gone Peter gave a grunt of conviction.

"She IS pretty," he acknowledged; "pretty as a picture, and you
certainly dress her well. She'd ought to make a good actress."

Jim echoed him enthusiastically. "Pretty? I'll bet Bernhardt's got
nothing on her for looks. She'll have a brownstone hut on Fifth Avenue
and an air-tight limousine one of these days, see if she don't."

"When do you plan to leave?" faltered the father.

Mrs. Knight answered with some satisfaction: "Rehearsals commence in
May."



CHAPTER II


Mr. Campbell Pope was a cynic. He had cultivated a superb contempt for
those beliefs which other people cherish; he rejoiced in an open
rebellion against convention, and manifested this hostility in an
exaggerated carelessness of dress and manner. It was perhaps his habit
of thought as much as anything else that had made him a dramatic
critic; but it was a knack for keen analysis and a natural, caustic wit
that had raised him to eminence in his field. Outwardly he was a sloven
and a misanthrope; inwardly he was simple and rather boyish, but years
of experience in a box-office, then as advance man and publicity agent
for a circus, and finally as a Metropolitan reviewer, had destroyed his
illusions and soured his taste for theatrical life. His column was
widely read; his name was known; as a prophet he was uncanny, hence
managers treated him with a gingerly courtesy not always quite sincere.

Most men attain success through love of their work; Mr. Pope had become
an eminent critic because of his hatred for the drama and all things
dramatic. Nor was he any more enamoured of journalism, being in truth
by nature bucolic, but after trying many occupations and failing in all
of them he had returned to his desk after each excursion into other
fields. First-night audiences knew him now, and had come to look for
his thin, sharp features. His shapeless, wrinkled suit that resembled a
sleeping-bag; his flannel shirt, always tieless and frequently
collarless, were considered attributes of genius; and, finding New York
to be amazingly gullible, he took a certain delight in accentuating his
eccentricities. At especially prominent premieres he affected a sweater
underneath his coat, but that was his nearest approach to formal
evening dress. Further concession to fashion he made none.

Owing to the dearth of new productions this summer, Pope had undertaken
a series of magazine articles descriptive of the reigning theatrical
beauties, and, while he detested women in general and the painted
favorites of Broadway in particular, he had forced himself to write the
common laudatory stuff which the public demanded. Only once had he
given free rein to his inclinations and written with a poisoned pen.
To-night, however, as he entered the stage door of Bergman's Circuit
Theater, it was with a different intent.

Regan, the stage-door tender, better known since his vaudeville days as
"The Judge," answered his greeting with a lugubrious shake of a bald
head.

"I'm a sick man, Mr. Pope. Same old trouble."

"M-m-m. Kidneys, isn't it?"

"No. Rheumatism. I'm a beehive swarmin' with pains."

"To be sure. It's Hemphill, the door-man at the Columbus, who has the
floating kidney. I paid for his operation."

"Hemphill. Operation! Ha!" The Judge cackled in a voice hoarse from
alcoholic excesses. "He bilked you, Mr. Pope. He's the guy that put the
kid in kidney. There's nothing wrong with him. He could do his old
acrobatic turn if he wanted to."

"I remember the act."

"Me an' Greenberg played the same bill with him twenty years ago." The
Judge leaned forward, and a strong odor of whisky enveloped the caller.
"Could you slip me four bits for some liniment?"

The critic smiled. "There's a dollar, Regan. Try Scotch for a change.
It's better for you than these cheap blends. And don't breathe toward a
lamp, or you'll ignite."

The Judge laughed wheezingly. "I do take a drop now and then."

"A drop? You'd better take a tumble, or Bergman will let you out."

"See here, you know all the managers, Mr. Pope. Can't you find a job
for a swell dame?" the Judge inquired, anxiously.

"Who is she?"

"Lottie Devine. She's out with the 'Peach Blossom Girls.'"

"Lottie Devine. Why, she's your wife, isn't she?"

"Sure, and playing the 'Wheel' when she belongs in musical comedy. She
dances as good as she did when we worked together--after she gets
warmed up--and she looks great in tights--swellest legs in burlesque,
Mr. Pope. Can't you place her?"

"She's a trifle old, I'm afraid."

"Huh! She wigs up a lot better'n some of the squabs in this troupe.
Believe me, she'd fit any chorus."

"Why don't you ask Bergman?"

Mr. Regan shook his hairless head. "He's dippy on 'types.' This show's
full of 'em: real blondes, real brunettes, bold and dashin' ones, tall
and statelies, blushers, shrinkers, laughers, and sadlings. He won't
stand for make-up; he wants 'em with the dew on. They've got to look
natural for Bergman. That's some of 'em now." He nodded toward a group
of young, fresh-cheeked girls who had entered the stage door and were
hurrying down the hall. "There ain't a Hepnerized ensemble in the whole
first act, and they wear talcum powder instead of tights. It's dimples
he wants, not 'fats.' How them girls stand the draught I don't know. It
would kill an old-timer."

"I've come to interview one of Bergman's 'types'; that new beauty, Miss
Knight. Is she here yet?"

"Sure; her and the back-drop, too. She carries the old woman for
scenery." Mr. Regan took the caller's card and shuffled away, leaving
Pope to watch the stream of performers as they entered and made for
their quarters. There were many women in the number, and all of them
were pretty. Most of them were overdressed in the extremes of fashion;
a few quietly garbed ladies and gentlemen entered the lower
dressing-rooms reserved for the principals.

It was no novel sight to the reviewer, whose theatrical apprenticeship
had been thorough, yet it never failed to awaken his deepest cynicism.
Somewhere within him was a puritanical streak, and he still cherished
youthful memories. He reflected now that it was he who had laid the
foundation for the popularity of the girl he had come to interview; for
he had picked her out of the chorus of the preceding Revue and
commented so enthusiastically upon her beauty that this season had
witnessed her advancement to a speaking part. Through Pope's column
attention had been focused upon Bergman's latest acquisition; and once
New York had paused to look carefully at this fresh young new-comer,
her fame had spread. But he had never met the girl herself, and he
wondered idly what effect success had had upon her. A total absence of
scandal had argued against any previous theatrical experience.

Meanwhile he exchanged greetings with the star--a clear-eyed man with
the face of a scholar and the limbs of an athlete. The latter had
studied for the law; he had the drollest legs in the business, and his
salary exceeded that of Supreme Court Justice. They were talking when
Mr. Regan returned to tell the interviewer that he would be received.

Pope followed to the next floor and entered a brightly lighted,
overheated dressing-room, where Lorelei and her mother were waiting. It
was a glaring, stuffy cubbyhole ventilated by means of the hall door
and a tiny window opening from the lavatory at the rear. Along the
sides ran mirrors, beneath which was fixed a wide make-up shelf. From
the ceiling depended several unshaded incandescent globes which flooded
the place with a desert heat and radiance. An attempt had been made to
give the room at least a semblance of coolness by hanging an
attractively figured cretonne over the entrance and over the wardrobe
hooks fixed in the rear wall; but the result was hardly successful. The
same material had been utilized to cover the shelves which were
littered with a bewildering assortment of make-up tins, cold-cream
cans, rouge and powder boxes, whitening bottles, wig-blocks, and the
multifarious disordered accumulations of a dressing-room. The walls
were half hidden behind photographs, impaled upon pins, like
entomological specimens; photographs were thrust into the mirror
frames, they were propped against the heaps of tins and boxes or hidden
beneath the confusion of toilet articles. But the collection was not
limited to this variety of specimen. One section of the wall was
devoted to telegraph and cable forms, bearing messages of felicitation
at the opening of "The Revue of 1913." A zoologist would have found the
display uninteresting; but a society reporter would have reveled in the
names--and especially in the sentiments--inscribed upon the yellow
sheets. Some were addressed to Lorelei Knight, others to Lilas Lynn,
her roommate.

Pope found Lorelei completely dressed, in expectation of his arrival.
She wore the white and silver first-act costume of the Fairy Princess.
Both she and her mother were plainly nonplussed at the appearance of
their caller; but Mrs. Knight recovered quickly from the shock and said
agreeably:

"Lorelei was frightened to death at your message yesterday. She was
almost afraid to let you interview her after what you wrote about
Adoree Demorest."

Pope shrugged. "Your daughter is altogether different to the star of
the Palace Garden, Mrs. Knight. Demorest trades openly upon her
notoriety and--I don't like bad women. New York never would have taken
her up if she hadn't been advertised as the wickedest woman in Europe,
for she can neither act, sing, nor dance. However, she's become the
rage, so I had to include her in my series of articles. Now, Miss
Knight has made a legitimate success as far as she has gone."

He turned to the girl herself, who was smiling at him as she had smiled
since his entrance. He did not wonder at the prominence her beauty had
brought her, for even at this close range her make-up could not
disguise her loveliness. The lily had been painted, to be sure, but the
sacrilege was not too noticeable; and he knew that the cheeks beneath
their rouge were faintly colored, that the lashes under the heavy
beading were long and dark and sweeping. As for her other features, no
paint could conceal their perfection. Her forehead was linelessly
serene, her brows were straight and too well-defined to need the
pencil. As for her eyes, too much had been written about them already;
they had proven the despair of many men, or so rumor had it. He saw
that they had depths and shadows and glints of color that he could not
readily define. Her nose, pronounced perfect by experts on noses,
seemed faultless indeed. Her mouth was no tiny cupid's bow, but
generous enough for character. Of course, the lips were glaringly red
now, but the expression was none the less sweet and friendly.

"There's nothing 'legitimate' about musical shows," she told him, in
reply to his last remark, "and I can't act or sing or dance as well as
Miss Demorest."

"You don't need to; just let the public rest its eyes on you and it
will be satisfied--anyhow, it should be. Of course, everybody flatters
you. Has success turned your head?"

Mrs. Knight answered for her daughter. "Lorelei has too much sense for
that. She succeeded easily, but she isn't spoiled."

Then, in response to a question by Pope, Lorelei told him something of
her experience. "We're up-state people, you know. Mr. Bergman was
looking for types, and I seemed to suit, so I got an engagement at
once. The newspapers began to mention me, and when he produced this
show he had the part of the Fairy Princess written in for me. It's
really very easy, and I don't do much except wear the gowns and speak a
few lines."

"You're one of the principals," her mother said, chidingly.

"I suppose you're ambitious?" Pope put in.

Again the mother answered. "Indeed she is, and she's bound to succeed.
Of course, she hasn't had any experience to speak of, but there's more
than one manager that's got his eye on her." The listener inwardly
cringed. "She could be starred easy, and she will be, too, in another
season."

"Then you must be studying hard, Miss Knight?"

Lorelei shook her head.

"Not even voice culture?"

"No."

"Nor dancing? Nor acting?"

"No."

"She has so little time. You've no idea how popular she is," twittered
Mrs. Knight.

Pope fancied the girl herself flushed under his inquiring eye; at any
rate, her gaze wavered and she seemed vexed by her mother's
explanation. He, too, resented Mrs. Knight's share in the conversation.
He did not like the elder woman's face, nor her voice, nor her manner.
She impressed him as another theatrical type with which he was
familiar--the stage mama. He found himself marveling at the
dissimilarity of the two women.

"Of course, a famous beauty does meet a lot of people," he said. "Tell
me what you think of our nourishing little city and our New York men."

But Lorelei raised a slender hand.

"Not for worlds. Besides, you're making fun of me now. I was afraid to
see you, and I'd feel terribly if you printed anything I really told
you. Good interviewers never do that. They come and talk about nothing,
then go away and put the most brilliant things into your mouth. You are
considered a very dangerous person, Mr. Pope."

"You're thinking of my story about that Demorest woman again," he
laughed.

"Is she really as bad as you described her?"

"I don't know, never having met the lady. I wouldn't humiliate myself
by a personal interview, so I built a story on the Broadway gossip.
Inasmuch as she goes in for notoriety, I gave her some of the best I
had in stock. Her photographer did the rest."

The door curtains parted, and Lilas Lynn, a slim, black-eyed young
woman, entered. She greeted Pope cordially as she removed her hat and
handed it to the woman who acted as dresser for the two occupants of
the room.

"I'm late, as usual," she said. "But don't leave on my account." She
disappeared into the lavatory, and emerged a moment later in a
combing-jacket; seating herself before her own mirrors, she dove into a
cosmetic can and vigorously applied a priming coat to her features,
while the dresser drew her hair back and secured it tightly with a
wig-band. "Lorelei's got her nerve to talk to you after the panning you
gave Demorest," she continued. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself to
strike a defenseless star?"

Pope nodded. "I am, and I'm ashamed of my entire sex when I hear of
them flocking to the Palace Garden just to see a woman who has nothing
to distinguish her but a reputation for vileness."

"Did you see the crown jewels--the King's Cabachon rubies?" Lorelei
asked.

"Only from the front. I dare say they're as counterfeit as she is."

Miss Lynn turned, revealing a countenance as shiny as that of an Eskimo
belle. With her war-paint only half applied and her hair secured
closely to her small head, she did not in the least resemble the
dashing "Countess" of the program.

"Oh, they're real enough. I got that straight."

Campbell Pope scoffed.

"Isn't it true about the King of Seldovia? Didn't she wreck his
throne?" eagerly queried Mrs. Knight.

"I never met the King, and I haven't examined his throne. But, you
know, kings can do no wrong, and thrones are easily mended."

But Mrs. Knight was insistent; her eyes glittered, her sharp nose was
thrust forward inquisitively. "They say she draws two thousand a week,
and won't go to supper with a man for less than five hundred dollars.
She says if fellows want to be seen in public with her they'll have to
pay for it, and she's right. Of course, she's terribly bad, but you
must admit she's done mighty well for herself."

"We'll have a chance to see her to-night," announced Lilas. "Mr. Hammon
is giving a big supper to some of his friends and we're going--Lorelei
and I. Demorest is down for her 'Danse de Nuit.' They say it's the
limit."

"Hammon, the steel man?" queried the critic, curiously.

"Sure. There's only one Hammon. But nix on the newspaper story; this is
a private affair."

"Never let us speak ill of a poor Pittsburgh millionaire," laughed
Pope. "Scandal must never darken the soot of that village." He turned
as Slosson, the press-agent of the show, entered with a bundle of
photographs.

"Here are the new pictures of Lorelei for your story, old man," Mr.
Slosson said. "Bergman will appreciate the boost for one of his girls.
Help yourself to those you want. If you need any more stuff I'll supply
it. Blushing country lass just out of the alfalfa belt--first
appearance on any stage--instantaneous hit, and a record for
pulchritude in an aggregation where the homeliest member is a Helen of
Troy. Every appearance a riot; stage-door Johns standing on their
heads; members of our best families dying to lead her to the altar;
under five-year contract with Bergman, and refuses to marry until the
time's up. Delancey Page, the artist, wants to paint her, and says
she's the perfect American type at last. Say, Bergman can certainly
pick 'em, can't he? I'll frame it for a special cop at the back door,
detailed to hold off the matrimony squad of society youths, if you can
use it."

"Don't go to the trouble," Pope hastily deprecated. "I know the story.
Now I'm going to leave and let Miss Lynn dress."

"Don't go on my account," urged Lilas. "This room is like a subway
station, and I've got so I could 'change' in Bryant Park at noon and
never shock a policeman."

"You won't say anything mean about us, will you?" Mrs. Knight implored.
"In this business a girl's reputation is all she has."

"I promise." Pope held out his hand to Lorelei, and as she took it her
lips parted in her ever-ready smile. "Nice girl, that," the critic
remarked, as he and Slosson descended the stairs.

"Which one--Lorelei, Lilas, or the female gorilla?"

"How did she come to choose THAT for a mother?" muttered Pope.

"One of Nature's inscrutable mysteries. But wait. Have you seen brother
Jim?"

"No. Who's he?"

"His mother's son. Need we say more? He's a great help to the family,
for he keeps 'em from getting too proud over Lorelei. He sells
introductions to his sister."

Campbell Pope's exclamation was lost in a babble of voices as a bevy of
"Swimming Girls" descended from the enchanted regions above and
scurried out upon the stage. Through the double curtain the orchestra
could be faintly heard; a voice was crying, "Places."

"Some Soul Kissers with this troupe, eh?" remarked Slosson, when the
scampering figures had disappeared.

"Yes. Bergman has made a fortune out of this kind of show. He's a
friend to the 'Tired Business Man.'"

"Speaking of the weary Wall Street workers, there will be a dozen of
our ribbon-winners at that Hammon supper to-night. Twelve 'Bergman
Beauties.' Twelve; count 'em! Any time you want to pull off a classy
party for some of your bachelor friends let me know, and I'll supply
the dames--at one hundred dollars a head--and guarantee their manners.
They're all trained to terrapin, and know how to pick the proper forks."

"One hundred? Last season a girl was lucky to get fifty dollars as a
banquet favor; but the cost of living rises nightly. No wonder Hammon's
against the income tax."

"Yes, and that's exclusive of the regulation favors. There's a good
story in this party if you could get the men's names."

Pope's thin lip curled, and he shook his head.

"I write theatrical stuff," he said, shortly, "because I have to, not
because I like to. I try to keep it reasonably clean."

Slosson was instantly apologetic. "Oh, I don't mean there's anything
wrong about this affair. Hammon is entertaining a crowd of other steel
men, and a stag supper is either dull or devilish, so he has invited a
good-looking partner for each male guest. It 'll be thoroughly refined,
and it's being done every night."

"I know it is. Tell me, is Lorelei Knight a regular--er--frequenter of
these affairs?"

"Sure. It's part of the graft."

"I see."

"She has to piece out her salary like the other girls. Why, her whole
family is around her neck--mother, brother, and father. Old man Knight
was run over by a taxi-cab last summer. It didn't hurt the machine, but
he's got a broken back, or something. Too bad it wasn't brother Jimmy.
You must meet him, by the way. I never heard of Lorelei's doing
anything really--bad."

For the moment Campbell Pope made no reply. Meanwhile a great wave of
singing flooded the regions at the back of the theater as the curtain
rose and the chorus broke into sudden sound. When he did speak it was
with unusual bitterness.

"It's the rottenest business in the world, Slosson. Two years ago she
was a country girl; now she's a Broadway belle. How long will she last,
d'you think?"

"She's too beautiful to last long," agreed the press-agent, soberly,
"especially now that the wolves are on her trail. But her danger isn't
so much from the people she meets with as the people she eats with.
That family of hers would drive any girl to the limit. They intend to
cash in on her; the mother says so."

"And they will, too. She can have her choice of the wealthy rounders."

"Don't get me wrong," Slosson hastened to qualify. "She's square;
understand?"

"Of course; 'object, matrimony.' It's the old story, and her mother
will see to the ring and the orange blossoms. But what's the
difference, after all, Slosson? It 'll be hell for her, and a sale to
the highest bidder, either way."

"Queer little gink," the press-agent reflected, as he returned to the
front of the house. "I wish he wore stiff collars; I'd like to take him
home for dinner."

As Pope passed out through the stage door the Judge called hoarsely
after him:

"You'll keep your eye skinned for a job for Lottie, won't you?
Remember, the swellest legs in burlesque."



CHAPTER III


In his summary of Lorelei's present life Slosson had not been far
wrong. Many changes had come to the Knights during the past two
years--changes of habit, of thought, and of outlook; the entire family
had found it necessary to alter their system of living. But it was in
the girl that the changes showed most. When Mrs. Knight had forecast an
immediate success for her daughter she had spoken with the wisdom of a
Cassandra. Bergman had taken one look at Lorelei upon their first
meeting, then his glance had quickened. She had proved to have at least
an average singing-voice; her figure needed no comment. Her
inexperience had been the strongest argument in her favor, since
Bergman's shows were famous for their new faces. The result was that he
signed her promptly, and mother and daughter had walked out of his
office quite unconscious of having accomplished the unusual. At first
the city had seemed strange and bewildering, and Lorelei had suffered
pangs at the memory of Vale, for at her age the roots of association
strike deep; but in a short time the novelty of her new life proved an
anodyne and deadened acute regrets, while the vague hazard of it all
kept her at an agreeable pitch of excitement.

Moreover, she took naturally to the work, finding it more like play;
and, being quite free from girlish timidity, she felt no stage-fright,
even upon her first appearance. Her recognition had followed
quickly--it was impossible to hide such perfection of loveliness as
hers--and the publicity pleased her. In due course rival managers began
to make offers, which Mrs. Knight, rising nobly to the first test of
her business ability, used as levers to raise her daughter's salary and
to pry out of Bergman a five-year contract. The role of the Fairy
Princess was a result.

Thus it was that without conscious effort, without even a proof of
merit beyond her appearance, Lorelei had arrived at the point where
further advancement depended upon study and hard work; but, since these
formed no part of the family program, she remained idle while Mrs.
Knight and Jim arranged so many demands upon her time that she had no
leisure for serious endeavors, even had she desired it. Proficiency in
stage-craft of any sort comes only at the expense of peonage, and this
girl was being groomed solely for matrimony.

The principals who topped the Bergman bill were artists--men and women
who had climbed through years of patient effort; toward their
subordinates they maintained an aloofness that is peculiar to the show
business. They moved in a world apart from the chorus: the two classes
impinged briefly eight times a week, but outside the theater they never
saw each other. Even Labaudie, the doll-like danseuse, looked down upon
Lorelei and Lilas almost as she looked down upon the members of her
ballet. Out of all the big company there were perhaps a half-dozen
chorus men and women who had eyes definitely fixed upon a stage career;
the rest, like Lorelei and Lilas, regarded the work simply as an easy
means of livelihood.

The theatrical profession is peculiar to itself. It is a world with
customs, habits, and ambitions differing from those of any other
sphere. That division of stage life to which Lorelei Knight
belonged--that army of men and women from shows like
Bergman's--constitutes a still more distinctive community--a community,
moreover, that is characteristic of New York alone. Its code is of its
own making; its habits of life are as individual as its figures of
speech. Although at first all this bewildered the country girl, at
length she had come to adopt the new ways as a matter of course. From
the association she had learned much. She had learned how to reap the
fruits of popularity, how to take without giving, how to profit without
sacrifice; and under her mother's influence she was not allowed to
forget what she had learned.

With the support of the family entirely upon her shoulders, she had
been driven to many shifts in order to stretch her salary to livable
proportions. Peter was a total burden, and Jim either refused or was
unable to contribute toward the common fund, while the mother devoted
her time almost solely to managing Lorelei's affairs. Presents were
showered upon the girl, and these Mrs. Knight converted into cash.
Conspicuous stage characters are always welcome at the prominent cafes;
hence Lorelei never had to pay for food or drink when alone, and when
escorted she received a commission on the money spent. She was well
paid for posing, advertisements of toilet articles, face creams,
dentifrices, and the like, especially if accompanied by testimonials,
yielded something. In the commercial exploitation of her daughter Mrs.
Knight developed something like genius. She arranged for paid
interviews and special beauty articles in the Sunday supplements; she
saw to it that Lorelei's features became identified with certain makes
of biscuits, petticoats, chewing-gums, chocolates, cameras, short-vamp
shoes, and bath-tubs. But of all the so-called "grafts" open to
handsome girls in her business the quickest and best returns came from
prodigal entertainers like Jarvis Hammon.

As Lorelei and her companion left their taxi-cabs and entered Proctor's
Hotel, shortly before midnight, they were met by a head waiter and
shown into an ornate ivory-and-gold elevator which lifted them
noiselessly to an upper floor. They made their exit into a
deep-carpeted hall, at the end of which two splendid creatures in the
panoply of German field-marshals stood guard over one of the smaller
banquet-rooms.

Hammon himself greeted the girls when they had surrendered their wraps,
and, after his introduction to Lorelei, engaged Lilas in earnest
conversation.

Lorelei watched him curiously. She saw a powerfully built gray-haired
man, whose vigor age had not impaired. In face he was perhaps fifty
years old, in body he was much less. He was the typical forceful New
York man of affairs, carefully groomed, perhaps a little inclined to
stoutness. By this time millionaires had lost their novelty for the
girl. She had met some who were more distinguished in appearance than
this man, but never one who seemed possessed of more nervous energy and
virility. Jarvis Hammon had a bold, incisive manner that was compelling
and stamped him as a big man in more ways than one. Playfully he
pinched Lilas's cheek, then turned with a smile to say:

"You'll pardon us for whispering, won't you, Miss Knight? You see,
Lilas got up this little party, and I've been waiting to consult her
about some of the details. Of course, she was late, as usual.
However"--he ran an admiring eye over the two girls--"the time wasn't
wasted, I see. My! How lovely you both look!"

Taking an arm of each, he swept them toward a reception-room from which
issued noisy laughter.

"Awfully good of you to come, Miss Knight. I hope you'll find my
friends agreeable and enjoy yourself."

Perhaps twenty men in evening dress and as many elaborately gowned
young women were gossiping and smoking as the last comers appeared.
Some one raised a vigorous complaint at the host's tardiness, but
Hammon laughed a rejoinder, then gave a signal, whereupon folding-doors
at the end of the room were thrown back. From within an orchestra
struck up a popular rag-time air, and those nearest the banquet-hall
moved toward it. A girl whom Lorelei recognized as a fellow-member of
the Revue danced up to her escort with arms extended, and the two
turkey-trotted into the larger room.

Hammon was introducing two of his friends--one a languid, middle-aged
man who was curled up in a deep chair with a cigarette between his
fingers; the other a large-featured person with a rumbling voice. The
men had been arguing earnestly, oblivious of the confusion around them;
but now the former dropped his cigarette, uncoiled his long form, and,
rising, bowed courteously. His appearance as he faced Lorelei was
prepossessing, and she breathed a thanksgiving as she took his arm.

Hammon clapped the other gentleman upon the shoulder, crying: "The rail
market will take care of itself until to-morrow, Hannibal. What is more
to the point, I saw your supper partner flirting with 'Handsome Dan'
Avery. Better find her quick."

Lorelei recognized the deep-voiced man as Hannibal C. Wharton, one of
the dominant figures in the Steel Syndicate; she knew him instantly
from his newspaper pictures. The man beside her, however, was a
stranger, and she raised her eyes to his with some curiosity. He was
studying her with manifest admiration, despite the fact that his lean
features were cast in a sardonic mold.

"It is a pleasure to meet a celebrity like you, Miss Knight," he
murmured. "All New York is at your feet, I understand. I'm deeply
indebted to Hammon. Blessings on such a host!"

"Oh, don't be hasty. You may dislike me furiously before the evening is
over. He does things in a magnificent way, doesn't he? I'm sure this is
going to be a splendid party."

As they entered the banquet-hall she gave a little cry of pleasure, for
it was evident that Hammon, noted as he was for a lavish expenditure,
had outdone himself this time. The whole room had been transformed into
a bower of roses, great, climbing bushes, heavy with blooms; masses of
cool, green ivy hid the walls from floor to ceiling and were supported
upon cunningly wrought trellises through which hidden lights glowed
softly. In certain nooks gleamed marble statuettes so placed as to
heighten the effect of space and to carry out the idea of a Roman
garden.

The table, a horseshoe of silver and white, of glittering plate and
sparkling cut-glass, faced a rustic stage which occupied one end of the
room; occupying the inner arc of the half-circle was a wide but shallow
stone fountain, upon the surface of which floated large-leaved Egyptian
pond-lilies. Fat-bellied goldfish with filmy fins, and tails like
iridescent wedding trains, propelled themselves indolently about. Two
dimpled cupids strained at a marble cornucopia, out of which trickled a
stream of water, its whisper drowned now by the noisy admiration of the
guests.

But the surprising feature of the decorating scheme was not apparent at
first glance. Through the bewildering riot of greenery had been woven
an almost invisible netting, and the space behind formed a prison for
birds and butterflies. Where they had come from or at what expense they
had been procured it was impossible to conceive. But, disturbed by the
commotion, the feathered creatures twittered and fluttered against the
netting in a panic which drew attention to them even if it did not
wholly convey the illusion of a woodland scene. As for the butterflies,
no artificial light could deceive them, and they clung with closed
wings to leaves and branches, only now and then displaying their full
glory in a sleepy protest. There were scores, hundreds of them, and the
diners passed in review of the spectacle like country visitors before
the glass tanks of the Aquarium. A strident shriek sounded as a
gorgeously caparisoned peacock preened himself; others were discovered
here and there, brilliant-hued specimens, voicing shrill indignation.

"How--BEAUTIFUL!" gasped Lorelei, when she had taken in the whole
scene. "But--the poor little things are frightened." She looked up to
find her companion staring in Hammon's direction with an expression of
peculiar, derisive amusement.

Hammon was the center of an admiring group; congratulations were being
hurled at him from every quarter. At his side was Lilas Lynn, very
dark, very striking, very expensively gowned, and elaborately
bejeweled. The room was dinning with the strains of an invisible
orchestra and the vocal uproar; topping the confusion came shrieks from
the excitable peacocks; the wild birds twittered and beat themselves
affrightedly against the netting.

Becoming conscious of Lorelei's gaze, her escort looked down, showing
his teeth in a grin that was not of pleasure.

"You like it?" he asked.

"It's beautiful, but--the extravagance is almost criminal."

"Don't tell me how many starving newsboys or how many poor families the
cost of this supper would support for a year. I hate poor people. I
like to see 'em starve. If you fed them this year they'd starve next,
so--what's the difference? Nevertheless, Jarvis HAS surprised me." He
paused, and his eyes, as he stared again at the steel magnate, were
mocking. "You'll admit it was a dazzling idea--coming from a
rolling-mill boss. Now for the ortolans and the humming-bird tongues.
No doubt there's a pearl in every wine-cup. Prepare to have your palate
tickled with a feather when your appetite flags."

"That's what the Romans did, isn't it?"

"Ah, you are a student as well as an artist, Miss Knight."

"I thought you were going to be pleasant, but you're not, are you?"
Lorelei was smiling fixedly.

"No, quite the opposite. Thank God, I'm a dyspeptic."

"Then why did you come here?"

"Why did those birds come? Why did you come?"

"Oh, we--the birds and I--are merely decorations--something to add to
the rich man's gaiety. But I'm afraid you don't intend to have a good
time, Mr.--" They had found their places at the table, and Lorelei's
escort was seating her. "I didn't catch your name when we were
introduced."

"Nor I," said he, taking his place beside her. "It sounded like Rice
Curry or some other damnable dish, but it's really Merkle--John T.
Merkle."

"Ah! You're a banker. Aren't you pretty--reckless confessing your rank,
as it were?"

"I'm a bachelor; also an invalid and an insomniac. You couldn't bring
me any more trouble than I have."

"You ARE unpleasant."

"I'm famous for it. Being the only bachelor present, I claim the
privilege of free speech." Again he looked toward Hammon, and this time
he frowned. "From indications I'll soon have company, however."

"Indeed. Is there talk of a divorce there?" She inclined her head in
the host's direction.

Merkle retorted acidly: "My dear child, don't try to act the ingenue.
You're in the same show as Miss Lynn, and you must know what's going
on. This sort of thing can't continue indefinitely, for Mrs. Hammon is
very much alive, to say nothing of her daughters. I dare say they'll
hear about this supper, which won't improve conditions at home. Now, we
both had to come to this Oriental orgy, and, since neither of us enjoys
it, let's be natural, at least. I haven't slept lately, and I'm not
patient enough to be polite."

"It's a bargain. I'll try to be as disagreeable as you are," said
Lorelei; and Mr. Merkle signified his prompt acquiescence. He lit a
huge monogrammed cigarette, pushed aside his hors d'oeuvres, and
reluctantly turned down his array of wine-glasses one by one.

"Can't eat, can't drink, can't sleep," he grumbled. "Stewed prunes and
rice for my portion. Waiter, bring me a bottle of vichy, and when it's
gone bring me another."

The diners had arranged themselves by now; the supper had begun. Owing
to the nature of the affair, there was a complete absence of the
stiffness usual at formal banquets, and, since the women were present
in quite the same capacity as the performers who were hired to appear
later on the stage, they did not allow the moments to drag. A bohemian
spirit prevailed; the ardor of the men, lashed on by laughter,
coquetry, and smiles, rose quickly; wine flowed, and a general intimacy
began. Introductions were no longer necessary, the talk flew back and
forth along the rim of the rose-strewn semicircle.



CHAPTER IV


Lorelei turned from--the man on her left, who had regaled her with an
endless story, the point of which had sent the teller into hiccoughs of
laughter, and said to John Merkle:

"I'm glad I'm with you to-night. I don't like drinking men."

"Can a girl in your position afford preferences?" he inquired, tartly.
Thus far the banker had fully lived up to his sour reputation.

"All women are extravagant. I have preferences, even if I CAN'T afford
them. If you were a tippler instead of a plain grouch I could tell you
precisely how you'd act and what you'd talk about as the evening goes
on. First you'd be gallant and attentive; then you'd forget me and talk
business with Mr. Wharton--he's nearest you. About that time I'd begin
to learn the real names of these lords of finance. After that you'd
become interested in my future. That's always the worst period. Once
I'd made you realize that you meant nothing in my life and that my
future was provided for, you'd tell me stories about your family--how
your wife is an invalid, how Tom is at Yale, how Susie is coming out in
the autumn, and how you really had no idea ladies were to be present
tonight or you'd never have risked coming. Finally you'd confess that
you were naturally impulsive, generous, and affectionate, and merely
lacked the encouragement of a kindred spirit like me to become a
terrible cut-up. Then you'd insist upon dancing. I'd die if I had to
teach you the tango."

Mr. Merkle grunted, "So would I."

She smiled sweetly. "You see, we're both unpleasant people."

Merkle meditated in silence while she attacked her food with a healthy,
youthful appetite that awoke his envy.

"I suppose you see a lot of this sort of thing?" he at length suggested.

"There's something of the kind nearly every night. Is this your first
experience?"

"Um-m--no. Steel men are notoriously sporty when they get away from
home. But I don't go out often."

"This party isn't as bad as some, for the very reason that most of the
men are from out of town and it's a bit of a novelty to them. But
there's a crowd of regular New-Yorkers--the younger men-about-town--"
She paused significantly. "I accepted one invitation from them."

"Only one?"

"It was quite enough."

"I've traveled some," observed Merkle, "but this city is getting to be
the limit."

She nodded her amber head. "There's only one Paris, after all, and
that's New York. Don't laugh; I read that. We girls remember all the
clever things we hear, and use them. Do you see the young person in
black and white with the red-nosed man--the one who looks as if he were
smelling a rose? Well, she's in our company, and she's very popular at
these parties because she's so witty. As a matter of fact, she
memorizes the jokes in all the funny papers and springs them as her
own. Her men friends say she's too original to be in the show business."

For a moment the girl at Merkle's right engaged his attention, and
Lorelei turned again to the incoherent story-teller beside her, who had
made it plain by pawing at her that he was bursting once more with
tidings of great merriment.

The meal grew noisier; the orchestra interspersed sensuous melodies
from the popular successes with the tantalizing rag-time airs that had
set the city to singing. Silent-footed attendants deposited
tissue-covered packages before the guests. There was a flutter of
excitement as the women began to examine their favors.

"What is it?" Merkle inquired, leaning toward Lorelei.

"The new saddle-bag purse. See? It's very Frenchy. Gold fittings--and a
coin-purse and card-case inside. See the monogram? I'm going to keep
this."

"Don't you keep all your gifts?"

"Not the expensive ones. Lilas picked these out for Mr. Hammon, and
they're exquisite. We share the same dressing-room, you know."

Merkle regarded her with a sudden new interest.

"You and she dress together?"

"Yes."

"Then--I dare say you're close friends?"

"We're close enough--in that room; but scarcely friends. What did you
get?"

He unrolled the package at his plate.

"A gold safety razor--evidently a warning not to play with edged tools.
I wonder if Miss Lynn bought one for Jarvis?"

"Now, why did you say that," Lorelei asked, quickly, "and why did you
ask in that peculiar tone if she and I were friends?"

The man leaned closer, saying in a voice that did not carry above the
clamor:

"I suppose you know she's making a fool of him? I suppose you realize
what it means when a woman of her stamp gets a man with money in her
power? You must know all there is to know from the outside; it occurred
to me that you might also know something about the inside of the
affair. Do you?"

"I'm afraid not. All I've heard is the common gossip."

"There's a good deal here that doesn't show on the surface. That woman
is a menace to a great many people, of whom I happen to be one."

"You speak as if she were a dangerous character, and as if she had
deliberately entangled him," Lorelei said, defendingly. "As a matter of
fact, she did nothing of the sort; she avoided him as long as she
could, but he forced his attentions upon her. He's a man who refuses
defeat. He persisted, he persecuted her until she was forced to--accept
him. Men of his wealth can do anything, you know. Sometimes I
think--but it's none of my business."

"What do you sometimes think?"

"That she hates him."

"Nonsense."

"I know she did at first; I don't wonder that she makes him pay now.
It's according to her code and the code of this business."

"I can't believe she--dislikes him."

"He may have won her finally, but at first she refused his gifts,
refused even to meet him."

"She had scruples?"

"No more than the rest of us, I presume. She gave her two weeks' notice
because he annoyed her; but before the time was up Bergman took a hand.
He sent for her one evening, and when she went down there was Mr.
Hammon, too. When she came up-stairs she was hysterical. She cried and
laughed and cursed--it was terrible."

"Curious," murmured the man, staring at the object of their
controversy. "What did she say?"

"Oh, nothing connected. She called him every kind of a monster, accused
him of every crime from murder to--"

"Murder!" The banker started.

"He had made a long fight to beat her down, and she was unstrung. She
seemed to have a queer physical aversion to him."

"Humph! She's got nobly over THAT."

"I've told you this because you seemed to think she's to blame, when it
is all Mr. Hammon's doing."

"It's a peculiar situation--very. You've interested me. But the man
himself is peculiar, extraordinary. You can't draw a proper line on his
conduct without knowing the circumstances of his home life, and, in
fact, his whole mental make-up. Sometime I'll tell you his story; I
think it would interest you. In a way I don't blame him for seeking
amusement and happiness where he can find it, and yet--I'm afraid of
the result. This supper means more than you can understand or than I
can explain."

"The city is full of Samsons, and most of them have their Delilahs."

Merkle agreed. "These men put Hammon where he is. I wonder if they will
let him stay there. It depends upon that girl yonder." He turned to
answer a question from Hannibal Wharton, and Lorelei gave her attention
to the part of the entertainment which was beginning on the stage. Turn
after turn appeared; black-faced comedians, feature acts from
vaudeville and from the reigning successes, high-priced singers,
dancers, monologists followed each other. Occasionally they were
applauded, but more frequently their efforts to amuse were lost in the
self-made merriment of the diners. Now and then an actor was bombarded
with jests or openly guyed. Music and wine flowed as steadily as the
crystal stream of the fountain; faces became flushed; glasses rang. The
women chattered; the men raised loud voices; the birds fluttered and
the peacocks shrieked. It all blended in a blood-stirring, Bacchanalian
joviality. Only now and then the frolic threatened to become a carouse,
and the revel bordered upon a debauch.

Of a sudden the clamor was silenced, and indifference gave place to
curiosity, for the music had begun the introduction to one of Adoree
Demorest's songs.

"Her rubies are the finest in the world." "Too strong for Paris, so she
came to New York." "Anything goes here if it's bad enough," came from
various quarters.

Lorelei had never seen this much-discussed actress, whose wickedness
had set the town agog, and her first impression was vaguely
disappointing. Miss Demorest's beauty was by no means remarkable,
although it was accentuated by the most bizarre creation of the French
shops. She was animated, audacious, Gallic in accent and postures--she
was vividly alive with a magnetism that meant much more than beauty;
but she over-exerted her voice, and her song was nothing to excite
applause. At last she was off, in a whirl of skirts, a generous display
of hosiery, and a great bobbing of the aigrette pompon that towered
above her like an Indian head-dress. Only a moment later she was on
again, this time in a daring costume of solid black, against and
through which her limbs flashed with startling effect as she performed
her famous Danse de Nuit.

"Hm-m! Nothing very extreme about that," remarked Merkle, at length.
"It would be beautiful if it were better done."

Lorelei agreed. She had been staring with all a woman's intentness at
this sister whose strength consisted of her frailty, and now inquired:

"How does she get away with it?"

"By the power of suggestion, I dare say. Her public is looking for
something devilish, and discovers whatever it chooses to imagine in
what she says and does."

Hannibal Wharton had changed his seat, and, regardless of the dancer,
began a conversation with Merkle. After a time Lorelei heard him say:

"It cost me five thousand dollars to pay for the damage those boys did.
They threatened to jail Bob, but of course I couldn't allow that."

"I remember. That was five years ago, and Bob hasn't changed a whit. I
think he's a menace to society."

Wharton laughed, but his reply was lost in the clamorous demand for an
encore by Mlle. Demorest.

"So he gets his devilment from you, eh?" Merkle inquired.

"It isn't devilment. Bob's all right. He's running with a fast crowd,
and he has to keep up his end."

"Bah! He hasn't been sober in a year."

"You're a dyspeptic, John. You were born with a gray beard, and you're
not growing younger. He wanted to come to this party, but--I didn't
care to have him for obvious reasons, so I told Hammon to refuse him
even if he asked. He bet me a thousand dollars that he'd come anyhow,
and I've been expecting him to overpower those doormen or creep up the
fire-escape."

The hand-clapping ceased as the dancer reappeared, smiling and bowing.

"I will dance again if you wish," she announced, in perfect English,
"introducing my new partner, Mr.--" she glanced into the wings
inquiringly--"Senor Roberto. It is his first public appearance in this
country, and we will endeavor to execute a variation of the Argentine
tango. Senor Roberto is a poor boy; he begs you to applaud him in order
that he may secure an engagement and support his old father." She
stooped laughingly to confer with the orchestra leader, who had broken
cover at her announcement.

Mr. Wharton was still talking. "That's my way of raising a son. I
taught Bob to drink when I drank, to smoke when I smoked, and all that.
My father raised me that way."

The opening strain of a Spanish dance floated out from the hidden
musicians, Mlle. Demorest whirled into view in the arms of a young man
in evening dress. She was still laughing, but her partner wore a grave
face, and his eyes were lowered; he followed the intricate movements of
the dance with some difficulty. To Lorelei he appeared disappointingly
amateurish. Then a ripple of merriment, growing into a guffaw, advised
her that something out of the ordinary was occurring.

"The--scoundrel!" Hannibal Wharton cried.

Merkle observed dryly: "He's won your thousand. I withdraw what I said
about him; it requires a gigantic intelligence to outwit you." To
Lorelei he added: "This will be considered a great joke on Broadway."

"That is Mr. Wharton's son?"

"It is--and the most dissipated lump of arrogance in New York."

"Bob," the father shouted, "quit that foolishness and come down here!"
But the junior Wharton, his eyes fixed upon the stage, merely danced
the harder. When the exhibition ended he bowed, hand in hand with Miss
Demorest, then leaped nimbly over the footlights and made his way
toward Jarvis Hammon, nodding to the men as he passed.

A moment later he sank into a chair near his father, saying: "Well,
dad, what d'you think of my educated legs? I learned that at night
school."

Wharton grumbled unintelligibly, but it was plain that he was not
entirely displeased at his son's prank.

"You were superb," said Merkle, warmly. "It's the best thing I ever saw
you do, Bob. You could almost make a living for yourself at it."

The young man grinned, showing rows of firm, strong teeth. Lorelei, who
was watching him, decided that he must have at least twice the usual
number; yet it was a good mouth--a good, big, generous mouth.

"Thanks for those glorious words of praise; that's more than we're
doing on the Street nowadays. Miss Demorest said we'd 'execute' the
dance, and we did. We certainly killed Senor Thomas W. Tango, and I'll
be shot at sunrise for stamping on Adoree's insteps. I looked before I
leaped, but I couldn't decide where to put my feet. Whew! Got any
grape-juice for a growing boy?" He helped himself to his father's
wine-glass and drained it. "You can settle now, dad--one thousand iron
men. I owe it to Demorest."

"What do you mean?"

"Debt of honor. I heard she was due here with some kind of an electric
thrill, so I offered her my share of the sweepstakes to further
disgrace herself by dancing with me. She's an expensive doll; she needs
that thousand--mortgage on the old family opera-house, no shoes for
little sister, and mother selling papers to square the landlord." He
caught Lorelei's eye and stared boldly. "Hello! I believe in fairies,
too, dad. Introduce me to the Princess."

Merkle volunteered this service, and Bob promptly hitched his chair
closer. Lorelei saw that he was very drunk, and marveled at his control
during the recent exhibition.

"Tell me more about the 'Parti-color Petticoat' and 'Dentol
Chewing-Gum,' Miss Knight. Your face is a household word in every
street-car," he began.

She replied promptly, quoting haphazard from the various advertisements
in which she figured. "It never shrinks; it holds its shape; it must be
seen to be appreciated; is cool, refreshing, and prevents decay."

"How did you meet that French dancer?" Hannibal Wharton queried,
sourly, of his son.

"I stormed the stage door, bullied the door-man, and waylaid her in the
wings. She thought I was you, dad. Wharton is a grand old name." He
chuckled at his father's exclamation. "She's a good fellow, though, and
I don't blame the King of What's-its-name. Kings have to spend their
money somewhere. Maybe I can induce her to invest some of the royal
dough in stocks and bonds. The prospect dizzies me."

"The crowd in your office would give you a banquet if you sold
something," Merkle told him.

Wharton, Senior, pressed for further information. "Where did you learn
those Argentine wiggles?"

"Hard times are to blame, dad. The old men on the Exchange play golf
all day, and the young ones turkey-trot all night. I stay up late in
the hope that I may find a quarter that some suburbanite has dropped.
It's dangerous to drive an automobile through a dark street these days;
one's liable to run down a starving banker or an indigent broker with a
piece of lead pipe and a mask. You find it so, don't you, Miss Knight?"

"I have no automobile," said the girl.

"Strange. Show business on the blink, too, eh?" The elder men rose and
sauntered away in the direction of their host, whereupon Bob winked.

"They've left us flat. Why? Because the wicked Mlle. Demorest has
finally made her appearance as a guest. My dad is a splendid
shock-absorber. Naughty, naughty papa!"

"It's probably well that you came with her; fathers are so indiscreet."

Young Wharton signaled to a waiter who was passing with a wine-bottle
in a napkin.

"Tarry!" he cried. "Remove the shroud, please, and let me look at poor
old Roderer. Thanks. How natural he tastes." Then to Lorelei: "The
governor is a woman-hater; but, just the same, I'm glad you drew Merkle
instead of him to-night, or there'd surely be a scandal in the Wharton
family. No man is safe in range of your liquid orbs, Miss Knight,
unless he has his marriage license sewed into his clothes. Mother keeps
hers framed. Wouldn't she enjoy reading the list of Hammon's guests at
this party? 'Among those present were Mr. Hannibal C. Wharton, the
well-known rolling-mill man; Miss Lorelei Knight, Principal First-Act
Fairy of the Bergman Revue; and Mlle. Adoree Demorest, the friend of a
king. A good time was had by all, and the diners enjoyed themselves
very nice.'" He laughed loudly, and the girl stirred.

"She'd be pleased to read also that you came late, but highly
intoxicated."

"Ah! Salvation Nell." Bob took no offense. "If the hour was late she'd
know that my intoxication followed as a matter of course. It always
does, just as the dew succeeds the sunset, as the track follows the
wheelbarrow, as the cracker pursues the cheese. I am a derivative of
alcohol, the one and infallible argument against temperance, Miss
Knight. In me you behold the shining example of all that puts the
reformer to rout and gladdens the heart of the cafe-keeper."

"You talk as if you were always drunk."

"Oh--not always. By day I am frequently sober, but at such times I am
fit company for neither man nor beast; I am harsh and unsympathetic; I
scheme and I connive. With nightfall, however, there comes a
metamorphosis. Ah! Believe ME! When the Clover Club is strained and
descends like the gentle dew of heaven, when the Bronx is mixed and the
Martini shimmers in the first rays of the electric light, then I
humanize and harmonize, For me gin is a tonic, rum a restorative,
vermuth a balm. Once I am stocked up with ales, wines, liquors, and
cigars, I become attuned to the nobler sentiments of life. I aspire. I
make friends with lonely derelicts whose digestions have foundered on
seas of vichy and buttermilk, and I show them the joys of
alcoholism--without cost. We share each other's pleasures and
perplexities, at my expense. They are my brothers. I am optimistic; I
laugh; I play cards for money; I turkey-trot. I become a living,
palpitating influence for good, spreading happiness and prosperity in
my wake."

"Do you consider yourself in such a condition now?" queried Lorelei,
who had been vaguely amused at this Rubaiyat.

"I am, and, since it is long past the closing hour of one and the
tango parlors are dark, suppose we blow this 'Who's Who in Pittsburg'
and taxi-cab it out to a roadhouse where the bass fiddle is still
inhabited and the second generation is trotting to the 'Robert E. Lee'?"

Lorelei shook her head with a smile.

"Don't you dance?"

"Doesn't everybody dance?"

"Then how did you break your leg?"

"I don't care to go."

"Strange!" Mr. Wharton helped himself to a goblet of wine, appearing to
heap the liquor above the edge of the glass. "Now, if I were sober I
could understand how you might prefer these 'pappy guys' to me, for
nobody likes me then, but I'm agreeably pickled. I'm just like
everybody you'll be likely to meet at this time of night. Merkle won't
take you anywhere, for he's full of distilled water and has a
directors' meeting at ten. I overflow with spirits and have a noontide
engagement with an Ostermoor."

"Why don't you ask Miss Demorest? She came with you?"

Wharton sighed hopelessly. "Something queer about that Jane. D'you know
what made us so late? She went to mass on the way down."

"Mass? At that hour?"

"It was a special midnight service conducted for actors. I sat in the
taxi and waited. It did me a lot of good."

Some time later Merkle returned to find Bob still animatedly talking;
catching Lorelei's eye, he signified a desire to speak with her, but
she found it difficult to escape from the intoxicated young man at her
side. At last, however, she succeeded, and joined her supper companion
at the farther edge of the fountain, where the tireless cupids still
poured water from the cornucopias.

Merkle was watching his friend's son with a frown.

"You have just left the personification of everything I detest," he
volunteered. "You heard what his father said about raising him--how he
taught Bob to drink when he drank and follow in his footsteps? Well,
sometimes the theory works and a boy grows up with open eyes, but more
often it turns out as it has in this case. Bob's an alcoholic, a common
drunkard, and he'll end in an institution, sure. He'd be there now if
it wasn't for Hannibal's money. He's run the gamut of extravagance;
he's done everything freakish that there is to do. But that isn't what
I want to say to you. Help me feed these foolish goldfish while I talk."

"Do you think anybody would understand if they overheard you? I fancied
you and I were the only sober ones left."

"Some of the girls are all right." Merkle eyed his companion closely.
"Don't you drink?"

"I daren't, even if I cared to."

"Daren't?"

"You'll notice that most of the pretty girls are sober."

"Right."

"I have nothing but my looks. Wouldn't I be a fool to sacrifice them?"

"You seem to be sensible, Miss Knight. Something tells me you're very
much the right sort. I know you're trying to get ahead, and--I can help
you if you'll help me."

"Help you 'get ahead'?"

He smiled. "Hardly. I need an agent, and I'll pay a good price to the
right person."

"How mysterious!"

"I'll be plain. That affair yonder"--he nodded toward Jarvis Hammon and
Lilas Lynn--"strikes you as a--well, as a flirtation of the ordinary
sort. In one way it is; in another way it is something very different,
for he's in earnest. He thinks he is injuring no one but himself with
this business, and he is willing to pay the price; but the fact is he
is putting other people in peril--me among the rest. I'm not arguing
for his wife nor the two Misses Hammon. I don't go much on the ordinary
kinds of morality, and nobody outside of a man's family has the right
to question his private life so long as it is private in its
consequences. But when his secret conduct affects his business affairs,
when it endangers vast interests in which others are concerned, then
his associates are entitled to take a hand. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly. But you don't want me; you want a detective."

"My dear child, we have them by the score. We hire them by the year,
and they have told us all they can. We need inside information."

The girl's answer was made with her habitual self-possession.

"I've heard about such things. I've heard about men prying into each
other's private affairs, pretending to be friends when they were
enemies, and using scandal for business ends. Lilas Lynn is my
friend--at least in a way--and Mr. Hammon is my host, just as he is
yours. Oh, I know; this isn't a conventional party, and I'm not here as
a conventional guest--inside the little coin-purse he gave me is a
hundred-dollar bill--but, just the same, I don't care to act as your
spy."

Merkle's grave attention arrested Lorelei's burst of indignation.

"Will you believe me," he asked, "when I tell you that Jarvis Hammon
and Hannibal Wharton are the two best friends I have in the world?
There is such a thing as loyalty and friendship even in big business;
in fact, high finance is founded on confidence and personal honor. This
is more than a business matter, Miss Knight."

"I can hardly believe that."

"It's true, however; I mean to serve Hammon. At the same time I must
serve myself and those who trust me. My honor is concerned in this as
well as his, and there is a rigid code in money matters. If what I
suspect is true, Hammon's infatuation promises to do harm to innocent
people. I fear--in fact, I'm sure--that he is being used. I've learned
things about Miss Lynn that you may not know. What you have told me
to-night adds to my anxiety, and I must know more."

"What, for instance?"

"Her real feeling for him--her intentions--her relations with a man
named Melcher--"

"Maxey Melcher?"

"The same. You know his business?"

"No."

"He is a gambler, a political power; a crafty, unscrupulous fellow who
represents--big people. By helping me you can serve many innocent
persons and, most of all, perhaps, Hammon himself."

Lorelei was silent for a moment. "This is very unusual," she said, at
length. "I don't know whether to believe you or not."

"Suppose, then, you let the matter rest and keep your eyes open. When
you convince yourself who means best to Jarvis--Miss Lynn and Melcher
and their crowd, or I and mine--make your decision. You may name your
own price."

"There wouldn't be any price," she told him, impatiently. "I'll wait."

Merkle bowed. "I can trust your discretion. Thank you for listening to
me, and thank you for being agreeable to an irascible old dyspeptic.
Will you permit me to drive you home when you're ready?"

"I'm ready now."

But as Lorelei made her way unobtrusively toward the cloak-room she
encountered Robert Wharton, who barred her path.

"Fairy Princess, you ran away," he declared, accusingly.

"I'm leaving." She saw that his intoxication had reached a more
advanced stage. His cheeks were flushed; his eyes were wild and
unsteady.

"Good news! The night is young; we'll watch it grow up."

"Thank you, no. I'm going home."

"A common mistake. Others have tried and failed." With extreme gravity
he focused his gaze upon her, saying, "Home is the one place that our
mayor can't close."

She extended her hand. "Good night."

"I don't understand. Speak English."

"Goodnight."

Wharton's countenance darkened unpleasantly, and his voice was rough.
"Where'd you learn that line? It's country stuff. We'll leave when I'm
ready. Now we'll have a trot."

The music was playing; other couples were dancing, and he seized her in
his arms, whirling her away. In and out among the chairs he piloted a
dizzy course, while she yielded reluctantly, conscious, meanwhile, that
Adoree Demorest was watching them with interest.

For an interval Wharton said nothing; then, with a change of tone, he
murmured in her ear: "D'you think I'd let you spoil the whole night?
Can't you see I'm crazy about you?"

Lorelei endeavored to free herself from his embrace, but he clutched
her the tighter and laughed insolently.

"Nothing like a good 'turkey' to get acquainted, is there? We're going
to dance till we're old folks."

She continued to struggle; they were out of step and out of time, but
he held her away from himself easily, bending a hot glance upon her
upturned face. She saw that he was panting and doubly drunk with her
nearness. "Don't fight. I've got you."

She was smiling faintly, out of habit, but, mistaking her expression,
he drew her close once more, then buried his face in her neck and
kissed her just at the turn of her bare shoulder.

Then she tore herself away, and his triumphant laugh was cut short as
she slapped him resoundingly, her stinging fingers leaving their
imprint on his cheek.

Her eyes were flaming and her lips were white with fury, though she
continued to smile.

"Here! What d'you mean by that?" he cried.

She silenced him sharply: "Hush! Remember you broke in here. I'd like
to see you in that fountain."

There was a swish of garments, a musical laugh, and Adoree Demorest was
between them.

"I'm madly jealous, Senor Roberto," she exclaimed. "Come, you must
dance once more with me. We'll finish this. What?" She swayed toward
him in sympathy with the music, snapping her fingers and humming the
words of the song.

"She--walloped me--like a sailor," the young man stammered,
incoherently. "She--wants to see me in the fountain."

"Then jump in like a gentleman," laughed the danseuse. "But dance with
me first." She entwined her arms about him and forced him into motion.
As she danced away she signaled over her shoulder to Lorelei, who made
haste to seek the cloak-room.

When she emerged John Merkle was waiting in the hall. A shout of
laughter echoed from the banquet-hall, and she started.

"That's nothing," Merkle told her. "Bob Wharton is in the fountain. He
says he's a goldfish."



CHAPTER V


One of the minor readjustments forced upon the Knight family by the
nature of Lorelei's work was that of meal-hours. Peter, from long
custom of early rising in the country, insisted upon his breakfast at
seven, and in spite of his inaction demanded dinner at noon and supper
at six. Jim, being erratic in habit, exacted his meals at any hour that
suited his appetite, while Mrs. Knight, now that she had a housemaid,
ate with first one, then another. But no matter how chaotic the general
household schedule, Lorelei was always assured of ten hours' sleep, a
dainty breakfast upon rising, and a substantial meal before
theater-time. Her mother saw to it that this program was religiously
adhered to. At whatever hour of the night Lorelei might come in, no
sound was ever allowed to disturb her until she arose. Irrespective
also of her careless disregard of social appointments, she was never
permitted to miss one with the hair-dresser, the manicure, the
masseuse, or the dozen and one other beauty specialists who form as
important an adjunct to the stage-woman's career as to that of the
woman of fashion. All this was a vital part of that plan to which the
mother had devoted herself. She attended the girl's health and good
looks with a devout singleness of purpose that would have been
admirable in a better cause. No race-horse on the eve of a Derby was
groomed more carefully than this budding woman. In preparing her for
masculine conquest the entire family took a hand. Her prospects, her
actions, her triumphs, were the main topic of conversation; all other
interests were subordinated to the matrimonial quest upon which she had
embarked. The men she met were investigated, discussed, speculated upon
until their every characteristic was worn threadbare. The domestic
arrangements that resulted were of necessity unhappy, for the housework
was allowed to take care of itself. The male members shifted as best
they could, and the home was forever in slovenly confusion.
Nevertheless, the existing condition of affairs met the approval of
all; and the three conspirators lived in a constant state of eager
expectation over Lorelei's fortunes.

Mother and daughter were loitering over a midday breakfast, and
Lorelei, according to custom, was recounting the incidents of the
previous evening.

"It's too bad you quarreled with Mr. Wharton," Mrs. Knight commented,
when she heard the full story of Hammon's party. "He'll dislike you
now."

The girl shrugged daintily. "He was drunk and fresh. I can't bear a man
in such a condition."

"But--he's terribly rich, and he's an only son. He'll inherit
everything. Is he nice-looking?"

"Um-m--yes."

"You shouldn't antagonize a man like him, my dear. He's single, at
least; and naturally he's impulsive, like all those young millionaires.
They have so many girls to choose from, you know. Young Powell, who
married Norma Gale, was the same sort. She was twice his age, but he
married her just the same, and his people made a fine settlement to get
rid of her. She was--tough, too. Mrs. Wharton is a great club--woman
and the head of a thousand charities."

"That's no sign she's charitable."

"You can't tell. She might take you right into the family."

"Bob is an alcoholic. He's no good, so Mr. Merkle said."

Jim, who was immersed in the morning paper, spoke from his chair near
the window.

"Why don't you go after Merkle himself, Sis? Easy picking, these
bankers."

Jim also had come home in the still hours of the night before, and had
but lately made his breakfast on a cup of coffee, three cigarettes, and
the racing sheet of the Morning Telegraph. He wore his pajama jacket
over a silk undershirt, and was now resting preparatory to his daily
battle with the world. Just how the struggle went or where it was waged
the others knew not at all.

His mother shook her head. "Those old men are all alike. Mr. Hammon
will never marry Lilas."

"Is that so?" James abandoned his reading. "The older they are, the
softer they get. Take it from me, on the word of a volunteer fireman,
Lilas will cash in on him quicker than you think. I know."

"How do you know?" inquired his sister.

"Never mind how. Maybe I've got second sight. Anyhow, the info is
right; Hammon's in the game-bag."

"Who told you?"

"Maybe I got it in the dog-eared dope," mocked the brother. "Maybe Max
Melcher told me. Anyhow, you could land Merkle just as easy if you'd
declare Max in."

"Now, Jim," protested Mrs. Knight, "I won't let you put such ideas into
her head. You and--that gang of yours--are full of tricks, but
Lorelei's decent, and she's going to stay decent. You'd get everybody
in jail or in the newspapers."

"Has Maxey ever been in jail? Has Tony the Barber? No, you bet they
haven't, and they never will be. This jail talk is funny. Just wait and
see how easy Lilas gets hers. Of course, if Lorelei could marry
Wharton, that would be different, but he's no sucker."

"How is Lilas going to get hers?" insisted Lorelei.

"Wait and see." James returned to his paper.

"She'll never marry him. She hates him."

Jim laughed, and his sister broke out irritably:

"Why be so mysterious? Anybody would think you'd robbed a bank."

Jim looked up again, and this time with a scowl. "Well, every time I
come through with a suggestion ma crabs it. What's the use of talking
to a pair of haymakers like you, anyhow? I could grab a lot of coin for
us if you'd let me. Why, Maxey has been after me a dozen times about
you, but I knew you wouldn't stand for it."

"Blackmail, eh?"

Jim was highly disgusted. "What's the difference how you pronounce it?
It spells k-a-l-e, and it takes a good-looking girl to pull off a deal
in this town. When Lilas lands Hammon she'll be through with the show
business for good. The Kaiser suite on the Imperator for hers."

Lorelei flung aside her napkin with an exclamation.

"What's wrong now?" demanded Jim. "Sore again because I offer to make a
few pennies for you? All right--play for Bob Wharton. I'd like to meet
him, though; he can do me a lot of good."

"How?"

"Well, he dropped eighty-four hundred in Hebling's Sixth Avenue joint
the other night. Maxey owns a place on Forty-sixth Street where the sky
is the limit."

His sister was staring at him curiously. She had voiced misgivings
concerning his activities of late, but Jim had never satisfied her
inquiries. Now she asked: "What is your share?"

The young man laughed a little uncomfortably. "Forty per cent. That's
usual. If he's going to gamble somewhere I might as well be in on it."

Lorelei turned to her mother, but Mrs. Knight seemed puzzled at this
turn of the conversation. The girl's next words, however, left no doubt
as to her feelings.

"You're a fine specimen, aren't you?" Her lip curled; mother and son
started at the bitterness of the tone. "You're in a fine business, too,
blackmailing with Tony the Barber's crowd, and capping for a jinny."

"Who said anything about a jinny?"

"Ugh! What a mess you've made of things. Two years ago we were decent,
and now--" Lorelei's voice broke; her eyes filmed over with tears. "I'd
give anything in the world if we were all back in Vale. It took only
two years of the city to spoil us."

"Never mind the dramatics," Jim growled. "What's your kick? You're on
Broadway, ain't you?"

"Yes, with a six-room flat on Amsterdam Avenue. Pa is a cripple, you're
a crook, and I'm--"

The mother broke in sharply. "Jim is no crook. You've no right to talk
like this, after all we've done for you."

"Sure. Why did we come to New York, anyhow?" echoed the young man.
"What brought us here? Ain't you having the time of your young
life--parties, presents, joy-rides, every day? Gee! I wish I made the
coin you do."

"I hate it."

"Ha! Better try Vale again. You'd end in a straight-jacket if you did.
You think you could go back, but you couldn't--nobody can after they've
had a taste of the city."

"It's all wrong. The whole thing is--rotten. Sometimes I hate myself."
Lorelei choked.

Mrs. Knight spoke reprovingly. "Don't be silly, dear. You know we did
it all for you. Peter didn't want to leave home, and Jim had a good
job, but we gave up everything to let you have a chance. Yes, and we've
all worked for you every minute since. Do you think I like this stuffy
flat, after that other house with the yard and the trees and the
sunshine? Peter lies in his room here, day in and day out, and never
has a moment's comfort or pleasure. I don't know a soul; I haven't a
friend or a neighbor. But we're not complaining." Mrs. Knight put added
feeling into her words. "We don't want you to live the way we've had to
live; we want you to be rich and to have things. After all we've done;
after all poor Peter has suffered--"

"Don't!" cried the girl, falteringly. "I think of him every hour."

"He isn't the sort that complains. I consider it very thoughtless of
you to behave as you do and make it harder for us." Mrs. Knight sniffed
and wiped her eyes, whereupon Lorelei went to her and hid her face upon
her mother's shoulder.

"I don't want to be unkind," she murmured, "but sometimes I'm sick with
disgust, and then again I'm frightened. Where are we heading? What's
going to become of us?--of me? That man, last night--there was
something in his face, something in the way he held me--just as if I
were his for the taking. It isn't the first time I've seen it, either.
All the men I meet are beasts. That whole party was sordid and
mean--old men drinking with girls and pawing them over. Mr. Merkle was
the only nice one there." The mother was dismayed to feel her daughter
shiver.

"Good Lord! You people make me sick," cried Jim, rising and making for
his room. "Anybody'd think you'd been insulted."

When he had gone Mrs. Knight asked, accusingly.

"Lorelei, are you IN LOVE?"

"No. Why?"

"You've said some queer things lately. You've worried me. I hope you'll
never be tempted to do anything so--to be foolish. Just look at the
girls who have made silly matches; they all go back to work. You can't
be too careful with the men you meet, for you're so beautiful that
they'll promise you anything or pretend to be everything they aren't. I
don't intend to let you make a mess of things by marrying some
chorus-man. When the right person comes along you'll accept him, then
you'll never have to worry again. But you MUST be careful."

"Do you think I'd be happy with a man like Mr. Wharton?"

"Why not? You'd at least be rich, and if rich people can't be happy,
who can? If you accepted some poor boy he'd probably turn out to be a
drunkard and a loafer, just like Wharton is now." She sighed. "I'd like
to see you settled; we could take Peter to a specialist, and maybe he
could be cured. The doctor says there is a chance. But it would take a
world of money."

"I'll get the money."

"How?"

"Somehow. If you'd let me economize on clothes, and if Jim would help a
little, we could save enough."

"Jim has all he can do to take care of himself--I'm sure I don't know
how he manages--and you've got to keep up appearances. No; Peter will
have to wait till you're married--only I did hope, when you told me
about Robert Wharton, that he might be the one. We could go abroad and
get the help of those German surgeons. I've always wanted to travel."

When Lorelei reached the theater that evening she found Lilas Lynn
entertaining a caller who had been more than once in her thoughts
during the day. Jim's reference to Max Melcher had recalled Mr.
Merkle's earnest words of the previous night, and, although her brother
had implied that Melcher was engineering the affair between Lilas and
the steel man, Lorelei could not bring herself to take the statement
seriously. It was too absurd. She could not imagine how such a thing
could be managed by a third person, or how he could profit by it. Her
stage experience had acquainted her with several intrigues in which the
men's names were nearly as prominent as Hammon's; but in no case had
anything more serious than gossip eventuated. A number of such
attachments had resulted in happy marriages, although at the price of
an occasional divorce. She remembered, now that she thought of it, that
Merkle had mentioned the probability of that very thing in this
instance. She began to doubt the banker's unselfishness and to question
his motives, arguing, as she had done at first, that even if Hammon
were really in danger it was no business of hers.

This lesson of non-interference in the affairs of others she had
learned during her recent life, spent in an atmosphere not so much
immoral as unmoral. For two years she had moved in a world where
matters the mere mention of which would not have been tolerated in Vale
were openly discussed. These topics were treated frankly, moreover, and
with a wise cynicism which, in Lorelei's case, had proven protective.
Gratuitous advice, however, was seldom welcomed, and a policy of "Hands
off" prevailed.

Miss Lynn's visitor was a well-tailored man who gave a first impression
of extreme physical neatness. He was immaculate in attire, his skin was
fine, his color fresh; a pair of small, imperturbable eyes were set in
a smiling face beneath a prematurely gray head. Max Melcher was a
figure on Broadway; he had the entree to all the stage-doors; he
frequented the popular cafes, where he surrounded himself with men.
Always affable, usually at leisure, invariably obliging, he had many
friends.

At Lorelei's entrance he smiled and nodded without rising, then
continued his earnest conversation with Miss Lynn. None of their words
were audible to the last comer until Melcher rose to leave; then Lilas
halted him with a nervous laugh, saying:

"Remember, if it doesn't go, it's a joke, and I run to cover."

"It will go," he told her, quietly, as he strolled out.

"What are you two planning?" inquired Lorelei.

"Nothing. Max drops in regularly; he used to be sweet on me." Lilas
completed her make-up, then fidgeted nervously. "Gee!" she presently
exclaimed, "I'm tired of this business. We're fools to stay in it.
Think of Atlantic City on a night like this, or the mountains. This
heat has completely unstrung me." She rummaged through the confusion on
her table, then inquired of the dresser, "Croft, where are my white
gloves?"

"They haven't come back from the cleaner's," Mrs. Croft answered.

"Not back? Then you didn't send them when I told you. You're getting
altogether too shiftless, Croft. When I tell you to do a thing I want
it done."

"I sent all six pairs--"

"You did nothing of the sort."

"Oh, Miss Lynn; I hope I drop dead if--"

"Don't talk back to me. You always have an excuse, haven't you?"
Lilas's voice was strident; her face was dark with sudden anger. "I've
a notion to box your ears--"

Lorelei broke in reprovingly. "Lilas! Croft is old enough to be your
mother."

"Yes, and she's old enough to have some sense, but she hasn't got it."

"I hope I drop dead if--"

"I hope you do," snapped the indignant girl. "I told you to attend to
them; now I've nothing but soiled ones."

The dresser began to weep silently. She was a small, timid old woman,
upon whose manifest need of employment Lorelei had taken pity some time
before. Her forgetfulness had long been a trial to both her employers.

"That's right; turn on the flood-gates," mocked Lilas, "You stop that
sniveling or I'll give you something to cry for. I'm nervous enough
to-night without having you in hysterics. Remember, if it ever happens
again you'll go--and you'll take something with you to think about."
Seizing the cleanest pair of gloves at hand, she flung out of the room
in a fine fury.

"You won't let her--fire me? I need work, I do," quavered Mrs. Croft.

"Now, now. Don't mind her temper. But you really ought to see to her
gloves when--"

"I hope I drop dead this minute if I didn't send 'em out the very day
she told me."

"Croft, you're fibbing. You know Lilas is excitable."

"Excitable?" Croft wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron. "Is that
what you call it? How ever you can bear her I don't see, and you a nice
girl. She won't do you no good, Miss Knight."

"Oh, pshaw! She was nervous."

"I should think she would be. I'll be glad if her millionaire takes her
out of the business, like she thinks he will. Poor man! He's laying up
trouble for himself, that he is. She'll land him in the divorce
court--with her flesh-light photographs."

Lorelei swung around from her mirror. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, I heard her and that Jew--I beg pardon, Miss Knight. You ain't a
Jew, are you?"

"What about the flash-lights?"

"There's so many Hebrew girls in the profession--Not that I don't like
'em, you understand--"

"Go on."

"Well, I heard enough to know that she's up to some deviltry--her and
that Maxey Melcher. They've got a photographer and witnesses. Your
brother is one of 'em."

"Jim? What--"

"It's true. It's a bad crowd Mister Jim's in with. And there's
something big in the air. Millions it is. And her saying she'll box my
ears. The hussy! I've heard 'em talking before to-night."

"Tell me everything, Croft--quickly."

"I have. Only you better warn your brother--"

The assistant stage-manager thrust his head through the curtains,
shouting: "Your cue, Miss Knight. What the devil--"

With a gasp Lorelei leaped to her feet and fled from the room.

Mrs. Croft shook her head mournfully, snuffled a few times, then
scowled at the disarray Lilas had left behind. She breathed a feeble
malediction upon the cause of it, seized a hat-pin, and, holding it
like a dagger, thrust it viciously into first one, then another of the
gowns hanging on their hooks.

"I wish you was in 'em," the little old woman exclaimed. She replaced
the pin, then surreptitiously removed some expensive cologne from a
large bottle, transferring the perfume to a smaller bottle which she
took from her pocket, dabbed her nose with Lilas's powder-puff, and
began laying out her enemy's next change of costume.

Lorelei had left a handful of silver carelessly exposed, and,
discovering this, Mrs. Croft counted it. The pile was sufficiently
large to reassure her, so she abstracted two quarters; then, in an
excess of caution, returned one coin and took a dime in its place.



CHAPTER VI


Lorelei did not secure another word alone with the dresser until the
middle of the second act, by which time Mrs. Croft was her own
colorless, work-worn self once more.

"I don't know no more than I told you," she informed Lorelei. "Mr.
Melcher has been coming here for a long time, and he always talks about
Mr. Hammon. I've heard enough to know that him and her is after his
money--millions of it. Mister Jim can tell you everything, for he's
talked about it, too, when you were on the stage. Lilas mentioned him
to-night when her and him was talking over the flesh-light photographs.
She said--Oh, Gawd!--" Mrs. Croft broke off her narrative suddenly,
and, falling to her knees in a prayerful attitude, began nervously
arranging the long row of foot-gear under Miss Lynn's table. The next
instant the owner herself burst into the room, panting from a swift run
up the stairs.

"Quick, Croft! Don't be all thumbs, now." She tossed a sealed letter
upon her table, rapidly unhooked her dress, and stepped out of it, then
into a flame-colored velvet gown which the old woman held for her. She
set a tremendous plumed hat upon her head, impaled it deftly, patted
her hair into more becoming shape, and then seated herself, extending
her feet for a change of slippers. She took the moment to open and read
her note.

Lorelei looked up from her sewing at a little cry of rage from Lilas.
Miss Lynn had torn the message into bits and flung it from her; her
eyes were blazing.

"Damn him!" she cried, furiously, rising so abruptly as almost to upset
Mrs. Croft. "The idiot!"

"What is it?"

"I--must telephone--quick." Half-way to the door she halted at
Lorelei's warning:

"Wait; you haven't time."

"Damn!" repeated the elder girl. "I must; or--Lorelei, dear, will you
do me a favor? Run down to the door and telephone for me? I won't be
off again till the curtain, and that will be too late." Lorelei rose
obediently. "That's a dear. Call Tony the Barber's place--I--I've
forgotten the number--anyhow, you can find it, and ask for Max. Tell
him it's off; he can't come."

"Who can't come? Max?" "No. Just say, 'Lilas sends word that it's off;
he can't come.' He'll understand. Run quick, or you won't catch him,
and--He'll kill me if I let him go. I'll call him later,
to-night--There's my cue now. Just ask for Max, and don't use his last
name. Thanks. I'll do as much for you." Lilas was off with a rush, and
Lorelei hastened after her, speculating vaguely as to the cause of all
this anxiety.

The telephone at the back of the Circuit Theater was located inside the
stage-door and occupied one end of the shelf which separated Mr.
Regan's hole in the wall from the entrance-hall. It was no place in
which to conduct a private conversation, since any one coming or going
could hear, but stage telephones are not installed for the convenience
of performers.

As Lorelei hurried down the passageway a man in evening dress turned,
and she recognized Robert Wharton.

"You are sent from heaven!" he cried, at sight of her. "I enter out of
the night and unburden my heart to this argus-eyed watchman, and, lo!
you come flying in answer to my wish. Quick service, Judge. In
appreciation of your telepathy I present you with some lumbago cure."
He tossed a bank-note to Regan, who snatched it eagerly on the fly.

Lorelei forestalled further words. "Please--I must telephone. I go on
in a minute."

"Fairy Princess, last night I was a goldfish; to-night I am an
enchanted lover--"

"Wait; I'm in a hurry." She thumbed the telephone-book swiftly in
search of her number, but young Wharton was not to be silenced.

"Tell him it's all off," he commanded. "You can't go; I won't let you.
Promise." He laid a hand upon the telephone and eyed her gravely.
"Don't thwart me--I'm a dangerous man. You can't use our little 'phone
unless--"

"Don't be silly. I'm telephoning for some one else."

"That's exactly what we can't permit. The 'some one else' is here--I'm
it."

"No, no!"

He closed one eye and wagged his head, grasping the instrument more
firmly.

"Promise to tell him--It IS a 'him,' isn't it? Aha' My intelligence is
sublime. Promise."

"I slapped you last night; I promise to do it again," Lorelei told him,
sharply.

"Something whispered that you did, and all day long I have been angry;
but to-night--now that I'm in my natural condition--I pass the insult.
I offer you my hand and my other cheek in case you want to try a left
hook. But I come with another purpose. Outside is a chariot with ninety
horses--French rating--champing at the throttle. We are going away from
here."

"You're drunk again, Mr. Wharton?"

He glanced at the clock over Regan's head and shook his head in
negation. "It's only ten-twenty. In two hours from now--"

"Give me that 'phone."

"Promise to tell him it's all off."

She smiled. "All right. I'll use those very words."

Wharton hesitated. "I trust you."

"I'm going to tell him he can't come," she said, holding out her hand.

Once the instrument was hers she oscillated the hook with nervous
finger, staring doubtfully at the cause of her delay. Wharton, as on
the evening before, carried his intoxication with an air. He was steady
on his feet, immaculate in dress, punctilious in demeanor; only his
roving, reckless eye betrayed his unnatural exhilaration.

The Judge had enjoyed the scene. He chuckled; he clicked his loose
false teeth like castanets. Bob turned at the sound and regarded him
with benignant interest, his attention riveted upon the old man's
dental infirmity.

"You're quite a comedian," Regan wheezed.

"Click 'em again," said Bob, pleasantly. "Wonderful! Age has its
compensations. Play 'Home, Sweet Home' when you get 'em tuned up. Or
perhaps they are for sale?"

Lorelei secured her number and was surprised to recognize her brother's
voice. She made herself known, to Jim's equal amazement, and then
inquired:

"Is Max there?"

"Sure. He's outside in the automobile."

"Call him, please."

"What do you want of him? How'd you know I was here?"

"Never mind. Call him quickly."

During the wait Wharton ejaculated: "Ha! 'Jim,' 'Max.' Men's names! Mr.
Regan, kindly grind your teeth for me. No? Will you grind them for a
dollar? Jealousy business. Thanks."

At last Melcher's voice came over the wire, and Lorelei recited her
message. There was a moment of silence, then she explained how she came
to be talking instead of Lilas.

He thanked her and she heard him muttering as he hung up. She turned to
find her annoyer nodding with satisfaction.

"Splendid! I thank you; my father thanks you; my family thanks you. Now
where would you like to dine?"

"How can a person get rid of you?" she inquired, stiffly.

"I'm sure I don't know--it isn't being done. But I'll try to think.
Wear your prettiest gown, won't you? for I intend to enrage all the
other fellows."

"This is an invitation, eh?"

"The first of a nightly series. Life is opening out for you in a
wonderful manner, Miss Knight. Don't refuse; my legs have petrified,
and a gang of safe-movers couldn't budge me."

She turned with a shrug of mingled annoyance and amusement, and he
called after her:

"The Judge's teeth will entertain me till you come. I'll be waiting."

Miss Lynn, as she dressed after the performance, was still in an evil
temper; but she thanked her room-mate for aiding her; then, as if some
explanation were due, she added, "That note was from Jarvis."

"You puzzle me, Lilas," Lorelei told her, slowly. "I don't think you
care for him at all."

Lilas laughed. "Why do you think that? I adore him, but we had an
engagement and he broke it. Men are all selfish: the bigger they are
the more selfish they become. They never do anything you don't make
them."

"He can't sacrifice his business for you."

"Sacrifice! It's women who sacrifice themselves. D'you suppose any of
those men we met last night would sacrifice himself for anything or
anybody? Not much. They are the strong and the mighty. They got rich
through robbery, and they're in the habit of taking whatever they want.
They made their money out of the blood and suffering of thousands of
poor people, so why--"

"Poor people don't buy steel."

"No; but they make it. I knew Mr. Wharton and the rest of them years
ago, for I was born and raised in a furnace town. My father worked in a
Bessemer plant--until he was killed. What I saw there made me an
anarchist."

Through the open window overlooking the alley came a sound of singing;
two voices raised in doubtful harmony, one loud and strong, the other
rasping, hoarse, and uncertain.

    Of all the girls that I adore,
      There's none so sweet as Sa-a-a-hall-ee.

"Ouch! Who's that?" queried Lilas.

"Bob Wharton and the Judge. Wharton's waiting to take me to supper."

"Drunk, as usual, of course. Think of a fool like that with millions
behind him--millions that his father wrung out of sweating, suffering
foreigners like my father. He's squandering blood-money. That's what it
is--blood-money."

"You ARE bitter to-night. Is Mr. Hammon living on blood-money, too?"

"Yes; he is."

"Is that why you're planning to blackmail it out of him?"

Lilas paused in her dressing and turned slowly, brows lifted. Her dark
eyes met the blue ones unwaveringly.

"Blackmail? What are you talking about?" Mrs. Croft went pale, and
retired swiftly but noiselessly into the lavatory, closing the door
behind her. "What did Max tell you over the 'phone?" asked Lilas,
sharply.

"Nothing."

"Then where did you get--that? From Jim?"

"Jim's pretty bad, I imagine, but he keeps his badness to himself. No.
I've overheard you and Max talking."

"Nonsense. We've never mentioned such a thing. The idea is absurd. I
get mad at Jarvis--he's enough to madden anybody--perhaps I'm jealous,
but blackmail! Why, you're out of your head."

The girls had nearly finished dressing when a commotion sounded in the
hall outside and Mrs. Croft, after investigation, reported that Robert
Wharton had been forcibly expelled from a dressing-room. He could be
heard gently apologizing and explaining that he was in quest of a Fairy
Princess, whereupon Lorelei hastily locked her door.

"That's the worst of these swells," observed Lilas, as she left. "They
pay high and go anywhere they please. Bergman caters to them."

Lorelei delayed her toilet purposely, and finally dismissed Croft; then
she wrote a note to John Merkle, in care of his bank. By this time the
cavernous regions at the rear of the theater were nearly deserted. She
listened; but, hearing Wharton still in conversation with the watchman,
she locked her door once more and sat down to wait. As she fingered the
note a doubt formed in her mind--a doubt as to the advisability under
any circumstances of leaving written evidence in another's hands.
Finally she destroyed the missive, determining to make use of the
telephone on the following day. As to just what to do after that she
was undecided.

When quiet had finally descended she opened her door cautiously and
peered out. Robert Wharton sat on the top step of the stairway near at
hand, but his head rested against the wall, and he slept. Beside him
were his high hat, his gloves, and his stick. As Lorelei, with skirts
carefully gathered, tiptoed past him she saw suspended upon his
gleaming white shirt-bosom what at first glance resembled a foreign
decoration of some sort, but proved to be Mr. Regan's false teeth. They
were suspended by a ribbon that had once done duty in the costume of a
coryphee; they rose and fell to the young man's gentle breathing.

Lorelei carried out her intention of telephoning on the following day,
and about the close of the show that night Merkle's card was brought up
to her dressing-room. A moment later Robert Wharton's followed,
together with a tremendous box of long-stemmed roses. She went down a
trifle apprehensively, for by this time the current tales of Bob's
drunken freaks had given her cause to think somewhat seriously, and she
feared an unpleasant encounter. More than once she had witnessed
quarrels in the alleyway behind the Circuit, where pestiferous youths
of Wharton's caliber were frequent visitors.

But Mr. Merkle relieved her mind by saying, "I sent Bob away on a
pretext, although he swore you had an engagement with him."

"I'm glad you did. I left him asleep outside my dressing-room last
night, and I almost hoped he'd caught pneumonia."

Beside the curb a heavy touring-car was purring, and into this Merkle
helped his companion. "I'm not up on the etiquette of this sort of
thing," he explained, "but I presume the proper procedure is supper.
Where shall it be--Sherry's?"

Lorelei laughed. "You ARE inexperienced. The Johns never eat on Fifth
Avenue, the lights are too dim. But why supper? You can't eat."

"A Welsh rarebit would be the death of me; lobsters are poison," he
confessed; "but I've read that chorus-girls are carnivorous animals and
seek their prey at midnight."

"Most of them would prefer bread and milk; anyhow, I would. But I'm not
hungry, so let's ride--we can talk better, and you're not the sort of
man to be seen in public with one of Bergman's show-girls."

The banker acquiesced with alacrity. To his driver he said, "Take the
Long Island road."

As the machine glided into noiseless motion Lorelei noted a limousine
waiting near by, and saw a dim figure within. The dome-light had been
turned off, and she could detect only a white shirt-front, the blurred
outline of a face, and the glowing point of a cigar.

"You can follow that man's example if you wish," said she, "and hide
until we're away from the bright lights."

Merkle answered shortly, "Your reputation may suffer, not mine." He
leaned forward and inquired of the chauffeur, "Who's car is that?"

"Mr. Hammon's, sir. He's going our way, so his man said."

"I thought so. We'll have company."

"Why do you choose the Long Island road?" asked Lorelei.

"It's pleasant," responded Merkle. "I ride nearly every night, and I
like the country. You see, I can't sleep unless I'm in motion. I get
most of my rest in a car; there's something about the movement that
soothes me."

"How funny!"

"Peculiar, perhaps, but scarcely humorous. I'd be dead or insane
without an automobile. You see, I'm nothing but a rack of bones strung
together with quivering nerves--always been so, and I'm getting worse.
I keep four French cars in my garage, all specially built as to
spring-suspension and upholstery, and I spend nearly every night in one
or the other of them. It's seldom I do less than a hundred miles
between midnight and morning; sometimes, when I'm bad, I do twice that.
So long as I'm moving fast I manage to snatch a miserable sort of
repose, but the instant we go slow I wake up. It's the sensation of
flight, the music of a swift-running motor, the wind blowing in my
face, that lulls me; but it's getting harder all the time. I used to
sleep at twenty miles an hour; now I can't relax under thirty. Forty is
fine--sixty means dreamless peace."

"It does, indeed, if one happens to have a blowout," laughed the girl.

"I have trouble keeping chauffeurs. The darkness breaks their nerve,
and they play out in two or three months. I've known them to crack
under the strain in a week, and yet all the time I want to go
faster--faster. Some night, when a bolt breaks, or my driver's eye and
hand fail to co-ordinate, it will all end, I suppose, in a twinkling,
and--I'll get a good rest at last. Meanwhile I thank Heaven and Mr.
Vanderbilt for the Motor Parkway."

The car had threaded the after-theater congestion of traffic with a
swiftness that testified to the practised hand on the wheel, and was
now darting through unfrequented side-streets where the asphalt lay in
the shadows like dark pools. Up the approach to the Queensborough
Bridge it swept, and took the long incline like a soaring bird.
Overhead, the massive towers pierced the night sky; the steel-ribbed
skeleton-tunnel rushed past the riders; far beneath, the river itself
lay like a sheet of metal, glittering here and there with the yellow
lights of ships. Blackwell's Island slipped under them, an inky
bottomless pit of despair, out of which points of fire gleamed
upward--like faint, steady-burning sparks of hope in the hearts of
miserable men. The breath of the overheated city changed as by magic,
and the thin-faced sufferer at Lorelei's side drank it in eagerly. Even
in the dim flash of the passing illuminations she noted how tired and
worn he was, and a sudden pity smote her.

"Won't you pretend I'm not here, and drive just as you always do? I
won't mind," she said.

"My dear, it's late. You'll need to get home."

"No, no."

"Really?" His eagerness was genuine. "Won't your people worry?"

Her answer was a short, mirthless laugh that made him glance at her
curiously. "They know I'm perfectly safe. It's the other way round: a
man of your standing takes chances by being alone with a woman of--mine."

"Which reminds me of Miss Lynn and Mr. Hammon. You've decided to accept
my offer?"

"No. I can't be a hired spy."

"You said over the 'phone that you had learned something."

"I have. I believe there is an effort on foot to get some of Mr.
Hammon's money dishonestly. I have a reason for wishing to prevent it."

"I knew I wasn't mistaken in you," smiled Merkle.

"Oh, don't attribute my actions to any high moral motives! I'm getting
a little rusty on right and wrong. Personally, I have no sympathy with
Mr. Hammon, and I don't imagine he acquired all of his tremendous
fortune in a perfectly honorable way. Besides, he's a married man."

"It isn't alone Jarvis or his family or their money that is concerned,"
Merkle said, gravely. "Great financial institutions sometimes rest on
foundations as slight as one man's personality--one man's reputation
for moral integrity. A breath of suspicion of any sort at the wrong
time may bring on a crash involving innocent people.

"Hammon at this moment carries a tremendous top-heavy burden of
responsibilities; his death would be no more disastrous than a scandal
that would tend to destroy public confidence in him as a man."

"Doesn't he know that himself?"

"Perhaps. But his infatuation overtook him at an age when a man is a
fool. Young men are always objects of suspicion in the financial world,
for their emotions are unruly; but when old men fall in love they are
superbly heedless of consequences. I promised to tell you something
about Jarvis, and I will, since you spoke of his married life. To begin
with, his father and his father's father were steel-workers. They came
from Cornwall before he was born, and Jarvis grew up in the glare of
the Pennsylvania furnaces. From the time he could walk he never knew
anything, never heard anything except steel. He inherited all the
driving strength of his father and developed such a remarkable business
ability that he became a rolling-mill superintendent almost before he
was of age. They say he never did less than two men's work and often
more; but he could make others work, too, and there lay the secret of
his success. He was indefatigable; he was a machine; he never rested,
nor played, nor relaxed, as other men do. He just worked; and his mill
held the tonnage record for years.

"When the Corporation was formed he played a big part in the deal and
got a big slice of the profits. He had been successful, noted: at one
turn of the wheel he became enormously wealthy. The story of Alladin is
nothing to the story of the men who took part in that combination.
Hammon went into other things than steel, and he prospered. He never
failed at anything. Now, here comes the part of the story that
interests me most of all and will interest you if you can understand
the workings of a man's mind. Jarvis had no vices and but one hobby--at
least his vices were neutral, for he had never taken time to acquire
the positive kind. His hobby was Napoleon Bonaparte. He read everything
there was to read about Napoleon; he studied his life and patterned his
own on similar lines. His collection of Napoleona is the finest in this
country; he is an authority on French history of that period--in fact,
he's as nearly hipped on the subject as a man of his powers can be
considered hipped on anything. Do I bore you, Miss Knight?"

"No; go on. I'm tremendously interested."

"Well, naturally, Hammon began to consider himself another Napoleon,
and his accomplishments were in a way quite as wonderful; his strategy
was quite as brilliant, and his victories quite as complete. He even
confided to me once that his idol surpassed him in only one
respect--namely, the power to relax--a pardonable conceit, under the
circumstances. Jarvis had never taken time for relaxation, and he was
beginning to wear out; and so--he deliberately set about learning to
play. The Emperor of France, so history tells us, took his greatest
pleasure in the company of women; therefore Hammon sought women, just
as he had sought and gained financial conquest. He doesn't know the
taste of defeat; so the result was fore-ordained."

"But surely he thought something of his family," protested Lorelei.
"Didn't he consider them?"

"I fancy he wasn't well acquainted with his family. I'm sure he never
enjoyed any home life, as we understand it. He lived with a rich old
woman who bore his name but scarcely knew him; his daughters were grown
women whom he saw on rare occasions and whose extravagant whims he
gratified without question. But there was little real intimacy, little
sympathy. Remember, Jarvis had been a boy, but he had never been young,
and this was his first taste of youth, But--he was not Napoleon. As
you've noticed, he's quite mad on the Lynn woman. He's no longer
himself. He has been drugged by her charms, and--now he's paying the
price. I wanted you to know the story before we went any further. Now
tell me what you have learned."



CHAPTER VII


By the time Lorelei had completed her recital of those occurrences that
had excited her suspicions the car was rolling out the roads leading
toward the Long Island plains, and, with head-lights ablaze, was
defying all speed laws. Other vehicles on their way home to the
fashionable estates of Wheatley Hills, Hempstead, and the South Shore
were overhauled and left behind. The big machine had begun its long
night-song, and it flashed over the rises or dipped into the swales
with the gliding ease of movement characteristic of an aeroplane. It
went with almost the silence of a phantom--only the sustained murmur of
the motor, the whisper of the whirling tires as they parted from the
road surface, the rush of the night wind pouring past, came to the ears
of the passengers. These softly rhythmic sounds, combined with the
swaying of the deep cushions, were decidedly restful, and had there
been nothing to challenge her sight Lorelei felt that she, too, might
have been soothed as Merkle was. But she was fascinated, hypnotized by
the gleaming tunnel of light into which she was being hurled. The
blazing panorama of fence, forest, and hedge that took dim shape out of
the blackness grew, rushed at her, then leaped away into oblivion,
dazzled her too much for relaxation. Merkle, however, had drawn the
conversation-shield rearward, and in its shelter leaned back with eyes
closed. He seemed asleep, but after a time he spoke abruptly:

"Melcher is a shrewd man. He wouldn't tackle a blackmailing job of this
size without protection; otherwise I could put him out of the way very
quickly. I dare say Miss Lynn, herself, doesn't know who is behind him."

"Why don't you warn Mr. Hammon at once?"

Merkle rolled his head loosely. "You don't know the man. His
self-reliance is so monumental, his scorn of opposition is so deep,
that he would laugh at the idea of a plot against him. Then, too, he's
mad about the woman, and he'd probably tell her everything I said.
After all, we have only our suspicions to go upon."

Merkle dozed again, half buried in the cushions. They had passed
Jamaica; the country lay dark and silent on every side save for a
dim-lit window here and there. The car was eating the miles in a flight
as swift and undeviating as that of an arrow; but it was not until it
had swept into the Motor Parkway that the girl fully understood what
her host termed fast driving.

Then it was that the chauffeur let the machine out. Over the deserted
plains it tore, comet-like, a meteor preceded by a streamer of light.
It swung to the banked curves with no slackening of momentum; it
devoured the tangents hungrily; the night wind roared past, drowning
all other sounds. Crouched immovably in his seat, the driver scanned
the causeway that leaped into view and vanished beneath the wheels,
like a tremendous ribbon whirling upon spools. Merkle lay back inertly,
lolling and swaying to the side-thrust of the cushions; but Lorelei
found her fists clenched and her muscles hard with the nervous strain.
Finally she pushed the shield forward, and, leaning over the front
seat, stared at the tiny dash-light. The finger of the speedometer
oscillated gently over the figure sixty, and she dropped back with a
gasp. They had been running thus for a long time.

Merkle roused to say, "Is this too fast for you, Miss Knight?"

She laughed nervously. "N-no. I'm sorry I woke you."

After a moment he startled her by inquiring, "Why don't you marry Bob
Wharton?"

She tore her eyes from the reeling shadows in front and peered at him.

"What makes you think I like him well enough?"

"I don't. But he's the sort you're looking for, isn't he?"

She nodded. "I can't expect to--marry a decent man. I've learned that
much."

There was a pause, and then, "It would be a great pity," he said.

"You're not complimentary. Perhaps I'm not so bad as I appear."

"I didn't mean that. It would be too bad, on your account. I--like you.
Maybe it's your beauty that has gone to my head; no man could remain
quite sane in your company." He turned his tired, bright eyes upon her,
and Lorelei stirred uncomfortably. "You're quite different to what I
first thought you."

"Oh no! I'm exactly what you thought. I've seen Mr. Wharton only twice."

"He's crazy about you. He acts wholly upon impulse, of course. It ought
to be easy."

Merkle inquired the time of his chauffeur, then directed him to turn
homeward along the North Shore.

"I sha'n't be selfish and keep you out any longer, Miss Knight," he
said. "If you don't mind I'll doze on the way in, and try to figure out
the next move in this Hammon affair."

The return trip was another hurtling rush through the night, in a
silence broken only by Merkle's demand for more speed whenever the
machine slackened its labor. The miles wheeled past; the Sound lay to
the right.

They were sweeping over a rolling North Shore road when suddenly out of
the blackness ahead blazed two blinding headlights. With startling
abruptness they appeared over the crest of a rise; Merkle's driver
swung to the right. But the road was narrow; a trolley track was under
construction, and along the edge of the amasite was strewn a row of
steel rails, guarded by occasional red lanterns. The strange car held
to its course; there was a blast of horns, a dazzling instant of
intense illumination, then a crash as the inside mud-guards met.
Merkle's car seemed to leap into the air; there was a report of an
exploding tire; Lorelei felt a sickening sense of insecurity, and found
herself hanging, bruised and breathless, across the back of the
driving-seat. The automobile was bucking and bumping, as if the
pavement had been turned into a corduroy road; then it came to a pause,
half in the ditch. Merkle was jammed into an awkward coil on the floor
of the tonneau, but raised himself, swearing softly. The other car held
to its course, and whizzed onward, leaving in its wake a drunken shout
of mockery and defiance.

The catastrophe had taken but an instant. The three were alone, and
their machine disabled almost in a breath. Merkle inquired anxiously if
Lorelei were hurt; the chauffeur ran after the offending car, yelling
anathemas into the night. He returned slowly, mopping his face, which
had been cut by fragments from the shattered windshield.

"Joy-riders," he muttered. "They wouldn't give way, and threw me into
those rails."

"Narrow shave, that. I wonder we weren't all killed." Merkle eyed the
car's crumpled mud-guard and running-board, then directed his driver to
ascertain the extent of the damage. The motor was still throbbing, but
a brief examination disclosed a broken steering-knuckle and a bent axle
in addition to an injured wheel.

"I'm terribly sorry, Miss Knight; but I'll have to send for another
car," apologized Merkle.

"Is this splendid machine ruined?"

He shrugged. "That's the curse of these roads. Somebody is always
driving recklessly." Lorelei smiled at memory of the miles they had
covered so swiftly; but she saw that he was serious and in a sour
temper. "One risks his life on the whim of some drunken idiot the
moment he enters a motor-car. Now for a telephone." A terse question to
his man served to fix their location.

"We're not far from the Chateau," Merkle interpreted the answer. "That
place is always open, so if you don't mind the walk we'll go ahead. It
will take an hour to get one of my other machines, but meanwhile we can
have a bite to eat." At her cheerful acceptance his tone changed.

"You're all right. Some women would be hysterical after such a
shake-up. I swear, I think I feel it more than you. If you were a man
I'd like to have you for a chum."

Together they set out through the starlight, leaving the chauffeur with
instructions to secure help from the nearest garage; and as they
followed the dim road Merkle continued to apologize until Lorelei
silenced him. Both were beginning to suffer from the reaction of their
fright.

It was very late; there was little sign of habitation, for the road led
through a wooded country. Before long, however, they came in sight of
lights, which Merkle hailed with relief.

The Chateau was a quasi-roadhouse of some architectural dignity, widely
advertised as being under the same management as one of the smart
Broadway cafes, and supplying the same food and drink, at twice the
Broadway price. Its service was unsurpassed by any city restaurant,
and, being within an hour's run by motor, it received a liberal
patronage. Tips were large at the Chateau; its hospitality was famous
among those who could afford the extravagance of midnight
entertainment; and yet it was a quiet place. No echo of what occurred
within its walls ever reached the outside world. Sea-food, waffles,
privacy, and discretion were its recognized specialties, and people
came for miles--mainly in pairs--to enjoy them.

As the pedestrians neared the avenue of maples leading up to the house
they espied in the road ahead of them first the dull red glow of a
tail-light, then a dusty license plate.

"There's luck," Merkle ejaculated. "I'll rent this car."

In the gloom several figures were standing, facing in the direction of
the Chateau, and when Merkle spoke they wheeled as if startled.

"No, you can't hire this machine. What do you think this is, a
cab-stand?" answered a gruff voice.

"Jim!" cried Lorelei, and ran forward.

Her breathless amazement at the meeting was no greater than her
brother's. "Sis! What the devil are you doing here?" he managed to say.
One of the men who had been kneeling over a case of some sort, dimly
outlined in the radiance of a side-light, rose and placed his burden in
the tonneau.

"I'm ready," he announced.

Young Knight showed some nervousness and apprehension--emotions which
his companions, judging by their alert watchfulness, fully shared. Jim
seized his sister by the arm and led her aside.

"How the deuce did YOU get here--and who is this guy?" He jerked his
head toward Merkle.

Lorelei introduced her companion and made known the cause of their
present plight.

"Humph!" grunted Jim. "What d'you suppose ma'll say to this--you out
all night with a man?"

"What are YOU doing? Who are those people?" she retorted.

"Never mind. But say--I don't like the looks of this affair."

For a second time Merkle appealed to Jim. "If you can't take your
sister home I'll have to telephone for another car."

Jim's tone was disagreeable as he replied: "You two don't look as if
you'd been wrecked. Where's your driver?" Merkle's fist clenched; he
muttered something, at which Jim laughed harshly.

"Now don't get sore," said the latter; "I'm not going to make trouble,
only I want to know where you've been."

A bare-headed man came running across the lawn and flung himself into
the waiting automobile. One of Jim's companions called his name sharply.

"Will you take me home?" his sister implored.

"Can't do it. I'll see you later, and you, too, Merkle." His last
words, delivered as he swung himself upon the running-board of the car,
sounded like a threat; a moment later, and the machine had disappeared
into the night.

"Hm-m! Your brother has a suspicious mind," Merkle said. "I hope he
won't make you any trouble."

"He can't make trouble for ME." Lorelei's emphasis on the last word
made her meaning clear; her companion shrugged:

"Then there's no harm done, I assure you."

They turned in upon the driveway, walking silently, then as they neared
the Chateau they became aware of an unusual commotion in progress
there. Men were running from stable to garage, others were scouring the
grounds; from the open door came a voice pitched high in anger. The
speaker was evidently beside himself with wrath. He was shouting orders
to scurrying attendants, and abusing the manager, who hovered near him
in a frantic but futile effort at pacification.

The enraged person proved to be Jarvis Hammon. He was hatless,
purple-faced, shaken with combative fury. At first the two new-comers
thought he was dangerously drunk, but, as they mounted to the tiled
terrace which served as an outdoor eating-place they saw their mistake.
Recognizing Merkle, Hammon's manner changed instantly.

"John!" he cried. "By God! you're just in time."

"What's happened?"

"Blackmail, or worse. I hardly know, myself. These ruffians put up
something on me--they're all in it, even the manager."

The latter, a sleek Frenchman with ferocious mustaches and frightened
eyes, wrung his hands in supplication.

"M'sieu 'Ammon," he bleated, "you ruin me. Such accusation is terrible.
But wait. Calmness. The man will be caught."

"Caught, hell!" roared the steel magnate. "You know who he is. Give him
to me. How did he get in here if you didn't know him? How did he get
his camera fixed without your knowledge? I'll have your scalp for this.
I'll close this place and the city place, too." A uniformed doorman
appeared with a smoking lantern in his hand, and Hammon wheeled upon
him. "Well? Did you find him?"

"We can't find nobody. There was a car outside the grounds, but it's
gone now."

Merkle interposed. "Will you tell me what has happened?"

"It is terrible, incredible, M'sieu," wailed the manager.

"Same old story, John. I came out here for a quiet supper with--a lady.
I've been coming here regularly. They got us into a private room, then
took a flash-light, and--there you are. I made a rush for the waiter as
soon as I realized what had occurred, but he'd skipped. Everybody's
skipped, photographer and all. Nobody knows anything. Blamedest bunch
of idiots I ever saw." He ground his teeth.

Lorelei, who had remained in the background, turned suddenly sick at
memory of that mysterious party at the gate; she understood now the
significance of the man with the box and of the fleeing figure that had
come through the darkness.

The terrified manager continued his heartbroken lament, and Hammon
seemed about to destroy him when Merkle drew the latter aside, speaking
in an undertone.

Hammon listened briefly, then broke out:

"Nonsense. I'd stake my life on her. Why, she's prostrated. It's either
pure blackmail, or it's my wife's work. She's had detectives on me for
some time." Merkle murmured something more. "Oh, come now! I know what
I'm talking about, and I won't stand for that," cried Hammon.

Merkle shrugged; his next words were audible, and they were both sharp
and incisive.

"The harm's done. They got away clean. Now we've got to kill the story
and kill it quick in case they intend it for the papers."

"My God! Newspapers--at this time," groaned the other. "It couldn't be
worse."

"Right. We must move fast. Is your car here?"

"Yes."

"Get it. We'll go in with you. I had an accident to mine."

"You'll see for yourself that you're wrong--about the other." Hammon
jerked his head meaningly toward the house, then strode away to order
his motor.

Merkle favored his young companion with a wintry smile.

"It seems we're too late."

Lorelei nodded silently. "Don't tell him who--spoke to us out there.
Not yet, at least. I--can't see HIM go to jail."

"Jail? There won't be any jail to this--there never is. Jarvis will
have to settle for the sake of the rest of us."

Hammon's limousine rolled in under the porte-cochere, and a moment
later the owner appeared with Lilas.

Lorelei stared at her friend in genuine surprise, for it was obvious
that Lilas was deeply agitated. Her face was swollen with weeping; she
verged upon hysteria. No sooner were the four in the car and under way
than she broke down, sobbing wretchedly.

"It's all my fault. I might have known he was up to something; but I
didn't think he'd dare--" she managed to say.

"He? Who?" Merkle asked her.

"Max Melcher. This is his doing."

"What makes you think so?"

"He as much as told me. If I hadn't been a fool I'd have guessed, but
he--Oh, I could kill myself!" She burst into strangling sobs and
hysteric laughter.

"Why did you let him come to the dressing-room?" Lorelei inquired.

"He's been doing it for years. I've always--known him. We
were--engaged."

Hammon verified this. "That's right. They were engaged when I met her.
She didn't know the sort of ruffian he is till I proved it. She's
afraid of him, and he knows it."

"I tried to break with him, but he wouldn't let me, and I've HAD to be
nice to him. He'd have me murdered if I--"

"Rot!" Merkle exclaimed, testily.

"Rot, eh?" Jarvis answered. "He's done as much, more than once; but
he's so powerful that nobody can get him. He's the king of his ward; he
keeps a gang of gunmen on the East Side, and he's the worst thug in the
city."

Lilas substantiated this, giving further details as to Melcher's
reputation, and then broke down again, weeping with such miserable
abandon that Lorelei for the first time began to doubt her own previous
convictions. It seemed incredible that such emotion could be
counterfeit, and Lilas's plausible explanations did indeed make it
appear that Melcher was the resentful victim of an infatuation. Lorelei
cast a troubled glance at Merkle and found that he, too, gave signs of
uncertainty.

Hammon soothed his charmer in his clumsy, elephantine way, showing
that, despite Merkle's recent insinuations, he still trusted her. "This
is the only woman who ever cared for me, John," he explained, after
some hesitation, "and we're going to stick together. We have no
secrets."

"Your little Fifth Avenue establishment rather complicates matters,
doesn't it? What are you going to do about that?" Merkle inquired.

"This thing--to-night--is likely to settle the matter for me. You know
the kind of home life I've led for twenty years, and you know I
wouldn't regret any change. When a man goes ahead and his wife stands
still the right and wrong of what either chooses to do is hard to
settle. At any rate, it has ceased to concern me. I want a few years of
happiness and companionship before I die. I'm selfish--I'll pay the
price."

They rode on in silence.



CHAPTER VIII


When Lorelei awoke on the following afternoon her first inquiry was for
Jim; but he had not come home, and her mother knew nothing of his
whereabouts. Lorelei ate her breakfast in silence; then, in reply to a
question, accounted for the lateness of her arrival by saying that she
had dined with Mr. Merkle.

At the name Mrs. Knight pricked up her ears; vulture-like, she
undertook to pick out of her daughter all that had occurred, down to
the most insignificant detail. Lorelei had always made a confidant of
her mother in such cases, even to the repetition of whole
conversations; but this time the latter's inquisitiveness grated on
her, and she answered the questions put to her grudgingly. Just why she
felt resentful she scarcely knew. Certainly she had no interest in Mr.
Merkle, nor suffered the least embarrassment over their exploit.
Rather, on this afternoon, she beheld with unusual clarity her present
general life, and that of her family, feeling more keenly than usual
the utter sordidness of their whole scheme of existence. Unwelcome
thoughts of this sort had come of late, and would not be banished. Once
she had made a pet of a magpie, but the bird's habits had forced her to
dispose of it. She remembered the way it forever pried into things; how
nothing was safe from that sharp beak and inquisitive eye. Its waking
hours had been busied in a tireless, furtive search for forbidden
objects. Now she could not help likening her mother to the bird,
although the thought shocked her. There was the same sly angle of
countenance, a similar furtiveness of purpose; the very expression of
Mrs. Knight's keen, hard eyes was like nothing so much as that of the
magpie's. Displeased at her own irritation, Lorelei made the excuse of
a shopping trip to escape from the house.

At the nearest news-stand she bought the afternoon papers, and was
relieved to find no mention of the incidents of the night before. It
appeared that Hammon and Merkle had succeeded in their attempt to
suppress the story--if, indeed, there had ever been any intention of
making it public.

Looking back upon last night's homeward ride, she was wholly at a loss.
In view of Jim's words and of what she had gathered at the theater she
had felt sure of Lilas's complete knowledge of the blackmail plot, but
Hammon's unwavering faith in the girl and Lilas's own story of her
relations with Max Melcher had awakened a doubt. If Lilas had told the
whole truth, and if she really cared for Hammon, the affair, despite
its clandestine nature, would bear a more favorable construction, and
Lorelei could not entirely withhold her sympathy from the offending
pair. Of the two Hammon was the more blameworthy; but his domestic
unhappiness in a measure canceled his guilt--so, at least, said the
code under which Lorelei lived. What concerned her far more than the
moral complexion of the liaison, was her brother's connection with the
unlawful scheme of extortion. Jim, she saw, had gone wrong with a
vengeance, and the consequences to him troubled her, for in spite of
all that he might be or do she cherished a sisterly affection for him.
Family ties were very real and very strong to her--strong enough to
keep her loyal to her kin even after the demoralizing change in her
whole mode of life. The firmest, in fact, the only bond that she had
ever known, was that of blood; obedience, faithfulness, and affection
had been born in her, and she never thought to question their
sacredness.

Idling down Fifth Avenue, she found herself in front of a fashionable
department store. A knot of curious people were gaping at a unique
automobile which stood in the line of vehicles along the curb, and she
paused to look. The equipage was snow-white in color; its upholstery
was of soft, white leather; the chauffeur and a stiff-backed footman
were in blood-red with white facings on their livery. Upon their left
sleeves was worked the gold monogram "A. D." In their caps both men
wore cockades that resembled shaving-brushes. A tiny mop of a lap-dog,
imprisoned within the closed body of the car, was barking frenziedly at
the throng. He was an animated bundle of cotton, with shoe-button eyes
sewed into one end. As for the car itself, Lorelei decided it to be a
combination of every absurd tradition of the coach-builder's art.
Across the doors, in gold letters an inch high, was the name "Adoree
Demorest."

As she entered the store Lorelei reflected with some disgust that no
visiting Rajah, no barbaric potentate--no one, in fact, except a
self-advertised musical-comedy queen--would so flagrantly defy good
taste as to ride in such a vehicle.

She was engaged in her final purchase when a dazzling creature in red
and white descended upon her with exclamations of surprise and delight.
It was Mademoiselle Demorest herself, and her greeting was so effusive
that the stream of shoppers halted in the aisle. Mademoiselle Demorest
wore a gown of a style that proved her taste in dress as individual as
her choice of motor-cars. A war-like head-decoration of aigrette
feathers burst into spray above her right ear; the wrists of her white
gloves bore her monogram worked in gold-thread to match those that
ornamented the livery of her servants. A heavy string of white-coral
beads, the size of cherries, was looped about her neck, and she carried
the mate to the excitable poodle that defied the curiosity-seekers
outside. All in all, she was a figure to awaken interest in the nightly
performance at the Palace Garden, and to cause men customers to forget
their change.

"Miss Knight! I'm SO glad to see you again," she burbled. "How SWEET
you look!" The poodle pawed frantically and yelped a shrill
appreciation of the meeting. "I hoped we'd meet again; but where HAVE
you been? I--Hush, Francois! Shake hands with the lady, there's a
dear." Francois squirmed violently and snapped at a small boy whose
mother had pushed forward to stare at the notorious beauty.

Lorelei laughed. "How well he minds!"

"He hates children--they excite him."

The woman with the child turned to a companion, exclaiming audibly:
"Those are the King's rubies--see! Ain't they nice and white?"

A fat matron beside Lorelei elbowed her way forward; in one hand she
carried a pair of embroidered silk stockings, with the other she raised
a lorgnette. After a measured scrutiny her lips tightened, her nose
lifted, she blew loudly like a porpoise, and, gathering her skirts
closely, waddled away, as if fleeing from contagion. She continued to
clutch the hosiery until a floor-walker, in answer to the clerk's
frantic signal, intercepted her. Another crowd promptly gathered to
listen to her indignant denial of guilt.

"Have you finished your shopping?" Adoree inquired. "Then do come and
help me match some rose du Barry. I've no more eye for color than
Francois. Pink is just another shade of blue to me."

"Gee! He's alive, all right," piped the small boy, whose eyes were
glued upon the poodle. "Ma, what does a live dog cost?"

Lorelei felt herself flushing uncomfortably under the stares of the
onlookers, and, glad to escape, she moved away beside the undisturbed
cause of all the furore.

Miss Demorest seemed genuinely delighted at this encounter. She clung
to her companion, chattering vivaciously; then, when the rose du Barry
had been matched, she suggested tea.

"We'll run right over to the Waldorf--my car is outside." But Lorelei
declined, explaining lamely that she did not care for public places.

"Really?"

"Really. People point out one--and I get enough of that."

The dancer's expression and tone changed abruptly. "I supposed you were
like all the others."

"Well, I'm not. When I'm away from the theater I try to forget it.
I--hate the business."

The reply, which came with sincere feeling, widened Lorelei's eyes with
uncontrollable surprise.

"Here, too," said Adoree Demorest, quietly. "But I'm not allowed to
forget it. Our first meeting made me think you were--out with banners.
I was hired on that occasion to be naughty. What do you say to some
real tea at my house? Just you and I?"

Lorelei's heart sank at thought of that gaudy machine outside, but
there was an honest appeal in the speaker's eyes, and, moreover, the
memory of her own obligation rose to prevent her from appearing
ungrateful. "I'd be delighted," she falsified, and, gurgling with
appreciation, Miss Demorest hurried her toward the nearest exit. In the
street, however, Adoree paused, and her next words showed that she was
not wanting in womanly intuition.

"I sha'n't inflict you with a ride in that circus-wagon. It's all right
for me, but--you're one of the decent kind. If you have a reputation it
won't do to parade it in a show-case. We'll take a taxi." Lorelei's
relief must have been obvious, for Adoree sped swiftly to the corner,
then was back again without the dog. "If there's anything more
conspicuous than a blonde with a white poodle," she explained, "it's
two blondes with two poodles." Then, she flung herself into the cab and
slammed the door.

"You must think I'm very rude," her guest ventured.

"Nothing of the sort. I know just how you feel." Miss Demorest's smile
was a trifle strained. "Only--I'm awfully lonesome, and--I'll take care
that nobody sees us."

"Now I KNOW I've been nasty." Lorelei felt her embarrassment growing,
for this woman differed entirely from what she had expected. Underneath
the dancer's extravagant theatricalism she appeared natural and
unaffected. Adoree changed the current of the conversation by saying:

"I hope those bloodhounds get to fighting."

"Don't you like them?"

"Hate 'em! I'd use 'em to scrub the windshield if I had my way."

"Why--aren't they yours?"

"Oh, I suppose so; as much as that rubber-tired igloo is mine. They're
my props, like the two British Peers on the box. Gee! I'd like to stick
chewing-gum in the side-whiskers of the tall one--the one with the
cramps in his elbows. His name's Riley, and he gets nine dollars a week
for looking like that. A man's board bill isn't particular how it's
made nowadays."

"How--FUNNY!" Lorelei was eying the speaker with undisguised curiosity.
"You're not a Frenchwoman?"

"Agnes Smith is the name. Decent by descent, but an actress by
advertising. What's YOUR game?"

"Um-m--My nose is straight; I don't limp; so I'm an actress by force of
feature."

"Married?"

"Hardly."

"Want to be?"

"Got to be."

Both girls laughed unaffectedly.

"I like you," said the dancer. "Do you mind if I get out of this
cast-iron corset and into a kimono when we get home?"

"Have you a spare one?"

"Dozens; but they're not very clean."

"That's lovely. And let's make the tea weak."

"Oh, I can't drink anything strong! I'm an awful counterfeit."

"I'm beginning to think so. I--wonder if I'm dreaming."

The girls had much in common; they chattered continuously through the
short ride, and when they alighted from the taxi-cab they disputed over
the right to pay for it. When the guest was ushered into Adoree's
apartment she received another surprise, for the place was neither
elaborate nor showy. It consisted merely of two large, comfortable
rooms overlooking a side-street lined with monotonous brown-stone
boarding-houses which for the most part were inhabited by doctors,
dressmakers, and semi-professional people.

A battered tea-kettle was set to boil over an absurd alcohol-stove that
required expert assistance to maintain its equilibrium. Adoree flung
out of her finery and donned a Japanese robe, offering another to
Lorelei. A plate of limber crackers was unearthed from somewhere, also
the disreputable remains of a box of marshmallows; and these latter
Madamoiselle Demorest toasted on a hat-pin.

"You're the most extraordinary person," her guest at length remarked.
"Aren't you going to show me your jewels or--anything like that?"

"You probably have better jewels of your own," carelessly replied
Adoree; then she voiced a very tame and womanly oath as a marshmallow
dripped into the flames. "Pickles! I spoiled that one."

"But the Cabachon rubies are real."

"Sure. So is the 'square toe' who brings 'em and takes 'em away; so is
the bond that covers 'em. Lordy, but they ARE pretty!"

"Then the King didn't give them to you?"

"My dear, I never saw a king--outside of a pinochle deck. If I lost one
of those rubies the Maiden Lane Shylock who owns them would tear enough
curled hair out of his beard to fill a mattress. You never really
believed that King stuff, did you?"

"Why, yes."

"I had no idea it worked so well." Again Miss Demorest smiled
crookedly. "No wonder you didn't want to go to the Waldorf with me; I
wonder you consented to come here."

"Your advance work is great--"

"I knew the public swallowed it; but I supposed the profession knew
press stuff when they saw it. I sang and danced for ten years in this
country and never got better time than the schutzen parks and
air-domes--seven shows a day and a change of act each week. I was Agnes
Smith then. Somehow I got the price of a ticket to England, and I
figured the music-halls would rave over a good kid imitation; but,
bless you, I starved! I was closed the first place I played--got the
hook. I ate Nabiscos till I got another date, then I pulled the
air-dome stuff that had scored in Little Rock and Michigan City, and it
got by somehow. My mother was a Canuck, so I knew some French, and
eventually I reached the Continent. There I met the Old Nick. You may
think the devil is a tall, dark man with the ace of spades on his chin
and a figure-six tail--that's what he looks like on the ham-cans; but
in reality he's a little fat, bald man with a tenor voice, and he eats
cloves. His name is Aubrey Lane, and he can't stand hot weather. Never
heard of him, eh? Well, neither had anybody else until I met him. He
was in Paris selling patent garters at the time. He saw me work at a
cabaret and told me I was good, but not good enough. I'd known that for
years, so he didn't hurt my feelings. He confessed that he was tired of
working and intended to have me make a lot of money for him, but warned
me that he had expensive tastes and I'd have to pay well for the
privilege. He was right; I did. But here I am in electric lights on
Broadway while he is exercising a wheeled chair at Atlantic City."
"He's your manager?"

"He is that very little thing. He told me I could sing until my back
ached and never get anywhere because I lacked brains. Then he offered
to make me a star if I'd allow him to hitch his chariot to me--on a
share of the gross. There was one trifling sacrifice I had to make in
the nature of my personal reputation--so he told me. He said I'd have
to be the best or else the worst actress in the world in order to land
big and support him in the luxury he craved. I couldn't hope to be the
best, so he made me the worst. He began by tying a can to the 'Agnes
Smith,' and handed me 'Adoree Demorest' instead; then he went to work.
He really did work, too, although it nearly killed him, and he's never
done anything since. I forgot to mention that I signed a contract with
him which lawyers tell me is the finest example of air-tight, time,
weather, and water proof construction that has been seen since the
Declaration of Independence. It fits closer than a rubber shirt, always
retains its shape, lasts longer than old age, and--no metal can touch
you. The King fable is a joke on the other side, but New York swallowed
it clear up to the sinker, and Aubrey gaffed the Palace Garden
management for a three years' contract. Of course, my advertised salary
is phony, just like the rubies and the wrecked throne and that gilded
bandwagon with the poodles and the stuffed supers on the box. Aubrey
owns them all except the rubies, which he rents. I'm billed as the most
notorious woman in America, and the shred of reputation I have left
wouldn't make a neck-tie for a gnat, whereas in reality I love
marshmallows and tea much more than men. But I'm a star, at the head of
my own company, and playing to sidewalk prices. Do you think it was a
good bargain?"

Lorelei had listened with breathless interest. Now she burst out
impulsively:

"You poor dear."

Miss Smith smiled, but her eyes were tragic.

"Sometimes I cry when I think about it. I--cry a good deal," said she.
"I didn't realize until too late what it meant, but, you see, I was
tired of working, tired of ambition, and I wanted to come home. Thank
God I have no people! I save all the money I can, and when I get enough
I'm going to take Agnes Smith out of the moth-balls, dust her off
tenderly, and go to raising ducks."

"Ducks? What do you mean?"

"What I say. That has always been my ambition."

"Why not quit now?"

"What's the use? I'm half-way through the swamp; the mud is as deep
behind as it is in front. But I'm deathly afraid all the time that I'll
be found out--I'd--rather be notorious than ridiculous. Of course,
Aubrey sees to that."

"Are you fond of him?"

Adoree turned up her nose. "He's a little pink rabbit. I don't like any
man, and I never have. There's only one I'd really care to meet; his
name is Campbell Pope."

"The critic. He IS nice."

"The beast. Did you read what he said about me? I'll never rest until I
have a lock of his hair that I've plucked myself. I'd love to have his
whole scalp--with say, one ear attached--hanging on my bureau where I
could see it every morning when I wake up. Somehow I don't seem to mind
the press stuff that Aubrey puts out, but Pope--actually BELIEVES what
he wrote. And other people will believe it, too. I--I--Gosh! I'm going
to cry again."

Lorelei nodded in perfect sympathy; she did not laugh. "I haven't any
girl chum; let's be friends," said she.

Adoree had been nibbling at marshmallows as she talked; as she wiped
her eyes now she left a smear of powdered sugar on her cheek.

"I'd love to--I'm simply bursting to confide in somebody--but we
couldn't go around together."

"Why? I don't care what people think."

"You can't afford to be reckless. We're each playing our own game and
chasing the dollar in our own way. The men you met would make life
unbearable for you if they knew we were pals. Aubrey was right: a girl
must either be mighty good or mighty bad in this business--or make
people think she is, which amounts to the same thing. You have had easy
going because you're known to be straight; but if you ever get into the
papers watch what will happen. You'll have to fight. You wouldn't like
that kind of fighting, either, and--I'm not sure you could stand it."

As Lorelei walked homeward that afternoon she felt an unaccustomed
warmth in her breast, and realized that she, too, had been very lonely
in the city. The certainty that she had made a friend gladdened her
heart. She looked forward with a thrill to the morrow when she could
see Adoree again.

During her absence Jim had returned and departed; but a note was
waiting for her. It had been brought by a messenger, and read:

"Things look bad. I'm afraid we'll be implicated, too. Better see your
brother quickly. M."



CHAPTER IX


Lorelei was not a little mystified by Merkle's cryptic message, for she
could imagine no possible way in which she or the writer himself could
be connected discreditably with Jarvis Hammon's affair. She gained some
light, however, when that evening she read the note to Lilas.

"Why, they're going to blackmail Merkle, too," Lilas exclaimed. "Well,
they'd be foolish to let him off, wouldn't they? Two millionaires out
with two showgirls! Hilarious foursome at the Chateau! Automobile
wreck! Foxy Pinkertons and flash-light photographs! Nice story."

"So they think he'll pay to keep his name out of the papers?"

"Exactly. And he will--for your sake."

"I won't let him."

Lilas was surprised. "Why? He's rich. He wouldn't miss a few thousand."

"You wouldn't allow Mr. Hammon to be robbed, would you?"

"Oh, wouldn't I? If he didn't care enough for me to protect me from
scandal I'd want to know it."

"Lilas, you puzzle me," confessed Lorelei, doubtfully. "You say things
that make me think you don't care for him at all; then again you seem
to be crazy about him. How DO you feel? How far would you go with him?"

Lilas laughed airily. "Perhaps I'd go farther WITH him than FOR him. He
asked me to marry him if his wife gets a divorce; and I agreed. Does
that answer your question?"

"I--suppose it does."

"Now that he has come to the point, I'm not sorry things happened just
as they did. A woman must look out for herself--no man will ever help
her. It's worth some notoriety to become Mrs. Jarvis Hammon."

Something in the speaker's words rang false; but just what that
something was, Lorelei could not decide.

"Then you'd like to see the story made public?" she queried.

"Naturally."

"I dare say if I loved a man I'd want him at any price, but I--hope I'm
not going to be dragged into this matter."

"My dear, New York has blackmailing newspapers, just as it has
blackmailing men. They live off people like Merkle. You'd be foolish to
let him escape from this just to save a few dollars, for the notoriety
will injure you, where it benefits me. It's not often that girls in our
business know men like those two. You have a family; they can make
Merkle do the right thing by you."

"I don't want him to do anything," protested Lorelei. "There's nothing
to do."

"You could make him marry you."

Lorelei winced. "Nonsense! I don't care for him. He's an old man.
There's no reason why he should."

"He could be made to pay, at least, and you'll be sorry if you don't
get something out of him. Just wait and see what a difference the story
makes with your other men friends."

During the ensuing performance Lorelei pondered her friend's
disquieting prophecy; yet she could see no reason for grave
apprehension. Publicity of the kind threatened would, of course, be
disagreeable; but how it could seriously affect her was not apparent.

Later in the evening Robert Wharton appeared, as usual, and so
resentful was he at the deceptions previously practised upon him that
Lorelei with difficulty escaped a scene. He declared positively that he
was not to be discouraged; that he proposed to have his attentions
accepted at any cost, even if it became necessary to use force. He
seemed sufficiently drunk to execute his threat, and his invitation to
supper was couched this time more in the terms of a command. At last he
borrowed a stool from the Judge, who by now was his willing vassal, and
planted himself in the hallway, where he remained throughout the
performance--a gloomy, watchful figure. Lorelei came down boldly,
dressed for the street, and, since she could not pass the besieger,
excused herself briefly. Descending the basement stairs, she crossed
under the stage, made her way into the orchestra-pit, and managed to
leave the theater by the front door.

She was waiting when Jim came home, and followed him into his room,
where they could talk without disturbing their father. Lorelei made her
accusation boldly, prepared for the usual burst of anger, but Jim
listened patiently until she paused.

"I knew you had to spill this, so I let you rave," said he. "But it's
too late; somebody has been after Hammon for a long time, and he's been
got--yes, and got good. Take a flash at THE CHORUS-GIRL'S BIBLE." He
tossed his sister a copy of a prominent theatrical paper. "I waited
until it came out."

Lorelei gasped, for on the front page glared black-typed head-lines of
the Hammon scandal. John Merkle's name was there, too and linked with
it, her own.

"Jim!" she cried aghast. "They promised to kill the story."

"Humph! Charley Murphy himself couldn't kill that."

"What is--THIS?" She ran her eye swiftly down the column.

"Sure. Melcher commenced suit against Hammon this afternoon. Fifty
thousand dollars for alienation of Lilas's affections. Joke, eh? He
claims there was a common-law marriage and he'll get the coin."

"But Mrs. Hammon?"

"The evidence is in her hands already--dates, places, photographs,
everything. She'll win her suit, too."

"Why, it sounds like a--a deliberate plot. But I don't understand who's
behind it. What part did you have in it, Jim? Were you helping Mr.
Melcher in his blackmail scheme, or--" Another possibility came to
her--"Were you by any chance working for Mrs. Hammon?"

Divining his sister's prejudice, Jim lied promptly and convincingly.
"Why, Mrs. Hammon, of course. I had a chance to turn a few dollars, and
I took it."

"But why did they drag me in? Couldn't you keep me out of it? This is
dreadful." As she ran her eye over the article she saw that it was
quite in harmony with the general tone and policy of the paper which
catered to the jaded throngs of the Tenderloin. Truth had been
cunningly distorted; flippancy, sensationalism, and a salacious double
meaning ran through it all.

"What's dreadful about it?" inquired her brother. "That sort of
advertising does a show-girl good. You've got to make people talk about
you, Sis, and this'll bring a gang of high-rollers your way. You've
been so blamed proper that nobody's interested in you any more."

For a moment Lorelei scrutinized her brother in silence, taken aback at
his outrageous philosophy. Jim had changed greatly, she mused; not
until very lately had she observed the full measure of the change in
him. He was no longer the country boy, the playmate and confidant of
her youth, but a man, sophisticated, hard, secretive. He had been
thoroughly Manhattanized, she perceived, and he was as foreign to her
as a stranger. She shook her head hopelessly.

"You're a strange brother," she said. "I hardly know what to make of
you. Has the city killed every decent instinct in you, Jim?"

"Now don't begin on the Old Home stuff," he replied, testily. "I
haven't changed any more than you have. Why, ma used to think you'd
play dead or jump through whenever she snapped her finger, but--you're
getting tough-bitted. You're getting sanctimonious in your old age.
Where you got it from I don't know--not from ma, surely, nor from dad;
he's a cheater and always has been."

"JIM!"

"Oh, you know it. I'm wondering--how long you'll stand pat."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you really intend to marry a bunch of coin?"

"That's the program, isn't it? I've been raised for that, and nothing
else."

"Well, ma can't put it over, so I guess it's up to me. Just leave
things to Brother Jim, and don't worry over what happens. Nobody along
Broadway pays any attention to this rot." He indicated the newspaper
with a wave of his cigar. After a moment he added, "Would you accept
Merkle?"

Lorelei shivered. "Oh--no! Not Mr. Merkle."

"Why not? He's all right, and he won't last long."

"The idea is--Ugh! He wouldn't ask me, and I sha'n't allow you to use
this scandal to--urge him. The proposition sounds all right in the
abstract--marriage, money, comfort, everything I want--but when it
comes right down to the point--I--always balk."

"Humph! You ought to consider the rest of us a little bit. Pa could be
cured, ma'd be happy. I could get on my feet. How about Bob Wharton?"

"He's a drunkard."

"Good Lord, you don't expect to grab a divinity student, do you? That
kind never has anything."

"Let's not talk about it, please. Mr. Wharton is getting nasty,
and--I'm beginning to be afraid of him."

"I'll bet you could land him--"

"Please. I--don't want to think about it. I dare say I'll bring myself
to marry some rich man some day; but--Merkle--Wharton--" She shuddered
for a second time. "If Mr. Wharton is serious this scandal will scare
him off, or else he'll become--just like the others. I could cry. He
threatened me to-night; I don't know how I'll manage to avoid him
to-morrow night."

"Hm-m! He's coming that strong, eh?" was Jim's interested query; but on
hearing his sister's account of the young millionaire's determined
pursuit he volunteered in his offhand way to assist her.

"I'll come for you myself, and we'll whip over to a cafe for supper."

"You'll save me from him," said Lorelei, with a wan smile, "and I'll
know that you are in good company for one evening at least."

"Don't lose any sleep over my habits," he told her, lightly; "and don't
worry yourself about this newspaper story, either. Melcher is in the
right, for Hammon cut him out with Lilas. He's after Merkle, too; so
you'll have to stand the gaff this time. I'll look up this chap Wharton
to-morrow and find out what sort of a farmer's son he really is."

As Jim and his mother breakfasted together on the following morning he
broached the subject of his recent conversation with Lorelei.

"She's sore about the story," he said. "We had a long talk last night."

"I knew she would be, and I'm not sure it was a good thing."

"We'll drag something out of it if you do your part. Merkle will pay.
Don't mention money--nothing but marriage--understand? Outraged
motherhood, ruined daughter, blasted career--that's yours. I'll be the
brother who's in the position of a father to her. I can threaten, but
you mustn't. Goldberg will close for us."

"I don't see why we have to divide with a lawyer, when it's our affair
and we can handle it ourselves," his mother complained.

"I tell you it's got to go through the regular channels. This was
Melcher's idea, and, since I'm in on the Hammon money, Max is entitled
to his bit of this. Gee! If she'd only told us she was going out with
Merkle we might have framed something worth while--I don't mind telling
you this is a pretty weak case."

"He won't stand publicity; they never do," averred Mrs. Knight.

"Oh, he's not like Hammon; he hasn't GOT a family-and Lorelei won't
back us up, either. We've got to bluff it through."

"Wouldn't he marry her?"

"Not a chance. In the first place, she wouldn't have him. Bob Wharton
is the white hope."

"She hates him, too. Goodness knows what we're going to do with her."

"I think she'll stand for Wharton if we work her right; it's him or
nobody. She's getting harder to handle every day, though, and one of
these times she'll fall for some rummy. If she ever does lose her head
she'll skid for the ditch, and we can kiss ourselves good-by. She'll be
as easy to steer as a wild boar by the tail. I guess you're sorry now
that you didn't listen to me and let Max handle her before she got
wise."

"I wouldn't feel safe with any of that crowd. I'd be terribly afraid."
Mrs. Knight shook her head dubiously.

"Say! She's got you doing it, too. Why, they don't take a chance.
Goldberg handles the legal end, and his brother is in the legislature.
But that's not all: Melcher's partner in his gambling-house is
Inspector Snell. You can't beat that. I could have Merkle killed for
five hundred bucks and never stand a pinch. I'd merely tip one of
Maxey's gunmen, and some night Old Dyspepsia Dick would wake up with a
harp in his hand. They'd get him coming out of his bank or going to his
club or leaving the theater; and nobody would dream who did it, for
there wouldn't be a motive. It's done every day, ma. Even if they
grabbed one of the boys, Melcher would spring him from the Tombs.
'Alibi' is Maxey's middle name, and he MAKES bondsmen. How do you
suppose politics are run in this town, anyhow?"

"That isn't politics; that's murder." Mrs. Knight was deeply shocked.
"This is a terrible city, Jim."

"Sure; but Max is in politics for the protection it gives him in his
other lines of business. His gambling-house is as safe as a church.
There's big money in this banker-hunting, too. Did you read about the
two old guys at the King William Hotel last month? Well, Max laid 'em
against two squabs, friends of Tony's. He got the girls into the hotel,
paid their bills, and all that. They've cleaned up about twenty
thousand so far. Of course, Lorelei won't stand for anything like that,
so we've got to marry her, I suppose."

"Just the same, I'm frightened--and this isn't honest. I wish she would
listen to Robert Wharton."

James winked meaningly. "Leave that to me. She's going to Proctor's
with me to-night. Maybe he'll join us. But meanwhile we've got Merkle
for some quick money if we work him right. I'm off for Goldy's office
now. I'll meet you at three."

When Jim reappeared, dressed for the street, he gave a bit of parting
advice:

"Better lay on the hysterics when she wakes up. It'll make it easier
for me to-night."

Lorelei found her mother visibly upset by the story in the morning's
newspaper.

"You told me you only went to supper with that man," Mrs. Knight cried,
tragically. "Instead of that you two were off in the country together
all night. Here's the whole thing." She brandished the paper
dramatically.

"Well, I told you a fib. But there's no harm done."

"Harm, indeed? You're ruined. I never read anything more disgraceful; I
daren't show it to Peter--it would kill him. What EVER possessed you,
after the way we've watched over you, after the care we've taken of
you? It's terrible."

"Please don't carry on so. It was too bad, of course, but--I'll live
through it."

The shock of this callous assertion seemed to rob Mrs. Knight of
speech; she stared at her daughter in grief and amazement.

"Mr. Merkle is a gentleman," Lorelei defended. "He'll regret this
publicity as much as I."

"The wretch! I'll teach him to spoil an innocent girl's career and drag
her name in the mud." Mrs. Knight glared balefully.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," said her daughter, sharply.

"He--ought to marry you."

"Why, mother! You're more insulting than that newspaper. The career of
a show-girl is something of a joke." Lorelei undertook to laugh, but
the attempt failed rather dismally.

"Indeed. What will the other men say? You had a character; nobody could
say a word against you until now. Do you think any decent man would
marry a girl who did a thing like this? Of course, I know you're a good
girl, but they don't, and they'll believe absolutely the worst. You've
spoiled everything, my dear; I'm completely discouraged." Mrs. Knight
began to weep in a weak, heart-broken manner, expecting Lorelei to
melt, as usual; but, seeing something in her daughter's expression that
warned her not to carry her reproaches too far, she broke out: "You're
SO hard, SO unreasonable. Don't you see I'm frantic with worry? You're
all we have, and--and the thought of an injury to your prospects nearly
kills me. You misunderstand everything I say. I--WISH you were safely
married and out of danger. I think I could die happy then. It means so
much to all of us to have you settled right away. Peter is failing
every day; Jim is going to the dogs, and--I'm sick over it all."

"I wish I WERE married and out of the way. You would all be fixed, at
least. I--don't much care about myself." Lorelei sighed in hopeless
weariness of spirit, for variations of this scene had been common of
late, and they always filled her with the blackest pessimism.

"Maybe Mr. Merkle--"

"We'll leave him out of this," declared Lorelei; "he's too decent to
have a person like me foisted upon him--and there's no reason whatever
why he should be held responsible for my notoriety." She turned away
from the dining-room with a shudder of distaste. "I don't want any
breakfast. I think I'll get some air."

As soon as she was out in the street she turned southward
involuntarily, and set off toward the establishment of Adoree Demorest.

Mrs. Knight dried her eyes and began to dress herself carefully,
preparatory to a journey into the Wall Street section of the city, for
the hour was drawing on toward three o'clock.

Meanwhile Jim, having transacted his business at Goldberg's office,
sought a more familiar haunt on one of the side-streets among the
forties. Here, just off Broadway, was a famous barber-shop--a spotless
place with white interior and tiled walls. Six Italians in stiff duck
coats practised their arts at a row of well-equipped chairs. A
wasp-waisted girl sat at the manicure-table next the front windows. As
Jim entered she was holding the hand of a jaded person in a light-gray
suit, and murmuring over it with an occasional upward glance from a
pair of bold dark eyes.

"Tony the Barber's" place was thoroughly antiseptic. Dirt was a
stranger there; germs found life within its portals a hazardous
business--what with the vitrified walls, the glass shelves, and
enameled plumbing. Even the towels were handled with tongs; the
nickel-plated steamer in which they were heated to an unbearable
temperature seemed to puff its cheeks with a consciousness of painful
and almost offensive cleanliness. The men who worked here had hard,
black eyes, but their hands were soft and white. The rows of mugs that
stood inside the glass cupboards were inscribed with the names of
prominent actors, managers, and booking-agents of the Rialto--for this
was a famous place in its way.

Tony, engaged in administering a shampoo, nodded at Jim, and from force
of habit murmured politely:

"Next!" Then, with a meaning glance, he indicated a door at the rear of
the shop. In the third chair Jim recognized Max Melcher, although the
face of the sporting-man was swathed in steaming cloths.

Jim passed on and into a rear room, where he found three men seated at
a felt-covered card-table. They were well dressed, quiet persons--one a
bookmaker whom the racing laws had reduced from affluence to
comparative penury; another, a tall, pallid youth with bulging eyes.
The third occupant of the room was an ex-lightweight champion of the
ring, Young Sullivan, by name. His trim waist and powerful shoulders
betokened his trade. His jaw was firm, and a cauliflower ear overhung
his collar like a fungus.

Jim drew up a chair and chatted idly until the book-maker yawned, rose,
and went out. Then Jim and the others relaxed.

"Gee, he's a sticker!" exclaimed the pugilist. "I thought he'd broke
his back."

"Max is getting his map greased," the pop-eyed youth explained. Taking
a pasteboard box from his pocket, he removed a heroin tablet therefrom
and crushed it; the powder he held in the indentation between the base
of his closed thumb and first finger, known as "the thimble"; then,
with a quick inhalation, he drew the drug up his nostrils. "Have an
angel?" he inquired, offering the box.

Jim accepted, but Young Sullivan declined.

"What's the news?" the latter inquired.

"I've seen Goldy," replied Jim. "Mother and I will call on Merkle at
three. I finally got her to consent."

Sullivan shook his head. "He MIGHT fall, but I doubt it. How does your
sister feel?"

"That's the trouble. She's square, and we can't use her," Jim explained.

"Some doll!" admiringly commented Armistead, the third member of the
group. Armistead had once been famed in vaudeville for dancing, but the
drug habit had destroyed his endurance, and with it his career. "She's
a perfect thirty-six, all right. She could rip a lot of coin loose if
she tried."

At this moment Mr. Melcher, freshly perfumed and talcumed, entered the
room. His white hair was arranged with scrupulous nicety; his pink
face, as unwrinkled as his immaculate attire, was beaming with good
humor.

"Well, boys, I'm the pay-car," he smiled.

"Hammon came through, eh?" Sullivan inquired, eagerly.

"Not exactly; we compromised. Quick sales and small profits; that's
business."

"How strong did he go?" queried Armistead.

"Now, what's the difference, so long as you get yours? Photography is a
paying business." Melcher laughed agreeably.

"Sure! I'll bet Sarony is rich." Young Sullivan carelessly accepted the
roll of currency which Melcher tossed him, and the others did likewise.

"I suppose that's curtain for us," Jim said, regretfully.

"It is. The rest is Lilas's affair."

"Say, will the old man fall AGAIN?" queried Armistead.

"He's going to marry her!" The three others stared at him in amazement.
"Right!" confirmed Melcher. "She's got a strangle hold on him."

"Hm-m! Maybe we haven't lost the last car yet," Sullivan ventured.

Jim seconded the thought. "She's got an ace buried somewhere. There's a
lot more in her head than hair-pins. I wish Merkle would marry my
sister."

"Not a chance," Melcher declared. "You'll be lucky to shake him down
for a few thousand. How about Wharton? Will she stand for him?"

Jim frowned, and his voice was rough as he replied:

"I'll MAKE her stand for him--if it's a marry."

"He's a lush; if you got him stewed he might go that far. It has been
done; but, of course, it's all up to the girl. Anyhow, if he balks at
the altar we might get him for something else."

"I'm not sure I'll need any help in this." Jim looked up coldly. "If he
marries her, that ends it; if we have to frame him, of course I'll
split."

"How are you going to frame him, with a square dame like Lorelei?"
asked Armistead.

"Frame both of them," Melcher said, shortly. "By the way, he's a
gambler, too, isn't he? Bring him in some night, Jim, and I'll turn for
him myself."

"Save his cuff-buttons for me," laughed Young Sullivan, idly riffling
the cards. "Gee! Money comes easy to some folks. Don't you guys never
expect to do any honest work?"



CHAPTER X


Jim's appearance when he entered the dressing-room that night was a
surprise; he was clad in faultless evening attire.

"Why the barbaric splendor?" inquired Lorelei. "Don't you know I'm only
your sister?"

"I've GOT these Moe Levys, so I might as well wear 'em. I'm tired of
running a moth-garage," he replied, laying aside his stick, gloves, and
hat with a care that betrayed his unfamiliarity with them. "What have
you got to go with this scenery?"

"Do you want me to dress, too?"

"Sure thing. Look your best, and make me think I'm a regular John."

"Bergman dropped in to see me to-night," she told him, after they had
gossiped for a moment. "He referred to that story in this morning's
Despatch."

"Yes?"

"I don't like the way he talked."

"Fresh?"

"He's always that, but this time he was something more. He thinks he
owns the girls who work for him."

Jim replied, carelessly: "Blow him and his job. You can get on at the
Palace Garden."

"There's my contract: he can discharge me, you know, but I can't
quit--that's one of the peculiarities of a theatrical contract.
Well--he insisted on taking me to supper."

"A brother is a handy thing, once in a while, but for every-day use,
you need a 'steady' with a kick in each mit."

"I wish YOU would punch him."

"Who? Me? And go joy-riding with a square-toe? Nix. I'm too refined.
Did you see to-night's papers?"

"There wasn't much in them."

Jim smiled wisely. "There would have been if things hadn't gone right.
I'm glad for your sake."

"Oh, the harm's done, I suppose. But there's one good thing about
it--Bob Wharton hasn't bothered me this evening."

Jim, with an expressionless face, turned to speak to Lilas Lynn, who
had just come in. When his sister came down after the last act, he was
waiting at the door and helped her into a cab, despite her
protestations that she would much prefer to walk.

"What are you going to do with all the coin you save? Slip it to the
shoemakers?" he laughed. "I don't go out often; you'd better spring me
good."

As they seated themselves in the main room at Proctor's he appraised
her with admiring eyes. "You're the candy, Sis. There's class to that
lay-out."

"It's part of the game to look well in public, but I'd have enjoyed
myself more if we had gone to Billy the Oysterman's and dressed the
part." She surveyed the gaudy dining-room with its towering marble
columns, its tremendous crystal festoons showering a brilliant but
becoming light upon the throngs below, then nodded here and there to
casual greetings.

Proctor's was a show-place, built upon the site of a former resort the
fame of which had been nation-wide; but the crowds that frequented it
now were of a different type to those that had gathered in "the old
Proctor's." Nowadays the customers were largely visitors to the city in
whom the spirit of Bohemianism was entirely lacking. The new resort was
too splendid for the old-time atmosphere. Magnificent panels done by a
gifted artist were set into the walls and distant ceiling; an elaborate
marble stairway rose from the street-level to the hall itself, but
instead of extending an air of cheerful welcome it seemed to yawn
hungrily for the occupants of the place, rudely inviting them to
descend when they had sufficiently admired the costly furnishings. A
superb orchestra was playing, hordes of waiters hovered about the
serving-tables and sped noiselessly along the carpeted spaces between
the dining-tables; but, despite the lights and the music, it was
evident that the servitors outnumbered the guests. Nominally high wages
were offset by the various deceptions open to an ingenious management;
prices were higher here than elsewhere; the coat-rooms were robbers'
dens infested by Italian mafiosi; tips were extravagant and amounted in
effect to ransom; and each meal-check was headed by an illegible scrawl
which masked an item termed "service." The figure opposite would have
covered the cost of a repast at Childs's. But New York dearly loves to
be pillaged; it cherishes a reputation for princely carelessness of
expenditure. It follows that freedom from extortion in places of
entertainment argues a want of popularity, than which nothing can be
more distressing to contemplate. Nothing speeds the Manhattan
sleep-hater more swiftly to a change of scene than the knowledge that
he is getting his money's worth.

"Speaking of clothes," Jim continued, staring past his sister to
another table, "there seems to be a strike-breaker in the room. Pipe
the gink with the night-shirt under his coat, and the shoe-string tie.
There must be a masquerade--Say! He's bowing to YOU."

"Hush! It's Campbell Pope, the critic."

Mr. Pope had risen and was slouching toward them. He took Lorelei's
hand, then shot a sharp glance at her escort as the girl introduced
them. Accepting Jim's mumbled invitation, he seated himself and
instructed a waiter to bring his coffee. Jim continued to eye him with
poorly concealed amusement, until Pope led him into conversation,
whereupon the youth began to take in the fact that his guest's
intelligence and appearance were entirely out of harmony. Wisely, Jim
sheltered himself behind an assumption of pleasantry he was far from
feeling. He also watched the nearest entrance with some anxiety, for
the reviewer's presence did not fit well with his plans. As he finished
ordering he heard Pope say:

"I was sorry the story got out, Miss Knight; but it was pretty well
smothered in this evening's papers. Of course, you were dragged in by
the hair to afford a Roman spectacle: we all saw what it meant when it
came to us."

"What did it mean?" queried Jim, with brotherly interest.

"Blackmail. The word was written all over it. Melcher's connection with
the affair was proof of that; then--the way it was handled! Nobody
touched it except the Despatch, and, of course, it got its price."

"I thought newspapers paid for copy," innocently commented Jim.

"Yes, real newspapers; but the gang had to publish the stuff somewhere.
It is reported that Hammon paid fifty thousand dollars to prevent
Melcher from filing suit. I dare say things will be quiet around Tony
the Barber's now."

"You press people certainly have got a lot up your sleeves." James's
involuntary start of dismay did not pass unnoticed. He did not relish
the gleam in Pope's eyes, and he hastily sought refuge in a goblet of
water, notwithstanding his distaste for the liquid.

"We sometimes know as much as the police, and we invariably tell more,"
continued Pope. "Yes, a business man can get a hair-cut in Tony's
without fear of family complications now. I suppose Armistead is
smoking hop; young Sullivan is probably laying an alcoholic foundation
for a wife-beating, and--the others are spending Hammon's money in the
cafes."

Jimmy Knight paled, for behind Pope's genial smile were both mockery
and contempt; a panic swept him lest this fellow should acquaint
Lorelei with the truth. Jim lost interest in his clams and thereafter
avoided conversation with the wariness of a fox.

He was still glowing with resentment when Robert Wharton paused at the
table and greeted its occupants cheerily. In response to Jim's
invitation Bob drew up a fourth chair, seated himself, and began to
beam upon Lorelei. Noting the faint line of annoyance between her
brows, he laughed.

"Retreat is cut off," he announced, complacently; "escape is hopeless.
I've left orders to have the windows barred and the doors walled up."

"Eh? What's the idea?" inquired Pope.

Wharton answered sadly: "My vanity has suffered the rudest jolt of its
young career; I mourn the death of a perfectly normal and healthy
self-conceit, age twenty-nine. Services at noon; friends and relatives
only."

"Oho! You've heard the seductive song of the Rhine maiden?" Pope's eyes
were twinkling.

"Eh?--I'm tangled up like a basket of ticker-tape. You see, Campbell, I
drink; candor compels me to acknowledge that much. In a moment of folly
I was indiscreet, and ever since I have been trying to apologize. I
have borne garlands of roses, offers of devotion, plaintive invitations
to dine, but--the Circuit is a trick theater and it has a thousand
doors. All I have to show for my efforts at reparation is a bad cold, a
worse temper, and a set of false teeth which the doorman pledged with
me for a loan of ten dollars. I have Mr. Regan's dental frieze in my
bureau-drawer--but they only grin at me in derision. In short, I'm in
Dutch, and there sits the adorable cause of my sorrows."

In spite of Wharton's reproachful tone, the gaze he bent upon Lorelei
was good-humored, and she saw that he was in a mood different to any
she had ever seen him in. Strange to say, he was sober, or nearly so,
and he was plainly determined to make her like him.

"Has he annoyed you, Miss Knight?" asked Pope.

"Dreadfully."

Wharton explained further. "The first time we met I deserved to be
slapped, and I was. You see, I was ruder than usual. But I have sobered
up purposely to apologize; I have repented, and--well, here we are,
thanks to brother James."

"Thanks to--Jim?" Lorelei raised her brows.

Pope turned to young Knight and said, politely, "That is my foot you
are stamping on."

Ignoring Jim's mute appeal, Wharton ran on smilingly: "He promised to
shackle you to a table until I could stammer out my halting apologies,
and now that I've done so in the presence of press and public won't you
forgive me and help me to bury the hatchet in a Welsh rarebit?" He was
speaking directly to her with a genuine appeal in his handsome eyes.
Now that she saw him in his right mind, it was unexpectedly hard to
resist him, for he was very boyish and friendly--quite unlike the
person who had so grievously offended her.

When she and Jim had first entered the restaurant they had received a
polite but casual recognition from the head waiter, whose duty it was
to know all the stage favorites; but there attentions had ceased. With
Wharton as a member of the party, however, there came a change. The
head waiter himself hustled forward and, catching Lorelei's eye,
signaled her with an appreciative droop of the lid. Her arrangement
with Proctor's was of long standing, and her percentage was fixed, but
this time she did not respond to the sign. Mr. Proctor himself paused
momentarily at the table and rested a hand upon Wharton's shoulder
while he voiced a few platitudes. Then in some inexplicable manner
Robert found himself not only ordering for himself, but supplementing
Jim's MENU with rare and expensive viands. As a great favor, he was
advised of a newly imported vintage wine which the proprietor had
secured for his own use; if Mr. Wharton wished to try it the steward
would appeal directly to Mr. Proctor and secure the keys as a personal
favor. Nothing like this wine had been seen in New York for years,
possibly in a lifetime; it was an opportunity, and Mr. Proctor was
eager to accommodate those who really knew wines. A visiting prince had
offered him a fabulous price for the remaining bottles, but he had
refused. To partake of this vintage was almost like drinking up the
sunshine; darkness, complete and eternal, would follow when this
precious shipment was exhausted.

Of course Mr. Wharton wished to sample such a vintage, any vintage, in
fact, since a thousand fires were consuming him, and his nerves were on
edge from the night before. The first draught electrified him, his
spirits rose and he swept his companions along with his enthusiasm.
From surrounding tables people accosted him; men paused in passing to
exchange a word about stocks, polo, scandal, Newport, tennis, Tuxedo;
none were in the least stiff or formal, and all expressed in one way or
another their admiration for Lorelei. Women whom she knew were not of
her world beamed and smiled at the young millionaire. It was a new
experience for the girl, who felt herself, as the supper progressed,
becoming conspicuous without the usual disagreeable accompaniments. Men
no longer openly ogled her; women did not nudge each other and whisper;
her presence in company with a member of the idolized rich was causing
gossip, but gossip of a flattering kind.

All this attention, however, had quite the contrary effect upon
Campbell Pope. Much to Jim's relief, he excused himself shortly,
whereupon the former, after allowing Wharton to pay the score,
suggested a dance, breezily sweeping aside his sister's mild objection.
Of course, Bob was delighted, and soon the trio had set out upon a
round of the dancing-cafes.

At the first place they visited they had difficulty in gaining
entrance, for a crowd was held in check by the heavy plush cord
stretched across the door to the restaurant proper; but here again
Wharton's name proved potent. The barrier was lowered, and the party
managed to squeeze their way into a badly ventilated Turkish room,
where a demented darky orchestra was drumming upon various instruments
ranging in resonance from a piano to a collection of kitchen utensils.
Tables had been crowded around the walls and into the balcony so
closely that the occupants rubbed shoulders, but the center of the
lower floor was occupied by a roped corral in which a mass of dancers
were revolving like a herd of milling cattle. Dusty, tobacco-smoked
oriental rugs, banners and lanterns, suspended from walls and balcony
railings, lent a semblance of "color" to the place; little Moorish
alcoves were set into the walls, in and out of which undersized waiters
dodged like rabbits in a warren. The attendants were irritable; they
perspired freely, they bumped into people, squeezed past, or, failing
in that, crawled over the seated guests.

After a breathless half-hour of this the three sought a resort farther
up-town, where they found the entire upper floors of a restaurant
building given over to "trotting." During the previous winter the craze
for dancing had swept New York like a plague, and the various Barbary
Coast figures had reached their highest popularity. Here, too, the
rooms were thronged and the tables taken, despite the lateness of the
season, but for a second time Wharton demonstrated that to a man about
town of his accomplishments no place is really closed.

However loud the protest against this latest fad, it is doubtful if its
effect is wholly harmful, for it at least introduced vigorous exercise
and rhythmic movement into the midnight life of the city. Women went
home in the gray dawn with faces flushed from natural causes; exquisite
youths of nocturnal habits learned to perspire and to know the feeling
of a wilted collar.

Bob Wharton had drunk heavily, but up to this time he had shown little
effect from his potations beyond a growing exhilaration; now, however,
the wine was taking toll, and Lorelei felt a certain pity for him.
Waste is shocking; it grieved her to see a man so blessed with
opportunity flinging himself away so fatuously. The hilarity which
greeted him on every hand spoke of misspent nights and a reckless
prodigality that betokened long habitude. Only his splendid
constitution--that abounding vitality which he had inherited from
sturdy, temperate forebears--enabled him to keep up the pace; but
Lorelei saw that he was already beginning to show its effect. Judging
from to-night's experience, he was still, in his sober moments, a
normal person; but once he had imbibed beyond a certain point his past
excesses uncovered themselves like grinning faces. Alcohol is a
capricious master, seldom setting the same task twice, nor directing
his slaves into similar pathways. He delights, moreover, in reversing
the edge of a person's disposition, making good-natured people pettish
or morose, while he sometimes improves those of naturally evil temper.
Often under his sway the somber and the stoical become gay and
impulsive, while the joyful sink into despondency. But with Robert
Wharton, liquor intensified a natural agreeableness until it cloyed.
His amenities were monstrously magnified; he became convivial to the
point of offensiveness. In the course of this metamorphosis he was many
things, and through such a cycle he worked to-night while the girl
looked on.

Overcoming his niggardly instincts, Jimmy Knight, as the evening
progressed, assumed the burden of entertainment. He, too, adopted a
spendthrift gaiety and encouraged Wharton's libations, although he
drank little himself.

There came a time when Bob could no longer dance--when, in fact, he
could barely walk--and then it was that Jim proposed leaving. Bob
readily agreed--having reached a condition of mellowness where he
agreed enthusiastically to anything--and Lorelei was only too glad to
depart. She had witnessed the pitiful breaking-down of Bob's faculties
with a curious blending of concern and dismay, but her protests had
gone unheeded. Having had a glimpse of his real self earlier in the
evening, and being wise in the ways of intemperance, she felt only pity
for him now as the three made their way down-stairs.

While Jim went in search of their belongings Bob propped himself
against the wall and regarded her admiringly through eyes that were
filmed and unfocusable.

"Fairy Princess, you are more adorable every minute," he said, thickly.
"Yes! A thousand yesses. And I'm your little friend, eh? No more slaps,
no more mysterious exits, what?"

"That depends upon you."

"I'm behaving finely," he vaunted. "I usually act much worse than I
have to-night, but I like you. I like you differently--understand? Not
like the other girls. You're so beautiful! Makes me dizzy. You forgive
my little joke, eh?"

"What joke?"

"Meeting you the way I did to-night. Jim's nice boy--obliged to him."

"I see. Then it was all planned?"

He nodded vehemently and nearly lost his balance.

"How much--did you pay him?" Lorelei queried, with, difficulty.

Mr. Wharton waved his hand in a magnificent gesture. "What's money,
anyhow? Somebody's bound to get it."

"Fifty dollars?"

He looked at her reproachfully. "That's an insult to Jim--he's a
business man, he is. More than that--Oh yes, and I'll take care of him
again--this very night. I'll stake him. He knows a place."

"Will you do me a favor?" she asked, after a pause.

Wharton assured her with abnormal emphasis that her lightest wish was
law.

"Then go straight home from here," she pleaded.

"I say, that's not fair." Bob looked ludicrously shocked. "I promised
Jim--Wouldn't have me break a sacred promise, would you? We're
expected--a little game all arranged where we can bust it quick. If you
hear a loud noise--that'll be Melcher going broke."

"Melcher!" Lorelei looked sharply at her brother, who was approaching
with her wraps, and noted that he was perfectly sober. A moment later
she checked Bob in the act of giving directions to the cab-driver:

"Wait. Where do you live, Mr. Wharton?"

"The Charlevoix." It was the most expensive bachelor apartment building
in the city.

"Drive to the Charlevoix," she told the chauffeur.

"Hold on, Sis," cried Jim. "We're going to take you home first."

"No."

"But--" Jim saw in his sister's face something that brought a smothered
oath to his lips. Drawing her out of hearing, he muttered, angrily,
"Mind your business; I've got something on."

"I know you have." She met his eyes unflinchingly. "But you sha'n't rob
him."

Jim thrust his thin face close to hers, and she saw that it was
distorted with rage. "If you don't want to go home, stay here. He's
going with me."

"We'll see."

She turned, but he seized her roughly. "What are you going to do?" he
demanded.

"I'm going to tell him he's being taken to a crooked gambling-house,
and that you're working for Max Melcher. He isn't too drunk to
understand that."

Her brother clenched his fist menacingly, but she did not recoil, and
he thought better of his impulse.

"Are you grand-standing?" he queried, brutally. "Are you stuck on the
boob? or do you want your bit?"

Without reply she walked back to the cab, redirected the driver to the
Charlevoix, then seated herself beside Wharton, who was already sinking
into a stupor. Jim slunk in behind her, and they were whirled southward.

It was a silent ride, for the besotted young millionaire slept, and Jim
dared not trust himself to speak. Lorelei closed her eyes, nauseated,
disillusioned, miserable, seeing more clearly than ever the depths into
which she had unwittingly sunk, and the infamy into which Jim had
descended. Nor was the change, she reflected, confined to them alone.
Upon the other members of the family the city had stamped its mark just
as plainly. She recalled the ideals, the indefinite but glorious dreams
of advancement that she had cherished upon leaving Vale, and realized
with a shock how steadily she had degenerated. Where was her girlhood?
Where was that self-respect, that purity of impulse and thought that
all men recognize as precious? Gradually, bit by bit, they had slipped
away. Wisdom had come in their place; knowledge was hers, but faith had
rotted. Time was when the sight of a drunken man filled her with
terror; now the one beside her scarcely awakened disgust. Bad women had
seemed unreal--phantoms of another world. Now she brushed shoulders
with them daily, and her own maidenhood was soiled by the contact. She
was a girl only in name; in reality she was a woman of the streets, or
so she viewed herself in the bitterness of this hour.

At his hotel Wharton roused himself, and Lorelei sent him reeling into
the vestibule. Then she and Jim turned homeward through the deserted
streets.



CHAPTER XI


During the last act of the matinee on the day following Lorelei was
surprised to receive a call from John Merkle. "The Judge" led him to
her dressing-room, then shuffled away, leaving him alone with her and
Mrs. Croft.

"I hope I haven't broken any rules by dropping in during your office
hours," he began.

"Theatrical rules are made to be broken; but I do think you are
indiscreet. Don't you?"

The banker had been using his eyes with an interest that betrayed his
unfamiliarity with these surroundings. "I was on my way up-town and
preferred not to telephone." He looked meaningly at Croft; and Lorelei,
interpreting his glance, sent the dresser from the room on some errand.
"Well, the game worked," said Merkle. "Mrs. Hammon has left home and
commenced suit for divorce. If our friend Miss Lynn had set out to ruin
Jarvis socially--and perhaps financially--she couldn't have played her
cards better."

"Is that what you came to tell me?"

Merkle hesitated. "No," he admitted, "it isn't; but I'm a bit
embarrassed now that I'm here. I suppose your mother told about seeing
me?"

"My mother?" Lorelei's amazement was convincing, and his keen eyes
softened. "When did you see mother? Where?"

"Yesterday, at my office. Didn't you know that she and your brother had
called?"

Lorelei shook her head; she felt sick with dread of his next words.

"It was very--unpleasant, I fear, for all of us."

"What did they--want?" The girl was still smiling, but her lips beneath
the paint were dry.

"They felt that I had--er--involved you in a great deal of notoriety.
From what they said I judged that you shared their feelings." He paused
awkwardly once more, and she motioned him to continue. "We didn't get
on very well, especially your brother and I; for he presumed
to--criticize my relations with you and--er--my motive in taking you to
ride the other night. I believe I was quite rude to him; in fact, I had
the watchman eject him, not daring to trust myself."

"They asked for--money?" Lorelei averted her face, for she could not
bear to meet his frank eyes.

"Yes--what I considered a great deal of money. I understood they
represented you. They didn't insist, however; they offered me a choice."

"Choice? Of what?"

"Well--I inferred that marriage would undo the wrong I had--"

"Oh-h!" Lorelei rose with a gasp. Bravely she stilled the tremor of her
lips. "Tell me--the rest."

"There isn't much more. Your mother was quite hysterical and--noisy.
To-day a lawyer came to see me. He offers to settle the whole matter,
but I prefer dealing directly with you."

"Do you think I knew anything about it?" she cried, indignantly.

"No, I do NOT think so now. Yesterday I was too much surprised and too
angry to know just what I did think. It's perfectly true, however, that
I was to blame for the unfortunate outcome of the ride, and I want to
make amends for any injury--"

"Weren't you injured, too, by the publicity?"

Merkle showed his teeth in a mirthless smile.

"That's neither here nor there."

"Please--leave me, and--let me think this over. I must do something
quickly, or--I'll smother."

"I'm glad I came," said he, rising. "I'm glad I made sure."

"So am I. What you have told me has made a great difference
in--everything. Don't allow them to--" She hesitated and her voice
broke. "I can't say it. Y-you must think I'm--unspeakable."

He shook his head gravely. "No, I merely think you are very
unfortunate. I think you need help more than any girl I ever knew."

"I do. I do."

"But I am not the one to give it--at least not the kind of help you
need."

"I'll need help more than ever--after to-night."

"Yes? Why?"

"Because I'm going to leave home." Lorelei's head was up, and she spoke
with a note of defiance.

"Then perhaps I CAN do something." He seated himself again. "You will
need money."

"Oh no. I have my salary and the other revenues you know about. I have
kept my family for two years."

"Work won't hurt you, but why force yourself to go on with those other
things? They're not to your liking, I'm sure."

"My mother and father must live. There isn't enough--don't you see?
There just isn't enough for all of us unless I--graft like the other
girls."

Merkle broke out, impatiently: "Make an end of it. I'll finance you."
She laughed a little harshly. "Don't misunderstand me," he went on,
almost eagerly. "Don't think for an instant that I'd venture to expect
anything in return. I won't trouble you; I won't even see you. Nobody
will ever know. I wouldn't miss the money, and I'd really love to do
it. You tried to do me a favor--"

"There's no use arguing."

"Well, don't be stubborn or hasty. You could use--say, ten thousand
dollars. It would keep you going very nicely, and really it's only the
price of a new auto."

"Why do you offer me so much?" she asked, curiously.

"Because I like you--Oh, I mean 'LIKE,' not 'LOVE'! Because I think
you're a good sort and will need money to remain good. You're not an
ordinary woman, Miss Knight; you can't live as ordinary women live, now
that you're famous. New York won't let you."

"You're very kind and generous after all that has occurred and after
knowing my reason for being here."

"My dear child, you didn't choose your family, and as for the other,
the women of my set marry for money, just as you plan to do. So do
women everywhere, for that matter, and many of them make excellent
wives--yes, far better than if they had married poor men. Few girls as
beautiful as you in any walk of life are allowed to marry for love.
Trust me, a woman like you, if she lives up to the obligations of
wifehood, deserves better than one who takes a man for love and then
perhaps goes back on her bargain. Will you accept my offer?"

"No. But I thank you."

"Think it over; there is no hurry, and remember I want to help." With
one of his infrequent, wan smiles he extended his hand, and Lorelei
grasped it warmly, though her face was set and strained.

She was far too well balanced for hasty resolutions, but her mind, once
made up, was seldom changed. It distressed her grievously to leave her
people, but at the thought of remaining longer with them every instinct
rebelled. Her own kin, urged by greed, had not hesitated to cheapen and
degrade her; their last offense, coupled with all that had gone before,
was more than could be borne. Yet she was less resentful than sad, for
it seemed to her that this was the beginning of the end. First the
father had been crippled, then the moral fiber of the whole family had
disintegrated until the mother had become a harpy, the brother a scamp,
and she, Lorelei, a shameless hunter of men. Now the home tie, that
last bond of respectability, was to be broken.

Her first impulse was to take up her abode with Adoree Demorest, but a
little thought showed the inadvisability of that. In her doubt she
appealed to Lilas, broaching the subject as the two girls were dressing
after the performance.

"An apartment?" echoed the latter. "Why, my building is full of them.
Who wants one?"

"I do."

"You--?" Lilas turned with her mouth full of hair-pins, and her hands
halted in their nimble duties.

When Lorelei had made known her decision, the other girl nodded her
approval.

"I don't blame you a bit; a girl needs liberty. I have five rooms, and
a Jap to take care of them; they're lovely."

"I can't afford an expensive place."

"Well, there are some three-room flats in the rear, and--I have it!
Gertie Moore kept one, but she's gone on the road. It's all furnished,
too. Some Rah-rah boy from Columbia fixed it up for her, but they had a
row, broke the engagement, and she joined out with the 'Kissing Girls.'
If it hasn't been sublet you can get it at your own terms. The building
is respectable, too; it's as proper as the Ritz. I'm dining alone
to-night. Come to dinner with me and we'll find out all about it."

Lorelei would have preferred a different location, not particularly
desiring to be near Lilas; but there was no time in which to look
about, and the necessity that faced her made any assistance welcome.
Without more discussions she agreed, and the two girls rode up-town
together.

The Elegancia, where Lilas lived, was a painfully new, over-elaborate
building with a Gothic front and a Gotham rear--half its windows pasted
with rental signs. Six potted palms, a Turkish rug, and a jaundiced
Jamaican elevator-boy gave an air of welcome to the ornate marble
entrance-hall.

Lilas fitted a key to the first door on the right as they went in,
explaining, "I'm on the ground floor, and find it very convenient."

"This place is too grand for me," Lorelei objected.

"Oh, offer your own price for Gertie's flat if you like it. They're
crazy for tenants. If you didn't want a furnished place you could get
in rent-free. They have to fill up these buildings to sell them. I've
lived for months without paying a cent, and always in a new apartment.
As soon as my lease was up and the owner wanted to renew I'd move to
another house that wasn't full. It's cheaper than hotels--if you want
to save money."

Lorelei was surprised to find her friend's quarters not only richly,
but lavishly furnished. The floors were covered with rugs of the
deepest hue and richest luster; the furniture of the front room into
which she was first ushered was of an inlaid foreign pattern, of which
she could not guess the name or period. There was a player-piano to
match the furniture, and a cabinet of rolls. Near by stood a specially
made Victrola with an extensive selection of records. There were bronze
lamps, ravishing bits of bric-a-brac, lace curtains of which she could
judge the quality, and heavy hangings, sheathed now in their summer
coverings. The decorations of the room were harmonious and bespoke a
reckless disregard of cost. A fluffy Japanese spaniel with protruding
eyes and distorted visage capered deliriously at its mistress's feet.

But the objects that intrigued the visitor most strongly were several
paintings. They were of a kind she had seldom seen, and in the
afternoon light one stood out with particularly startling effect. It
was a dusky landscape; there was a stream, a meadow edge, trees just
growing black against a dying sunset, a herd of cattle coming out of
the west. Before this picture Lorelei paused, staring with wide eyes of
wonder.

Lilas flung her hat carelessly into a chair, lit a cigarette from a
Tiffany humidor, then turned with the spaniel in her arms and,
beholding her guest with rapt, upturned face, remarked, with a laugh:

"Looks the real thing, doesn't it?"

"Oh--it's wonderful--so clean and cool and quiet! I've seen cattle in
Vale that looked just like those, when I went barefoot in the grass."

"Some Dutchman painted it--his name's in the corner. He's dead now, I
believe. It used to hang in some museum--I forget where. I like
pictures of women best, but--" She shrugged and left her sentence
unfinished. "There's a dandy in my bedroom, although it didn't cost
half as much as that barn-yard thing. The frame's a foot wide and
covered with solid gold."

"I had no idea you lived like this." Lorelei peered through a pair of
French doors and into a perfectly appointed library, with a massive
mahogany table, deep lounging-chairs, a writing-desk, and a
dome-crowned reading-lamp.

"My study," Lilas laughed, shortly. "That's where I improve my
mind--not. The books are deadly. Now come; Hitchy Koo must have dinner
ready. His name isn't Hitchy Koo, but it sounds like it, and he's 'the
cutest little thing; got the cutest little swing.'" She moved down the
hall humming the chorus of the senseless popular song from which she
had quoted.

Everywhere was the same evidence of good taste in decoration and luxury
of equipment, but a suspicion had entered Lorelei's mind, and she
avoided comment. Hitchy Koo was cook, butler, and house-boy, and in
view of Miss Lynn's disorderly habits it was evident that he had all he
could do to keep the place presentable. His mistress possessed that
faculty of disarrangement so common in stage-women; wherever she went
she left confusion behind; she was careless to the point of
destruction, and charred marks upon the handsome sideboard and table
showed where glowing cigarette stumps had suffered a negligent demise.
The spaniel was allowed to worry bits of food that left marks on the
rug; his owner ate without appetite and in a hypercritical mood that
took no account of the wasteful attempts to please her. Quite
regardless of the patient little Jap, she alternately found fault with
him and discussed with her guest matters of so frank a nature that
Lorelei was often painfully embarrassed.

"So, you like my home, do you?" she queried, after a time.

"I've never seen one so beautiful."

Lilas nodded. "Hitchy sleeps out, and that leaves me the whole place.
Jarvis furnished it, even to the books, and I'm studying to be a lady."
Again she laughed mockingly. "I make a bluff at reading, but so long as
I talk about Napoleon he never thinks to question me. I know that
French gink backward."

"I wish I had a hobby--something to interest me, something to live
for," said Lorelei, lamely.

"Yes. It gives you something to think about when you're alone. It helps
you to--stand things." For the first time Lilas showed a trace of
feeling in her voice; she dropped her chin into her palm and, leaning
upon the table, stared as if at a vision. Her dark eyes were somber,
her brows were lowered and drawn together.

The slipshod informality of the meal, the constant faultfinding of the
hostess, made it something of a trial. Lorelei was not sorry when it
was over and Lilas took her to look at the vacant flat.

Miss Moore's apartment offered a wide contrast to the one they had just
quitted, being very small and very modestly furnished; but it was on
the second floor, convenient to both elevator and stairway, it boasted
a piano, and the superintendent allowed his prospective tenant to name
her own terms. She descended with relief, feeling that she had made not
a bad bargain.

She stated, as she sank into Lilas's big library chair, "I feel quite
independent at last. The rent is ridiculous, and I can do my own
cooking."

"Don't make a fool of yourself. You can do as well as I've done. You
have the looks."

"But I'm not engaged to a multimillionaire."

"It seems queer, when I think of it," Lilas mused. "Jarvis is one of
the richest men in New York, and he made his money out of the steel
business--the business into which I was born. Have you ever been
through a mill?"

"No."

"It's wonderful, terrible. I can smell the hot slag, the scorching
cinders, the smoke, to this day. Some nights I wake up--screaming, it's
so vivid. I see the glare of the furnaces, the belching flames, the
showers of sparks from the converters, the streams of white-hot metal,
and they seem to pour over me. I have the same dream always; I've had
it ever since the night after my father was killed."

"You told me he was killed in a steel-mill."

"Yes, before my eyes. I saw it." Lilas shuddered. "I was a little girl
then, but I've never forgotten. We were poor, dreadfully poor, like all
the Jews--Oh yes; didn't you know I'm a Jew?"

"Then 'Lilas Lynn'--?"

"Stage name. It's really Lily Levinski. We were Polish. I was dragged
up, along with the other workmen's children, in the soot and grime of
the Pennsylvania mills. We never saw anything green; nothing grew in
our town. I learned to play on a slag-pile, and my shoes, when I had
any, were full of holes--the scars are on my feet yet. Everything was
grim and gray there, and the children were puny, big-eyed little
things. ... The mills were hideous by day, but at night they
became--oh, tremendous. They changed the sky into a flaring canopy,
they roared with the clashing of rolls and the rumble of gears; the men
looked black and tiny, like insects, against the red glow from the
streaming metal. ...

"Hell must be like those mills--it couldn't be worse. I used to watch
the long rows of little cars, each with an upright ingot of hot steel
on its way to the soaking-pit, and I used to fancy they were unhappy
spirits going from one torture to another. When the furnaces opened and
the flames belched out into the night--they threw horrible black
shadows, you know, like eddies of pitch--or when the converters dumped.
... They lit up the sky with an explosion of reds and yellows and
whites that put out the stars. It--it was like nothing so much as hell."

Lorelei had never heard her room-mate speak with such feeling nor in
such a strain. But Lilas seemed quite unconscious of her little burst
of eloquence. She was seated, leaning forward now with hands locked
between her knees; her eyes were brilliant in the gathering dusk. Her
memories seemed to affect her with a kind of horror, yet to hold her
fascinated and to demand expression.

"I was an imaginative kid," she continued. "It's a trait of our people,
like--well, like their distrust of authority and their fear of law. You
see, persecution made them cunning, but underneath they are fierce and
revengeful and--lawless. I inherited all these traits--but that has
nothing to do with the story. Father worked in the Bessemer plant, like
any hunkie, and the women used to bring the men's lunches to them.
Mother wasn't strong, and that duty fell to me; I had my stand where I
used to wait for the whistle to blow. ...

"It was one of the biggest mills in Pennsylvania, and its tonnage was
always heavy because the superintendent was a slave-driver. He was one
of those men who are born without soul or feeling, and he had no
interest in anything except rails and plates. His plant held the
record, month after month, but at last he lost the broom at the stack.
That was the pennant of victory--a broom tied to the highest chimney. I
remember hearing father and the others talk about it, and they seemed
to feel the loss--although, goodness knows, they had little reason for
wanting to keep the broom, since it meant only more sweat and labor for
them, while the glory all went to the superintendent. But that's the
way with men. ...

"One day I took my bucket and joined the line of women and girls that
filed in through the gates. I was twelve then, but stunted with smoke
and thin from poverty. I'll never forget that day; the sole of one of
my shoes was worn through, and cinders kept working in. I took my stand
just outside the Bessemer plant. It was a big shell of steel girders
and corrugated iron, and the side where we were was open. Away up above
were the roaring crucibles where the metal was fluxed; beneath ran the
little flat-cars waiting for the ingots to be poured. Father saw me and
waved his hand--he always waved at me--then I saw the superintendent
coming through--a big, square-faced man whom everybody feared. We kids
used to think he was an ogre and ate little people. He was raging and
swearing and spurring the men on to more haste--I heard later that he
had sworn to win the broom back if he wrecked the plant. Wherever he
went, the hunkies danced; he could put life into a dead man's limbs,
that man. It was because of their great fear of him and his furious
urging that--something happened."

Lilas had begun her recital slowly, without apparent object, but once
into it she seemed unable to stop; and now, although her words came
haltingly, it was plain that she had worked herself into a sort of
hysteria in which she gave little heed to her hearer. It was
characteristic of her that she could so excite herself by the power of
visualization as to be completely transported.

"Something went wrong overhead; the operator got rattled or somebody
was late in his duties and fouled the machinery; anyhow, the converter
dumped too soon. Men were working directly underneath, father among the
rest. Being so young, I had no idea of what it all meant at the
time--but the memory stuck. I saw him go down under a stream of liquid
steel--"

Lorelei's horrified exclamation went unnoticed; Lilas's voice was
shrill.

"Yes. He was blotted out, right there before my eyes, in an instant. In
the time it takes to snap your finger, he--and the others--were gone,
changed into smoke, into absolute nothingness. One moment he was whole,
alive, flesh and bone, the next he didn't exist; tons of boiling metal
ran over the spot. Nothing in the world was ever so horrible. You've
never seen liquid steel nor felt the awful breath of it, have you?
There wasn't even a funeral. Twelve men, twelve pinches of ashes, were
lost somewhere, swallowed up in that mass--nothing more. There was no
insurance, and nobody took the blame. Another Jew family, a few more
widowed and fatherless foreigners, among that army, meant nothing.
Scarcely a month went by without accidents of some sort.

"The shock finished mother, for she was emotional and she had
imagination, too. I've never forgotten that day, nor the figure of that
shouting, swearing man who came through the Bessemer mill crying for
more speed, more speed, more speed--so that a broom could be hoisted on
a halyard and so that other men in other cities, for one short month,
could point to him with envy.

"I suppose I was too little to make any foolish vows of vengeance, for
I was only a ragged mite of a child among a horde of slaves, but when I
grew older I often dreamed of having that man in my power, and--making
him suffer. Who would--who COULD have imagined that I'd ever be living
on money wrung from the labor of men like my father, and be in a
position to meet that man on an equal footing? _I_ never did--not in my
wildest moments, and yet--here I am. Steel-money bought these books,
these rugs and paintings. Any one of those pictures represents the
wages of a lifetime for a man like my father. He was murdered, so was
my mother--but things are queer. Anyhow, here I am, rich--and the day
of reckoning gets closer all the time."

She ended with an abruptness that evidenced her agitation. Rising, she
jerked a beaded chain that depended from the center lamp, and the room
was flooded with mellow light; then she drew out the table drawer at
her guest's elbow, and with shaking hands selected a small box from the
confusion within. Lorelei recoiled at the sight of a revolver half
hidden among the disorder.

"Goodness! I hope it isn't loaded," the latter exclaimed. "Your story
gives me the creeps and that thing--seems to fit in."

"It's loaded, all right. I keep it for protection," Lilas explained,
carelessly, then rang for the Jap. She opened the box, which contained
several compartments, in one of which was a package of white powder, in
another a silver tablespoon. When the obedient Hitchy Koo appeared she
ordered a glass of water.

"I don't know why I told you all this," she half apologized to Lorelei.
"It has upset me, as it always does."

"How did you ever grow up and--educate yourself?"

"I hardly know. Some neighbors took me in at first, and I worked for
them; then I got a job in a dry-goods store, and finally in the corset
department. I filled out when I began to get something to eat and I
developed a good figure. Finally I got to be a model. I was quick to
learn, and when rich dames came in I watched them. I became
good-looking, too, although not so pretty as I am now, for I couldn't
put the time or the money on it. But I was pretty enough, and I seemed
to appeal strongly to men. Some girls do, you know, without
understanding how or why. First, it was the buyer for our department;
he lost his head completely, and, although he was married and I didn't
care for him, I realized he could do me good. I was seventeen then; he
taught me to dress and to take care of myself--he had wonderful taste
in such things. It was his affair with me that finally cost him his
place--and his wife, too, for that matter. When I'd got all he had I
left him and came to New York. The rest isn't a pretty story, for I
went the way most girls do who have that appeal I spoke about."

Miss Lynn made this declaration calmly as she busied herself with the
glass her servant had fetched. She dissolved a portion of the powder in
the spoon, then carefully transferred the liquid into the cap of a
pearl-and-gold fountain-pen. Inserting the open end of the receptacle
into first one, then the other nostril, she inhaled the contents.

"What are you doing?" asked Lorelei, curiously.

"Something to quiet my nerves. I--wonder why I told you all this?" She
eyed her guest speculatively, then shrugged. "Well, since we're to be
neighbors, we must be friends, and there's no harm done. Now that
Jarvis and I are engaged, he's awfully particular about the company I
keep, but he likes you. How different they act when they're in earnest!
He even wants me to quit work now, but I like the excitement--it's
better than waiting." She glanced at her wrist-watch and drew herself
together. "Our time is up, dear; we must get back to the show-shop."



CHAPTER XII


Lorelei exploded her bomb at breakfast Sunday morning, and the effect
was all she had dreaded. Fortunately, Jim had gone out, so she had only
to combat her mother's panic-stricken objections and her father's weak
persuasions. So keen, however, was the girl's humiliation at Merkle's
disclosure that Mrs. Knight dared not go to the lengths she would
otherwise have allowed herself, and Lorelei's merciless accusations
left little to be said in self-defense. Of course, the usual tears
followed, likewise repetitions of the time-worn plea that it had all
been done for Lorelei's own good and had been prompted by unselfish
love for her.

"I'm beginning to doubt that," Lorelei said, slowly. "I think you all
look upon me as a piece of property to do with as you please. Perhaps
I'm disloyal and ungrateful, but--I can't help it. And I can't forgive
you yet. When I can I'll come home again, but it's impossible for me to
live here now, feeling as I do. I want to love you--so I'm--going to
run away."

Tragically, through her tears, Mrs. Knight inquired: "What will become
of us? We can't live--Jim never does anything for us." In Peter's
watery stare was abject fright. "Lorelei wouldn't let us suffer," he
ventured, tremulously. "I'm sick. I may die any time, so the doctor
says." He was indeed a changed man; that easy good humor that had been
his most likable trait had been lost in habitual peevishness.

"I'll keep the house running as before," his daughter assured them,
"and I'll manage to get along on what's left. But you mustn't be quite
so extravagant, that's all. I sha'n't be--and you wouldn't force me to
do anything I'd regret, I'm sure." She choked down her pity at the
sight of the invalid's pasty face and flabby form, then turned to the
window. Her emotion prevented her from observing the relief that
greeted her words.

The moment was painful; Lorelei's eyes were dim, and she hardly saw the
dreary prospect of fire-escapes, of whitewashed brick, of bare, gaping
back yards overhung with clothes-lines, like nerves exposed in the
process of dissection.

"Yes, things will go on just the same," she repeated, then clenched her
hands and burst forth miserably, "Oh, I know how badly you need money!
I know what the doctor says, and--I'll get it somehow. It seems to me
I'd pay any price just to see dad walking around again and to know that
you were both provided for. Money, money! You both worship it, and--I'm
getting so I can't think of anything else. Nothing else seems worth
while."

Two hours later a dray called for her trunks and took them across town.

The Elegancia Apartments looked down on her with chill disapproval as
she entered; the elevator-man stared at her with black, hostile eyes
until she had made herself known; and even the superintendent--in a
less pretentious structure than the Elegancia, he would have been the
janitor--now that "Number Six" was rented, did not extend even a
perfunctory welcome as he delivered the keys. On the contrary, he made
known the exclusive character of the house in such a pointed manner as
to offend her.

Lilas was out, she learned, which probably meant that she was still
asleep. Lorelei ascended to her new home in low spirits. Now that she
saw the place in strong daylight, she was vaguely disappointed. On the
evening previous, the superintendent had lighted it brilliantly, but
now it was gloomy, and there was dust and disorder everywhere. The
previous occupant had undoubtedly been a temperamental housekeeper; the
tragic awakening of love's young dream showed in the hasty nature of
her departure for the ice-box was lamentably odorous of forgotten food,
the kitchenette needed scrubbing with hot water and lye, the modest
fittings of the whole place were in topsy-turvy neglect. When Lorelei's
trunks were dumped inside, the chaos appeared complete. She was not
accustomed to rely upon her own hands, and at this moment she felt none
of the pride that comes of independence. Instead of the glad spirit of
freedom she had anticipated she was filled with dismaying doubts. She
sat down, finally, in the midst of a confusion that her first efforts
had only doubled, and stared about her with miserable eyes. She was
very lonely, very friendless, and very much discouraged. Then she
noticed the telephone and sprang toward it.

Adoree was at home; her voice answered cheerily, and her interruptions
of amazement and delight caused Lorelei's message to spin itself out
unduly. Without waiting for an invitation Adoree cried:

"Let me come and help. Please! We'll use both the poodles for mops, and
I'll be there in ten minutes. ... You're a perfect dear to say yes for
I know you want to do it all yourself."

"Come now--quickly. I'm scared--" Lorelei begged, in tearful tones.

"I'll drive right up in my chariot of flame; I was going out, and it's
waiting while I kalsomine my face. Are you SURE everything is good and
dirty? Goody! We'll make the prop footman work for once in his
life--no, we'll do it ourselves. Good-by."

In a surprisingly short time the Palace Garden star came flying up the
stairs, scorning such delays as elevators. She flung herself upon her
friend with a hug and a smack, crying, "Hurrah! Madame Sans Gene has
come to do the scrubbing."

Yet she hardly seemed dressed for house-cleaning. A tremendous floppy
hat crowned her flaxen head; she was tightly incased, like a chrysalis
in its cocoon, in a delicate creation of pink; her gloves were long and
tight, and her high-heeled boots were longer and tighter. Nevertheless
she promptly proceeded with a reckless discard of her finery--a process
she had begun on her way up-stairs, like a country boy on his approach
to a swimming-hole.

She paused in the center of the one passably sized room, and her
piquant face was flushed with animation.

"How perfectly corking!" she exclaimed. "How BEAUTIFUL!"

"Do you think so?" Lorelei asked, doubtfully.

"It's just dandy--so cozy and secluded and--shady. Why, it's a darling
place! Not a sound, is there? Gee, what a place to sleep!" She sped
from one to the other of the three rooms uttering shrieks of rapture.
Even the bath-room, which was much like any other, although as cramped
as a Chinese lady's foot, excited a burst of enthusiasm.

At last she ceased her inspection, quite out of breath, and declared:
"I'm enchanted. I tell you there's nothing like these inside
apartments, after all, you're so safe from burglars. But the RENT! My
dear, you stole this place. And to think it's all yours--why, I'm going
to live and die here."

"WILL you? I mean live--"

The dancer laughed. "No, no. If I did either they'd fire you out. But
I'll come often, and we'll have the dearest parties--just we two,
without any men. We'll let our hair down, and cook and--WILL you look
at that gas-stove? I could eat it."

It was impossible to resist such infectious spirits. Lorelei began to
see sunshine, and before she knew it she was laughing, in the best of
humor with herself and her surroundings. Adoree, clad now in a
nameless, formless garment which she had discovered in a closet, her
own modish belongings safely rolled up in a sheet, had covered her head
with a towel turban and incased her feet in an old pair of shoes. Thus
equipped, she fell upon the task of regeneration with fanatic zeal. She
became grimy; a smear of soot disfigured her face; her skirt dragged,
her shoe-tops flopped, and the heels clattered; but she was hilariously
happy.

Side by side the girls worked; they forgot their luncheon, then sent
the sad-faced footman in search of a delicatessen store, and ate
ravenously with a newspaper for table-cloth. By evening the place found
itself for once in its life clean and orderly, and the two occupants
dressed and went out to a near-by hotel for dinner. Returning, they put
the final touches to their task.

When Adoree left, late that night, she kissed her friend, saying:

"Thank you for the loveliest Sunday I ever had. It was splendid, and
I'll come again to-morrow."

The theatrical profession is full of women whose lives are flawless;
hence it had not been difficult for Lorelei to build up a reputation
that insured respect, although her connection with a Bergman show made
the task more difficult than it would otherwise have been. During the
two years of her stage experience no scandal had attached to her name,
and she had therefore begun to feel secure. In that period she had met
many men of the usual types that are attracted by footlight favorites,
and they had pressed attentions upon her, but so long as she had been
recognized as the Lady Unobtainable they had not forced their unwelcome
advances. Now, however, that a scurrilous newspaper story had
associated her name with that of a wealthy man, she began to note a
change. The Hammon-Lynn affair was already notorious; Lorelei's part in
it led the stage-broken wiseacres to doubt her innocence, and their
altered attitude soon became apparent to her. There was a difference
also in the bearing of certain members of the company. She heard
conversations retailed at second hand by envious chorus-mates; in her
hearing detached remarks were dropped that offended her. Bergman's
advances had been only another disquieting symptom of what she had to
expect--an indication of the new color her reputation had assumed.

Nobel Bergman's success in the show business had long been a mystery
among those who knew him; for, to offset an undeniable theatrical
talent, he possessed all the appetites, the frailties, and the passions
of a rake. It was perhaps most of all his keen personal appreciation of
beauty that had made his companies the sensation of New York. At any
rate, he had done amazingly well for himself, and entertainments of a
certain character had become known as "Bergman Shows," just as
show-girls of a dashing type were known as "Bergman Girls," even when
employed by rival managers. In his office, or during the organization
and production of his spectacles, he was a cold, shrewd man of
business; once the venture had been launched, he became an amorous
hanger-on, a jackal prowling in search of a kill. His commercial
caution steered him wide of the moral women in his employ, but the
other kind, and especially the innocent or the inexperienced, had cause
to know and to fear him. In appearance he was slender and foppish; he
affected a pronounced waist-line in his coats, his eyes were large and
dark and brilliant, his mouth was sensual. He never raised his voice,
he never appeared to see plain women; such girls as accepted his
attentions were sure of advancement, but paid for it in other ways.

On Monday evening Mr. Slosson, the press-agent, thrust his head through
the dressing-room door and inquired: "May I come in?"

"You are in."

"I came to see Lorelei. Say, there's some society people out front who
want to meet you, and you're to join them after the show."

"Indeed. Who said so?"

"Bergman."

"Declined, with thanks," promptly said Lorelei.

"Oh, wait. You can't decline this; it's business; Bergman says you must
come as a personal favor to him. Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire is giving a
box-party, and she told him to fetch you around for supper. She owns a
piece of this show, and the theater belongs to the estate, so you'll
just have to go."

"Mercy! Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire, the college-boy's giddy godmother,"
Lilas mocked. "I suppose she's out slumming, with her kindergarten
class."

Slosson frowned at this levity. "Will you go?" he inquired. "Yes or no?"

"Um-m--I'll have to say 'yes,' it seems."

"Good. I'll 'phone Bergman."

When the press-agent had gone Lilas regarded her companion with open
compassion. "Gee! But you're going to have a grand time. That bunch
thinks it's smart to be seen with show-people, and of course they'll
dance all night."

Lorelei groaned. "And I did so want to go straight back to my new
home." When she joined her employer after the show she was in no very
agreeable frame of mind.

Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire was a vermilion-haired widow with a chest like a
blacksmith, who had become famous for her jewels and her social
eccentricities. She and her party were established at one of the
up-town "Trottoires," when Nobel Bergman and Lorelei arrived. Three
examples of blushing boyhood devoted themselves to a languid blonde
girl of thirty-five, and the hostess herself was dancing with another
tender youth, but she came forward, panting.

"So good of you to come, dear," she cried. "This is Miss Wyeth, and
these are my boys, Mr.--" She spoke four meaningless names, and four
meaningless smiles responded; four wet-combed heads were bowed. She
turned to her blonde companion, saying, "She IS pretty, isn't she,
Alice?"

"Very," Alice agreed, without removing her eyes from the youth at her
left.

Bergman invited Lorelei to finish the dance; then he inquired, "What do
you think of her?"

"Her hair fascinates me; she looks as if she had just burst out of a
thicket of henna leaves." Bergman laughed, silently. "But why did she
invite me?"

"I told her to."

"You?"

"I knew you'd refuse if I asked you."

"So? Then I'm really your guest instead of hers."

"We'll leave whenever you say."

Throughout the rest of the dance Lorelei was silent, offended at
Bergman's deception and uncomfortable at her own situation; but the
hostess had ordered a supper of the unsatisfactory kind usual in such
places; little as she liked the prospect, she could not leave at once.

The meal was interrupted regularly each time the music played, for
dancing was more than a fad in this set--it was a serious business with
which nothing was allowed to interfere. The bulky widow was invariably
the first upon her feet, and Miss Wyeth followed closely, yielding
herself limply to the arms of first one, then another of the youthful
coterie. She held her slashed gown high, and in the more fanciful
extravagances of the dance she displayed a slender limb to the knee.
She was imperturbable, unenthusiastic, utterly untiring. The hostess,
because of her brawn, made harder work of the exercise; but years of
strenuous reducing had hardened her muscles, and she possessed the
endurance of a bear. Once the meal had dragged itself to a conclusion,
there began the customary round of the dancing-places--this being the
popular conception of a lark--and Lorelei allowed herself to be bundled
in and out of the Thompson-Bellaire theater-car. There was considerable
drinking, Bergman, who devoted himself assiduously to his employee,
showing more effect from it than the others. He utterly refused to take
her home. As the night wore on he became more and more offensive; he
grew coarse in a sly, tentative manner, as if feeling his ground. He
changed the manner of his dancing, also, until Lorelei could no longer
tolerate him.

"Getting tired, my dear?" he queried, when she declined to join the
whirling throng.

"Yes. I want to go."

"All right." He leered at her and nodded. "Still living on Amsterdam
Avenue?"

"No. I've moved to the Elegancia."

"So? How does mother like it?"

"She's--I'm living alone."

Bergman started, his eyes brightened. "Ah! Then you've come to your
senses finally. I thought you would. Let's finish this dance, anyhow."

"I don't want to be seen dancing too much with you."

"Why?"

"You understand why, Mr. Bergman." She eyed him coolly.

The lines of his sinister face, loosened and sagging slightly from
drink, deepened for an instant. "Let them talk. I can do more for you
than Merkle can."

"Merkle?" Her expression did not change.

"Now don't let's deceive each other." He had never found it necessary
to cultivate patience in his dealings with women, and when she
pretended ignorance of his meaning he flared out, half in weariness,
half in anger:

"Oh, play your game with strangers, but don't put me off. Weren't you
caught with him at the Chateau? Hasn't he fixed you up at the
Elegancia? Well, then--"

"You needn't finish. I'm going home now."

He laid a detaining hand upon her arm. "You never learned that speech
in one of my shows," he said, "and you're not going to say good night
to me. Understand?" He grinned at her with disgusting confidence, and
she flung off his touch. They had been speaking in low tones, because
of the two vacant-faced boys across the table; now Lorelei turned
appealingly to them. But they were not creatures upon whom any woman
might rely. Nor could she avail herself of Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire's
assistance, for the widow's reputation was little better than
Bergman's, and from her attitude it was plain that she had lent herself
to his designs. He was murmuring slyly:

"You're a sensible girl; you want to get ahead. Well, I can put you at
the top, or--"

"Or--what?" She faced him defiantly.

"Or I can put you out of the business."

The returning dancers offered a welcome diversion.

Lorelei dreaded an open clash with the manager, knowing that the place,
the hour, and the conditions were ill suited to a scene. She had
learned to smile and to consider swiftly, to cross the thin ice of an
embarrassing situation with light steps. Quickly she turned to Mrs.
Thompson-Bellaire, who was bowing effusively to a newcomer.

"My word! What is Bob Wharton doing here?" exclaimed the widow.

"Bob Wharton? Where?" Miss Wyeth's languor vanished electrically; she
wrenched her attention from the wire-haired fraternity man at her side.
Lorelei felt a sense of great thanksgiving.

Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire beckoned, and Wharton came forward, his eyes
fixed gloomily upon Lorelei.

"You rascal! So THIS is how you waste your evenings. I AM surprised,
but, now that we've caught you, won't you join us?"

Wharton glanced at the four pawns and hesitated. "It's long past nine;
I'm afraid the boys will be late for school."

Miss Wyeth tittered; the sophomore with the bristling pompadour uttered
a bark of amusement. Meeting Bob's questioning glance, Lorelei seconded
the invitation with a nod and a quick look of appeal, whereupon his
demeanor changed and he drew a chair between her and Nobel Bergman,
forcing the latter to move. His action was pointed, almost rude, but
the girl felt a surge of gratitude sweep over her.

There was an interlude of idle chatter, then the orchestra burst into
full clamor once more. Much to the chagrin of her escort, Lorelei rose
and danced away with the new-comer.

"Why the distress signal?" queried Bob.

"Mr. Bergman has--been drinking."

"Rum is poison," he told her, with mock indignation. "He must be a low
person."

"He's getting unpleasant."

"Shall I take him by the nose and run around the block?"

"You can do me a favor."

He was serious in an instant. "You were nice to me the other night. I'm
sorry to see you with this fellow."

"He forced--he deceived me into coming, and he's taking advantage of
conditions to--be nasty."

Bob missed a step, then apologized. His next words were facetious, but
his tone was ugly; "Where do you want the remains sent?"

"Will you wait and see that mine are safely sent home?" She leaned
back, and her troubled twilight eyes besought him.

"I'll wait, never fear. I've been looking everywhere for you. I wanted
to find you, and I didn't want to. I've been to every cafe in town. How
in the world did you fall in with the old bell-cow and her calf?"

When Lorelei had explained, he nodded his complete understanding.
"She's just the sort to do a thing like that. Thompson, the first
martyr, was a decent fellow, I believe; then she kidnapped Bellaire, a
young wine-agent. Tuberculosis got him, and she's been known ever since
as 'the widow T. B.' I suppose you'd call her 'the leading Juvenile.'"

Lorelei felt a great relief at the presence of this far from admirable
young man, for, despite his vicious reputation, he seemed clean and
wholesome as compared with Bergman. She was sure, moreover, that he was
trustworthy, now that he knew and liked her, and she remembered that of
all the men she had met since that newspaper scandal had appeared, he
alone had betrayed no knowledge of it in word or deed.

On this occasion Wharton justified her faith. He ignored Bergman's
scowls; he proceeded to monopolize the manager's favorite with an
arrogance that secretly delighted her; he displayed the assurance of
one reared to selfish exactions, and his rival writhed under it. But
Bergman was slow to admit defeat, and when his unspoken threats failed
to impress the girl he began to ply Wharton with wine. Bob accepted the
challenge blithely, and a drinking-bout followed.

The widow T. B. and her party looked on with enjoyment.

Dawn was near when the crowd separated and the hostess was driven away,
leaving Lorelei at the door of a taxi-cab in company with her two
admirers. The girl bade them each good night, but Bergman ignored her
words and, stepping boldly in after her, spoke to the driver.

Bob had imbibed with a magnificent disregard of consequences, and as a
result he was unsteady on his feet. His hat was tilted back from his
brow, his slender stick bent beneath the weight he put upon it.

"Naughty, naughty Nobel!" he chided. "Come out of that cab; you and I
journey arm and arm into the purpling East."

"Drive on," cried Bergman, forcing Lorelei back into her seat, as she
half rose.

Bob leaned through the open cab window, murmuring thickly: "Nobel, you
are drunk. Shocked--nay, grieved--as I am at seeing you thus, I shall
take you home."

"Get out, will you?" snapped the manager, undertaking to slam the door.

But Wharton was in a declamatory mood and went on, swingingly: "The sky
is faintly flushed with pink; Apollo in his chariot draws nigh. The
morning-glory closes with the sun, Bergman, and if a fairy princess is
late she will be shut out and forced to sleep on the petals of a rose.
My dear Nobel, don't spoil her beauty sleep."

"I'm tired of your insolence. I'll--"

Bergman never finished his sentence, for in his rage he committed a
grave blunder--he struck wildly at the flushed face so close to his,
and the next instant was jerked bodily out of his seat. Lorelei uttered
a cry of fright, for the whole side of the cab seemed to go with her
employer.

There was a brief scuffle, a whirl of flying arms, then Bergman's voice
rose in a strangely muffled howl, followed by nasal curses. With a
bellow of anguish he suddenly ceased his struggles, and Lorelei saw
that Bob was holding him by the nose. It happened to be a large,
unhandsome, and fleshy member, and, securely grasping it, Bergman's
conqueror held him at a painful and humiliating disadvantage.

Bob was panting, but he managed to say, "Come! We will run for the
lady--once around the block."

A muffled shriek of pain was the answer, but the street was empty save
for some grinning chauffeurs, who offered no assistance.

"Be a good fellow. I insist, my dear Nobel. Advance! Double quick!
Charge!"

The two men moved away haltingly, then at a zigzag trot, and finally at
a slow run. They disappeared around the corner, Bob Wharton leading,
Bergman bent double and screaming poisonous oaths.

"Drive on, quickly," Lorelei implored, but the chauffeur cranked his
motor reluctantly, craning his neck in an evident desire to see more of
this interesting affray. His companions were laughing loudly and
slapping their thighs. Despite Lorelei's hysterically repeated orders,
he experienced difficulty in starting the machine; finally he lifted
the hood and fumbled inside. A moment passed, then another; he cranked
once more, but as the motor was seized with a fit of shuddering the two
white-fronted figures turned the upper corner and approached. Their
relative positions were unchanged. The block was a short one, yet they
seemed winded. Bergman was sobbing now like a woman, and he was
followed by three curious newsboys.

Bob paused at the starting-point and wheezed: "Bravo! You done noble,
Nobel. We've learned some new steps, too, eh?" All power of resistance
had left the victim, who seemed upon the verge of collapse. "I say
we've learned some new steps; haven't we, Bergy?" He tweaked the
distorted member in his grasp, and Bergman's head wagged loosely.

A late diner cruised uncertainly down the street, and, sensing the
unusual, paused, rocking in his tracks.

"Whash trouble? Shome fightin' goin' on?" he inquired, brightly.

"Oh, please--please--" Lorelei cried, tremulously. "Don't--"

"Canter for the kind lady," Wharton insisted. "Come on." He began to
lift and lower his shoulders in imitation of a rider. Bergman capered
awkwardly. "Once more."

"Fine!" shouted the drunken spectator, clapping his hands loosely.
"Tha's bully. Now make 'im shingle-foot."

"Single-foot? Certainly. He's park gaited."

"Mr. Wharton! BOB--" Lorelei's agonized entreaty brought her admirer to
the cab door, but he fetched his prisoner in tow. "Let him go or--we'll
all be arrested."

"Want see 'im shingle-foot," eagerly importuned the stranger.

"I'll take off his bridle if you insist. But it's a grand nose. I--love
it. Never was there such a nose."

Bergman, with a desperate wrench, regained his freedom and staggered
away with his face in his hands.

"It--actually stretched," said Bob, as he regretfully watched his
victim. "I dare say I'll never find another nose like it."

The appreciative bystander lurched forward and flung an arm over his
shoulder, then, peering in at the girl, exclaimed: "Good, wasn't it? I
had a horse once, an' I know. You're a'right, m' frien'. Let's go get
another one."

Lorelei's cab got under way at last, but barely in time, for a crowd
was assembling. She sank back weakly, and her last glimpse showed
Wharton arm-in-arm with the tipsy wayfarer.

Not until she was safely inside her little apartment, with the chain on
the door, did she surrender; then she burst into a trembling, choking
fit of laughter. But her estimate of Wharton had risen, and for the
first time he seemed not entirely bad.



CHAPTER XIII


Jimmy Knight felt his sister's desertion quite as keenly as did his
mother and father, for his schemes, though inchoate, were ambitious,
and his heart was set upon them. Lorelei's obstinacy was
exasperating--a woman's unaccountable freakishness.

He confided his disappointment to Max Melcher. "It's pretty tough,"
complained Jimmy. "I had Merkle going, but she crabbed it. Then just as
that boob Wharton was getting daffier over her every day she gets her
back up and the whole thing is cold."

"You mean it's cold so far as you're concerned," Melcher judicially
amended.

"Sure. She's sore on me, and the whole family."

"Then this is just the time to marry her off. New York is a mighty
lonesome place for a girl like her. Suppose I take a hand."

"All right."

"Will you declare me in?"

"Certainly."

Melcher eyed his associate coldly. "There's no 'certainly' about it.
You'd throw your own mother if you got a chance. But you can't throw
me, understand? You try a cross and--the cold-meat wagon for yours.
I'll have you slabbed at the morgue."

Jimmy's reply left no doubt of the genuineness of his fears, if not of
his intentions. Strange stories were told in the Tenderloin--tales of
treachery punished and ingratitude revenged. Jimmy knew several young
men who appeared out of the East Side at Melcher's signal. They were
inconspicuous fellows, who bore fanciful dime-novel names--Dago Red,
Izzy the Toad, Jew Mike, the Worm, and the rest--and no rustler's
stronghold of the old-time Western cattle country ever boasted more
formidable outlaws than they. New York is law-ridden, therefore
corruption reigns; vice is capitalized, and in consequence there are
men who live not only by roguery, but by violence. They hide in the
crannies of the underworld; politics is their protection. At election
times they do service for men high in authority; betweenwhiles they
thrive on the bickerings and feuds among the despoilers. Jim knew these
gunmen well; he had no wish to know them worse.

"I can't promise anything definite when she's sore on me," he declared.

"Oh yes, you can. She'll marry to please your mother and father, and
she'll fix them up the first thing. Get them to agree to split their
share, and I'll take a hand. If it doesn't go through there's no harm
done."

"I don't see how you're going to frame a marriage--and yet she won't
stand for anything else."

"You'll have to help, of course, and so will your mother. I've a hunch
that we can handle Wharton all right--through booze. A man can be made
to marry anybody if he's drunk enough."

"He's about ready to ask her--SHE'S the one to fix. She hates men,
though, and that Merkle story made her crazy."

"Sore, eh?"

"She talked the Dutch route--thinks her good name is gone, and regards
every man as a hyena."

Melcher pondered for several moments. "I think I know Lorelei better
than you do," he stated, deliberately, "and I believe we can pull this
off, provided Wharton really wants to marry her. Anyhow, he's so rich
it's worth the odds, and she's just the sort to fall for it."

"What's the idea?"

"If she's sore about that story in The Despatch we'll pull another
one--and keep pulling them."

"Humph! That'll queer Wharton."

"Not if you get inside his shirt and make him believe they're lies. You
and your mother will have to convince her that he's her only 'out.'"

"I don't think much of that program," Jim protested, nervously.

Melcher smiled. "A girl like her can be driven anywhere if she's
handled right. Between you and your mother and Lilas you can do it."

"Perhaps, but I doubt it. Ma's got her afraid of men. If we could scare
her good, if we could tip some John to rough it with her some night,
she might stampede to the altar."

"That's easy, but you can't put a stop-order on a thing like that.
There's no telling how far the guy might go."

"Oh, she'll take care of herself," said Jim, carelessly; "she's as
strong as a pony."

"If you'll take the chance I'll stake a shillaber to do it. I've got
half a dozen high-class fellows working the hotels, and Lilas knows
some of them."

Jim shrugged disgustedly. "I suppose I'll have to repent and be a good
boy," he snorted, "and let Lorelei weep on my shoulder. Gee! She makes
me sick."

"I'll take care of my part, and--maybe we can put it through. This is
out of my line, but they do it abroad, so why not here? The girl's no
more than human." Mr. Melcher seemed ingenuously pleading for
reasonableness. "If we make good I'll hang out a sign, 'Max Melcher,
Matrimonial Agent.' Meanwhile I want it understood with your mother
that I share in what comes her way."

"I'll fix that," promised Jim.

He found it, in fact, no very difficult task to regain at least a part
of his sister's lost esteem, though the process took time. He went
about it with the lazy, cat-like patience of his kind, behaved himself,
kept his mouth shut, and assumed just enough of an injured air to be
plausible. He enlisted the aid of his mother and of Lilas Lynn, and
meanwhile made himself as agreeable as possible to Robert Wharton.

Melcher was as good as his word, and there shortly appeared in The
Despatch an unpleasant rehash of the former story. It was published in
connection with the Hammon divorce proceedings, news of which was
exciting comment, and it further smirched Lorelei's reputation. Wharton
ignored it utterly, but Merkle was prompt in his indignation and
sympathy. This unshaken confidence in her afforded Lorelei far more
comfort than Bob's unconcerned attitude, which might be merely the
result of his own lax standards. Upon the other men she knew the effect
of the story was quickly noticeable, and she was forced to be on guard
at all times. Several whom she considered sincere admirers proved to be
quite the opposite; some whom she had counted as friends dropped her
entirely; others of a different sort undertook to press their
acquaintance beyond prudent bounds.

Jim was appropriately indignant, but helpless, and Mrs. Knight
unweariedly blamed everything upon her daughter's desertion of the
family circle, predicting more evil to follow unless Lorelei came home
at once. She also dwelt upon the fact that Peter was steadily failing
and was in immediate need of both medical and surgical attention. The
doctor had pronounced sentence, prescribing a total change of living
and a treatment by foreign specialists.

In some unaccountable way the story of Nobel Bergman's humiliation
became public and afforded the basis for a newspaper article that
brought him to Lorelei's dressing-room in a fine fury. Even after she
had convinced him of her innocence his resentment was so bitter that
she expected her dismissal at any time.

Other press stories followed; the girl suddenly found herself
notorious; scarcely a day passed without some disagreeable mention of
her. There was published a highly imaginative but circumstantial
account of a weak-minded youth whom she had driven to suicide--utterly
false, of course, but difficult to deal with. A Sunday "special"
appeared--one of those fantastic, colored-supplement nightmares--in
which she was pictured as a vampire with an angel's face. It was the
hackneyed "moth and flame" story. The page was luridly decorated with a
swarm of entomological curiosities--winged bipeds supposedly
representing her fatuous admirers. These fond victims of her
enticements appeared to be badly singed and crippled.

Adoree Demorest, as indignant as Lorelei herself, declared finally that
her friend must be the object of a premeditated attack directed by some
strong hand, and once this suspicion had entered Lorelei's mind it took
root in spite of its seeming extravagance. Her good sense argued that
she was of too little consequence to warrant such an assault, but her
relatives seized the suggestion so avidly as to more than half convince
her.

Mrs. Knight attributed this injustice first to Bergman, then to Merkle,
whom she hated bitterly since her unfortunate attempt at blackmail; Jim
was inclined to agree with her.

"Money can do anything," he stated, gloomily, "and these big guys amuse
themselves by hunting beautiful women. It's a game with them. When one
of 'em takes a fancy to a girl she's a goner. It may not be Merkle in
this case, but--you're the handsomest woman in New York, and I'll bet
some old spider is weaving his web for you. When he has spoiled your
good name and ruined your chances of marrying or of making an honest
living he'll creep out and show himself. They frame innocent men for
Sing Sing in this town, so why can't they frame a girl for something
else?"

Lorelei abhorred spiders; the picture of some evil-minded millionaire
enmeshing her in a web of intrigue brought a sickening feeling of
helplessness and apprehension. Of course she thought the idea utterly
fantastic, but Jim and her mother appeared to believe it, and her own
notions of the city's wickedness were so vivid that anything seemed
possible. Certainly some malign influence seemed to be deliberately at
work against her, and a thousand disagreeable incidents, once she took
time to reflect upon them, bore out her suspicions. She was half minded
to run away, but dared not.

Mrs. Knight, as always, ended her sympathetic reassurances by saying,
"If you were only married, my dear, that would end all our troubles."

The climax of these annoyances came one night after a party at which
Lorelei had been presented to an old friend of Miss Lynn's. Lilas had
introduced the man as one of her girlhood chums, and Lorelei had tried
to be nice to him; then in some way he arranged to take her home. The
memory of that ride was a horror.

Lorelei, as Jim had said, was strong, and she fought the ruffian's
attack with the desperation of utter terror; but her shame at the
indignity was so keen that she refrained as long as possible from
crying for help. Then, hearing her screams, the chauffeur stopped his
car and made an investigation. Fortunately for her, he was more of a
man than most night-hawk drivers, and he promptly summoned an officer.

Miss Lynn's girlhood friend waited for no test of the law; he beat a
hasty retreat, uttering threats that rang in Lorelei's ears and
redoubled her previous fears.

Her wrists and arms bore purple marks, her dress was torn, her limbs
shook from the effects of her struggle, and even when she had gained
the security of her rooms she was unable to shake off her fright.
Neither could she sleep, for menacing forms crouched in the darkness:
most of the night she walked the floor in a panic.

She knew now that she was hunted; the man had told her so. She felt
like a deer cowering in a brake with the hounds working close. Her
cover seemed pitifully insecure.

Thus far Max Melcher's campaign had worked even better than he had
expected; and meanwhile he had employed Jim in assiduously cultivating
Robert Wharton and arranging as many meetings as possible between Bob
and Lorelei. A short experience had taught Jim to avoid his victim in
daylight, for in Bob's sober hours the two did not agree; but once
mellowed by intoxication, Wharton became imbued with a carnival spirit
and welcomed Jim as freely as he welcomed every one. Incidentally the
latter managed to reap a considerable harvest from the association, for
Bob was a habitual gambler, and the courteous treatment he received at
Melcher's place seemed to reconcile him to the loss of any amount of
money.

When, on the morning after her distressing adventure, Lorelei sent for
her brother and demanded vengeance upon her assailant he decided that
it was time to test the issue. He pretended, of course, to be
ferociously enraged, but on learning over the telephone that the wretch
had left the city he declared that there was nothing to be done except
perhaps exact an explanation from Lilas.

Miss Lynn, however, could offer no excuse. She was heartbroken at the
occurrence, but she was too full of her own troubles to give way to her
sympathy for others. Jarvis Hammon, it seemed, had heard about the
party, and was furious with her.

"You must expect to meet some muckers in this business," she remarked,
philosophically, "and you've had so much notoriety, my dear, that the
fellow probably wouldn't believe you were all right."

Jim agreed. "I guess you'll have to forget it, Sis. Just don't think
about it. I'll bring Wharton around to-night, and we four will have
supper, eh?"

Lilas's hesitation in accepting this invitation seemed genuine, but she
acquiesced finally, saying with a short laugh: "All right. Maybe a
little jealousy won't hurt my lord and master. He's getting too bossy,
anyhow."

When the four set out that night Robert Wharton was in exceptional
spirits and, as always, devoted himself to Lorelei. For him life was a
joyous adventure; he took things as they came, and now that he knew the
girl for what she was he did not allow himself the slightest liberty.
He was a fervent suitor, to be sure, yet he courted her with jests and
concealed his ardor behind a playful raillery.

Jim had ordered supper at a popular Washington Heights inn, and thither
the quartette were driven in an open car which he hired in the square
beside the theater.

As the glassy expanse of upper Broadway unrolled before them Bob
explained: "My chauffeur quit to invest his savings in real estate, so
I sold my machine. If he'd only listened to my advice and bought stocks
with my money I might have made a good commission and afforded to keep
a car. But nobody deals with the brokers nowadays." He sighed gloomily.
"We live lonely lives. We are objects of suspicion--even the newsboys
bite the pennies we give them."

Jim scoffed. "I suppose you Pittsburg plunderers don't know where your
next meal is coming from."

"Mine is coming from you, I hope, otherwise I'll be a public charge
until banking-hours."

"You've been gambling again," Lorelei accused.

Bob nodded carelessly.

At their destination they found seats on a balcony overlooking the
Hudson; and Jim, being in funds, played host with a prodigality that
mimicked Wharton.

It was a charming place for a supper; the wooded bluffs fell away
abruptly and a cool breath from the river refreshed the diners; the inn
itself was just comfortably filled with merry-makers whom the heat had
driven from the asphalt canons farther down-town; in the distance the
Jersey lights winked like glittering brilliants sewed into the night;
other illuminations swam through the mysterious void separating the
shores; an orchestra played, not too loudly, and several couples were
dancing. It had been a stifling week; people complained that they could
not dine in comfort, yet they tangoed and trotted bravely wherever
there was music and an open floor.

Contrary to her custom, Lilas Lynn allowed herself free rein, and for
once drank more than was good for her, rejoicing openly in the liberty
she had snatched.

It is a peculiar experience to sit soberly through a meal and see one's
companions become intoxicated. Lorelei had often done so, carelessly
enough, but now her recent worries had not only depressed her, but made
her pensive, and it was in no approving mood that she watched Lilas and
Bob respond to the effect of the wine. The whole procedure struck her,
like her present life as a whole, as both inane and wicked, and she
longed desperately to lay hold of something really decent, true, and
permanent.

Jimmy Knight's admirable hospitality continued; he devoted his entire
attention to his guests, he made conversation and he led it into the
channels he desired it to follow. Then, when the psychological moment
had come, he acted with the skill of a Talleyrand. No one but he knew
precisely how Bob's proposal was couched, whence it originated, or by
what subtlety the victim had been induced to make it. As a matter of
fact, it was no proposal, and not even Bob himself suspected how his
words had been twisted. He was just dimly aware of some turn in the
conversation, when he heard Jim exclaim:

"By Jove, Sis, Bob asks you to marry him!"

In prize-ring parlance, Jimmy had "feinted" his opponent into a lead,
then taken prompt advantage to "counter."

Lorelei awoke to her surroundings with a start, sensing the sudden
gravity that had fallen upon her three companions.

"What--?"

Lilas nodded and smiled at the bewildered lover. "That's the way to put
it over, Bob--before witnesses."

"Don't joke about such things," cried Lorelei, sharply.

"Joke? Who's joking?" Jim was indignant and glanced appealingly at Bob.
"You meant it, didn't you?"

"Sure. No joking matter," Bob declared, vaguely.

"I was just saying that this is no life for a fellow to lead--batting
'round the way I do; then Jim said--I mean _I_ said--I needed a wife, a
beautiful wife. I never saw a girl beautiful enough to suit me before,
and he said--"

Jim's relief came as an explosion.

"There! That's English. You spoke a mouthful that time, Bob, for she
certainly is a beauty bright. But I didn't think you had the nerve to
ask her. If she says yes, you'll be the luckiest man in New York--the
whole town's crazy about her."

"We'll make her say yes," Lilas added, with drunken decision. "Come,
dear, say it." She bent a flushed face toward Lorelei and laid a loose
hand upon her arm. "Well? What's your answer?"

Bob fixed heavy eyes upon his heart's desire and echoed: "Yes. What d'
you say?" More than once in his sober moments he had pondered such a
query, and now that it appeared to have taken shape without conscious
effort, he was not displeased with himself.

"I say, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING," Lorelei responded, curtly.

Now Bob, like all men in his condition, was quite certain that he was
in perfect possession of his faculties, and therefore he very naturally
resented such an absurd assertion. "Don't you b'lieve it," he
protested. "I know what I'm doing, all right, all right."

"A man never speaks his mind until he's ginned," Lilas giggled.

"Righto! I'm not half drunk yet."

Jim urged the suitor on with a nervous laugh, at the same time avoiding
his sister's eyes. "She's stalling, Bob. Make her answer."

"Yes or no?" forcefully insisted the wooer, determined, now, to show
his complete sobriety.

"No."

Jim seized Wharton's hand and shook it lustily. "Congratulations, old
man; that means yes. I'm her brother, and I know. Why, she told father
that you were her ideal, and pa said he'd die happy if you two were
married. He meant it, too; he's a mighty sick man."

Lorelei stirred uncomfortably, and the faint color in her cheeks faded
slowly. "We'll talk about it some other time--to-morrow. Please don't
tease the poor man any more. He didn't know what he was saying,
and--now, for Heaven's sake, talk about something else."

Jim leaped to his feet with a grin and a chuckle, then drew Lilas from
her chair, saying: "The lovers are embarrassed, and they're dying to be
alone. Let's leave 'em to talk it over."

"She's a dear, Bob, and I wish you both joy. But don't kiss her here,"
said Lilas, warningly; then with a wave of her hand she turned toward
the dancing-room with Jim.

"Call us when you've fixed the date," laughed the latter, over his
shoulder.

When he and Lilas had danced the encore and returned to the table Bob
rose unsteadily, glass in hand, and nodded at them.

"Thanks, noble comrades," he proclaimed; "she's mine!"

"Hurrah!" Lilas kissed Lorelei effusively. Jim seized Bob's hand,
crying:

"Brother!" He waved to a waiter and ordered a magnum of champagne.
"Bring me a wreath of orange blossoms and a wedding-cake, too." His
jubilation attracted the attention of the other diners; the occupants
of a near-by table began to applaud, whereupon Bob beamed with delight.

Lorelei was very white now, but she was given no chance to speak. Nor
was there anything for her to say, torn as she was by conflicting
emotions and uncertain of what feeling most strongly possessed her.
Foremost in her thoughts was the realization that she had won the fight
she had been reared and trained for, that the climax of her worldly
hopes had come; but with this she also experienced a sickly loathing
for herself. During Bob's protestations of love she had fought a brief
but disastrous battle. That moral perfidy which had been her teaching
since childhood had influenced her decision no more perhaps than her
terror at the plight in which her mysterious persecution had left her.
Weighing on the same side with these considerations were also the needs
of her family, her own bitter distaste for her present life, and her
desire for peace and outward respectability even at the cost of secret
degradation. She had decided swiftly, recklessly, reasoning that this
proffered marriage was merely a bargain by which she got more than she
gave. She had accepted without allowing her better self an opportunity
to marshal its protests, and, having closed her eyes and leaped into
the dark, it now seemed easier to meet new consequences than to heed
those higher feelings that were tardily struggling for expression. She
did pity Wharton, however, for it seemed to her that he was the injured
party. When he was himself he was a very decent fellow, and it was a
contemptible trick thus to cheat him. It would have been less ignoble
to sell herself outright to a man she detested--for the transaction
would then have been one of dollars and cents, purely, a sacrifice
prompted by necessity, so she reasoned--whereas to impose upon the
weakness of one she rather liked was not only dishonest, but vile.

But she was in a wanton mood to-night, and of late a voice had been
desperately urging her to grasp at what she could, that she might, as
long as possible, delay her descent into worse conditions.

She heard Lilas inquiring: "When does the marriage come off? Right
away?"

Bob, who appeared somewhat dazed by the suddenness and the completeness
of his good fortune, smiled vacantly. "Any time suits me," he said.
"I'm a happy man--little Joys are capering all over the place and old
Dr. Gloom has packed his grip."

Jim startled them all by saying, crisply: "Let's make it to-night. I
know Bob--he's not the sort to wait."

"Fine! Never thought of that." Bob welcomed the suggestion with a
delight that drowned Lorelei's frightened protest; then, as the idea
grew in his mind, he joyously appropriated it as his own. A mere
proposal of marriage and an acceptance were more or less hackneyed; the
event contained no elements of the spectacular; but to follow it
promptly with a midnight ceremony impressed him as a grandiose
achievement and one calculated to shed luster upon his adventurous
career. "That's my idea of romance--that's the way I like to do
things," he declared. "We'll be married soon's I pay this check."
Fumbling through his pockets, he remembered that his last dollar had
gone across Melcher's gaming-table earlier in the evening, and cried in
dismay, "Hold on! Nothing doing in the marriage line, after all. I'm
bust. Isn't that a burglar's luck? And right on the altar steps, too."

"I'll settle everything--all the way through," Jim offered, eagerly.

Bob feebly demurred, asserting that his temporary financial condition
ruined the whole joke, and that he never married without a pocket full
of money; but as Jim insisted, and seeing that Miss Lynn was becoming
tearful at the thought of a disappointment, he yielded grudgingly.

"But--I say--where do they keep these weddings?" he inquired.
"Everything's closed now, and there's nobody dancing at the City Hall,
is there?" He appealed helplessly to Jim.

Jim rose to the occasion with the same promptitude he had displayed
throughout. "Leave it to Jimmy the Fixer," he cried, reassuringly.
"Marriages aren't made in heaven any more--that's old stuff. They're
made in Hoboken, while the cab waits. Get your things on, everybody,
while I telephone." He allowed no loitering; he waved the girls away,
sent the waiter scurrying with his bill, helped Robert secure hat and
stick, and then dove into a telephone-booth as a woodchuck enters its
hole. When he had disposed his three charges inside a taxi-cab he
disappeared briefly, to return with a basket of champagne upon his arm.
It is a wise general who provides himself in advance with ammunition.

It was not late, as late hours are computed, but the streets were empty
of traffic; hence the driver made good time, and a waiting ferry at the
foot of Forty-second Street helped to shorten the journey. The
wine-basket was lighter as the machine rushed up the cobbled incline to
the crest of the Weehawken bluffs; Bob and Lilas were singing as it
tore down the Boulevard.

The smooth celerity with which this whole adventure ran its course
argued a thorough preparation on James's part, but Lorelei was in no
condition to analyze. On the contrary, she was tossed in the vortex of
warring impulses. More than once she laid her hand upon the cab door,
feeling that she could not go on with this damnable travesty. But
necessity urged; she was tired, disgusted, reckless. Her former
arguments continued to prove potent.

Even at the journey's end there was a suspicious lack of delay. The
vehicle stopped in a narrow business street, now dark and dismal; its
occupants were hurried up a stairway and into a room filled with
law-books, where a sleepy Justice of the Peace was nodding in a cloud
of cigar smoke. There followed a noisy shuffling of chairs, some
mumbled questions and answers, the crackle of papers, a deal of
unintelligible rigamarole, then a man's heavy seal-ring was slipped
upon Lorelei's finger, and she knew herself to be Mrs. Robert Wharton.
It was all confused, unimpressive, unreal. She was never able fully to
recall the picture of that room or the events that occurred there. They
formed but a part of the kaleidoscopic jumble of the night's
occurrences.

The wedding party was in the cab once more, and it was under way. Lilas
was singing maudlinly, lying back in Jim's arms with her feet
projecting through a window; the groom was laughing foolishly and
pawing at his bride. The street lights reeled by in drunken procession.
Now that his work was done, Jim flung aside his caution and, popping
the cork of a wine-bottle, drank deeply, in disregard of Lilas's
attempts to share the contents. He was fiercely elated; he imbibed with
the eager thirst of a dipsomaniac. It was all so like a nightmare that
Lorelei began to doubt her own sanity.

Once at rest in the dim-lit tunnel of the ferry-boat, however, she was
brought sharply to herself by hearing her brother exclaim: "Say! He
hasn't kissed her yet."

Lilas shrieked, and Bob stiffened himself, then slipped an arm around
his bride. As she shrank away he mumbled angrily: "Here! I won't stand
for that," and crushed her to him. He tipped her head back, then
pressed his lips to hers, and she yielded, her whole body a-quiver with
repugnance. But it was part of the price, she told herself; therefore
she paid, although she was like to faint with the effort. She became
conscious of a sudden savagery that swept over Bob at her first
surrender, and in revulsion fought herself free from his embrace. He
followed her, his eyes fierce, his hot breath heavy with the fumes of
wine; his clutch hurt her, "By God!" he mumbled, thickly, "You are
beautiful--beautiful. And you're mine. She's mine, eh? No foolishness
about that, is there?" he appealed to Jim.

As they drew in toward the New York side the chauffeur inquired, "Where
to, now?"'

"Why, drive us--" Jim hesitated. There was a silence which Lilas broke
with a titter. The bridegroom joined her in an awkward laugh.

"Never thought of that."

"Drive to the Charlevoix," Lorelei said, sharply.

"No women allowed there; it's a stag place," objected Bob.

"Of course! We'll take you home. It's all over now," she told him,
faintly.

"You can't get into no hotel without baggage," explained the driver.

"That's right. No baggage, no money. Deuce of a way to get married."
Bob turned again to Jim, who solved the difficulty with a word.

"Why, you're both going to Lorelei's place, of course; then you can
make your plans to-morrow."

The bride's half-strangled protest was lost in a burst of enthusiasm
from Lilas.

"Surest thing you know," she cried; "and we'll stop in my flat for a
farewell bottle; I've got a whole case. We'll end the night with
another party at Jarvis's expense. He's crazy about marriages, anyhow.
Ha! But you needn't tell him I was--full, understand?" She fell silent
suddenly, then burst into a loud laugh. "Bah! I should worry!" Jim
struggled with her as for a second time she endeavored to thrust her
silken ankles through the taxi window.

The ferry drew into its slip, the cab motor shivered, the metallic
rattle of windlass and chain proclaimed the return to Manhattan. Up the
deserted avenues the vehicle sped, while inside the white-faced bride
cowered with fingers locked and heart sick with dread.



CHAPTER XIV


Hitchy Koo had gone home. When Lilas ushered her friends in and snapped
on the lights, the apartment, save for the delirious spaniel, was
unoccupied. She flung down her hat, coat, and gloves, then, with the
help of Jim, prepared glasses and a cooler. Lorelei was restless; the
thought of more wine, more ribaldry, revolted her, and yet she was
grateful for this delay, brief though it promised to be. Any
interruption, trivial or tragic, would be welcome. Meanwhile her
husband's eyes followed her hungrily.

Strangely enough, the fears that had driven her to this reckless
marriage had dwindled steadily since the final words were spoken, and
now these apprehensions seemed in no wise so alarming as the
consequences of her rash act. She cringed at her own thoughts; they set
her to shivering; she stole a glance at her husband and was not
reassured, for he continued to eye her with a look she did not like.
She was forced to pledge her own happiness in a glass, then in a wild
moment of desperation longed to deaden herself with liquor as the
others had done.

Jim and Lilas were talking loudly when a key grated in the lock, the
door of the little apartment opened and clicked shut again. Another
instant and Jarvis Hammon paused on the threshold, glowering.

Lilas's wine-glass shattered upon the floor.

"Jarvis! You frightened me," she cried.

"Evening, Mr. Hammon." Bob lurched to his feet, upsetting his chair.
"This IS a s'prise."

Jim had risen likewise, but Hammon had eyes for no one except Lilas.

"Ah! You're home again, finally. Where have you been?" he demanded, in
a voice heavy with anger. His hostile tone, his threatening attitude
brought an uncomfortable silence upon the hearers.

"Now, Jarvis," said the bridegroom, placatingly, steadying himself
meanwhile with the aid of the table, "don't be a grouch. Everything's
all right."

Lilas remained motionless, staring defiantly. Her face had slowly
whitened, and now its unpleasantness matched that of her elderly
admirer. Hammon dropped his smoldering gaze to the half-empty glasses,
then raised it, scowling at Jim.

"Humph! Who is--this?"

Lilas made her guest known. "Mr. Knight, Mr. Hammon. I believe you know
Miss Knight."

"So YOU'RE the one." Hammon showed his teeth in a sardonic smile.

"I'm the one what?" inquired Jim, with a sickly attempt at pleasantry.

"By God! What does she see in YOU?" Hammon measured the young man with
contemptuous curiosity.

"Don't be an ass, Jarvis," began Lilas. "I--"

She was interrupted roughly. "That's precisely what I don't intend to
be; and I don't intend that Bob shall be one, either." He turned to
young Wharton. "What are you doing here, my boy?" he asked.

"Just stopped in for a minute. You'll find all the bric-a-brac in its
place."

"Now don't get funny. I'm sorry to see you with these grafters." Hammon
indicated Jim and Lorelei with a nod.

"Eh? What's that?" Bob stiffened, and Jim murmured an indignant protest.

"You heard me. They're grafters, and you'd better cut loose from them."

"Wait a minute. Lorelei's my wife. 'S true, Jarvis."

"Wife?" Hammon took a heavy step forward. "WIFE? Hell, you're drunk,
Bob!"

"P'raps. But we're mar--"

"So! You landed him, did you?" Hammon glared at the brother and sister.
"You got him drunk and married him, eh? And Lilas helped you, I
suppose. Fine! They're crooks, Bob, and they've made a fool of you."
Bob checked the speech on Lorelei's lips with an upraised hand, then
said slowly, with a painful effort to sober himself: "You're--mistaken,
Jarvis. She's an honest girl and a good one, too good for me. You mus'
'pologize."

The elder man breathed an oath. "She's a blackmailer, and so is--this
person. Oh, don't look hurt, my friend." He froze Jim with a glare.
"Merkle told me how you tried to work your sister off on him. When you
couldn't make that go you grabbed the next best man, eh? It's true,
Bob; she's a stalking horse for her whole damned family."

Bob centered his eyes laboriously upon the speaker, then said
distinctly: "We've been good friends, Jarvis; you're a kind of an uncle
to me, but--you're a liar. You've lied 'bout my wife, so I'spose I've
got to lick you." With a backward kick he sent his overturned chair
flying, then made for Hammon. But Jim seized him by the arm; Lorelei
sprang in front of him.

"Mr. Whar--Bob," she cried. "You mustn't--for my sake." The three
scuffled for an instant until Hammon said, more quietly:

"I couldn't fight with you, Bob--you're like my own son. But you've
been sold out, and--and it looks as if I'd been sold out, too. Now go
home and sleep. I didn't come here to quarrel with you; I have a matter
of my own to settle." He laid a hand on Bob's shoulder in an effort to
pacify him, but the young man's indignation flared into life with
drunken persistence. It was Lorelei who at last prevailed upon her
husband to leave peaceably, and she was about to accompany him when
Lilas Lynn checked her.

During this angry scene Lilas had not risen nor spoken, but had sat
with her elbows upon the table, her chin resting upon her interlocked
fingers, obviously enjoying it all. Her eyes were very black and very
brilliant against her pallor, and she was smiling derisively.

"Wait!" she interposed. "I'm not going to stay here with this
old--fool."

Hammon grew purple; he ground his teeth.

"You SHALL stay. We're going to have a talk and settle things once for
all."

"See? He's going to settle me."

"Nonsense. I mean--"

"He's liable to harm me." Lilas's words were directed as an appeal to
the others, but her eyes mocked Hammon. "Jim, dear, you won't leave me
alone?"

Jimmy, not relishing in the least this attempt to goad the millionaire,
remained silent, but no words from him were needed.

"We've got to have an understanding, right now," stormed Hammon, "so
clear 'em out. Clear 'em out, I say."

Lilas rose swiftly with a complete change of manner; she was smiling no
longer; her face was sinister.

"Very well," she agreed. "To-night. Why not? But I want Lorelei to stay
and--hear. Yes."

"No, I don't want her."

"I do." Lilas's bad temper flared up promptly from the hot coals of a
spiteful drunken stubbornness. "She'll stay till you go, or else I'll
put you out too. I don't trust you." She laughed disagreeably.

"Then have your way. It's you I want to talk with, anyhow, drunk as you
are. Now, Bob--will you say good night?" He waved the two men from the
room, and the outer door closed behind them.

Lorelei had little desire to remain as the witness to a distressing
scene, but she seized upon the delay, for even a sordid lovers' quarrel
was preferable to the caresses of a sodden bridegroom. But daylight
seemed a long way off--she feared Bob would not fall asleep during this
brief respite.

"Now come with me, if you please." Hammon turned in the direction of
the library, and Lilas followed, pausing to light a cigarette with a
studied indifference that added fuel to his rage. Lorelei seated
herself at the disordered dining-table and stared miserably at the wall.

"Well?" said Hammon, when he and Lilas were alone. "Is this how you
live up to your promises?"

"How did you know I went out to-night?" she inquired in her turn.

"I had you watched. After what happened last night I was suspicious.
I've been waiting for hours--while you were out with that grafter,
drinking, carousing--"

He bent toward her, white with fury, but she blew the smoke from her
cigarette into his face, and he checked himself, staring at her
strangely. For the first time he forgot his own injured feelings and
perceived the insolent defiance in her expression. It took him aback,
for in all his aggressive, violent life of conquest no one had ever
defied him, no one had ever insulted him nor deliberately set about
rousing his ire. But Lilas, he saw, was doing so, and with a purpose.
There was more in this woman's bearing, he decided, than reckless
defiance--there was an intentional challenge and a threat. Therefore
with an effort he governed himself, recoiling in surprise.

She had seated herself upon the edge of the reading-table, one foot
swinging idly. She watched him with a brooding, insolent amusement.

"Are you just drunk," he said, uncertainly, "or--have you completely
lost your senses?"

"Yes, I'm drunk, but I know what I'm doing. I went out last night, and
you warned me. I went out again to-night and--Oh yes! I helped marry
your friend's son to a show-girl. What are you going to do about it?"

"I--why, you mustn't talk like that; you're not yourself, Lilas." He
ran his eyes over the luxurious little room; he wiped his face with a
shaky hand, feeling that it was he who had lost his senses. "The wine
is talking. When I asked you to marry me I never dreamed--"

"You never dreamed I'd disobey you, eh? Well, I didn't intend to so
early." She laughed again. "Now I suppose you'll drop me. What?"

"There's nothing else to do, if this--But I can't imagine what
possessed you."

She eyed him silently with an expression he could not fathom, then
asked, "Tell me, do you really care for me?"

Jarvis Hammon was a virile, headstrong man; his world had come
suddenly, inexplicably to an end. His voice was hoarse, as he answered:

"Do you think I'd have made a fool of myself if I hadn't? Do you think
I'd have ruined myself?"

"Have you ruined yourself?" she interrupted, quickly.

"Not quite, perhaps; but what I've lost, what I've sacrificed, would
have ruined most men. My home is gone, and my family--as you know--yes,
and a good many other things you don't know about. Financially I'm not
done for--"

"That's too bad."

"Eh?"

She motioned him to proceed.

"You've cost me dear enough, as money goes, for you've gotten into my
brain, somehow. I was never foolish over women until I met you, but you
made me lose my grip on things, and indirectly I paid high. I didn't
care, though. I was glad. I wanted you at any price. I tried to change
the world around to suit me, and--now you've spoiled it all."

"That blackmail cost you something, didn't it?" He agreed, carelessly.

"And your wife's divorce will cost a lot more, won't it? You've
squandered quite a fortune on me, too, haven't you?"

He was too bewildered by her expression to do more than stare.

"No woman could totally ruin you; you're too rich for that, but you're
hit hard inside, so I guess the price is high enough." Lilas nodded
with satisfaction. "Thank God, I'm through, and you'll never paw me
over again!"

"I don't understand. What are you getting at?"

"I'll tell you. I never intended to marry you, Jarvis."

He started as if she had struck him.

"That's what I said," she reaffirmed, "and I'll tell you why. Look at
me--close."

He did as she directed, but saw nothing, his mind being in chaos. It
had been her intention to call Lorelei to witness this dramatic
disclosure and thus enhance its effect, but in the excitement of the
moment she forgot. "Look at me," she repeated. "I'm Lily Levinski."

"Levinski. A Jew?" he exclaimed, in naive surprise.

"Yes. I'm Joe Levinski's girl. Don't you remember?"

Many times she had rehearsed this declaration, picturing the
consternation, the dawning horror it would cause, and deriving a
fierce, quivering pleasure from the anticipation, but the real effect
was disappointing. Hammon only blinked stupidly, repeating:

"A Jew!" It was plain that the name meant nothing.

She slid down from her perch and approached him, crying roughly, "Don't
you remember Joe Levinski?" Hammon shook his head. "He worked for you
in the Bessemer plant of the old Kingman mill. Don't you remember?"

"There were four thousand men--"

"He was killed when the converter dumped. You were rushing the work. Do
you remember now?" Her words came swift and shrill.

Hammon started; a frown drew his brows together. His mind groped back
through the years and memory faintly stirred, but she gave him no
leisure to speak.

"I was waiting outside with his dinner-bucket, along with the other
women. I saw him go. I saw you kill him--"

"LILAS! Good God, are you crazy?" he burst forth.

"It was murder."

"Murder?"

"It was. You did it. You killed him." She had dropped her cigarette,
and it burned a black scar into the rug at their feet. Hammon retreated
a step, the girl followed with blazing eyes and words that were hot
with hate. "You spilled that melted steel on him, and I saw it all.
When I grew up I prayed for a chance to get even, for his sake and for
the sake of the other hunkies you killed. You killed my mother, too,
Jarvis Hammon, and made me a--a--You made me hustle my living in the
streets, and go through hell to get it."

"Be quiet!" he commanded, roughly. "The thing's incredible--absurd.
You--the daughter of one of my workmen--and a JEW!"

"Yes. Levinski--Lily Levinski. And you wanted to marry me," she gibed.
"But I fooled you."

"I guess I--must be--out of my head. I never knew the man--there were
thousands of them; accidents were common. But--you say--" He gathered
his whirling thoughts, and, strangely enough, grew calm. "You say you
prayed for a chance to get even--So, then, you've been humbugging--By
God, I don't believe it!"

"It's true. It's true. It's true," shrilled the girl so hysterically
that her voice roused Lorelei, sitting vacant-eyed in the room down the
hall, and brought her to her feet with ears suddenly strained. Lorelei
could hear only a part of the words that followed, but the tones of the
two voices drew her from her retreat and toward the front of the
apartment.

"I went through the gutter, I was a girl of the streets," Lilas was
saying. "Oh, you're not the first--At last I got on the stage and
then--you came. I knew you; I thought I'd die when you first touched
me--then I figured it all out, and--you were easy."

"Go on," he said, hoarsely.

"You were a bigger fool than I dreamed, but you were old and you didn't
know women. I knew men, though--old men especially."

"You took my money--you let me support you!" cried Hammon, in bitter
accusation.

"Oh, I did more than that. I planned everything that has happened to
you, even that blackmail."

"Blackmail!" he shouted. "Did you--was that your--?" He grew suddenly
apoplectic; his eyes distended and reddened with rage.

His dismay delighted her.

"Certainly," she smiled. "Half the money is in my bank at this
minute--besides all the rest you've given me. Oh, I've got enough to
live on without marrying you. Who do you think put your wife wise and
gave her the evidence for her divorce, eh? Think it over."

As she watched the effect of her words Lilas felt that her satisfaction
was now complete; the man's slack jaw, his staring, bloodshot eyes
convinced her that this moment was all that she had wished it to be.

"You'll settle with her for a million, and then you'll settle with me
for this." She indicated the elaborate apartment with a gesture. "You
think this ends our affair, don't you? Well, it doesn't. Oh no! You
can't cast me off. I'll drag you through the gutter where you sent me,
and you'll either marry me or--the courts and the newspapers will get
all your letters. You can't buy them--the letters. I'm rich,
understand? Do you remember those letters? You were very
indiscreet--and--do you want me to quote them? The less said, the
better, perhaps. Your wife will read them and your daughters--"

Jarvis Hammon roused himself at last. Surprise, incredulity, dismay
gave place to fury, and, as in all primitive natures, his wrath took
shape as an impulse to destroy.

"You'll--do that--eh?" His tone, his bearing were threatening. He
advanced as if to seize her in his great hands, and only her quickness
saved her.

"Don't touch me!" Her voice ended in a little shriek as she evaded a
second effort to grasp her, and placed the table between them. "What do
you--mean?"

But it seemed that she had done her work too well, for his answer was
like the growl of a hungry beast. His eyes roved over the table for a
weapon, and, reading his insane purpose, she cried again:

"Don't do that. I warn you--"

The nearest object chanced to be a crystal globe in which was set a
tiny French clock--one of those library ornaments serving as timepiece
and paperweight--over this his hand closed; he moved toward her.

"Put that down," she cried. He did not pause. "Put it--" She wrenched
at the table drawer and fumbled for something. Hammon uttered a bellow
and leaped at her.

It was a tiny revolver, small enough to fit into a man's vest pocket or
a woman's purse, but its report echoed loudly. The noise came like a
cannon-shot to the girl in the hall outside and brought a cry to her
lips. Lorelei flung herself against the library door.

What she saw reassured her momentarily, for, although Lilas was at bay
against a book-case, Hammon was rooted in his tracks. A strange, almost
ludicrous expression of surprise was on his face; he was staring down
at his breast; the revolver lay on the floor between him and Lilas.

Lorelei gasped an incoherent question, but neither of the two who faced
each other appeared to hear it or to notice her presence in the room.

"I told you to--keep off," Lilas chattered. Her eyes were fixed upon
Hammon, but her out-flung arms were pressed against the support at her
back as if she felt herself growing weak. "You did it--yourself. I
warned you."

The man merely remained motionless, staring. But there was something
shocking in the paralysis that held him and fixed his face in that
distorted mold of speechless amazement. Finally he stirred; one hand
crept inside his waistcoat, then came away red; he turned, walked to a
chair, and half fell upon it. Then he saw Lorelei's face, and her
agonized question took shape out of the whirling chaos in his mind.

"Where's Bob?" he said, faintly. "Call him, please."

"You're--hurt. I'll telephone for a doctor; there's one in the house,
and--and the police, too." Lorelei voiced her first impulse, then
shrilly appealed to Lilas to do something. But Lilas remained petrified
in her attitude of retreat; from the pallor that was whitening her
cheeks now it might have been she who was in danger of death.

"Don't telephone," said Hammon, huskily. "You must do just as I say,
understand? This mustn't get out, do you hear? I'm not--hurt. I'm all
right, but--fetch Bob. Don't let him call a doctor, either, until
I--get home. Now hurry--please."

Lorelei rushed to the outside door, restraining with difficulty a wild
impulse to run screaming through the hall of the apartment building and
so arouse the other tenants. But the wounded man's instructions had
been terse and forceful, therefore she held herself in check.
Fortunately, the hall-man was not at his post, or without doubt he
would have read tragedy in her demeanor. With skirts gathered high and
breath sobbing in her throat, the girl fled up the stair to her own
door, where she clung, ringing the bell frantically.

She could hear Bob's--her husband's voice inside, raised in the best of
humor. Evidently he was telephoning.

"Yes. Two hours ago, I tell you. With book, bell, and candle. Sure, I'm
happy--couldn't be otherwise, for I'm drunk and married. I knew you'd
be glad. What? No; glad because I'm married."

Jim's footsteps sounded, his hand opened the door, then his arm flew
out to his sister's support as she staggered in.

"SIS! What the devil?" he cried, aghast at sight of her.

"Something--dreadful."

Bob continued his cheerful colloquy over the wire. "Just got in from
your nightly joy-ride, eh? Lucky I caught you. Say! Here she is now.
We'll expect a marble clock with gilt cupids from you, Merkle--Want to
say hello?" He lurched aside from the telephone as Lorelei snatched the
receiver from his hand.

"Mr. Merkle," she cried.

"Hello! Yes. Is that you?" came Merkle's steady voice.

"Come quick--quick."

"What's wrong?" he demanded, with a sharp change of tone. "Has Bob--?"

"No, no. It's Mr. Hammon. He's down-stairs with--Lilas, and he's
hurt--shot. I--I'm frightened."

She turned to find Bob and Jim staring at her.

"Come," she gasped. "I think he's--dying."

She led the way swiftly, and they followed.



CHAPTER XV


Merkle found his chauffeur just closing the garage door, and three
minutes later his car was sweeping westward through the Park like the
shadow of some flying bird. The vagueness, the brevity of the message
that had come to him out of the night made it terribly alarming. Hammon
of all men! And at this time! Merkle's mind leaped to the consequences
of the catastrophe, if catastrophe it proved. He remembered the issues
raised by the sudden death of another associate--also a man of standing
and the head of a great industrial combination--and the avalanche of
misfortune that it had started. In that case death had been attributed
to apoplexy, but when the truth leaked out it had created a terrible
scandal. Fortunately, that man's business affairs had been well
ordered, and, although his family had been ruined, his institutions had
managed to survive the blow. But Jarvis Hammon's financial interests
were in no condition to withstand a shock; for a long time many of them
had been under fire. He had committed his associates to a program of
commercial expansion, never too secure even under favorable conditions,
and one, moreover, which had provoked a tremendous assault from rival
steel manufacturers. Now, with Hammon himself stricken at the crisis of
the struggle, there was no telling what results might follow.

But Merkle's apprehensions were by no means as purely selfish as his
immediate train of thought might imply; nor were they by any means
confined to the probable cost in dollars and cents of his associate's
death. Hammon and he had been friends for many years; they shared a
mutual respect and affection, and, although Merkle was eminently
practical and unemotional, he prayed now as best he could that this
alarm might be false, and that Hammon might not be grievously injured.
Meanwhile he wedged himself into the cushions of the reeling car and
urged his driver to more speed.

As the machine drew up to the Elegancia, Jimmy Knight leaped to the
running-board and said hurriedly:

"Send your driver away."

Merkle did as he was directed, realizing his worst fears. When he and
Jim stood alone on the walk he inquired weakly, "Is he--dead?"

Jim shook his head, and Merkle saw that he was deeply agitated. "No.
But he's got a bullet in his chest."

"Did she--did that woman--?" Merkle laid a bony hand upon Jim's arm,
and his fingers clutched like claws.

"I--don't know. He says he did it himself, and she won't talk. He
declares it's only a scratch, and won't let us telephone for a doctor
or for an ambulance. He's afraid of the police and--he's waiting for
you."

Merkle hurried toward the entrance, but Jim halted him, and by the
light from within it was plain that the latter was fairly palsied with
fright. "For God's sake be careful! D-don't let the hall-man suspect.
Lorelei was with 'em when it happened, and if it's--murder she'll be in
it. Understand? She says she didn't see it, but she was there."

Together the men entered the building and at the first ring were
admitted to Apartment Number One by Lorelei herself. She led them
straight into the library.

Perhaps a quarter of an hour had elapsed since the shooting, but Jarvis
Hammon still sat in the big chair. He was breathing quietly. Bob
Wharton stood beside him.

"John!" The iron-master smiled pallidly as his friend came and knelt
beside him. "You got here quickly."

"Are you badly hurt, Jarvis?"

"The damned thing is in here somewhere." Hammon took his hand away from
his breast, and Merkle saw that the fingers were bloody. "Can you get
me out of here quietly?"

John Merkle rose to his full height, his lips writhed back from his
teeth. Harshly he inquired: "Where is that woman?"

"She's back yonder, in her room," Bob told him. "She's ill."

Merkle turned, but, reading his intent, Hammon checked him, crying in a
strong voice: "None of that, John. I did it myself. It was
an--accident."

"I don't believe it."

Hammon's eyes met those of his accuser; the two stared at each other
steadily for a moment.

"It's true."

Merkle took a step and stooped for the revolver which had lain
unnoticed until this moment. He held it in his hand.

"This isn't your gun," he said, quietly.

"No. It's hers. We had a quarrel. I--She intended to use it on herself.
We fought for it--and in the struggle I set it off."

The other occupants of the room had listened breathlessly; now Lorelei
stirred and Merkle read more than mere bewilderment in her face. He
opened his lips, but the wounded man did not wait for him to speak.

"You MUST believe me!" he said, earnestly. "It's the truth, and I won't
have Lilas involved--we've been a great deal to each other. To-night--I
accused her wrongfully. It was all my fault--I'm to blame for
everything." There was a pause. "I ruined her--you understand? I won't
allow any scandal. Now get me out of here as quietly and as quickly as
you can. I'm really not hurt much. Come, come! There's nobody home
except Orson and some of the kitchen help, and Orson is all right--the
women are gone, you know. He'll get a doctor. It's a--bad business, of
course, but I've thought it all out, and you must do exactly as I say."

The effort of this long speech told on the sufferer.

Sweat beaded his face; nevertheless, his jaws remained firmly set; his
glance was purposeful, his big hands were gripped tightly over the arms
of his chair. There was something superb, something terrible about his
unchanging grimness.

Lorelei spoke timidly, for the first time. "But--the law, Mr. Merkle?
The police--?"

"To hell with the law!" Jim burst out, nervously. "D'you want to go to
court? D'you want to be up for murder? Lilas would saddle it onto you
to save herself."

"Murder?" echoed Bob, with a start. "Jove!"

Jarvis Hammon cried furiously: "Don't be fools. There's no murder about
it. I told you I shot myself accidentally. I'm not going to die."

"You CAN'T--you MUSTN'T," Merkle gravely agreed.

"Is your car outside, John?"

Merkle shook his head. He was thinking swiftly. "I wouldn't dare risk
that, anyhow. The driver is a new man."

"Get a cab," Jim offered, in a panic.

"The cab-driver would be sure to--"

"I'll drive," Bob volunteered. "I'm drunk, but I've done it before when
I was drunker. It's an old trick of mine--sort of a joke, see? Give me
some money--a cabby'll do anything for money at this time o' night."

Merkle eyed the speaker in momentary doubt, then handed him a roll of
bank-notes. "It's a serious business, Bob, but--this is worse, and
we've no time to lose--Jarvis can't stay here. There's somebody else to
consider besides us and--Miss Lynn. I'm thinking about Mrs. Hammon and
the girls." Hammon groaned. "But we mustn't leave a trail, understand?
Now go quickly, and--do the best you can." He followed Bob to the door
and let him out. Instead of returning to the library, however, Merkle
stepped swiftly down the hall, then, without knocking, opened the door
to Lilas Lynn's bedroom and entered.

Lilas was busied at her dressing-table; an open traveling-bag jammed
with articles of wearing-apparel stood on the bed. At his entrance she
uttered a frightened cry and a silver spoon slipped from her nerveless
fingers. Merkle saw also a little open box with several compartments, a
glass of water, the cap of a pearl-and-gold fountain-pen, but took
scant notice of them, being too deeply stirred and too much surprised
at her appearance. She was no longer the vital, dashing girl he had
known, but a pallid, cringing wreck of a woman. She shrank back at
sight of him, babbling unintelligible words and cowering as if
expecting a blow.

"Did you shoot him?" he asked, grimly.

Shivering, choking, speechless, Lilas stared at him. Her hair was
disarranged; it hung in wisps and strings over her neck and brow; her
eyes were dull and distended, like those of a person just recovering
from the effects of an anesthetic. It was doubtful if she even
recognized him. A repetition of his question brought no reply.

Seizing her roughly, he shook her, muttering savagely:

"If I were sure, by God, I'd strangle you!"

She remained limp; her expressionless stare did not change.

Merkle heard a stir behind him and found Jimmy Knight's blanched face
peering in at him. Even fright could not entirely rob the younger man's
features of their sly inquisitiveness.

"Mr. Hammon's calling you," said Jim, then blinked at the wretchedly
disheveled woman.

"Here!" Merkle beckoned him with a jerk of his head. "This girl must
get away from here. She'll ruin everything in her condition. Try to put
her in some kind of shape while Lorelei packs her bag. We had better
get her out of the country if we can."

Jim's quick eyes took in the articles on the dressing-table. "Ha!
Dope," he exclaimed. "She's a coker--she's filled herself up. But,
say--you don't really think she--did it, do you?"

"I don't know what to think. It's just as bad, either way. Hammon's
wife and daughters must never know. Now, quick. See what you can do
with her."

Merkle returned to the library, sent Lorelei in to her brother's
assistance, then scanned his friend's face anxiously. But Hammon had
not moved; the sweat still stood upon his lips and forehead, his jaws
were still set like stone.

"No scandal, John," he exclaimed. "No scandal--whatever happens--on
account of my girls."

"You're worse hit than you'll admit," Merkle said, gently.

"No, no. I'm all right. I'm not even suffering." His pallor belied his
words, but he went on with even better self-control than Merkle's:
"There's paper and ink yonder. Take these notes, will you? Things are
in bad shape on the Street, and--you never can tell what may happen, so
we'd better play safe."

Merkle seated himself and took the wounded man's dictation as best he
could; but his hand shook badly.

From down the hall came hysterical meanings as Lilas Lynn struggled in
a drugged and drunken breakdown.

The moments dragged interminably.

Several months before, Bob Wharton during one of his hilarious moments
had conceived the brilliant notion of hiring a four-wheeler and driving
a convivial party of friends from place to place. The success of his
exploit had been so gratifying that he had repeated the performance,
but he was in a far different mood now as he left the Elegancia. The
shock of Lorelei's announcement, the sight of his stricken friend, had
sobered him considerably, yet he was not himself by any means. At one
moment he saw and reasoned clearly, at the next his intoxication
benumbed his senses and distorted his mental vision. These periods
alternated with some regularity, as if the wine-fumes rose in waves;
but he centered his attention upon the task ahead of him and hastened
his sluggish limbs.

One word--"murder"--stuck in his memory; it kept repeating itself. He
remembered Jimmy Knight's sentence directed at Lorelei. "D'you want to
go to court?"

Lorelei was his wife, Bob reflected, dizzily--quite clearly he
remembered marrying her. It was plainly as necessary, therefore, to
shield her as to remove Jarvis Hammon and smother this accident. Or was
it an accident, after all? Perhaps Lilas had shot the fellow. If that
were true, then she ought to be arrested--certainly. But somebody had
said, "She'll saddle it onto Lorelei to save herself." After all, it
couldn't be murder, for hadn't Hammon said that he shot himself? Bob
decided there could be no such need for haste, now that the truth was
known, so he slackened his zigzag progress. If nobody had been
murdered, why hire a cab at all? Then he began to run again,
remembering that Hammon needed a doctor. This was a fine wedding night,
indeed. For once in his life he wished himself sober.

Broadway, that pulsating artery of New York life, was still flowing a
thin stream of traffic despite the lateness of the hour, and Bob's mind
had become clearer by the time he reached it.

He signaled to the first horse-drawn vehicle that passed, but it was
occupied, and the driver paid no heed to his call. Several taxi-cabs
whirled past, both north and south bound, but he knew better than to
hire them, so he waited as patiently as he could while those billows of
intoxication continued to ebb and flow through his brain, robbing him
of that careful judgment which he fought to retain.

At last the clop-clop-clop of a horse's hoofs sounded close by, and an
unshaven man in an ancient high hat steered a four-wheeler to the curb,
barking: "Keb, keb!"

Bob lurched forward and laid a hand upon the driver's knee. "Very man
I'm lookin' for." The hiccup that followed was by no means intentional.

"Yes, sir. Where to, sir?"

But Bob shook his head vigorously and waved a comprehensive gesture
toward the west. "Got a party of my own back yonder--everybody soused
but me--understand? I'm the only sober one, so I'm goin' to drive 'em
home, see? How much?"

"How much for what?" demanded the cabman.

"For the cab--one hour. I'll bring it back."

"Nothin' doin'! I'll take you where you want to go."

"Sorry. Mus' have my little joke, no matter what it costs. Next
cabby'll do it."

Nothing except Bob's personal appearance prevented the driver from
whipping up without more ado, but a shiny top-hat, an immaculate
expanse of shirt-bosom, and silken waistcoat, especially when linked
with a spend-thrift air, command respect from the cab-driving
brotherhood. The night was old--and these jokers sometimes pay well,
the man reflected.

"How'd I know you'd bring it back?" he inquired.

"Matter of honor with me. I'll be back in no time. Will ten dollars be
right?"

"Hop in, Mister. I'll drive you an' your friends to Philadelphy for ten
dollars," the cabby offered, invitingly.

But Bob was obdurate. "I'll make it fifteen, and you can lend me your
coat and hat. We'll exchange--have to, or no joke. Is it a go?"

The offer was tempting, but the driver cannily demanded Wharton's name
and address before committing himself. The card that Bob handed him put
an end to the parley; he wheeled into the side-street and removed his
long nickel-buttoned coat and his battered tile, taking Bob's
broadcloth garment and well-blocked hat in return.

"First one o' these I ever had on," he chuckled. "But it's a bit cool
for shirt-sleeves, ain't it? Mind now, if you get lost give the horse
his head and he'll find the stable, but don't run 'im. If you ain't
back in an hour I'll know you've got a puncture. Ha! In the mornin'
I'll take these glad rags to Charley Voice's hotel, eh?"

"Right! The Charlevoix. But I'll be back." Bob drove away with a
parting flourish of his whip.

The elevator was in its place, the hall-man was dozing, with heels
propped upon the telephone switchboard, when Wharton entered the
Elegancia and rang the bell of Lilas Lynn's apartment; but a careless
glimpse of the glittering buttons and the rusty hat sent the attendant
back into his drowse.

Once Bob had gained admittance little time was wasted. He and Merkle
helped Hammon to his feet, then each took an arm; but the exertion
told, and Jarvis hung between them like a drunken man, a gray look of
death upon his face.

"Watch out for the door-man," Jimmy Knight cautioned for the twentieth
time. "Make him think you've got a souse."

"Aren't you coming along?" asked Bob.

But Jim recoiled. "Me? No. I'll stay and help Lilas make her get-away."

Merkle nodded agreement. "Don't let her get out of your sight, either,
understand? There's a ship sailing in the morning. See that she's
aboard."

Jarvis Hammon spoke. "I want you all to know that I'm entirely to blame
and that I did this myself. Lilas is a--good girl." The words came
laboriously, but his heavy brows were drawn down, his jaw was square.
"I was clumsy. I might have killed her. But she's all right, and I'll
be all right, too, when I get a doctor. Now put that pistol in my
pocket, John. Do as I say. There! Now I'm ready."

The hall-man of the Elegancia was somewhat amused at sight of the three
figures that emerged from Miss Lynn's apartment, and surmised that
there had been a gay time within, judging from the condition of the old
man in the center. Theatrical people were a giddy lot, anyhow. Since
there was no likelihood of a tip from one so deeply in his cups, the
attendant did not trouble to lend a hand, but raised his heels to the
switchboard and dozed off again.

Bob Wharton mounted the box and drove eastward across Broadway, through
the gloomy block to Columbus Avenue and on to Central Park West, the
clop-clop-clop of the horse's feet echoing lonesomely in the empty
street. At Sixty-seventh Street he wheeled into the sunken causeway
that links the East and West sides.

Once in the shadows, Merkle leaned from the door, crying softly,
"Faster! Faster!"

Bob whipped up, the horse cantered, the cab reeled and bounced over the
cobblestones, rocking the wounded man pitifully.

To John Merkle the ride was terrible, with a drunkard at the reins and
in his own arms a perhaps fatally injured man, who, despite the
tortures of that bumping carriage, interspersed his groans with cries
of "Hurry, Hurry!" But, while Merkle was appalled at the situation and
its possible consequences, he felt, nevertheless, that Hammon had acted
in quite the proper way. In fact, for a manly man there had been no
alternative, regardless of who had fired the shot. It was quite like
Jarvis to do the generous, even the heroic, thing when least expected.
Whatever Hammon might have been, he was in the last analysis all man,
and Merkle admired his courage. He was glad that Hammon had thought of
those three women who bore his name, even if they bore him no love, and
he took courage from his friend's plucky self-control. Perhaps the
wound was not serious, after all. Hammon's death would mean the ruin of
many investors, a general crash, perhaps even a wide-spread panic, and,
according to Merkle's standards, these catastrophes bulked bigger than
the unhappiness of women, the fall of an honored name, or death itself.

When he felt the grateful smoothness of Fifth Avenue beneath the wheels
he leaned forth a second time and warned Bob, "Be careful of the
watchman in the block."

The liquor in Bob was dying; he bent downward to inquire, "Is he all
right?"

Merkle nodded, then withdrew his head.

The Hammon residence has changed owners of late, but many people recall
its tragic associations and continue to point it out with interest. It
is a massive pile of gray stone, standing just east of Fifth Avenue,
and its bronze doors open upon an exclusive, well-kept side-street. As
the cab swung in sight of the house Wharton, seeing a gray-clad figure
near by, drove past without pausing and turned south on Madison Avenue.
He made a complete circuit of the block, meditating with sobering
effect upon the risk he was running. His heart was pounding violently
when the street unrolled before him for a second time. At the farther
corner, dimly discernible beneath the radiance of a street-light, he
made out the watchman, now at the end of his patrol. The moment was
propitious; there could be no further delay.

Bob reined in and leaped from his box. Merkle had the cab door open and
was hoisting Hammon from his seat.

"Have you got the key?" Bob asked, swiftly.

"Yes. Help me! He's fainted, I think."

They lifted the half-conscious man out, then with him between them
struggled up the steps; but Hammon's feet dragged; he hung very heavy
in their arms.

Merkle was not a strong man; he was panting, and his hands shook as he
fumbled with the lock. The key escaped him and tinkled upon the stone.

"Hurry! Here comes the watchman." Bob was gazing over his shoulder at
the slowly approaching figure. The watchman had his eyes fixed upon the
old-fashioned vehicle and its dejected animal, wondering, no doubt,
what brought such an antiquated rig into this most exclusive
neighborhood. He was within a few numbers of the Hammon house before
Merkle solved the mysteries of the lock and the heavy portals swung
open. In another instant the door had closed noiselessly, and the three
were shut off from the street by a barricade of iron grillwork and
plate glass. Both Bob and Merkle were weak from the narrowness of their
escape, but the way was still barred by another door, through which two
elaborate H's worked into French lace panels showed pallidly.

A second but briefer delay, and they stood in the gloom of the marble
foyer hall. Then they shuffled across the floor to the great curving
stairway. Both of Hammon's friends knew the house well, and, guided
only by their sense of touch, they labored upward with their burden.
The place was still, tomb-like; only the faint, measured ticking of a
clock came to them.

Hammon had assured them that there would be no one in the house except
Orson, his man, and some of the kitchen servants, the others having
followed their mistress to the country; nevertheless the rescuers'
nerves were painfully taut, and they tried to go as silently as
burglars. It was hard, awkward work; they collided with unseen objects;
their arms ached with the constant strain; when they finally gained the
library they were drenched with perspiration. Merkle switched on the
lights; they deposited the wounded man on a couch and bent over him.

Hammon was not dead. Merkle felt his way into the darkened regions at
the rear and returned with a glass of spirits. Under his and Bob's
ministrations the unconscious man opened his eyes.

"You got me here, didn't you?" he whispered, as he took in his
surroundings. "Now go--everything is all right."

"We're not going to leave you," Merkle said, positively.

"No!" echoed Bob. "I'll wake up Orson while John telephones the doctor."

But Hammon forbade Bob's movement with a frown. It was plain that
despite his weakness his mind remained clear. "Listen to me," he
ordered. "Prop me up--put me in that chair. I'm choking." They did as
he directed. "That's better. Now, you mustn't be seen here--either of
you. We can't explain." He checked Merkle. "I know best. Go home; it's
only two blocks--I'll telephone."

"You'll ring for Orson quick?"

Hammon nodded.

"Rotten way to leave a man," Bob mumbled. "I'd rather stick it out and
face the music."

"Go, go! You're wasting time." Hammon's brow was wrinkled with pain and
anger. "You've been good; now hurry."

Merkle's thin face was marked with deep feeling.

"Yes," he agreed. "There's nothing else for us to do; but tell Orson to
'phone me quick. I'll be back here in five minutes." Then he and Bob
stole out of the house as quietly as they had stolen in.

They got into the cab and drove away without exciting suspicion. Merkle
alighted two blocks up the avenue and sped to his own house; Bob turned
his jaded nag westward through the sunken road that led toward the
Elegancia and Lorelei.

The owner of the equipage was waiting patiently, and there still lacked
something of the allotted hour when the exchanged garments had been
transferred to their respective owners. Bob walked toward the Elegancia
with a feeling of extreme fatigue in his limbs, for the effort to
conquer his intoxication had left him weak; he dimly realized also that
he was still far from sober.

There was no answer when he rang at Lilas Lynn's apartment; the
hall-boy volunteered the information that the occupant had just gone
out with a gentleman. Miss Knight? Yes, she was up-stairs, he supposed.
But when Bob undertook to go up there was prompt objection. The
attendant would not hear to such a thing until he had first called Miss
Knight. Even Lorelei's halting assurance that the gentleman was indeed
her husband did not wholly satisfy, and it was with a suspicious mien
that the man finally gave way.

Bob was surprised at his wife's apparent self-control when she let him
in. Except for the slim hand pressed to her bosom and the anxiety
lurking in her deep blue eyes she might have just come from the
theater. Those eyes, he noted, were very dark, almost black, under this
emotional stress; they questioned him, mutely.

"We got him home all right," he told her, when they stood facing each
other in the tiny living-room.

"Will he live?"

"Oh yes. He says he's not badly hurt, and Merkle agrees. Lord! we'd
never left him alone if we'd thought--"

"I'm glad. When the telephone rang I thought--it was the police."

"There, there!" he said, comfortingly, seeing her tremble. "I won't let
anybody hurt you. I was terribly drunk--things are swimming yet--but
all the way across town I couldn't think of anything, anybody except
you and what it would mean to you if it got out."

"It will get out, I'm sure. Such things always do."

He eyed her gravely, kindly, with an expression she had never seen upon
his face.

"Then--we'll face it together," he said.

After a moment her glance drooped, a faint color tinged her cheeks.
"I--wouldn't dare face it alone. I couldn't. But you're tired--sick."
He nodded. "You must lie down and sleep, and get to be yourself
again--We can't tell what may happen now at any moment."

"It's the reaction, I suppose. I'm all in. And you?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't sleep if I tried. I feel as if I'd
never be able to sleep again. I--I'll sit and watch and--wait."



CHAPTER XVI


That afternoon Mrs. Knight, in a great flutter of excitement, arrived
with Jim at the Elegancia. Embracing her daughter in tremulous, almost
tearful delight, she burst forth:

"You DEAR! You DARLING! Jim came home not an hour ago and told me
everything. I thought I should swoon."

"Told you--everything?" Lorelei flashed a glance at her brother, who
made a quick sign of reassurance.

"Yes. Peter is so happy--he's better already, and wants to meet Robert.
You know neither of us have seen our new son--that's what he's going to
be, too--a real son, like Jim. But I think you MIGHT have telephoned."
She checked her exuberance to inquire, in a stage whisper that carried
through the flat, "Is the dear boy here?"

"Sure! Where's brother Bob?" echoed Jim.

"He went home to change his clothes and to telegraph his people."

"But how strange--how TERRIBLE you look!"

Jim volunteered an explanation. "Remember, ma, we were up all night,
and it was SOME wedding party. Pipe me. I look like a wreck on the
Erie."

"And to think that while Lilas was out enjoying herself with you poor
Mr. Hammon was lying with a bullet in him. I NEVER had such a shock as
when I read the extras. You've seen them?" Lorelei nodded--indeed, the
room was strewn with newspapers. "They say it was accidental--but
pshaw!" Mrs. Knight shrugged knowingly.

"Don't you think it was?"

"My dear! Think of his family troubles and financial worries!"

"That's the general talk," Jim agreed. "Things were boiling when the
market closed. All of his stocks are away off. Well, I don't blame him."

"Yes, and he'd quarreled with Lilas, too. That's why she sailed for
Europe this morning." Mrs. Knight's hard eyes glittered, her sharp nose
seemed to lengthen. "I'll warrant she knows a lot more than she'll
tell. I'd like to question her, and I will when--Lorelei! You're as
white as a sheet. Are you ill?"

"No. Only--everything came at once. It was a--long night."

Jim sighed wearily. "Deliver me from hysterical fluffs like Lilas. I'd
rather load a cargo of boa-constrictors than start her for the briny."

What with Lorelei's good fortune and Lilas's catastrophe Mrs. Knight
was well-nigh delirious. It was not often that she could roll two such
delicious morsels under her tongue, and she patently gloried in the
opportunity for gossip. She ended a period of chatter by saying:

"It just goes to show that a girl must be careful. If Lilas had behaved
herself she'd have been married and rich like you. Oh, I can't believe
it has come true! Think of it yourself, dearie; I--I'm nearly out of my
head." She dabbed at her moistening eyes, becoming more and more
excited as she dwelt upon the family's sudden rise to affluence. She
was still rejoicing garrulously when Lorelei burst into one of her rare
passions of weeping and buried her face in her hands. "Child alive!"
cried her astonished mother. "What ails you?"

Instantly Jim's suspicions caught fire.

"Say! Has Bob welched?" he demanded, harshly.

The amber head shook in negation.

"Isn't he--nice to you?" quavered Mrs. Knight.

"Yes. But--I'm sorry I did it. He was drinking; he didn't know what he
was doing--"

"Hush!" Mrs. Knight cast a fearful glance over her shoulder. "It was
all straight and aboveboard, and he knew perfectly well what he was
about. Jim would swear to it."

Lorelei lifted a tragic, tear-stained face. "I ought to be hanged," she
said.

Jim laughed with relief. "There's gratitude for you! If I had your
share of the Wharton coin I'd let 'em hang ME--for a while."

"There, there!" Mrs. Knight chided her daughter. "You're worn out, and
no wonder; but everything is lovely. I'm dying to meet Robert's mother,
now that we have so much in common. I'm sure I'll like her, although I
can't see what pleasure she can get from GIVING away money. Why, she's
simply robbing Bob's family when she throws her thousands to charity,
and I intend to tell her so, too, in a nice way, the first chance I
get. Of course, you'll quit the Revue to-night. That'll be a relief,
won't it? Has Robert given you anything yet? They say he's terribly
generous."

"I can't quit right away, now that Lilas has left. But I dare say Bob
won't let me work very long."

"Indeed! I should hope not." Mrs. Knight's chin lifted. "If I were you
I'd never go near Bergman's theater again. Let him sue you."

Jim eyed his sister admiringly. "You're a dandy crier, Sis," he
observed. "Your nose doesn't swell and your eyes don't pop out. You
could sob your way right into the Wharton family if you tried." He lit
a cigar, sighed gratefully, and, dragon-like, emitted twin columns of
smoke from his nostrils. "Hannibal Wharton is worth twenty millions
easy," he went on, complacently; "maybe forty. We didn't do so
badly--for country yaps--did we? It feels mighty good to be in the
kale-patch. No more small change for yours truly. But, say--it was a
battle!"

Mrs. Knight ran down slowly, like a clock. This sudden and unexpected
triumph had gone to her head; she could talk only of dollars and cents.
In her fancy she juggled huge sums of money; she drew extravagant
pictures of a glittering future in which the whole family figured.
Throughout this sordid chatter, with its avaricious gloatings and
endless repetitions, Lorelei sat listless, her thoughts far from
pleasant. It had required this final touch to make her fully feel her
wretchedly false position.

As mother and son were leaving, Jim managed to get a word in private
with his sister.

"Don't weaken," he cautioned her. "Lynn's gone, and it's all over.
We've got the whip-hand on all of 'em--Hammon, Merkle, Bob,
Lilas--everybody. We've got 'em all, understand? We've landed BIG!"

When she was alone Lorelei gave a sigh of relief, which changed to a
sob as the sense of her helplessness surged over her again. She was
worn out, and yet she could not rest. She longed for the open air, and
yet she dreaded to show herself abroad, fearing that some one would
read her secret. Thoughts of the evening performance at the theater
filled her with unfamiliar misgivings--she wondered if she could appear
in public without breaking down. SHE knew well enough who had fired
that shot--would others fail to suspect? The secrecy in which the whole
affair was veiled seemed terribly artificial; it was impossible that
such a barefaced conspiracy to suppress the truth could long remain
undiscovered. And--if Hammon died, what then? He was reported to be
very low; suppose he became delirious and betrayed himself? She would
be involved--and Merkle and Bob.

Every clang of the elevator gate, every footfall outside her door
alarmed her. As with most women, her knowledge of the law was
negligible, her conception of its workings was grotesquely child-like.

Yet, after all, the incidents of the shooting affected her less than
the amazing change in her own fortunes; she was a wife. The word
sounded shockingly unreal. This was no longer her home, her sanctuary;
another had equal share in it. She no longer belonged to herself:
another--possessed her. And, worst of all, that other was practically a
stranger. She felt her cheeks burn; she was suffocated by a sense of
shame from which there was no escape. In one night she had passed the
turning-point from girlhood to womanhood, from womanhood to wifehood,
and there had been no love, no faith, no glamour even, in the act. She
had deliberately sold herself; she wearily wondered where the new road
led--surely not to happiness.

Toward evening Adoree Demorest telephoned, and with many anticipatory
exclamations of pleasure invited Lorelei to dine. "I can't," answered
Lorelei, faintly.

"Bother your engagements!" Miss Demorest's disappointment was keen.

"I can't even explain, unless--you'll come here."

"To dinner?"

Lorelei decided swiftly. She dreaded to be alone with Bob; her
constraint in his presence was painful, and he also, before going out,
had appeared very ill at ease. He had not even made plans for the
evening meal. In view of all this she answered:

"Yes, to dinner. Please, please come."

"What IS the matter?"

"I'll--tell you later."

Miss Demorest yielded, not without some regret. "I was going to cook
the supper myself, and I'm all done up like a sore foot; but I'll
remove the bandages. I suppose you know the potatoes are peeled and the
salad will spoil unless I bring it?"

"Then bring it, and hurry."

Lorelei was not quite sure that Bob would consent to dine in the modest
little home, but under the circumstances idleness was maddening, so she
fell to work. It seemed very odd, when she thought of it, for the bride
of a millionaire to prepare a meal with her own hands, but anything was
preferable to dining out, in her present frame of mind. This was very
different from what she had expected, but--everything was different.
Once the marriage had become known to Bob's people and he had
thoroughly sobered down, once she had withdrawn from the cast of the
Revue, their real life would begin.

Bob was pale and a bit unsteady when he arrived, but Lorelei saw that
he suffered only from the effects of his previous debauch. He was
extremely self-conscious and uneasy in her presence, though he kissed
her with a brave show of confidence.

"I galloped into the bank just as they slammed the doors," he
explained, "but my bookkeeping is rotten."

"Yes?"

"My accounts somehow never tally with theirs, and they always explain
very patiently--it's a patient bank--that they use adding-machines.
Beastly nuisance, this constant figuring, especially when you never hit
the right answer. But a man can't expect to compete with one of those
mechanical contraptions."

"Are you trying to tell me that you have overdrawn?"

"Exactly. But I drew against the old gentleman, as usual, so on with
the dance. What's the--er--idea of the apron?"

"It's nearly dinner-time."

Bob's eyes opened with surprise. "Why, we're going to Delmonico's."

"I'd--rather do this if you don't mind." She eyed him appealingly. "I
don't feel equal to going out to-night. I'm--afraid."

"Don't you keep a maid?" he inquired.

"Where would I keep her--in the ice-box?" Lorelei smiled faintly.

His glance brightened with admiration. "Well, you look stunning in that
get-up, and I'd hate to see you change it. Do you mean to say you can
COOK?"

"Not well, but I can fry almost anything. Mother has a maid. I couldn't
afford two."

"I love fried things," he assured her, with a twinkle. "And to think
you're going to cook for ME! That's an experience for both of us. Let's
have some fried roast beef and fried corn on the cob with fried salad
and cheese--"

"Don't tease," she begged, uncertainly. "I hardly know what I'm doing,
and I thought this would keep me busy until theater-time."

He extended a hand timidly and patted her arm, saying with unexpected
gentleness:

"Please don't worry. I supposed we'd dine in public, but if you like
this better, so do I. When we pull ourselves together and get settled a
bit we'll make our plans for the future. At present I'm still in a
daze. It was a terrible night for all of us. When I think of it I'm
sure it must have been a dream. I saw Merkle; he's perfectly cold and
matter-of-fact about it all. He got back to Hammon's house ahead of the
doctor, and nobody suspects the truth. But the Street is in chaos, and
all of Hammon's companies are feeling the strain. The shorts are
running to cover, and there's a report that it was suicide, which makes
things worse. It couldn't have happened at a more inopportune time,
either. Dad's on his way from Pittsburg to help save Merkle's bank."

"Shouldn't you have been at business on such a day?"

Bob shrugged carelessly. "I'm only a 'joke' broker. The governor thinks
a firm-name looks well on my cards. I hope he doesn't lose more than a
million in this flurry--it won't improve his disposition. But--wait
till he learns I've married a girl who can fry things--By the way--"
Bob paused. "I invited a friend to dine with us tonight."

Lorelei was less dismayed than he had expected. "So have I," she said.

"I thought it might be pleasanter for you," he explained, a bit
awkwardly, "inasmuch as we're not very well--acquainted. I saw before I
went out that you were--er--embarrassed--and--and--" He flushed
boyishly, scarcely conscious of the delicacy that had prompted his
action. "Anyhow, he's gone home to put on a clean sweater."

"You don't mean you asked--?"

"Campbell Pope; yes. I met him, and he looked hungry. He's coming here
at six." For almost the first time in Bob's society Lorelei laughed out
clearly.

"And I asked Adoree Demorest," she said.

Bob grinned and then laughed with her. "Fine!" he cried. "Both members
of this club. Really, this ought to make the best finish fight seen in
New York for many a day."

"I don't care," Lorelei said, stubbornly. "Adoree is the most misjudged
person in America, and Pope ought to know the truth."

As she flitted back and forth preparing dinner Bob kept up a ceaseless
chatter that did much to lessen their constraint. She was conscious
through it all of his admiration, but it still seemed to be the
admiration of a stranger, not of a husband; never for one moment had
either of them felt the binding force of their new relationship; never
had they been farther apart than now.

Adoree's surprise at finding Robert Wharton in her friend's apartment
was intense, and when she learned the truth she was for once in her
life speechless. She could only stare from one to the other, wavering
between consternation and delight. Finally she sat down limply.

"I--I'd have brought a present if I'd known," she managed to say.

"Are you going to wish us luck?" Bob inquired.

"Luck! You've both got it. She's the best girl in the world, and
you're--" Adoree hesitated, and continued to stare, round-eyed. "I
didn't think you'd--I didn't think she'd--I don't know what I thought
or didn't think. But--Jimminy! MARRIED!" When Lorelei led her into the
bedroom to lay off her wraps the thunderstruck young woman had more
nearly recovered herself. "Why, he's worth millions," she exclaimed, in
a whisper--"BILLIONS! I don't know how to talk to him--or you, for that
matter. Shall I call you 'my Lady' or 'your Honor,' or--"

"You knew how to talk to him that night of the supper."

"And to think you married him after what hap--I'm going to slap the
very first millionaire _I_ meet--maybe he'll propose to me." She was
suddenly dismayed. "Why, I can't afford to buy YOU a
wedding-gift--you'll expect a diamond sunburst or a set of sea-otter. I
didn't dress for dinner either; I suppose I should have worn the crown
jools."

"You're going to wear an apron and help me scorch the dinner," Lorelei
laughed.

"You--COOKING, with a billionaire husband!" Adoree gasped. "Am I
dreaming? Why don't you dine aboard his yacht, or--buy the Plaza and
have dinner served in the lobby? You COOKING! Why, you're going to have
automobiles to match your dresses, and chateaux in France, and
servants, and stables of polo-ponies, and a Long Island estate, and a
hunting-lodge, and--and thousands of gowns, and a maid to put 'em on.
She'll do it, too--when you're not looking." Miss Demorest paused,
dazzled by the splendor of her own imaginings. "YOU! COOKING! Stop
fidgeting and let me kiss you. There!"

As Lorelei explained the reasons for to-night's program, Adoree saw for
the first time the weariness in her friend's eyes, the pallor of her
cheeks, the tremulous droop of her lower lip. Seizing Lorelei by the
shoulders, she held her off as the target for a searching gaze.

"Tell me, did they MAKE you marry him?" she inquired, fiercely. It was
plain to whom she referred.

"No."

"Whew! I'm glad to hear that. You love him, don't you?"

The answer came readily enough, and the blue eyes did not flinch, but
the smile was a trifle fixed and the cheeks remained colorless.

"Why, of course. He's very nice."

"Lorelei!" Miss Demorest's fingers tightened; her voice was tragic, but
she had no chance to say more, for Bob called just then from the
living-room:

"Hurry back, girls. There's something burning, and I can't find the
emergency brake."

When Adoree finally came forth in one of Lorelei's aprons--really a
fetching garment, more like a house dress than an apron--Bob told her
whom they were expecting as the other guest.

She paused with a bread-knife upraised.

"That--VIPER?" she cried.

"Campbell isn't a viper; he's a cricket--a dramatic cricket," declared
Bob.

Adoree began to undo the buttons at her back, but Bob seized her hands.

"Let go. I'll blow up if I see that creature," she exclaimed, in a kind
of subdued shout.

Argument proved vain until Lorelei told her firmly: "You owe it to
yourself, dear. And we WON'T let you go."

The dancer ceased her struggles, her brows puckered. "Perhaps I do owe
it to myself, as you say. Anyhow, I haven't taken a human life yet, and
this is my chance."

"Don't kill him, just stay and spoil his dinner," Lorelei urged.

Determination gleamed in Miss Demorest's countenance. "I'll do it--he's
spoiled many a dinner for me. But give me room. Don't touch me.
I'm distilling poison like a cobra." She seized the gleaming
bread-knife and brandished it. "When the crisis comes, stand back."

"Seriously, now, Lorelei has told me everything, and I want Campbell to
acknowledge his mistake," said Bob. "The public has swallowed that
royalty hoax, but there's no use deceiving him."

Despite her show of bravery Adoree was panic-stricken when the bell
rang and Bob went to the door to explain the change of plan and invite
Pope in.

The latter could be heard saying: "That's fine. Me for a home-cooked
dinner. Here's an unabridged cluster of orchids for Mrs. Wharton, too.
If I'd had time I'd have brought you a hanging-lamp or a plush album
decorated with sea-shells." He entered the living-room with a hand
extended and a smile upon his lips, then halted as if frozen. By the
time he had been introduced to Adoree he had burst into a gentle
perspiration.

Certainly the personal appearance of the notorious dancer was
sufficiently unexpected to shock him; she might have been anything
rather than a king's favorite; she looked far more like a prim little
housewife as she helped Lorelei with her homely tasks, and the
incongruity affected Pope painfully. With involuntary suspicion he
avoided her after his first stiff greeting; but his eyes followed her
furtively, and he wandered slightly in his attention to Bob's chatter.

As for Miss Demorest, she took a grim delight in his discomfort, and
prepared to blast him with sarcasm, to wither him with her contempt
when the moment came. Meanwhile she listened as the two men talked,
turning up her nose when Pope scored Broadway with his usual bitterness.

"He thinks that's smart," she reflected; but she, too, detested the
Great Trite Way, and his words expressed her own distaste so aptly that
she could think of no argument sufficiently biting to confound him. She
deliberately framed a stinging reference to his pose in the matter of
dress, though in frankness she had to admit that he wore his gray
sweater vest with an air of genuine comfort and unconsciousness. Then
she remembered, barely in time, that her own style in garments both on
and off the stage was far more startling than his, and decided that she
would merely be laying herself open to a disastrous counter-attack if
she hurled her sarcasm in that direction; therefore she sought another
opening. She had made up her mind to begin humbling his conceit by
voicing her contemptuous regard for newspaper men in general when he
once more forestalled her by giving crisp expression to the very
sentiments she was rehearsing. Of course, it was all affectation, like
his slovenly disregard of fashion--and yet, she was interested to hear
him tell Bob:

"I don't like the business--never have. Every time I get some money
ahead I quit it and try something else. Writing isn't a man's exercise,
anyhow, and journalism is just a form of body-snatching. The average
reporter is a ghoul."

"You don't do reporting," said Bob.

"No, I don't; but that's all a dramatic review ought to be--a news
story. Why not have social critics to comment on society
entertainments--or financial critics to roast unhealthy commercial
enterprises and advertise safe ones? How long d'you think Wall Street
would stand for that? Why don't the papers hire dry-goods experts to
prowl through the department stores, publishing the cost prices of
merchandise and warning the public against bargain sales? That's what
we do. We ridicule and warn and criticize, but we never build up. The
theatrical business is the only one that permits outside
interference--as if the public couldn't tell a good play from a poor
one. It wouldn't be so bad if we were always honest; but we're not: we
have to be smart to hold our jobs. We're like a patent dandruff
cure--we don't cure, but we sting, and the public thinks we're
beneficial."

Notwithstanding his garrulity, Pope was noticeably ill at ease. He was
conscious of Miss Demorest's hostile eyes, and the pointed manner in
which she ignored his presence was disquieting. He had the feeling that
she was carefully measuring him and preparing herself to take revenge
in some characteristic feminine manner. Knowing extremely little of
women, he could not imagine what form that revenge would assume, and
the uncertainty annoyed him. The dinner seemed slow in coming,
conversation dragged, and, rising, he began to wander nervously about,
canvassing his mind for some excuse to leave. Bob appeared to enjoy his
lack of repose, and offered no relief. At last Pope turned to the piano
and fluttered through the stack of sheet-music he found there.

"Do you play?" inquired Bob.

"Yes. Why?"

"You look as if you did--you're kind of--badly nourished. Know any
rag-time?"

Pope shuddered. "I do not."

"Too bad! I was going to ask you to stir up the ivories."

"Nobody likes good music any more," growled the critic, seating himself
upon the bench. His sensitive fingers idly rippled the length of the
keyboard and a flood of melody filled the room.

"Say! You do know your way around, don't you? Can't you pick out 'Here
Comes My Daddy Now' with one finger?"

The musician groaned. "What a pity!" After a moment he murmured, "I
improvise a good deal." The instrument, perhaps for the first time in
its life, began to vibrate and ring to something besides the claptrap
music of the day. Once he had found a means of occupying himself, Pope
surrendered to his impulse and in a measure forgot his surroundings.

A short time later Lorelei turned from the kitchenette to find Adoree
Demorest poised, a salad-bowl in one hand, a wooden spoon gripped in
the other, on her face a rapt expression of beatitude.

"Have you rubbed the dish with garlic?" inquired Lorelei.

Adoree roused herself slowly. "Lordy!" she whispered. "I'd give both
legs to the knee and one eye if I could play like that. The mean little
shrimp!"

The embers of her resentment were still glowing when the four finally
seated themselves at the table. A furtive glance in Pope's direction
showed that he was studiously avoiding her eyes: she prepared once more
to begin the process of flaying him.

"You've been away for some time, haven't you?" Bob was asking.

Pope nodded. "I hate New York. I went as far away as I could get,
and--I managed to return just two jumps ahead of the sheriff. It will
take me six months to pay my debts. I'm a grand little business man."

"What was it this time? Mining?"

"No. Poultry." Adoree pricked up her ears.

"You went West, eh?" pursued Bob.

"No. East--Long Island. Did you know there are parts of the Island that
are practically unexplored by civilized man? Well, there are. They're
as remote from the influence of New York as the heart of New Guinea."
Pope's thin lips parted in a smile. "The natives are all foreigners,
too. There are Portuguese pickle-pickers and hairy-handed Hollanders
who live with their heads lower than their knees, and weed-pulling wops
who skulk in patches of cauliflower and lettuce, but as for American
settlers--there ain't none."

Adoree complacently felt that she had the critic talking against time,
and the consciousness of her disturbing over him gratified her
intensely.

"Their language is a sort of Reverse English," Pope went on, "and it's
a hard country to explore because of the dialects. Some of the people
are flesh-eaters, but the price of poultry is so high and the freight
on eggs is so low that most of them are vegetarians. That's what got me
started, in the first place--I saw a great opportunity to make money;
so I found a farm on a lake, bought it, and went to raising ducks."

"Ducks!" breathlessly exclaimed Miss Demorest; but her interruption
went unnoticed.

Campbell Pope's features shone with the gentle light of a pleasurable
remembrance. "It was lovely and quiet out there, just like Saskatchewan
or the Soudan. Sometimes I fancied I must be close to the fringe of
civilization, with the life of the outer world pulsing near at hand,
for I could hear whispers of it; but I soon got over that idea. The
local inhabitants were shy but friendly; they did me no harm. But--it
was no place for ducks; they swam all over the pond and spent so much
time catching bugs on the bottom that they had no leisure for family
obligations on land."

This gloomy recital met with an interest that prompted him to continue,
whimsically:

"There was no home life among those ducks--none whatever, but they
could swim nearly as well as Miss Kellerman. They never took cramps,
either, although they appeared to have chronic bronchitis; and they
must have learned to breathe through their tails, because they stood on
their heads for hours at a time--all I could see was acres of white
tails sticking up like patches of Cubist pond-lilies. They swam all
their fat off, and I had the pond dredged and never found an egg."

Miss Demorest giggled audibly; she had lost all interest in her food;
she was tingling with excitement.

"Why didn't you fence them in?" she asked.

Pope eyed her for a fleeting instant, then his gaze wavered.

"I fenced in the whole pond to begin with. It nearly broke me."

"A duck shouldn't have much water. What kind were they?"

"Plymouth Rocks, or Holsteins, or Jersey Lilies--anyhow they were
white."

"White Pekins!"

The critic frowned argumentatively. "What is a duck for if he isn't to
swim? What is his object? We had six on my father's farm, and they swam
all the time. Of course, six isn't many, but--"

"Naturally they didn't do well--"

"But they DID do well--and quite naturally, too. They did beautifully,
in fact. They never had an ache or a pain. What do you know about
ducks?"

Adoree answered in a tone of calm and utter certainty: "I know
everything. I've read hundreds, maybe thousands of duck books. I have a
whole library of them."

"A duck library. I thought so. But did you ever own a library of ducks?
There's a difference. A man doesn't have to know anything to write a
book--I've done it myself. Practical experience is the thing."

"Did you keep cows for them?"

Pope stared at his inquisitor for a moment; then he explained with
patient politeness: "These were not carnivorous ducks. They ate bugs
and fish and corn."

"Corn!" Adoree was shocked, incredulous; her eyes glittered with the
fire of fanaticism; she no longer saw in this man an enemy, a vile
creature branded with the mark of the beast, but a fellow-enthusiast--a
surprisingly ignorant one, to be sure, but an enthusiast for all that,
and therefore bound to her by unbreakable bonds. Live steam would have
been more easily confined than the vast fund of technical knowledge
with which she was crammed.

"You should have fed soft food and sour milk," she began. "Buttermilk
would have been all right, and in that way your cows would have been
self-supporting. You need a good pasture with a duck-farm. When I was
in Germany I saw the most wonderful incubator--a child could operate
it. I'd like to show you some brooder-house plans I had drawn over
there. You see, you made your first mistake in choosing fresh-water. If
I had a good location near salt-water--not too near--and proper
surroundings, I'd show you something about ducks. I'd start with a
thousand--that's plenty--then kill for the market as they quit laying,
and mix the stock right, and in three years--"

Bob Wharton signaled frantically to his wife, but there was no stopping
the discussion that had begun to rage back and forth. It lasted until
the conclusion of the meal, and it was only with an effort that Adoree
tore herself away. She was in her element, and in a little time had won
the critic's undivided attention; he listened with absorption; he even
made occasional notes.

As the two girls dressed hurriedly for the theater, Adored confessed:

"Golly! I'm glad I stayed. He's not bright; he's perfectly silly about
some things, and yet he's the most interesting talker I ever heard.
And--CAN'T he play a piano?"



CHAPTER XVII


Hannibal Wharton arrived in New York at five o'clock and went directly
to Merkle's bank. At eight o'clock Jarvis Hammon died. During the
afternoon and evening other financiers, summoned hurriedly from New
England shores and Adirondack camps, were busied in preparations for
the struggle they expected on the morrow. During the closing hours of
the market prices had slumped to an alarming degree; a terrific raid on
metal stocks had begun, and conditions were ripe for a panic.

Hammon had bulked large in the steel world, and his position in circles
of high finance had become prominent; but alive he could never have
worked one-half the havoc caused by his sudden death. That persistent
rumor of suicide argued, in the public mind, the existence of serious
money troubles, and gave significance to the rumor that for some time
past had disturbed the Street. Hammon's enemies summoned their forces
for a crushing assault.

In this emergency Bob's father found himself the real head of those
vast enterprises in which he had been an associate, and until a late
hour that night he was forced to remain in consultation with men who
came and went with consternation written upon their faces.

The amazing transformation which followed the birth of the giant Steel
Trust had raised many men from well-to-do obscurity into prominence and
undreamed-of wealth. Since then the older members of the original
clique had withdrawn one by one from active affairs, and of the younger
men only Wharton and Hammon had remained. Equally these two had figured
in what was perhaps the most remarkable chapter of American financial
history. Both had been vigorous, self-made, practical men. But the
outcome had affected them quite differently.

Riches had turned Jarvis Hammon's mind into new channels; they had
opened strange pathways and projected him into a life foreign to his
early teachings. His duties had kept him in New York, while Wharton's
had held him in his old home. Hammon had become a great financier;
Wharton had remained the practical operating expert, and, owing to the
exactions of his position, he had become linked more closely than ever
to business detail. At the same time he had become more and more
unapproachable. Unlimited power had forced him into the peculiar
isolation of a chief executive; he had grown hard, suspicious,
arbitrary. Even to his son he had been for years a remote being.

It was not until the last conference had broken up, not until the last
forces had been disposed for the coming battle, that he spoke to Merkle
of Bob's marriage. Merkle told him what he knew, and the old man
listened silently. Then he drove to the Elegancia.

Bob and Lorelei had just returned from the theater, much, be it said,
against the bridegroom's wishes. Bob had been eager to begin the
celebration of his marriage in a fitting manner, and it had required
the shock of Hammon's death added to Lorelei's entreaties to dissuade
him from a night of hilarity. He was flushed with drink, and in
consequence more than a little resentful when she insisted upon
spending another night in the modest little home.

"Say! I'm not used to this kind of a place," he argued. "I'm not a
cave-dweller. It's a lovely flat--for a murder--but it's no place to
LIVE. And, besides, it doesn't look right for me to come to your house,
when all the hotels are gasping for my patronage. I never heard of such
a thing. Makes me feel like a rummy."

"Don't be silly," she told him. "We acted on impulse; we can't change
everything at a moment's notice. I couldn't bear a hotel just yet."

"But--people take trips when they get married."

"That is different. Are you--in a position to take me away to-night?"

With an eloquent gesture Bob turned his trousers pockets wrong side
out. "Not to-night, perhaps, but to-morrow."

"I can't quit the show without two weeks' notice."

"Two weeks?" He was aghast. "Two minutes. Two seconds. I won't have you
dodging around stage-doors. To-morrow you'll breeze in and tell my old
friend Regan you've quit. Just say, 'I quit'--that's notice enough."

"Bergman won't let me go; it wouldn't be right to ask him."

But Bob was insistent. "It pains me to pull the props out from under
the 'profession' and leave the drama flat, but matrimony was a
successful institution before the Circuit Theater was built, and a
husband has rights. I intend to cure you of the work habit. You must
learn to scorn it. Look at me. I'm an example of the unearned
increment. We'll kiss this dinky flat a fond farewell--it's impossible,
really--I refuse to share such a dark secret with you. To-morrow we
leave it for the third and last time. What d'you say to the sunny side
of the Ritz until we decide where we want to travel?"

"You don't want to leave New York, you know," she told him, soberly.
"You're offering to go because you think it's the proper thing to do
and because you don't know what else to suggest. But--I have to work."

"Ah! The family, eh? We'll retire 'em and put an end to this child
labor. Now, as for the trip--we've got to do SOMETHING: we can't
just--live. Where do you have your clothes made?"

Lorelei named several tailors of whom Bob had seldom heard.

"That won't do," he said, positively. "I'll get a list of the smartest
shops from Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire, and I want you to buy enough gowns
to last till we reach Paris--a couple dozen will do--then we'll fit out
properly. I'll bet you never went shopping--really shopping--did you?
and bought everything you saw?"

"Of course not. I never dreamed of such a spree."

"Well, that will be lesson number two. Can you ride?"

"Not well."

"Must know how to ride--that's number three, and very important. I'll
get you some horses when we return. We'll spend our mornings at
Durland's for a while, and I'll teach you to play polo, too. All the
girls are going in for it lately. You'll need an electric motor, I
suppose, for calling and shopping--they're making some stunning bodies
in that wicker effect. Now, what's your favorite jewel? I haven't had
time to get your ring yet--this whole day was upside down. Everything
had closed before I opened up, but to-morrow we'll paw through
Tiffany's stock, and you can choose what you like. I'm going to select
a black-opal set for you--they're the newest thing and the price is
scandalous." He paused, eying her curiously, then with a change of tone
inquired, "Say, are you in mourning for somebody?"

"Why, no."

"You don't seem to care for all these things I've bought."

Lorelei laughed spontaneously, for the first time during the long day.
"Of course I care. But--where is the money coming from? You haven't a
dollar."

"My dear, so long as the Western Union lasts you'll never see a wrinkle
on my brow. We'll begin by destroying everything you own--hats, gowns,
jewelry--then we'll start at the beginning."

Just then the apartment bell rang. Bob went to the door. He returned
with his father at his heels. Mr. Wharton tramped in grimly, nodded at
his daughter-in-law, who had risen at the first sound of his voice,
then ran his eyes swiftly over the surroundings.

"I hear you've made a fool of yourself again," he began, showing his
teeth in a faint smile. "Have you given up your apartment at the
Charlevoix?"

"Not yet," said Bob. "We're considering a suite at the Ritz for a few
days."

"Indeed. You're going back to the Charlevoix to-night."

Lorelei started. She had expected opposition, but was unprepared for
anything so blunt and business-like. "I think you and Bob can talk more
freely if I leave you alone," she said.

Hannibal Wharton replied shortly: "No, don't leave. I'll talk freer
with you here."

It appeared, however, that Robert stood in no awe of his father's
anger; he said lightly:

"They never come back, dad. I'm a regular married man. Lorelei is my
royal consort, my yoke-mate, my rib. We'll have to scratch the
Charlevoix."

This levity left the caller unmoved; to Lorelei he explained:

"I want no notoriety, so all we need talk about is terms. You'll fare
better by dealing directly with me than through lawyers--I'll fight a
lawsuit--so let's get down to business. You should realize, however,
that these settlements are never as large as they're advertised. I'll
pay you ten thousand dollars and stand the costs of the divorce
proceedings."

"You are making a mistake," she told him, quietly.

"I expected you to refuse, but ten thousand dollars is better than
nothing. Talk it over with your people. Now, Bob, come with me."

"Where?" demanded his son.

"Anywhere. You can't stay here."

"You're infallible in business, dad," Bob protested, "but where
sentiment is concerned you're a terrible failure."

"Not at all! Not at all!" Mr. Wharton exclaimed, irritably. "I know
real sentiment when I see it, and I'll foot the bill for this
counterfeit, but I'm too tired to argue."

Lorelei was standing very white and still; now she said, "Don't you
think you'd better go?"

The elder man laid aside his hat and gloves, then spoke with snarling
deliberation. "I'll go when I choose. No high and mighty airs with me,
if you please." After a curious scrutiny of them both he asked his son:
"You don't really imagine that she married you for anything except your
money, do you?"

"I flattered myself--" Bob began, stiffly.

"Bah! You're drunk."

"Moderately, perhaps--or let us say that I am in an unnaturally
argumentative mood. I take issue with you. You see, dad, I've been
crazy about Lorelei ever since I first saw her, and--"

"To be sure, that's quite natural. But why in hell did you MARRY her?
That wasn't necessary, was it?"

Lorelei uttered a sharp cry. Bob rose; his eyes were bright and hard.
Mr. Wharton merely arched his shaggy brows, inquiring quickly of the
bride: "What's the matter? I state the case correctly, do I not?"

"No!" gasped Lorelei.

"Let's talk plainly--"

"That's a bit too plain, even from you, dad," Bob cried, angrily.

"It's time for plain speaking. You got drunk, and she trapped you. I'm
here to get you out of the trap. It's a matter of money, isn't it?
Well, then, don't let's allow sentiment to creep in." Addressing
himself to Lorelei, he said: "You probably counted on five times the
sum I offer, but ten thousand dollars will buy a lot of clothes, and
the publicity won't hurt you professionally; it'll do you good. You
might even spend the winter in Europe and catch another victim. I
believe that's the amount Merkle offered you, isn't it?"

"Merkle? What are you talking about?" Bob demanded.

"Did Mr. Merkle tell you how and why he came to make that offer?" asked
Lorelei, indignantly.

"No. But he offered it, did he not?"

"Yes, and I refused it. Ask him why?"

"We don't seem to be getting along very well," Bob interposed. "Lorelie
is my wife and your daughter-in-law. What's more, I love her; so I
guess that ends the Reno chatter." He crossed to Lorelei's side and
encircled her with his arm. "There's no price-tag on this marriage,
dad, and you'll regret what you've said."

Wharton senior shrugged wearily. "You tell him, Miss; maybe he'll
believe you."

"Tell him what?" asked Lorelei.

"The truth, of course." He paused for a reply, and, receiving none,
broke out wrathfully: "Then I will. She's a grafter, Bob, and her whole
family are grafters. Now, let me finish. She makes her living in any
way she can; she smirks at you out of every catch-penny advertisement
along Broadway. She's 'The Chewing-Gum Girl' and 'The Petticoat Girl'
and 'The Bath-Tub Girl'--"

"There's nothing dishonest in that."

"Just a minute. I won't have my daughter's face grinning at me every
time I get into a street-car. I'd be the laughing-stock of the country.
It's legitimate, perhaps, but it's altogether too damned colorful for
me."

"Is that all you have against her?"

"Not by any means. She's notorious--"

"Newspaper talk!"

"Is it? She's made her living by bleeding men, by taking gifts and
renting herself out the way she did at Hammon's supper. Men don't
support show-girls from chivalrous motives. I had her family looked up,
and it didn't take two hours. Listen to this report." He extracted a
typewritten sheet from his bill-case, adjusted his glasses, and began
to read:

"Peter Knight: former residence Vale, New York. Held several minor
offices; sheriff for one term; involved in scandal over public works
and defeated for re-election. Reputation bad. Detailed record can be
had if necessary. Moved to this city 1911; clerk in Department of Water
Supply, Gas, and Electricity until injured by taxi-cab while
intoxicated. Believed to be crippled.

"James Knight, son. Reputation bad. Generally known as a loafer,
suspected of boosting for so-called 'wire-tappers' operating on upper
West Side last spring. Believed to have some connection with more than
one blackmailing scheme--details available. He figured in recent
scandal concerning well-known financier and actress. Of late employed
as steerer for Max Melcher's gambling-house, West Forty-sixth Street.
Broker living at Charlevoix Apartments reported to have lost large sums
through his efforts. No police record as yet.

"Mathilda Knight, wife of Peter--

"D'you want the rest?" Mr. Wharton inquired.

"No!" Lorelei gulped.

"'No police record as YET'--'Broker living at the Charlevoix
Apartments'--'Injured by a taxi-cab while intoxicated,'" quoted
Wharton. "Scandal, blackmail, graft. It's all here, Bob. And I hadn't
come to this girl's record. The report was made by one of our own men,
and it's incomplete, but I can have it elaborated. What do you say,
MRS. WHARTON? Is it true?"

Lorelei dropped her head. "Most of it, I dare say."

"Did you try to blackmail Merkle?"

"No."

"Your mother and your brother did."

She was silent.

"They tried to scare him into marrying you, did they not?"

"Hammon said something about that," ejaculated Bob, "but I don't
believe--"

Lorelei checked him. "It's quite true."

"Merkle said you had nothing to do with it personally," conscientiously
explained Mr. Wharton, "and I'm willing to take his word. But that's
neither here nor there." There was a moment of silence during which he
folded and replaced the report; then he shook his head, exclaiming,
"Second-hand goods, my boy!"

"That's a lie!" Lorelei's voice was like a whip.

Mr. Wharton eyed her grimly. "That's something for Bob to determine--I
have only the indications to go on. I don't blame him for losing his
wits--you're very good-looking--but the affair must end. You're not a
girl I'd care to have in my family--pardon my bluntness."

She met his eyes fairly. At no time had she flinched before him,
although inwardly she had cringed and her flesh had quivered at his
merciless attack.

"You have told Bob the truth," she began, slowly, "in the worst
possible way; you have put me in the most unfavorable light. I dare say
I never would have had the courage to tell him myself, although he
deserves to know. I've been pretty--commercial--because I had to be,
but I never sold myself, and I sha'n't begin now. Bob isn't a child;
he's nearly thirty years old--old enough to make up his own mind--and
he must make this decision, not I."

Bob opened his lips, but his father forestalled him.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I have no price. If he's sick of the match we'll end it, and it won't
cost you a cent."

Bob looked inscrutable; his father smiled for the first time during the
interview.

"That's very decent of you," he said, "but of course I sha'n't put the
good faith of your offer to the test. I don't want something for
nothing. I'll take care of you nicely."

Thus far Bob had yielded precedence to his father, but he could no
longer restrain himself. "Now let me take the chair," he commanded,
easily. "My mind is made up. You see, I didn't marry 'Peter Knight,
residence Vale,' nor 'James Knight, reputation bad,' nor even 'Mathilda
Knight, wife of Peter.' I married this kid, and the books are closed.
You say the Knights are a bad lot, and Lorelei's reputation is a trifle
discolored: maybe you're right, but mine has some inky blots on it,
too, and I guess the cleanest part of it would just about match the
darkest that hers can show. I seem to have all the best of the deal."

"Don't be an ass," growled his father.

"I've always been one--I may as well be consistent" Bob felt the
slender form at his side begin to tremble, and smiled down into the
troubled blue eyes upturned to his. "Maybe we'll both have to do some
forgiving and forgetting. I believe that's usual nowadays."

"Oh, I'm not whitewashing you," Hannibal snapped. "She probably knows
what you are."

"I do," agreed Lorelei. "He's a--drunkard, and everything that means.
But you taught him to drink before he could choose for himself."

Mr. Wharton smiled sneeringly. "Admirable! I begin to see that you're
more than a pretty woman. Get his sympathy; it's good business. Now
he'll think he must act the man. But that will wear off. And understand
this: you can't graft off me. You and your family are due for a great
disappointment. Bob hasn't anything, and he won't have until I die, but
I'm good for thirty years yet. I'm not going to disinherit him. I'm
merely going to wait until you both get tired. Take my word for it,
poverty is the most tiresome thing in the world."

"We can manage," said Lorelei.

"You speak for yourself, but he can't make a living--unless he has
something in him that I never discovered. I fear you'll find him rather
a heavy burden."

Throughout the interview Mr. Wharton had kept his temper quite
perfectly, and his coolness at this moment argued a greater fixity of
purpose than might have been inferred from a display of rage. He made a
final appeal to his son: "Can't you see that it won't do at all, Bob? I
won't stand parasites, unless they're my own. Either have done with the
matter and let me pay the charges or--go through to the bitter finish
on your own feet. She's supporting three loafers; I dare say she can
take care of another, but it isn't quite right to put it upon
her--she's sure to weary of it sometime. You'll notice I've said
nothing about your mother so far, but--she's with me in this. I'll be
in the city for several days, and I'd like to have you return to
Pittsburg with me when I go. Mother is expecting you. If you decide to
stick it out--" Wharton's face showed more than a trace of feeling, his
deep voice lowered a tone--"you may go to hell, with my compliments,
and I'll sit on the lid to keep you there."

He rose, took his hat, and stalked out of the apartment without so much
as a backward glance.



CHAPTER XVIII


"Whew! That was a knockout. But who got licked?" Bob went to the little
sideboard and helped himself to a stiff drink.

"Did he mean it?"

"My dear, time wears away mountains, and rivers dry up, and the whole
solar system is gradually running down, I believe; but dad isn't
governed by any natural laws whatsoever. He's built of reinforced
concrete, and time hardens him. He's impervious to rust or decay, and
gravity exerts no power over him."

"Then I think you'd better make your choice to-night."

Bob's eyes opened. "I have. Don't you understand? I'm going to stand
pat--that is, unless"--he hesitated, his smile was a bit
uncertain--"unless you're sick of your bargain. I'm afraid you haven't
come out of the deal very well. You thought I was rich--and so did I
until a moment ago--but I'm not. I've run through a good deal. I don't
blame you for considering me a fine catch or for marrying me. You see,
I never expected to find a girl who'd take me for anything except my
money, so I'm not offended or disappointed or surprised. A bank-account
looms up just as big on Fifth Avenue as it does on Amsterdam, and there
aren't any more love matches over there than elsewhere. I'm not blind
to my short-comings, either; there are a lot of bad habits waiting to
be acquired by a chap with time and money like me. I can't live without
booze; I don't know how to earn a living; I'm a corking spendthrift.
That's one side. Balanced against that, I possess--let me see--I
possess a fair sense of humor. Not a very even account, is it?"

For once in his life Bob showed unmistakable self-consciousness; this
was, so far as Lorelei knew, his maiden effort to be serious. He ran on
hurriedly: "What I mean to convey is this: I have no regrets, no
questions to ask, no reproaches. I got all I expected, and all I was
entitled to when I married you. But it seems that you've been cheated,
and--I'm ready to do the square thing. I'll step aside and give you
another chance, if you say so."

During this little declaration Lorelei had watched him keenly; she
appeared to be seriously weighing his offer.

"I was getting pretty tired of things," he added, "and I s'pose I'd
have wound up in the D. T. parlors of some highly exclusive institution
or behind a bath-room door with a gas-tube in my teeth. But--I met you,
and you went to my head. I wanted you worse than I ever wanted
anything--worse even than I ever wanted liquor. And now I have you.
I've had you for one day, and that's something. I suppose it's silly to
talk about starting over--I don't want to reform if I don't have to;
moderation strikes me as an awful cold proposition; but it looks as if
reform were indicated if I'm to keep you. I'm just an album of
expensive habits, and--we're broke. Maybe I could--do something with
myself if you took a hand. It's a good deal to ask of a girl like you,
but"--he regarded her timidly, then averted his eyes--"if you cared to
try it we MIGHT make it go for a while. And you might get to care for
me a little--if I improve." Again he paused hopefully. "I've been as
honest as I know how. Now, won't you be the same?"

Lorelei roused herself, and spoke with quiet decision.

"I'll go through to the end, Bob."

Bob started and uttered an inarticulate word or two; in his face was a
light of gladness that went to the girl's heart. His name had risen
freely to her lips; he felt as if she had laid her hand in his with a
declaration of absolute trust.

"You mean that?"

She nodded.

He took her in his arms and kissed her gently; then, feeling her warm
against his breast, he burst the bonds that had restrained him up to
this moment and covered her face, her neck, her hair with passionate
caresses. For the first time since his delirium of the night before he
abandoned himself to the hunger her beauty excited, and she offered him
no resistance.

At last she freed herself, and, straightening the disorder of her hair,
smiled at him mistily.

"Wait. Please--"

"Beautiful!" His eyes were aflame. "You're my wife. Nothing can change
that."

"Nothing except--yourself. Now, you MUST listen to me." She forced him
reluctantly into his chair and seated herself opposite. He leaned
forward and kissed her once more, then seized her hand and held it. At
intervals he crushed his lips into its pink palm. "We must start
honestly," she began. "Do you mind if I hurt you?"

"You can't hurt me so long as you don't--leave me. Your eyes have
haunted me every night. I've seen the curve of your neck--your lips. No
woman was ever so perfect, so maddening."

"Always that. You're not a husband at this moment; you're only a man."

He frowned slightly.

"That's what makes this whole matter so difficult," she went on. "Don't
you see?"

He shook his head.

"You don't love me, you're drunk with--something altogether different
to love. ... It's true," she insisted. "You show it. You don't even
know the real me."

"Beauty may be only a skin disease," Bob laughed, "but ugliness goes
clear to the bone."

"I married you for your money, and you married me because--I seemed
physically perfect--because my face and my body roused fires in you. I
think we are both pretty rotten at heart, don't you?"

"No. Anyhow, I don't care to think about it. I never won anything by
thinking. Kiss me again."

She ignored his demand, with her shadowy smile. "I deliberately traded
on my looks; I put myself up for a price, and you paid that price
regardless of everything except your desires. We muddled things
dreadfully and got our deserts. I didn't love you, I don't love you now
any more than you love me; but I think we're coming to respect each
other, and that is a beginning. You have longings to be something
different and better; so have I. Let's try together. I have it in me to
succeed, but I'm not sure about you."

"Thanks for the good cheer."

"You're afraid you can't make a living for us--I KNOW you can. I'm
merely afraid you won't."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I don't believe the liquor will let you."

"Nonsense. Any man can cut down."

"'Cutting down' won't do for us, Bob." He thrilled anew at her intimate
use of his name. "The chemistry of your body demands the stuff--you
couldn't be temperate in anything. You'll have to quit."

"All right. I'll quit. I divorce the demon rum; lovers once, but
strangers now. I'll quit gambling, too."

Lorelei laughed. "That won't strain your will-power in the least, for
half my salary goes up Amsterdam Avenue, and the rest will about run
this flat."

Her listener frowned. "Forget that salary talk," he said, shortly.
"D'you think I'd let you--support me? D'you think I'm THAT kind of a
nosegay? When I get so I can't pay the bills I'll walk out. To-morrow
you quit work, and we move to the Ritz--they know me there, and--this
delightful, home-like grotto of yours gives me the colly-wabbles."

"Who will pay the hotel?" Lorelei smiled.

"Mr. George W. Bridegroom, of course. I'll get the money, never fear. I
know everybody, and I've borrowed thousands of dollars when I didn't
need it. My rooms at the Charlevoix are full of expensive junk; I'll
sell it, and that will help. As soon as we're decently settled I'll
look for a salaried job. Then watch my smoke. To quote from the press
of a few months hence: 'The meteoric rise of Robert Wharton has
startled the financial world, surpassing as it does the sensational
success of his father. Young Mr. Wharton was seen yesterday at his Wall
Street office and took time from his many duties to modestly assure our
representative that his ability was inherited, and merely illustrates
anew the maxim that "a chip of the old block will return after many
days." That will please dad. He'll relent when I attribute my success
to him."

"You must quit drinking before you begin work," said Lorelei.

"I HAVE quit."

With a person of such resilient temperament, one who gamboled through
life like a faun, argument was difficult. Bob Wharton was pagan in his
joyous inconsequence; his romping spirits could not be damped; he
bubbled with the optimism of a Robin Goodfellow. Ahead of him he saw
nothing but dancing sunshine, heard nothing but the Pandean pipes. The
girl wife watched him curiously.

"I wonder if you can," she mused. "Before we begin our new life we're
going to make a bargain, binding on both of us. You'll have to stop
drinking. I won't live with a drunkard. I'll work until you've mastered
the craving."

"No!" Bob declared, firmly. "I'll take the river before I'll let
you--keep me. Why, if I--"

Lorelei rose and laid her hand over his lips, saying quietly:

"I'm planning our happiness, don't you understand? and it's a big
stake. You must pocket your pride for a while. Nobody will know. We've
made a botch of things so far, and there is only one way for us to win
out."

"A man who'd let his wife--"

"A man who WOULDN'T let his wife have her way at first is a brute."

"You shouldn't ask it," he cried, sullenly.

"I don't ask it: I insist upon it. If you refuse we can't go on."

"Surely you don't mean that?" He looked up at her with grave, troubled
eyes.

"I do. I'm entirely in earnest. You haven't strength to go out among
your friends and restrain yourself. No man as far gone as you could do
it."

"I've a simpler way than that," he told her, after a moment's thought.
"There are institutions where they straighten fellows up. I'll go to
one of those."

"No." She rejected this suggestion positively. "They only relieve; they
don't cure. The appetite comes back. This is something you must do
yourself, once and for all. You must fight this out in secret; this
city is no place for men with appetites they can't control. Do this for
me, Bob, and--and I'll let you do anything after that. I'll let
you--beat me." Getting no response from him, she added gravely, "It is
that or--nothing."

"I can't let you go," Bob said, finally.

"Good! We'll keep this apartment and I'll go on working--"

He hid his face in his hands and groaned. "Gee! I'm a rotter."

"You can sell your belongings at the Charlevoix, and we'll use the
money. We'll need everything, for I can't piece out my salary the way
I've been doing. There can't be any more supper-parties and gifts--"

"I should hope not," he growled. "I'll murder the first man who speaks
to you."

"Then is it a real, binding bargain?"

"It is--if you'll bind it with another kiss," he agreed, with a
miserable attempt at cheerfulness. "But I sha'n't look myself in the
face."

For the first time she came to him willingly.

"Doesn't it seem nice to be honest with yourself and the world?" she
sighed, after a time.

"Yes," he laughed. "I'm sorry to cut the governor adrift, but he'll
have to get along without our help."

Despite his jocularity he was deeply moved. As the situation grew
clearer to him he saw that this girl was about to change the whole
current of his careless life; her unexpected firmness, her gentle,
womanly determination at this crisis was very grateful--he desperately
longed to retain its support--and yet the arrangement to which she had
forced his consent went sorely against his grain. His struggle had not
been easy. Her surrender to him was as complete and as unselfish as his
own acquiescence seemed unmanly and weak. He rose and paced the little
room to relieve his feelings. Days and weeks of almost constant
dissipation had affected his mental poise quite as disastrously as the
strain of the past twenty-four hours had told upon his physical
control, and he was shaking nervously. He paused at the sideboard
finally and poured himself a steadying drink.

Lorelei watched his trembling fingers fill the glass before she spoke.

"You mustn't touch that," she said, positively.

"Eh?" He turned, still frowning absent-mindedly. "Oh, this?" He held
the glass to the light. "You mean you want me to begin--NOW? A fellow
has to sober up gradually, my dear. I really need a jolt--I'm all
unstrung."

"I sealed the bargain."

"But, Lorelei--" He set the glass down with a mirthless laugh. "Of
course, I won't, if you insist. I intended to taper off--a chap can't
turn teetotaler the way he turns a handspring." He eyed the glass with
a sudden intensity of longing. "Let's begin to-morrow. Nobody starts a
new life at two A. M. And--it's all poured out."

She answered by taking the glass and flinging its contents from the
open window. This done, she gathered the bottles from the
sideboard--there were not many--and, opening the folding-doors that
masked the kitchenette, she up-ended them over the sink. When the last
gurgle had died away she went to her husband and put her arms around
his neck.

"You must," she said, gently. "If you'll only let me have my way we'll
win. But, Bob, dear, it's going to be a bitter fight."

Lorelei's family spent most of the night in discussing their great good
fortune. Even Jim, worn out as he was by his part in the events
connected with the marriage, sat until a late hour planning his
sister's future, and incidentally his own. After he had gone to bed
mother and father remained in a glow of exhilaration that made sleep
impossible, and it was nearly dawn when they retired to dreams of hopes
achieved and ambitions realized.

About nine-thirty on the following morning, just when the rival Wall
Street forces were gathering, Hannibal Wharton called up the Knight
establishment.

Mrs. Knight was impatient and at first refused to be disturbed, but
when the servant at last made it plain that it was Hannibal C. Wharton,
not his son Robert, calling, she leaped from her bed with the agility
of an acrobat.

"Peter," she cried, "it's Mr. Wharton himself!"

Peter likewise awoke to a tremendous excitement. "He probably wants to
get acquainted," exclaimed the invalid. "Tell him to come right up. I
can see him any time."

His wife was nervously pinning up her straggling hair, as if she feared
the millions of the steel baron gave him the occult power to direct his
vision along the wire.

"What shall I say to him?" she gasped. "I suppose I'll have to call on
him and Mrs. Wharton, but I haven't a thing to wear."

"For God's sake, don't mention money," implored Peter. "Try to be
pleasant for once in your life. Better let me talk to him."

But at this suggestion Mrs. Knight flared up angrily. "You stay where
you are!" she snapped. "I know how to handle rich people."

"Mathilda," he shouted, as she hurried from the room, her slippers
slapping loosely, a discolored wrapper clutched over her bony chest,
"when he talks about Lorelei, cry for him. She's our only daughter and
our only support, see? We can't bear to let her go. If you'd only help
me to the 'phone--"

The retort that came back was shrewish, but the next instant Mathilda's
voice became as honey.

"How DO you do, Mr. Wharton?" she was bubbling. "I didn't mean to keep
you waiting, but I couldn't imagine ... Yes, this is Lorelei's mother.
I'm all upset over the marriage, and of course you are, too; but young
people do the strangest things nowadays, don't they? We forgave them,
of COURSE--one COULDN'T be angry with Robert, he's such a...What?"

Peter Knight let himself back into his bed with a feeble curse. Women
were such hysterical fools. What man could swallow that sickly society
tone? Then he lifted himself again, round-eyed with apprehension. In
that attitude he remained frozen.

"Why, Mr. Wharton!" came echoing through the door. "How CAN you say
such a thing? ... We knew nothing about it ... We did not ... She's a
good girl ... I'll have you understand you're talking to her mother ...
He is not; Jim is a ... Oh! ... You talk like an old fool ... I ... You
..."

The sickly society tone was no longer in evidence. Mathilda's voice was
shrill and furious; it rose higher with every second. Peter shouted; he
struggled with the bed-clothes. Meanwhile his wife appeared to be
having a fit. Had a grounded wire poured an electric shock into her
body she could not have clung to the instrument with more desperate
tenacity. She writhed; her broken cries were plainly wrung from her by
nothing less than agony.

At last there came a cessation of her incoherence and a tinkling of the
bell as she furiously vibrated the hook.

"Hello! ... Hello! ... Central ... My party rang off. ... Hello!"

The door of Jim's room burst open.

"What the devil?" he cried.

"Mathilda! Mathilda!" wailed Peter.

Mrs. Knight rushed into her husband's presence like a destroying angel.
Jim followed in his pajamas. She was more disheveled than ever, her
eyes were rolling, her cheeks were livid, her hair seemed to bristle
from its fastenings. She was panting in a labored effort to relieve her
feelings.

"What's the matter, ma?"

"Matter? Hell! That was Hannibal Wharton!" stormed the invalid.

"It's--all over," shrilled Mrs. Knight. "He won't have it. He's cut
them off. He called me a--a--" Once more she choked in her rage; her
teeth chattered. "BOB'S BROKE!"

"Wait a minute," Jim cried, roughly. "Let's hear all about it before
you bite somebody. Is Wharton sore?"

"He's crazy. He said we trapped Bob. He called us grafters and thieves
and blackmailing parasites--"

"Rats! Bob's got money of his own."

"Not a cent. He's in debt. And the old man won't give him a dollar
until he's divorced."

"I don't believe it," protested Jim.

Peter mocked at them, his bloated, pasty face convulsed with anger.
"Fine job you made of it, you two. So THIS is your grand match. THIS is
how you put us on Easy Street, eh? You married the girl to a bum. Why
didn't you look him up?"

"Why didn't YOU?" screamed his wife. "YOU didn't say anything.
Everybody thinks he's rich--"

"He is, too," Jim asserted. "He must be. Old Wharton is bluffing,
but--We'll find out. Get into your dress, ma. We'll see Bob. I've got
an ace buried, and if that dirty loafer sold us out I'll put him over
the jumps. He can't double-cross ME, understand; I've got the goods on
him, and on all of 'em."

"Oh, we've been double-crossed, all right," sneered Peter. "Lorelei's
down and out now. She's no good any more. I guess you'll listen to me
next time."

His son turned upon him furiously, crying:

"Shut up! Or I'll--" He left his threat unfinished and rushed back to
his room, muttering under his breath. As he flung himself into his
clothes he could hear the quarrel still raging between the other two,
and he lifted his clenched hands above his head with an oath.

"Fuss, fight, and fury," he wailed. "Fine place for a nervous guy! If I
don't end in a mad-house I'll be lucky."



CHAPTER XIX


On the way to the Elegancia Mrs. Knight recounted in greater detail and
with numerous digressions and comments what Hannibal Wharton had said
to her. Not only had he given full vent to his anger at the marriage,
but he had allowed himself the pleasure of expressing a frank opinion
of the entire Knight family in all its unmitigated and complete
badness. Mrs. Knight herself he had called a blood-sucker, it
seemed--the good woman shook with rage at the memory--and he had
threatened her with the direst retribution if she persisted in
attempting to fasten herself upon him. Bob, he had explained, was a
loafer whom he had supported out of a sense of duty; if the idiot was
ungrateful he would simply have to suffer the consequences. But Bob's
mother felt the disgrace keenly, and on her account Hannibal had
expressed himself as willing to ransom the young fool for, say, ten
thousand dollars.

"Disgrace, eh? Ten thousand dollars?" Jim growled. "What does he think
we are, anyhow? Why, that ain't cigarette money."

"I never was so insulted in my life," stormed Mrs. Knight. "You should
have HEARD him!"

With a show of confidence not entirely real Jim rejoined: "Now, ma,
don't heat up. Everybody forgets me, but I'm going to draw cards in
this game."

The interview that followed their arrival at Lorelei's home was far
from pleasant, for Mrs. Knight was still too indignant to leave the
discussion in Jim's more capable hands; and Lorelei, wishing Bob to
cherish no illusions, allowed her relatives to make a complete and
distressing exhibition of their greed. At his first opportunity Bob
explained rather briefly:

"I offered Lorelei her freedom last night when my income was amputated."

"You've had time to think it over," his wife interposed. "Do you still
want me?"

"Why, of course. And you?"

She shrugged. "I don't change in one night. Now--I wish you and Jim
would leave mother and me--"

Bob acquiesced, glad to escape even in company with his redoutable
brother-in-law. When he and Jim had gone Mrs. Knight addressed Lorelei
with motherly candor.

"He's a pleasant fellow, of course, and he's crazy about you; but don't
let's be sentimental. If there's no chance to make it up with his
family we must get out of this mess and save what we can."

"Was Mr. Wharton very angry?"

"WAS he?" Mrs. Knight rolled her eyes in mingled rage and despair. "I'm
positively sick over the things he said. Everybody seems to be against
us, and--I'm almost ready to give up. But at least you saved your good
name--it was a marriage, not a scandal. We have that to be thankful
for." She followed this outburst of optimism with another. "You can
keep the name and go into vaudeville. The publicity will help you, and
that old crank will surely stretch his offer to keep his name off the
bill-boards. Of course, we won't get anything like what we expected,
but we'll get something. Fifteen or twenty thousand is better than--"
Noting the shadow of a smile upon her daughter's lips, she checked her
rush of words. "You don't seem to care what--"

"I don't."

Mrs. Knight's face twisted into an expression of pained incredulity.
"Surely you don't mean to live with Bob?" she gasped. "Not--NOW."

"I do mean to."

The mother's lips parted, closed, parted again--she seemed to taste
something unspeakably bitter. She groped for words to fit her state of
mind, but words failed her. When she did speak, however, the weakness
of her vocabulary was offset by the shrill tone of her surprise. "My
DEAR! Why, my DEAR! He hasn't a CENT. Of course you're quite confused
now--you've been through a lot, and you think he's the only man in the
world--but it's impossible. It's absurd. The marriage was only a form.
You're no more his wife in the sight of God than--"

"Let's not talk about God," cried Lorelei. "That ceremony was scarcely
legal, not to speak of religion or decency."

"You've lost your mind. You've changed completely."

"Yes, I have. You see, I wasn't a wife until yesterday--until Bob and I
had an understanding; but I AM a wife now, and I suppose I'll never be
a girl again. I've begun to think for myself, mother; I've begun to
understand. I've had a suspicion that my old ideas were wrong, and they
were."

"Fiddle-de-dee! You're hysterical. You can't make me believe you
learned to love that man."

"I don't say I love him."

Mrs. Knight snorted her triumph loudly. "Then you mustn't live with him
another moment. My dear child, such a relationship is--well, think it
out for yourself."

Lorelei saw the futility of argument, but certain thoughts demanded
expression, and she voiced them, as much for her own sake as for her
mother's. "It's too late to talk about that kind of honor. But there's
another kind. When I married Bob I sold myself; and all of us--I mean
the family--knew that what I sold was counterfeit. He thought he was
getting something more than my body, but we knew he wasn't, and now
that we find we took bad money for a worthless article, how can we
pretend to be swindled? When people try to cheat, and get cheated
themselves, what do they do? If they're game they smile and take their
medicine, don't they?"

It was plain that this form of logic impressed the listener not at all.
Lorelei continued:

"I've learned that marriage is more than I considered it, mother. It's
an obligation. I intend to live up to my part just as long as Bob lives
up to his. If he complained of the fraud we practised on him I'd be
willing to leave him; but he doesn't--so the matter is out of our
hands."

Mrs. Knight relieved her steadily increasing anger by a harsh outburst.

"I never thought you could be so silly, after the way you were raised.
You talk about obligations; what about your obligation to your parents?
Didn't we give up everything for you? Didn't Peter sacrifice his life's
work to give you an opportunity?"

"I'll keep on sharing my salary with you."

"Salary!" Mrs. Knight spat out the word. "After all our plans! Salary!
My God!"

"You're probably just as honest in your ideas as I am in mine," Lorelei
told her. "I sha'n't allow you to want for--"

"I should hope not, since you're to blame for Peter's condition-- Oh,
you know you are! If you hadn't wanted a career he'd still be in Vale,
a strong, healthy man instead of a cripple."

"I didn't want a career," Lorelei denied with heat. "And father almost
HAD to leave Vale."

"Nothing of the sort. He was a big man there. 'Had to leave Vale,' eh?
So you've turned against your own blood, and disparage your
father--Anyhow, he was hurt while he was working to give you a start,
and now he's helpless. Who waits on him? I do. If I believed in prayers
I'd pray that you may never have a child to disappoint you as you've
disappointed him and me." Her voice quavered as she tried for pathos,
but her fury was still too fresh to be entirely restrained, and it
scalded her like vitriol. "If Bob Wharton was half a man he'd step
aside; but of course he won't until he's had enough of your beauty.
That's all he wants, your beauty--and you'll be fool enough to let him
have it FOR NOTHING. I'm sure I wish you joy with the selfish wretch
and with your new-fangled ideas of wifely devotion. This will kill
Peter. You'll have his death on your conscience. Think that over, now
that you're so fond of thinking. Ten thousand dollars right now would
save his life. Think that over, too, when your own father is dead and
gone."

White with anger, sick with disappointment, Mrs. Knight whisked herself
out of the apartment.

Bob returned in excellent spirits--nothing had power permanently to
dampen his cheerfulness--and, seizing Lorelei's hand, he slipped a
diamond ring upon her third finger, then a plain gold band over that.

"Now we're legally wrapped up in the same package and labeled 'Wed,'"
he declared. "I've been terribly embarrassed."

"How did you manage to buy these?" Lorelei inquired, with some
curiosity.

"I earned the money. Fact! It was a premium on abstinence. I met a
friend; he invited me to drink; I refused; friend was stunned. Before
he recovered I ran through his pockets like a pet squirrel. It beats a
mask and a lead pipe."

"We can't begin this way," she laughed. "I love pretty things, and this
is your first gift"--she kissed the solitaire--"but please don't give
me anything more for a while. I'm not going to lecture you nor wear a
long face nor find fault--ever--we're going to wear smiles while our
experiment lasts. To-morrow is Sunday--will you take me somewhere?"

"Will I?" Bob cried, in delight. "I'll hire a car and we'll motor up to
Tuxedo. There's a dandy crowd out there. We'll take Adoree and the
Immaculate Critic, and we'll have dinner at the club. Campbell can show
the latest effects in negligees, and--"

"That's too expensive; let's all go to Coney Island."

"Coney? How do you get there?"

"I don't know. Will you go?"

"Certainly, if you want to! I dare say we'll meet some of the best
steamfitters in the city. We'll patronize everything from the Mystic
Maze to the Trained Fleas; we'll Bump the Bumps and you'll throw your
arms around me and scream, and we'll look at the Incubator Babies and
blush. I can't wait."

Strangely enough, the news of Bob Wharton's marriage had not leaked
into the papers up to this time, and Lorelei, having regard for the
feelings of his parents, insisted that he help her to keep the matter
secret as long as possible. Bob rebelled at first, for he adored
publicity. He rejoiced in his newest exploit and desired his world to
hear of it, while the prospect of further mortifying his father was so
agreeable that it required much persuasion to make him relinquish it.
With her own family Lorelei had less difficulty, for they were by no
means eager to advertise their bad bargain and had withdrawn behind a
stiff restraint, leaving the couple to their own devices. This attitude
spared the bride much unpleasant notoriety, enabling her to pursue her
work at the theater without comment.

Bob's society proved in some ways a welcome change from the sordid
drabness of her own relatives, for he was colorful, versatile, and
nearly always good-humored. He kept Lorelei entertained, at least, and
if at times he provoked her it was only as a mischievous boy tries the
patience of a parent. He was weirdly prankish; serious happenings
reacted strangely upon him. Misfortune aroused in him a wild hilarity;
cares excited mirth. He bore his responsibilities lightly and displayed
them to his friends with the same profound pride with which a small boy
exhibits a collection of beetles, but they meant nothing more.

Lorelei realized before long that this very jocundity of his, since it
fed upon constant change and excitement, constituted the gravest menace
to their happiness. The man lived entirely outside of himself; he
utterly lacked the power of self-amusement, and, although he seemed
content when she was near, during the long hours of her absence he was
like a fretful child. He refused to frequent the theater, ostensibly
because of their secret, in reality because of his shame at allowing
her to work. As Lorelei came to know him better and to understand the
conflicting forces within him, she began to wonder how long he could
hold himself true to his bargain.

During the first week of their married life his system struggled to
throw off the effects of his recent dissipations, and in consequence it
craved only rest. Greatly encouraged by this lack of desire, he boasted
that the battle was already won, and Lorelei pretended to agree with
him.

She did not deceive herself, however, and a brief experience convinced
her that to be merely a wife to one of Bob's vagrant disposition was
not enough; that in order to keep his new self alive she must also be
his sweetheart, his chum, and his partner. If she failed in any one of
these roles disaster was bound to follow. But to succeed in them all,
when there was no love to strengthen her, was by no means easy. Always
she felt a great emptiness, and a disappointment that her life had been
so crookedly fashioned: sometimes she even felt degraded, and wondered
if she were doing right, after all. Reason argued that to live with a
man she did not love was immoral, and the mere fact that she and Bob
were legally married gave her no comfort whatever. There had been
nothing sacred in their union; she supposed that the courts would
dissolve it if the truth became known.

More than once Lorelei had spurned offers far more profitable and no
less holy than that existing between her and Bob, and it seemed to her
now that the difference between mistress and wife must lie in something
besides the mutterings of a sleepy Hoboken court officer. Just where
the line of demarcation lay, however, or upon which side of that line
she stood, she could not determine.

In the course of a fortnight Bob began to grow restless. One evening
when he came for her she saw that he was nervous; a strained, tired
look had crept into his eyes, and she thought she understood.
Nevertheless his spirits were ebullient. When they reached home he
ushered her into the apartment with a flourish, and Lorelei was amazed
to find their table set with strange linen, silver, and china and the
dining-room decorated as if for a party.

"Who's coming? What on earth?" she exclaimed.

"A little surprise. A supper for just you and me, my dear."

Two strangers, evidently caterer's men, were completing the final
preparations for an extravagant banquet. Noting a collection of
wine-glasses at each place, Lorelei glanced at Bob reproachfully, but
he only laughed, saying:

"Take heart. The liquid diet is all a bluff. Kindly note the
centerpiece."

She saw that the center of the table was occupied by a highly decorated
silver wine-cooler--empty.

"There it sits," Bob exclaimed, "the little Temple of
Bacchus--overgrown with roses. It used to be my shrine and my
confessional until I saw the light. Now that I've escaped from the
bondage of sin, sickness, and error, I'm giving a triumphal feast upon
the altar steps."

It was one of his whims. During the meal he made elaborate speeches in
the names of his friends. His imaginary guests congratulated him; in
empty glasses they toasted the bride, they extolled her beauty, they
praised his own gallantry, and vaunted his conquest of the demon rum.
As the supper progressed Bob simulated a growing intoxication, while
the hired servants looked on as if at the antics of a lunatic. He made
it amusing, and Lorelei entered into the spirit of the make-believe.
But when they were alone and all traces of the feast had disappeared he
swooped down out of the clouds and confessed miserably:

"I thought I could kid myself, but I can't. I want a drink.
I--WANT--A--DRINK! God! how I want it!"

Lorelei went swiftly to him. "The fight is just beginning, Bob. You're
doing nobly."

"It isn't thirst," he explained, and she saw that same strained
uneasiness in his bright eyes. "I'm not THIRSTY--I'm shaky inside. My
ego is wabbling on its pins and I'm rattling to pieces. I manage well
enough when you're around, but when I'm alone I--remember." She felt
him twitch and shiver nervously. "And there are so many places to get
booze! Everywhere I look I see a bartender with arms outstretched. When
I grit my teeth the damned appetite leaves me alone, but when I'm off
my guard it gumshoes in again. I get tired of fighting."

Lorelei nodded sympathetically. "That's why it's so hard to reform;
one's conscience tires, but temptation is always fresh."

"It's not thirst," Bob repeated. "My soul is dried out. I get to
thinking late at night. I'm afraid I'm going to quit."

"You must keep busy."

"I'm going to work."

"No, no! Not yet," she cried, quickly. "You must fight it out where I
can help."

Bob smiled gratefully. "You're a thoroughbred. I promised to let you
have your way, and you shall. Even if we lose the patient it will be a
dandy operation."

Beginning with the next morning Lorelei inaugurated a change in the
domestic routine. Every day thereafter she and Bob took a long walk. He
rebelled, of course, as soon as the novelty wore off, for he detested
walking. So did she, for that matter, but she pretended to like it, and
her simulated zest overcame his reluctance. They did not amble
aimlessly about the streets; she led him on purposeful tramps that kept
them in the open air most of the day, and, although her feet blistered
until she could hardly drag herself to the theater when night came, she
persisted. In time the walking grew to be a dreadful task; it took all
her determination, but she would not give up.

With admirable craft she gradually won him away from the cafes,
assuming delight in household duties that she was far from feeling. In
reality she was a wretched cook, but she declared her intention of
becoming an expert and insisted upon preparing at least two of their
daily meals, at which time she saw to it that Bob ate more sweets and
more salt foods than he was accustomed to. The former took the place of
alcohol, the latter roused a healthy thirst, and thirsty men drink
water. These were only little things; her heaviest task lay in keeping
his mind occupied. At times this was easy; again the effort wore her
out. Bob began to have surly spells.

For the first time in her life Lorelei really worked, and worked not
for herself, but for another. Although the experience was interesting
in its novelty, the result remained unsatisfactory, for not only did
love fail to respond to these sacrifices, but she could see no
improvement in Bob's condition. The thing she fought was impalpable,
yet enormous; it was weak, yet strong; it seemed to sleep, yet it was
ever awake.

Of necessity the two lived in the closest intimacy, than which nothing
is ordinarily more fatal to domestic happiness. But Bob was unique; he
did not tire; he began to rely upon Lorelei as a sick man leans upon
his nurse, and to worship her as a man worships his sweetheart. There
was more than passion in his endearments now.

But it was discouraging to the girl, who gained no strength from her
penance and derived no satisfaction whatever in service for service's
sake. The whole arrangement tried her patience desperately; she was
weary in mind and body, and looked back with regret upon her former
easy life. There was no time now for recreation--Bob had to be amused.
Salary-day assumed a new importance, and she began to count the cost of
every purchase.

So spring went and midsummer came. It was terribly hot in the city; the
nights were breathless, the days were glaring, and this heat was
especially trying to one in Bob's condition. In his periods of gaiety
he showered his wife with attentions and squandered every dollar he
could borrow in presents for her; in his hours of depression he was
everything strange, morose, and irritable.

Without her knowledge he applied to his old firm for a salaried
position and was refused. He appealed to Merkle with the same result,
but succeeded in borrowing a thousand dollars, with which he bought
Lorelei a set of black opals, going into debt for half the price.



CHAPTER XX


Lorelei's family continued to smart under a sense of bitter injustice,
but although they kept aloof they were by no means uninterested in her
experiment. On the contrary, they watched it with derisive enjoyment,
predicting certain failure. After Hannibal Wharton's insult Jim was all
for a prompt revenge, but he could not determine just how to use his
dangerous knowledge to the best advantage. He considered the
advisability of enlisting the aid of Max Melcher; but, not liking the
thought of dividing the loot, he decided provisionally to engineer a
separation between Bob and Lorelei.

His desire to make mischief arose in only a slight degree from
resentment--Jim's method of making a living had long since dulled the
edge of feeling--it was merely the first step in a comprehensive
scheme. With Bob and Lorelei estranged, a divorce would follow, and
divorces were profitable. A divorce, moreover, would open the way for a
second inroad upon the Wharton wealth, for with Lorelei's skirts clear
Jim could proceed with a larger scheme of extortion, based on the
Hammon murder.

One evening after Lorelei had gone to the theater Jim appeared at the
apartment and found Bob in a mood so restless and irritable that he
dared not go out.

"I had a hunch you were lonesome," the caller began, "so I came up to
whittle and spit at the stove."

Now Jim could be agreeable when he chose; his parasitic life had
developed in him a certain worldly good-fellowship; he was frankly
unregenerate, and he had sufficient tact never to apologize nor to
explain. Therefore he kept Bob entertained.

A few nights later he returned with a fund of new stories, and during
the evening he confessed to a consuming thirst.

"Death Valley has nothing on this place," he mourned.

Bob explained apologetically, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing in the
house wetter than Croton water."

"I understand! Will you object if I sweeten a glass of it with some
Scottish rites? I'm afraid of germs, and if water rots leather think
what it must do to the sensitive lining of a human stomach?" Jim drew a
flask from his pocket, then hesitated as if in doubt.

"Don't mind me," Bob assured him, hastily. "I'm strapped in the
driver's seat." But he looked on with eager appreciation as his
brother-in-law filled a long glass and sipped it.

Bob had never been a whisky-drinker, yet the faint odor of the liquor
tantalized him. When in the course of time he saw Jim preparing a
second drink he stirred.

"Kind of itchy, eh? Let's whip across the street and have a game of
pool," suggested Jim; and Bob was glad to escape from the room.

An agreeable hour followed; but Bob played badly, and found that his
eye had lost its sureness. His hand was uncertain, too, and this lack
of co-ordination disgusted him. He was sure that with a steadying drink
he could beat Jim, and eventually he proved it; but, mindful of his
resolution, he compromised on beer, which, Jim agreed, could not
reasonably be called an intoxicant.

On his way to the theater Bob chewed cinnamon bark, and when he kissed
Lorelei he held his breath.

This was the first of several pool matches, and after a while Bob was
gratified to find that beer in moderation left no disagreeable effect
whatever upon him. He rejoiced in his power of restraint.

There came a night when he failed to meet his wife. After waiting
nearly half an hour Lorelei went home, only to find the apartment
deserted. She nibbled at a lonely lunch, trying to assure herself that
nothing was seriously amiss; but she could not make up her mind to go
to bed. She tried to read, and failed. An hour passed, then another; a
thousand apprehensions crowded in upon her, and she finally found
herself walking the floor, but pulled herself together with a mirthless
laugh. So it had come, she reflected, with mingled bitterness and
relief; her fight was over, her part of the bargain was ended, she was
free to live her own life as she chose. Certainly she had done her
best, and above all question she was not the sort of wife who could
wait patiently, night after night, for a drunken husband.

Bob, when he did arrive, entered with elaborate caution. He paused in
the little hall, then tossed his hat into the living-room, where his
wife was waiting. After a moment his head came slowly into view, and he
said:

"When the hat stays in, go in; when it comes out, beat it."

Lorelei saw that he was quite drunk.

"I just came from the theater," he explained, "but it was dark. Has the
show failed, dearie?" He tried to kiss her, but she turned her face
away. "Come! Must have my little kiss," he insisted; then as she rose
and moved away, leaving him swaying in his tracks, he began gravely to
unroll an odd, thin package that resembled a tennis-racket. Removing a
soiled white wrapping, then an inner layer of oiled paper, he exposed
the sad remains of what had been an elaborate bouquet of double English
violets fringed with gardenias. He stared at the flowers in some
bewilderment.

"Must have sat on 'em," he opined at last; then he cried brightly: "Ha!
Pressed flowers! I'm full of old-fashioned sentiment." After studying
Lorelei's unsmiling face his tone altered. "Oh, I know! I slipped, but
it couldn't be helped. Nature insisted, and I yielded gracefully, but
no harm done, none whatever. This isn't a defeat, my dear; it's a
victory. I licked the demon rum and proved myself a man of iron. I
subjugated the cohorts of General Benjamin Booze, then I signed a
treaty of peace, and there was no bad blood on either side." After an
uncomfortable pause, during which he vainly waited for her to speak, he
explained more fully: "My dear, nothing is absolute! Life is a series
of compromises. Have a heart. Would you rob the distiller of his
livelihood? Think of the struggling young brewer with a family. Could
you take the bread from the mouths of his little ones? The president of
a bottling-works may be a Christian; he may have a sick wife. Remember
the boys that work in the hop-fields and the joyous peasant girls of
France. Moderation is the thing. Live and let live."

Lorelei nodded. "Exactly! We shall live as we choose, only, of course,
we can't live together after this." Then her disgust burst its control,
and she demanded, bitterly, "Haven't you any strength whatever? Haven't
you any balance, Bob?"

He grinned at her cheerfully. "I should say I had. I walked a fence on
the way home just to prove it; and I scarcely wabbled. Balance!
Strength! Why, you ought to see Jim. They had to CARRY him."

"Jim? Was--Jim with you?"

"In spirit, yes; in body--only for a time. For a brief while we went
gaily, hand in hand, then Jim lagged. He's a nice boy, but weak; he
falters beneath a load; and, as for pool, why, I've slept on
pool-tables, so naturally I know the angles better than he. Ha! that's
a funny line, isn't it? I know the angles of pool-tables because I've
slept on 'em, see? Don't hurry; I'll wait for you. Even an 'act' like
mine needs applause."

But Lorelei was in no laughing mood. She questioned Bob searchingly and
soon learned of Jim's visits, of the flask, of the pool games. When she
understood it all her eyes were glowing, but she found nothing to say.
At last she got Bob to bed, then lay down beside him and stared into
the darkness through many wakeful hours.

In the morning he was not only contrite, but badly frightened, yet when
he undertook to make his peace he found her unexpectedly mild.

"If you're sorry, that's all I ask," she said. "I changed my mind
during the night."

"Never again!" he promised, feelingly. "I thought I had cured myself."

Lorelei smiled at him faintly. "Cured! How long have you been a
drinker?"

"Oh, nearly always."

"When were you first drunk?"

"I was eighteen, I think."

"You've been undergoing a bodily change for ten years. During all that
time your brain-cells have been changing their structure, and they'll
never be healthy or normal until they've been made over. You can't
accomplish that in a few weeks."

"Say, you don't mean I'm going to stay thirsty until my egg-shaped dome
becomes round again?"

"Well, yes."

"Why, that might take years!"

"It took ten years to work the damage--it will probably take ten years
to repair it."

Bob was aghast. "Good heavens! In ten years I'll be too old to
drink--I'd tremble so that I'd spill it. But where did you get all this
M. D. dope?"

"I've been reading. I've been talking to a doctor, too. You see, I
wanted to help."

"Let's change doctors. Ten years! It can't be done."

"I'm afraid you're right. There's no such thing as reformation. A born
criminal never reforms; only those who go wrong from weakness or from
bad influences ever make good."

"Drinking isn't a crime," Bob declared, angrily, "any more than
freckles. It's just a form of diversion."

Lorelei shook her head. "If you're a born alcoholic you'll probably die
a drunkard. I'm hoping that you didn't inherit the taste."

"Well, whether it was left to me or whether I bought it, I can't go dry
for ten years."

"Then our bargain is ended."

He looked up sharply. "Oh no, it isn't!"

"Yes."

He extended a shaking hand, and his voice was supplicating as he said:
"I can't get along without you, kid. You're a part of me--the vital
part. I'd go to pieces quick if you quit now."

"When we made our agreement I meant to live up to every bit of it,"
Lorelei told him, gently, "but we're going to try again, for this was
Jim's fault."

"Jim? Jim was sorry for me. He tried to cheer--"

Lorelei's smile was bitter. "Jim was never sorry for anybody except
himself. My family hate you just as your family hate me, and they'd
like to separate us."

"Say, that's pretty rotten!" Bob exclaimed. "If he weren't your brother
I'd--"

Lorelei laughed mirthlessly. "Go ahead! I wish you would. It might
clear the atmosphere."

"Then I will." After a moment he continued, "I suppose you feel you
must go on supporting them?"

"Of course."

"Just as you feel you must support me. Is it entirely duty in my case?"
Seeing her hesitate, he insisted, "Isn't there any love at all?"

"I'm afraid not, Bob."

The man pondered silently. "I suppose if I were the right sort," he
said, at length, with some difficulty, "I'd let you go under these
circumstances. Well, I'm not the right sort; I'm not big or noble. I'm
just an ordinary, medium-sized man, and I'm going to keep you. However,
I'm through side-stepping; I've tried to outrun the Barleycorn
Brothers, but it's no use, so I'm going to turn and face them. If they
lick me I'll go under. But if I go under I'll take you with me. I won't
give you up. I won't!"

"I sha'n't let you pull me down," she told him, soberly.

"Then you'll have to bear me up. When a man's drowning he grabs and
holds on. That's me! There's nothing fine about me, understand? I'm
human and selfish. I'd be happy in hell with you."

"You're not fair."

"I don't pretend to be. This isn't a bridge game; this is life. I'll
cheat, I'll hold out, I'll deal from the bottom, if I can't win in any
other way. Good God! Don't you understand that you're the only thing I
ever loved, the only thing I ever wanted and couldn't get? I've never
had but half of you; don't expect me to give that up." He rose, jammed
his hat upon his head as if to escape from the room, then turned and
crushed his wife to him with a fierce cruelty of possession. Lorelei
could feel him shaking as he covered her face with kisses, but nothing
within her stirred even faintly in answer to his passion.

When Bob reached the financial district that day and resumed his quest
for work he was ablaze with resentment at himself and at the world in
general.

He took up the search with a dogged determination that was quite unlike
him. One after another he canvassed his friends for a position, and
finally, as if ill fortune could not withstand his fervor, he was
successful. It was not much of a job that was offered him, but he
snapped at it, and returned home that evening in the best of humor.
Already the serious issues of the morning were but a memory; he burst
in upon Lorelei like a gale, shouting:

"I'm chalk-boy at Crosset & Meyers, so you can give Bergman your notice
to-night."

"What's the salary?"

"It isn't a salary; it's a humiliation--twenty-five a week is the total
insult."

"Why, Bob! That won't keep two and the family--"

"Damn the family!" He quieted himself with an effort. "Well, you give
your notice, anyhow. I'll spear the coin for both establishments
somehow. Come! I insist. I want to be able to shave myself without
blushing."

Lorelei's objections were not easily overcome, but at last, in view of
the fact that the summer run of the Revue was drawing to a close and
the show would soon take to the road, she allowed herself to be
persuaded.

Throughout the next week Bob Wharton really tried to make good. He was
enthusiastic; the excitement of actual accomplishment was so novel that
he had not time to think of liquor. When Saturday came and he found
himself in possession of honestly earned funds he felt a
soul-satisfying ease. He decided to invest his first savings in a
present for Lorelei, then a graver sense of responsibility seized him,
and he wrote to Mrs. Knight as follows:

MY DEAR MOTHER-IN-NEW-JERSEY-LAW,--Inclosed find five handsome examples
of the engraver's skill, same being the result of six industrious days.
I know your passion for these objets d'art, I appreciate your eagerness
to share my father's celebrated collection, and I join you in regrets
at your failure to do so. But remember, "As a moth gnaws a garment, so
doth envy consume a man." Take these photogravures, love them, cherish
them, share them with the butcher, the baker, the hobble-skirt maker,
and console yourself with the thought that, although you have lost
much, you have gained something above price in me.

Thine in everlasting fetters,

ROBERT.

Having despatched this missive, he set out to find Jim, for the
afternoon was young and he wished to settle his obligations in full. It
is well to be systematic; business is largely a matter of system,
anyhow, and the tag ends of one week's work should never be allowed to
lap over into another.

A round of popular up-town resorts failed to discover Jim, but Bob's
search finally brought him to Tony the Barber's shop; and here, in the
rear room, he found his brother-in-law playing cards with a pop-eyed
youth and a repellent person with a cauliflower ear.

Bob's greeting was hearty. "Evening, James," he cried. "Feel like
taking your beating here?"

"Eh? What's the matter?" Jim rose from his chair with a shocked
intensity of gaze.

"I'm just cleaning up my affairs for the day of rest, and I've come to
return your last call. Alas, James, I am a weak vessel! Your work was
coarse, but I fell for it." To the other occupants of the room he
apologized. "I'm sorry to spoil your little game of authors, but
necessity prods me." He extended a muscular hand for Jim's collar and
found it.

Mr. Armistead was of the emotional kind; he leaped to his feet and went
to the rescue of his friend; but his first blow was wild. Seizing a
chair, he swung it aloft--a manoeuver which more effectively distracted
Bob's attention--but this attack also failed when Bob's fist buried
itself in the spongy region of Mr. Armistead's belt-buckle, and that
young man promptly lost all interest in Jimmy Knight's affairs. There
had been a time when he might have weathered such a blow, but of late
years easy living had left its marks; therefore he sat down heavily,
all but missing the chair he had just occupied. His eyes bulged more
prominently than usual; he became desperately concerned with a strange
difficulty in breathing.

Alert, aggressive, Bob turned to face the man with the swollen ear; but
young Sullivan, being a professional fighter, made no capital of
amateur affairs, and declined the issue with an upraised palm.

"Friends, eh?" Bob panted.

"Brothers!" heartily ejaculated Sullivan, whereupon Bob foiled Jimmy
Knight's short cut for the door and proceeded with the purpose of his
call.

It was no difficult matter to chastise Jim, whose spirit was as
wretched as his strength; as the wind whips a flag, as a man flaps a
dusty garment, so did Bob shake his victim. Jim felt his spine crack
and his limbs unjoint. His teeth snapped, he bit his tongue, his heels
rattled upon the floor. Bob seemed bent upon shaking the bones from his
flesh and the marrow from his bones; but, try as he would, Jim could
not prevent the outrage. He struggled, he clawed, he kicked, he yelled;
his arms threshed loosely, like the limber appendages to a stuffed
figure.

Mr. Armistead, unnaturally pale, remained seated. He emitted harrowing
sounds like those made by air leaking into a defective pump. Sullivan
looked on with the lively appreciation of a rough-house expert.

When Bob emerged from the rear room he found the barber shop in
confusion. Tony was leading a charge at the head of his assistants, who
were supported in turn by the customers; but he fell back at sight of
the flushed victor.

"It was nothing but a little family affair," Bob reassured him. "Now,
if you please, I'll borrow a hair-brush." In front of a mirror he
tidied himself, settled his scarf with a deft jerk, then went out
whistling. As it was nearly closing-time for the matinees, he strolled
toward the Circuit Theater, full of a satisfying contentment with the
world. Now that he owed it nothing, he resolved to meet his future
obligations as they arose.

Early on Monday morning Bob reported for work, only to receive from Mr.
Crosset, whom he had always regarded as a warm friend, the notice of
his discharge.

"What's the matter? Didn't I make good?" he demanded.

Crosset was a young man; more than once he and Bob had scandalized
Broadway; some of their exploits were epic. Now he shrugged carelessly,
saying:

"Oh, you made good, I guess; but we can't take a chance with you."

"I suppose you're afraid I'll steal some of your chalk."

Crosset grinned, then deponed with extreme gravity: "Bob, you drink.
You're unsteady in your habits. It's too bad, but we can't--"

"I don't drink as much as you do."

"Nobody does; but that's beside the question."

"As a matter of fact, I've quit."

This announcement drew a hearty chuckle. "You're a great comedian,
Bob," said Crosset.

After surveying his friend for a moment Bob responded with great
earnestness: "But you're not. This fails to hand me a laugh. Now tell
me, how did you wet your feet, and whence comes the icy draught?"

"Well, from the direction of Pittsburg, if you must know. It seems you
are an undesirable citizen, Bob--a dangerous character. There's a can
tied to you, and we can't afford to antagonize the whole Steel Trust."

"I see. I'm afraid I'll have to disown that father of mine."

"What's the trouble, anyhow?"

At Bob's explanation Crosset whistled. "Funny I didn't hear about it.
Married and happy, eh? Well, I'm sorry I can't help you--"

"You can."

"How?"

"Lend me five hundred."

"Certainly!" Crosset lunged at his desk, scribbled a line to the
cashier, and handed it to Bob, then, in response to a call from the
customers' room, dashed away with a hearty farewell.

As Bob passed through the outer office he ran his eye over the opening
prices, being half inclined to "scalp" with his sudden wealth; but luck
had never run his way, and he reconsidered. Anyhow, there were more
agreeable uses to which he could put this money; for one thing he
needed several suits, for another it was high time he gave Lorelei some
little remembrance--he hadn't given her a present in nearly two weeks,
and women set great store by such attentions. He decided to invest his
money in Maiden Lane and demand credit from his tailor. But a half-hour
at a jewelry shop convinced him that nothing suitable to so splendid a
creature as his wife could be purchased for a paltry five hundred
dollars, and he was upon the point of returning to Crosset with a
request to double the loan when his common sense asserted itself.
Poverty was odious, but not shameful, he reflected; ostentation, on the
other hand, was vulgar. Would it not be in bad taste to squander this
happy windfall upon jewelry when Lorelei needed practical things?

Bob was cheered by the breadth of these sentiments; they showed that he
was beginning soberly to realize the leaden responsibilities of a
family man. No, instead of a jewel he would buy his wife a dog.

At a fashionable up-town kennel he found exactly what he wanted, in the
shape of a Pekingese--a playful, pedigreed pocket dog scarcely larger
than his two fists. It was a creature to excite the admiration of any
woman; its family tree was taller than that of a Spanish nobleman, and
its name was Ying. But here again Bob was handicapped by poverty, for
sleeve dogs are expensive novelties, and the price of Ying was seven
hundred dollars--marked down from one thousand, and evidently the
bargain of a lifetime at that price.

Bob hated to haggle, but he showed that his ability to drive a sharp
bargain was merely latent, and he finally bore the animal away in
triumph. To outgeneral a dog-fancier was a tribute to his shrewdness;
to save two hundred dollars on a single purchase was economy of a high
order. Much elated, he set out briskly for his tailor's place of
business.



CHAPTER XXI


It still lacked something of luncheon-time when Bob Wharton swung into
Fifth Avenue with Ying snugly ensconced in his coat pocket. Bob was in
fine fettle, what with the anticipation of Lorelei's delight at his
gift and the certainty of an agreeable hour with his tailor. It was
always a pleasure to deal with Kurtz, for in his shop customers were
treated with the most delicate consideration. Salesmen, cutters,
fitters, all were pleasant acquaintances who displayed neither the
fawning obsequiousness of Fifth Avenue trades-people nor the sullen
apathy of Broadway clerks. Kurtz himself was an artist; he was also a
person of generally cultivated taste and a man about town. His pleasure
in making a sale was less than his delight at meeting and serving his
customers, and his books were open only to those he considered his
equals. A stony-faced doorman kept watch and ward in the Gothic hallway
to discourage the general public from entering the premises. The fact
that Bob owed several hundred dollars dismayed that young man not in
the least, for Kurtz never mentioned money matters--the price of
garments being after all of far less consequence than fit, and style,
and that elusive something which Kurtz called "effect."

Our daily actions are controlled by a variety of opposing influences
which are like threads pulling at us from various directions. When for
any reason certain of these threads are snapped and the balance is
disturbed we are drawn into strange pathways, and our whole lives may
be changed through the operation of what seems a most trivial case. In
Bob's case the cause approached, all unheralded, in the person of Mr.
Richard Cady, a youth whose magnificent vacuity of purpose was the envy
of his friends. Comet-like, he was destined to appear, flash brightly,
then disappear below the horizon of this tale. Mr. Cady greeted Bob
with listless enthusiasm, teetering the while upon his cane like a
Japanese equilibrist.

"Haven't seen you for ages," he began. "Been abroad?"

Bob explained that he was spending the summer in New York, a statement
that filled his listener with the same horror he would have felt had he
learned that Bob was passing the heated season in the miasmatic jungles
of the Amazon.

"Just ran down from Newport," Cady volunteered. "I'm sailing to-day.
Better join me for a trip. I know--" he cut Bob's refusal
short--"travel's an awful nuisance; I get seasick myself."

"Then why play at it?"

Cady rolled a mournful eye upon his friend. "Girl!" said he, hollowly.
"Show-girl! If I stay I'll marry her, and that wouldn't do.
Posi-TIVE-ly not! So I'm running away. I'll wait over if you'll join
me."

"I'm a working-man."

"Haw!" Mr. Cady expelled a short laugh.

"True! And I've quit drinking."

Now Cady was blase, but he had a heart; his sympathies were slow, but
he was not insensible to misfortune. Accordingly he responded with a
cry of pity, running his eye over his friend to estimate the ravages of
Temperance. Midway in its course his gaze halted, he passed a
silk-gloved palm lightly across his brow, and looked again. A tiny head
seemed to protrude from Bob's pocket, a pair of bright, inquiring eyes
seemed to be peering directly at the observer.

"I--guess I'd better quit, too," said Cady, faintly. "Are you--alone?"
Bob gently extracted Ying from his resting-place, and the two men
studied him gravely.

"Little beggar, isn't he?" Cady remarked. "Has he got a brother? I'd
like to give one to--you know!"

"He's alone in the world. I'm his nearest of kin."

"Give you five dollars for him," Cady offered.

"I just paid five hundred, and he's worth a thousand. Why, his people
came over ahead of the Mayflower."

The gloomy lover was interested; in his face there gleamed a faint
desire. "Think of it! Well, make it a thousand. I'll send him in a
bunch of orchids. Haw!" He doubled over his stick, convulsed with
appreciation of his own originality. But again Bob refused. "Don't be
nasty, I'll make it fifteen hundred."

Bob carefully replaced the canine atom and grinned at his friend.

"I need the money, but--nothing doing."

"Up against it?" hopefully inquired the other.

"Broke! I couldn't afford a nickel to see an earthquake."

"I'll lend you fifteen hundred and take Ying as security."

But Bob remained inflexible, and Mr. Cady relapsed into gloom,
muttering:

"Gee! You're a rotten business man!"

"So says my heartless father. He has sewed up my pockets and scuttled
my drawing-account, hence the dinner-pail on my arm. I'm in quest of
toil."

"I'll bet you starve," brightly predicted Mr. Cady, in an effort at
encouragement. "I'll lay you five thousand that you make a flivver of
anything you try."

"I've quit gambling, too."

As they shook hands Cady grunted: "My invitation to globe-trot is
withdrawn. Fine company you'd be!"

As Bob walked up the Avenue he pondered deeply, wondering if he really
were so lacking in ability as his friends believed. Money was such a
common thing, after all; the silly labor of acquiring it could not be
half so interesting as the spending of it. Anybody could make money,
but to enjoy it, to circulate it judiciously, one must possess
individuality--of a sort. Money seemed to come to some people without
effort, and from the strangest sources--Kurtz, for instance, had grown
rich out of coats and trousers!

Bob halted, frowning, while Ying peered out from his hiding-place at
the passing throngs, exposing a tiny, limp, pink-ribbon tongue. If
Kurtz, armed only with a pair of shears and a foolish tape, had won to
affluence, why couldn't another? Stock-broking was no longer
profitable; none of Bob's friends had earned their salt for months; and
old Hannibal's opposition evidently forced a change of occupation.

The prospect of such a change was annoying, but scarcely alarming to an
ingrained optimist, and Bob took comfort in reflecting that the
best-selling literature of the day was replete with instances of
disinherited sons, impoverished society men, ruined bankers, or mere
idlers, who by lightning strokes of genius had mended their fortunes
overnight. Some few, in the earlier days of frenzied fiction, had
played the market, others the ponies, still others had gone West and
developed abandoned gold-mines or obscure water-powers. A number also
had grown disgustingly rich from patenting rat-traps or shoe-buttons.
One young man had discovered a way to keep worms out of railroad-ties
and had promptly bludgeoned the railroad companies out of fabulous
royalties.

Over the stock-market idea Bob could work up no enthusiasm--he knew too
much about it--and, inasmuch as horse-racing was no longer fashionable,
opportunities for a Pittsburg Phil future seemed limited. Moreover, he
had never saved a jockey's life nor a jockey's mother from eviction,
hence feed-box tips were not likely. Nor did he know a single soul in
the business of inventing rat-traps or shoe-buttons. As for going West,
he was clearly of the opinion that a search for abandoned gold-mines or
forgotten waterfalls wasn't in his line; and the secret of creosoting
railroad-ties, now that he came to think of it, was still locked up in
the breast of its affluent discoverer. Besides, as the whole episode
had occurred in the second act of a play, the safety of building upon
it was doubtful at best.

No, evidently the well-recognized short cuts to wealth had all been
obliterated by many feet, and he must find another. But where? At
length Bob's wrinkled brow smoothed itself, and he nodded. His path was
plain; it led around the nearest corner to his tailor's door.

Mr. Kurtz's greeting was warm as Bob strolled into the stately
show-room with its high-backed Flemish-oak chairs, its great carved
tables, its paneled walls with their antlered decorations. This, it may
be said, was not a shop, not a store where clothes were sold, but a
studio where men's distinctive garments were draped, and the difference
was perfectly apparent on the first of each month.

Bob gave Ying his freedom, to the great interest of the proprietor, who
studied the dog's points with a practised eye.

"Kurtz," began Bob, abruptly, "I just bet Dick Cady five thousand
dollars that I can make my own living for six months." This falsehood
troubled him vaguely until he remembered that high finance must be
often conducted behind a veil.

Mr. Kurtz, genial, shrewd, gray, raised admiring eyes from the capering
puppy and said:

"I'll take another five thousand."

But Bob declined. "No, I'm going to work."

This announcement interested the tailor deeply. "Who's going to hire
you?" he asked.

"You are."

Kurtz blinked. "Maybe you'd like to bet on that, too," he ventured.
"I'll give you odds."

"Work is one of the few things I haven't tried. You need a good
salesman."

"No, I don't. I have seven already."

"Say, wouldn't you like the trade of the whole younger set? I can bring
you a lot of fresh customers--fellows like me."

"'Fresh customers' is right," laughed Kurtz, then sobered quickly.
"You're joking, of course?"

"I'm so serious I could cry. How much is it worth to you to make
clothes for my crowd?"

"Well--" the tailor considered. "Quite a bit."

"The boys like to see Dick trimmed--it's a matter of principle with
them never to let him win a bet--and they'd do anything for me. You're
the best tailor in the city, but too conservative. Now I'm going to
bring you fifty new accounts, every one good for better than two
thousand a year. That's a hundred thousand dollars. How much am I
offered? Going! Going!--"

"Wait a minute! Would you stick to me for six months if I took you on?"

"My dear Kurtz, I'll poultice myself upon you for life. I'll guarantee
myself not to slide, slip, wrinkle, or skid. Thirty years hence, when
you come hobbling down to business, you'll find me here."

Mr. Kurtz dealt in novelties, and the idea of a society salesman was
sufficiently new to appeal to his commercial sense.

"I'll pay you twenty per cent.," he offered, "for all the new names you
put on my books."

"Make it twenty-five on first orders and twenty on repeaters. I'll
bring my own luncheon and pay my car-fare."

"There wouldn't be any profit left," demurred Kurtz.

"Good! Then it's a bargain--twenty-five and twenty. Now watch me grab
the adolescent offshoots of our famous Four Hundred." Bob chased Ying
into a corner, captured him, then took a 'bus up the Avenue to the
College Club for luncheon.

At three o'clock he returned, accompanied by four flushed young men
whose names gave Kurtz a thrill. In spite of their modish appearance
they declared themselves indecently shabby, and allowed Bob to order
for them--a favor which he performed with a Rajah's lofty disregard of
expense. He sat upon one of the carved tables, teasing Ying, and
selecting samples as if for a quartette of bridegrooms. Being bosom
cronies of Mr. Cady, the four youths needed little urging. When they
had gone in to be measured Kurtz said guardedly:

"Whew! That's more stuff than I've sold in two weeks!"

"A mere trifle," Bob grinned, happily. "Say, Kurtz, this is the life!
This is the job for me--panhandling juvenile plutocrats--no office
hours, no heavy lifting, and Thursdays off. I'm going to make you
famous."

"You'll break me with another run like this."

"How much did they order?"

The proprietor ran over his figures incredulously.

"Twenty-four sack suits, two riding-suits, one knicker, four evening
suits, four dinner-suits, forty fancy waistcoats, sixteen evening
waistcoats, four pairs riding-breeches, four motor-coats, three Vicuna
overcoats, two ulsters. You don't think they're bluffing?"

"Why should they bluff? They'll never discover how many suits they
have. Now figure it up and tell me the bad news."

Mr. Kurtz did as directed, announcing, "Fifty-five hundred and five
dollars."

"Pikers!" exclaimed the new salesman; then he began laboriously to
compute twenty-five per cent. of the sum, using as a pad a bolt of
expensive white-silk vest material. "Thirteen hundred and seventy-six
dollars and twenty-five cents is my blackmail, Kurtz. That's what I
call 'a safe and sane Fourth.' Not bad for dull times, and yet it might
be better. Anyhow, it's the hardest thirteen hundred and seventy-six
dollars I ever earned."

"Hard!" The merchant's lips twitched, oscillating his cigar violently.
"Hard! I'll bet those fellows even bought your lunch. I suppose you
mean it's the first money you ever--earned." He seemed to choke over
the last word. "Well, it's worth something to get men like these on the
books, but--thirteen hundred and seventy-six dollars--"

"And twenty-five cents."

Mr. Kurtz gulped. "In one day! Why, I could buy a farm for that. How
much will you have to 'earn' to cover your living expenses for six
months?"

"Ah, there we journey into the realm of purest speculation." Bob
favored him with a sunny smile. "As well ask me how much my living
expenses must be in order to cover my earnings. Whatever one is, the
other will be approximately ditto--or perhaps slightly in excess
thereof. Anyhow, nothing but rigid economy--bane of my life--will make
the one fit into the other. But I have a thought. Something tells me
these boys need white flannels, so get out your stock, Kurtz. If they
can't play tennis they must learn, for my sake." Bob's remarkable
stroke of fortune called for a celebration, and his four customers
clamored that he squander his first profits forthwith. Ordinarily such
a course would have been just to his liking; but now he was dying to
tell Lorelei of his triumph, and, fearing to trust himself with even
one drink, he escaped from his friends as soon as possible. Thus it
chanced that he arrived home sober.

It was a happy home-coming, for Ying was adorable and made his way
instantly into Lorelei's heart, while Bob was in a state of exaltation.
He had no desire to bind himself to Kurtz's service for six months or
for any other period; nor had he the least thought of living up to his
agreement until Lorelei began to treat the matter seriously. Then he
objected blankly:

"Why, it was all right as a joke, but I don't want to be a TAILOR.
There's no romance in woolen goods."

"How much do you owe?" she asked.

"Really, I've no idea. It's something you don't have to
remember--somebody always reminds you in plenty of time, and then you
borrow enough to pay up."

"Let's forget the romance and pay up without borrowing. Remember you
have two families to support." Noting that the idea of permanent
employment galled him, she added, craftily, "Of course you'll never
sell another lot of clothes like this, but--"

"Why not? It's like selling candy to a child."

"You can't go with that crowd without drinking."

"Is that so? Now you sit tight and hold your hat on. I can make that
business pay if I try, and still stay in the Rain-makers' Union.
There's big money in it--enough so we can live the way we want to. I'm
sick of this telephone-booth, anyhow; we'll present it to some nice
newsboy and rent an apartment with a closet. This one's so small I
don't dare to let my trousers bag. Besides, we've been under cover long
enough, and I want you to meet the people I know. We can afford the
expense--now that I'm making thirteen hundred and seventy-six dollars
and twenty-five cents a day."

"I should like to know nice people," Lorelei confessed. "I'm sick of
the kind I've met; the men are indecent and the women are vulgar. I've
always wanted to know the other kind."

Bob was delighted; his fancy took fire, and already he was far along
toward prosperity. "You'll make a hit with the younger set; you'll be a
perfect rave. Bert Hayman told me to-day that his married sister is
entertaining a lot, and, since the drama will be tottering on its way
to destruction without you in a few days, I'll tell him to see that
we're invited out to Long Island for a week-end."



CHAPTER XXII


Under Lorelei's encouragement Bob put in the next two weeks to good
advantage. In fact, so obsessed was he with his new employment that it
was not long before his imaginary bet with Cady assumed reality in his
mind. Moreover, it became gossip around his clubs; and in quarters
where he was well known his method of winning the wager was deemed not
only characteristic, but ingenious. His exploits were famous; and his
friends, rejoicing in one more display of eccentricity, and relishing
any mild misfortune to Dick Cady, in the majority of cases changed
tailors.

Business at Kurtz's increased so substantially that Bob was treated
with a reverential amazement by every one in the shop. The other
salesmen gazed upon him with envy; Kurtz's bearing changed in a way
that was extremely gratifying to one who had been universally accounted
a failure. And Bob expanded under success; he began to feel more than
mere amusement in his experiment.

His marriage in some way had become public, but, although it occasioned
some comment, the affair was too old to be of much news value, and
therefore it did not get into the papers except as an announcement. Now
that he had escaped the disagreeable notoriety he had expected and was
possessed of larger means, Bob--inordinately proud of his wife's beauty
and boyishly eager to display it--undertook to win social recognition
for her. It was no difficult task for one with his wide acquaintance to
make a beginning. Lorelei was surprised and delighted one day to
receive an invitation for her and her husband to spend a week-end at
Fennellcourt, the country home of Bert Hayman's sister.

She had not been sorry to give up her theatrical work, and the prospect
of meeting nice people, of leaving for good and all the sordid,
unhealthy atmosphere of Broadway, bathed her in a glow of anticipation.
She had considerable knowledge of rich men, in their hours of
recreation at least, but of their women she knew little, and nothing
whatever of the life which went on in exclusive circles. During the
fortnight of preparation before the visit her feelings more nearly
approached stage-fright than upon the occasion of her first public
appearance.

Fennellcourt is one of the show-places of the Wheatley Hills section.
The house itself is a pretentious structure of brick and terra-cotta,
crowning a hill. A formal and a sunken garden--the latter with a
pergola and a Temple of Venus--grassy terraces, rows and clumps of
ornamental trees and dwarfed shrubs, dazzling patches of flowers and
empty green lawns, evidence the skill of a highly paid
landscape-artist; while stables, greenhouses, a natatorium, tennis and
squash courts in the background, testify to the expensive habits of the
owners. The gardens are a feature of the estate; a fortune is
represented in the stone pools, the massive urns, the statuary, and the
potted plants. Spotless, brilliant-hued tiled walks lead between
riotous beds ablaze with every color, and the main driveway swings to
the crest of a ridge that overlooks this charming prospect.

Bert Hayman drove the Whartons out from the city, and Lorelei's first
glimpse of Fennellcourt was such that she forgot her vague dislike of
Hayman himself. Bert, who had met her and Bob for luncheon, had turned
out to be, instead of a polished man of the world, a glib youth with an
artificial laugh and a pair of sober, heavy-lidded eyes. Lorelei's
shyness at meeting him had quickly disappeared when she found that he
knew more theatrical people than she and that he was quite unable to
talk interestingly about anything except choruses and coryphees. Of the
former he was a merciless critic, of the latter he was an enthusiastic
supporter. That he possessed a keen appreciation of feminine beauty he
showed by surrendering unconditionally to Lorelei's charms. She might
have been flattered had he not pressed his attentions over-boldly. As
it was, seeing that Bob was pleased at the tribute to his wife's
loveliness rather than offended at his friend's effrontery, she did her
best to smother her resentment.

As Hayman's car rolled up the driveway and the beauties of Fennellcourt
displayed themselves Lorelei found her heart throbbing violently. Was
not this the beginning of a glorious adventure? Was not life unfolding
at last? Was she not upon the threshold of a new world? The flutter in
her breast was answer.

Bert led the way through an impressive hall that bisected the building,
then out upon a stately balustraded stone terrace, where, in the
grateful shade of gaudy awnings, a dozen people were chatting at
tea-tables.

Mrs. Fennell, the hostess, a plain-faced, dumpy young matron, welcomed
the new-comers, then made Lorelei known. As for Bob, he needed no
introductions; a noisy outburst greeted him, and Lorelei's heart warmed
at the welcome. There were a few embarrassing moments when she felt
critical eyes measuring her, but her first instinctive appraisal of the
other women made her easy. It needed no more than a modest estimate of
her own attractions to tell her that she was the smartest person in
this smart assembly; the swift, startled admiration of the men proved
it beyond question.

A few moments of chatter, then she and Bob were led into the house
again and up to a cool, wide bedroom. As Lorelei removed her motor-coat
and bonnet she exclaimed breathlessly: "What a gorgeous house! And
those people! They weren't the least bit formal."

Bob laughed. "Formality is about the last thing they're famous for.
There's liable to be too much informality. Say! You made those dames
look like the Monday morning wash-ladies' parade. I knew you would."

"You said this was the younger set--but that awful Thompson-Bellaire
widow is here, and that blonde girl I met with her."

"Alice Wyeth?"

"Yes. I thought she was going to kiss you."

Bob grinned. "So did I. She will, too, if she feels like it."

"Won't you have anything to say about it?"

"What could I say? Alice does just as she likes. So does everybody
else, for that matter. I've never gone in for this sort of thing very
much."

After a moment Lorelei ventured, "I suppose they're all hard drinkers--"

"That wasn't spring water you saw in their glasses."

"Are you--going to?" Lorelei eyed him anxiously.

"I can't very well make myself conspicuous by refusing everything; I
don't want to look like a zebra in a hen-yard--and a cocktail before
dinner wouldn't hurt anybody." Noting his wife's expression he kissed
her lightly. "Now don't spoil your first party by worrying over me.
Just forget you're married and have a good time."

Music greeted them as they descended the stairs, and they found some of
the guests dancing to the strains of a giant orchestrion built into the
music-room. Hayman promptly seized upon Lorelei and whirled her away,
but not before she saw the Wyeth blonde making for Bob as an eagle
makes for its prey.

Society was tango-mad. The guests could not wait for evening, but
indulged their latest fancy in the open air and in the light of day.
Doubtless the Naiads used to dance in daylight, when they made merry,
but modern terpsichorean figures are suitable only for the evening. The
spectacle of a red-faced, harem-skirted matron wabbling through a
one-step, her billowing amplitude restrained only by a boneless
six-inch corset, is even less classic than the antics of a dancing bear.

Guests continued to arrive from time to time; some from Westchester and
the Connecticut shore, others from neighboring estates. One couple in
riding-clothes, out for a gallop, dismounted and stayed for a trot. The
huge tiled terrace began to resemble a Broadway the dansant.

There was more freedom, more vivacity, than Lorelei was accustomed to,
even in the gayest down-town resorts; the fun was swift and hilarious,
there was a great deal of drinking. Bob, after a manful struggle
against his desires and a frightened resistance to the advances of Miss
Wyeth, had fled to the billiard-room. The Widow T.-B., odorous of
cocktails, plowed through the intricacies of the latest dances,
wallowing like a bluff-bowed tramp steamer, full to the hatches with a
cargo of rum and sugar. Bert Hayman, fatuously inflamed with Lorelei's
beauty, waged a bitter contest with the other men for her favor. He
appropriated her, he was affectionate; he ventured to become suggestive
in a snickering, covert way. His intimate manner of dancing would not
have been tolerated in any public place, and Lorelei was upon the point
of objecting, until she saw that the others, men and women alike, were
exaggerating the movements and entwining their limbs even more
pronouncedly. Harden Fennell, Lorelei's host, explained:

"We don't dance in the cafes any more. They're so strict it's no fun."

Fennell was a slight man of thirty or fifty, colorless of face and
predatory of nose. He had a shocking sense of humor, which he displayed
by telling Lorelei a story that left her mute with indignation until
she saw that he was quite unconscious of any breach of etiquette. When
he finally left her she was sadly bewildered and found herself
wondering if the occurrences of this afternoon were not a part of some
bad dream. Certainly such an erotic atmosphere could not be considered
"smart," this complete freedom from restraint could not be a recognized
social usage. The suspicion that Fennell had presumed upon her
reputation as a show-girl to lower the bars of decorum troubled her
until she heard him repeat his vile story to other women. From the
general laughter she judged that her own ideas would be thought
Puritanical.

She became interested in watching Miss Courtenay, the girl in the
riding-habit, one of the season's debutantes, who, it seemed, was
especially susceptible to the influence of liquor.

"If you shake a bar-towel at Elizabeth she goes under the table," Bert
Hayman explained. "We love to get her full." It excited great merriment
when, some time later, Miss Courtenay had to be sent home in an
automobile, leaving her saddle-horse to be led by her escort.

Lorelei was glad when it came time to dress for dinner. As she went to
her room Mrs. Fennell stopped her on the stairs to say:

"My dear, you're stunning in that little black and white. Where did you
get it?"

Lorelei gave her the name of her tailor.

"Really! I never heard of her." Mrs. Fennell smiled and laid a soft
hand upon her guest's arm. "Elizabeth Courtenay was frantically jealous
of you."

"Of me? I don't understand."

"She and Bert are great friends--and he's gone perfectly daft over you.
Why, he's telling everybody." Lorelei flushed, to the evident amusement
of her hostess, who ran on: "Oh, Bert means it! I never heard him rave
so. Quite a compliment, my dear! He declares he's going to win you, so
make up your mind to it--he never takes 'no' for an answer." With a
playful pat she went on her way, leaving the young wife weak with
dismay.

When Bob came in he betrayed an elation only too familiar.

"You've been drinking!" cried Lorelei.

"I had to; I ran fifteen three times. My abstinence is the marvel of
the whole party. Why, Clayton has composed a song about it."

"I'm afraid--"

"Say! You can't help sneezing when you have a cold. What's a fellow
going to do in a crowd like this? But don't worry, I know when to quit."

In truth he did seem better able to take care of himself than most of
the men Lorelei had seen, so she said no more.

As he throttled himself with his evening tie Bob gasped: "Having a good
time?"

"Ye-es!" Lorelei could not summon courage for a negative answer; she
could not confess that her dream had turned out wretchedly, and that
what Bob seemed to consider simply the usual thing impressed her as
abnormal and wanton.

"Well, that's good," he said. "I'm not strong for these week-end
slaughters, but it's something you'll have to do."

"Is all society like--this?" she inquired.

"Um-m, yes and no! Society is like a layer-cake--"

"Because it's made of dough?"

Bob laughed. "Partly! Anyhow, the upper crust is icy, and while the
lower layer is just as rich as those above, it's more indigestible.
There's the heavy, soggy layers in between, too. I don't know any of
that crowd. They're mostly Dodos--the kind that endow colleges. This
younger set keeps the whole cake from getting tasteless."

After a while Lorelei ventured: "I'm still a little nervous. I wish
you'd stay close to me this evening."

"Can't be done," Bob declared. "It's a rule at Fennellcourt that
husbands must ignore their wives. Betty doesn't invite many married
couples, and a wife-lover is considered a pest. When in Rome do as the
tourists do."

Lorelei finished dressing in silence.

Dinner was quite different to anything Bob's wife had ever experienced,
and if the afternoon had been embarrassing to her the evening was a
trial. As the cocktails were served, Harden Fennell distinguished
himself by losing his balance and falling backward, to the great
amusement of his guests. No one went to his assistance; he regained his
feet by climbing a high-backed chair, hand over hand, and during the
dinner he sat for the most part in a comatose state, his eyes bleared
and staring, his tongue unresponsive. Lorelei had little opportunity of
watching him, since Bert Hayman monopolized her attention. The latter
made love openly, violently now, and it added to her general disgust to
see that Bob had again fallen into the clutches of Miss Wyeth, who made
no secret of her fondness for him.

Lorelei was not the only one to take special note of the blonde girl's
infatuation. Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire was equally observant and at length
made her disapproval patent by a remark that set the table laughing and
drove the blood from Lorelei's face. As if further to vent her
resentment at Bob, the widow turned spitefully upon his wife. Seeing
Lorelei wince, Hayman murmured consolingly: "Oh! Don't mind the old
heifer. She's jealous of any man Alice speaks to."

But Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire seemed to take a quenchless delight in
embarrassing her victim, and sometime later Lorelei heard her explain
to the man on her right:

"We weren't surprised in the least. ... Bob's always doing some crazy
thing when he's drunk. ... His latest fancy ... pretty, of course, but
... from some Western village, I believe ... can't possibly last. Why
should it?" The words were purposely made audible, and during the rest
of the meal, when Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire was not bitingly sarcastic to
Lorelei, she was offensively patronizing.

Bert Hayman, it transpired, was not only an authority on musical
comedies and pony ballets, but he was equally well posted on dogs, and
a debutante across the table appealed to him for advice in breeding an
Airedale bitch she had purchased at the last show. The discussion that
followed was sufficiently frank to embarrass the aristocratic Airedale
herself had she been present, but it did not appear to shock the diners.

Mrs. Madden, a neighbor, who was a leader in the polo set, dropped in
for coffee and a cigarette. Lorelei was surprised to see her clad in a
well-fitting man's dinner-suit. Mrs. Madden's hair was tightly drawn
back, with a neat part on the left side; she smoked extra large
cigarettes, from a man's jeweled case; her voice was coarse, her
mannerisms distinctly masculine. Nor was this eccentricity a passing
whim; she masqueraded thus--so Hayman affirmed--whenever she dared, and
had once attempted to attend a horse-show in trousers.

After dinner Lorelei had a better opportunity than during the afternoon
of becoming acquainted with the women of the party, but the experience
was not pleasant. Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire had struck a popular note by
patronizing her, and the other women followed suit. Lorelei amused and
interested them in a casual way, but she was made to understand that
they regarded her not as Bob's wife in any real sense, but rather as
his latest and most fleeting fancy. His marriage they seemed to look
upon as a bizarre adventure, such as might happen to any man in their
set who was looking for amusement.

There was more dancing during the evening. Miss Wyeth continued to
monopolize Bob, and Lorelei was offended to note that his resistance
gave signs of weakening. She smothered her feelings, however, and
remonstrated gently, only to find that he was in no condition to
listen. The dinner had been too much for him.

There were many gaieties to enliven the party, and, although outward
decencies were observed after a fashion, Lorelei was sickened by the
sheer license that she felt on every hand. Unable to endure the growing
heat of Hayman's advances, she slipped away at last and hid herself in
another room, only to overhear a quarrel between Alice Wyeth and Mrs.
Thompson-Bellaire, the fierceness of which was only equaled by its
absurdity. Lorelei stole out of the room again with ears burning; her
dislike of the muscular widow had turned to loathing, and she was glad
to return to the lights and laughter. She had a wild desire to make her
excuses and escape from Fennellcourt, but Bob had disappeared, and she
gathered that he and Bert were playing off some fabulous wager in the
billiard-room. Pleading a headache, she excused herself as soon as she
could.

"So sorry," said Mrs. Fennell; then, with a knowing laugh: "There's no
likelihood of Bob's annoying you for some time. Bertie will see to
that."



CHAPTER XXIII


Once in her room, Lorelei gave way to the indignation that had been
slowly growing in her breast. How dared Bob introduce her to such
people! If this was the world in which he had moved before his marriage
he had shown his wife an insult by bringing her into it. Surely people
like the Fennells, Bert Hayman, Mrs. Thompson-Bellaire, the Madden
woman, were not typical members of New York's exclusive circles!
Applied to them, 'smart' was a laughably inadequate term; they were
worse than fast; they were frankly vicious. This was more than a gay
week-end party; it was an orgy. Lorelei's anger at her betrayal was so
keen that she dared not send for Bob immediately for fear of speaking
too violently, but she assured herself that she would leave in the
morning, even though he chose to remain.

Still in a blazing temper, she disrobed and sat down to calm herself
and to wait for her husband. A half-hour passed, then another; at last
she sent a maid in quest of him, but the report she received was not
reassuring; Bob was scarcely in a condition to come to his room.
Lorelei's lips were white as she dismissed the servant.

By and by the music ceased. She heard people passing in the hall, and
distinguished Betty Fennell's voice bidding good night to some one.
Still she waited.

Heavy with resentment, sick from disillusionment, she finally crept
into bed, leaving one electric candle burning upon her dressing-table.
Although she knew she could not sleep, she determined to postpone a
scene with Bob by feigning slumber.

When the door opened with a cautious hand she closed her eyes and lay
still. She heard Bob turn the key and tiptoe toward her, but even when
he stood over her and she caught the odor of his garments she did not
lift her lids. A moment passed, then some sixth sense gave her warning,
and her eyes flew open.

Hayman was standing at the bedside, peering down at her. He extended a
cautious hand, saying: "Don't make a fuss. Everything is all--"

Lorelei spoke sharply, but with a restraint that surprised her. "What
are you doing here?"

"What am I--? Why, nothing especial. Had to tell you good night, you
know." He laughed guardedly, nervously. She saw that he was
considerably drunker than when she had escaped from his attentions, but
evidently he knew quite well what he was about.

"Kindly get out, and close the door after you," she directed, still
without raising her voice.

"The door's closed--and locked," he snickered. Lorelei sat up with eyes
blazing. "Oh, don't worry about Bob," muttered Hayman, reassuringly.
"Bob's good for two hours yet--I've seen to that--and he couldn't find
his way up-stairs, anyhow. Say! I want to talk to you. You've got me
going, Lorelei."

"You've been drinking, Mr. Hayman. I'm willing to think that you made a
mistake in the room if you go at once."

The intruder took no warning from her crisp tones nor from the fact
that her twilight eyes were as dark as a midnight sky. On the contrary,
he suddenly bent low over her, his odorous breath beating into her
face, his arms reaching for her.

With the lithe alertness of a leopard she evaded him; the next instant
the bed was between them and she had whipped a negligee about her. For
an instant they faced each other; then she pointed a quivering arm,
gasping in a voice that sounded strange and throaty to her ears:

"Get out! Get out! You--beast!"

Hayman was unused to opposition. He had engineered this moment
carefully; a galling anger rose to meet hers as he felt his labors
wasted.

"Don't get flighty," he growled. "You knew I'd come, didn't you? Why'd
you leave your door unlocked if you didn't expect me?"

Lorelei stepped to her dressing-table and pressed the pearl
push-button, holding her finger upon it and staring at Hayman.

"Oh, ring and be damned!" he cried. "Call Bob. I'll tell him you asked
me in." He moved toward her, his body swaying, his hands shaking, his
face convulsed; but as he groped forward she snatched one of the
electric candlesticks from among her toilet articles and swung it above
her head. The fixture was of heavy brass, and its momentum ripped the
connection from its socket; her arm was tense with the strength of
utter loathing as she brought the weapon down. Hayman reeled away,
covering his face with his hands and cursing wildly; then, profiting by
his retreat, Lorelei was at the door, had turned the key, and was in
the hall before he could prevent her. Guided more by instinct than by
reason or memory, she found Mrs. Fennell's chamber and pounded upon its
door with blind fury. She heard a stir from the direction whence she
had come, and Hayman's voice calling something unintelligible; then
Mrs. Fennell's startled face appeared before her.

"What's the matter? My DEAR! You'll wake everybody in the house."

"Your brother--forced his way into--my room."

"What are you talking about?" Mrs. Fennell drew her guest swiftly
inside. "Hush! Don't make a show of yourself."

"Wha's all this?" came from Harden Fennell, who was sprawled in a
chintz-covered easy-chair, minus coat, waistcoat, and collar. He rose
slowly as Lorelei, incoherent with rage, poured out her story. "Wha's
trouble?" he mumbled. "Bob's all right--and so's Bert. They're both
drunk, but Bob's the drunkes'. What're you talkin' about, anyhow?"

"Be still!" his wife cried, sharply. "It's Bertie again." Then of
Lorelei she inquired: "But why did you let him into your room if--if
you were going to quarrel--"

"Mrs. Fennell!"

"Now, now! Don't be silly. Bertie didn't mean anything; he's
intoxicated and--there's no harm done. You said you struck him with
something. I presume he's hurt, and everybody in the house will know
about it."

"Got into your room, eh?" Harden Pennell said, thickly, then exploded
in moist laughter. "Bertie's work is all right, but it's coarse. Don't
you mind him, Mrs. Wharton."

"Will you send some one for Bob?" Lorelei asked, more quietly. "I want
to--leave."

But her hostess protested. "Now why stir up trouble? Bob is drunk; he
and Bertie are old friends. Bertie will apologize in the morning,
and--after all, it was nothing. I told you he was mad about you. He's
just like any other man, and you shouldn't have encouraged him."

"Will you send for my husband?"

Mrs. Fennell's gaze hardened; she stiffened herself, saying coldly:

"Why, certainly, if you insist upon rousing the whole household; but
he's in no condition to understand this silly affair. You might have
SOME consideration for us."

"Sure!" echoed the husband. "Go to sleep and forget it. Don't spoil the
party."

"You realize we have other guests?" snapped Mrs. Fennell.

Bright disks of color were burning in Lorelei's cheeks; she was smiling
peculiarly.

"Rest easy," she said. "I've no wish to embarrass you nor to drag my
husband into this rotten business. It seems he's as modern as the rest
of you, but I'm--old-fashioned."

There came a knock at the door, and Hayman's voice, calling:

"Betty! Let me in!"

His sister opened the door an inch or two. "You mustn't come in now,"
she expostulated, then cried, sharply: "Why, you're badly hurt. You're
all bloody!" As Hayman agreed in a burst of profanity she exclaimed
fretfully: "Oh, this is dreadful! Go to your room, for Heaven's sake!
I'll see what I can do with this--with Mrs. Wharton." Bert continued to
growl until his brother-in-law led him away down the hall. Then Mrs.
Fennell turned acidly upon her outraged guest. "Well, you've caused
enough trouble, it seems to me, without involving the rest of us in it.
A woman of your experience should be more careful. I'm sure Bertie
never would have taken such a liberty if he hadn't thought you were
accustomed to such things."

Lorelei broke out sharply. "You're as badly mistaken as your brother
was. But--I should have been more careful; I suppose a woman of my
experience shouldn't have come here at all. Now, I don't want to cause
any trouble nor scandal, so if you'll permit me to thank you for your
hospitality I'll leave at once."

"Leave? At this hour?"

"In ten minutes, if you'll rouse a chauffeur and let him drive me to
the station."

"Nonsense! You can't get Bob--"

"Bob needn't know anything about it; I'm sure that will be pleasanter
all around. I'll go alone." Lorelei's forced smile bared her even,
white teeth. "Of course, if it's too much trouble I can walk--"

"No trouble at all." Mrs. Fennell showed some relief. "I think you're
acting very rudely--but I dare say it WOULD save a lot of
unpleasantness; Bertie's furious--he and Bob might fight. I--I'm
dreadfully sorry. Still, I can't permit you--"

"In ten minutes, then. If there's no train I may ask your chauffeur to
drive me into the city."

"Why, to be sure! Er--what shall I tell Bob when he asks for you?"

"Use your own judgment, please. You can handle drunken men better than
I. And don't trouble to send a maid to my room. I'll be down-stairs
when the car comes."

The hostess continued to demur feebly, but Lorelei cut short any
further discussion, and, once behind her own locked door, she dressed
with feverish haste. Her only desire now was to escape from
Fennellcourt and all its guests as quickly as possible. Her thoughts
concerning Bob at the moment were too much involved in anger at the
Fennells and at Hayman to be quite coherent.

She was pacing the gloom of the porte-cochere when an automobile swung
out from among the trees and swept the shadows flying with its brushes
of flame. As she directed the driver, from an open window behind her
came a drunken shout; a burst of men's laughter followed the car as it
rolled away.

So that was the charmed circle to which she had aspired, those the
people she had envied; behind her was that life to which she had sold
herself, and this was the end of her dream of fine ladies and gallant
gentlemen! Lorelei scarcely knew whether to laugh or to cry. As she
stared out at the night shapes capering past she felt acute personal
shame that she had been tricked into even a brief association with so
vile a crew. That uproar of men's voices rang in her ears like a
jeering farewell, and she realized that in all probability her flight
would appear ridiculous to Bob's friends. Women like the kalsomined
widow, the masculine matron, the jaded Wyeth girl, would echo that
laughter and score her with their gossip on the morrow; the thought
turned her mind bitterly toward Bob. He had defiled her by bringing her
into contact with those libertines. He had left her defenseless against
their insults and unprotected from the assaults of men he knew to be
capable of anything. He had told her to forget she was married and have
a good time; he had refused her appeal for protection. She asked
herself dazedly what sort of a creature he could be. Of a sudden the
old life of the theater and the cafe seemed clean as opposed to the
fetid existence behind her; even Jim, adventurer, crook, blackmailer
that he was, appeared wholesome compared with men like Hayman and his
brother-in-law. Although Lorelei, under ordinary circumstances, was
even-tempered, her anger, once aroused, was tenacious. As she brooded
over her humiliation her indignation at Bob began to take definite
shape and purpose.

She reached the little apartment in the hushed hours before the dawn,
and straightway began her packing. Since Bob was doubtless in a drunken
stupor which would last for hours, she did not hurry.

Only once did she halt in her labors, and then only from surprise. In a
bureau drawer she uncovered a bundle of letters and documents addressed
to her husband, which in some way aroused her curiosity. Swallowing her
qualms, she examined the contents. They proved to be, in the main,
letters from Bob's mother and father urging him to break off his
marriage. Those from Mr. Wharton were characteristically intolerant and
dictatorial; those from Bob's mother were plaintive and infinitely sad.
Both parents, she perceived, had exhausted every effort to win their
son from his infatuation, both believed Lorelei to be an infamous woman
bent upon his destruction, and, judging from the typewritten reports
inclosed with some of the father's letters, there was ample reason for
such a belief. These reports covered Lorelei's every movement, they
bared every bit of ancient scandal connected with her, they recounted
salacious stage gossip as fact and falsely construed those actions
which were capable of more than one interpretation. It gave the girl a
peculiar sensation of unreality to see her life laid out before her
eyes in so distorted a shape, and when she read the business-like
biographies of herself and the members of her family she could only
marvel at Bob's faith. For evidently he had not answered a single
letter. Nevertheless, after preparing an early breakfast, she sent her
trunks down-stairs and 'phoned for a taxi-cab.



CHAPTER XXIV


On Tuesday afternoon a badly shaken, exceedingly frightened young man
called at Campbell Pope's boarding-house.

"Good Lord, Bob! Been on another bat?" cried Pope, at sight of his
caller. Wharton took a fleeting glance at himself in a mirror and
nodded, noting for the first time the sacks beneath his eyes, the
haggard lines from nostrils to lip-corners.

"I'm all in. Lorelei's quit me," he said, dully.

"Quit you!" Pope frowned. "Tell me about it."

"Well, I climbed the vine again and fell off. She packed
up--disappeared--been gone since Saturday night, and I can't find her.
Nobody seems to know where she is. I came up for air Sunday, but ...
I'm hard hit, Pope. I'm ready to quit the game if I can't find her; me
for a sea-foam pillow, sure. Oh, I'm not kidding--I'll start walking
from here toward Jersey. ... God! I keep thinking that maybe SHE took
the river. You see, I'm all gone." He sank into a chair, twitching and
trembling in a nervous collapse.

"Better have a drink," Pope suggested; but Bob returned roughly:

"That's what broke up the sketch. I got stewed at
Fennellcourt--high-hat week-end party--fast crowd, and the usual
trimmings. Never again! That is, if I find my wife."

"Fennellcourt! Suppose you tell me all about it. If there's a chance
that it's suicide--" Pope's reportorial instinct brought the last word
into juxtaposition with "Fennellcourt," and he saw black head-lines.

"Judge for yourself. Maybe you can help me; nobody else can." Bob
recounted the story of the house-party; how he and Lorelei had met Bert
Hayman; how, once in the company of his old friends, he had succumbed
to his weakness, and how he had caroused most of Saturday night. He
told Pope that he could remember little of Sunday's occurrences, having
been plunged in an alcoholic stupor so benumbing that not until late
that evening had he fully grasped the fact that Lorelei had gone. Even
then he was too befuddled to act. Neither Mrs. Fennell nor her husband
could give him any help, and Bert Hayman, who had been with Lorelei all
Saturday evening, had no explanation to give of her departure. Bob
remembered in passing that Bert had been confined to his room all day
Sunday as the result of a fall or an accident of some sort. Monday
morning, while still suffering from the effects of his spree, Bob had
returned to the city to find his home deserted, and for twenty-four
sleepless hours now he had been hunting for his wife. He had called up
Lorelei's family, but they could give him no clue; nor could he find
trace of her in any other quarter. So, as a last resort before calling
in the police, he had come to Pope. When he had finished his somewhat
muddled tale he stared at the critic with a look of dumb appeal.

Campbell began in a matter-of-fact, positive tone. "She's altogether
too healthy to think of suicide; rest easy on that score. You're weak
enough emotionally to do such a thing, but not she. Besides, why should
she? I can't imagine that any act of yours could very deeply offend
anybody, even your wife. However--" He studied briefly. "Have you been
to see Miss Demorest?"

"Sure! Adoree hasn't seen her."

"Possibly!" Pope eyed his caller speculatively. "So you decided to
jimmy her into society, eh! Who was at the party? Oh, Lord!" he
exclaimed, as Bob muttered over the list of names. "How did she compare
with those sacred cows?"

"Oh, great! The men went crazy over her--I knew they would."

"But how did the women treat her?"

"Why, all right. I didn't notice anything."

"What? No, of course you didn't. You were probably too drunk to notice
much." Bob flushed. "You introduced her to the fastest people in New
York, then left her entirely to her own resources while you went away
and made an ass of yourself. Well, something must have happened to
alarm her, and, since you were too maudlin to be of any assistance, she
evidently took the bit in her teeth. I can't blame her. For Heaven's
sake, why did you set her in with THAT crowd? If you wanted to take her
slumming, why didn't you hire a guide and go into the red-light
district?"

Bob defended himself listlessly. "That's the only crowd I know; it's
the only set that's open to a Pittsburg furnace-man's son. Those people
aren't so bad; I guess they're no worse than the rest. If a person goes
looking for nastiness he can find it nearly anywhere. I never did--and
I never saw anything very scandalous around that bunch."

"One's observations are never very keen when they're made through the
bottom of a glass," observed Pope.

Bob exploded irritably. "All right, Lieutenant! Play 'Jerusalem' on the
cornet while I pass the tambourine. Damn the post-mortems! I want my
wife, not a 'Ballington Booth' on the terrors of intemperance. I've got
to have her, too. I--can't last this way. She's the only person who can
straighten me up. ... I was doing fine. Had a job ... I'll go straight
to hell again if I don't find her." There was no doubt of the man's
sincerity: his mental and his physical condition were obvious.

Pope did his best to repair the wreckage in some degree, and, having
quieted the sufferer, he set out for Miss Demorest's home.

Adoree, clad in a slightly soiled negligee, answered his ring, then,
recognizing him, blocked the door hastily, exposing a face overcast
with defiance and contempt.

"Aha!" she exclaimed. "Aha!" and Pope's sensitive ego recoiled before
the fierce challenge of her tone. Physically the caller stood his
ground, but inwardly he retreated in disorder. Adoree never failed to
affect him uncomfortably; for he was conscious of having wronged her,
and he could in no way reconcile her public reputation with his
personal impressions of her. His inability to keep her notorious
character constantly in mind made him angry with himself; and, further,
she offended him by assuming bewilderingly different aspects every time
they met. Invariably she greeted him with contumely; invariably he
arose to the challenge and overcame her attack; invariably she fought
him on every subject. And yet all the time he vaguely suspected that
they were really in complete accord and growing to like each other.

"I've come to see Lorelei," he explained, affably.

"Oh, you're looking for scandal, eh?" breathed Miss Demorest. "Well,
you won't get it, body-snatcher!"

Pope bowed gravely. "You overwhelm me with your courtesy," he said. "I
do not represent the press to-day. I'm here as a friend. Bob's nearly
dead."

"Serves him right. I suppose you've left another reporter to take down
his dying words for the evening paper."

"Don't be silly. I want to see--"

"She's not here."

"Then I'd like to talk with you." The door opened slightly, and Pope
smiled, whereupon the opening narrowed. "No. You can't come in. I've
just cleaned house."

In desperation the man exclaimed: "I won't sit down, but I must talk to
you. Really, I must, about--ducks, if nothing else."

"Ducks!" Adoree's expression altered.

"Let's be sensible. I want you to like me." Pope tried to appear
amiable, but the effort resulted in a painful smirk.

"Huh!"

"We like the same things--let's be friends. You needn't tell me
anything about Lorelei, but I do want your advice about Bob."

"I suppose there's no reason why you shouldn't come in. You'll probably
wriggle in somehow, even if you have to steal a key. If you don't know
the truth you'll probably make up something about Lorelei, as you did
about me--Buzzard!" Pope began to perspire, as he always did when
deeply embarrassed. But the door swung wide, and he entered with a
strained, unnatural smile upon his face.

"You see I'm not concealing her anywhere," Miss Demorest challenged.

"Of course not. We never suspected you, but we're afraid something has
happened to her."

"Something has."

"What?"

Adoree tossed her head. "You're paid to find out."

"See here, I'm not always a newspaper man. Try and forget that side of
me for once. Bob will drink himself to death, or do something equally
foolish, if Lorelei doesn't come back. He's repentant. He's in a
terrible condition. I really believe she can straighten him out if
she'll have patience, and you know he's too good a man to lose. He
thinks she left him because he got drunk, but I'm sure there must have
been some other reason."

"I should say there was! You want scandal? I'll give you some."
Adoree's eyes were flashing now. "If he's going to drown himself he
ought to realize what he did and think it over when he comes up for the
third time. Have you any idea what that girl went through out there on
Long Island? Listen." She plumped herself down beside Pope and began to
talk swiftly with an intensity of indignation that made her forgetful
of her dishabille. She was animated; she had an expressive, impulsive
manner of using her hands when interested, and now she gesticulated
violently. She also squirmed, bounced, hitched, flounced; she seized
Pope's arm, she emphasized her points from time to time by a shake or
by a dig of her white fingers. When she had finished her story her
shocked blue eyes interrogated his, and the critic roused himself with
an effort. He found that he was tightly holding the fingers of her
right hand, but dropped them and cleared his throat.

"You say she's staying here with you?"

"I didn't say so, but she is."

"Doesn't she care for Bob any more?"

"Y-yes! At first she was furious, but we've talked a good deal, and I
think she does care--away down underneath. She may not know it herself,
but she does, especially now that--"

"What?" asked Pope, as Adoree hesitated and flushed.

"Nothing! But she won't go back. She declares she won't spoil her whole
life for a drunken wretch like him, and she's quite right, of course."

"She's quite wrong, of course! Bob's done pretty well for a man of his
type, and he's had a hard lesson. After all, it's a woman's part to
sacrifice--she's not happy unless she gives more than she gets. You and
I must bring them together."

"How?"

Pope had been thinking while he talked, and now he sketched his plan
eagerly.

"You are perfectly detestable and horrid," she told him when he had
finished, "but I suppose there must be some good in you. Don't think
you argued me into this, however, for you didn't. There's an altogether
different reason why I want those two to make up." She laid her hand
upon his arm again, and when Pope caught her meaning his sallow cheeks
were glowing and his eyes as bright as hers.

"Gee! You're all right!" said he. "I'll call for you after the show."

Adoree's smile was uncertain as she demurred. "Perhaps you'd better
meet me here. What will people say?" But Pope was insistent.

We are accustomed to resent the efforts of our friends to arrange our
affairs for us, and we pray for deliverance from their mistakes, yet
without their assistance we would often make miserable failures of our
lives. So it was in the case of Bob and Lorelei.

Burning with shame and resentment, she had been strong in her
determination to end their marriage, and this frame of mind had
continued for some time; but as her anger cooled she dimly understood
that a change had come over her and that she no longer looked upon the
world with the eyes of a girl. Simultaneously there came another
discovery which completely upset all her calculations and to which she
had not fully adjusted herself even up to the time of the critic's
visit to Adoree. One great mystery she had solved; another, the deepest
mystery of a woman's life, had begun to unfold, and as yet she could
scarcely give it credence.

She was surprised when Adoree brought Campbell Pope home with her that
night, and she was somewhat diverted by the complete change in their
mutual attitude. Now that the first clash was over, now that they had
expressed their dislike and disapproval of each other, they no longer
quarreled. Pope was frankly admiring, and Adoree could not conceal her
awe at Campbell's literary and musical ability. She explained to
Lorelei: "I asked him in for the sake of the piano. I knew you were
blue, and there's nothing so cheering as music."

But when Pope finally got around to play the result was not altogether
happy. Adoree, to be sure, seemed delighted, but Lorelei felt herself
gripped by a greater loneliness than usual. Pope's music was far from
lively, and he had cunningly chosen the hour when it exerts its
greatest emotional appeal. He was artist enough, moreover, to work his
effects with certainty.

Lorelei sought relief at length in the seclusion of Adoree's rear room,
and there in the midst of a "crying spell" Bob found her.

Her first quick resentment at the deception practised upon her melted
at sight of him, for he had suffered, and he was evidently suffering
now. He was not the Bob she had known, but chastened, repentant,
speechless with a tremulous delight at seeing her again. In the next
room Campbell played on, smoothing the way for a reconciliation.

Lorelei found herself in her husband's arms, listening dazedly to his
passionate protestations and his earnest self-denunciation. Bob had
received the fright of his life, his lesson had been seared into him,
and he lost no time in telling his wife about it.

At last Lorelei laid her fingers upon his lips, her eyes misty and
luminous with the light of a new and wondrous certainty.

"Wait! Let me speak," she said. "I've done a lifetime of thinking in
these few days. I'm not sorry that I left you, for it has enabled me to
see clearly. But I'll never leave you again, Bob, no matter what you
do; I can't--"

He crushed her to him, then held her away at the hint of something
unsaid. "You mean you've begun to love me?" he inquired, gladly.

"Perhaps. I don't know. SOMETHING has changed--tremendously." Under his
bewildered gaze the blood rose, warming her cheeks; her eyes swam, but
not with tears; her bosom was tremulous with the knowledge that
clamored for freedom, and yet refused to come.

"Don't you understand, stupid?" she said, seeing him still mystified.
She hid her face, then whispered in his ear, whereupon he fell to
trembling, and the fervor of his embrace relaxed. He held her gently,
tenderly, as if he suddenly found her to be a fragile thing.

"My dear!--my--DEAR!" And then he too hid his face as if blinded by a
pitiless light. When he raised it tears glistened on his lashes and a
happiness that was like pain pierced him. "Oh! If I had only known--"
he choked. "Kid, what a fool I've been, never to think that this might
come! I--can't believe it."

"It's true," she smiled, and her cheeks were still dyed with that
virginal flush. "Perhaps that's why I've changed toward you--something
HAS happened, Bob, and you mustn't leave me now. I couldn't bear to do
without you."

"YOU may forgive me," he cried, "but I'll never forgive myself. To
think that I should learn of this right now--after what I did. Well,
I'm through making new promises; I'm going to keep some of the old
ones."

"I think it's about time we both came to earth."

"No need for you--you're the sensible one. If I can't straighten up on
my own account and on yours, surely I can and will for--this."

An hour later Adoree tiptoed back to the piano after a surreptitious
peek into the back room, whence nothing but the faintest murmurs
issued. Her face was radiant.

"You've played some high-priced divorce lawyer out of a good case, Mr.
Cricket," she beamed on Campbell. "She's in his lap." Pope's rippling
fingers paused, his hands dropped, and he sighed.

"I could have set them quarreling just as well, but the role of cupid
suits me to-night." His shoulders drooped wearily; the feverish
brightness of his eyes and the pallor of his thin face indicated that
he had indeed spent all his nervous force.

"Cupid in a sweater!" Adoree exclaimed. "Well, I believe it, for your
playing made me positively mushy. I've been hugging a sofa-cushion and
dreaming of heroes for ever so long. Why, at this moment I'd marry the
janitor."

With the eager shyness of a boy he inquired: "Do you really like to
hear me play? Can I come and play for you again?"

"Not without a chaperon," she told him, positively; "wool tickles my
cheek."

Pope rose hastily and in some embarrassment. He could write about love
with a cynic's pen, but he could not bear to talk about it even in a
joking way. He eyed the speaker with the frightened fascination of a
charmed rabbit, until she laughed in mischievous enjoyment of his
perturbation.

"Oh, never fear! It will take more than music to make me forget what
you are. Say!" She yawned, doubled up her little fists, and stretched.
"Won't you play something to make those lovers go home, so I can go to
bed?"

He shook his head. "Not until we go to the nearest cafe and have a bite
to eat."

"There are no cafes open at this hour."

In spite of her protestations that she was not hungry he bore her away
with him, bareheaded as she was, and in the next block they found an
unsuspected little place called the "Chauffeurs' Lunch," where a man
was busy making sandwiches of the whitest bread and the most
delicious-smelling Hamburger for a hungry cabby with a battered hat.
And there they each ate a bowl of crackers and milk with a baked apple,
using the arms of their chairs for tables. Pope's bill was forty cents,
and, strangely enough, not even when he paid it did he remember that
this was the woman for whose company at supper other men paid five
hundred dollars.



CHAPTER XXV


Bob's work as a salesman continued to be so effective that Kurtz
finally offered him a salaried position. But instead of accepting, Bob
made a counter-proposition that caused the little man to gasp. Briefly,
it was to extend the scope of the present business by laying in a stock
of extravagant, high-priced shirt and necktie materials, with Bob as
partner in the new venture. Kurtz protested that he was not a
haberdasher, but he was constrained to admit that Bob had the right
idea of smart business, and after some discussion accepted his
employee's nonchalant offer to go halves on the new venture and share
in its profits. The fact that Bob had no money with which to carry
through his part of the deal troubled that youth not in the
least--Kurtz's credit was ample. Bob's theory of securing the Fifth
Avenue trade was to double existing prices, and if this did not bring
the business, to double them a second time; and this theory was
correct, as he demonstrated when the new department was organized.

But despite the excellent income he now began to make there was never
anything left in the Wharton bank-account, for Bob moved his wife to a
more pretentious apartment on Riverside Drive and managed to increase
their expenses so as to balance his earnings very nicely. It was quite
a feat to adjust a fixed outlay to a varying income so that nothing
whatever should remain, and he considered it a strong proof of his
capacities that he succeeded.

By Christmas the haberdashery venture had shown such a profit that he
began to pile up a small bank-account in spite of himself; so he bought
an automobile, which served to eat up any monthly profits and guarantee
a deficit under the most favorable circumstances. Being thus relieved
of financial uncertainty, he laid plans to wrest from Kurtz a full
partnership in the tailoring business itself.

The Whartons' new home was charming, and Bob provided his wife with
every luxury. Lorelei did not regret that she was prevented from going
out as much as formerly--her experience at Fennellcourt had cured her
of any desire to get into her husband's social set--and unconsciously
she and Bob began to develop a real home life.

As time went on and evidences of prosperity showed themselves Lorelei's
family forgot some of their dislike of Bob and became more
companionable. Strangely enough, too, their cost of living increased in
proportion to their friendliness; but Bob never questioned any amount
they asked him for, and he swelled their allowance with characteristic
prodigality.

Lorelei was proud of him, as she had reason to be, but she had occasion
for sorrow as well. His generosity was really big, his pagan joyousness
banished shadows, but he was intensely human in his failings, and in
spite of his determination to stop drinking, in spite of all his
earnest promises, the old appetite periodically betrayed him. For a
month, for two months at a time, he would manfully fight his desires,
then without excuse, without cause, just when he was boasting loudest
of his victory, he would fall. And yet drinking did not brutalize him
as it does most men; he never became disgusting; liquor intoxicated
him, but less in body than in spirit. His repentance followed promptly,
his chagrin was intense, and his fear of Lorelei almost ludicrous. But
the girl had acquired a wider charity, a gentler patience; she grieved,
she tried to help him, and his frailty endeared him to her. Love had
been slow to awaken; in fact, she had not been definitely aware of its
birth; but suddenly she had found it flowering in her soul, and now it
flourished the more as that other interest intensified and began to
dominate her.

Bob responded to all her efforts save one: she could not make him
serious. On the whole, however, they were more happy than they had ever
been.

One day, during the slack holiday season, Hannibal Wharton appeared at
the Kurtz establishment. He appraised the elaborate surroundings with a
hostile eye and stared at his son impassively.

"So! You're a seamstress now," he began, and Bob grinned. "Merkle told
me you repaid his loan and had an automobile."

"That's true."

"Second-hand car?"

"No."

"How much do you owe?"

"Nothing, except for stock."

"Stock! What do you mean?"

"Kurtz and I are partners in one end of this business."

"I'll be damned!" breathed Mr. Wharton. Then he inquired, curiously,
"Do you like this work?"

"It's not what I prefer, still there is a margin of profit."

"Huh! I should think so, at ninety dollars a suit. Well, this town is
full of fools."

Bob agreed. "But we dress 'em better than they do in Pittsburg."

After a moment's consideration Hannibal said slowly: "Mother's at the
Waldorf; she wants to see you. You've just about broken her heart, Bob."

"We're not going out much, but perhaps we could call on her--"

"'We'! I said she wants to see YOU."

"And not my wife?"

"Certainly not. Neither do I. You don't seem to understand--"

Bob answered smoothly: "Certainly I understand; you think ninety
dollars is too much for a suit. Perhaps I can show you something in
scarfs of an exclusive design?"

"Don't be funny!" growled his father.

"Really, dad, you'd better go. That suit of yours is a sight. Somebody
may think we made it for you."

Mr. Wharton remained silent for a moment. "The situation is impossible,
and anybody but you would see it. We can't accept that woman, and we
won't. She's notorious."

"No more so than I--or you, for that matter."

"She's a grafter. She'd quit you if I paid her enough."

"How do you know?"

"Her mother has been to see me half a dozen times. I've offered to pay
her anything within reason, but they're holding out for something big.
You come back, Bob. Let her go back to her own people."

"And what's to become of the other one?" Bob was smiling faintly.

"The other one? What do you mean?"

"I mean there will be three in the family soon, dad; you're going to be
a grandfather."

The effect of this announcement was unexpected. Hannibal Wharton was
momentarily stricken dumb, for once he was utterly at a loss. Then,
instead of raising his voice, he spoke with a sharp, stuttering
incisiveness:

"So that's her game, eh? I suppose she thinks she'll breed her way into
the family. Well, she won't. It won't work. I was willing to compromise
before--so long as there was no tangible bond between that family and
mine--but they've got their blood mixed with mine; they've got a
finger-hold in spite of hell, and I suppose they'll hold on. But I
won't acknowledge a grandchild with scum like that in its veins. Good
God! Now listen--you." Wharton's jaw was outthrust, his gaze hard and
unwavering. "No child tainted with that blood will share in one penny
of my money, now or at any other time. Understand?"

"Perfectly." Bob's color had receded, but in no other way did he show
his struggle for self-mastery. "My wife isn't having a baby to spite
you, and if it ever needs a grandfather we'll adopt one."

"They've pulled you down into the mud; now they've tied you there.
Heredity's stronger than you or I; watch your child grow up, and watch
its mother's blood tell. Then remember that I tried to free you before
it was too late. Well, I'm through. This settles me. Good-by, and God
help you with that rotten gang." Hannibal Wharton turned and strode out
of the room shaking his head and mumbling.

Jimmy Knight had fallen upon evil times. A combination of circumstances
had seriously affected his mode of making a living, and that of his
friends. To outward appearances the frequenters of Tony the Barber's
place were as thrifty as usual, but in the pinochle-room at the rear
there was gloom. Reason for these hard times lay in an upheaval of
public sentiment that had galvanized the Police Department into one of
its periodic spasms of activity, and the cause ran back to a sordid
quarrel between two factions of the Tenderloin. At about the time when
Jimmy came to New York the contention had become too bitter for the
underworld to hold, and echoes of it had begun to leak out; later it
culminated in the murder of the leader of one clique. Murders, it is
true, are not uncommon in New York, but this one was staged in the
glare of Broadway, and with a bold defiance of the law that aroused
popular indignation. There followed a chain of fortuitous happenings
that issued in the capture of the murderers, in a wide-spread exposure
of social conditions, and in a great outburst of public indignation
against a police system that allowed such abuses to exist.

Of course there came a loud protest from the guardians of the law, a
frantic waving of spotless banners, and a prating of virtue; but the
popular will has a way of obtaining its desires regardless of red tape,
trickery, or politics, and in this case it demanded a reorganization of
the department and got it.

Discipline suddenly strengthened, and as a result gambling almost
ceased, wire-tapping languished, organized blackmail was conducted
under cover: only crime in its crudest forms continued as usual; and it
followed therefore that Jimmy Knight was not prosperous. Had it not
been for his share in Bob's generosity he would have been forced to the
distressing necessity of asking for employment--a thing to curdle his
blood! It was characteristic of young Knight that he did not scruple to
accept charity from the man he hated, although he cherished the memory
of that public beating at Bob's hands and the humiliation of it gnawed
him like a cancer.

More than once lately Jim had been tempted to turn his knowledge of the
Hammon "suicide" into cash, but he could think of no safe and certain
means of doing so until one day Max Melcher dropped a bit of
intelligence that promised to open a way.

"Who do you suppose I just heard from?" Max inquired, one raw afternoon
in March, when he had found Jim in their usual haunt. "Lilas Lynn."

Jim made no attempt to conceal his surprise and interest. "Where is
she?"

"She wrote from Liverpool, asking for money. Can you beat that?"

"Money? Why, she had a satchel full. What's become of it?"

Melcher shrugged. "She's taken the jumps--English Derby, Paris
race-meet, Monte Carlo--"

"Huh! She fished all the sucker-holes along the route, eh? Of course
you cabled her a few C's?" Jim snickered.

"Do I look as if I had? She's sick, got a cough, and says it's the
'con.' She wants to come home."

Jim started. "Say, that's no hospital bark of hers; it's nothing but
the coke." After a moment he asked casually, "Where's she stopping?"

"Liverpool."

"What's her address? I'll drop her a line to cheer her up."

"She wrote from the Hotel--" Melcher checked himself and shot a
questioning look at his friend. "Why this sudden charity?"

Jim's gaze was bland, his tone one of wounded innocence. "Can't a guy
offer to cheer--"

"You're not in the business of cheering sick dames," Melcher said,
sharply. Then, after a pause, "You never came through with me, Jim.
There was something phony about Lilas's get-away. She left too suddenly
after the Hammon suicide, and she's been under cover now for eight
months. I never got it quite right. What're you holding out?"

Jim sparred adroitly, but without effect.

"Oh! You've got an ace buried somewhere," Melcher said. "You're a
shifty guy. Of course this is a friendly game we're playing, but, just
the same, I never bettered a poker hand by leaving the room. I don't
even turn my head to spit when I'm sitting in with a fellow like you.
Lilas has got something on her mind, and I believe I'll cable her the
price of a ticket."

That was enough for Jim. He began to weaken, and at last made a clean
breast of all the circumstances surrounding Jarvis Hammon's death
rather than risk the result of a meeting between Max and Lilas. When he
had finished his story Melcher was leaning forward, his pink,
smooth-shaven, agreeable face gravely intent.

"So that was the way of it. Wharton and Merkle--and a four-wheeler! By
God! That was nervy--on Merkle's part, especially. He took a chance.
And Lilas shot the old man, eh?"

"Nobody saw her do it," Jim explained. "Lorelei was in the dining-room
at the time it happened, and Hammon swore he did it himself. He stood
on that to the last."

"I didn't know they grew men the size of that fellow," Max mused.
"After all, it's the suckers that die game. And you were going to put
this over single-handed, eh?--you and Lilas, perhaps! My boy, you must
learn to shoot before you go hunting. Why, there's a hundred thousand
quick money in this."

"If Wharton had done the shooting or Merkle--yes."

"What's the difference who did it? Why, it's a cinch. Get this! Lilas
comes home broke. She's sick, and sees the undertaker flirting with
her, so she decides to spill the whole story and take the
consequences--understand? It's conscience." Mr. Melcher laughed lightly
at his little joke. "A sick woman's conscience is an expensive thing;
it takes money to square it. Merkle won't stand, and Wharton can't, on
account of his wife--your sister. He'll tap his old man, and Hannibal
will loosen for the family honor. After they're dry we've got the
Hammon widow to work on."

"It'll take money to do this--protection, too."

"Well, I've got both."

"I suppose we'll split three ways."

Max pursed his lips thoughtfully. "N-no; you and Lilas are broke. I've
got the money and the police. I'll take half."

Jim's acquiescence to these terms came hard, and he cursed himself as a
fool for putting himself at the mercy of this man. He was still raging
inwardly when Melcher left to send a cablegram; but there was ample
leisure for reflection during the week that followed, and, being
possessed of some ingenuity, Jim had formulated a scheme before Lilas
Lynn's arrival.

In due time she came, and Melcher saw her established at a modest hotel
before making known in detail his intentions.

Lilas was little more than a wreck of what she had been. It seemed
impossible that eight short months could have worked so great a change
in one of her youth and strength. Ill she undoubtedly was. She was
thin, her nerves had yielded to the ravages of the drug, and a queer,
unhealthy pallor had blanched her skin; her eyes were big and feverish
and restless. Only at such times as she was without cocaine did her
mind suffer; when she had it she was unnaturally alert. Having lately
felt the harsh grip of poverty, she was obsessed now by the need of
money, and offered no objections to Max's schemes. Rather, she welcomed
them fiercely. She and Max and Jim mapped out a course of action
together; but a day or two later, when Jim thought the moment
propitious, he secured her ear alone and gave voice to his resentment
against Max.

As soon as Lilas understood his drift she met him more than half-way.
She was vulture-like in her greed, and with a full understanding
between them the two conspired to use Max only so long and so far as
suited their purposes.

In spite of Bob Wharton's peculiarly mutable temperament he was not
remiss in his duties toward Lorelei during the period that led up to
the birth of their child. Utterly careless and improvident in his own
affairs, he was naturally considerate of others and possessed a
surprising depth of sympathy. Hence he met the responsibilities of his
present situation with considerable credit.

One evening he was concerned to find his wife greatly agitated, and
upon learning the cause his consternation matched hers. Lorelei's eyes
were big and frightened as she explained: "Lilas is back. She was here
to-day."

"Lilas? Good Lord! What did she want?"

"Nothing. She just came to see me. She's changed dreadfully, and talked
about nothing except--that awful night. You remember? I'm nearly in
hysterics."

"Now, that won't do. You pass your worries on to me. Lilas can't make
trouble for us without making more for herself."

But Lorelei seemed oppressed with a premonition of trouble. "I'm
frightened, Bob," she confessed. "She acted so--strangely. Suppose--oh,
suppose I should have to go to jail now or--to court--"

Bob took his wife in his arms and did his best to cure her of these
sick fancies; but it was no easy task to quiet her, for a million
apprehensions had sprung into life with the reopening of that old
horror. At last he reminded her gently:

"Remember, dear, your thoughts are like branding-irons just now; they
leave their marks. We want our child to be brave and confident and
steadfast, not a coward--or something worse. This is how cowards are
made. How can a child inherit weakness when its mother is without fear?"

Profiting by this experience, Bob undertook to guard against another
visit from Lilas. He was really worried, although he pretended to
dismiss the matter as inconsequential, and his fears flared into full
blaze again a few days later, when Jimmy Knight called upon him and
announced cautiously:

"Say, you know Lilas is back. Well, she's gone off her nut--she's going
to give herself up."

"Give herself up? How?"

"She's going to tell the truth about the Hammon affair. She thinks
she's dying. Where do we go from here if she does that?"

Bob could not conceal his alarm, which increased when his
brother-in-law begged him to do something quickly to save them all from
disaster. "I wouldn't come to you," Jim confessed, candidly, "if I knew
what to do; for you don't like me, and I'm not crazy about you. But
we've got to stand together on account of Lorelei--not that I'd enjoy a
call on the district attorney at any time."

Agreeing that there was no time to waste, the two men hastened to
Lilas's hotel, only to receive a greeting that was far from auspicious.
When they had adroitly brought the conversation around to the point at
issue Lilas explained:

"Yes, the doctors have ticketed me. They've shown me the gate." She
coughed hollowly and laid her hand on her chest. "Oh, it's the white
bug! That closes the show for me." She appeared very ill, and it did
not occur to Bob to doubt her.

Jim began briskly: "Why, that's nothing, Lilas! Arizona is the place
for you."

"Arizona is a long jump from Broadway."

"I'll help you if you need help," Bob hastened to offer.

Lilas flashed him a grateful glance from eyes that were doubly large
and dark against her pallor. "You're a prince with your money,
but--it's too late."

"Nonsense!"

"Oh, they'd get me sooner or later. I may as well face the music."

"Do you mean slow music? Do you mean the bugs will get you?" Jim
inquired.

"No. I mean I'd have to take it on the dodge if I went, and what's the
use of that? I've talked too much." With a sudden flash of feeling she
cried: "I've been through hell for eight months, and I'm tired out. I
came home broke, sick, thinking of that night when--you know! I seem to
see HIS face everywhere. It bothers me at night. I used to dream of my
father and a stream of molten steel. Well, the dreams are getting
worse, only now I see Jarvis's face in place of my father's, and I tell
you I can't stand it; I can't stand these dreams, and that face of his
looking at me all the time. So I'm going to give myself up, have it
over with, and do my penalty. Maybe I can sleep then. If my lungs hold
out, all right; if they don't--well, I'll sleep anyhow. You see, I
can't make a living, for I can't go back on the stage. Why, I can't
leave this hotel--and take my trunks."

Jimmy Knight broke out nervously, "That penalty talk is all right for
you, Lilas, but think about the rest of us."

"Yes; Lorelei, for instance," Bob added. "She isn't strong. You mustn't
think of doing this thing."

"I know," Miss Lynn nodded. "I'm sorry, but--"

"I'll furnish all the money you want." She looked her gratitude again.
"You must buck up and try to get well."

For some time the two men jointly attempted to argue Lilas out of her
black despondency, and when they left it was with a hard-won promise
that she would do nothing definite at once.

Outside the room Jim heaved a sigh of relief. "Whew! I could feel the
knot under my ear, but--glory to God, it slipped! Just the same, I'm
going to buy some oakum and make a false beard in case she flops."

In this way the trap was set and baited so skilfully that the victim
was without suspicion. That evening Lilas, Jim, and Max Melcher dined
together in very good spirits; and, strangely enough, the girl showed
an excellent appetite for one so troubled in soul.

Wharton was as good as his word. Not only did he put Lilas in funds,
but he exerted his every power of persuasion to rouse her from her
despondency and reawaken a healthy desire for life. It transpired that
she had assumed some outrageous obligations, and, moreover, had hired a
number of expensive lung specialists, for whom she asked him to settle;
nevertheless he met her demands and was encouraged when she began to
purchase a new wardrobe. Although he considered himself a spendthrift,
her reckless disregard of money gave him a jolt, but he was working to
gain time, and his relief on Lorelei's account deadened all other
feelings.

Before long he had advanced several thousand dollars to the girl, and
still her desire for martyrdom had not entirely vanished. Realizing
that the mere presence of one so temperamentally hysterical as she was
a constant menace, he insisted upon her going South, and in order to
provide handsomely for her comfort he borrowed from his friends. He was
aghast when he finally reckoned up the amount he had spent upon her.

There followed a short interval of relief, during which Lilas pretended
to be making ready, then upon the very eve of her departure she sent
for him in much haste and awoke him rudely from his trance.

She began by saying that his kindness and liberality had aroused in her
a desire to live and to begin anew, if not for her own, then for his
and Lorelei's sakes, but that she was in terrible trouble. Her
punishment had sought her out after all.

It was a long time before Bob could make head or tail out of what she
told him, but eventually he learned that in the hour of her deepest
dejection she had confided her secret to others, and the result of this
confidence had now arisen to thwart all their plans.

With a dizzy feeling of insecurity Bob asked, "Who did you tell?"

"Melcher. He sent me money to come home with, and he seemed to be my
only friend."

"Friend! I thought you and he were enemies."

"Oh, he doesn't love me and he doesn't hate me," Lilas explained. "He
seemed sorry for me, and I was grateful for any sympathy, no matter
where it came from. You see, I didn't know what I was doing, and I
didn't realize my mistake until it was too late."

"Melcher of all people!" Bob groaned.

"Wait--that's not all. You see, I wanted to go clean, and yet I was
afraid of the police, so Max advised me to hire a lawyer who'd get me
off light. Well, I did."

"Goldberg, I suppose." Bob breathed a malediction as Lilas nodded. "Why
didn't you hire a hall or book yourself through the Lyceum Bureau?"

"Don't be hard on me." Lilas had foresworn the stage, but she did a
creditable bit of emotional acting. "A frantic woman will do almost
anything."

"Well, present your bill in full. What's the next misfortune?"

"I had no idea men could be so vile. Yesterday I told Max of the change
in my plans; that you've made life possible to me and showed me that I
couldn't go through without consequences to others. He--" She dropped
her hands in a gesture of resignation. "What's the use? You know the
kind of man he is."

"Go on."

Lilas began to weep silently, rocking her body to and fro. "It's just
my luck--when I had another chance, too! I don't care for my own sake,
but I do love--Lorelei; and you've certainly been a prince, Bob."

"Good Lord! Max can't insist on your giving yourself up. Why, that's
absurd!"

"Oh, he doesn't care what becomes of me. It's--it's--" Lilas broke out
in a passion: "I never thought I was putting you in his power, and--and
Lorelei, too--and Jim, and Mr. Merkle. Of course you won't believe
that, but I can't help what you think. I wouldn't blame you
for--killing me. Why, I'd go to the chair to keep you people clear,
but--those are the facts. Now you've got it all."

"Max sees money in sight, I presume?"

"That's all he sees. Money? My God! He's mad. Why he doesn't talk
figures that I understand. It's nothing but blackmail, Bob, and you
mustn't stand for it. He's a queer man--he helped me when I was broke;
now he'd hitch me to a bull and ticket me up the river, to get that
money. Why, he'd strap the coppers on my feet and turn on the juice
with his own hand rather than lose this chance."

As her flow of speech died down to apologetic murmurs Bob said gravely:
"I never thought Merkle and I could cover a thing like Hammon's death,
but, after all, they can't do much to us."

"It's mighty kind of you to say so. I'll stand whatever comes to me; I
was thinking more of Lorelei--she's in no condition--"

Bob uttered an exclamation. "You're right! We've got to gain time.
After the baby's born it won't matter so much."

"Max is no fool; he won't wait. Besides, Goldberg's been to see
Inspector Snell already on my account, and Snell is in the know. He's
holding back warrants now for all of us. I couldn't leave town if I
wanted to."

The numbing force of the calamity coming at this of all times fairly
stupefied Bob, rendering him incapable of clear analysis or even of the
suspicions his ordinary intelligence would have prompted.

"Why doesn't Snell get busy?" he inquired, blankly, at which Lilas lost
her patience.

"Don't you see he's in on the graft? Snell doesn't want to pinch us. He
doesn't care how Jarvis died, any more than Max or Goldberg cares. They
want money, MONEY--coin! That's how things are run in this town, that's
how the police are squared. If you don't come across they'll try to
show that it was murder instead of self-defense. Remember it was my gun
that killed--that did the work--and it was found in Hammon's library."

Before Bob's arrival Lilas had prepared herself for this scene by a
liberal dose of cocaine, but the strain of her acting had exhausted her
strength; her brain was tiring. Accordingly she excused herself, and,
once in her bathroom, prepared a fresh solution of the powder, leaving
Bob the while to meditate upon his plight. When she returned her eyes
were brighter and she had regained the mastery of her unruly nerves.
Bob looked up with a drawn expression that almost moved her to pity.

"How much do they want?" he inquired, dully.

"Don't be a fool, Bob. You helped me; I won't see you gouged. No matter
what you gave they'd frame you over again. We'd better face it."

"I CAN'T face it," he cried. "Alone, I would in a minute--no court in
the world would hold Merkle and me for what we did--but I can't let 'em
hurt my wife and my kid. Why, Lorelei would die of fright." He choked
and stammered. "They want money. How much?"

"Merkle is the man they're after."

"How much?" he insisted.

"It would take a hundred thousand to square it."

Bob gasped. "This is the worst dream I ever had."

"I told you I couldn't understand their figures. But Merkle's a
millionaire. If you had ten dollars you'd give one to square a copper,
wouldn't you? Well, your name's Wharton, and his is Merkle. There's
fifty million dollars behind those two names, and Max knows it. If I
had the price I'd pay it to save you people who helped me when I needed
help, but--what have I got? I told Max he could go to hell, and you'd
better tell him the same thing. Now--what do you want me to do?"

Bob's lips were white. "Stand pat and wait until I--rob a bank. I've
got to buy three weeks' time, no matter what it costs."

When he had gone Lilas 'phoned first to Melcher and reported progress;
then she called up Jim. The latter appeared in person that evening, and
the two sat until late talking guardedly.



CHAPTER XXVI


There was but one man to whom Bob dared appeal in this unhappy
situation, and that man was John Merkle. The banker listened gravely to
Bob's recital, then inquired with apparent irrelevance:

"You are mighty fond of Lorelei, aren't you?"

"Why, of course."

Merkle nodded reflectively. "I was mistaken in you," he admitted. "I
didn't think the marriage would last. I suppose you are immensely
pleased with yourself--reformed character, aren't you?" His face
expressed a cynical inquiry.

"Pleased with myself? Not much! Lorelei reformed me. I didn't have
anything to do with it."

"Good! I wondered if you took all the credit to yourself. Lorelei did
do it, and I don't intend to let you forget the fact. Now, about this
Lynn woman--you have been stung, Bob."

"You think so? I wonder--"

"Don't be a fool!"

"You think it is a frame-up?"

"What else could it be? Think!"

Bob exploded in desperation: "I can't think, with my wife in this
condition. However, if you're right I'm going to see Max Melcher and
tell him about Lorelei. Then I'm going to make him wait."

"Make him? MAKE HIM?"

"Yes, I'm going to MAKE him wait." Bob's lips were white; he raised his
eyes slowly, and Merkle saw that they were heavy with resentment.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the latter. "Where is your common sense? Never
use violence; it is antiquated and expensive. Suppose you let me handle
this thing in my own way."

"Have you any plan?"

"I'm never without one. They're not all good plans, understand; some
are very bad, in fact. But, you see, I have been expecting something
like this for a long time. I saw blackmail in your brother-in-law's
face the night Jarvis Hammon was killed. I don't sleep much, so I have
time to think, and, being dyspeptic, I'm always suspicious. Dyspepsia
has spared me many disappointments; people are never any worse than I
believe them to be."

"You don't believe Jim is in this, too? Why, he is Lorelei's brother!"

"What possible difference can that make to a man of his stamp?" the
banker demanded, querulously. "Don't you know your own brother-in-law?
To a conscienceless rogue it's no more unnatural to conspire against
one's relatives than against total strangers. It is the logical thing
to do. It is nature's method of protecting the stranger, and it's one
of the penalties for having relatives. You are young and sentimental,
so I sha'n't tell you what my plan is. Meanwhile, though, you may tell
Lilas that you have acquainted me with the situation and that I am
willing to spend a lot of money to avoid publicity."

"Do you mean you are willing to pay her?"

Merkle smiled sourly. "Let her put her own construction on the
statement."

Beyond this Merkle would give Bob little satisfaction, but later in the
day, after a short telephone conversation, he called at one of the
up-town political clubs and inquired for Senator Sabin. The Senator was
expecting him, and Merkle lost no time in explaining his trouble.

Nature had endowed Sabin with the faculty of hearing more than people
said and saying less than people heard. He sat now with a graven smile
upon his fat, good-humored face, but with eyes that were serious and
watchful. Only once did he interrupt his caller's recital, and then at
the mention of Inspector Snell.

"Snell!" he exclaimed, sharply. "Are you sure?"

"So the woman says."

Sabin nodded; he carefully matched his fingers, tip to tip, and then
relapsed into silence. Merkle went on with his story, feeling the while
as if he were addressing an audience of two men, one a sympathetic,
convivial soul, the other a baffling, sinister person behind a mask.
But when Sabin finally spoke it was as neither; his voice was friendly
and matter-of-fact.

"This is a bad business, John."

The banker broke out, irritably: "Now don't begin that! I have a pastor
who keeps me in spiritual uncertainty, and a doctor who torments me
physically, and a business that's hell in both directions. I didn't
come here to swap tears; I want help."

"It may cost--"

"Of course it may. I don't expect you to square it with a bunch of
double English violets, but it can be squared, and it MUST be, if only
for the sake of Hammon's women folks. It won't serve any good purpose
to air that old scandal."

The Senator nodded. "First we will have to eliminate the gang--clean
them out." He made an expansive, eloquent gesture. "You don't object?"

"Kill 'em, if necessary," Merkle growled, vindictively.

"Very well; I'll do my best."

"Then it's done."

Merkle rose with relief, shook the Senator's limp and pudgy hand, then
departed, knowing that the secret of Jarvis Hammon's death was quite as
safe in Sabin's keeping as in his own. That plump, imperturbable
politician had long been one of the triumvirate that ruled the city,
and Merkle knew him to be the tomb of confessions far more startling
than this; he knew also that although Sabin took toll of the public in
the way of all powerful political rulers he put no price on his favors.

That evening Inspector Snell occupied the same chair in which Merkle
had sat, and found himself the target of Sabin's veiled stare. Snell
was a bulky, forceful, unimaginative man. He was vastly impressive in
his uniform, but the Senator's questions appeared to bewilder him.

"What do you mean--Melcher?" the Inspector finally inquired.

"He claims you give him protection."

The officer's face purpled. "Oh! he does, does he? Well, you'd know if
I did, wouldn't you? That's how them fellows get along, by selling
something they can't deliver."

"Ever take any of his money?"

"Not a cent."

"What do you know about the killing of Jarvis Hammon?"

"Hammon, the steel man? Why, he wasn't killed, was he?" Snell was
plainly puzzled. "Well, well!" he confessed, when the truth had been
gently eased into his mind. "That's news! I'm much obliged for the tip,
Senator."

"Wait a minute. That's not the idea at all," Sabin said, quickly. "The
woman acted in self-defense."

"Ha! They all do. I'm thinking about myself. These are big names--this
is a big case, and it will do me a lot of good to work it out."

"It will break you," the Senator murmured, quietly. "You are getting
ahead just as fast as it is possible, Snell. Cut out this grave-robbing
stuff and make some real friends. Understand? You need friends of the
right sort, and this is your chance."

For some time longer the two men talked guardedly. At last the
Inspector rose to leave, saying: "I think I have all the details now,
and I'll scatter the gang as quick as possible. I can hang something on
the woman easily enough, and the boys, too, but it's different with
Max. He has a drag."

"Leave Max to me. Do you need money?"

"Not from your friends, Senator," the officer disclaimed, hastily. "I'm
only too glad to help out in any way I can."

To Bob Wharton the suspense of the next few days was trying in the
extreme, particularly as Merkle kept declaring there was nothing to
report, while Jimmy Knight betrayed an apprehension so pitiable as
well-nigh to banish suspicion of his complicity in the plot. But before
long there came to pass in various quarters certain events which gave
Bob cause for thought. Strangely enough, these events, one and all, had
some effect, either direct or indirect, upon the habitues of Tony the
Barber's place. To begin with, Tony himself was summoned to
headquarters and forced to spend a distressing half-hour with a harsh,
ill-natured police official, as a result of which the pinochle-room at
the rear of the barber-shop was closed and the door nailed up. With an
unnatural show of indignation Tony warned its frequenters to stay away
from his shop. Naturally he had recourse to Melcher, who promised to
square the misunderstanding. But for once Melcher failed. When his
efforts proved fruitless he was puzzled. So was Tony. The man upon whom
Max relied for help was likewise at a loss, and finally hazarded the
opinion that Tony must have made an enemy of somebody "higher up."

This chilling phenomenon was still a subject of discussion when
Armistead was arrested for selling cocaine. Now Armistead's addiction
to the drug was well known--in fact, he readily confessed to it--but,
knowing only too well the risks involved in its sale, he had never even
contemplated such a thing. He was outraged and incredulous, but a
dope-shattered derelict swore out a complaint against him, and when
Armistead's room was searched, strange to relate, the police discovered
a considerable amount of cocaine concealed therein. Bail was fixed at
an unusually high figure even for a felony, and Max Melcher wondered
vaguely as he arranged to meet it.

Misfortunes multiplied rapidly. On the very next day Young Sullivan was
caught picking pockets in the Times Square Subway station and once more
Max was forced to journey jail-ward. Sullivan's story gave his chief
still more occasion for thought, for this arrest seemed plainly "a
frame," being absurd upon its face. The pugilist had huge, misshapen
paws that could scarcely explore his own, much less another's pockets,
and his stiffened fingers could not palm a coin in the dark, yet a
stranger had accused him of deftly lifting a watch. It seemed
significant that two plain-clothes men should have been at Sullivan's
elbow at the moment. The prize-fighter had acted according to his
nature, and a fine row had resulted, in the midst of which there had
dropped out of his clothes a gold watch which Sullivan violently
protested he had never seen before. His imperious demand upon Max for
help was resentfully couched, but Melcher dared not refuse to act as
his bondsman.

Max was worried when he left the jail, and his perturbation increased
when he discovered late that night that Armistead had disappeared, with
the evident intention of jumping his bond. Convinced now that something
must be badly out of joint, he lost no time in warning Lilas Lynn to go
slow with her blackmailing enterprise. Indeed, he ordered her to drop
it entirely until he had time to discover where the trouble lay.

Upon the girl this command had an unexpected effect; for not only did
it prove to her that Max had lost his pull at headquarters, but it also
strengthened her determination to betray him in accordance with Jimmy
Knight's suggestion. Why, indeed, should she share her gains with
anybody? If Max had no right to any part of the loot what possible
claim had Jim to share in it? Once Lilas's cupidity was aroused it
banished even that meager ghost of honor that is supposed to prevail
among thieves; and, disregarding Max's caution, she decided to take
things entirely into her own hands, riding this wave of success to the
finish. Accordingly she sent for Bob.

It did not take her long to see that Wharton had changed since their
last interview, and accordingly she did not put herself to the trouble
of acting--in fact, Bob allowed her no opportunity of doing so.

"Now don't give me that stall about Melcher," he said, in answer to her
first inquiries "I'm on."

Miss Lynn's cheeks had lost the power of changing color, but her eyes
were as expressive as ever, and now as she stared at her victim they
showed a certain inflexibility of purpose.

"You must have been talking to Merkle," she said, slowly.

"Exactly. He's not such a fool as I am."

"Well?" There was an insolent rising inflection in Lilas's voice. "What
are you going to do about it?"

Bob had prepared himself for some denial, for some pretense of
ignorance, at least, and he was taken aback at this ready acceptance of
his challenge. Something malevolent in her air increased his
uneasiness. The girl was as hard as flint and seemed capable of any
desperate action.

"You say you love Lorelei; you pretend to be grateful to me--"

As if the mere heat of his accusation had ignited her fury Lilas
interrupted him angrily: "Oh, cut out that love-and-gratitude talk! I
want money, do you understand? MONEY! You think I won't dare go through
with this, and so does Merkle. You, neither of you, can understand why
I'll take a chance on 'the chair' just to make you pay. Well, that's
because you are men, and because you are healthy and happy and have
something to live for. But what have I got? I'm sick. I'm going to
pieces. I'll be gone in a few years if I don't get the coin. I've
always fought and I've usually been licked, but I won't be licked this
time. Men like you and John Merkle licked me--Why, I was licked before
I had learned to fight back, and you taught me to hate you before I had
put on long dresses."

"You know that's not true!" Bob cried, sharply. "You harmed men before
they ever harmed you. You hated Jarvis Hammon, and yet he did more for
you than any one in all your life; Merkle helped you, too, when you
needed help, and so did I. Lorelei was your friend--"

"Bah! I haven't any friends; I never had any, and I don't want any now.
Nobody ever did anything for me. You and John Merkle are going to pay
me for what other men have put me through. Oh, come, I'm not bluffing!
You're afraid to stand the gaff, but I'm not. I'm getting old. My looks
are gone. Who's going to pay me if you don't? Who--" Lilas's voice,
which has risen steadily, broke now, and she shook a clenched fist in
Wharton's face. He saw that she had worked herself up into one of her
abrupt, reasonless rages.

"I've got you!" she keened. "I can drag you and your sick wife, and
Merkle, and those Hammon women out into the light, and I'll do it, too.
I can make you all squirm, so let's get down to cases. There's millions
of dollars among you, millions that were squeezed out of my kind of
people; now I'm going to try my hand at squeezing. If I lose--very
well. But I'll holler, and you'll have to stop my mouth or the world
will hear. You don't dare holler."

"I'm glad you're in the open at last," Bob told her, roughly. "We'll
see if Melcher is as desperate as--"

"To hell with Melcher!" screamed the girl. "He's a fool. He's scared
already, but I'm not, and I'm the one to settle with, remember that."
She was a-quiver now; her nerves, tortured from overstimulation, were
jumping; but she felt a tremendous sense of power, together with a
contemptuous disregard of consequences. "Go to Max, if you want to.
Sound the alarm. Do anything you please," she mocked, "but get your
pennies together or I'll bawl you out from the housetops."

There was no arguing with her, as she was drunk with the sense of her
advantage, and Bob could only depart, his ears ringing unpleasantly
with her threats.

As to just what effect her unrestrained spleen would have, or in which
direction it might work the greatest damage, he was uncomfortably in
doubt. For himself, he had no particular fears, but he dreaded terribly
the effect upon his wife. It seemed to him, therefore, that the only
way of gaining time was to pay Lilas enough to satisfy her. The more he
thought of this the more imperative seemed the necessity, but when he
ventured to submit the proposition to Merkle the banker curtly refused
to entertain it.

Sick with anxiety, weak at thought of the peril to his wife's health,
Bob determined to call upon Max Melcher and demand immunity upon pain
of violence. Accordingly he turned his steps in the direction of the
Metropolitan Club. But as he neared his destination he found a crowd
gathered in front of the place; two patrol-wagons were backed up to the
curb opposite the gambling-house; a line of policemen streamed in and
out of the premises. Some of the officers were armed with axes and
sledges, others carried burdens that evoked jeers and taunts from the
bystanders.

Doubting the evidence of his own eyes, Bob elbowed his way closer. It
was true! The Metropolitan Club, the oldest, the safest, the
best-protected palace of chance in the city, was the object of a
daylight raid. Its sacred doors had been battered in, and the fragments
of furniture that came out gave evidence that the raiders had used
their destructive weapons with unusual violence. Racks of multi-colored
ivory chips, faro-layouts, splintered remains of expensive roulette,
crap, and poker tables of mahogany and rosewood were flung carelessly
into the waiting wagons and driven away. Bob Wharton's amazement was
shared by the onlookers, for nothing like this had even been known in
the Tenderloin.

Bob was not a dull young man. In time a light broke through his
troubled mind, and he returned to Broadway, lost in thought. Evidently
Merkle's plan was working.



CHAPTER XXVII


Adventures of moment had also fallen to the lot of Jimmy Knight on this
day. Lacking the hospitality of Tony's back room, Jim had of late taken
up loafing-quarters in a Seventh Avenue saloon, frequented by a coterie
of parasitic young men who subsisted on the crowds which passed daily
in and out of the Pennsylvania Station. On the very afternoon of the
Melcher raid Jim was sitting at a table with one of these fellows,
lending a willing ear to tales of easy money, when he felt a touch upon
his shoulder and, looking up, found a plain-clothes man standing over
him. The stranger wore no visible badge of authority, but Jim knew him
instantly for what he was. In the background another person with the
same indefinable stamp of the bull watched proceedings with an
expressionless face.

Now Jim had the heart of a rabbit, and, being forever busy in "framing"
some one, his first suspicion was that he himself was being framed.
This suspicion proved all too correct. Never in his worst dreams had he
experienced anything so distressing as what followed his arrest, for it
seemed as if these officers cherished a personal grudge against him.
They seemed prejudiced for no reason whatever, and they made their
aversion patent in several professionally effective ways. Jim found his
arms twisted backward and upward until his bones cracked and his joints
came loose; with wrists pinioned behind his shoulder-blades and walking
on his toes he was propelled into the street. Since this was his first
arrest, he did not know enough to go quietly, and when one of his
captors released his grip he tried to wrench himself loose. Cossacks
could not mistreat a prisoner more brutally than these policemen
mistreated poor, cringing, spineless Jimmy Knight. He reached the
station-house more dead than alive, and then when he saw a loaded
revolver removed from his own pocket he utterly collapsed. Weeping like
a woman, he was led to a cell and left to meditate upon the
inconsistencies and injustices of the Sullivan law.

As the hours crept by and his efforts to obtain assistance proved
unavailing he began to understand something of Young Sullivan's and
Armistead's feelings. Then light came to him; he learned of the
disaster to the Metropolitan Club and immediately lost faith in
Melcher's ability to help him, with the result that when he was finally
led to Inspector Snell's office for the third degree he "squealed"
promptly. In his panic to save himself he volunteered even more of his
private history than the Inspector desired to hear, and was only too
willing to make known all of the facts of the Hammon case. Nor did he
withhold the truth about the present attempt at blackmailing Bob
Wharton and Merkle; the first question along this line served to unlock
his lips, and he whiningly laid bare the entire conspiracy. It seemed,
however, that his earnest desire to help the law was scarcely
appreciated, for even after he had blindly affixed his signature to the
documents which Inspector Snell placed before him he was led back to
his cell.

Rules were far from strict at Lilas Lynn's hotel. The employees were
not over-courteous at any time, and, although in theory callers
announced themselves by telephone before going up-stairs, this was a
custom generally honored in the breach. No question, therefore, was
raised when a heavily built, capable-looking man, with large hands and
feet, inquired for Miss Lynn's room-number and stepped into the
elevator without declaring his business.

Lilas herself opened the door at his knock, but showed some reluctance
at admitting him until he murmured the magic word "Headquarters,"
whereupon she fell back with a look of startled inquiry in her eyes.
The stranger did not trouble to remove his hat; after a swift inventory
of the room he announced:

"The Inspector sent me to see you."

"What Inspector?"

"Snell."

"Yes?" Lilas's voice was badly controlled, for there was something
disturbing about this man's behavior.

"Your orders is to leave town. Be out and away at eight o'clock; that's
four hours. Understand?"

"You must be crazy," Lilas cried, with a show of spirit. "What have I
done? Who do you think I am? Inspector Snell, eh? I don't know him, and
he doesn't know me."

"I guess he knows you, all right. Eight bells, sister. I'll be back
then."

"But--what for? I haven't done anything." Incensed at the fellow's
total indifference, she ran on, fiercely: "I won't go. I'm no crook.
You can't hustle me out like this. I'll fight. I've got friends and
I've got money, and I'm going to stay right here. You haven't anything
on me, for I haven't done anything. I'm behaving myself, and I'm clean.
You can tell Inspector Snell so for me."

The policeman silently drew from his pocket an envelope, which he
handed to her.

"Before you talk any louder suppose you give this the once over," he
said.

Lilas glanced at the proffered package with a sneer.

"Bah! Don't you think I know a warrant?" Then, as she opened the
envelope and scanned its contents, she started. To conceal the tremor
of her hand she spread the documents upon her center-table and turned
her back to the visitor. An odd rigidity crept over her. When she swung
about to speak her voice was harsh, but her defiance had lessened.

"I don't understand--"

"Oh! I guess you do. Anyhow, the whole story's there. You see,
Armistead spilled--that's why he jumped his bond; he was afraid of
Melcher's gunmen. We got Sullivan, too. He was tough, but we got him
finally; and as for Knight! Say, that little grafter sprained his wrist
signing affidavits."

"Rot! You don't expect me to believe all this?" Lilas demanded,
uncertainly. "Why, these confessions are probably phony. You dictated
them yourself, for all I know. Anyhow, they don't mean anything to me."

"Well, you'd ought to know whether they do or not." The policeman
calmly refolded the papers.

"What about Max? What does he say about this?"

"Oh, he takes it all right. He knows we've got it on him, and he knows
when to lay down a hand. Max is a good sport. But I ain't here to swap
gossip. If I was you I'd take it on the run; you can't win anything by
sticking."

"I won't go," stormed the girl. "It's a put-up job to get me away."

"Have it your own way, but I'll be back at eight with a regular
honest-to-goodness warrant." The officer nodded and walked out heavily.

When she was alone again Lilas felt as if her knees would give way. For
the first time she realized that she had no single friend to whom she
could turn or in whose assistance she could put faith. Before the
plain-clothes man she had maintained a pretense of firmness, but it had
been mere bravado, for in her soul she had known those documents to be
authentic. Their contents proved them so, and, now that the police knew
all, resistance was plainly futile.

During her last talk with Bob Wharton Lilas had felt unbounded
confidence in her ability to go through with her plans, come what
might, but now the mere knowledge that those plans were known changed
everything. In common with all evil-doers, Lilas entertained an
exaggerated distrust of the law and a keen fear of its trickeries. The
fact that she had been betrayed, the fact that she now had the open
hostility of the police to combat, convinced her that the game was up.

As she pondered the situation anger at the treachery of her
confederates grew and caused her to forget her own intended treachery
to them. Even while she was defying the officer she had begun to
reconcile herself to the idea of flight, and now she set about her
preparations.

Four hours! Well, they had given her time enough. Much could be done in
four hours. Eight o'clock would see her well out from under the shadow
of the law. The Law! Lilas sneered as she reflected that the law
invariably shielded the rich and prosperous while it oppressed the poor
and the needy.

Of late her periods of independence from cocaine were becoming shorter
and of less frequent occurrence, and before she had proceeded far with
her packing she found herself badly in need of stimulation. Her
resistance was running low, it seemed. That splendid recklessness which
had sustained her when she flung her demand at Bob was entirely gone
now; she was oddly nervous and unstrung, so she turned to the white
powders.

Their effect was prompt and pleasant, as always; they enabled her to
lay vigorous hold once more upon her scattered faculties. As she flung
her belongings into her trunk her first black regrets and
disappointments began to lighten, and she found herself looking at the
matter more philosophically. After all, things were never quite
hopeless; she had played for big stakes and lost--through no fault of
her own, but through the treachery of others. Well, this was not her
first defeat, and certainly it would not be her last opportunity. She
would pretend to yield; she would go away and wait. Yes, that was best.
She could always return, and so long as her money lasted, so long as
those blessed powders were available, she was assured of bodily and
mental comfort at least. Meanwhile no one could rob her of her secret,
and sometime, somehow it could be coined into money. Bob Wharton, John
Merkle, the Hammon women, through their influence with the police,
might exile her from New York, might hound her from place to place, but
so long as she retained that secret they were all more or less in her
power and could not deny her at least a comfortable living. She even
smiled contemptuously as she looked back upon the way she had fooled
Bob Wharton and the concern he had shown for Lorelei.

Then of a sudden Lilas awoke to the fact that she disliked--hated--Bob's
wife. It seemed as if she had always hated her. Perhaps it was
because of Lorelei's beauty or her superior ways, or--yes, because of
her clean soul that nothing had been able to smirch. Character--what
was it but hypocrisy, or a luxury upon which some people prided
themselves? From Lorelei, Lilas's thoughts wandered naturally to Jim,
thence to his companions, and finally to Max Melcher. One and all,
those men, at the first hint of danger to themselves, had thrown her
over and sought protection. That was man-like. It pleased her at this
moment to call down punishments upon them and to imagine the forms
those punishments would take if she possessed the power to inflict
them. She owed those fellows something, and in particular she owed Max
a grudge, for the whole scheme had been his.

The cocaine was working swiftly now; Lilas had reached the stage of
exaggerated self-regard; her enmity toward Melcher grew with unnatural
rapidity. She had evened more than one score in the past, she mused,
why not even this one? In Jarvis Hammon's case, for instance, she had
taken the law into her own hands and had exacted payment for a wrong
that most people would have considered dead to vengeance. Truly, that
had been a revenge! For a long time the memory of that night's events
had been almost intolerable: the picture of that dim-lit library, of
the staring, stricken face of her victim had more than once filled
Lilas with such horror that she had taken refuge in double doses of
cocaine; but now, strangely enough, she felt no repugnance whatever in
looking back upon it. On the contrary, she was thrilled by the
remembrance and exulted in her act without restraint. She fancied at
this moment that she could feel the cold contact of the revolver
against her palm, the leap of the exploding weapon, the fierce triumph
that had flamed through her when Hammon had halted in his tracks, then
withered and crumpled as his wound took effect. That had been an
instant worth all the pain and risk it cost! She lived again through
the white heat of it, but it left her unsatisfied.

There were others who had wronged her and who deserved the same fate as
Hammon--Max Melcher, for instance. Max had been her evil counselor in
all things, he had always used her as a tool, and now, like a tool
which he no longer had use for, he cast her aside.

Lilas found herself pacing the floor in a peculiar emotional frenzy.
Outwardly she was cool, inwardly she was a prey to the wildest and
wickedest passions.

It is by the use of cocaine that most of the hired assassins of the
East Side prepare themselves to kill. Taken in sufficient quantities,
the drug tends to produce a homicidal mania in the consumer, at the
same time leaving him in supersensitive control of his faculties. Mind
and body are unnaturally stimulated by it. Whisky numbs a man's mind
and makes his hands unsteady; cocaine not only crazes him, but lends
him accuracy in shooting. Moreover, it deadens his sensibility, so that
he goes on fighting even though riddled with wounds. Thus the use of
this drug explains why the modern gunman is so deadly in his work and
at the same time so difficult of capture, as it does the similar
phenomena among the Southern negroes who, since they have been denied
rum by state prohibition, have taken to cocaine.

Just how or when Lilas arrived at the determination to kill Max Melcher
she did not know. The idea was there, full-grown and firmly fixed in
her mind, when she discovered it. She began at once to shape its
execution.

First she called Tony the Barber by 'phone, for now that the
Metropolitan Club was closed she knew of no other way of discovering
her victim's whereabouts. Max was not at the barber shop, she learned,
but he would be there promptly at half past six o'clock for his shave.
Yes, Tony declared, he always came there at that time; it was a habit
of years' standing.

Lilas ordered her trunks sent down, paid her bill at the hotel, and
then sought the nearest pawn shop. She had some difficulty in buying a
revolver, but, succeeding at length, she returned to her room to
arrange the final details of her plan.

That she had fixed upon Melcher rather than upon Bob or Merkle or some
one else, can be explained only through the vagaries of a disordered
mind, for, although the girl did not realize it, she was by this time
quite out of her head. A desire as keen and as compelling as hunger
clamored for Max's death, and it did not occur to her to resist it. Yet
Lilas had no intention of sacrificing herself; much of the pleasure of
the deed, she reflected, would result from a successful "get away," and
therefore she craftily arranged her escape. She would drive to Tony's,
so ran her plan, tell her taxi-cab driver to wait, then enter the place
quietly and swiftly. Max would be stretched out in one of the chairs
and quite unaware of her approach until she bent over him; he would
gain no hint of her design until he felt her weapon against his body.
Such a simple mode of procedure could not fail, and--this ferocious
longing to kill would be satisfied. In the confusion following the
shot, Lilas reasoned, it would be easy to slip out of the place, step
into her taxi and drive to the station. Once she was lost in that
crowded place who could apprehend her? In half an hour she would be out
of the state.

There still remained some time to wait and, to guard herself against a
diminution of the drug's effect, she took another liberal dose. After a
time this resulted in an added intensity of concentration, an even
greater mental activity and strength of purpose. She felt equal to
anything, afraid of nothing in heaven or earth.

For fear that Max might anticipate his regular time of arrival she
again telephoned to Tony, but, learning that he had not done so, she
gossiped briefly with the barber, discussing the raid on the
Metropolitan, the misfortunes that had overtaken their mutual friends,
and other topics of interest. She realized from Tony's laughter that
she was talking with unusual wit and brilliance.

Her buoyancy was becoming a trifle oppressive now, so she rang off, and
a few moments later discovered that her last inhalation of the drug was
beginning to affect her heart. Before long its palpitation had become
unpleasant, though not alarming as yet and probably no more than a
passing phase. However, since ample time remained, she decided to lie
down. The reclining position gave her some relief, but that odd,
nightmarish over-stimulation continued; in fact, it increased until it
became almost unbearable. She closed her eyes only to behold a whirling
confusion of shapes and visions. Gradually her mind became peopled by
distorted fancies. The moments crept on and the phantasmagoria
continued... Lilas realized at last that she was ill. She was confused,
hysterical, wretched. She tried to rise, but failed... She found
herself swimming through space; blinding lights and choking vapors
enveloped her. She noted with a dull sense of alarm that her heart was
skipping; this frightened her into calling for help, but her voice
sounded weak and unreal... Everything was unreal; objects in the room
were distorted and queer... What was it that so terrified her? ... Was
it death?



CHAPTER XXVIII


Late that night John Merkle telephoned Bob Wharton to say:

"Headquarters just rang me up and told me--prepare yourself for a
shock--Lilas Lynn is dead."

"Dead?" Bob cried, in a startled voice. "Dead! How? When did it happen?
I can't believe it."

Merkle made known the details that had come to him. "Looks like
suicide, but they're not sure. Anyhow, she took too much dope of some
sort. You can sleep easy now. I wish I could."

"I suppose it's the law of compensation."

"Compensation?" Merkle's voice sounded querulous. "There's no such
thing. Don't talk to a Wall Street man about the law of compensation."

"Well, then, call it Providence."

"Providence has too much on its hands to bother with people like her.
No, there is a certain--well, immovability about the conventional, and
Lilas wasn't strong enough to topple it over."

"I--I'm shocked, of course, and yet I can't help feeling greatly
relieved. Rotten thing to say--"

"Not at all. I'm delighted."

"Once I read about a flare-back on a battle-ship, and how a fellow
threw himself into the door of the powder-magazine to prevent an
explosion. That's me! I'm nearly scorched to death."

Bob's anxiety had been so intense of late that this unexpected solution
of his difficulties seemed indeed nothing less than a godsend. Lorelei,
thank Heaven! had been saved from any knowledge of the affair, and when
he went down to business it was with a lighter heart than he had felt
for some time. Bob's acquaintance with Lilas Lynn had been far from
pleasant; she had repaid his kindness with treachery, and now, although
he was not a callous person, he could not pretend that his pity
exceeded his relief. His regrets at the girl's tragic end were those
which any normal man would have felt at the death of an acquaintance,
but they were far overbalanced now by his joy at the fact that no
further shadows menaced the peace of his wife and that once again the
future was all dancing sunshine.

Bob had seldom been conscious of a deliberate effort to please himself,
for to want a thing had always meant to have it almost before the
desire had been recognized. The gratification of his impulses had
become a sort of second nature to him, and now, feeling that he owed a
debt of friendliness to the world, he was impelled to liquidate it.

He did struggle half-heartedly against his first drink, but after he
had taken it and after other drinks had gone the way of the first he
was troubled less and less by the consciousness of broken resolves. He
met a number of people whom he liked and to whom he was inspired to
show his liking, and, strange to say, the more he drank the more of
such friends he discovered. By late afternoon he was in a fantastically
jubilant mood, and, seizing Kurtz, he bore him across the way to
Delmonico's.

Now, Kurtz was worldly and therefore tolerant. He had grown to like and
to understand his young associate very well indeed, and something about
Bob's riotous disposition to gladness awoke a response in the little
tailor.

It was that expansive and expensive hour of the afternoon when business
worries are dropped and before social cares are shouldered. It was
cocktail-time along the Avenue, the hour when sprees are born and
engagements broken, and as it lengthened Wharton celebrated it as in
days gone by. His last regret had vanished, he was having a splendid
time, when a page called him to a telephone-booth.

Adoree's voice greeted him; she was speaking from his own home, and her
first words almost sobered him. Something was wrong; Bob was needed
quickly; Lorelei was asking for him. For more than an hour they had
been vainly trying to locate him. They had succeeded in reaching the
doctor, and he was there--with a nurse. Adoree's voice broke--probably
it was nothing serious, but Lorelei was frightened and so was the
speaker. Bob had better waste no time, for--one never could tell what
might happen in cases of this sort.

When Bob lurched out of the booth he was white; the noisy group he had
left rose in alarm at sight of his stricken face. His legs led him a
crooked course out of the cafe, bringing him into collision with chairs
and tables and causing him to realize for the first time how far he had
allowed himself to go. In a shaking voice he called for a taxi-cab,
meanwhile allowing the raw air of the street to cool his head.

But as he was hurried up the Avenue his fright grew until he lost
himself in a dizzy, drunken panic. He tried to lay hold of himself, but
his thoughts were as unruly as his legs had been. The significance of
his conduct and its probable effect upon his wife filled him with
horror. Fate had cunningly timed her punishment. Before long he began
to attribute this catastrophe, whatever it might prove to be, directly
to his own criminal behavior, and for once in his care-free life he
knew the taste of bitter regret. But he could not think coherently;
black fears were pouring in upon him with a speed to match the
staggering objects that fled past his open cab window.

The terror of the unknown was upon him. What if Lorelei should die? Bob
asked himself. A swing of the vehicle flung him into a corner, where he
huddled, slack-jawed, staring. He was unable to shut out this last
suggestion. If Lorelei died he would be her murderer, that was plain.
He had wanted a child, to be sure, but until this moment he had never
counted the risk nor realized what price might be exacted. No child
could be worth a risk to Lorelei.

But regrets were unavailing. "Something had gone wrong," and Lorelei
needed him. She was calling for him and he was drunk. He would reel up
to her bed of pain with bleared eyes, with poisoned lips. How could he
kiss her? How could he explain?

The cab swung into the curb, and he scrambled out, then stumbled
blindly up the steps and into the building where he lived.

Adoree met him at his own door. Lorelei's summons had evidently found
the dancer dressed for anything except such a crisis, for Miss Demorest
was arrayed in the very newest importation. The lower half of her
figure was startlingly suggestive of the harem, while above the waist
she was adorned like a Chinese princess. A tango cap of gold crowned
her swirls of hair, and from it depended a string of tremendous beads,
looped beneath her chin. She presented a futurist combination of
colors, mainly Mandarin yellow and royal blue, both of which in some
peculiar way seemed to extend upward, tingeing her cheeks. But
Wharton's impression was vague; he saw little more than the tragic
widening of the girl's eyes as she recognized his condition.

"Am I as bad as that?" he stammered. "Do you think she'll notice it?"

"Oh, Bob!" Adoree cried, in a stricken voice. "How could you--at this
time?"

"You said she wanted me. I couldn't take time--"

"Yes! She has been calling for you, but I'm sorry I found you."

A silent-footed figure in a nurse's uniform emerged from the
dining-room, and her first expression of relief at sight of Bob changed
swiftly to a stare of startled wonderment. Bob was not too drunk to
read the half-spoken protest on her lips. Then he heard his wife
calling him and realized that somehow she knew of his coming. At the
sound of her voice, strangely throaty and hoarse from pain, the
strength ran out of his body. The doctor heard him fumbling at the
bedroom door and admitted him; then a low, aching cry of disappointment
sounded, and Adoree Demorest bowed her head upon her arms.

When Bob groped his way back into the living-room his look was ghastly;
his face was damp; his eyes were desperate.

"She sent me away," he whispered.

"Poor thing!" He winced at Adoree's tone. "God! I heard her when she
saw you. I wonder if you realize--"

"Oh yes," he nodded, slowly. "I don't get drunk all over, like most
men. I'm afraid I'll never forget that cry."

He was trembling, and his terror was so pitiful that Adoree laid a
compassionate hand upon his shoulder.

"Don't let go, Bob. Hold your thoughts steady and sober up. We must all
help."

"Tell me--you know about these things--tell me honestly--"

"What do I know about such things? What can I tell you?" bitterly cried
the dancer. "I don't know anything about babies. I never even held one
in my arms. I'm worse frightened than you are."

Darkness found Bob huddled in his chair fighting for his senses, but as
the liquor died in him terrible fancies came to life. Those muffled
cries of pain rising now and then terrorized him, and yet the long
intervals of silence between were worse, for then it seemed to him that
the fight must be going against his wife and that her strength must be
proving insufficient. There were times, too, when he felt the
paralyzing conviction that he was alone in the house, and more than
once he stole down the hall, his heart between his teeth, his body
shaking in a palsy of apprehension.

A frightened maid began preparations for his dinner, but he ordered her
away. Then when she brought him a tray, anger at the thought that his
own comfort should be considered of consequence made him refuse to
touch it.

At length his inactivity became unbearable, and, feeling the desperate
need of sane counsel, he telephoned to John Merkle. Bob was too deeply
agitated to more than note the banker's statement that Mr. and Mrs.
Hannibal Wharton were in the city, but, recalling it later, he
experienced a stab of regret that his mother was not here to comfort
Lorelei in the first great crisis of her womanhood. It had been
Lorelei's wish that her own mother be kept in ignorance of the truth,
and now, therefore, the girl had no one to lean upon except an
unpractical stage-woman--and a drunken husband. In Bob's mind the pity
of it grew as the time crept on.

But Adoree Demorest was wonderful. Despite her inexperience she was
calm, capable, sympathetic, and, best of all, her normality afforded a
support upon which both the husband and the wife could rest. When she
finally made herself ready for the street Bob cried piteously:

"You're not going to leave us?"

"I must. It's nearly theater-time," she told him. "It's one of the
penalties of this business that nothing must hold the curtain; but I'll
be back the minute the show is over."

"Lorelei needs you."

Adoree nodded; her eyes met Bob's squarely, and he saw that they were
wet. Her face was tender, and in spite of her grotesquely affected
toilette she appeared very simple and womanly at this moment. Her
absurd theatricalism was gone; she was a natural, unaffected young
woman.

"I wish I could do something to help," wearily continued Bob, but
Adoree shook her head so violently that the barbaric beaded festoon
beneath her chin clicked and rattled.

"She knows you're close by; that's enough. This is a poor time to
preach, but--it seems to me if you've got a bit of real manhood in you,
Bob, you'll never drink again. The shock of seeing you like this--when
she needed you--didn't help her any."

"I know! I know!" The words were wrung from him like a groan. "But the
thing is bigger and stronger than I am. It takes both of us to fight
it. If she should--leave me I'd never pull through and--I wouldn't want
to."

Never until she left Lorelei's house and turned toward the white lights
of Broadway did Adoree Demorest fully realize whither her theatrical
career had carried her. Lorelei, it seemed to her now, had lived to
high purpose; she was soon to be a mother. But as for herself--the
dancer cringed at the thought. What had her life brought? Notoriety,
shame! In the eyes of men she was abominable. She had sold herself for
the satisfaction of seeing a false name blazoned in electric lights,
while Lorelei had played the game differently and won. Yes, she would
have won even though she died to-night. But how could a woman like
Adoree Demorest, "The King's Favorite," "The Woman with the Rubies,"
hope for wifehood or for motherhood? The bitterness of these
reflections lay in the fact that Adoree knew herself to be pure. But
the world considered her evil, and evil in its eyes she would remain.
How could she hope to bring anything but misery to a husband or
bequeath anything but shame to a child? At this moment she would gladly
have changed places with that other girl whose life hung in the scales.

John Merkle had never lost interest in Lorelei, nor forgotten her
refusal of his well-meant offer of assistance. From the night of their
first meeting she had intrigued his interest, and her marriage to Bob
had deepened his friendly feeling. Although he prided himself upon a
reputation for harsh cynicism and cherished the conviction that he was
wholly without sentiment, he was in reality more emotional than he
believed, and Lorelei's courageous efforts to regenerate her husband,
her vigorous determination to build respectability and happiness out of
the unpromising materials at her hand, had excited his liveliest
sympathy. It pleased him to read into her character beauties and
nobilities of which she was utterly unconscious if not actually devoid.
Now that she had come to a serious crisis Merkle's slowly growing
resentment at Bob's parents for refusing to recognize her burst into
anger. The result was that soon after his talk with Bob he telephoned
Hannibal Wharton, making known the situation in the most disagreeable
and biting manner of which he was capable. Strange to say, Wharton
heard him through, then thanked him before ringing off.

When Hannibal had repeated the news to his wife she moved slowly to a
window and stood there staring down into the glittering chasm of Fifth
Avenue. Bob's mother was a frail, erect, impassive woman, wearied and
saddened with the weight of her husband's millions. There had been a
time when society knew her, but of late years she saw few people, and
her name was seldom mentioned except in connection with her
benefactions. Even the true satisfaction of giving had been denied her,
since real charity means sacrifice. Wealth had lent her a painful
conspicuousness and had made her a target for multifarious demands so
insistent, so ill-considered, so unworthy--many of them--that she had
been forced into an isolation, more strict even than her husband's.

Great responsibilities had changed Hannibal Wharton into a machine; he
had become mechanical even in his daily life, in his pleasures, in his
relaxations. His suspicions and his dislikes were also more or less
automatic, but in all his married life he had never found cause to
complain of anything his wife had done. He was serenely conscious,
moreover, of her complete accord with his every action, and now,
therefore, in reporting Merkle's conversation he spoke musingly, as a
man speaks to himself.

"John loves to be caustic; he likes to vocalize his dyspepsia," the old
man muttered. "Well, if it's as serious as he seems to think, we may be
spared the disgrace of a grandchild." Mrs. Wharton did not stir; there
was something uncompromising in the rigid lines of her back and in her
stiffly poised head. "People of her kind always have children," he
continued, "and that's what I told Bob. I told him he was laying up
trouble for himself."

"Bob had more to him than we thought," irrelevantly murmured the mother.

"More than we thought?" Hannibal shook his head. "Not more than I
thought. I knew he had it in him; you were the one--"

"No, no! We both doubted. Perhaps this girl read him."

"Sure she read him!" snorted the father. "She read his bank-book. But I
fooled her."

"Do you remember when Bob was born?"

"Eh?"

"Do you remember? I had trouble, too."

Into Hannibal's eyes came a slow and painful light of reminiscence.

"The doctors thought--"

"Of course I remember!" her husband broke in. "Those damned doctors
said you'd never come through it."

"Yes; I wasn't strong."

"But you did. I was with you. I fought for you. I wouldn't let you die.
Remember it?" The speaker moistened his lips. "Why, I never forgot."

"Bob is experiencing something like that to-night."

Hannibal started, then he fumbled uncertainly for a cigar. When he had
it lighted he said, gruffly, "Well, it made a man of me; I hope it'll
help Bob."

Still staring out across the glowing lights and the mysterious, inky
blots that lay below her, Mrs. Wharton went on: "You are thinking only
of Bob, but that girl is suffering all I suffered that night, and I'm
thinking of her, too. She is offering her life for the life of a little
child, just as I offered mine."

There was a silence, then Hannibal looked up to find his wife standing
over him with face strangely humble. Her eyes were appealing, her frail
figure was shaking wretchedly.

"My dear!" he cried, rising.

"I can't keep it up, Hannibal. I can't pretend any longer. It's Bob's
baby and it's ours--" Disregarding his denial, she ran on, swiftly: "I
wanted more children, but I couldn't have them, so I've starved myself
all these years. You can't understand, but I'm lonely, Hannibal,
terribly lonely and sad. Bob grew up and went away, and all we had left
was money. The dollars piled up; year by year they grew heavier and
heavier until they squeezed our lives dry and crowded out everything.
They even crowded out our son and--spoiled him. They made you into a
stone man; they came between me and the people and the things I loved;
they walled me off from the world. My life is empty--empty. I want to
mother something."

Hannibal inquired, hoarsely: "Not this baby, surely? Not that woman's
child?"

"It's Bob's baby and ours."

He looked down at her queerly for a moment. "The breed is rotten. If he
had married a decent girl--"

"John Merkle says she is splendid."

"How do you know?"

"I have talked with him. I have learned whatever I could about her,
wherever I could, and it's all good. After all, Bob loves her, and
isn't that enough?"

"But she doesn't love him," stormed the father. "She said she didn't.
She wants his money, and she thinks she'll get it this way."

"Do you think money can pay her for what she is enduring at this
minute? She's frightened, just as I was frightened when Bob was born.
She's sick and suffering. But do you think all our dollars could buy
that child from her? Money has made us hard, Hannibal; let's--be
different."

"I'm afraid we have put it off too long," he answered, slowly. "She
won't forgive us, and I'm not sure I want her to."

"Bob's in trouble. Won't you go to him?"

Hannibal Wharton opened his lips, closed them; then, taking his hat and
coat, he left the room.

But as the old man went up-town his nerve failed him. He was fixed in
his ways, he had a blind faith in his own infallibility. Twice he rode
up in the elevator to his son's door, twice he rode down again. The
hall-man informed him that the crisis had not passed, so, finding the
night air not uncomfortable, Hannibal settled himself to wait. After
all, he told himself, this was not the moment for a painful
reconciliation.

As time dragged on he came to a reckoning with his conscience, and his
meditations brought home the realization that despite his success,
despite the love and companionship of his wife, he, too, was growing
old and lonely.

During the chill, still hours after the city had gone to rest an
automobile drew up to the apartment house; when its expected passenger
emerged from the building a grim-faced stranger in a greatcoat accosted
him. One glance challenged the physician's attention, and he answered:

"Yes, it's all over. A boy."

"And--Mrs. Wharton, the mother?"

"Youth is a wonderful thing, and she has everything to live for. She is
doing as well as could be expected. You're a relative, I presume?"

The old man hesitated, then his voice came boldly "Yes, I'm her father."

When the doctor had driven away Hannibal strode into the building and
telephoned to the Waldorf, but now his words were short and oddly
broken. Nevertheless they brought a light of gladness to the eyes of
the woman who had waited all these hours.



CHAPTER XXIX


Adoree Demorest, still in her glittering, hybrid costume, but
heavy-limbed and dull with fatigue, paused outside her own door early
that morning. The time lacked perhaps an hour of dawn, the street
outside and the building itself was silent, yet from Adoree's parlor
issued the sound of light fingers upon piano-keys. Adoree entered, to
find Campbell Pope, with collar loosened and hair on end, seated at the
instrument. The air within the room was blue and reeking with the odor
of stale tobacco-smoke, and the ash-receiver at his elbow was piled
high with burnt offerings, one of which was now sending an
evil-smelling streamer toward the ceiling.

Pope rose at Adoree's entrance, eying her anxiously. "Is everything all
right?" he cried.

"Is what all right?"

"The--er--Lorelei."

"Oh yes! What are you doing here?"

"I suppose I must apologize. You see, I heard the news and came here
after the show. When I learned where you were I decided to wait
and--and help."

"You decided to--help?" Adoree eyed the disheveled musician queerly.
"By smelling up my parlor and playing my poor piano all night--is that
how you help? What do you mean, 'help'?"

The critic appeared to realize for the first time the lateness of the
hour. Glancing at his watch, he gasped:

"Why, I had no idea it was this time. I've been here all night, haven't
I? You see, after I got in I was afraid to go out without explaining."

"What do you mean by saying you wanted to 'help'?" Miss Demorest
repeated, curiously. "You've helped to break my lease--I'll be thrown
out of this house sure."

Pope stammered, guiltily, "I was playing for Bob and Lorelei."

With one glove half off Adoree slowly seated herself, showing in her
face an amazement that increased the man's embarrassment.

"I knew it was a serious matter," he explained, "and, being terribly
fond of Bob and Lorelei, I naturally wanted to do what I could."

"Yes, go on."

Pope took a deeper breath, then burst out:

"Oh, I have a sixty-horse-power imagination, and it seems to me that
music is a sort of--prayer; anyhow it's the only way I know of praying.
Good music is divine language; it's what the angels speak, if there are
any angels. Sometimes it seems to me that I can soar heavenward on the
wings of--of melody and get close enough to make myself heard. In my
own way I was sort of praying for those two children. Foolish, isn't
it? I'm sorry I told you. It sounds nutty to me when I stop to consider
it." Pope stirred uneasily under Adoree's gravely speculative eyes.
"Lorelei's all right?"

Adoree nodded. "It's a boy." There was a moment of silence. "Did you
ever see a brand-new baby?"

"Lord, no!"

Miss Demorest's gaze remained bent upon Pope, but it was focused upon
great distances; her voice when she spoke was hushed and awe-stricken.
"Neither did I until this one. I held it! I held it in my arms. Oh--I
was frightened, and yet I seemed to know just what to do and--and
everything. It was strange. It hurt me terribly, for, you see, I didn't
know what babies meant until to-night. Now I know."

Pope saw the shining eyes suddenly fill and threaten to overflow;
instead of the grotesquely overdressed and artificial stage favorite he
beheld only a yearning woman whose face was softened and glorified as
by a vision.

"Poor Lorelei!" he murmured, at a loss for words.

"Poor Lorelei?" Adoree's lips twisted mirthlessly. "Of course you don't
understand. How could you? Why, it's her baby. She's a mother. I can
hold it once in a while; she can hold it always."

"I didn't know you cared for children--"

Adoree shrugged; the beads at her throat clicked barbarously. "Neither
did I, but I suppose every woman does if she only knew it. To-night I
began to understand what this ache inside of me means." Her gaze came
back and centered upon his face, but it was frightened and
panic-stricken now. "I've sacrificed my right to children."

"How can you say--"

"Oh, you know it as well as I do!" A flush wavered in the speaker's
cheeks, then fled, leaving her white and weary. "You, of all men, must
understand. I'm notorious. I'm a painted woman, a wicked woman--the
wickedest woman in the land--and that reputation will live in spite of
anything I can do." She began to cry now in a way strange to Pope's
experience, for her tears appeared, grew, and spilled themselves slowly
down her cheeks, and she made no attempt to hide them. The sight
depressed him dreadfully, for at heart he was intensely sentimental. "I
didn't know what it means to be notorious," she stated, tensely. "I
didn't know what I was doing when I agreed to be 'Adoree Demorest.'"

Pope's habitual restraint all at once gave way. "Nonsense!" he
exploded. "The thing that counts is what you are, not what you seem to
be. I know the truth; I don't give a damn what people say."

Now there was nothing sufficiently significant about these words to
bring a light of wonderment and gladness to the girl's face, but her
tears ceased as abruptly as they had commenced, and, noting the slowly
growing radiance of her expression, Campbell was stricken dumb with
fright at the possible consequences of temerity. The knowledge of his
shortcomings robbed him of confidence and helped to confuse him.

Adoree rose, she removed her tango cap and the mantle elaborately
draped from one shoulder that served as an evening wrap, then with a
lingering backward glance she disappeared into her chamber. She bathed
her eyes, powdered her cheeks, patted her hair into more becoming
fashion, gave a final dab of the puff upon her nose, as an expert
billiard-player chalks his cue. When she had quite finished she
returned to the critic, who meanwhile had remained frozen in his
tracks. For a moment she stood looking up at him with a peculiar,
tender smile, then took him by the lapels of his shapeless coat and
drew his thin face down to hers.

"I'm not going to let you back out," she declared, firmly. "You asked
me, didn't you?"

"Adoree! No, no! Think what you are doing," he cried, sharply.

But she continued to smile up into his eyes with a gladness that
intoxicated him.

She snuggled closer to him, murmuring, cozily "I don't want to
think--we'll have plenty of time to think when we're too old to talk.
Now, I just want to love you as hard as you have been loving me for the
last six months."

During the days of Lorelei's recovery Bob Wharton was in a peculiarly
exultant mood. Her ready forgiveness of his behavior did much to renew
his faith in himself, besides doubling his devotion to her. He did not
feel that he could ever learn to love her any more than he did, for at
times the strength of his passion frightened him, but her allowance for
his weakness brought them into closer touch with each other and kindled
in him an aching humility that craved self-sacrifice. Dwarfing these
and kindred emotions, however, was a feeling altogether new which had
come with the birth of his son. At first the baby awed and frightened
Bob, it oppressed him with a sense of tremendous responsibility, but on
the heels of this came a dawning pride and then an insatiable
curiosity. He began to spend a great deal of time with the infant; he
studied it, he stared at it, when no one was looking he felt of the
little fellow gingerly, and would have enjoyed examining it minutely
had he dared. His hands itched for it, and its weak, strangling gurgles
sent indescribable thrills through him. The easy dexterity with which
the nurse handled it--as if the precious atom were a bundle of
rags--excited Bob's liveliest apprehension, and at such times he
hovered near by, poised upon tiptoe for fear she might drop it. He felt
that it should be borne on silken cushions while heads were bowed and
backs bent rather than upon the hip or in the crook of a careless
elbow. When he ventured to voice this feeling to his wife he was
offended at her amusement, and for a whole day tortured himself with
the suspicion that the child's mother did not truly love it.

To all young fathers there comes a certain readjustment of values. To
Bob, who had always led a selfish, thoughtless existence, it was at
first bewildering to discover that his place at the head of his
household had been usurped by another. Heretofore he had always been of
supreme domestic importance, but now the order of things was completely
reversed, if not hopelessly jumbled. First in consequence came this new
person, tiny and vastly tyrannical because of its helplessness, then
the nurse, an awesome person--a sort of oracle and regent combined--who
ruled in the name and stead of the new heir. Nurse's wisdom was
unbounded, her lightest wish was law, and next to her in authority was
a fat, bearded prime minister who daily came and went in an automobile
and who wrote edicts on a little pad. This person's frown threw the
entire establishment into confusion. Lorelei herself occupied no mean
station in the new scheme, for at least she shared the confidence of
the nurse and the doctor, and ranked above the cook and the housemaid,
but not so Bob. Somewhere at the foot of the list he found his own true
place.

Now, strange to say, this novel arrangement was extremely agreeable to
the deposed ruler. Bob took a shameless delight in doing menial
service; to fetch and to carry for all hands filled him with joy. But
once outside of the premises he reasserted himself, and his importance
grew as gas expands; he swelled to the bursting-point, he strutted, he
grinned, he was broadly tolerant, and more than once he startled total
strangers by laughing hilariously at nothing. When he could not talk he
whistled in tune to the singing voices within him. But it was seldom
indeed that he could not talk, and before long his intimate friends
began to avoid him like a plague. It was his partner, Kurtz, who
finally dubbed him "The Pestilence that talketh in darkness and the
Destruction that wasteth our noondays."

Scarcely less interested in the new baby was Campbell Pope. Pope, in
fact, was becoming interested in almost everything of late. He was
growing youthful, too, in a way that vaguely alarmed his acquaintances.
His cynicism was disappearing, his dramatic reviews began to assume a
commendatory tone that all but destroyed their journalistic value.

When Lorelei had recovered sufficiently to receive visitors the two
lovers appeared one afternoon laden with packages.

"We've been shopping for the baby," Adoree explained, as she began to
unload herself; and Pope announced enthusiastically that the experience
had been the most exciting of an adventurous lifetime. Both of them, it
seemed, had given free rein to their extravagance, for to begin with
there was a marvelous locomotive that ran on a circular track, slightly
too large to fit any room in the apartment. It was no ordinary tin toy;
it had a bell that rang and a whistle that tooted and a queer little
painted manikin inside the cab. There were, moreover, a depot, a
bridge, and a frowning mountain range pierced by a tunnel. All in all,
the outfit weighed perhaps sixty pounds and required the operating
skill of a practical mechanic.

And it proved to be a dangerous plaything, too, for once it had been
thoroughly wound up and set in motion it developed an unsuspected and
terrifying energy. Bob subdued it only after it had completed a speed
trial down the hall, in the course of which it substantially damaged
baseboard and plaster.

Pope's taste ran to mechanical contrivances; among his contributions
there were, in addition to this public nuisance, an automobile, a
camera, a bowling-alley, and a set of small carpenter's tools, the mere
sight of which brought out a sweat of apprehension upon the baby's
father. Adoree, on the other hand, had invested heavily in animals; her
gifts included a roaring lion, a peacock with a lease-breaking voice,
an elephant that walked, accompanied by strange, whirring, abdominal
sounds, besides many other products of the toy-makers' fancy. There was
a huge doll which Miss Demorest had purchased because of its
resemblance to herself and which was promptly christened "Aunt Adoree";
there were an ermine coat and a toy theater, also a full morocco set of
Lives of Famous Musicians, in six volumes, this being an afterthought
of Pope's, who feared the effects of Bob's low musical tastes upon a
tender child. In addition to all these there was an elaborate enameled
baby's bed with garlands of bisque flowers and a point d'esprit canopy.
This Adoree's sad-faced footman had held upon the front of the
automobile during an embarrassing trip up Fifth Avenue and Riverside
Drive.

During the examination of these interesting objects the lovers made
known their happiness; then, after the customary felicitations, Adoree
explained: "Everything is arranged. We are going to be quietly married
at once--I'm afraid he'll get away from me if I put it off--"

"Not a chance!" Pope's sallow face colored happily.

"As soon as I finish my theatrical contract," Adoree ran on, "we are
going to drop quietly out of sight and stay out of sight."

"Going to live abroad?" Bob inquired.

"Worse!" Pope explained. "Long Island. We're going to raise ducks."

"Ducks!" Adoree echoed, beatifically. "Hundreds and thousands of ducks!
Little ducks and big ducks, fuzzy ones and smooth ones. Campbell can
write plays, and I'll wear kimonos and be comfortable. It's wonderful
to think about, isn't it?"

Pope supplemented her eagerly. "I'm looking for a bungalow on
salt-water, with a south exposure for the brooder-houses. Say! We're
going to live. I tell you, Bob, there's money in ducks. I'm reading up
on the subject. My dear fellow, do you realize that--" He swung into
his pet subject so swiftly that Bob could not head him off and was
forced to listen somewhat dazedly.

Lorelei reached forth and drew Adoree down to her, whispering: "I'm so
glad, dear. I knew he would end by loving you, for everybody does."

Pope concluded a lengthy harangue by saying: "My mistake last year was
in the food. Ducks need soft food."

"Listen!" Bob raised a hand and nodded in the direction of the girls.
"They're discussing that very subject."

"Top milk, indeed!" Adoree was crying, indignantly. "Ours will have
cream when they want it, and lots of it too."

"My dear! It will be fatal." Lorelei was horrified. "Use nothing but
top milk and barley-water. Be sure to sterilize the bottles and soak
the nipples in borax--"

"Say!" Campbell Pope flushed painfully and rose to his feet. "They're
not talking ducks. Women haven't the least delicacy, have they? Let's
go out and smoke."

One day, after Bob had acquired sufficient confidence in himself and in
the baby to handle it without anxiety to the nurse, he begged
permission to show it to the hallman down-stairs. He returned greatly
elated, explaining that the attendant, who had some impossible number
of babies of his own and might therefore be considered an authority,
declared this one to be the finest he had ever beheld. Oddly enough,
this praise delighted Bob out of all reason. He remained in a state of
suppressed excitement all that day, and on the following afternoon he
again kidnapped the child for a second exhibition. It seemed that the
infant's fame spread rapidly, for soon the tenants of neighboring
apartments began to clamor for a sight of it, and Bob was only too
eager to gratify them. Every afternoon he took his son down-stairs with
him, until finally Lorelei checked him as he was going out.

"Bob, dear," she said, with the faintest shadow of a smile. "I don't
think it's good for him to go out so often. Why don't you ask your
father and mother to come up?"

Wharton flushed, then he stammered, "I--what makes you--er--think--"

"Why, I guessed it the very first day." Lorelei's smile saddened. "They
needn't see me, you know."

Bob laid the child back in its bed. "But that's just what they want.
They want to see you, only I wouldn't let you be bothered. They're
perfectly foolish over the kid; mother cries, and father--but just
wait." He rushed out of the room, and in a few moments returned with
his parents.

Hannibal Wharton was deeply embarrassed, but his wife went straight to
Lorelei and, bending over her chair, placed a kiss upon her lips.
"There," said she. "When you are stronger I'm going to apologize for
the way we've treated you. We're old people. We're selfish and
suspicious and unreasonable, but we're not entirely inhuman. You won't
be too hard on us, will you?"

The old lady's eyes were shining, the palms which were clasped over
Lorelei's hand were hot and tremulous. The look of hungry yearning that
greeted the elder woman's words was ample answer, and with a little
choking cry she gathered the weak figure into her arms and thrilled as
she felt the amber head upon her breast.

Hannibal trumpeted into his handkerchief, then cleared his throat
premonitorily, but Bob forestalled him with a happy laugh. "Don't hold
any post-mortems, dad. Lorelei knows everything you intend to say."

"I'm blamed if she does," rumbled the old man, "because I don't know
myself. I'm not much on apologies; I can take 'em, but I can't make
'em." His voice rose sternly: "Young lady, the night that baby was born
I stood outside this house for hours because I was afraid to come in.
And my feet hurt like the devil, too. I wouldn't lose that much sleep
for the whole Steel Trust; but I didn't dare go back to the hotel, for
mother was waiting, and I was afraid of her, too. I don't intend to go
through another night like that."

Bob's mother turned to her son, saying: "She is beautiful, and she is
good, too. Anybody can see that. We could love her for what she has
done for you, if for nothing else."

"Well, I should say so," proudly vaunted the son. "She took a chance
when she didn't care for me, and she made me into a regular fellow.
Why, she reformed me from the ground up. I've sworn off every blessed
thing I used to do."

"Including drinking?" gruffly queried the father.

"Yes."

Lorelei smiled her slow, reluctant smile at the visitors, and her voice
was gentle as she said: "He thinks he has, but it's hard to stop
entirely, and you mustn't blame him if he forgets himself occasionally.
You see, drinking is mostly a matter of temperament, after all. But he
is doing splendidly, and some day perhaps--"

They nodded understandingly.

"You'll try to like us, won't you, for Bob's sake?" pleaded the old
lady, timidly.

"I intend to love you both very dearly," shyly returned the girl, and,
noting the light in Lorelei's face, Bob Wharton was satisfied.

Restraint vanished swiftly under the old couple's evident determination
to make amends, but after they had gone Lorelei became so pensive that
Bob said, anxiously, "I hope you weren't polite to them merely for my
sake."

Lorelei shook her head "No. I was only thinking--Do you realize that
none of my own people have been to see me? That I haven't had a single
word from any of them?"

Bob stirred uncomfortably; he started to speak, then checked himself as
she went on, not without some effort: "I'm going to say something
unpleasant, but I think you ought to know it. When they learn that your
parents have taken me in and made up with us they're going to ask me
for money. It's a terrible thing to say, but it's true."

"Do you want to see them? Do you want them to see the baby?"

"N--no!" Lorelei was pale as she made answer. "Not after all that has
passed."

Bob heaved a grateful sigh. "I'm glad. They won't trouble you any more."

"Why? What--"

"I've been waiting until you were strong to tell you. I've noticed how
their silence hurt you, but--it's my fault that they haven't been here.
I sent them away."

"YOU sent them away?"

"Yes. I fixed them with money and--they're happy at last. There's
considerable to tell. Jim got into trouble with the police and finally
sent for me. He told me everything and--it wasn't pretty; I'd rather
not repeat all he said, but it opened my eyes and showed me why they
brought you here, how they put you on the auction block, and how they
cried for bids. He told me things you know nothing about and could
never guess. When he had finished I thanked God that they had flung you
into my arms instead of--some other man's. It's a miracle that you
weren't sacrificed utterly."

"Where is Jim now?"

"Somewhere in the boundless West. He gave me his promise to reform."

"He never will."

"Of course not, and I don't expect it of him. You see, I know how hard
it is to reform."

"But mother and father?"

"I'm coming to them. My dad came around the day after our baby was born
and shook hands. He wanted to stamp right in here and tell you what a
fool he had made of himself, but I wouldn't stand for it. Finally, when
he saw the kid, he blew up entirely, and right away proposed breaking
ground for a jasper palace for the youngster. He wanted to build it in
Pittsburg where he could run in, going to and from business. Mother was
just as foolish, too. Well, when I had had my little understanding with
Jim and learned the whole truth about your people I realized that no
matter where we went they would be a constant menace to our happiness
unless they were provided for. It struck me that you had made a game
fight for happiness, and I couldn't stand for anything to spoil it at
the last minute. I went to mother and told her the facts, and she
seemed to understand as well as I how you must feel in spite of all
they had done, so we shook down the governor for an endowment."

"Bob! What do you mean?" Lorelei faltered in bewilderment.

"We asked him for a hundred thousand dollars and got it."

Lorelei gasped.

"He bellowed like a bull, he spat poison like a cobra, he writhed like
a bucket of eels, but we put it over."

"A hundred thousand dollars!" whispered the wife.

"To a penny. And it's in the bank to your credit. But I didn't stop
there." Bob's voice hardened. "I went to your mother and in your name I
promised her the income from it so long, and only so long, as she and
Peter stayed away from you. She accepted--rather greedily, I
thought--and they have gone back to Vale. They have your old house, and
I have their promise never to see you except upon your invitation. Of
course you can go to them whenever you wish, but--they're happy, and I
think we will be happier with them in Vale than in New York. I hope you
don't object to my arrangement."

There was a long silence, then Lorelei sighed. "You are a very good
man, Bob. It was my dream to do something of this sort, but I could
never have done it so well."

Her husband bent and kissed her tenderly. "It wasn't all my doings; I
had help. And you mustn't feel sad, for something tells me you're going
to learn finally the meaning of a real mother's love."

"Yes--yes!" The answer came dreamily, then as a fretful complaint
issued from the crib at her side Lorelei leaned forward and swiftly
gathered the baby into her arms.

"Is he sick?" Bob questioned, in alarm.

"No, silly. He's only hungry."

There in the gathering dusk Bob Wharton looked on at a sight that never
failed to thrill him strangely. In his wife's face was a beautiful
content, and it seemed to him fitting indeed that this country girl who
had come to the city in quest of Life should end her search thus, with
a baby at her breast.

THE END





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