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Title: Mollie's Substitute Husband
Author: McConn, Max
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 "Mollie's Substitute Husband" ***

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         [Transcriber’s note: The frontispiece was missing from
                            the source book]



                          *MOLLIE’S SUBSTITUTE
                                HUSBAND*


                                   BY

                               MAX McCONN



                         _WITH FRONTISPIECE BY_
                           EDWARD C. CASWELL



                           THE RYERSON PRESS
                                TORONTO
                                  1920



                            COPYRIGHT, 1920
                    BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, INC.

                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.



                               *CONTENTS*

CHAPTER

I  "The Professor" on a Spree
II  The Prettiest Girl
III  Friendly Strangers
IV  An Unscrupulous Reformer
V  Alicia and the Motives of Men
VI  Stage-Setting
VII  Boy and Girl
VIII  Passages with Mayor Black
IX  Aunt Mary
X  A Senator Missing
XI  Confessions of Waiter No. 73
XII  Grapefruit and Telegrams
XIII  A Change of Management
XIV  Holding the Fort
XV  Council of War
XVI  The Senatorial Dinner
XVII  A Devious Journey
XVIII  Jennie
XIX  A New Antagonist
XX  An Eventful Supper Party
XXI  Flash Lights
XXII  Virtue Triumphant
XXIII  Return
XXIV  The Reform League
XXV  Second Council of War
XXVI  The Business of Being an Impostor
XXVII  The Code Telegram
XXVIII  Simpson as Detective
XXIX  The Final Dilemma
XXX  Mollie June



                     *MOLLIE’S SUBSTITUTE HUSBAND*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                      *"THE PROFESSOR" ON A SPREE*


John Merriam, Principal of the High School at Riceville,
Illinois--"Professor" Merriam, as he was universally called by the
citizens of Riceville--was wickedly, carnally, gloriously happy. He was
having an unwonted spree.

I fear the reader will be shocked.  The principal of a high school, he
will say, has no right to a spree, even an occasional one.  The
"Professor" has girl students in his classes--mostly girls, indeed, and
usually the prettiest ones in town--and women teachers under his
supervision.  Every seventh day he teaches a young people’s class in a
Sunday School.  He makes addresses at meetings of the Y.P.S.C.E., the
Y.M.C.A., and other alphabetically designated societies that make for
righteousness and decorum.  He should at all times and in all places be
a model, an exemplar, to the budding young men and women of the
community in general and his school in particular.

In this reasoning the reader is in strict accord with what the sentiment
of all Riceville would have been if it had known--if it could have
known.

Nevertheless, it is the regrettable and shocking fact that John Merriam
was sitting on that pleasant April evening in the Peacock Cabaret of the
Hotel De Soto in the wicked city of Chicago.  He was attired in evening
clothes, a fact which, in itself would have seemed both odd and
reprehensible to Riceville, and he was alone at a tiny table with a
yellow-silk-shaded lamp.  He had just been guided to that table, and
pending the arrival of a waiter, he was gazing eagerly, boyishly about
him at such delights as the somewhat garish Peacock Cabaret displayed.

For John Merriam, though a "professor," was young.  He was only
twenty-eight.  He was tall and blond and athletic, as young men who grow
up on farms in the Middle West and then go to college have a way of
being.  And after his season of strenuous and highly virtuous labours at
Riceville he was really hungry, keen, for something--well, just a little
less virtuous.

A distinguished looking gentleman in a dinner jacket, conspicuously
labeled with a number, somewhat haughtily and negligently approached,
bearing a menu card.

About three paces away this gentleman, having glanced at young Merriam,
fairly stopped and stared at him.  An odd expression showed upon his
face--an expression, one would almost have said, of intense animosity.
Then, as he still stared, one might have decided that his look betokened
perplexity.  He winked his eyes several times and once more scrutinised
his waiting guest.  At length--perhaps ten seconds had passed--his face
slowly, wonderingly cleared, his usual air of vacant indifference
returned, and he advanced and placed the menu card in Merriam’s hands.
The latter, still drinking in the sights and sounds of his unaccustomed
environment, had noticed nothing.

Now it is always prudent to note a waiter’s number when he first
presents himself, for in case he should decide to begin his summer
vacation immediately after taking your order you may need to mention his
number to the head waiter.  In this case the number was 73.

The hauteur and negligence displayed were partly habitual--professional,
so to speak--but were intensified perhaps by the reaction from the
emotion, whatever it was, which he had apparently just
experienced--perhaps also by the look of alert and genuine pleasure on
Merriam’s face.  Such a look did not wholly commend itself or him to a
sophisticated metropolitan taste.  What right had a patron of the
Peacock Cabaret to look really pleased?  It was hardly decent--and
argued a small tip.

Inwardly Merriam, now aware of the waiter’s presence, reacted acutely to
this clearly perceptible disdain.  Which shows how young and how rural
he was.  We maturer, urban folk are never, of course, in the least
nonplused by those contemptuous, blasé silences of waiters who possess
the bearing and manner of a governor or a capitalist.

But John Merriam had been excellent in amateur dramatics at college, and
he now roused himself to a magnificent histrionic effort in the rôle of
"man of the world."

He pushed the menu card aside without looking at it.

"A clam cocktail, please, and a stein of beer," he murmured, low enough
to force the distinguished one to unbend slightly in order to catch the
words.

"Yes, sir," said Waiter No. 73, with a tentative suggestion of respect
in his tone.  A customer who did not bother to look at the menu might be
worth while after all.

"And then what?"

"I’ll see how I feel then," said Merriam with a half yawn.

"Yes, sir," said Waiter No. 73, almost courteously, and departed at a
pace slightly quickened over that of his approach, as a man strolling at
complete leisure will instinctively increase the tempo of his step if he
chances to recall a definite engagement on the day after to-morrow.

Merriam grinned delightedly.  He had put it across--his little piece of
acting.  He had measurably imposed his rôle on his audience of one; at
least he had shaken him.

And then--I shudder when I recall the views on nicotine of the Board of
Education at Riceville--he drew from his pocket a package of cigarettes,
and took a match from the table, and lit a cigarette, and sent a volume
of smoke out through his nostrils--proving, alas, that it was not his
first indulgence,--and, with a sigh that might almost be described as
ecstatic, turned his attention again to the scene about him.

That scene was piquant to him--after the ugly dining room of his
boarding house at Riceville and the barren assembly hall of the High
School--to a degree almost incredible to persons more habituated to the
Peacock Cabaret and similar resorts.  Not being quite so fresh from
Riceville, nor yet the advertising manager of the Hotel De Soto, I
cannot, I fear, paint the prospect as Merriam saw it.  I shall not be
able to conceal some mental reservations as to its charms.  The purple
peacocks upon the walls and ceiling, from which the restaurant took its
name, were certainly a trifle over-gorgeous, just as the music which the
orchestra intermittently dispensed was too much syncopated.  Again, the
scores of small tables, each with its silk-shaded lamp, its slim glass
vase for a single rosebud, its water bottle bearing the arms of the
Chevalier De Soto, and its ash receptacle--all alike as shoe boxes in a
shoe shop are alike,--might to a tired fancy suggest a certain monotony
of pleasure, a too-much-standardised, ready-made brand of bliss. The
small, skimped stage, with its undeniably banal curtain, and the crowded
dancing floor did not really promise unlimited delights.  Some
perception of all this was apparent in the faces and bearing of many of
the white-shirt-fronted men who sat at the scores of tables and of the
women who were with them, however bird-of-paradise-like the raiment of
the latter might be.  Not a few indeed displayed an air of languor and
ennui that might have won approval even from Waiter No. 73.

But in speaking thus of the Peacock Cabaret I am stepping outside my
story, violating unity of point of view--in short, committing a heinous
literary crime.  For to Merriam at that moment the screaming purple
peacocks, the regiments of rosebuds, the musical comedy melodies, the
gay attire and bare shoulders of the women, and even the tired look of
his fellow-diners, which he interpreted as sophistication rather than
simple boredom, were thrillingly symbolical of all the delights which
the great world held and which were absent from Riceville.  And when
Waiter No. 73 leisurely returned, to find him outwardly almost too near
asleep to keep his cigarette going, and deposited his clam cocktail and
the wicked stein before him, and at the same moment the orchestra became
more noisy than ever, and all the lights except those upon the tables
went out, and the stage curtain rose upon a short-skirted chorus, he was
really in a sort of Omar Khayyam paradise.  It was lucky that Waiter No.
73 had again departed to those unknown regions where waiters spend the
bulk of their time, for Merriam could not have concealed the zest with
which he alternately ate and drank and surveyed the moderately comely
demoiselles upon the little stage.

Having finished his cocktail and drunk some of his beer and seen the
curtain descend on the first "act" of the cabaret’s dramatic
entertainment, Merriam lit another cigarette, shifted his chair, and
settled himself to await the probable future return of his servitor.
His thoughts dwelt contentedly on the evening before him.  For after his
meal he would have a stroll with a cigar in the spring twilight (it was
barely six-thirty then) through the noisy, brightly lighted streets of
the Loop, which never failed to thrill him with a sense of a somehow
wicked vastness, power, and riches in the great city of which they were
the center.  And then he was going to the "Follies."  He fingered the
small envelope in his pocket which held his ticket.  And after the show
he would have a supper in another cabaret.

Beyond that he did not let his fancy wander. For after that there was
nothing for it but to catch the 2:00 A.M. train on the Illinois Central
that would carry him back to Riceville for the remaining six weeks of
the school year.  He had come up to Chicago on this spring day--a
Tuesday it was--to attend a convention of high-school principals and to
engage a couple of new teachers for the next year, to replace two that
were to be married in June. And he had faithfully done these things.
And now he was giving himself just this one evening of amusement--two
cabaret meals and a "show," sauced, so to speak, with a little tobacco
and beer and the wearing of his evening clothes.  Surely whatever
Riceville might have thought, he will not seem to most of us very
derelict from the austere ideals of his profession.

The only real point against him--most of us might argue--lies in the
fact that when, you touch even the outermost fringes of the night life
of a city, you are never quite certain what may come to you. For there
are things happening all about you, under the conventional, monotonous
surface--things amusing and things terrible--men and women playing with
the fire of every known human passion,--and if the finger of some
adventure reaches out for you you may not be able to resist its lure,
perhaps even to escape its clutch.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                          *THE PRETTIEST GIRL*


I have said that Merriam had shifted his chair a little as he lit his
second cigarette.  A moment later he was looking very hard at a certain
pretty woman at a table half way across the room.  His heart stopped.
At least that is the phrase a novelist seems to be required to use to
indicate the sudden pulse of amazement and pleasure and alarm which he
certainly felt.

The young woman at whom he was staring had a name which is very
important for this story and which I shall presently tell you, but in
John Merriam’s mind her name was "the prettiest girl," and her other
name, which he seldom dared whisper to his heart, was "Mollie June."
She was from Riceville--hence the alarm with which his pleasure was
mixed,--and during his first four months of teaching, three years
before, she had been in his senior class in the High School--the
"prettiest girl" in the class and in the school and in the town--and in
the State and the United States and the world, if you had asked John
Merriam.  Advanced algebra with Mollie June in the class had been the
most golden of sciences--pleasure squared, delight cubed, and bliss to
the _n_th power.  I am not myself absolutely convinced of Mollie June’s
proficiency in solving quadratic equations, yet the official records of
the Riceville High School show that she received the highest mark in the
class.

But she was the daughter of James P. Partridge, the owner of all
Riceville; that is to say, of the coal mines outside the town, of the
grain elevator, of the street car and electric light company, and of the
First National Bank.  Who was John Merriam, the son of a poor farmer in
a southern county, who had worked his way through college and come out
with nothing but a B.S. degree, a football reputation that was quite
unnegotiable, and three hundred dollars of fraternity debts--an enormous
sum,--to mix anything warmer or livelier than a^2-b^2 in his thoughts of
a class to which Mollie June Partridge deigned to belong?  Even if
Mollie June herself did come up to his desk in the assembly room two or
three times a week for help in her algebra and spend most of the time
asking him about college instead, and join his Young People’s Class,
which she had previously refused to attend, and allow him to "see her
home" from church sociables, and compel that docile magnate, John P.
Partridge, her father, to invite the new "professor" to dinner twice
during the half year?  As well almost might a humble tutor in the castle
of a feudal lord have raised his eyes to the baron’s daughter.

Almost, but not quite.  After all this is a free republic.  Even a poor
pedagogue is a citizen with a vote and a potential candidate for the
presidency--which at least two poor pedagogues have attained.  So John
Merriam permitted himself to be very happy during those four months and
was not in the least hopeless.  Only he saw that he must bide his time.

But early in January Mollie June left school, and in a few days it came
out that she had left to be married--married to Senator Norman!

Senator Norman was the famous "boy senator" from Illinois--at the time
of his election the youngest man who had ever sat in the upper house of
Congress.  The ruddiness of his cheeks, the abundance of his wavy blond
hair, and the athletic jauntiness of his carriage won votes whenever he
stumped the State.  They went far to counteract malicious insinuations
as to the means by which he was rolling up a fortune and his solidity
with "interests" which the proletariat viewed with suspicion.

And now, having been a widower for eighteen months--his first wife was
older than he and had brought him money,--he had stayed for a week-end
during the Christmas holidays with James P. Partridge, who was a cousin
of the Senator’s first wife and his political lieutenant for a certain
group of counties, and had seen Mollie June and wanted her and asked for
her and got her, as George Norman always asked for and got whatever he
wanted.

All this was, of course, in John Merriam’s mind as he gazed across a
dozen tables in the Peacock Cabaret at the unchanged profile of the
prettiest girl--that is to say, Mrs. Senator Norman.  And with it came
an acute revival of the desolation of that January and February at
Riceville, when he had perceived with the Hebrew sage that "in much
learning"--or in little, for that matter--"is much weariness," and that
algebra should have been buried with the medieval Arabians who invented
it--when even the State championship in basket ball, won by the
Riceville Five under his coaching, was only a trouble and a bore.

There is no doubt he stared rudely.  At least it would have been rudely
if his eyes had held the look which eyes that stare at pretty women
commonly hold.  But such a look as stood in Merriam’s eyes can hardly be
rude, however intent and prolonged it may be.

He was merely entranced in the literal sense of that word.  Her girlish
white shoulders--he had never seen her shoulders before--in Riceville
women no more have shoulders than they have legs--the soft brown hair
over her ears--even the mode of the day, which called for close net
effects and tight knobs, could not conceal its fine softness--the colour
in her cheeks, which unquestionably shamed all the neighbouring
rosebuds--the quite inexplicable deliciousness of those particular small
curves described by the lines of her nose and chin and throat as he saw
them in half profile--were more than he could draw his eyes away from
for an unconscionable number of seconds.  Of her charmingly simple and
unquestionably very expensive frock as a separate fact, and of the thin,
pale, and elderly, but gorgeously arrayed woman who was her companion,
he had no clear perception, but undoubtedly they both contributed, along
with the lights and colours and music of the Peacock Cabaret, to the
deplorable confusion of his mind.

Out of that confusion there presently arose certain clear images and
tones and words, which made up his memory of the last time he had seen
and spoken with the present Mrs. Senator Norman.

It was at and after a miscellaneous kind of young people’s entertainment
which occurred at the Methodist Church on the evening of that bitter day
on which the news of her engagement to Senator Norman had run like a
prairie fire through the streets and homes of Riceville, fiercely
incinerating all other topics of conversation, and consuming also the
joy in life, the ambition, the very youth, it seemed to him, of John
Merriam.  He would not have gone to that entertainment if he could have
escaped.  But there were to be charades, and he had arranged and coached
most of them and was to be in several.  He "simply had to go," as
Ricevillians might have said.

She was there with her mother.  When had she ever come just with her
mother, that is to say, without a male escort, before?  That fact alone
was symbolical of the closing of the gates of matrimony upon her.
Naturally, in his pain he followed his primitive and childish instincts
and avoided her.

But he was aware--he was almost sure--of her eyes continually following
him throughout the evening, and during "refreshments" she deliberately
came up to him and said that her mother was obliged to leave early, and
would he see her home? Well, of course, if she asked him, he had to.  I
am afraid that the tone if not the words of his reply said as much, and
Mollie June had turned away with quick tears in her eyes.  Yet I
question whether she was really hurt by his rudeness.  For why should he
be rude to-night when he had never been so before unless he--to use the
most expressive of Americanisms--"cared"?

For the rest of the evening, as a result of those tears, which he had
seen, it was his eyes that followed her, while hers avoided him.  But he
did not speak with her again until "seeing-home" time arrived.

Mollie June lingered till the very end of everything. Perhaps the little
girl in her--for she was barely eighteen--clung to this last shred of
the familiar, homely social life of her girlhood before she should be
plunged into the frightful brilliance of real "society" in terrific
places known as Chicago and Washington--as a senator’s wife!

But at last they were walking together towards her home.

"Take my arm, please," said Mollie June.

The boys in Riceville always take the girls’ arms at night, though never
in the daytime.  John ought to have taken her arm before.  He took it.

"Have you heard that I am going to be married?" asked Mollie June--as if
she did not know that everybody in the county knew it by that time.

"Yes," said John, his tone as succinct as his monosyllable.

But girls learn early to deal with the conversational difficulties and
recalcitrances of males under stress of emotion.

"It means leaving school and Riceville and--everything," said Mollie
June.

John could not fail to catch the note of pitifulness in her sentence.
If the prospective marriage had been with any one less dazzling than
George Norman, he might have reacted more properly.  As it was, he
replied with a stilted impersonality which might have been caught from
the bright stars shining through the bare branches under which they
walked.

"You will have a very rich and brilliant life," he said.

"I suppose so," said Mollie June.

They walked on, he still obediently clutching her arm, in silence;
conversation not accompaniable with laughter is so difficult an art for
youth.

Presently Mollie June tried again.

"Aren’t you sorry I’m leaving the school--Mr. Merriam?"

"I’m very sorry indeed," responded "Professor" Merriam.  "You ought to
have stayed to graduate."

"I don’t care about graduating," said Mollie June.

Again their footsteps echoed in the cold January silence.

Then Mollie June made a third attempt:

"You look ever so much like Mr. Norman."

"I know it," said Merriam.  "We’re related."

"Oh, _are you_?"

"On my mother’s side.  We’re second cousins. But the two branches of the
family have nothing to do with each other now."

"He has the same hair and the same shape of head and the same way of
sitting and moving," Mollie June declared with enthusiasm, "and almost
the same eyes and voice.  Only his are----"

"Older!" said John Merriam rudely.

"Yes," said Mollie June.

Distances are not great in Riceville.  For this reason the ceremony of
"seeing home" is usually termed by a circuitous route, sometimes
involving the entire circumference of the "nice" part of the town.  But
on this occasion John and Mollie June had gone directly, as though their
object had been to arrive.  They reached her home--a matter of two
blocks from the church-before another word had been said.

There Mollie June carefully extricated her arm from his mechanical grasp
and confronted him.

He looked at her face, peeping out of the fur collar of her coat in the
starlight, and for one instant into her eyes.

She was saying: "I am very grateful to you, Merriam, for all the help
you have given me--in--algebra."

He ought to have kissed her.  She wanted him to.  He half divined as
much--afterwards.

But the awkward, callow, Anglo-Saxon, rural, pedagogical cub in him
replied, "I am glad if I have been able to help you in anything."

That, I judge, was too much for Mollie June. She held out her little
gloved hand.

"Good-bye, Mr. Merriam!"

He took her hand.  And now appears the advantage of a college education,
including amateur dramatics and courses in English poetry and romantic
fiction.  He did what no other swain in Riceville could have done.  He
raised her hand to his lips and kissed it!  At least he kissed the glove
which tightly enclosed the hand.

"Good-bye, Mollie June!" he said, using that name for the first time.

Then he dropped her hand, somewhat suddenly, I fear, turned abruptly,
and walked rapidly away.

As to what Mollie June said or thought or felt, how should I know?
There was nothing for her to do but to go into the house, and that is
what she did.



                             *CHAPTER III*

                          *FRIENDLY STRANGERS*


John Merriam raised his eyes from the table-cloth on which they had
rested while these images from the distant past--two and one-half years
ago--moved across the screen of his memory. To his now mature
perceptions the stupidity and gaucherie of his own part in that
scene--save for the redeeming kissing of the glove--were clearly
apparent, and were for the moment almost as painful to him as the fact
that Mollie June was another man’s wife.

He glanced around, avoiding only the table at which Mrs. Senator Norman
sat.  The glory was gone from the Peacock Cabaret.  The garishness of
the peacocks, the tin-panniness of the music, the futility of beer and
cigarettes and evening clothes, were desolatingly revealed to him.  He
put his cigarette aside, to smoke itself up unregarded on the ash tray.

It had been his duty to "forget," and it is neither more nor less than
justice to say that after a fashion he had succeeded in doing so.  His
winter and spring, three years ago, had been miserable; but he had
undeniably enjoyed his summer vacation, and had found interest in his
work again in the fall. To be sure, the edge was gone from his ambition.
He had stuck ploddingly at teaching, too indifferent to try to better
himself.  Still he had not been actively unhappy.  But now----

He was diverted by the return of Waiter No. 73. No need of play-acting
now to conceal any unsophisticated delight in his surroundings.  But he
must pull himself together.  He must not exhibit to the world, as
incarnated in Waiter No. 73, a depression as boyish as his previous
pleasure.  He must still be the stoical, tranquil man of the world, who
knows women and tears them from his heart when need be.  It was the same
rôle--with a difference!

"What next, sir?"

Merriam glanced hastily at the menu card and ordered a steak with French
fried potatoes and a lettuce-and-tomato salad.  He was not up to an
attack on any unfamiliar viands.

As he gave his order he was aware of a party of three persons, seated a
little to his left--the opposite direction from the fateful spot
inhabited by Mollie June,--who seemed to be taking particular note of
him.  And as he lit another cigarette after the waiter had left him he
noticed them again. Unquestionably they were furtively regarding him.
Now and then they exchanged remarks of which he was sure he was the
subject.

The three persons included a square-jawed man of about forty-five, a
pale, benevolent-looking priest and a very beautiful woman.  The woman
had not only shoulders and arms but also a great deal of bosom and back,
all dazzlingly, powderedly fair and ideally plump.  She had black hair
and eyes--brilliantly, even aggressively, black.  Her gown was a
lavender silk net with spangles.  Her age--well, she was certainly older
than Mollie June and certainly within, safely within, "the age at which
women cease to be interesting to men," whatever that age may be.

Our youthful man of the world was a little embarrassed at first by the
scrutiny of this gorgeous trio.  He glanced quickly down at his own
attire, as a girl might have done.  But there could be nothing wrong
with his evening clothes.  (A man is so safe in that respect.)  They
were only five years old, having been acquired, in a heroic burst of
extravagance, during his senior year in college. He wanted to put his
hand up to his white bow to make sure it was not askew, but restrained
himself.

Presently Merriam began to enjoy the attention he was receiving.  If one
must play a part, it is pleasant to have an audience.  It helped him to
keep his eyes off Mollie June.  He began to give attention to the
smoking of his cigarette.  He handled it with nonchalant grace.  He
exhaled smoke through his nostrils.  He recalled an envied
accomplishment of his college days and carefully blew a couple of
tolerably perfect smoke rings.  And he wished that Mollie June would
turn and see him in his evening clothes.

Presently the clerical gentleman, after an earnest colloquy with the
square-jawed one, rose and came across to Merriam’s table, while the
other two now openly watched.

The priest rested two white hands on the edge of the table and bent over
him with a friendly smile.

"Will you pardon a frank question from a stranger?" he asked.

"I guess a question won’t hurt me," said Merriam.

At this simple reply the cleric straightened up quickly as if startled
and looked at Merriam closely and curiously.  Then he said:

"Are you by any chance related to Senator Norman?"

"Yes, I am," said Merriam.

"May I ask what the relationship is?"

Merriam told him.

"Thank you," said the priest.  "The resemblance is really remarkable.
And we saw you looking at Mrs. Norman.  Do you know her?"

"Yes.  I knew her before--before she--was married."

"I see.  Thank you so much."

The inquisitive priest returned to his friends, who appeared to listen
intently to his report.

At the same time Waiter No. 73 arrived with Merriam’s steak and salad.

He ate self-consciously, feeling himself still under observation from
the other table.  But when he was half way through his salad his
attention was effectually distracted from those watchers.  For Mollie
June and her companion had risen to go.

Merriam put down his fork and looked at her. She was really beautiful to
any eyes--so fresh and young and alive amid the tawdry ennui of her
surroundings, a human girl among the labouring ghosts of a _danse
macabre_.  To Merriam she was--what you will--radiant, divine.  He
wished he had not lost a moment from looking at her since he first saw
her.

A waiter had brought a fur cloak and now held it for her.  As she
adjusted it about her shoulders she glanced around and saw Merriam.

For a moment she looked straight at him.  Merriam would have sworn that
her colour heightened ever so little and then paled.  She smiled a
mechanical little smile, bowed slightly, spoke to her companion, and
threaded her way quickly among tables to an exit.

"I beg your pardon!"

Merriam started and looked up--to find the black-eyed, white-bosomed
woman from the other table standing beside him.  He was conscious of a
faint fragrance, which a more sophisticated person would have recognised
as that of an extremely expensive perfume, widely advertised under the
name of a famous opera singer.

He rose mechanically, dropping his napkin.

"No, no," she smiled.  "Won’t you sit down--and let me sit down a
moment, too?"

She took the chair opposite him.

"My name is Alicia Wayward," she said.  There was a kind of deliberate
sweetness in her tone.

John Merriam got back somehow into his chair and looked at her, but did
not reply.  His eyes saw the face of Mollie June, peeping out of her
furs, as on that last night at Riceville, her changing colour, her
mechanical smile, and the hurrying away without giving him a chance to
go to her for a single word.

"Won’t you tell me your name?" said Alicia, with the barest suggestion
in her voice of sharpness in the midst of sweet.

"John Merriam."

"And you are a second cousin of Senator Norman?"

"Yes."

"I am an old friend of Senator Norman’s," said Alicia.  "We are all
friends of his."  She nodded towards the other table.  "And we should
very much like to have a little private talk with you about a very
important matter.--How do you do, Simpson?"

Merriam looked up again.  Waiter No. 73 was standing over them.  But he
was a transformed being.  The ramrod had somehow been extracted from his
spine, and his stern features were transfigured in an expression of
happy and ingratiating servility.

"Very well, Miss Alicia," he said.

"Simpson used to be my father’s butler," explained Miss Wayward.  "We’ve
never had so a butler since."

"Thank you, Miss Alicia," said Simpson fervently.

"Send me the head waiter," said Miss Wayward.

"Yes, Miss Alicia," and Simpson departed almost with alacrity.

"You are just ready for your dessert, I see," said Alicia.  "I am going
to ask the head waiter to change us both to one of the private rooms and
give us Simpson to wait on us.  Then I can present you to my friends,
and we can have the private talk I spoke of.  You don’t mind, do you?"

Merriam thought of the "Follies."  But the idea of the "Follies" bored
him after seeing Mollie June.  And one cannot refuse a lady.  He
recaptured some fraction of his manners.

"I shall be pleased," he said.

"Thank you," said Alicia, with augmented sweetness.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                       *AN UNSCRUPULOUS REFORMER*


The head waiter arrived.  Could they be removed to a private
dining-room?  Most certainly they could.  Yes, Simpson should serve
them. Obviously anything that Miss Alicia Wayward desired could be done,
must be done, and it was done.

They ordered ices and _café noir_.

"And a liqueur?" suggested Alicia.

Merriam assented.

"What should you prefer?"

Now Merriam knew the name of just one liqueur.  He made prompt use of
that solitary scrap of information.

"Benedictine, perhaps," he suggested, as who should say, "Out of all the
world’s vintages my mature choice among liqueurs is Benedictine."

"Good," smiled Alicia.  (I am afraid she was not effectually deceived.)

Merriam was introduced first to Father Murray.

"He isn’t a real Father," said Alicia.  "He’s not a Romanist.  Only a
paltry Anglican.  But he’s so very, very High Church that a layman can
hardly tell the difference."

Father Murray was deprecatory but unruffled. A Christian priest must
forgive all things.

"This is Mr. Philip Rockwell of the Reform League," said Alicia.  "His
fame has doubtless reached you.  ’One-Thing-at-a-Time Rockwell.’"

His fame had not reached Merriam, but the latter bowed and shook hands
as though it had, instinctively meeting the stare in the other man’s
eyes with an unblinking steadiness of his own.

After the introductions Merriam glanced about him with perhaps
insufficiently concealed curiosity. He had never been in a private
dining-room before, and this adventure was beginning to interest him. It
was better than spending his evening--his one evening--in sad thoughts
of Mollie June.

The room was just large enough to afford comfortable space for a table
for four persons, with a small sideboard to serve from.  It was really
rather pretty.  Subdued purple hangings at the door and windows and a
frieze of small peacocks above the plate rail indicated its affiliation,
so to speak, with the Peacock Cabaret.  There were attractive French
prints in garland frames on the walls.  The table was charmingly laid,
with a bowl of yellow roses in the center, and the ices were already
served.  On the sideboard the coffee in a silver pot was bubbling over
an alcohol flame, and there was a long bottle which Merriam correctly
interpreted as the container of his choice among liqueurs.

"This is much cosier, isn’t it?" said Alicia.

She took the head of the table.

"Father Murray shall sit opposite me," she said, "to see that I behave.
You, Mr. Merriman, shall sit on my right, as the guest of honour.  That
leaves this place for you, Philip.  Reformers must be content with what
they can get."

Merriam mustered the gallantry to hold Alicia’s chair for her, and was
warmed by the approving smile with which she thanked him.  He had not
especially liked Alicia at first, but she grew upon him.

They consumed ices, and Alicia conversed, in the sprightly fashion she
affected, with Merriam.  The other two men hardly participated at all.

In the course of that conversation Alicia artlessly, tactfully, but
efficiently pumped Merriam. By the time Simpson was pouring the
sweet-scented wine into thimble-like glasses she--and her
companions--were in possession of all the substantial facts of his brief
biography and had guessed the secret of his heart.  They knew of his
boyhood on the farm, of his father’s death, and his mother’s a few years
later, of his college days, with something of their athletic, dramatic,
and fraternity incidents, of his teaching at Riceville, of the Riceville
football and basket-ball teams, of the occasion for this trip to
Chicago--and of Mollie June.

At length the sherbet glasses were removed and some of the coffees,
including Merriam’s, refilled, and they all lit cigarettes.  Merriam was
pleasantly startled when Alicia too took a cigarette.  He had read, of
course, of women smoking, but he had never seen it, or expected to see
it with his own eyes, except on the stage.  It was more shocking to his
secret soul than any amount of bosom and back.

"You need not wait, Simpson," said Alicia. "We’ll ring if we need you
again."

When the waiter had withdrawn Philip Rockwell took the center of the
stage.  He tilted back in his chair and abruptly began to talk.  Part of
the time he looked straight ahead of him as if addressing an audience,
but now and again he turned his head and aimed his discourse straight at
Merriam.  He made only a pretence of smoking.

"Mr. Merriam," he said, "by a curious chance--a freak of nature, as it
were--you, who have thus far taken no part in the politics of the State
and Nation, are in a position to render a great service this very night
to the cause of Reform and incidentally to Senator and Mrs. Norman."

"How so?" said Merriam.  He was rather on his guard against Mr. Philip
Rockwell.

"It is a long story, perhaps," said that gentleman.  "I gathered when we
were introduced that you had heard of me.  But I was not sure how much
you have heard.  I am at the present time the President of the Reform
League of this city and its guiding and moving spirit."

"And endowed with the superb modesty so characteristic of reformers,"
interjected Alicia.

The reformer paid no attention to this frivolous parenthesis.

"Miss Wayward," he continued, "alluded earlier to my
sobriquet--’One-Thing-at-a-Time Rockwell.’  The epithet was first
applied to me derisively by opposition newspapers.  But it is a true
description.  Indeed it was derived from my frequent use of the phrase
in my own speeches.  I believe that to be successful, practically
successful, Reform must center its efforts on one thing at a time--not
waste its energies, its munitions, so to speak, by bombarding the whole
entrenched line of evil and privilege at once, but concentrate its fire
on one exposed position after another--take that one
position--accomplish finally one definite thing--and then go on to some
other one definite thing.  Do you get me?"

Merriam signified that he comprehended.

Father Murray was more enthusiastic.  "It is a truly splendid idea," he
volunteered.  "Since we have adopted it, under the leadership of Mr.
Rockwell, the Reform League has really begun to do things.  _To do
things!_" he repeated, with an almost mysterious emphasis.

"At the present time," Rockwell resumed, "the one thing which the Reform
League is undertaking to _do_ is to secure decent traction conditions in
this city--adequate service.  We have so far succeeded that we have
forced an unfriendly city council to pass the new Traction Ordinance.
You are familiar with the new Ordinance, Mr. Merriam?"

"Yes," said Merriam.  By which we must suppose he meant that he had read
headlines about it in the Chicago papers.

"Those rascals," continued Rockwell, "never would have passed it--the
men who own them would never have permitted them to pass it, no matter
how unmistakable the demand of the people might be,--if they had not
counted on one thing."

Merriam perceived that an interrogation was demanded of him and took his
cue.

"What is that?" he asked.

"They are counting," said Rockwell impressively, "they are counting on
Mayor Black.  They have believed the whole time that he can be depended
on to veto it.  And they are right!  The scoundrels usually are.  The
Mayor, as every one knows, is a mere puppet.  He will do as he is told.
Only, the League has made such a stir, the people are so tremendously
aroused, that he is frightened. And so, before acting, before writing
the veto, which he has sense enough to see is likely to mean political
suicide, he is coming here to-night to see Senator Norman, to get his
instructions.  That’s what it amounts to.  Norman holds the State
machine in the hollow of his hand.  If Norman tells him to veto, Black
will veto.  It may be bad for him with the voters if he does it, but it
would be certain political death for a man like him to cross Norman.
_And Norman will say, ’Veto!’_"

"I see," said Merriam.

Which was hardly true; he did not as yet see an inch ahead of his nose
into this thing, but he thought it sounded well.

"Where do I come in, though?" he added, belying his assumption of
sagacity.

"That’s my very next point," said Rockwell.

His chair came down on all fours.  He squared it to the table, laid his
neglected cigarette aside, put his arms on the cloth, and looked very
straight at Merriam.

"Are you aware, Mr. Merriam, that you bear a most striking physical
resemblance to Senator Norman?"

"I have been told so," said Merriam.  "My mother often spoke of it.
And--Mrs. Norman mentioned it to me before she was married.  I have seen
his pictures, of course, in the papers.  I have never seen him in
person."  (This was true, for John Merriam had, quite inexcusably,
stayed away from Mollie June’s wedding.)

"He has never seen you, then?"

"He probably doesn’t know of my existence."

"So much the better," said Rockwell.  "The only difficulty then is Mrs.
Norman.  And she can be eliminated."

This facile elimination of Mollie June did not make an irresistible
appeal to Merriam, but he held his tongue.

Alicia Wayward saw the reformer’s mistake.

"Mr. Rockwell means," she threw in, "that Mrs. Norman can be shielded
from the difficulties of the situation."

"Exactly," said Rockwell quickly.  "Mr. Merriam," he continued, "if you
have never seen the Senator with your own eyes, you can have no
realisation of the closeness of your resemblance to him. Hair, eyes,
nose, mouth, size, carriage, manner, movement--it is truly wonderful.
And it is the same with your voice.  Father Murray here says he fairly
jumped when you first spoke to him out in the Cabaret when he went over
to question you."

"He also says," interrupted Alicia, as if mischievously, "that it is
Providential."

"Please do not be irreverent, Miss Alicia," said the priest.  "It does
surely seem Providential--on this night of all nights.  It surely seems
so."

"Well," said Merriam, a trifle bluntly perhaps, "I don’t know what you
mean by that.  If my cousin and I look so much alike as you say, no
doubt it’s quite remarkable.  Still such things happen often enough in
families.  What of it?"

"I have explained," said Rockwell, with an air of much patience, "that
Mayor Black is coming here, to this hotel, to-night, to see Senator
Norman about the Ordinance, and that Norman will order him to veto it.
We thought we had Norman fixed, but he has gone over to the magnates--as
he always does in the end!  Black will do as he is bid, and it will be a
death blow.  We can never pass it over his veto.  It means the total
ruin of five years of work, involving the expenditure of tens of
thousands of dollars.  And the cause of Reform in this city will be dead
for years to come.  The League will never survive, if we fail at this
last ditch.  It will collapse."

"In short," said Alicia sweetly, "Mr. Rockwell himself will collapse."

Rockwell took no heed of her.

"Half an hour ago," he said, "I was sitting yonder in the Cabaret,
dining with Miss Wayward and Father Murray.  I was eating turtle soup
and olives"--he laughed theatrically,--"but I was a desperate man.  I
had no hope, no interest left in life.  Then I looked up and saw you.
At first I mistook you for Senator Norman--even I, who have known the
old hypocrite for a dozen years.  I stared at you, wondering whether I
should go over and make one last personal appeal to you--to him.  And
then I realised that you could not be he.  For I knew positively that he
was dining in his room.  I looked closer.  I saw that you were really a
younger man--not that massaged, laced old roué.  I stared on in my
amazement, till Miss Wayward and Father Murray looked too, and Miss
Wayward said, ’Why, there’s Senator Norman now.’  ’By God!’ said I,
’perhaps it is!’  Do you see, Mr. Merriam?"

"No," said Merriam, "I don’t."

"Ah, but you will, you must," said Rockwell. "Listen!"  He looked at his
watch.  "It is now twenty minutes past seven.  Norman is dining in his
room.  There is a man with him, a Mr. Crockett--one of the dozen men who
own Chicago.  He is as much interested in the Ordinance as I am--on the
other side.  He is giving Norman his instructions, for the Senator is
Crockett’s puppet, of course, as much as the Mayor is Norman’s.
Crockett will leave promptly at a quarter to eight.  Mayor Black is due
at eight."

"How do you know these things?" interrupted Merriam.

"It is my business to know things," said Rockwell. "The fact is," he
added, "I planned to burst in on Norman and Black at their conference
and threaten them in the name of the Reform League. It would have done
no good, but I owed that much to the League."

"And to yourself," said Alicia softly.

"And to myself, yes!" said Rockwell, infinitesimally pricked at last.
But he hurried on:

"At ten minutes to eight, Mr. Merriam, I will telephone Norman.  I will
pretend to be old Schubert, the Mayor’s private secretary.  He has a
dry, clipped voice that is easy to imitate.  I will say that the Mayor
is sick at his house.  I will imply that he is drunk.  He often is.  I
will say he is not too sick to veto the Ordinance before the Council
meets at nine, but that he insists on seeing Senator Norman before he
does it and asks that Norman come out to his house.  I will say that I
am sending a car for him.  Norman will curse, but he will go. He is
under orders, too, you see.  At five minutes to eight we will send up
word that Mayor Black’s car is waiting for Senator Norman.  There will
be a car waiting.  The driver will be Simpson."

"I can fix it with the hotel people to get him off," said Alicia in
response to a look from Merriam. "He was a chauffeur once for a
while.--And he will do anything I ask him to," she added.

"Norman will go down and get into that car. He will be driven, not to
the Mayor’s house, of course, but to--a certain flat, where he will be
detained for several hours--very possibly all night."

"By force?" asked Merriam, rather sternly.

"Only by force of the affections," said Rockwell suavely.  "The flat
belongs, for the time being, to a certain young woman, a manicurist by
profession, who is undoubtedly very pretty and in whom Norman--takes an
interest.  I happen to know that he pays the rent of the flat."

Rockwell paused, but Merriam made no reply. He blushed, subcutaneously
at any rate, for Alicia and Father Murray.  The latter indeed affected
inattention to this portion of Mr. Rockwell’s discourse.  But Alicia
Wayward made no pretence of either misunderstanding or horror.

In Merriam’s mind a slight embarrassment quickly gave place to anger.
That George Norman after three years--how much sooner who could
tell?--should leave Mollie June for a--his mind paused before a word too
ancient and too frank for professorial sensibilities.

Rockwell quickly resumed:

"As soon as Norman has gone I will take you to his room.  We will put
his famous crimson smoking jacket on you and establish you in his big
armchair with a cigar and some whiskey and soda beside you.  When Black
comes he will find Senator Norman--you.  All you will have to do is to
be curt and sulky, damn him a bit, and tell him to sign the Ordinance.
He’ll never suspect you.  As a matter of fact, he doesn’t know the
Senator well--never spoke with him privately above three times in his
life.  We’ll have only side lights on.  He won’t stay.  He’ll be
mightily relieved about the Ordinance and in a hurry to get away.  Then
you yourself can get away and catch your train for--for----"

"Riceville," supplied Alicia.

"That will be a real adventure for you, young man, and you will have
saved the cause of Reform in the city of Chicago!"

John Merriam smiled, frostily.

"The reasons, then, Mr. Rockwell, why I should fraudulently impersonate
a Senator of the United States, who happens to be my cousin, and in his
name act in an important matter directly contrary to his own wishes are
for the fun of the adventure and to save your Reform League from a
setback. Is that correct?"

"Philip," said Alicia quickly, "you and Father Murray go for a walk.  I
want to have a little talk with Mr. Merriam alone.  Come back in twenty
minutes."

The implication of her last phrase was distinctly flattering to Merriam
if he had understood it. Alicia Wayward would not have asked for more
than ten minutes with most men.

Rockwell smiled with lowered eyelids--a smile which it was certainly a
mistake for him to permit himself, for it could not and did not fail to
put Merriam on his guard--against Alicia.

"Come, Murray," said Rockwell rising, "I should like a breath of real
air, shouldn’t you?  And when Miss Wayward commands----"  He waved his
hand grandly.  "Au revoir!"

And he and the priest hastily departed.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                    *ALICIA AND THE MOTIVES OF MEN*


"Take another cigarette, won’t you, Mr. Merriam?" said Alicia, as the
curtain at the door fell behind Rockwell and Father Murray.

"Thank you," said Merriam.

He was excited, of course.  All the stimulations of his evening,
including more coffee than he was used to and an unaccustomed taste of
wine and mystery and intrigue, could not fail to tell on the blood of
youth.  But he felt extraordinarily calm, and he was not in the least
afraid of Alicia.  He had not fully made up his mind about the proposed
adventure, but Alicia knew several things about the wantings of men.

"Let me light it for you," she pursued.

She struck a match, which somehow she already had out of its box, put
out a white hand and arm, took the cigarette from his fingers, put it to
her own lips and lighted it, and handed it back to him.

"Thank you," said Merriam again, just a little confused.  Hesitatingly,
with an undeniable trace of thrill, he put the cigarette to his own
lips.  Poor boy!  It was an uneven contest!

Alicia deftly moved her chair to the corner of the table, bringing it
not very close but much closer to Merriam’s.  Close enough for him to
catch the faint, unfamiliar perfume.  She put out her hand again and
drew one of the yellow roses from their bowl.  She rested both arms on
the table and played with the rose, drawing it through her fingers and
up and down one white, rounded forearm.

"Mr. Merriam," she said, "perhaps you have wondered why I am in this
thing."

As a matter of fact he had neglected to be curious on that point, but
now he was.

"Yes," he said.

"Mr. Rockwell converted me.  Oh, I can see you don’t like him.  You
think he is hard and unscrupulous and self-seeking.  Well, he is.  All
men are--at least, almost all men are"--she glanced at Merriam.  "But he
is a genuine reformer for all that.  He is heart and soul for what he
calls the People.  He works tremendously for them all his time.  And he
is shrewd and fearless."

Now it is probable that Alicia’s little character sketch presented a
very just picture of Philip Rockwell.  But it did not appeal to Merriam
as true, much less as likable.  He was too young.  He still wanted his
heroes all heroic and his villains naught but black and red with almost
visible horns and tail.

He did not reply.  He could not, however, remove his eyes from the
felicitous meanderings of the yellow rose.

"Well," sighed Alicia, "I was going to tell you how Mr. Rockwell
converted me.  You see, my father--but you don’t know who my father is,
do you?  The newspapers always refer to him us ’the billionaire brewer.’
They like the alliteration, I suppose.  He’s very busy now converting
all his plants for the manufacture of near-beer."  (She laughed as if
that were a good joke.)  "His youngest sister, my Aunt Geraldine, was
Senator Norman’s first wife.  So I know George Norman well. I was quite
a favourite of his when he used to come to our house before poor Aunt
Jerry died.  So Philip wanted me to ’use my influence’ with Mr. Norman
about his precious Ordinance.  I wasn’t much interested at first.  I
hadn’t ridden in a street car, of course, in years."

"Hadn’t you?" said Merriam, quite at a loss.

"No. When I go out I take either the limousine or the electric.  So I
really didn’t know much about conditions, except, of course, from the
cartoons about strap-hangers in the newspapers.  Philip saw that that
was why I was unsympathetic.  So he dared me to go for a street-car ride
with him. Of course I wouldn’t take a dare.

"It was about five o’clock in the afternoon.  We took the limousine down
to Wabash and Madison. There Philip made me get out on the street
corner. It was horrid weather--a cold, blowy spring rain. But Philip was
hard as a rock.  He told the chauffeur to drive to the corner of Cottage
Grove and Thirty-Ninth Street and wait for us.  And _we_ waited for a
car.  It was terrible.  We stood out in the street under the
Elevated--by one of the posts, you know--for a little protection from
the train. We hadn’t any umbrella.  The wind tore at my skirts and my
hair.  The trains going by overhead nearly burst your ears with noise.
And automobiles and great motor trucks crashed past within a few inches
of us and splashed mud and nearly stifled us with gasoline smells.  And
a crowd of other people got around us and knocked into us and walked on
our feet and stuck umbrellas in our eyes. For a long time no car at all
came.  Then three or four came together, but they were all jammed full
to the steps, so that we couldn’t get on.

"I was ready to give up.  I told Philip so.

"’Let’s go into Mandel’s,’ I begged, ’and you can call a taxi.’

"’No you don’t,’ he said.  ’Here, we can get on this one.’

"Another car had stopped about twenty feet from us.  We joined a kind of
football rush for the rear end.  I tripped on my skirt when I tried to
climb the steps, but Philip caught me by the arm and dragged me on, as
though I had been a sack of flour.

"Then for a long time we couldn’t get inside but had to stand on the
platform wedged like olives in a bottle.  It was so dark and cold and
noisy, and everybody was so wet and crushed and smelly.  A man beside me
smelled so strong of tobacco and whiskey and of--not having had a bath
for a long time, that I was nearly ill.  And I thought a poor little
shop girl on the other side of me was going to faint.

"After a long time some people got out at the other end of the car--at
Twelfth Street, Philip says,--and some of us squeezed inside into the
crowded aisle.  Inside it was warm--hot, in fact,--but still smellier.
Philip got me a strap, and I hung on to it.  I don’t care for
strap-hanger jokes any more.  It’s terribly tiring, and it pulls your
waist all out of shape.

"’Bet you won’t get a seat,’ grinned Philip.

"Of course I was bound then that I would.  I looked about.  Some of the
men who were seated were reading papers the way they are in the
cartoons.  Others just sat and stared in front of them. I didn’t blame
them much.  They looked tired, too. But I had to get a seat to spite
Philip.  The young man in the one before which I was standing, or
hanging, looked rather nice.  I made up my mind to get his seat.  I had
to look down inside his newspaper and crowd against his legs.  At last,
after looking up at me three or four times, he got up with a jerk as if
he had just noticed me and took off his hat, and I smiled at him and at
Philip and sat down.  But he kept staring at me so that I wished I had
let him alone.

"I made the poor little shop girl sit on my lap. Nobody gave her a seat.
I suppose she wouldn’t work for it the way I did.  She was a pretty
little thing, too.  Just a tiny bit like Mollie June Norman.  Not so
pretty, of course, but the same type.

"Then there was nothing to do but wait till we got to Thirty-Ninth
Street.  Ages and ages.  They ought to have been able to go to the South
Pole and back.

"When we did get there I put the little girl in my seat--she was going
to Eighty-First Street, poor little thing,--and Philip and I got out and
went home in the limousine, and he told me all about how the Ordinance
would better things, and I promised to help him if I could."

"And you did?" said Merriam.  He was touched--whether by Alicia’s own
sufferings in the course of her remarkable exploration or by those of
the little shop girl who looked like Mollie June, does not, perhaps,
matter.  He now quite fully liked Alicia.  He saw that, in spite of her
extreme décolleté and her cigarettes, she had a generous heart.

"I tried to," replied Alicia.  "I saw George Norman, and I did my
best--my very best.  But he wouldn’t promise anything.  He only laughed
and tried to kiss me."

"Tried to kiss you!" echoed Merriam, naïvely aghast.

"Yes," said Alicia, with her eyes demurely on the rose between her
fingers.

And John Merriam, looking at her, grasped clearly the possibility that a
"boy senator" with whom Alicia had done her very best might try to kiss
her.

"So that is one reason why I am in it to the death," Alicia went on,
"because George Norman--wouldn’t listen to me.  And I don’t want Philip
to fail."

She laid one hand quickly over one of Merriam’s hands, startling him so
that he nearly drew his away.  "I love him," she said, and her eyes
shone effulgently into Merriam’s.  "He hasn’t much money, and he is hard
and--and conceited, but he is courageous.  He dares anything.  He dared
to take me on that street-car ride.  He would dare to burst in on the
Senator and Mayor Black to-night. He dares think up this plan.  A woman
loves a Man."

There is no doubt that Alicia pronounced "man" with a capital letter,
and she looked challengingly at Merriam.

"We are to be married next month," she added.

"Oh!" gasped Merriam, his eyes staring in spite of himself at her hand
that lay on his.

The hand flew away as quickly as it had alighted, but he still felt its
soft coolness on his fingers as she said:

"Of course all this is why _I_ am in it, not why you should be.  You
can’t do it just to please me.  But you really ought to think of all
those poor people, like the little shop girl--all the tired men and
women--millions of them, Philip says--who have to endure that torture
every night after long days of hard work.  It’s truly awful, and it
might all be so much better if we only got the Ordinance.  You could get
it for them in one little half hour!"

She looked hopefully at Merriam.  He was in fact hesitant.  To have the
fun of the thing, to gratify this strange, attractive Alicia, and to
render an important service to the population of a great city--it was
tempting.

"There’s another thing," Alicia hurried on. "You knew Mollie June
Norman.  She was one of your students.  I think you ought to do it for
her sake."

"Why so?"  Merriam’s question came swift and sharp.

"Because if Senator Norman kills the Ordinance it will be his ruin.  It
will cost him Chicago’s vote in the next election, and he can’t win on
the Down-State vote alone."

"I thought Rockwell said the League would collapse."

Possibly Alicia had forgotten this.  But she only shrugged her
shoulders.

"It may or it mayn’t.  But either way the people are aroused.  Philip
swears they will beat Norman if he betrays them now.  He is sure they
can and will.  And if the ’boy senator’ were unseated and had to retire
to private life it would be terrible for Mollie June.  He’s bad enough
to live with as it is."

At this point Merriam was visited by a sudden and splendid idea.  Since
he did not disclose it to Alicia, I feel in honour bound to conceal it
for the present from the reader.

Alicia detected its presence in his eyes and judiciously kept silent.

It took about ten seconds for that idea to grow from nothingness into
full flower.  For perhaps five seconds longer Merriam inwardly
contemplated its unique beauty.  Then he said:

"I’ll do it!"



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                            *STAGE-SETTING*


Alicia gave him no time for reconsideration or after-thoughts.

"Good!" she cried, "I was sure you would."

She was on her feet in an instant, and as he got to his she held out her
hand.  Merriam took it--to shake hands on their bargain was his thought.
But Alicia never exactly shook hands.  She touched or pressed or
squeezed according to circumstances. On this occasion it was a warm,
clinging squeeze. Her other hand patted Merriam’s shoulder.

"I was sure you would," she repeated.  "No Man"--again the capital
letter was unmistakable--"could have resisted--the--the opportunity."

The curtain at the door was lifted, and Philip Rockwell’s voice said:
"May I come in?  The twenty minutes are up."

They were.  Just up.  Alicia had done her part in exactly the fraction
of an hour she had given herself.  No vaudeville act could have been
more precisely timed.

"Yes.  Come in, dear," said Alicia.  "Mr. Merriam will do it.  We were
just shaking hands on it."

Rockwell crossed the room in a rush and caught Merriam’s hand as Alicia
relinquished it.  He pumped vigorously.  In his eyes shone the
unmistakable light of that genuine enthusiasm which Alicia had described
to her skeptical auditor.

"You’re the right sort," he cried.  "You are doing a great thing, Mr.
Merriam.  You will never regret it.  But I can’t thank you now," he
added, dropping Merriam’s hand in mid-air, so to speak. "It’s ten
minutes of eight.  That money-bag, Crockett, came out of the elevator
just before I came back.  I have a car at the Ladies’ Entrance."

"With Simpson?" asked Alicia.

"Yes.  I had to get things ready.  The time was so short.  I fixed the
head waiter.  Simpson seemed ready enough.  Has some old grudge against
Norman, I think."

"Yes," said Alicia, "he has.  I’m a little afraid--I wish I could have
seen him.  Never mind.  It can’t be helped.  Where’s Father Murray?"

"Watching to buttonhole the Mayor if he should come too soon."

He looked critically for a moment at Merriam, seemed satisfied, and
crossed to the telephone on the sideboard.

"I’ll ring up the curtain," he said.

He laughed boyishly in his excitement and new hope.  He seemed very
different now from the hard-eyed, middle-aged fellow of an hour ago.
Merriam saw how Alicia might admire him.

"Give me Room Three-Two-Three," he said into the telephone, his eyes
smiling at them.

A moment later a harsh, dry old man’s voice was saying:

"Is this Senator Norman?--This is Mr. Schubert, private secretary to
Mayor Black.  The Mayor is sick.--I can’t help it, sir.  He’s sick all
right. He’s out here at his house.--Yes, he can veto the Ordinance all
right if it’s necessary.  But he won’t do it without seeing you first.
He wants you to come out.  He’s sent a car for you.  It ought to be down
there at the Ladies’ Entrance by now.--No, it won’t do any good to call
him up.  I’m here at his house now.  He’s in bed.  And he won’t veto
unless he sees you.  Really, sir, if you’ll pardon me, you’d better
come.--Thank you, sir!"

Rockwell clicked the receiver triumphantly into its hook.

"That’s done," he said.  "Alicia, dear, go up to the lobby on the
women’s side and watch the hallway leading to the Ladies’ Entrance.
Norman should pass out that way within five minutes. Follow him far
enough to make sure that Simpson gets him.  And then let us know.
Meanwhile I’ll coach Mr. Merriam a little."

"Right," said Alicia.

She moved to the door.  The eyes of both men followed her.  When Alicia
moved the eyes of men did follow.  And she knew it.  At the doorway she
turned and blew a kiss, which might be said to fall with gracious
impartiality between her lover and the younger man.  It was a pretty
exit.

"She’s a splendid girl," said Rockwell, his eyes lingering on the
curtain that had cut her off from them.

"Yes," said Merriam.

Rockwell, still by the sideboard, reached for the long bottle.

"Have another glass of this?"

"I don’t mind," said Merriam.  The fact is, a bit of stage fright had
come in for him when Alicia went out.

"There’s not much I can tell you," Rockwell said, as he poured out the
yellow fluid.  "You’ll have to depend mostly on the inspiration of the
moment. You look the part all right.  Your voice is all right, too.  Act
as grumpy as you like.  Damn him about a bit.--You can swear?" he asked
hastily.  A sudden horrible doubt of pedagogical capabilities had
crossed his mind.

Now Merriam was not a profane man, but some of his fraternity brethren
had been.  Also he remembered the vituperative exploits of his football
coach between halves when the game was going badly.

"Swear?" he cried, as harshly as possible.  "Of course I can swear, you
damn fool!"

For three seconds Rockwell was startled.  Then he laughed.

"Fine!" he cried.  "You’ll do it!  All there is to it, really, is to
tell him to sign the Ordinance and to get out.  He may ask about
Crockett.  If he wants to know why he’s changed his mind, tell him it’s
none of his damn business.  If he refers to a Madame Couteau, you must
look pleased. She’s the pretty little manicurist whom Norman will be on
his way to visit.  Black knows of that affair, and he knows Norman likes
to talk about it. So he may drag it in with the idea of getting on your
blind side.  You can tell him to shut up, of course, but you must act
gratified."

"Yes," said Merriam in a noncommittal tone.

But Rockwell did not notice.  He was sipping the Benedictine, with his
mind on his problem.

"That’s all I can think of," he said in a moment. "I’ll be in the next
room--the bedroom of the suite, you know,--and if you should get into
deep water, I’ll burst in, just as I meant to on the real Senator, and
pull you out.  We ought to get it over in fifteen minutes at the outside
and get you off.  There’s just the least chance in the world, of course,
that Senator Norman might get away from Simpson and come back.  And
there’s Mrs. Norman."

"Where will she be?" asked Merriam as he took a rather large sip of his
cordial.

"She’s in the lobby now with Miss Norman--the Senator’s sister, you
know,--listening to the orchestra."  (Merriam vaguely recalled the
elderly woman whom he had seen with Mollie June in the Cabaret.)  "The
Senator was going to take them to the theater after he had finished with
Black."

"What will they do when he doesn’t show up?" Merriam inquired; but to
all appearances he was chiefly interested at the moment in the best of
liqueurs.

"Probably go without him.  She’s used to George Norman’s broken
engagements by now."

"I see," said Merriam without expression.

"Alicia and Murray will keep an eye on them, of course," Rockwell added.

And then both men jumped.  It was only the telephone, but conspiracy
makes neurasthenics of us all.

Rockwell answered it.

"Yes.--Good.--That’s all right.--Oh!--Yes, we’ll go at once."

He turned excitedly to Merriam.

"It’s Alicia.  Norman has come down and got into Simpson’s car.  Mrs.
Norman is still in the lobby.  And the Mayor has come in.  Murray’s got
him, but he won’t be able to hold him long.  We must go right up to the
room.  Come--Senator!"

Merriam followed out of the private dining-room and down the corridor at
a great pace into a main hallway and to an elevator.

Several people looked hard at Merriam.  One important-looking elderly
man stopped and held out his hand:

"How are you, Senator?"

But Rockwell crowded rudely between them.

"Excuse me, Colonel, but we must catch this car.--Very urgent!" he
called as the door clicked.

And Merriam had the presence of mind to add, "Look you up later!"

"Good----" Rockwell began as they stopped at the main floor, but he
paused on the first word with his mouth open.

A very large man, large every way, in evening clothes, with a fine head
of white hair and an air of conscious distinction, was stepping into the
car. He saw Merriam and Rockwell.  Then instantly he appeared not to
have observed them, hesitated, backed gracefully out of the little group
that was entering the elevator, and was gone.

The car smoothly ascended.

"Three!" said Rockwell to the elevator man. Then to Merriam he
whispered, "That was the Mayor!  He’s got away from Murray."

"Ask for your key," whispered Rockwell, as they stepped out.

For five protracted steps Merriam’s mind struggled frantically after the
room number.  He had just grasped it (3-2-3!) when he perceived that his
perturbation had been unnecessary.

For the floor clerk--a pretty blonde of about thirty--was looking at him
with her sunniest smile.

"Your key, Senator?"

"Yes, please," he managed to say.

As she handed him the key her fingers lightly touched his for a second,
and she said in a low tone, "The violets are lovely."

He saw that she was wearing a large bunch of those expensively modest
flowers at her waist and understood that his cousin’s extra-marital
interests might not be limited to Madame Couteau.

He lingered just a moment and replied in a tone as low as her own, "They
look lovely where they are now."

But an appalling difficulty loomed over him even as he murmured.  For he
did not know whether Room 323 lay to the right or the left, and if he
should start in the wrong direction----

But Rockwell knew and was already moving to the left.  Merriam followed.
In his relief he smiled brightly back at the floor clerk.

At the corner where the hall turned Rockwell stopped, and Merriam,
coming up with him, read "323" on the door before them.  Both men looked
up at the transom.  It was dark.

"In!" said Rockwell.

Merriam inserted the key, turned it, and cautiously opened the door a
couple of inches, becoming, as he did so, thrillingly conscious of the
burglarious quality of their enterprise.

No light or sound came from within.

For only three or four seconds Rockwell listened. Then he pushed the
door wide, stepped past Merriam, and felt for the switch.

"You haven’t invited me in, Senator," he said as the room went alight,
"but I’m a forward sort of fellow.--Come inside, and close the door," he
added.

Merriam pushed the door shut behind him and stared about.  The apartment
was probably the most gorgeous he had ever seen.  The walls were a soft
cream colour, the woodwork white, the carpet and hangings and lampshades
rose.  Most of the furniture was mahogany, some of it upholstered in
rose-coloured tapestry.  On a table half way down one side of the room
stood a bowl of red roses.  In the wall opposite Merriam, between the
windows, was a fireplace of white marble, containing a gas log, with a
large mirror above the mantel in a frame of white and gold.  Before this
fireplace stood a huge upholstered easy chair, with a pink-shaded floor
lamp on one side of it and a small mahogany tabaret on the other.

While Merriam was endeavouring to appreciate this magnificence, Rockwell
quickly crossed the sitting room and passed through a door at one side.
After a moment he returned, crossed the room again, and disappeared
through a second door. Reëmerging, he announced triumphantly, "No one in
the bedrooms!"

But Merriam’s eyes rested, fascinated, on a garment which Rockwell had
brought back with him from the second bedroom--a luxurious smoking
jacket of a most lurid crimson colour, which clashed outrageously with
the rose and pinks of the senatorial sitting room.

Rockwell grinned at the look on Merriam’s face.

"A historic garment, sir," he declared.  "The Boy Senator’s crimson
smoking jacket is a household word with most of the six million souls of
this commonwealth of Illinois.  Off with your tails, sir, and into it!"

"Hurry!" he cried, as Merriam hesitated.  "The Mayor will be here any
minute."

"Why didn’t he come up in the elevator with us?" Merriam asked while
changing.

"All because of me, sir," replied Rockwell, in excellent spirits.  "The
Mayor abhors me and all my works so sincerely that I feel I have not
lived in vain.--Now, then, sit in that big chair before the fireplace.
Here, light this cigar.  I’ll start the gas log going and bring in the
tray with the siphon and glasses and rye that I saw in the other
room.--Ah!"

The telephone had rung, and Merriam had leapt out of his chair.

"Answer it," said Rockwell.

Merriam stepped to the telephone, which was on the wall, laid down his
cigar, gripped his nerve hard, and put the receiver to his ear:

"Hello!"

A deep voice, boomingly suave, replied:

"Senator Norman?"

"Yes."

"This is Mr. Black.  Have you got rid of Rockwell yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Well, can’t you throw him out?  I am due at the Council meeting at
nine, of course.  And I don’t care to discuss--matters--with you in his
presence, naturally.  When shall I come up?"

Now the Mayor’s rather long speech had given Merriam time to think.  He
recalled his great idea, and a new inspiration, as to ways and means,
came to him.

"Eight-thirty," he replied curtly.

"But, good God!" cried the Mayor, "that gives us so little time.  Can’t
you----"

"I said eight-thirty, damn you!"

And Merriam hung up and turned to face Rockwell at his elbow.

"But why eight-thirty?" demanded the latter as soon as he understood
that it had been the Mayor. "Man alive, we ought to be gone by then!
What are we to do with the next twenty minutes?  You must have lost your
head.  Call him again.  Call the desk and have him paged and told to
come right up."

Without a word Merriam turned to the telephone again and asked for the
desk.

But a moment later he gave Philip Rockwell one of the major surprises of
the latter’s life.  For what he said was:

"Please page Mrs. George Norman, with the message that Senator Norman
would like to see her right away in their rooms.  Repeat that,
please.--That’s right.  Thank you!"

"What in hell!" cried Rockwell, belatedly released by the click of the
receiver from a paralysis of astonishment.

Merriam picked up his cigar, walked back to the easy chair, and seated
himself comfortably.  He was excited now to the point of a quite
theatrical composure.

"Nothing in hell," he said.  "Quite the contrary, in fact.  I want to
have a few minutes’ conversation with Mrs. Norman.  That’s all."

"See here!" said Rockwell.  "What funny business is this?  I won’t
have----"

"Won’t you?  All right.  Just as you say.  If you don’t like the way I’m
playing my part, I’ll drop it and walk right out of that door.  I have a
ticket for the theater to-night.  I can still be in time."

The other man stared and gulped.  It was hard for him to realise that
this young cub was master of the situation, and not he, Rockwell.

"But this is serious!" he cried.  "The Ordinance!  The Reform League!
The whole city of Chicago!  You can’t risk these for----"

He stopped.  Then:

"Do you realise, you young fool, that if we’re caught in this room, it
will mean jail for both of us?"

But Merriam in his present mood was incapable of realising anything of
the sort.  In his mind’s eye he saw Mollie June stepping into the
elevator and saving in a voice of heavenly sweetness to the happy
elevator man, "Three, please!"

An outer crust of his consciousness made pert reply to Rockwell:

"That would be bad for the Reform League, wouldn’t it?" and added, "But
you’re willing to risk it for the Ordinance?"

"Yes, I am," began Rockwell, "but----"

"Would you risk it for Alicia?" Merriam interrupted.

"What has Alicia got to do with it?"

But he understood, and knew that argument was useless, and stared in
helpless anger and alarm while the younger man carefully, grandly blew a
beautifully perfect smoke ring into the air.

It was the youngster who spoke, still theatrically calm:

"You’d better go into the bedroom.  She’ll be here in a moment.  Shut
the door, please.  And keep away from it!"

It was one of the secrets of Philip Rockwell’s success in politics that,
masterful as he was, he knew when to yield.  He took a step towards one
of the bedrooms.

"Make it short," he pleaded.

"Eight-thirty!" said Merriam.

A gentle knocking sounded at the door.

Merriam was on his feet without volition of his own, while Rockwell,
almost as instinctively, slipped into the bedroom.

Then the younger man recovered himself, sat down, his feet to the gas
log and his back to the door, and called, "Come in!"



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                             *BOY AND GIRL*


The door was opened and closed.  John Merriam’s straining ears could
catch no definite sound of footsteps or skirts, and he did not dare to
look around.  Yet by some sixth sense, it seemed, he was aware of Mollie
June’s progress half way across the room and aware that she had stopped,
some feet away from him.

"What is it--George?" she asked.

It was only too clear that Mollie June’s lord and master was not in the
habit of sending for her.

"Where is--Miss Norman?"

Merriam was conscious that Senator Norman probably did not refer to his
sister in that fashion, but he did not know her given name.

"Aunt Mary?  I left her in the lobby.  Did you want her too?"

There was a note of eagerness in the question.

"No!"

Silence.  Mollie June stood waiting in the center of the room.  The
significance of her failure to approach her husband was unmistakable.

Then he said: "Would you very much mind if you should miss the theater
to-night?"

"Why--no.  Is there anything the matter, George?"

"Not for me," said Merriam, and he rose and faced her.

"I was afraid--"  She stopped, looked hard.

"George, you look--oh!"

She passed her hand across her eyes.  It was a stage gesture, but when
stage situations occur in real life the conventional "business" of the
boards is often justified.

She looked again.

"Mr. Merriam!"

John Merriam stepped quickly forward.  It occurred to him that she might
faint.  He had read many novels.

But Mollie June did nothing of the sort.

"Mr. Merriam!" she cried again.  "How do you come here?  Where is--Mr.
Norman?  How did you get in _that_?"

She pointed to the famous smoking jacket.  Her bewilderment was
increasing.  She looked nervously about, as if suspecting that Merriam,
for the sake of the crimson garment, had murdered her husband and
concealed his body.

Merriam had stopped.  Almost he might have wished that she had fainted.
It would have been delicious to carry her in his arms and place her in
the Senator’s easy chair and bring water and when her eyes opened
wonderingly upon him softly whisper her name.  As it was he could only
say formally:

"Let me take your cloak--Mrs. Norman--won’t you?  And sit down."

Mechanically she let him take the opera cloak from her shoulders, and
when he caught hold of the senatorial chair and swung it around and
pushed it towards her she sat tremblingly erect on the edge of it.  Her
eyes dwelt upon his face as if fascinated.

"Isn’t it funny you look so _much_ alike?  I never realised it--so much.
But--where is _he_? Why----?"

Merriam caught up a small chair, placed it in front of hers, and sat
down.

"Listen, Mollie June," he said pleadingly, using unconsciously the name
that ran in his thoughts.

His plan, as it had taken shape while he talked with Mayor Black on the
telephone, was to tell her in advance of Rockwell’s plot and to carry it
through only with her approval or consent--for was not his first loyalty
to her?  His original idea, and his real motive, of course, had been
only to see her. And now that he had her there he found he hated to
waste time on explanations.  But there was nothing for it.  She could
not be at ease or clear in her mind until she understood.  So, rapidly
and candidly, he related how at the instance of Mr. Rockwell the Senator
had been decoyed away, while he was there to impersonate him with Mayor
Black, so that the latter should sign instead of vetoing the Traction
Ordinance.  Then he waited for he knew not what--amazement, fright,
anger, dissuasion.

But Mollie June did not seem much interested in traction ordinances.
Presumably Senator Norman had not cared to educate his young wife about
political matters.

"Why did you send for _me_?" she asked.

Her question was almost too direct for him.  He could not say, to ask
her approval of the plan against her husband.

"I had to see you," was all he could reply.

"Why?"

But she knew the real reason.  The turning of her eyes away from him
confessed it.

It was his chance to say, "Because I love you."  An older man might have
said it.  But the young are timid and conventional--not bold and
reckless, as is alleged.  He remembered that she was another man’s wife
and only spoke her name:

"Mollie June!"

Perhaps that did as well.  In fact it was, in the reticent dialect of
youth, the same thing.

She looked at him a moment, then quickly away again.

"You never called me that but once before--to-night," she said.

At first he found no answer.  His mind scarcely sought one.  He was
absorbed in merely looking at her.  She was indeed girlishly perfect as
she sat there, almost primly upright, in her white frock, her slender
figure framed in the rose-coloured tapestry of the big chair’s back and
arms, which gave an effect as of a blush to her cheeks and to the white
shoulders which he had never seen before except across the spaces of the
Peacock Cabaret.  To the eyes of middle age she would have been,
perhaps, merely "charming."  In his she shone with the divine radiance
of Aphrodite.  And his were right, of course.

He was almost trembling when at length he said:

"That was on--that last night."

"Yes," said Aphrodite, who is always chary of speech.

Suddenly he saw that her averted face was wistful, sad.

"Are you happy, Mollie June?" he cried.

Though she turned only partly to him he saw that her eyes were more a
woman’s eyes than he had known them and were full of tears.

"Not--very," she said.

He sat dumbly on his chair, full of pain for her, yet not altogether
saddened that she should not be entirely happy with another man.

But now her face was fully towards him, and her eyes had become dry and
looked past him.

"Oh, Mr. Merriam--you don’t know!  I can’t tell you----"

He was filled with horror--almost boyishly terrified--by such dim
visions as a man may have of what her lot might be.

"If I could only help you!" he cried, as earnestly as all the other
separated lovers in the world have said those very words.

The eyes that looked beyond him came back to his face.  The Mollie June
whom he had known had had her girlish poise, and this more tragic Mollie
June did not lose her self-control for long.

"You _have_ helped me--Mr. Merriam.  Oh, I am glad you brought me here!
When I saw you in--the Cabaret, I just ran away from you.  I couldn’t
even let you speak to me.  Afterwards I waited upstairs in the lobby.  I
thought--I might see you there.  But you didn’t come.  Then I thought
George had sent for me!"

She stopped as if that was a climax.

Merriam leaned forward.  He wanted to put his hand over one of hers that
lay on the arm of her chair, but did not dare to.  His tongue, however,
was released at last.

"If ever I can help you in any way, Mollie June, you must let me know.
I would do anything for you.  I will always be ready."

He paused abruptly, though only for a second. A dark thought had crossed
his mind: after all the "Boy Senator" was an old man (from the
standpoint of twenty-eight), and leading a life unhealthy for old men.
He hurried on:

"I will wait for you always.  Perhaps some day----"

Did she comprehend his meaning?  He could not tell, and he did not know
whether to hope she did or did not.  But stress of conflicting emotions
made him venturesome.  He did put his hand over hers.

Hers did not move.

His fingers slipped under hers, ready to raise her hand.

"That last night in Riceville, Mollie June, I kissed your--glove.
To-night I want to kiss your hand--to make me yours--if you should need
me."

She did not draw her hand away, but she said:

"You oughtn’t to--now--Mr. Merriam."

The formal name by which she had continually addressed him pricked.

"Won’t you call me ’John,’ Mollie June, just for this quarter of an hour
before the Mayor comes?"

"Oh, the Mayor!" she cried in alarmed remembrance.

"Call me ’John,’ dear--for fifteen minutes!"

In his voice and eyes were both entreaty and command, and Mollie June
could not resist them.

"John!" she whispered.

And he raised her hand and bent quickly forward, and his lips pressed
her fingers.  A bare second. Yet it was in his mind a solemn, a
sacramental kiss. He straightened up triumphant, happy.  Youth asks so
little.

"Now you know you have a right to me!" he cried.  "To send for me.  To
use me any way, any time!"

There came a loud knocking at the door.

Mollie June started half way out of the chair and then sank back.
Merriam, on his feet and part way across the floor, stopped confused.
He perceived that he ought to get Mollie June out of the room.

The knocking resounded again.  And immediately the door was tried and
opened, and a man stepped in.  It was the large man with the white hair
who had started to enter the elevator--Mayor Black.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                      *PASSAGES WITH MAYOR BLACK*


Mayor of the great city of Chicago was hurriedly apologetic:

"I beg your pardon, Senator.  You said eight-thirty, you know, and it’s
that now.  I came up and knocked.  Evidently you did not hear.  A man I
met in the lobby told me that you had left the hotel in a taxi half an
hour ago.  He said he saw you go. So I tried the door and when it opened
stepped in, just to make sure.  I am sorry to have intruded."

Apparently, however, he did not intend to withdraw.

Mollie June crouched frightened in her chair, but Merriam was rapidly
pulling himself together.

"It is I who should apologise for keeping you waiting, Mayor Black," he
said.  "I will ask Mrs. Norman to excuse us.  Will you step into the
next room for a few minutes, Mollie June?  We shall not be long."

He went back to her chair and held out his hand.

She took it and rose.  Her spirit, too, was reasserting itself.  She
faced the Mayor with a smile:

"Good evening, Mr. Black."

"Good evening, Mrs. Norman."  He bowed gallantly. "I am very sorry----"

"Oh," she cried lightly, one would have said happily, "business is
business, I know."  Then to Merriam: "You won’t belong?"

"Only a minute--dear."

(Perhaps we can hardly blame him for profiting by the license his rôle
gave him to address her so.)

He moved to the door opposite to that through which Rockwell had slipped
away fifteen minutes earlier and opened it for her.  She passed through
into the darkness of the other room.  He felt for the switch and pushed
it.

As the light went on she turned and smiled at him:

"Thank you."

For an instant it seemed to him--perhaps to both of them--that she was
really his wife, who was leaving him for a few minutes only, whom he
would soon rejoin.

Then he turned to face Mayor Black.

"I need stay only a minute, Senator," the Mayor was saying.  "If I had
known you were engaged with Mrs. Norman, I shouldn’t have bothered you.
It wasn’t really necessary.  I met Mr. Crockett downstairs while I was
waiting.  He told me the answer.  But since I had the engagement with
you I came up.  If I may, I’ll write the veto right here, and then I can
go on to the Council meeting."

As he spoke he drew a thick roll of paper from his overcoat pocket,
unfolded it, opened it at the last sheet, and laid it on a small writing
table.

"I shan’t give any reasons," he added, sitting down and picking up a
pen.  "Least said, soonest mended--eh, Senator?"

"But you’re not to veto!  You’re to sign!" cried Merriam.

Perhaps if he had more fully grasped the significance of the other’s
statement about Mr. Crockett he would have been less abrupt; but that
mighty financier was only a dim name to his mind.

"What?" said Black, turning in his chair.

The Mayor’s tone gave Merriam some realisation of the seriousness of the
new situation.  But he could only stand to his guns.

"You’re to _sign_!  I don’t care what Crockett said.  I don’t care a
damn what he said," he corrected himself.  "You do what I say, damn
you!"

"But how is this?" exclaimed the Mayor. "Crockett said you fully agreed
that the best interests----"

He stopped, looking intently at Merriam.

In the excitement of the dialogue which had followed Merriam’s sending
for Mollie June Rockwell had neglected the precaution he had had in mind
of having only side lights on.  Rockwell had planned, also, that Merriam
should sit facing the gas log with his back to the room and look at the
Mayor as little as possible.  Now the boy stood where the full glare of
the chandelier shone on his face.  Perhaps, too, the emotions of a
youthful love scene, such as he had just passed through, were not the
best preparation in the world for counterfeiting the slightly worn
cheeks and slightly tired eyes of an elderly if well-preserved
politician.

"Who in hell are you?" gasped the Mayor.

Merriam was certainly startled.  Perhaps he showed it just a little.
But he stood up bravely.

"You know damn well who I am.  And you do as I say or get out of Chicago
politics.  I’ll attend to Crockett," he added.  "That’s my affair."

"Is that so?  Well, I guess it’s my affair who makes a monkey of me!
I----"

Again the Mayor stopped abruptly and stared. Then suddenly he rose.

"I was told the Senator had left the hotel.  I think I was correctly
informed.  What sort of a trick is this?  Who _are_ you?"

"Damn you----"  Merriam began, with realistic sincerity, but with the
vaguest ideas as to what more substantial statement should follow.

At this moment, however, Rockwell opened his door and stepped into the
room.

"Aha!" cried the Mayor.  No stage villain could have said it better.
"Mr. Rockwell!  Of the Reform League, I believe!"  He bowed
sardonically. "’One-Thing-at-a-Time Rockwell!’  Well, one thing at a
time like this"--he pointed at Merriam--"ought to be enough for a
reformer!"

"Good evening, Mayor Black," said Rockwell. "I believe you were about to
sign the Ordinance."

"I was _not_.  In spite of the _Senator_ here.  I don’t get a chance to
defy Senator Norman every day.  I rather enjoy it!--And let me tell
you," he added, "if you and your friends in that damned League make any
more trouble for me or Senator Norman or the Ordinance or anything else
after this--if you don’t shut up and lie low and keep pretty damn quiet,
we’ll show you up, my boy. This would make a pretty little story for the
newspapers--and for the State’s Attorney, too!  We might call it ’The
Ethics of Reform!’  Oh, we have you where we want you now, Mr. Reformer!
As for this young impostor here, we’ll have to look him up a bit.  A
very promising young gentleman!"

The Mayor evidently enjoyed the center of the stage.  He towered tall
and imposing and righteous, and looked triumphantly from Rockwell to
Merriam and back again.

"I really think you’d better sign it," said Rockwell.  He spoke rather
low.

"What do you mean?" cried the Mayor.

Then he thought he saw.

"Oh, it’s strong-arm work next, is it?"

There was a note of alarm mingled with his irony, and the magnificence
of his pose weakened a little.  Rockwell was a determined-looking
fellow, and there was Merriam to help him, and the Mayor was not really
a very brave man.  But he went on talking to save his face:

"You certainly are a jewel of a reformer, Rockwell!"

Then he saw a point and quickly recovered his full grandeur.

"I don’t quite see how you’re going to manage, though.  Of course, if it
were a case of _preventing_ me from signing, you might do it--the two of
you! But signing’s rather different, isn’t it?  You can lead a horse to
water----  Of course, you can club me or hold a revolver to my head.
But, you see, I know you wouldn’t dare to fire a revolver here in this
room.  So just how will you force my fingers to form the letters?  Or
perhaps you will try forgery? Is forgery the next act, Mr. Reformer?"

Rockwell smiled.  He was in no hurry to reply. Merriam still stood, as
he had throughout this unforeseen dialogue, a rigid spectator.

Then, in the moment’s silence, very inopportunely, a clock, somewhere
outside, struck the hour--a quarter to nine.

Rockwell tried to drown it, saying, "I’m hardly so versatile as that."

But the Mayor had heard and understood.

"Oh, that’s it!" he cried.

"Yes, that’s it!" said Rockwell, and the center of the stage
automatically shifted to him.  "If that Ordinance is not returned to the
Council with your veto by nine o’clock to-night, it becomes a law
whether you sign it or not!  You’re a bit slow, Mr. Mayor, but you’ve
got it at last!"

The Mayor did not answer.  He shifted slightly on his feet.  His hand
shot out.  He grabbed the Ordinance from the waiting table and rushed
for the door.

"Catch him!" shouted Rockwell.  "Hold him!"

Merriam had been a football player.  As if released from a spring he
darted after the Mayor. From habit he tackled low.  They went down with
something of a crash, knocking over an ash stand as they fell, and the
Mayor gave a groan.  If he had ever known how to fall properly, he had
forgotten. Merriam hoped there were no bones broken.

But Rockwell was wasting no thoughts on commiseration.  He was kneeling
over the fallen ruler of the city with his hands clapped over his
mouth--to prevent further groans or other outcry.

"Get the paper!" he said.

Merriam scrambled forward and tried to pull the Ordinance from the hand
at the end of the outstretched arm.  It was held tight.  He was afraid
of tearing it.

"Twist his arm," said Rockwell.

A very little twist sufficed.  The Mayor gave up. Merriam rose to his
feet with the document.

"Will you be quiet?" Rockwell demanded in the Mayor’s ear, and released
his mouth enough to enable him to answer.

"Yes," said the Mayor feebly.  "Let me up."

"All right.  That’s better.  If you make any rumpus we’ll down you
again, you know, and tie you up and gag you.--Give me the paper," he
added to Merriam, "and help him up, will you?"

He stood watching while the younger man assisted the Mayor in the
ponderous job of getting on his feet.

"I hope you aren’t hurt, sir," said Merriam.

The Mayor looked sourly at him.  "Thanks!"  He felt of his arms and
passed his hands up and down over his ribs.  "I guess I’m all
right--except my clothes."

In fact his white shirt front was crumpled and his broadcloth coat and
trousers were dusty with cigar ash from the fallen stand.  Merriam was
in little better condition.  They were not dressed for football
practice.  Rockwell only was still immaculate.

"I’ll get a brush," said Merriam.  No longer a Senator, he felt very
boyish and anxious to be useful.

As he spoke he turned to the room--the fall had occurred near the door
into the hall--and stopped nonplused.  For in her bedroom door stood
Mollie June, her eyes full at once of eagerness and of apprehension.

How much she had heard I do not pretend to know.  Perhaps some of
Merriam’s unprofessorial profanity, possibly the Mayor’s triumphant
irony, certainly Rockwell’s shout, "Catch him!" and the fall.  Doubtless
the silence after that thud had been too much for her self-control.

The Mayor’s rueful gaze travelling past Merriam also rested on Mollie
June.  A light came into his eyes.  He drew himself up.

"Come in, Mrs. Norman," he said.  "Your _husband_"--with a significant
emphasis on the word--"has been giving a demonstration of his athletic
prowess.  He is indeed the Boy Senator and a suitable mate for a woman
as young and pretty as yourself."

He paid no attention to Merriam’s angry and threatening glance but
turned to Rockwell.

"Mr. Rockwell," he said, "I think you’d better give me that Ordinance
after all."

Rockwell spoke in a low tone to Merriam:

"Get her out!"

The Mayor had no objection to that.  The older men watched while Merriam
walked rapidly across the room to Mollie June.

"You’d better go into the other room again, dear," he said.

But Mollie June’s eyes were bright and her colour high and her white
shoulders very straight.

"No!" she said.

"You really will oblige us greatly, Mrs. Norman," said the Mayor, "if
you will withdraw for a moment longer."

"No!" said Mollie June.  "This is my room.  I have a right to be here.
And I don’t like scuffling."

She cast a disdainful glance at their crumpled shirts and dusty
trousers.  And, womanlike, she sought a diversion.

"What a mess you are in!" she cried. "Mr.--George,--get the whisk broom
from the bedroom there!"

It was an almost haughty command.  And Merriam rejoiced to obey this new
mistress of the situation.  He darted into the bedroom.

The two older men looked at each other.  Rockwell was content: time was
passing.  When the Mayor started to speak he forestalled him.

"She’s really right," he said.  "You can’t leave like this.  And some
one might come in."

Merriam was back with the whisk broom.

"Come under the light," ordered Mollie June, addressing the Mayor.

That dignitary reluctantly advanced.

"Turn around.  Now, George, brush him."

Merriam sought diligently to remove the ashes from the Mayor’s garments.
It required vigorous work, for the dust was rubbed deeply into the
cloth. Mollie June superintended closely.  The Mayor had to turn about
several times and raise an arm and then the other arm.  He could not
make much progress in the regaining of his dignity; and he, no less than
Rockwell, was conscious of the fleeing moments.  But, glancing again and
again at Mollie June, girlishly imperious and intent, he could not as
yet muster his brutality for what he saw the next move in his game must
be.  Rockwell waited serenely in the background, the Ordinance in his
hand.

At last the Mayor’s broadcloth was fairly presentable.  Nothing could be
done, of course, with his shirt front.

"Now, George," said Mollie June, "it’s your turn.  Give me the broom."

"No, no!"

"_Give me the broom!_"  She took it from his hand.  "Turn around!"

And with her own hands and in the manner of wifely solicitude she began
to dust his collar and lapels.

This was not unpleasant for Merriam, but it prompted the Mayor to take
his cue.  As he watched his eyes hardened, and in a moment he said:

"You take good care of your _husband_, don’t you, Mrs. Norman?"

"I try to," said Mollie June rather pertly, dusting away.  Evidently she
had not heard enough to know that Merriam had been found out.

"It must be pleasant," said the Mayor, "to have such a nice _young_
husband."

Mollie June stopped her work and looked at him in sudden alarm.

"What do you mean?" she said.

Rockwell stepped forward and caught her arm:

"Let me lead you into the next room, Mrs. Norman. You must let us talk
with the Mayor."

"No!" she cried, snatching her arm away, and turning eyes of angry
innocence on Mayor Black, "What do you mean?"

"I mean," he said, with smiling suavity--he was not to be daunted now,
and, short of violence there was no way of stopping him,--"that you are
a young woman.  This gentleman--whose name I do not have the honour of
knowing--is also young, and rather handsome.  The Senator, of course, is
getting old.  I find you two alone in your husband’s rooms, your husband
having been tricked away. You can hardly expect me to believe that you
mistook him for your husband.  You display no dislike for his person.  I
draw my own conclusions.  Every one in Chicago will draw the same
conclusions if this interesting situation, quite worthy of Boccaccio,
should become known.  That’s why I think"--he turned suddenly to
Rockwell--"that you’d better give me the Ordinance after all."

Mollie June’s cheeks were blazing.  Merriam’s also; he could not look at
her.  But Rockwell pulled his watch from his pocket.

"It is now two minutes past nine," he said. "The Ordinance has become
law.  You can have it now, Mr. Mayor."  He held out the document.

The Mayor snatched it.

"It’s not legal!" he cried.  "And it won’t stand. I can prove that I was
prevented by foul means--by foul means," he repeated, "from exercising
my charter right of veto.  I’ll take out an injunction, and I’ll fight
it to the Supreme Court.  And in the process all Chicago--the whole
United States--shall be entertained with the piquant story of these
young people"--he waved a hand towards Merriam and Mollie June,--"aided
and abetted by Mr. Reformer Rockwell.  I’ll ruin them, and you and your
League, whatever else comes of it.  Oh, you’re a clever lot, you--you
reformers!"

He paused out of breath.  Then, dramatically, for he was always
self-conscious and inclined to pose:

"Madame and gentlemen!"--but the effectiveness of his bow was somewhat
marred by the sorry state of his shirt front--"I wish you a very good
evening!"

But Rockwell was before him with his back to the hall door.

"You’ve forgotten your hat, Mayor," he said.

(In fact, his tall hat still stood on the writing table where he had set
it down before he spread out the Ordinance there to write his veto.)

"Damn my hat!  Let me go!"

"Presently, presently.  I still think you’d better sign the Ordinance."

"Do you mean to knock me down again?"

"I’d like nothing better, you--cad!" cried Merriam, who had stood
bursting with outrage a minute longer than he could endure.

The Mayor almost jumped at the savage sincerity of this threat in his
rear.  Rockwell smiled at the startled look on his face, but he spoke
quietly:

"No violence.  I hope to convince you that it would be to your best
interests to sign it.  Since it has become a law anyway."

"Never!" cried the Mayor.  "Do you think I would be a traitor to--to--my
party?  And I mean to get even with this gang, whatever else I do!"

But the next instant he jumped indeed.  A new voice spoke--a woman’s.

"Mayor Black," it said, "you’re a fool!"



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                              *AUNT MARY*


All four of the actors in the little scene turned, and Mollie June
uttered an exclamation:

"Aunt Mary!"

In the doorway from which Rockwell had emerged a few minutes earlier
stood the thin, pale, elderly woman whom Merriam had seen with Mollie
June in the Peacock Cabaret.  She wore a black evening gown, rather too
heavily overlaid with jet, was tall and very erect, and had streaked
gray hair, a Roman nose, and a firm mouth.  The effect as she stood
there, framed in the door, was decidedly striking--sibylline.

Mollie June ran to her.

"Oh, Aunt Mary!" she cried.

Merriam was afraid that Mollie June would burst into tears.  Very
possibly she would have liked to do so, but Aunt Mary gave her no
opportunity.

"Lock the door, Mr. Rockwell," she said, putting an arm about Mollie
June’s waist.  Her tone and manner were vigorous and dominant.

"Good evening, Mr. Black," she continued, while Rockwell hastened to
obey her.  And to Merriam: "Good evening, Mr.--Wilson.  Now I think we
had better all sit down and talk it over."

"I can’t," said the Mayor.  "I’m late for the Council meeting already.
I’ve been shamefully tricked, Miss Norman."

"I think you have," returned Aunt Mary, releasing Mollie June and
advancing a step or two into the room.  "But that’s the very reason why
you need to consider your position at once.  You’re in a mess.  So are
we.  Perhaps we can help each other out.  The Council can wait.  ’Phone
them that you’ve been detained.  They can go ahead, I suppose.  Really,
Mr. Black, I see a point or two in this business that I think will
interest you."

Mayor Black met Mary Norman’s direct, purposeful gaze.  He was impressed
by her air of command and intelligence.  He recalled gossip to the
effect that it was really she who ran George Norman’s campaigns, that
she even wrote some of his speeches.

"Very well," he said, "I’ll stay ten minutes. Never mind ’phoning."

"Good," said Aunt Mary.  "There are seats for all of us, I believe.
Take that one, Mayor."

She indicated the large armchair with the rose-coloured tapestry in
which Mollie June had been ensconced half an hour before, and laid her
own hand on the back of the smaller one close by in which Merriam had
sat.

Then she turned to Mollie June:

"Do you wish to leave us, dear, or to stay?"

"I’ll stay!" said Mollie June.  Her colour was still high, and the
glance she threw in the Mayor’s direction was distinctly hostile, but
she had recovered her self-control.  We shall be able to forgive young
Merriam a throb of admiration at her spirit.

"Very well," said Aunt Mary.  "Sit over there, then.  Mr.--Wilson," she
added, to Merriam, "on that table yonder you will find a humidor.  Pass
the cigars, please.  And pick up that ash stand and set it here by the
Mayor."

She and the Mayor and Mollie June sat down. Rockwell remained standing.
Merriam, though somewhat confused at having turned from Norman into
Wilson, hastened to do as he was bid.  He picked up the ash stand,
straightening the box of matches into place, and brought it and set it
by the Mayor’s chair.  Then he got the humidor, opened its heavy lid,
and passed the gold-banded perfectos therein to the Mayor and to
Rockwell.

"Are you leaving me out, young man?" demanded Aunt Mary, who had watched
him in appraising silence.

Merriam turned to her with the humidor, hesitating.

"There don’t seem to be any cigarettes," he said.

"I have some in my pocket."

But Aunt Mary leaned forward and took from the humidor a package of
"little cigars" that had been slipped in at one end of the box of
perfectos.

"No cigarettes for me," she said.  "I smoke when I’m with men so as to
be one of them.  A cigarette leaves me a woman.  A cigar, even one of
these little ones, makes a man of me.  Give me a match, please."

With what seemed to himself amazing self-control, Merriam took a match
from the ash stand, struck it, and would have held the light for her.
But Aunt Mary took it from him and, looking all the while amazingly like
his own mother, deliberately and efficiently ignited the "little cigar."

Then she looked up quizzically at Merriam, blew out the match, handed it
to him, and said, "Sit down, Mr. Wilson."

Having seated himself, Merriam found Aunt Mary looking intently at the
Mayor, who was smoking and returning her gaze.

But Rockwell broke in:

"How much do you know, Miss Norman?  And how do you know it?"

"As to how I know it," said Aunt Mary, "that’s my own business for the
present.  Not because there need be any secret about it, but because we
haven’t time for explanations."  She puffed at her little cigar.  "As to
how much I know, I believe I understand the whole affair--except how
Mrs. Norman came into it."  She looked at Rockwell.

That gentleman did not reply.  Merriam broke the silence:

"I sent for her."

He said it very well--not defiantly, but as a plain, necessary statement
of fact.

Aunt Mary turned in her chair to look at him.

"Ah!" she said.

He felt that he was colouring under her gaze. Perhaps that colour
answered her obvious next question as to why he had done so.  She did
not ask that question, but turned back to the Mayor:

"I overheard a little of your conversation from the doorway before I
spoke.  Mr. Rockwell was saying he thought that, as things stand now, it
would be best for you to sign the Ordinance.  I think so too."

The Mayor would have interrupted, but she waved her little cigar at him.

"You can, of course," she continued, "explain that you were tricked.
But how much would that help you with Mr. Crockett or any of his cronies
and allies?  They would only think the worse of you and throw you over
the more quickly.  A man of your age and standing cannot afford to be
tricked.  If he is, he had better conceal the fact. And how about the
people of Chicago, before whom you come up for reëlection in the fall?
Will their sympathies be with you or with the persons who tricked you
into giving them the Ordinance they wanted?  The American people love a
clever trick. And a trick is clever if it succeeds.  As for the
illegality, they won’t care a picayune for that.  You said you would
fight it in the courts.  Well, you might.  But it would be a long fight.
You yourself mentioned the Supreme Court.  And in the meantime it is a
law and goes into effect at once. Unless, of course, you take out an
injunction.  And if you do that, you will make yourself so unpopular
that you can never even be nominated again.  Let us suppose it goes into
effect.  Then by the time your fight was won, if you won it, the new
conditions would be established, and nobody would dare try to unscramble
the eggs.  The Council would simply have to pass it over again, and
you--or your successor, rather, for you would be out by then--would
promptly sign it.  No, my friend, there is no road for you in that
direction.  You would lose out both ways--with the bosses, who would
have no more use for a man who had allowed himself to be fooled at a
critical juncture, and with the people. Your only chance--unless you
wish to retire quickly and ignominiously to private life--is to cut
loose from the bosses and throw in your lot with the people--sign the
Ordinance, claim the credit, join forces with Rockwell here, defy
Crockett, and come out as the people’s champion!"

The Mayor was not smoking.  He was looking hard at Aunt Mary, as one man
looks at another. (Her little cigar had effected that.)  There was
aroused interest in his eyes.

"Wouldn’t you rather like to go into politics as your own boss for a
change?" Aunt Mary asked. "Rather than as one miserable little cog in a
big, dirty machine?"

The Mayor flushed a little and took refuge behind a puff of smoke.

"Perhaps I would," he said.  Then, suddenly: "How about Senator Norman?
Do I defy him too?"

"Not at all," said Aunt Mary.  "He also will go over to the people."

"Can you answer for him?"

"I think I can.  He will be forced to do so in the same way you are.  He
too has been victimised."

She leaned forward and deposited her small cigar, of which she had
really smoked very little, in the ash tray.  Sitting erect, she folded
her hands in her lap and became forthwith a woman again--a sedate,
almost prim, elderly woman.

"That," she explained simply, "is the source of my interest in this
matter.  I like you, Mayor Black, because you have some of the
courtliness of the old school in your manner.  I should be sorry to see
you in misfortune.  But I care much more, naturally, for my brother,
George Norman, and more still for the name of Norman"--from her tone she
might have referred to the Deity,--"which has been an honourable name in
this country for eight generations, and which George, with his spoils
politics and his dissipations, is compromising.  I have long wanted him
to break with his present associates, to live straight, and to become a
real leader, as the Normans were in New York State in the early years of
the last century.  I have tried again and again to get him to do so.
Over and over he has promised me he would.  But he is weak.  He has
never done it.  Now he will have to do it!"

All the members of the little group looked with some admiration, I
fancy, at Aunt Mary, sitting straight, an incarnation of aristocratic,
elderly femininity, in her chair.  Where a moment or two before she had
been an unsexed modern, she looked now like an old family portrait.

Rockwell broke the momentary silence:

"Miss Norman has presented, so much better than I could have done, the
argument which I tried to suggest to Mr. Black."

It was probably unfortunate that Rockwell had recalled attention to
himself.  The Mayor glanced at him with animosity, and at the silent
Merriam, and over at Mollie June, listening eagerly in the background.
Then at Aunt Mary again. He leaned back, pulling at his cigar, thinking
hard.

In the silence a slight noise became audible from the bedroom behind
Aunt Mary--a word or two of whispering and then a sound as if some one
tiptoeing had stumbled a little.

The Mayor jumped to his feet.

"Who’s there?" he cried, pointing.

For an instant Aunt Mary was out of countenance. But only for an
instant.  Then, without rising or turning her head, she called:

"Come in, Alicia."

A moment’s silence.  Then a laugh, of a premeditated sweetness which
Merriam remembered, and Alicia Wayward stood in the doorway.

The Mayor and Merriam rose.  Mollie June, too, jumped up.  Only Aunt
Mary remained calmly seated.

After a second’s pause in the effective framing of the door, Alicia
advanced with an air of eager pleasure and held out her hand to the
Mayor.

"Good evening, Mr. Black."

The Mayor was a very susceptible male where women like Alicia were
concerned.  He took her hand.

"Good evening, Miss Wayward."  But, still holding the hand, he looked
steadily at her and asked, "Who else is in there?"

"Who else?" repeated Alicia, raising her pretty dark eyebrows.

"Or were you whispering to yourself?" pursued the Mayor.

Alicia laughed and drew her hand away.  "It’s only Father Murray."
Then, raising her voice a little: "You’ll have to come in, Father
Murray, to save my reputation.  This is really all of us," she added, as
the priest rather sheepishly presented himself.  "You can search the
room if you like."

She smiled at him in the manner which novelists commonly describe as
roguish.

The Mayor smiled back at her, but he turned to the latest arrival.

"Were you in this plot, too, Father Murray?"

"Indeed he was," Alicia answered for him.  "He didn’t quite approve of
it at first.  But we quite easily converted him.  So, you see, it can’t
be so black as it first seemed to you, Mr. Mayor.  And really," she
hurried on, "you ought to do as Miss Norman suggests.  It’s a splendid
chance for you. To really be a--a Man, you know!  And I can help."

"How can you help?" asked the Mayor.

"I am quite sure," said Alicia, "that I can get my father to subscribe
quite a lot of money--a hundred thousand dollars, say--to your campaign
fund--yours and Senator Norman’s and the Reform League’s."

"Is Mr. Wayward so keen on reform?  I should think he had had nearly
enough of it.  They’ve practically put him out of business, these
reformers."

"He’s rather keen on me, you know," said Alicia. "And he likes Mollie
June and Miss Norman and George Norman and----"

"Father Murray, I suppose," interrupted the Mayor, "and anybody else you
can think of.  You mean you can get it out of him."  But his
appreciative smile made a compliment of the accusation.

Alicia only raised her eyebrows again.

Aunt Mary rose and took the reins of business into her own hands once
more.

"I should be willing to subscribe something, too, out of my own income,"
she said.  "And the League can raise plenty of money.  You won’t lack
for funds.  Here’s my proposition, Mr. Black.  You lie low and keep
still till noon to-morrow.  Don’t go to the Council meeting at all.
Keep the Ordinance in your own possession.  Refuse to see any one.  See
what the papers say in the morning.  And wait for a message from George
Norman.  If by noon to-morrow he telephones you that he will go with
you, will you go over to the League, sign the Ordinance, break with
Crockett and the rest of them, and appeal to the people on your own?"

The Mayor looked from Aunt Mary to Alicia’s appealing and admiring eyes
and back at Aunt Mary.  He avoided Rockwell and Merriam and Mollie June.

"That’s fair enough," he said.  "I’ll do that."  Then: "You know where
Norman is, do you?"

"Yes," said Aunt Mary.  It was plain, however, that she did not intend
to communicate the information.

"And what becomes of this young gentleman?"  The Mayor looked at
Merriam.

"He will disappear where he came from."

"Well, well," said the Mayor genially, "it has been a very stimulating
evening.  Rather like a play.  You have certainly put me in a box.  But
I’ll admit I’m interested in your suggestion, Miss Norman.  I’ll think
it over carefully.  Now I believe I’ll call a taxi."

"Let me," said Rockwell, and he stepped to the telephone.

The Mayor addressed himself to Merriam:

"Will you bring me my hat, Mr.--Wilson?"

Merriam was near the writing table on which the hat stood.  He picked it
up and brought it.

"The resemblance is marvellously close," said the Mayor, studying his
face.  "And you did your part very well, young man.  But let me advise
you to keep away from the neighbourhood of Senator Norman.  You might
get into serious trouble."

Merriam did not reply or smile but handed him the hat.

"There’s a taxi ready," said Rockwell, turning from the telephone into
which he had been speaking.

"Thank you," said the Mayor.  He looked at Mollie June, who stood some
distance from him:

"I hope you will forgive me, Mrs. Norman, for my--rudeness earlier this
evening.  I am afraid I was too angry then to know what I was saying."

Like Merriam, Mollie June did not answer or smile.  Possibly she was
imitating his demeanour. But she bowed slightly.

"Really," interjected Alicia, "Mollie June had never seen Mr.--Mr.
Wilson since before she was married until five minutes before you came
in."

"Quite so.  Of course," said the Mayor.  He held out his hand to Aunt
Mary.  "You are a wonderful woman, Miss Norman."

"George shall telephone before noon," she replied, shaking hands like a
man.

"Till then at least you can depend on me."

He turned to Alicia.

Alicia kept his hand a long minute.  "We have always liked you, Mr.
Black--we women," she said. "In your new rôle we shall admire you so
much!"

"I would do much to win your admiration," returned the Mayor, somewhat
guardedly gallant. "Good night, Father Murray.  Good night,
Rockwell--you precious reformer!  Good night, Mr. Wilson.  That’s only a
stage name, isn’t it?  Well, good night, all!"

The suave politician bowed himself out.



                              *CHAPTER X*

                          *A SENATOR MISSING*


The members of the group that remained looked at one another.  Alicia
dropped into a chair.

"Whew!" she said.

Father Murray crossed quickly from the doorway, where he had stood
silent ever since his shamefaced entrance, to Aunt Mary’s side.

"Wonderful, Miss Norman!" he cried.

Aunt Mary smiled at him--her first smile in that scene.  "Thank you,
Arthur," she said.

But she added instantly to Rockwell:

"See if George is _there_.  Telephone.  He must be by now.  Then you and
Arthur must take a taxi and go after him and bring him back here.  The
number is Harrison 3731."

Rockwell turned back to the telephone.

Merriam walked over to Mollie June and put his hands on the back of the
chair in which she had been sitting prior to the entrance of Alicia.

"Hadn’t you better sit down?" he said.

"Yes, if you’ll move it up a little."  She wanted to be closer to the
rest of the group.

He pushed the chair forward, and she sat and smiled up at him:

"Thank you!"

A woman’s eyes are never so appealingly beautiful as in a quick upward
glance.  Merriam fell suddenly more deeply in love with her than he had
ever been.  And he was for the moment very happy. There was something
between them, something very slight, as tenuous and as innocent as youth
itself, but existent and precious.

Rockwell turned from the telephone.

"He’s not _there_," he said, "and he’s not been there."

(There was a tacit conspiracy among them, on account of Mollie June, not
to refer more definitely to George’s destination.)

"Not!" exclaimed Aunt Mary.  Like the men, she was still standing.  She
looked at Alicia. "The driver was instructed to go directly there?"

"Yes," said Alicia.  Then she added in a low tone:

"The driver was Simpson."

"Simpson!" Aunt Mary echoed.  "That’s dangerous. Why didn’t you tell me
that before?"

The reader will have guessed the explanation of Aunt Mary’s presence,
and Alicia’s and Father Murray’s, and I insert it here only to gratify
his sense of acumen: that Alicia and Murray, "keeping an eye on" Mollie
June and Aunt Mary in accordance with Rockwell’s plan, in the hotel
lobby, had witnessed the former’s unexpected departure in response to
Merriam’s summons, and had joined Miss Norman to find out what had
happened; and that Aunt Mary, who was more than a match for both of
them, especially in their alarm over Mollie June’s being dragged into
the affair, had obtained first an inkling and presently the whole story
of the plot, and had insisted on coming upstairs, and had entered
through the bedroom.

Alicia did not reply to Aunt Mary’s question. Indeed she hardly had time
to do so, for Aunt Mary followed it quickly with another of a more
practical character:

"What time is it?"

Merriam was the most prompt in producing his watch.  "Ten o’clock," he
said.

"And it was barely eight when George left the hotel.  How long should it
have taken to get there?"

"Less than half an hour," said Rockwell.

"Are you sure he’s not there?  They might have lied to you."

"They might.  But I didn’t think so."

"Mr. Rockwell and I can go and see," volunteered Father Murray, who
seemed very eager to be helpful.

While Aunt Mary was considering this suggestion, Merriam had an idea.

"My voice is very like Senator Norman’s?" he asked.

"Yes, it is," said Aunt Mary.

"Then let me telephone."

"Good!" cried Rockwell.  "From the bedroom."  This was, of course, to
spare Mollie June.

"Very well," said Aunt Mary.

The two men stepped into George Norman’s bedroom--the one into which
Mollie June had earlier retreated.  As they did so, Aunt Mary’s eyes
followed Merriam with the appraising look which they had held whenever
she regarded him throughout the evening.

Rockwell shut the door.

"Harrison 3731," he said.  "Say, ’This is George Norman,’ and ask for
’Jennie.’"

The telephone was on the night table.  Merriam sat down on the edge of
the bed and raised the instrument.  He realised that he had not the
slightest idea what to expect.  Rockwell sat beside him, close enough to
hear what should come through the receiver.

In a moment Merriam had the connection.  A not unmusical voice said:
"Who is it, please?"

"This is George Norman.  Is Jennie there?"

"Why, Georgie, boy!  Don’t you know me? You always do.  And you ought
to!"  A tender little laugh followed, which thrilled Merriam in spite of
himself.

"I didn’t at first," he answered and stopped at a loss.

Rockwell put his mouth close to Merriam’s ear and formed a tunnel from
the one orifice to the other with his hands.  "Can I see you to-night,
dearie?" he prompted.

"Can I see you to-night, dearie?" Merriam obediently repeated.

"Oh, can you come?  Goodie!  But"--the unmistakably loving voice was
lowered--"you must be careful, Georgie."

"Careful?" Merriam queried cautiously.

"Yes.  Some one thinks you’re here already."

"Who?"

"I don’t know.  Some man.  He wouldn’t tell me who he was.  He called up
just a minute ago. He was awfully sure you were here.  He wouldn’t
believe me when I said you weren’t.  Is it dangerous?"  There was a
touching note of anxiety in Jennie’s voice.

"I guess not."

"Can you come anyway?" eagerly.

"I’m not sure.  Don’t wait for me long.  I’ll come within an hour if I
can get away."

"You’ll telephone again?"

"Yes--if I can."

"Georgie, boy!"  There followed a little sound of lips moved in a
certain way--unmistakably a kiss.

John Merriam played up with an effectiveness that surprised himself very
much.

"Dearie!" he whispered tenderly into the telephone, "good night!"--and
abruptly hung up.

"You don’t need much prompting!" exclaimed Rockwell, rising.  "Well, she
didn’t lie to me."

"No," Merriam assented confusedly.  Whatever else he had anticipated
from Norman’s mistress, the disreputable manicurist, it had not been
that note of sincere affection or that he himself would be for an
instant carried off his feet.  As he automatically followed Rockwell,
who made for the sitting room, he was unwillingly conscious of a new
charity for George Norman.

"He’s not there," Rockwell reported.  "And he hasn’t been."

"Sure?"  Aunt Mary looked at Merriam.

Our hero nodded.  He could not speak.  And he dared not look at Mollie
June, of whose bright eyes fixed on his face he was nevertheless acutely
aware.

In a moment, however, it was of Aunt Mary’s gaze that he was sensible.
She seemed to read him through.  He thought, ridiculously, that that
momentary telephonic tenderness could not be hid from her.

But when she spoke her question both relieved and startled him.

"At what hour in the morning does your train go?"

"It goes to-night.  At 2:00 A.M."

"If George is back here by then, it does," said Aunt Mary.  "If not, you
stay."

"But I _must_ go to-night," cried Merriam, suddenly awakened to
realities and feeling as though the curtain had descended abruptly on
some mad combination of melodrama and farce.  "I must meet my classes in
the morning!"

Aunt Mary, who must have sat down while the two men were telephoning,
rose and walked up to Merriam.

"Mr. Merriam," she said, "you more than any one else are responsible for
the present situation--because of your sending for Mrs. Norman.  I don’t
ask why you did that, but you did it.  If you hadn’t stepped outside
your part that way, I verily believe, when I look at you, that the trick
could have been played as Mr. Rockwell planned it.  The Mayor would not
have seen Crockett downstairs. I don’t believe he would have recognised
you.  He would have signed the Ordinance and gone away committed and
ignorant of the deception.  Now he’s only half committed, and he has
recognised you as an impostor.  If he doesn’t hear from George Norman by
noon to-morrow as I promised, if he turns against us and tells his
story, he can ruin us--all."  (She said "all," but she glanced at Mollie
June.)  "And now we don’t know where George is.  As soon as we find him,
you can go. But Mayor Black must get a message from Senator Norman
before noon to-morrow--from the true one or the false one!  Do you see?
Until we find George you must stay."

"Yes, by Jove!" cried Rockwell.  "You can’t back out now.  You can
telegraph to--where is it?"

"Riceville," said Alicia, who was leaning excitedly forward in her
chair.  "Oh, you will!"

Merriam looked at Alicia.  The same combination of appeal and admiration
in her eyes which he had seen her work a few minutes before on the Mayor
did not move him.

His eyes travelled to the face of Mollie June. She was not leaning
forward, but sat erect on the edge of her chair.  There was a flush of
excitement--was it eagerness?--on her cheeks. Unwillingly he compared
her with the warm seductiveness of the voice on the telephone.  She was
not like that,--though perhaps she could be.  But she was radiantly
bright and pure, a girl, a woman, to be worshipped--and protected from
all evil.  He remembered how he had wished to help her.  He had said he
would be always ready.  Now was his chance.  And he desired passionately
to expiate his involuntary infidelity of feeling and tone over the
telephone.  He rose superior to the cares, the duties, of a "professor,"
even before she spoke.

"Oh, please--Mr. Merriam," she said.

Merriam smiled at her, but looked back at Aunt Mary.

"You think it very necessary?" he asked--not because he had not decided
but to avoid any shadow of compromising Mollie June by seeming to yield
directly to her.

"I do," said Aunt Mary.

"Then of course I’ll stay," said Merriam.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                     *CONFESSIONS OF WAITER NO. 73*


From a sleep which had been heavy but was becoming restless and
dreamful, Merriam was awakened about seven o’clock the next morning by a
knocking at his door.  He leaned over and pulled the little chain of the
night lamp, and as the light glowed asked, "Who is it?"

"Rockwell," came the answer.

By a rather athletic bit of stretching Merriam was able to turn the key
in his lock without getting out of bed.  "Come in," he called.

Rockwell entered, closed the door behind him, and stood looking down at
Merriam, who had lain back on his pillow.

"Slept well?" he asked.

"Like a football player," laughed Merriam, somehow ashamed of this fact.

"Feeling fit?"

"Certainly.  Always feel fit."

For a moment longer Rockwell looked, with perhaps a touch of an older
man’s envy of the unconscionable imperturbability of youthful health.
Then he said:

"Well, I have news."

Merriam waited.

"About half an hour ago I called up ’Jennie’ again.  When I said I was a
friend of Norman’s, she admitted he was there.  By asking a good many
questions I learned that he turned up about two o’clock this morning and
that he was very drunk. I judge he’s having a touch of D.T.  ’Jennie’
was evidently rather disgusted at his arriving so late and in that
condition--after your affectionate tone earlier in the evening, you
know."

Merriam evaded this thrust with a question:

"Where can he have been in the meantime?"

"That is a point on which we shall have to seek information from our
friend Simpson.  Since telephoning I have seen Miss Norman, and we have
agreed to order breakfast for all of us in Senator Norman’s rooms with
Simpson to serve us.  He goes on duty again at seven o’clock, and I have
asked that he be sent here as soon as he reports to take a breakfast
order."

"Why here?"

"Well, he will be more likely to talk freely to you and me alone than to
you and me and Miss Norman--to say nothing of Mrs. Norman.  And, if he
has played some trick on us, he might refuse to go to Senator Norman’s
suite, but this room will mean nothing to him.  Of course, he may not
show up at all this morning.  Ah, there he is, I hope!"

A vigorous knock had sounded at the door.  It proved, however, to be
only a porter with Merriam’s suit case and hand bag, for which the
industrious Rockwell had also sent so early that morning to the more
modest hotel at which Merriam had been registered.

"Now I can dress," said Merriam.  "I was afraid I should have to turn
waiter myself, having only evening clothes to put on."

"Yes, get into your things," said Rockwell, "and let me think some more.
This conspiracy business takes a lot more thinking than mere Reform!"

Merriam hurried through a bath--a tubful of hot water early in the
morning was so unwonted a luxury to a citizen of Riceville that he could
not bring himself to forego it even on this occasion--and began to dress
carefully, realising with pleasant excitement that he was to have
breakfast with Mollie June.

He had no more than got into his trousers when another knock came at the
door.

Rockwell motioned to Merriam to step into the bathroom and himself went
to the door.  "Come in," he said and opened it, keeping behind it.

Sure enough, Simpson stepped into the room with his napkin and order
pad.

Rockwell promptly closed the door behind him, locked it, and stood with
his back against it.  He also pushed the switch for the center
chandelier--for only the dim night lamp had been on.

In the sudden light Simpson whirled with a startled and most
unprofessional agility to face Rockwell.

"Good morning, Simpson."

The waiter fairly moistened his lips before he could answer.

"Good morning, Mr. Rockwell."

The man’s face was certainly haggard.  His eyes even were a trifle
bloodshot.  It was clear he had had a strange night.  But after a moment
of hostile confrontation the professional impassivity of a waiter--which
is perhaps the ultimate perfection of _sang froid_--descended about him
like a cloak and mask.

"I was sent to this room--Mr. Wilson’s room, I understood--to take a
breakfast order."

"Right, Simpson!" cried Merriam cheerily, emerging from the bathroom in
his shirt sleeves.

For a moment the human gleamed again through the eyes of the
functionary.

"Are you Mr. Wilson?" he asked.  His manner was perfect servility, but
there was mockery and malice in the tone.

"Yes, Simpson," said Merriam.  "This morning I am Mr. Wilson.  I have
read of an English duke who puts on a new pair of trousers each morning.
But I go him one better.  I put on an entire new personality each
morning."

"Very good, sir," was the ironical, stage-butler reply to this sally.
"The grapefruit is very good this morning.  Will you have some?"

Merriam glanced at Rockwell.

"Very likely we’ll have some," said the latter, "but we want something
else first."

"Before the grapefruit?" inquired Simpson.

"Yes, before the grapefruit," said Rockwell, a trifle sharply.  "And
what we propose to have before the grapefruit is a bit of talk with you,
Mr. Simpson--about last night.  Do you care to sit down?"  He pointed to
a chair.

Simpson was undoubtedly agitated, but he controlled himself excellently.
He even lifted his eyebrows:

"I hope I know my place, sir."

He raised his pad and wrote on it.

"Grapefruit," he said with insolent suavity. "For two?  And then what?
We have some excellent ham."

"Damn your ham!" cried Rockwell.  He snatched the man’s pad and threw it
on the floor. "Sit down in that chair and drop this damned pose! We’re
going to talk to you man to man."

But Simpson only stooped and picked up his pad.

"Mr. Rockwell," he said, "I know my place.  It is a very humble one.  It
is to take orders--for meals, to be served in this hotel.  So long as
that is what you want I am yours to command.  But"--the American citizen
stood up in him; no European waiter could have said it--"outside of that
I am my own master as much as you are.  When you call me ’Mr. Simpson’
and tell me to sit down, I don’t have to do it.  And I don’t have to
talk of my personal affairs unless I choose, any more than any one
else!"

For an instant he glared at Rockwell as one angry man at another, his
equal.  Then he quietly became the waiter again.  He lifted his pad and
poised his pencil:

"Shall we say some ham?"

Rockwell looked at him a moment longer.  Then he laughed: "Ham let it
be!"

"Yes, sir," said Simpson, deferentially writing. "And some baked
potatoes, perhaps?  And coffee?"

"Yes," said Rockwell, "and the telephone book. Hand me the telephone
book, please."

Simpson hesitated, but this was clearly within the line of his duties.

"Yes, sir," he said, and stepped towards the stand on which the book
lay.

"Wait!" said Rockwell.  "Perhaps it isn’t necessary.  I think you can
tell me the number I want."

He paused a moment to let this sink in.  Then:

"Miss Alicia Wayward’s number.  I see I shall have to bring her here.
You see," he explained pleasantly, "I have locked the door.  There are
two of us against you."

He indicated Merriam, who still stood in the bathroom door, following
the progress of the interview with excited interest.

"We are going to keep you here, not by any authority that we as guests
of this hotel may have over you--as you have very well pointed out, we
have none in such a matter,--but by simple force, till Miss Wayward can
come down.  We shall see whether she can make you talk."

To Merriam’s astonishment the waiter, with a sound somewhere between a
sigh and a groan, sank into the chair which he had thus far so
pertinaciously refused to take.  For a moment he stared at the floor.
Then he raised his eyes to Rockwell:

"What do you want to know?"

"That’s better," said Rockwell, leaving the door and preparing to sit
down opposite Simpson. "Will you have a cigar?"

Simpson shook his head and repeated his question.

"What do you want?"

Rockwell dropped into his chair and glancing at Merriam pointed to
another seat.  Merriam was too much excited to care to sit down, but he
came forward and leaned on the back of the chair.

"We want to know about last night, of course," said Rockwell.  "At five
minutes to eight Senator Norman got into the taxi which you were
driving. At about two o’clock this morning he tumbled into Madame
Couteau’s, delirious with drink.  We want the whole story of what
happened between eight and two."

Simpson sat on the edge of his chair, his hands on his knees.  His order
pad was under one hand, and its flexure showed that he was exerting
intense pressure.  His napkin dangled loosely half off his arm.  He was
looking at the floor again.

He remained in this position for a number of seconds, the other two men
intently regarding him. Then he straightened up, pushed himself farther
back in his chair, and looked at Rockwell.

"You shall have it," he said.

For a moment he stared.  Then:

"I hate Senator Norman--enough to kill him."

The reader will observe that I use no exclamation points in punctuating
Simpson’s sentence. There were none in his delivery of it.  But it was
the more startling on that account.

"Do you know why?" he unexpectedly demanded.

"No," said Rockwell.

"Five years ago I was butler to Mr. Wayward. The--the-girl you call
Madame Couteau was the parlour maid there.  Her real name is Jennie
Higgins.  I was in love with her, and she had promised to marry me.  I
had a little money saved up.  At that time Senator Norman’s first wife
was still alive, who was Mr. Wayward’s sister, you know, Miss Wayward’s
aunt.  Senator Norman came often to the house.  He took a fancy to
Jennie and turned her head.  The fact that she was in his own
brother-in-law’s house made no difference to him.  She--went off with
him--on a lake cruise, in his yacht.  When they came back he set her up
in that flat and got her work as a manicurist.  Ever since he has been
her paramour!"

The odd, old-fashioned word, which Simpson must have gleaned from some
novel, came out queerly.  But it served to express his bitterness as no
ordinary word could have done.

"That’s all.  A parlour maid ruined.  A butler cheated of his wife.
It’s nothing, of course."

He was looking down again.  Neither Rockwell nor Merriam ventured to
speak.  When he raised his eyes there was a gleam in them.

"Last night I had him in my power."  (One sensed novels again.)  "In my
taxi, not knowing who I was.  I was minded to kill him.  You had told me
to drive him directly to--to Jennie’s.  Not much!  I drove as fast as I
dared out Michigan Avenue.  For a long time he suspected nothing. He
thought he was on his way to the Mayor’s, and that was the right
direction.  But when I turned into Washington Park he got scared.  He
called through the tube to know where in hell I was going. I answered,
’This is Simpson.  You can try jumping, if you like--into hell!’  I put
the machine up to forty miles an hour.  He opened the door once, but I
guess he didn’t dare try it.  He shut it again. Of course, it was pure
luck I didn’t get stopped for speeding.  But I got through Washington
Park and across the Midway and out into a lonely place at the south end
of Jackson Park.  Then I stopped and got down and opened the door and
ordered him out."

The man stopped.  When he spoke again there was more contempt than
hatred in his voice.

"The coward.  He went down on his knees on the wet road and cried and
begged me not to hurt him.  He said he was sorry, and he didn’t know I
cared so much, and he would make it all right yet. He would give me a
lot of money and get me up in a business, and I could marry Jennie after
all, and wouldn’t I forgive him and go back to town and have a drink?
The worm!  I could have spit on him.  _Senator_ Norman!

"He saved his life all right," he added reflectively.  "If he had showed
fight I would have strangled him and thrown his body in the Lake."
Simpson shuddered a little.  "But you couldn’t strangle a crying baby.
I kicked him once or twice.  But what more could I do?  He kept begging
me not to hurt him but to go back to town and have a drink.  That gave
me an idea.  I jerked him up and pitched him into the car and drove back
to a saloon.  We sat at a table and drank, and he kept offering me money
and saying I should marry Jennie.  As if I would take his leavings!  He
drank a lot.  I only took one or two to steady my nerves--poured out the
rest.  But he drank four or five cocktails.  Then we went on in the taxi
to another saloon and did it again.  And then to another.  And about
midnight we ended up at a cheap dance hall on the West Side, and I
turned him loose among the roughnecks and the women there.

"He was pretty drunk--told everybody who he was and showed his
money,--and in a few minutes a lot of the girls were around him to get
the money away from him.  Most of the men they were with didn’t
mind--egged them on.  Pretty soon he had a dozen couples in the bar with
him and was paying for drinks all around.  But one big foreigner, who
was with the prettiest girl in the room, was ugly. When Norman, after
buying a second round of drinks, tried to kiss his girl, he roared out
at him and knocked him down.  But Norman only stumbled up again with his
lip bleeding and begged his pardon and handed the girl a fifty-dollar
bill and bought drinks again.  And then he got his arm about another
girl and took her out to dance.  It was an hour before I found him
again.  He was sitting on the stairs, with his collar off, crazy
drunk--seeing things--and all cleaned out as to money.

"I though then he was about ripe for what I wanted.  I carried him
downstairs and put him in the taxi and drove to--Madame Couteau’s!
There I carried him up to her flat and propped him against the door and
knocked and then waited part way down the stairs.  When the door was
opened he fell in, and I ran downstairs and took my taxi home."

Evidently Simpson had finished his tale.  And it had done him good to
tell it.  He was much less agitated than when he began.  He looked
steadily rather than angrily at Rockwell.

"That’s the story you wanted," he said.  "Of course now you can get me
fired and blacklisted. It’s little I’ll care."

Rockwell had let his cigar go out while Simpson talked.  Now he lit it
again with a good deal of deliberation.  He was evidently thinking.
Even Merriam perceived the point that was uppermost in his mind, namely,
that with Norman still at Jennie’s they had need of Simpson’s silence
and would be likely to need his help again.  They must try to conciliate
him and win his loyal support.

"I see no reason why I should do anything like that," Rockwell began,
referring to Simpson’s defiant suggestion.  "I can hardly pronounce your
conduct virtuous.  But it was very natural--very excusable.  It’s lucky
you did no worse!"

(Merriam had a sudden vision of the horrid predicament they would have
been in if Norman had actually been murdered in Jackson Park at the very
time when he was impersonating him at the hotel.)

"Still," continued Rockwell, "I think you made a mistake."

"A mistake!" echoed Simpson.

"Yes.--Do you still love--Miss Higgins?"

"What’s that to you?"

"Evidently you do.  Why didn’t you take his offer--his money, and marry
her?  It would have been the sensible thing to do and the kind thing to
her.  You might be happy after all.  Of course, if you’re too stern a
moralist!"

The man’s face worked queerly.  "It’s not that. But she wouldn’t have a
waiter now.  And he wouldn’t have done it--let her alone."

"Well, perhaps not, as things stood.  But he will now.  Have you seen
the morning papers?"

"The papers?  No, sir."

"If you’ll read them you’ll find that Senator Norman has broken with all
his old life and turned over a new leaf entirely, which he can’t turn
back. You have helped him do it, in fact!"

"What’s the idea?" growled Simpson suspiciously.

"Listen, Mr. Simpson."

Rapidly Rockwell sketched the principal events which had taken place at
the hotel while the waiter was driving his enemy about Chicago:
Merriam’s impersonation, the Mayor’s failure to veto the Ordinance in
time, and the necessity which both the Mayor and Norman were now under
of breaking with the "interests" and coming out as the candidates of the
Reform League.

"In that rôle," he concluded, "George Norman will have to lead a
strictly virtuous life.  It will be the business of his friends and
backers--my business, for example--to see that he does so.  I will
personally undertake to see that you get the money he promised you.  All
you will have to do is to make it up with Jennie.  You may not be able
or willing to do that right away.  But in a few months----  There’s no
reason why you shouldn’t be set up in a nice little business of your
own--a delicatessen or caterer’s, or a taxicab firm, or whatever you
would like--in some other city, with Jennie for your wife.  Will you
think it over?"

Simpson looked at Rockwell and then at Merriam.

"You certainly are as like as two plates," he said irrelevantly to the
latter.

"Won’t you think it over?" returned Merriam, as persuasively as if he
had been reasoning with some irate patron of the Riceville High School.

"Yes," said Simpson after a bit, "I’ll think it over."

"In the meantime," said Rockwell, "you must keep still about all this,
of course.  And we may need your help again--for taxi driving and so
forth."

"What if I choose to blow the whole thing?"

"In that case you will do more than any one else could to help Norman to
the thing he will most want--a reconciliation with Crockett and the rest
of the gang.  And he will go on in his old ways--Jennie included."

Rockwell let Simpson digest that for a moment, and then said:

"Well, think it over as you have promised.  And now we really do want
breakfast."

Simpson got to his feet.  He straightened the napkin on his arm and
mechanically enunciated his servile formula:

"Yes, sir."

"And, Simpson!"

"Yes, sir?"

"I will talk with you again this afternoon.  Till then, at least, keep
your mouth shut and think. Think sensibly."

"Very good, sir."

Waiter No. 73 bowed gravely and left the bedroom.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                       *GRAPEFRUIT AND TELEGRAMS*


When the door closed behind Simpson, Rockwell and Merriam naturally
looked at each other.

"Poor fellow!" said Merriam.

In spite of himself his mind was visited by a tantalising recollection
of Jennie’s voice as it had come to him over the telephone.  With no
more evidence than that he was inclined to think that Simpson was right
in saying that she would not have a waiter now.  But it was impossible
to speak of this to Rockwell.

The latter had apparently dismissed the incident and was looking at his
watch.

"It’s nearly eight o’clock," he said.  "Put the rest of your things on
and go down to Norman’s rooms on the next floor.  You’re to have
breakfast there with Miss Norman and Mrs. Norman.  You’d better go down
the stairs rather than in the elevator; you will be less likely to meet
some one who will take you for the Senator.  I am going to hunt up Dr.
Hobart, the house physician here, and take him with me to this Madame
Couteau’s, or Jennie’s, to see Norman.  We must get him on his feet at
once.  A hotel physician will be the very man for that."

"I must shave," said Merriam.

"Oh, never mind that.  Time is precious."

Merriam thought of the train which he now planned to take.  It left at
nine-fifteen and would get him to Riceville a little after noon.  He
remembered, too, that he must telegraph to his assistant principal that
he would miss the morning session.  And he thought of the coming
breakfast hour with Mollie June.  Certainly time was precious to him.
Nevertheless he said decidedly:

"I’m going to shave all the same."

Rockwell looked at him with a comprehending smile.  "All right, my boy,"
said the older man. "Doubtless it’s very necessary.  Hurry up and try
not to cut yourself.  I’ll run along with the doctor."

He moved to the door, stopped with his hand on the knob to say, "I shall
probably drop in at the rooms before you’re through breakfast," and was
gone.

Merriam sighed a certain relief and went into the bathroom to shave.

A few minutes later, following Rockwell’s injunction, he descended to
the floor below by the stairs rather than the elevator.  He forgot even
to look at the pretty floor clerk on Floor Three, who last night was
wearing his--Norman’s--violets.

When he knocked at the door labeled 323 it was the voice he most desired
to hear that said, "Come in."

He opened the door.  The rose-and-white room was bright with morning
sunshine, and half way down its length Mollie June, in a blue satin
breakfast coat, with a lacy boudoir cap covering her hair, was standing
before the little table which held the bowl of roses.

"Good morning, Mr.--John," she said.

He half perceived that her voice sounded tired and a little sad.  But
the daintiness of breakfast coats and boudoir caps was as strange in
Merriam’s world as white shoulders were.  His eyes drank it in
delightfully.  In his pleasure her note of sadness escaped him.  He
answered almost gaily:

"Good morning--Mollie June!"

His tone probably betrayed his mood, and I dare say Mollie June guessed
the reason for his happiness. But she ignored both mood and reason.  She
had turned back to the roses.

"Come and help me," she said.  "These flowers must have fresh water."

Merriam pushed the door shut behind him and advanced rapidly.  I am
almost afraid he might have taken her in his arms.  But Mollie June was
already half way across the room with the roses, to lay them on a
newspaper which she had previously spread on the seat of a
straight-backed chair.  So all that Merriam got his hands on was the
bowl.

"Empty it in there," said Mollie June, indicating the bathroom between
the sitting room and Norman’s empty bedroom, "and fill it with cold
water."

Thankful that no reply was immediately demanded, Merriam did as he was
bid.

When he reëntered the sitting room with the fresh water, Mollie June
stooped over the chair, gathered up the roses, and came towards him.

"Set it back in the same place," she said.

Merriam did so, and she came up to him--that is to say, to the bowl--and
inserted the stems all together, and with her pink fingers wet from the
cool water deftly arranged the blossoms.  Then, drying her finger tips
on a very small handkerchief, she turned and raised her eyes to him
gravely.  He saw at last that she was pale--that she had been wakeful.
Perhaps she had been crying.  In sudden concern he stood dumb.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked.

He mustered his forces to reply.

"I am afraid I did," he said, ashamed.

She looked at him forgivingly.

"Of course you must have been dreadfully tired," she said.  "I hardly
slept at all," she added.  "I am terribly worried about George.  We
didn’t even know where he was until--a little while ago."  Evidently
Rockwell had already reported some part, at least, of Simpson’s
disclosure.

For a moment they stood silent, tacitly avoiding reference to George
Norman’s ascertained whereabouts.

Then Mollie June raised her eyes again.

"I’m worried, too, about--what we did last night.  We mustn’t do--so,
again."

She met his eyes, very serious.

"No!" Merriam assented.

"I can’t call you ’Mr. Merriam,’ though," she cried.  "And I mustn’t
call you ’John.’  I’ve decided to call you ’Mr. John’!"

"Thank you," said Merriam gravely.  He was deeply touched by the
unconscious confession.

Mollie June turned away.  "I must tell Aunt Mary you are here."

Just then there came a knocking at the hall door.

For an instant the boy and girl stared at each other as though in guilty
alarm.  Merriam started to go to the door.  But Mollie June had
recovered her wits.

"No," she said.  "You must be careful about being seen.  Sit there."
She pointed to the armchair which still faced the gas log between the
windows at the end of the room farthest from the hall. "I’ll see who it
is."

It proved to be no one more dangerous than Simpson, who with an
assistant was prepared to set up a table in the sitting room and serve
the grapefruit.

And even while Mollie June was bidding him come in, Aunt Mary entered
from the bedroom. With her was Miss Alicia Wayward, apparently much
excited, with her hands full of newspapers.

Merriam stood up, and Alicia, catching sight of him, dropped on the
floor the paper she held in her right hand and advanced with an air of
eagerness.

"Oh, Mr.----," she began.  Then, as Merriam took her hand, she stopped
short in her sentence, laughed, and said, "Who are you this morning?"

Merriam, whom Alicia always stimulated to play up, bowed over her hand
as elegantly as he could and replied:

"Senator Norman, I believe--at your service. Good morning, Miss Norman,"
he added, politely, to the older woman.

Aunt Mary merely nodded, rather grimly, and turned away as if to inspect
Simpson’s preparation of the breakfast table.  Merriam wondered how much
of Simpson’s confession Rockwell had found time to report to her.

But Alicia gave him little time for speculation.

"Well, Senator," she rejoined, withdrawing her hand (you were always
conscious when Alicia gave her hand and when she withdrew it), "you and
the Mayor have made quite a noise in the world this morning.  See!"

She displayed the newspaper which she still held in her left hand.  It
was one of the leading Chicago dailies, which invariably prints one bold
black headline across the top of the entire front page. The topic may be
a world war or a dog fight, but the headline is always there in the same
size and startling blackness of type.  This morning it read:

                     *Mayor Black Signs Ordinance*

And one of the columns below carried the further head:

                     _The Mayor and Senator Norman
                        Reported to Have Broken
                        With Traction Interests_


"Oh!" exclaimed Mollie June, who had approached and read these captions.
She looked at Merriam with wide-open eyes.  I surmise that the newspaper
headlines gave her, as indeed they gave to Merriam himself, the first
actual realisation of the public interest attaching to what they had
really felt to be a little private drama of their own.

Aunt Mary had joined them.

"Mr. Black has definitely signed it, you see," she said, with a touch of
triumph in her tone.

It appeared that the Mayor had not gone to the Council meeting at all,
and the paper did not fail to point out that the Ordinance had become
law without his signature, under the provisions of the City Charter, at
nine o’clock; but late in the evening, shortly before the Council
adjourned, the document had arrived by a messenger, with the Mayor’s
signature attached.

Reporters had immediately set out in relentless pursuit and had routed
the Mayor out of bed at his house between twelve and one o’clock and
obtained a brief interview; the substance of which was that the public
interest of the city demanded the improved conditions which the new law
would insure, and that he was proud to complete with his approval the
public-spirited action of the Councilmen in passing it.

The rest was mere rumour and speculation, interlarded with many prudent
"it is said’s," but it seemed that some if not all of it must have been
inspired by the Mayor.  "It was said" that an important representative
of the Traction interests had seen Senator Norman in his rooms at the
Hotel De Soto early in the evening and pleaded with him the cause of the
interested bondholders and stockholders, whose investments would be
imperilled by the changes involved, but that he had stood firm on the
ground of the public welfare.  "It was said," too, that later Mayor
Black had had a long conference with the Senator--well, it _had_ been
rather long,--and that they had agreed that the interests of the plain
people of Chicago must at all costs decide the issue.  "It was said,"
finally, that both Senator Norman and Mayor Black would probably join
forces with the Reform League, whose program they had finally so
powerfully supported, in demanding and obtaining other needed
improvements in municipal conditions.

From all of which it seemed to be clear that the Mayor, having taken an
hour or so to think over the situation in which he found himself, had
become convinced of the soundness of Aunt Mary’s logic and had decided,
without waiting for any further communication from the Norman camp, to
claim the credit for the Ordinance and appeal for popular support
thereon, taking care, however, to involve Senator Norman’s name so that
the real Norman should be compelled to join forces with him in his new
departure.

By the time the column of news and comment and a brief and cautious
editorial on the occurrence had been read out by Alicia and one or two
other papers glanced at, Simpson had set up and laid his table and had
his first course served.  He respectfully approached and inquired if
they were ready for breakfast.

"Certainly!" said Aunt Mary.

Merriam looked at his watch.  It was half past eight.

"I ought to send my telegram to Riceville first," he said, "to let them
know I shall be there on the noon train."

"After the grapefruit," said Aunt Mary, with a decided note in her voice
which led Merriam to look at her inquiringly.

But he desired to exhibit the coolness of a man of the world, to whom
telegrams were customary incidents of daily living and who habitually
ran close to the wind in the matter of trains.  So he acquiesced with a
bookish "As you please," and moved with the others to the table.

Simpson had decorated the center of the board with one of the hotel’s
slim glass vases holding a couple of pink carnations.  Mollie June
regarded this ornament with disfavour.

"Let’s have the roses instead, Mr. John," she said.

And Merriam, to the scandal of Simpson, himself removed the carnations
and set the bowl of roses in their place.

They said little over the grapefruit.  Alicia added a few humorous
comments on points in the newspaper article, but Aunt Mary was divided
between an anxious absent-mindedness and a curious questioning scrutiny
of Merriam, and Merriam was distracted between a suppressed worry over
his telegram and approaching train time and the delight of stolen
glances at--Mrs. Senator Norman. As for Mrs. Senator Norman, she devoted
herself chiefly to the fruit.  Once or twice, in looking up, she almost
unavoidably intercepted one of Merriam’s guilty glances.  When this
happened, she met his eyes frankly but with a gravity that was
pathetically, forgivingly rebuking.

Presently Simpson was removing the fruit rinds and placing finger bowls.
Merriam looked quickly at his watch again and spoke to the waiter:

"Bring me a telegraph form, please."

Aunt Mary’s absent-mindedness instantly vanished.

"What message are you going to send?" she asked in a restrained voice.

"Missed night train.  Will arrive at noon."

"No!" said Aunt Mary.  "Mr. Merriam," she pursued quickly, "until George
is brought back here you must stay.  After all this in the papers this
morning there will be scores of people to see him to-day.  He is known
to be a late riser and never sees any one before ten or they would have
been here before this.  In a very few minutes they will begin to come.
We will put off most of them, of course.  But there are likely to be
some whom we can’t put off.  We can’t tell where George is, and we can’t
say we don’t know where he is, and there will be one or two to whom we
can’t say we won’t tell where he is.  We must have you in reserve.  You
shall go to bed in George’s room, ill with--with--lumbago.  Dr. Hobart
will attend you.  When absolutely necessary we can show a man into the
room, and you can say a few words. I will tell you what to say in each
case.  You can have your head half way under the covers, and can make
your voice weak and husky.  You will be safe enough from detection.
Then by this evening at the latest we shall bring George back, and you
can go down to Riceville on the night train. You will only have missed
one day, and you will have saved us from a most serious dilemma."

There was an appeal in the elderly woman’s voice to which Merriam was
not insensible, though the pull of habitual regularity at his school was
strong in him.

It is to be feared that Alicia spoiled Aunt Mary’s effect.  Across the
table from Merriam, she was partly hidden from him by the flowers.  But
she leaned forward, bringing her face almost beside the roses, and spoke
in her most honeyed tones:

"Oh, do, Mr. Merriam!  How can you resist it?" she added.  "If I were a
man and had the chance to be Mollie June’s husband even for a day----"

She stopped with her archest smile.

Mollie June, with possibly the slightest augmentation of colour, brought
forward a practical argument.

"Since you will miss the morning anyway, it won’t much matter if you
miss the whole day. You haven’t but one class in the afternoon, have
you?"

"Only senior algebra," said Merriam.

"Miss Eldon can take that."

"I suppose she could," said Merriam, who was realising that on this
particular day advanced algebra would be to him the most distasteful of
all branches of human learning.

"Then you’ll stay and help us--Mr. John!"

The reader will perceive that this simple appeal was really much
superior to any which the too sophisticated and calculating Alicia could
contrive. A touch of wistfulness came into Mollie June’s face with the
word "help."  His high promise of the night before was irresistibly
recalled.  And "Mr. John" reminded him of the delightfulness of fresh
water for roses and of the unconscious confession which her compromise
name for him had implied. Alicia discreetly retired behind the roses,
and Aunt Mary waited with lips somewhat grimly pursed.

Then, while Merriam hesitated, with his eyes on Mollie June’s face--we
must suppose that he was weighing her very practical argument,--the
telephone rang.

Simpson, with telegraph blanks in his hand, answered it, and reported
that Mr. Rockwell wished to speak to Senator Norman.

"This is--Norman," said Merriam cautiously into the telephone.

"Ah!" said Rockwell’s voice.  "Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that you
are quieter.  You aren’t seeing things any more."  (I’m not sure of
that, thought Merriam.)  "But you, he has a severe cold--fever and a
cough--touch of bronchitis, probably.  Hobart says he can’t possibly be
moved till to-night.  Anyway, I don’t see how we could get him into the
hotel till then.  You must stay, Merriam."

"All right," said Merriam, surprising his interlocutor by his ready
acquiescence, "I’ll stay."

"Good!  I’ll be down at the hotel in half an hour."  Rockwell rang off.

Merriam turned to face the three women.

When Aunt Mary heard the news about George, she held out her hand to
Simpson for the telegraph forms and wrote.

In a moment she read:

"’Ill with a touch of bronchitis.  Hope to be back to-morrow.  John
Merriam.’  Will that do?"

"I suppose so," he assented.

His words were almost drowned by a loud knock at the door.

"Our day has begun," said Aunt Mary, rising with admirable composure.
She handed the telegram to Simpson.  "Send it at once.  Into the
bedroom, Mr. Merriam.  Get into bed as soon as you can.  You have
bronchitis, you know,--not lumbago."

But before Merriam could obey the door was suddenly opened.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                        *A CHANGE OF MANAGEMENT*


The man who thus burst into Senator Norman’s sitting room at nine
o’clock in the morning without waiting for an invitation was an
unpleasant but important personage--none other than J. J. Thompson (one
never thought of calling him "Mr."), Norman’s private political manager
in all matters that involved handling the people’s vote.

He was a short, stoutish, belligerent type, about forty-five, with thin,
untidy hair, a thin, untidy moustache, and, somewhere between the
moustache and the hair, a pair of small blue eyes, which seemed
incapable of any other expressions than aggressiveness and anger.
Senator Norman--the real Norman--had long found him nearly as
disagreeable as the reader will find him, but so useful in many
political contingencies that he had never been able to bring himself to
dispense with him.

Having popped explosively into the room, Thompson stopped short at sight
of the three women.  For the first instant or two he did not notice
Merriam, who had quietly slipped into the great armchair that faced the
gas log, with his back almost squarely to the room.

"Good morning, Mr. Thompson," said Aunt Mary.  "We were just having
breakfast."

Alicia and Mollie June still sat at the table, and Simpson stood a
little at one side.  Thompson knew who the two girls were, and they knew
who he was, but he had never been presented in Norman’s family except to
Miss Norman--a fact which he resented keenly,--so they did not speak.
Alicia sat back in her chair and stared insolently, while Mollie June
leaned forward and rearranged a rose in the bowl.

"I’m sorry to break in this way," Thompson said--even he was slightly
abashed,--"but I’ve got to speak to the Senator."

"Come back a little later, Mr. Thompson," ventured Merriam in a hoarse
whisper.

The "Mr." was a false note, and its effect was to anger Thompson.

"No!" he cried, the pugnacious gleam that was never far below the
surface of his little eyes appearing in them.  "I’ve got to speak to you
now! I’ve got a right to!"

He advanced.  He would have passed the table so as to approach Merriam.
But there was only a narrow space on either side of it, and in one of
those avenues stood Simpson behind Alicia, while Aunt Mary had quietly
moved into the other, standing with her hand on the back of the chair in
which Merriam had been sitting.  So Thompson found himself barricaded,
as it were, and stopped short and shouted across the table and over the
head of Mollie June.

"What in--what’s the meaning of all this--this stuff in the papers?"

Thompson’s difficulty in expressing himself under the handicap of the
interdiction against profanity imposed by the presence of the women was
a trifle ludicrous.  But his tone and manner were almost as bad as an
oath would have been.

Alicia’s eyebrows rose.  She rose herself.

"Perhaps we had better withdraw," she said.

If Merriam, who had never seen her in any other than a gracious and
seductive mood, could have turned his head to look, he would have
marvelled at her freezing disdain.  Mollie June imitated her in rising
and in a more youthful hauteur.  Without waiting for any reply Alicia
turned and walked into the bedroom, and Mollie June followed.

But feminine disdain, however magnificent, had little effect on
Thompson.  He was obviously relieved.  He looked at Aunt Mary, plainly
desiring that she should go too.

"No, I think I’ll remain, Mr. Thompson," she said pleasantly.

Then he looked at Simpson, and the latter cast an inquiring glance at
Aunt Mary.

"You may stay, please, Simpson," said she. "We shall be finishing our
breakfast presently."

Before Thompson could digest this snub Alicia reëntered from the
bedroom.  She carried a white knitted wool scarf, with which she went to
Merriam.

"Don’t you feel chilly, George?" she asked. "You can’t be too careful
with that throat."

She knelt down by his chair, put the scarf over his head, brought it
down past his cheeks, tied it loosely under his chin, and threw the ends
back over his shoulders.

"Now, lean back.  Isn’t that better?  Mr. Norman has a severe cold," she
said in the general direction of Thompson.  "The doctor is afraid of
bronchitis," she added, as she rose and drew the shades.  "That light is
getting too bright for your eyes."

She flashed a glance at Aunt Mary and returned to the bedroom.

Merriam had been feeling that it was only a matter of minutes before
Thompson--whoever Thompson might be--would somehow force his way to his
side and look down into his face and, probably, perceive the imposture
as Mayor Black had done.  But now, with the welcome aid of the scarf, he
had the bravado to turn partly in his chair and say throatily:

"What do you want?"

Thompson had remained a gaping spectator of the tying up of Merriam’s
head, but this question enabled him to recover his natural
aggressiveness. With one defiant glance at Aunt Mary, he started forward
and pushed his way past Simpson, who could have stopped him only by an
actual physical offensive.

"What do I want?" he repeated sarcastically, as he stood looking down on
the senatorial head bundled in the scarf.  "I want to know what the hell
you’ve gone and done--you and Black--without letting anybody know you
were going to! What about Crockett?  Didn’t you promise him at eight
o’clock last night that you would tell Black to veto?  And then this!"

Thompson had drawn a folded newspaper from his coat pocket.  He struck
it with his other hand.

"Is that the way to treat your friends who’ve stuck by you?  What about
the election next week? What about the state machine?  What about your
campaign fund?  Have you gone nutty?  Did you really do it, or is the
Mayor lying?  That’s what I want to know!"

"What business is it of yours?" asked the victim of this torrent of
questions as he stared from between the folds of his woolen scarf at the
unlighted gas log.

Merriam really was asking for information, but the politician could not
know this.  It seemed to him the last insult--and repudiation.  He fell
back a step dramatically.

"So that’s it!" he cried.  "After I’ve managed two campaigns for you!
I’ve done your dirty work for ten years!  And now, over night, what
business is it of mine?  You throw me over!  And all your friends.  The
men who sent you to the Senate of the United States and kept you there.
And what for?  To join that fool Black!  And the Reform League, I
suppose.  Philip Rockwell and his gang of preachers and short-haired
women and long-haired mollycoddles!  You’ll appeal to the dear People!
Bah!"

Thompson had by this time apparently forgotten entirely the presence of
Aunt Mary and Simpson. He snatched a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and
bit the end off it, produced a match from somewhere, and lighted it,
emitting volumes of smoke. He thumped with his newspaper on the arm of
Merriam’s chair and in an impressively lowered tone continued:

"Listen to me.  It won’t do, Senator.  You can’t get away with it.  Not
you.  Reform and the people and pure politics and all that.  If you’d
started in on that line twenty years ago,--may be!  I don’t say it
couldn’t be made to pay.  But not by you, at this time of day.  It’s too
late.  You’ve tied up with the other gang.  They know you.  They know
too much about you.  They won’t let you do it. It’s no use trying.  Of
course, if you’re tired of your job--if you’re hankering to quit--if you
want to go down in a grand smash,--all right!  But if you want to stay
in the United States Senate, there’s just one way you can do it, and
that’s to play the old game in the old way with the old crowd.  Savez?"

All this was a trifle hard on young Merriam. Thompson had told who he
was, so that the boy realised the critical character of the interview.
But there was so much else he needed to know. How had the real Norman
been in the habit of treating this man?  How would he probably have
acted in such a situation as they were pretending? The only thing he
could do was to say as little as possible.  Now that it was necessary to
make some response, what he said was:

"We’ll see about that."

Thompson was rather encouraged than otherwise by this remark.  He had
not, of course, expected any immediate acquiescence.

"You’ll see all right if you keep on," he retorted with elephantine
irony.  "But for God’s sake, Senator, try to see things in time.  It’s
not too late yet.  Turn the Mayor down.  You aren’t committed openly.
He is, but you aren’t.  Let him go smash alone.  He was always a fool!
You can swear to Crockett that you told Black to veto.  It don’t matter
whether he believes you or not.  He’ll take you back.  This Ordinance
business don’t matter.  They’ll fix that some way.  There are bigger
things than that coming, and they know how useful you can be.  You can’t
keep on with this other."

"Can’t I?" asked Merriam, not unskillfully fishing for further
revelations.

"Listen to me, Senator.  Didn’t you accept fifty thousand dollars of
common stock in the United Traction Companies?  Are you going to give
that back?  Will Crockett _let_ you give it back?  Not he! Have you
forgotten how we cornered the vote in Kankakee County when you ran six
years ago? Crockett knows about that.  The whole crowd know it.  And
what about that nice little honorarium you received for your vote in the
Senate on the last amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act?  If you’ve
forgotten it, the men who put it up haven’t! Do you think they’ll let
you go off like this?  As long as you play the game and keep your good
looks and can make your popular speeches they’ll keep you in the Senate,
and the good things will come your way.  They’ll get you a Cabinet job
if you want it.  Just say the word.  But if you throw them over, they’ll
turn on you.  These little things I’ve been reminding you of will leak
out.  Man alive, you’re liable to end in the pen!"

"Perhaps," said Merriam, "but I shouldn’t go alone.  A man named
Thompson would go with me, eh?  And maybe even Mr. Crockett.  And others
I might name."  (Merriam wished he _could_ name them.)

"That for your threats!" he finished grandly and snapped his fingers,
thanking heaven for the rôle of villain he had enacted in a certain
college melodrama, in connection with which he had, by diligent
practice, acquired the not common art of snapping one’s fingers
effectively.

Thompson, who, had unwontedly removed his cigar from his mouth at
Merriam’s speech, now backed away from the huddled figure.

"You think you’d do that!" he said, in a voice in which cynical scorn
contended with something a little like fright.

"Not unless I am forced to," said Merriam. "But I have chosen a new
course, and I mean to follow it."

But Thompson, standing solidly in the spot to which he had retreated, as
if he had "dug in" there, restored his cigar to the accustomed corner of
his face and narrowed his little eyes till they were hideously smaller
than usual.

"It’s unfortunate, Senator," he said, with a kind of exaggerated
suavity, "that this reform in your public morals last night was not
accompanied by a corresponding change in your private morals."

"What do you mean?" asked Merriam quickly, and his voice faltered ever
so little, a fact which the other did not miss.

"Oh, you were known, you know, at Reiberg’s Place.  You told everybody
who you were, I understand. You must have been pretty gay.  Celebrating
your new virtue, I suppose!  But handing fifty-dollar bills to
dance-hall girls isn’t quite the line for a Reform League hero, Senator!
And we know where you went afterwards.  She’s a pretty little thing, but
she’s not in the Reform League picture!  Suppose we say nothing about
the United Traction stock or the Kankakee County vote or the Interstate
Commerce business or any other little incidents of the past like that,
but just start with this little affair of last night.  How will that mix
with pure politics, Senator?"

It was Thompson’s turn to enjoy himself.  He could not refrain from
following up this new vein.

"Your old friends are liberal-minded, Senator. But your new friends, the
great American people, are a little inclined to be narrow in matters of
private morality."

Thompson’s follow-up attack was a mistake.  It gave Merriam time to
think and decide upon his course.

"I was _not_ at Reiberg’s last night," he said, recovering his loftiness
and adding coldness thereto.  "Nor anywhere else.  I spent the night in
this hotel."

Thompson stared.  For a moment it almost seemed that his jaw would fall
and his precious cigar drop out.  But he recovered himself with a sneer.

"You did, did you?  In the company of your wife, I suppose!  And that
thing about your head is really to keep you from catching cold and not
to keep your head from splitting open with the headache? You’re pretty
fresh this morning, considering. I hand it to you there.  But"--his
rising anger got the better of his unnatural affectation of suavity,
which he had maintained up to the limit of his endurance--"but that lie
won’t go!  You don’t know what you did last night.  You were stewed
right.  You told every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and Mary and Jane at the
dance hall that you were Senator Norman.  You fool!"

"After that," said Merriam, playing his part regally, or, let us say,
senatorially, "I can only suggest to you that behind you is a door which
I wish you would make use of as soon as possible."

Thompson seemed decidedly nonplused at this. The real Norman had always
been amenable to threats and on the whole patient under abuse.

"Do you mean," he burst out, "that I’m not to be your manager?  You turn
me down cold?"

At this juncture there came a quick, light knock at the door to which
Merriam had just referred so grandly.

Simpson looked quickly at Aunt Mary and then at Merriam.

"Let me know who it is," said the latter, realising that he must seem to
be in command.

When Simpson opened the door it was Rockwell who pushed past him.  He
stopped short before Thompson (with his cigar) in hostile confrontation.

Cautiously Merriam peered around the off side of his high backed chair.

"Mr. Thompson," he said, "you know Mr. Rockwell, I believe.  My new
manager!"

For a moment Thompson stood.  Once his mouth opened, almost certainly to
frame an oath.  It is strange evidence of the survival of chivalry in
American life that Aunt Mary’s presence restrained that outburst.
Instead, we must suppose, he took the stub of his cigar from his mouth
and dashed it on the carpet.

"I’m through!" he said.  Then to Merriam: "I’ll use your door all
right--for the last time--till you send for me!"

He caught up his hat and walked past Rockwell, within an inch of
brushing against him but not looking at him.

At the door he turned.

"You’ve read your morning papers, I suppose! Have you read _Tidbits_?
Take a look at it!"

The door slammed behind him.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                           *HOLDING THE FORT*


The reverberation of Thompson’s slamming still echoed in the room when
the bedroom door opened and Alicia sailed in, followed more demurely by
Mollie June.

"Good morning, Philip," said Alicia to her fiancé.

Then she turned to Merriam.

"Oh, you did splendidly!" she cried.

"Did I?" said Merriam, awkwardly trying to get the woolen scarf off his
head.

"Indeed you did.  We listened to every word. I through the keyhole.  And
Mollie June lay down on the floor and listened under the door.  It was
mean of me to take the keyhole, but I’m too old and fat for the other
position."

Possibly Mollie June’s recent prostration accounted for the color in her
cheeks.

"Help him off with that thing, dear," Alicia added, and herself advanced
to Rockwell and took his hands, offering to be kissed--an offer of which
Rockwell took advantage with some fervour.

"Yes, I’ll help you," said Mollie June, moving somewhat timidly in
Merriam’s direction.

He met her more than half way.

"Please," he said.  "I’m all bound round with a woolen string."

Mollie June drew the ends of the scarf down off his shoulders and untied
the loose knot under his chin.

"There!" she said, looking up at him.

Merriam snatched the thing off his head, ruffling his hair.

"Thank you!"

Rockwell’s voice reached them across the room. Aunt Mary had been
hurriedly narrating the happenings with Thompson.  He now looked
approvingly at Merriam.

"That’s all right," he said, reflectively.  "Very good.  Yes.  Just as
well to defy him at once. Could hardly have been better.  Ah, there’s
Hobart now, I suppose," for a discreet knock had sounded at the hall
door.

Rockwell himself admitted the house physician, a bald, youngish man,
with nose glasses over slightly shifty eyes and a quite unprofessional
manner--the manner of a "smart" young business man.

Merriam and Mollie June joined the others for the introductions.  These
formalities over, Dr. Hobart confirmed the report of Norman’s condition
which Rockwell had given them over the telephone. He "was getting along
all right"--with a sidelong glance at Mollie June--"except for a touch
of bronchitis."

Mollie June betrayed an embarrassed uneasiness. Merriam wondered just
how much she knew of her husband’s whereabouts--of his escapades in
general.

"Very well," said Aunt Mary briskly, "you must go right to bed, Mr.
Merriam, before some one else comes.  You’re ill with bronchitis, of
course.  That scarf was a splendid idea, Alicia, but it was a close
shave.  We mustn’t run any more risks.  You will attend him, Dr.
Hobart?"

"Of course," said the young physician, evidently much amused.  "Mr.
Rockwell has told me the story.  It’s as good as a play.  Mr. Merriam--I
mean, Senator,--I order you to bed at once."

"Very well," said Merriam and turned towards Senator Norman’s bedroom.

"I’ll show you where things are," said Rockwell, accompanying him.  "I
explored a bit last night."

In the bedroom with the door closed behind them, Merriam hesitated.

"Better get your things off at once," said Rockwell, going to the bureau
and stooping to open the bottom drawer.  "It’s nearly ten o’clock," he
continued, rummaging.  "The reporters will be here any minute.  I’m
surprised some enterprising chap hasn’t arrived already.  We’ll try to
keep them off, of course.  But some of those fellows are mighty clever.
Here we are--pajamas," he added, pulling out the garments for which he
had been searching.

Then he crossed to a closet, from which in a moment he emerged with a
bath robe and a pair of bedroom slippers.

"I’ll put these by the bed so that if there’s any reason for you to get
up you can do so easily.  But unless something happens to change our
plans, you’re much too sick to get up to-day."

A knock sounded at the door into the sitting room.  Rockwell answered it
and returned grinning.

"Aunt Mary says that Simpson shall bring you some ham and a cup of
coffee as soon as you’re in bed.  Why didn’t you tell me you have had
nothing to eat but grapefruit?"

"I had forgotten," said Merriam, realising nevertheless that he was very
hungry.

Rockwell dropped into a comfortable chair.  "It’s rather good fun," he
said.  "This conspiracy business.  I do hope we can pull it through."

By this time Merriam was inside the senatorial pajamas.  He approached
the bed, turned down the covers, and awkwardly climbed in, feeling for
all the world like a little boy who has been sent to bed in the daytime
for being naughty.

"Now about lights," said Rockwell rising.  The window shades had not
been raised; they were using the chandelier.  "Not these center lights,
nor the night lamp.  Both are too bright on your face in case----  Let’s
try this side light."

He turned on a light on the wall on the other side of Merriam’s bed,
switched off the ceiling lights, and surveyed the effect.

"That’s good," he said.  "If we have to bring any one in, you can lie
looking this way and still your face will be in shadow.  Lie well down
in with the covers up to your chin.  Now I’ll bring you some breakfast."

Merriam, left alone for a minute, wished he had been permitted to finish
his breakfast in the sitting room before being sent to bed.  He had
counted on that breakfast, and the first course had been fully as
delightful as he had pictured it.

Rockwell soon returned, carrying a tray on which was a plate of really
fine ham, with rolls and butter and a cup of coffee.

"I guess I’m not too sick to sit up to eat, so long as only you’re
here," said Merriam, suiting his posture to the word and falling to with
appetite.

Rockwell drew up a chair and for several minutes sat smoking in silence.
Then he said:

"Did you catch Thompson’s parting shot about _Tidbits_?"

"Yes," Merriam replied, without interrupting operations.  "What did he
mean?"

Rockwell drew a clipping from his pocket. "Listen," he said, and read
the following:


                       _The Senator’s Night Off_

    There was a dance last night at Reiberg’s Place on the West
    Side.  Most of our readers do not know Reiberg’s.  It comprises
    a dancing floor over a saloon, with a bar attached for the
    convenience of patrons who may not be willing--or, as the
    evening advances, able--to go downstairs to the saloon; also
    certain small rooms where one may drink or otherwise enjoy
    oneself quite privately.  Its patrons, male and female, are
    chiefly employees in the neighbouring factories.

    But last night Reiberg’s was honoured, we are credibly informed,
    by a guest from quite a different sphere--no less than a Senator
    of the United States.  We are not able at present to give his
    name with certainty, and of course we are not willing to give
    names in such a case until we have verified our information with
    scrupulous care.  But he certainly announced himself as Senator
    ----, and he looked the part, and distributed money, presumably
    from the salary paid to him out of public funds, with lavish
    abandon.

    Having tried to kiss one of the prettier girls and been knocked
    down by her escort--who evidently knew naught of "senatorial
    courtesies,"--he emphasised the sincerity of his tipsy apologies
    by handing the lucky insulted one a fifty-dollar bill.

    Later, it is said, he attached himself to another young woman,
    unaccompanied, it would seem, by any pugnacious swain, with whom
    he spent several hours, partly on the dancing floor and partly
    elsewhere.

    Finally, with we fear little of his money left about him, he was
    charitably carried off by the chauffeur of his waiting taxi.

    Well, well, after the arduous strain of legislative labours, one
    doubtless feels the need of a little relaxation.  We hope the
    Senator enjoyed himself.


Rockwell folded up his clipping.  "A tolerably close paraphrase of
Simpson’s story," he remarked. "They have the facts pretty straight."

"What is this _Tidbits_?" asked Merriam, sitting on his pillow with the
tray in his lap.  He had stopped eating.

"Oh, a dirty little sheet of scandal.  Twice a week.  But it’s pretty
widely read.  And they know his name, of course.  In fact any one can
guess it, because Senator Norman is known to be in the city, and there
is no other United States Senator stopping here now, so far as any one
knows.  It will be a bit nasty if they push this sort of thing.  They’ll
put it in the regular newspapers next--a straight news item with his
name in it."

"That article doesn’t say where he went afterwards," said Merriam.  "But
Thompson knew.

"They’re keeping that in reserve.  Listen!"

Male voices were audible from the sitting room.

"The reporters!" exclaimed Rockwell.  "I’ll take that tray.  Lie down
and cover up.  I must go and help Aunt Mary hold the fort."

Merriam finished his coffee in a gulp, and Rockwell set the tray on the
seat of a chair and hastily entered the sitting room.

There followed a long period--more than an hour, in fact--during which
Merriam lay in bed and listened to varied voices from the other room,
and speculated as to what was going on, and wondered what he should do
if the door should open and some irresistibly aggressive reporter or
irresistibly important political friend of Norman’s be ushered in.

But Rockwell and Aunt Mary, with the occasional support of Dr. Hobart,
successfully withstood the army of reporters and a few minor politicians
who called, and at length the loud masculine voices from the other room
ceased, and Merriam lay still, somewhat fatigued by his prolonged strain
of apprehension, and waited.

Presently the door opened, and Aunt Mary and Rockwell entered.  Merriam
had closed his eyes, but Rockwell speedily opened them.

"Oh, you can wake up," he said.  "It’s all right. The coast is clear."

Merriam rolled over so as to lie on his back. "Well, what next?" he
said.

Aunt Mary and Rockwell looked at each, other. Rockwell spoke:

"Miss Norman and I are going out.  We shall drop in at the Mayor’s for a
few minutes and then go on to a Reform League luncheon at the Urban
Club.  I am due to act as toastmaster or chairman for the speeches
afterwards, and it will be just as well to have Miss Norman present.
She will symbolise the prospective new alliance.  We are going to leave
you under the care of Alicia and Mrs. Norman. No one else is likely to
come for several hours now.  We shall be back at about half past two or
three.  Meanwhile luncheon.  You didn’t get a very big breakfast after
all.  Simpson shall serve it here by your bed, and Alicia and Mollie
June can eat with you."

This disposition suited Merriam excellently well, but he made no
comment.  He tried to decide whether Aunt Mary was really eyeing him
sharply or whether he only imagined it.

In any case she almost immediately added a rather formal "Good morning,"
and returned to the sitting room.

Rockwell lingered a moment.

"We’re going to try to bring Norman back here this evening, you know.
If it’s at all possible.  If it shouldn’t be--if he’s too sick or
something, I suppose you could stay over another day still?"

Merriam thought with a panic of his school.

"Not unless it’s absolutely necessary," he replied with a good deal of
emphasis.

"It probably won’t be," said Rockwell reassuringly. "We’re quite as
anxious to get rid of you, you know," he added smiling, "as you can be
to get away from us.  A double’s a horribly dangerous thing to have
around.  Well, so long."

In less than five minutes after Rockwell’s departure there came a knock
at that door upon which Merriam’s attention was concentrated--a
distinctly feminine knock.

Merriam disposed himself as discreetly as possible under the bedclothes
and answered it.

Alicia opened the door and peeped.  "May I come in?"  She opened it
wider and came through. "I’m the chaperon, you know."

"Are you?" asked Merriam smiling.

Alicia was pleased by his smile and said so.

"I always like it when people laugh at the idea of my being a chaperon."

"Why?" said Merriam.

"Oh, so long as it seems funny for a woman to be a chaperon she’s
young."

"It seems funny for you," said Merriam.

"That’s very nicely said," returned Alicia. "Come in, Mollie June."

As Mollie June did not appear, Alicia looked into the sitting room.

"Why," she said, "she must have gone into her bedroom.  I do believe
she’s doing her hair over."  And Alicia raised her eyebrows.

In spite of hope deferred Merriam was made happy.  He recalled the
supreme necessity of shaving earlier that morning.

Alicia dropped into the chair by the bed in which Rockwell had sat and
pretended to scan the invalid’s face solicitously.

"I should say, Senator," she remarked, "that you do not _look_ like a
very sick man.  Your condition must be improving.  We can hope you will
be able to take a little nourishment."

"You can hope that all right," grinned the invalid.

"I’ve ordered----"  Alicia, making talk, plunged into the details of a
quite elaborate refection.

By the time she had finished and had replied to one or two humorous
comments from Merriam, whose spirits were certainly rising, Simpson
presented himself with the substantial fulfillment of her prospectus.
And not until then did Mollie June join them.  Her coiffure, though
simple, was certainly faultless and so far as a masculine eye could
judge newly arranged.

Alicia caught Merriam’s glance and read his thoughts and smiled.

"What is it?" asked Mollie June suspiciously.

"What is what?" said Merriam, lamely.

"The Senator has been very humorous over the meal I have ordered,"
explained Alicia more deftly.

"Don’t call him the Senator!" cried Mollie June. "His name is"--her eyes
met Merriam’s for an instant--"Mr. John."

"I see," said Alicia.  In the dim light Merriam was not sure whether she
raised her eyebrows again or not, but he was afraid she did.

Simpson, intent only on the proper illumination of his carefully laid
cloth, but unwittingly conspiring with the elder gods (Fate and Destiny
and the like), had turned on the night lamp and set it on the corner of
the table next to Mollie June, and its radiance fell full on her
slender, erect figure, now arrayed in--Merriam had not the slightest
idea what kind of fabric it was, but it was creamy white, and at her
waist was one of the red roses he had helped to freshen.  The circle of
bright light extended up to her white throat.  Occasionally when she
leaned forward her face dipped into it, but for the most part showed
only dimly in the fainter glow that came through the shade of the lamp.
He could see her eyes, however, and not infrequently they rested on him.
His, it is to be feared, were on her most of the time.

When at length the luncheon was finished and Merriam had expressed
himself as disinclined for cigarettes and Simpson had removed his dishes
and his table and finally himself, Alicia, who was really a most
good-natured person--a pearl among chaperons,--yawned and announced that
she had a novel which she desired to finish, and that, if they didn’t
mind, she proposed to retire to the sitting room to prosecute that
literary occupation.

"You can amuse him for a while, Mrs. Norman," she said, with a humorous
smile; Merriam did not venture to question what more subtle thoughts
that smile might veil.  "He’s your guest more than mine, seeing it’s
your husband he’s impersonating. If he gets too boring, you can come for
me and I’ll spell you."

Neither Mollie June nor Merriam replied, but Alicia, still with that
amused smile, rose and calmly departed.  She left the door open, of
course, between the two rooms.

Upon the two young people, thus abruptly left alone together, there
descended an embarrassed silence.  For a minute or so they heard Alicia
moving about in the sitting room and then the small sounds which one
makes in adjusting one’s self comfortably in an armchair with a
footstool and a book, ending in a pleasurable sigh.

Merriam was overwhelmed by the necessity of finding talk.  He could not
lie there in bed and stare at Mollie June, however beatitudinous it
might have been to do so.  Several seconds of prodigious intellectual
labour brought forth this polite question:

"Do you hear often from the girls in Riceville?"

"Not very often," said Mollie June.

We can hardly describe this reply as helpful.

Again he struggled mightily, with the banal kind of result that usually
follows such paroxysms conversational topic-hunting:

"You must find your life here and in Washington wonderful."

"It seemed so, at first," said Mollie June.

"But it didn’t last?"

Merriam was conscious of danger on this tack but he must have a moment’s
rest before he could wrestle with the void again.

"No," said Mollie June.

Merriam waited, not shirking his responsibilities but conscious that she
meant to continue.  She was always deliberate of speech--a fact which
gave a piquant significance to her simplest words.

"You see," she said, "I didn’t really care very much for George.  I
thought I did at first, but I didn’t.  Papa really made me marry him.
And you know he is untrue to me."

Merriam could have gasped.  He felt himself falling through the thin ice
of mere "conversation," on which he had tried so hard to skate, into the
depths of real talk.  But it was good to be in the depths.  And after
his first breathlessness he was filled with love and pity.  How much the
brief, girlish sentences portrayed of disillusionment and tragedy!

"You know about that then?" he asked gently.

"Of course," said Mollie June, almost scornfully. "Before company Aunt
Mary and Alicia and Mr. Rockwell keep up the pretence that I can know
nothing about such things.  I keep it up too!  But Aunt Mary knows all
about them.  George never can conceal anything from her.  And I make her
tell me everything.  Everything!"

Merriam, I suspect, hardly sensed the amount of intellect and character
which Mollie June’s last statement betrayed--I use the word advisedly,
for, of course, intellect and character detract from a young girl’s
charm, and if she desires to be pretty and alluring she should, and
usually does, carefully conceal whatever of such attributes she may be
handicapped with.  But to "make" Aunt Mary disclose things she wished
not to disclose was no small achievement.

"You know about this Jennie Higgins?" Merriam asked.

"Yes.  I’ve seen her and talked with her."

"How?" was Merriam’s startled question.

"She’s a manicurist, you know.  She’s employed at ----"  Mollie June
mentioned a well-known establishment on Michigan Avenue, the name of
which for obvious reasons I suppress.  "When I found that out, I went
there to have my nails done.  I just asked for--Madame Couteau, and
waited till she was free.  She didn’t know me, of course.  She’s
pretty," said Mollie June, with judicial coldness.

After a moment she added, "And sweet and--warm."

"But how any man can leave you----" cried Merriam, treading recklessly
on several kinds of dynamite.

"You haven’t seen her," said Mollie June.

Merriam was silenced.  It was true he had not seen her.  And he
remembered with confusion that he had talked with her over a wire and,
as Rockwell put it, had not "needed much prompting."

He stole a glance at Mollie June.  The purity of her white-clad figure,
its brave erectness, and the impassive sadness so out of place on her
young face caught at his heart.

"How can you stand it?" he cried, and would have put out his hand to her
had he not remembered that he was in bed and that his arm was clad only
in the sleeve of a suit of pajamas.

Mollie June looked at him.

"I don’t know," she said.  "What else can I do?"

Merriam lay still, now openly staring at her.  Of all intolerable things
of which he had ever heard it seemed to him the worst that Mollie
June--"the prettiest girl,"--with all her loveliness and sweetness and
courage and youthful joy in life, should be so slighted and wronged and
saddened and degraded.  It was like seeing a rose trampled under foot.
(Merriam’s mental simile was not very original perhaps, but to him it
was intensely poignant.)

For a moment she met his gaze, then looked away.  In the subdued light
Merriam could not be sure, but he thought there was a new brightness of
tears in her eyes, released perhaps by his very apparent though
inexpressive sympathy.

Presently the thought which had inevitably come to him forced itself
almost against his will to expression:

"You could divorce him."

"I’ve thought of that."  (Somehow this shocked Merriam.)  "But it would
be too horrible.  Have you read the divorce trials in the papers?  With
a Senator they would make the most of it.  And Aunt Mary won’t let me do
that.  It would ruin him politically, she says."

"Well, what if it did?  How about you?"

"Oh, she loves him, you know.  She thinks he can be brought to change
his ways.  She believes in him still."

"Do you?"

"No," said Mollie June, with the clear-eyed cruel simplicity of youth.

"He may die," was the thought in Merriam’s mind, but this could not be
said.

Full of pity, he gazed at her again, and something in the profile of her
averted face overcame him.  He started up on his elbow--all this time he
had lain with his head on his arm on the pillow.

"Mollie June!" he cried, his voice softly raised.

She did not look at him.

"Dear Mollie June!  You must know I love you. I loved you three years
ago in Riceville.  There’s nothing wrong about that.  When you’re in
such trouble I must tell you.  It can’t do you any good. There’s nothing
we can do.  But--I do love you!"

She turned her eyes upon him.

"Why didn’t you tell me that--in Riceville?"

"Oh!" he cried.

Mollie June rose and came to the bedside.

"I know," she said with womanly gentleness. "You couldn’t, of course.
Because you were so poor.  I ought to have waited--John!"

For a moment her hand hovered above his head as if she would have
stroked his ruffled hair.  But it descended to her side again.

"We mustn’t talk like this.  I must go.  I’ll tell Alicia we
are--bored!"

There were tears not only in her eyes but on her cheeks now.
Undisguisedly she wiped them away and carefully dried her eyes with a
small handkerchief.

"I shall see you at dinner," she said with a brave smile, and, turning,
walked quickly out of the room.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                            *COUNCIL OF WAR*


It was some time before Alicia, with something more, if possible, than
her usual aplomb, covering, let us hope, a guilty conscience, entered
the bedroom, presumably to "spell" Mollie June in amusing the supposed
invalid.

Alicia made some remark which hardly penetrated the invalid’s
consciousness, but scarcely had she sat down in Mollie June’s chair
before a quick knock sounded at the hall door of the sitting room,
almost immediately followed by the sound of the opening of that door,
and Alicia sprang up again and hurried away, to be before Mollie June in
receiving the newcomers.  It began to irritate Merriam to perceive how
they all treated her as a little girl, when as he now thrillingly
realised she was very much a woman in spite of the youthfulness of her
face and figure.

The arrivals in the other room proved to be Rockwell and Aunt Mary
returned.  Recognising their voices, Merriam glanced at his watch under
his pillow and was amazed to find that it was nearly four o’clock.

Rockwell appeared in the doorway.

"Come into this other room," he said.  "We must hold a council of war."

"Shall I dress?" asked Merriam, gladly getting out of bed.

"No, no," said Rockwell impatiently.  "Just put on your bath robe and
slippers."

Having followed this instruction, Merriam stepped to the glass and with
a few quick strokes of the brush smoothed his hair, Rockwell watching
him without comment.  Then they went into the sitting room.

Merriam blankly perceived that the sitting room was empty--of Mollie
June.

"She has a slight headache," said Alicia kindly--suffering still, we may
hope, from pangs of conscience.

Aunt Mary was sitting in the senatorial armchair, which had been turned
about to face the rest of the room.  She looked long and hard at
Merriam--an intensification of that close scrutiny with which, it seemed
to him, she had always distinguished him.  Merriam, in his bath robe,
sustained it awkwardly but manfully.  Alicia and Rockwell were standing.
The silence was rather portentous.

"Sit down, all of you," said Aunt Mary suddenly.

The three younger persons present--even Rockwell seemed youthful beside
Aunt Mary in her dominant mood--rather hurriedly found seats.

"Is the door locked, Philip?"

Rockwell rose, went to the hall door, turned the key, and returned to
his chair.

"Tell him," said Aunt Mary.

Rockwell’s budget of news was certainly considerable and important.

In the first place, George Norman was "better."  Rockwell and Aunt Mary
had gone to see him at Jennie’s after the Reform League luncheon.  That
was why they were so late.  He undoubtedly had a touch of bronchitis,
with some fever and a cough, but seemed to be improving.  He could be
brought back to the hotel that evening.  Aunt Mary had sat down by his
bed and told him briefly but plainly of the happenings at the hotel the
previous evening, and had extorted a feeble, amazed acquiescence in the
astonishing turn which had been given to his career--an acquiescence
which she had immediately communicated by telephone from Jennie’s to
Mayor Black.

In the second place, the story of Norman’s evening at Reiberg’s was all
over the city--not among the populace, of course, but among the
politicians and business men and clubmen--the men who know things.  Not
only the story in _Tidbits_, which everybody seemed to have read and to
have assigned unhesitatingly to Norman, but the further fact that from
Reiberg’s he had gone in the taxi to "a certain little flat"--that
seemed to be the approved phrase,--and had spent the night there, and
was still there.  The simple truth, in short, was known.  Rockwell had
taken his cue perforce from Merriam’s impulsive denial to Thompson and
had flatly contradicted the whole story.  Senator Norman had spent the
evening, after his interviews with Mr. Crockett and with Mayor Black, at
the hotel with his wife, and was there now, slightly indisposed with a
severe cold which had threatened to turn into bronchitis.  His downright
assertions had, Rockwell believed, shaken the confident rumours and
would probably delay any further publication of them for at least a day.
But it was necessary to produce evidence.

"We shall have to use you again to-night," he said to Merriam.  "I have
invited the Mayor and Mr. Wayward to dine with you here at the
hotel--downstairs in the Peacock Cabaret."

"Shall I have to play the Senator there?" gasped Merriam--"in public!"

"Semi-public," said Rockwell.  "I have reserved a table in an alcove.
We shall put you in the corner.  All the rest of us will be between you
and the general gaze.  Oh, we shall get away with it. It’s much less
dangerous than trying to impose at close range in a private interview on
some one who really knows the Senator--as you did on Thompson this
morning."

"Does Mr. Wayward know?" asked Merriam.

"Of the impersonation?  Not yet.  But Alicia shall prepare him in
advance."

Alicia nodded.  "That’s all right," she said. "Daddy will enjoy it.
He’ll think it’s a huge joke."

"Moreover," continued Rockwell, with rather apprehensive eyes on
Merriam, "I have accepted an invitation for Senator Gorman to speak at
the Reform League luncheon to-morrow."

"Do they have luncheons and speeches every day?" asked Merriam, sparring
for time, for of course he saw what was coming.

"Not usually, but they’ve been having a series. To-morrow is the last
one.  It’s the perfect opportunity for Norman to come out openly for the
League. When the invitation came, I simply had to accept it."

"But if George Norman isn’t able to speak?" queried Alicia, fearlessly
coming to the point.

"Then you’ll have to make the speech!" said Rockwell bluntly to Merriam.

"But how can I?"

"You were a debater in college."

"Yes, but the speech itself----"

"Oh, Aunt Mary will fix you up with a speech."

Merriam turned to that silent mistress of the situation, sitting calmly
in the senatorial armchair.

"George is so very busy that I often write his speeches for him," she
said, as if it were the most natural arrangement in the world.  "I have
several sketched out now.  We can make a choice among them.  I will
write it out in full and you can learn it, or I will turn over the
outline to you and you can work it up in your own words--if you have to
make it."

"You probably won’t," Rockwell hastened to say.  "Norman is really much
better.  After a comfortable night here at the hotel he will be all
right.  If he’s a little hoarse, we can’t help it.  But you must stay
over, you see," he added determinedly,--"to make sure.  That speech must
be made."

"But my school!" cried Merriam.

"You’ll have to send another telegram," said Aunt Mary.

"What’s a day or two of school?" asked Rockwell impatiently, with a
layman’s insensibility to the pedagogical dogmas of absolute regularity
and punctuality.  "Besides, if you really were sick," he added more
tactfully, "they would have to get along without you, wouldn’t they?"

"So much is at stake," said Aunt Mary. "George’s future, and all that
that may mean to the State and Nation.  If we can bring him to throw the
weight of his popularity and leadership on the right side!"

"You can’t desert us now, Mr. Merriam," cried Alicia.  "When it means so
much to Aunt Mary and Philip and Mollie June!"

Crafty Alicia!  Her guile was, of course, clearly apparent to Merriam.
But it is perfectly possible to perceive that an influence is being
deliberately brought to bear on one without being able to resist that
influence.

"Very well.  I’ll telegraph again," he said.

"Better do it now," said Rockwell, promptly clinching this decision.  He
rose, went to the writing table, got out a telegraph form, and sat down.

"What shall I write?"

Merriam collected himself as best he could under Alicia’s admiring,
expectant eyes and Aunt Mary’s steady regard.

"Better," he dictated, "but doctor won’t let me leave to-night.  Expect
to be down to-morrow night."

"That’s good," said Aunt Mary, in a tone of quiet approval which
gratified Merriam more probably than he realised.

Rockwell finished writing and turned in his chair.

"I’ll be going down in a few minutes.  I’ll send it then.  Now you’ll
need to dress for dinner--Senator! Pack up your things too.  After
dinner you and I will leave the hotel together in a taxi. We shall drive
over to the University Club.  There we shall simply go up to the Library
for a few minutes and then come down again, walk up Michigan Avenue for
a block or two and catch another taxi and drive to the Nestor House.
There you can register under your own name.  Simpson will send your
things over.  I shall go on and get Norman and bring him back here.  You
see?  Senator Norman leaves the hotel about nine o’clock with his new
manager--me.  Within an hour or so he returns, still in my company, and
goes to his room. If he’s all right, you can go down to Riceville on the
morning train if you like.  I’ll come to see you before you go."

"We’ll _all_ go over to see you," said Alicia, with an unmistakable
emphasis on the "all."  "We shall have so much to thank you for!"

Merriam did not reply to this cordial remark.

"Why do we go to the University Club?" he asked.

"And not directly to the other hotel?" said Rockwell.  "Well, I’m afraid
we may be rather closely watched.  To tell the truth, I suspect that the
driver of the taxi we take here may be questioned afterwards as to where
he set us down.  The University Club will tell them nothing."

To Merriam’s excited mood this explanation, with its hint of powerful
hidden enemies intently watching every move which he and his friends
could make, added a touch of piquancy to the situation that was nothing
short of delightful.

He could not well express this, however, and Rockwell, who was all
business with no such romantic nonsense in his head, immediately sent
them about their several parts.  He himself was first to take Alicia to
her waiting limousine.

When Alicia and Rockwell had departed Merriam sought to return to
his--the Senator’s--bedroom. But Aunt Mary detained him.

"Sit down, Mr. Merriam," she said, kindly enough but in a manner that
demanded unquestioning obedience.

Then she rose and entered Mollie June’s bedroom but immediately
returned.

"Mollie June is dressing for dinner," she said. An instant’s pause.
Then, looking hard at Merriam, "She’s a lovely child."

Both the look and the final word provoked Merriam to a sort of
resentment.

"I don’t believe she’s as much of a child as you think," he said boldly.

"It depends on the point of view, no doubt," said Aunt Mary drily.

Then she began to ask him about himself, his family, his own life, on
the farm of his boyhood, at college, and at Riceville--all those facts
which Alicia had so much more tactfully elicited in the private dining
room off the Peacock Cabaret the night before and some others in which
Alicia had not been interested.  Merriam had nothing to be ashamed of
and spoke up promptly and manfully in his replies, wondering in the back
of his mind the while what inscrutable thought or purpose prompted Aunt
Mary in her catechising.  He little dreamt that the whole course and
happiness of his life turned on the showing he was able to make in this
odd examination.

There is no doubt that Aunt Mary--whatever her idea may have been--was
satisfied.  When at length she had no more questions to ask the
expression of her eyes, though they still rested on him, was almost one
of absence.  She drew a deeper breath than was her wont--suggestive, at
least, of a sigh.

"You give a good account of yourself," she said. "You are worthy of the
Norman blood."

Greater praise than that no man could have from Aunt Mary, as Merriam
dimly realised.

"I wish George were more like you."

Immediately she added, with a conscious return to dominating briskness:

"You must dress.  So must I."

And she rose and without looking again at Merriam went into Mollie
June’s bedroom.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                        *THE SENATORIAL DINNER*


At last, at twenty-five minutes after six, Merriam sank, exhausted but
immaculate, into an easy chair and lit a cigarette, in an effort to
compose his nerves and regain the _sang froid_ he needed for his
imminent rôle of a particularly debonair senator of the United States
acting as host to a brilliant dinner party.

At half past six precisely, Aunt Mary knocked on his door and he opened
that door and announced himself ready.

Aunt Mary wore another black evening gown, very similar, in masculine
eyes, to the one in which she had appeared the night before, except that
it was less conspicuously burdened with jet.  Tall and erect, with her
gray hair plainly but carefully dressed, she looked every inch a
senator’s sister and--this would have pleased her--a Norman.

Advancing into the sitting room, Merriam encountered Mollie June,
standing again beside the bowl of roses.  She was in pink--tulle over
satin, though Merriam could not have described it so. But the vivid
colour and the dainty softness of the fabric he could appreciate quite
well enough, at least in their contiguity to the slender figure, white
throat and shoulders, and charming complexion of Mollie June.  There is
no doubt that he looked a moment longer than he should.  The debonair
senatorial outside of him was moved to say, "How lovely you are!"  But
the Ricevillian pedagogue underneath blocked the utterance.  Perhaps his
eyes said it plainly enough to satisfy Mollie June, for she evinced no
disappointment.

"We must go right down, mustn’t we?" she said, raising her eyes from the
roses.

"Yes," said Aunt Mary, in a tone of jarring briskness.

A male figure which Merriam had not perceived stepped out of the
background, moved to the hall door, and opened it.  Merriam saw that it
was Dr. Hobart, quite as point-device as himself and rather more at ease
but not nearly so handsome (though of this, I assure you, Merriam never
thought at all).

Aunt Mary and Mollie June passed through the door.

"Come along, Senator," said Dr. Hobart, in excellent spirits, and
Merriam mechanically followed and mechanically paused and waited while
the physician closed and locked the door.

"This must be great fun for you," said Dr. Hobart as they went down the
hall towards the elevators.

"Yes," returned Merriam without conviction, his eyes on a girlish figure
in pink that moved ahead of him.  "Fun" did not strike him as exactly
the word.

Fortunately at this point a small incident occurred which served to
bring Merriam out of the brown study--or perhaps we may say the roseate
study--into which he had fallen.

As they approached the elevator lobby he became aware of the pretty
floor clerk who on the previous evening had been wearing Senator
Norman’s violets.  He was, of course, entirely unmindful of the fact
that on his way to Norman’s rooms that morning he had passed her rudely
by without a glance, but he did notice that this evening she wore no
flowers and that she studiously avoided seeing him and smiled her best
smile upon Dr. Hobart instead. That gentleman, with a shade too much
alacrity, stepped aside so as to pass close to her desk and, leaning
down, spoke to her.  The pretty floor clerk, from the toss of her head
and the pleased smile on Hobart’s face, had said something saucy in
reply.

"Good enough," thought Merriam, as they all stepped into the elevator.
"I’m glad she has more interests than one," and thought no more of the
incident at the time.

In a moment or two more they had reached the basement floor, which was
their destination.

Opposite the elevators on this floor was a small reception room or
parlour, and here Senator Norman’s other guests were awaiting
him--Rockwell, Murray, Mayor Black, Alicia, and Alicia’s father.

To the last-named gentleman Merriam was immediately presented.  He was a
stoutish, jovial man of fifty or so, bald of pate and humorous of eye,
and the amused particularity with which he surveyed Merriam and the
gusto with which he addressed him as "Senator" showed both that Alicia
had performed her task of enlightening him and that she had been right
as to the attitude he would take.

"Splendid!" he whispered to Merriam.  "You would have fooled me all
right," and he beamed delightedly.

Alicia gave him only a minute.  "They are ready," she said.  "We are to
go right in.  You are to walk with me."  (This last to Merriam.)

In a moment, therefore, Merriam found himself escorting Alicia down a
sort of central aisle among the tables of the Peacock Cabaret, behind an
excessively urbane head waiter, conscious that the rest of his guests
were making a more or less imposing procession after them, and intensely
conscious of suspended conversation throughout the great restaurant and
of countless curious eyes staring across rosebuds and water bottles at
himself.

"Say something to me," whispered Alicia.  "You mustn’t look
self-conscious."

Merriam glanced at her and realised for the first time that evening her
vivid, vigorous, peony-like beauty.

"What can I say," he asked smiling, "except ’How lovely you are’?" and
he wondered why it was so easy to say this to Alicia when he had been
unable to say it to Mollie June.

"Bravo, Boy Senator!" applauded Alicia, and then they reached the haven
of that alcove which Rockwell had promised.

It was really a small square room quite separate from the main part of
the Peacock Cabaret except that there was no wall between.  The head
waiter guided Merriam to the seat at the far end of the table.  Thus
when he sat down he would be facing the main dining room, visible to all
its occupants, yet screened from them by the table and his own guests
about that table.  It was really an excellent device for displaying him
in public and still protecting him from close inspection.

In a moment the whole party had arrived and been seated.

A canapé was being served, and Alicia at his end of the table and her
father at the other end were starting conversation.  Merriam glanced
across the board at Mollie June.  For some reason a charming girl never
looks more lovely than at table.  She looked up and caught his gaze.
Her face was grave.  He thought she looked wistful. For a moment only he
met her eyes, then turned to reply to a remark of Alicia’s.  Somehow his
spirits soared.  He plunged into the conversation with a zest which he
had hardly known since his fraternity days.  Mollie June said little,
but she laughed at the stories and seemed to become excited and happy.
She was content, perhaps, to enact the rôle of the gallery to which
Merriam was playing with such excellent effect.  As for Rockwell and
Aunt Mary, they sat by in serene content: the affair was going well; as
long as that was the case they need not exert themselves.

The mildly uproarious party undoubtedly attracted the desired amount of
attention from the main dining room.  Eyes were turned and necks craned,
and couples and groups that passed the alcove almost invariably slowed
their steps to stare.  Some dozens of men who had heard the stories of
the real Norman’s whereabouts were convinced that these were false, at
least in part; by the witness of their own eyes they knew that the
Senator was that evening at any rate in the bosom of his family at the
hotel.  They could be relied upon to assert as much in all parts of the
city on the following day.

Only one outsider ventured to intrude upon the party and submit Merriam
to the ordeal of closer inspection, and he got no nearer than the length
of the table.  This was the Colonel Abbott whom Merriam had so
perilously encountered at the very beginning of his play-acting the
night before. Merriam remembered him vividly, called him by name, and
replied cordially to his expressions of pleasure at finding him
recovered from his threatened indisposition.  So that danger passed, and
the table, after a brief exchanging of relieved glances, recovered its
gayety, perhaps with some accentuation.

A little later came a reporter.  Merriam professed that he had "nothing
to say."  Asked if it was true that he was to speak at the Reform League
luncheon on the morrow, he replied, with an inner quailing but with
outward composure, that he was.

The reporter turned to Mr. Wayward.  Was it true that he intended to
make a contribution to the campaign fund of the Reform League?  Mr.
Wayward’s joviality suffered an eclipse.  His eyes fell. But on raising
them he encountered a glance from his daughter that can only be
described as stern, and promptly admitted that it was true.

The reporter tried Rockwell, but the latter shook his head so
indomitably that the interviewer at once abandoned him and passed to
Mayor Black. That gentleman promptly and as it were automatically gave
utterance to several eloquent phrases, too meaningless to be recorded.
Even the reporter neglected to make notes of them, and looked about the
table for other prey.  Finding none, he excused himself with the remark,
"I am making note of the names, of course," and disappeared.

Once more the conspiratorial table drew a long breath and endeavoured to
recover its festive mood, but before much progress had been made in that
direction a bell boy came with a note addressed to Senator Norman and
asking that he and Mr. Rockwell come to Room D, one of the private
dining rooms.

Merriam passed the note to Rockwell and then to Aunt Mary, and the three
prime conspirators stared at one another.  None of them knew the
handwriting, which was poor and hurried and in pencil.

"I’ll go," said Rockwell.  "You stay here."

The rest of the party did not know what had happened, but in their
situation the most trivial incident was, of course, sufficient to cause
uneasiness. The conversation during Rockwell’s absence was forced and
fragmentary.  In fact, it was almost a solo performance on Alicia’s
part.  Merriam caught Mollie June’s eyes upon him, and was grateful for
their expression of self-unconscious solicitude.

Presently the boy returned again with the same note, at the bottom of
which was scribbled: "Come--Room D.  Rockwell."

Merriam showed it to Aunt Mary.

"Is that his handwriting?"

"Yes, it is."

"Then I suppose I must go."

He rose, murmured an "excuse me" to the table at large, and made his way
towards the open end of the alcove.  As he did so he glanced at Mollie
June. Alarm stood in her eyes.  Coming opposite her chair, he bent down
and said gently:

"It’s all right.  I probably shan’t be long."

It was perhaps a little too much in the tone and manner that Mollie
June’s real husband might properly have used.  Mollie June herself did
not seem to notice this; she appeared duly comforted. But Mr. Wayward,
at her left, undoubtedly stared after Merriam with an odd expression in
his genial eyes.

Following the bell boy, Merriam tried hard to think what might be in
store for him.  "Thompson" and "Crockett" were the only ideas his blank
mind could muster.  Had they discovered the trick and come to threaten
him with exposure?  Well, Rockwell would be present.  He leaned heavily
on Rockwell.

The boy stopped before a curtained door.

"This is it, sir," he said and waited expectantly.

Merriam fumblingly produced a dime, and the boy departed.  Drawing a
deep breath, he pushed aside the curtain and entered Room D.

To his great relief the only persons present were Rockwell and Simpson.
They were both standing, beside a bare table.  Merriam vaguely
remembered that Simpson had not appeared in connection with the serving
of the last two or three courses.

"Now tell it again," said Rockwell promptly.

The waiter looked steadily at Merriam.

"It’s this way, sir," he said.  "Mr. Thompson, as was the Senator’s
manager until this morning, has found out where the Senator really is,
at----" the man looked away.  "Jennie’s," he finished, without
expression in his tone.  "There’s a girl she lives with, Margery Milton,
who’s a milliner’s assistant at one of the department stores.  He got it
from her.  Straight from her he came here to have dinner with Mr.
Crockett, out in the Cabaret. When I saw them come in, I turned your
party over to another man and served them myself.  I managed to hear a
lot of what they said.  Mr. Crockett had learned of your dinner party,
of course. Putting that together with what Mr. Thompson had got from
Margery, they saw the game.  Mr. Crockett would hardly believe it at
first.  But Mr. Thompson means to make sure.  He’s going to Jennie’s
himself about ten o’clock to-night--they have some kind of a committee
first,--and force his way in, if necessary, and see the Senator himself.
Then they’ll have proof, you see.  I thought I’d better let you and Mr.
Rockwell know."

"You did just right," said Rockwell warmly, "and we’ll make it worth
your while."

He turned abruptly to the younger man.

"Merriam!  You’re the only one who can save us in this fix."

"How?" said Merriam, to whom it seemed that all was lost.

"Listen, man.  You go back to our table and excuse yourself and me.
’Important business.’  Don’t tell them anything more.  Not even Aunt
Mary.  We haven’t time.  Better bring Murray. We may need an extra man,
and we can trust him best.  We three will take a taxi at once.  We shall
have to circle about a bit, to throw off possible trailers.  But in less
than an hour we’ll be at Jennie’s.  You shall take Norman’s place there,
and we’ll take Norman and bring him back to the hotel, to his room.
Just as we planned, only a bit sooner.  When Thompson arrives, Jennie
shall let him in.  He’ll insist on seeing you.  Let him. You’re not
Senator Norman.  Tell him so.  Jennie shall tell him so, too.  He’ll see
it himself, of course, as soon as he looks close with his eyes open. You
and Jennie must make him think you played off the resemblance on this
Margery Milton for a joke.  We’ll fix her, too, of course.  You’d better
tell him your real name, so he can look you up if he wants to.  He won’t
expose you in Riceville. He’ll have no motive to.  And he won’t think
anything of your little escapade in itself.  You came to Chicago on
school business--went out to see the sights--got a little more liquor
than you were used to.  Your taxi driver took you to some dance hall.
He’ll interpret ’Reiberg’s.’  You stayed there a while--don’t know what
you did--met Jennie there--and she brought you home.  You were pretty
sick in the morning and stayed over all day: You see?  It all hangs
together, and relieves Norman entirely of the Reiberg incident and
Jennie, and cinches his blameless presence at the hotel all last night
and all to-day.  It’ll save everything! Better than we planned.
Couldn’t be better!"

Rockwell had worked himself up to exultant enthusiasm.

Merriam’s emotions while this new plot was unfolded were sufficiently
complex.  There was an opaque background of sheer bewilderment.  There
was also a sharp sense of alarm at the thought of having his own name
appear in this business.  But other sentiments, less acute individually,
but of some potency none the less, joined their voices with Rockwell’s
to silence that alarm.  There was the mere love of adventure, of playing
a dangerous game, which is strong in any healthy young man. Then there
was the thought of Mollie June: he would be doing it for her--making a
real sacrifice, of his reputation, possibly of his position, his
pedagogical career, for her sake.  And, oddly enough, quite
simultaneously with this thought of Mollie June, there was a
recollection of "Jennie’s" voice over the telephone.  He was not
conscious that he was curious to see "Jennie," but I am afraid he was.

Scarcely half a minute had passed when Rockwell, eagerly scanning his
face, cried, "You’ll go!"

"Yes," said Merriam, looking at Simpson’s impassive countenance and
surprised at his own words, "I suppose I will."



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                          *A DEVIOUS JOURNEY*


Rockwell, as usual, gave Merriam no time for reconsideration.

"Go and make your excuses at the table then."

But Merriam was still looking at Simpson.  He had perceived that the
impassivity of the waiter’s countenance covered a blank misery.

"Simpson," he said, "we’ll try to see that this works out to your
advantage--at Jennie’s.  Shake on that."  And, in violation of all codes
on which the social system rests, he held out his hand as one man to
another.

Simpson, much more rigorously trained in those codes than Merriam had
been, hesitated, glanced at Rockwell.  But a light came into his eyes.
He seized the hand, gripped it, gave one spasmodic shake.

"Thank you, sir!" he said.

He dropped the hand and as quickly as possible regained his servitorial
manner.

Merriam smiled at him and then spoke to Rockwell:

"Where shall I join you--Murray and I?"

"At the Ladies’ Entrance," Rockwell replied. "It’s less likely to be
watched than the other."

Merriam turned and passed through the curtained doorway, down the hall,
and along one side of the Peacock Cabaret.  The curtain being up on the
small stage and the moderately comely demoiselles of the chorus
executing a dance which involved a liberal display of white tights, he
reached his alcove comparatively unnoticed.

He stopped beside Mollie June’s chair, which was nearest the open side
of the alcove.  All the members of the dinner party regarded him
anxiously; Aunt Mary’s face was more than usually grim. Carefully
pitching his voice so that it should be audible to all at the table yet
should not carry to the main dining room without, he said:

"I am tremendously sorry to have to desert this pleasant company, but
Mr. Rockwell and I are called away on important business.  We should be
very glad if you will come too, Father Murray.--Can you come at once?"
he added as the priest stared.

Aunt Mary’s lips opened.

"I’ll explain later," said Merriam hurriedly.

As he spoke, however, he realised that no opportunity to "explain later"
would probably be afforded him.  Alicia had said they "all" would go to
see him in the morning at the Nestor House. They could not "all" come to
Jennie’s.

He looked down at Mollie June.  She was looking up at him.  His view of
her from above--the contour of her face and throat, the recalcitrant
wave of her soft hair, the brightness of her lifted eyes--might have
moved older and colder blood than Merriam’s.  He was close enough to
catch a faint, warm sense of her in the air.  He desired to envelop her
in love.  What he might do he could not resist.  He laid his hand gently
over one of hers that rested on the edge of the table and bent to her
ear.

"Mr. Rockwell will tell you to-morrow what I have done," he whispered.
"It is for your sake, Mollie--June."

He straightened up.  He was not flushed outwardly.  He looked almost
cold.  Father Murray was making his way down the side of the table.

"Good night, all," said Merriam.  "This way, Father Murray."

He glanced once more at Mollie June--his last sight of her, he thought.
Her face was rosy and her eyes glistened.  It was a picture for which a
man--a very young man, at least--might do anything, even sacrifice his
love.  He smiled at her almost gaily, turned, and passed out of the
alcove, Father Murray following.

They skirted the sides of the Peacock Cabaret in an effort to reach the
exit as little observed as possible.  Unfortunately, before they
attained that goal, the curtain of the small stage descended, the white
legs of the chorus, kicking at it as it fell, were hidden from the
attentive eyes of the male diners, and not a few of these observed the
famous senator’s escape.  This probably mattered little, however,
because of Father Murray.  The well-known High Churchman was enough to
shield the name of Norman.  He could hardly be bound for Reiberg’s, or
even, it would be argued, for "a certain little flat," in Father
Murray’s company.

They got their coats from the checkroom, went up the stairs to the first
floor, and made a detour through passages to the Ladies’ Entrance.

Rockwell was already there with a taxicab.  He motioned to them to enter
it.

Merriam was a little surprised, and Father Murray probably more so, to
find Simpson already within.  Father Murray greeted him with clerical
suavity.  Merriam said nothing.  He was listening to Rockwell’s colloquy
with the chauffeur:

"This cab will probably be followed.  Your first job is to shake off
pursuit.  Circle around through the Loop--twist and turn--until you’re
absolutely sure you’ve lost anybody who is after us.  Then make for the
Eighteenth Street Station of the Alley L.  If there’s no one behind us
when you get there, it will be worth twenty-five dollars to you above
the fare."

"Right, sir," said the man.  "Jump in, sir."

Rockwell stepped in and slammed the door, seating himself with Simpson,
his back to the driver. In a moment he was staring intently through the
peephole window in the back of the taxi.

"See!" he said.

Merriam, turning to look over his shoulder, perceived a yellow cab about
sixty feet behind them, also starting, at about the same pace as their
own.

They went west to Fifth Avenue and turned north along the car tracks
under the Elevated.  A moment later the yellow cab also turned north on
the car tracks.

They swerved east on Randolph Street.  For a minute or two the yellow
cab did not appear.  It must have been caught behind some car or truck.
But presently it rounded the corner and sprinted till it was again
within about thirty yards of them, when it slowed down to their own
pace.

Rockwell spoke through the tube to the chauffeur:

"That yellow cab!"

"I’ll lose ’em!" the man replied, with reassuring confidence.

At the second corner he turned north again and sped across the Clark
Street Bridge.  The yellow cab also had business north of the river.

Their subsequent maneuvers were at first decidedly puzzling to Merriam
and his fellow passengers, with the possible exception of Simpson. They
sped around and around a rectangle of streets enclosing half a dozen
squares, with one of its sides only one block from the River.  On the
shorter sides they sometimes lost the yellow cab, but on the longer
stretches it always appeared in full and open chase behind them.

"What the devil!" cried Rockwell as their driver turned west for the
fourth time on the southern, side of the rectangle--the street nearest
the River.

Simpson spoke: "He’s all right.  It’s the bridge trick."

No further explanation was necessary.  Their chauffeur suddenly swerved
south on Dearborn Street, making in a burst of speed for the River. The
bridge bell was jangling its warning that traffic must stop for the
opening of the bridge to let a steamer pass.  Theirs was the last
vehicle on the bridge.  The bars dropped behind them. Looking back
through the peephole window, our passengers had the satisfaction of
seeing the yellow cab caught behind the bars, unable to follow them,
unable even, because of other vehicles crowding behind, to turn out and
make a detour to another bridge.

Rockwell excitedly seized the tube.  "Good work!" he called.  "I’ll give
you another ten for that."

"Thank you, sir," came the complacent reply.

With a sigh of relaxing tension Merriam sank back in his corner,
abandoning the peephole.

"Who do you suppose it was?" he asked.

"Thompson?"

"Oh, no, not Thompson himself.  One of his henchmen.  He and Norman have
all kinds of assistants!"

"Where are we going?" asked Father Murray.

Rockwell laughed.  "I’d almost forgotten that you don’t know yet.  I’ll
tell you," and he entered upon an explanation of Thompson’s discovery
and proposed method of verification and their own counterplot.

Father Murray was feebly protesting against the difficulties and dangers
of the counterplot, but these complaints were interrupted by the
stopping of the taxi.  They had reached the Eighteenth Street Station of
the Elevated.

Rockwell looked quickly through the peephole window and then opened the
door and jumped out. The others followed.  They scanned the street in
both directions.  There was no other taxicab in sight.

Rockwell stepped up to the smiling chauffeur, asked the amount of the
fare, and paid it with the thirty-five dollars bonus.

"You did the trick very neatly," he said.  "Now scoot!"

"Thank you, sir.  Yes, sir."

There was still no trace of curiosity in the man’s tone or glance.

"Come!" said Rockwell, and he led them to the entrance of the Elevated
Station.

At Forty-Seventh Street they left the Elevated and, walking to the
corner, waited for a cross-town surface car.

"What’s the idea?" Merriam asked, his mind becoming active again.

"Well," said Rockwell, "the first thing our late chauffeur will do after
getting back to town will be to gather in another twenty-five dollars or
maybe more for telling some one of Thompson’s men where he left us.  So
it’s best to muss up our trail a bit more before we strike Jennie’s."

He was hailing an east-bound car.

As they sat silent again inside, Merriam’s mind took its cue from
Rockwell’s last word. "Jennie’s!"  Phrases from his one brief telephone
dialogue with Jennie sounded in his ear, oddly clear and melodious:

"Georgie, boy!  Don’t you know me?--You ought to!" with a thrilling
little laugh.  "You must be careful, Georgie," in a lowered tone. "Can
you come anyway?--You’ll telephone again?--Georgie, boy!" and the sound
of a kiss!

These phrases--surely nothing in themselves--echoed in his mind with the
same unaccountable piquancy and warmth with which they had first come to
him over the telephone.  He flushed a little, sitting there in the
stuffy, bumping, jangling car, as he recalled the way he had
involuntarily "played up" to them.  He had promised to go to her if he
could get away, to telephone her again if he could.  That was mere
trickery and deceit, a part of the game he was playing; that was all
right. But his final whispered "Dearie, good night!"  Had that been
necessary?  He remembered Rockwell’s dry comment: "You don’t need much
prompting!"  But his thoughts ran away with him again.  Now he was going
to see her--to spend a night in her apartment.  What would she be
like--tall or short, slender like Mollie June or plump like Alicia, fair
or dark, with blue eyes or brown or black, curly hair or straight?  He
could not frame an image that satisfied him as the instrument of that
voice.

"Well, what is it to me?" he demanded roughly of himself, suddenly
realising the tenor of his meditations.  "See here, my boy, you must be
careful. She’s probably a regular chorus girl--or worse."  (But he did
not really believe that of her.)  "She’s nothing whatever to me," he
asserted sternly to his truant fancy.  "She belongs to--Simpson.  And I
belong to Mollie June."

The car stopped at last, and Rockwell was getting up.

When they had descended into the street Merriam found that they were at
the end of the line by the Lake.

"Illinois Central next," said Rockwell, grinning, and marched them to
the Forty-Seventh Street Station of that railway.  None of the others
spoke.

Their guide bought tickets to the City.  "Are we going back to the Loop,
then?" thought Merriam.

In a moment they were on the platform.  Merriam walked back and forth
apart from the others, drawing deep breaths of the Lake air and looking
up at the stars, dimly bright in the April night. "I belong to Mollie
June," he said firmly to himself.

Presently one of the odd little suburban trains drew up, and they
entered.

But they had scarcely sat down and yielded up their tickets when
Rockwell routed them out--at Forty-Third Street.  Evidently his buying
tickets clear to the City had been a part of his elaborate ruse.

Rockwell went at once to a telephone to call up a neighbouring garage.

Merriam took a cigarette and lighted it and again walked up and down.
His thoughts now ran unbidden upon Mollie June.  Images of her crowded
his mind: Mollie June rosy and bright-eyed as he had seen her last at
the dinner table in the alcove of the Peacock Cabaret; Mollie June by
his "sick" bed, standing over him after he had impulsively declared his
love, her hand hovering above his hair, tears upon her face, turning
bravely away from him; Mollie June above the roses, as he had first seen
her that morning--was it only that morning?--lifting the wet stems from
the bowl; Mollie June confronting Mayor Black, refusing in angered
innocence to leave the room; Mollie June in the Peacock Cabaret the
night before; Mollie June in the front row in "Senior Algebra" back in
Riceville. Ah, he _did_ belong to Mollie June, heart and soul. There was
no doubt of that, and all the Jennies in the world were of no account
whatever.

So it was a young man in a very laudable frame of mind indeed--waiving
the fact that Mollie June was a married woman!--whom Rockwell presently
bundled into the taxi he had summoned.  Father Murray was already
inside.  Rockwell followed, leaving Simpson to speak to the chauffeur.

It puzzled Merriam to find Simpson thus placed in command, as it were,
and his thoughts came back to the present adventure.  He listened
closely.

"Stop first at Rankin’s Hardware Store," Simpson said to the chauffeur,
"on Forty-Third Street."

In a couple of minutes, it seemed, they stopped before Rankin’s
emporium.  Simpson alone descended.  The other three remained in the
taxicab, Rockwell openly smiling at the puzzled inquiry on Merriam’s
face but vouchsafing no enlightenment. Merriam would not ask questions.

The hardware shop was closed, but there was a light within and a man.
Simpson pounded at the door till he gained admittance, and in a few
minutes returned bearing--a small stepladder!

"What on earth----?"  The words were almost starting from Merriam’s
lips, but he managed to swallow them, and listened again for Simpson’s
direction to the driver.

It was an address: "612 Dalton Place."  That meant nothing to Merriam.

Again a brief drive, Merriam laboriously cogitating, with bewildered
eyes on the small ladder--an affair of some six steps,--which Simpson
had brought into the cab and was holding upright between them.

Father Murray asked the question which Merriam had so manfully (and
youthfully) repressed:

"What’s that for?"

"You’ll see," said Rockwell, grinning, enjoying the mystery.

Simpson remained as silent and grave as an undertaker.

The taxicab had turned several corners and covered perhaps a couple of
miles of streets.  Now it slowed down, stopped.

"There ain’t no 612," said the driver through the tube.

Rockwell took command again.

"Isn’t there?" he said.  "Let’s see."

He got out.  Peering through the open door of the taxicab, Merriam could
see that the house before which they had stopped was numbered 608.

"612’s a vacant lot," he heard the chauffeur say.

"So it seems," Rockwell replied.  "Well, we’ll get out here anyway."

Merriam eagerly took this cue, and the other two followed, Simpson
bringing his ladder.  Rockwell was handing a couple of green bills to
the driver.

"Drive on opposite where 612 ought to be," he said, "and wait.  We’ll be
back by and by."

"This way," he added, and started with Merriam and Father Murray down
the street past the vacant lot.  Simpson, carrying his small stepladder
as unobtrusively as possible at his side, followed laggingly behind.

The square beyond the next avenue seemed to be occupied entirely by a
huge block of apartments. They did not cross the avenue but turned the
corner and walked on down one side of the great flat building but on the
opposite side of the street. Their side held a miscellany of small
detached houses.

Merriam glanced at Rockwell.  He was slowing his steps and seemed to be
watching a couple of men who were moving in the same direction as their
own on the other side of the street immediately under the apartments.

A moment later these two men turned in at one of the entrances of the
flat building.  After perhaps twenty feet more Rockwell glanced over his
shoulder.  Merriam involuntarily did likewise. Half a block behind them
was Simpson with his ladder.  There was no one else in sight.

Rockwell stopped for a second, then said, "Come!" and quickly crossed
the street and entered another door of the flat building.

Within the vestibule he stopped again.

"We must wait for Simpson," he said.

He began reading the names below the battery of bells.  Merriam and
Father Murray stared at each other.

In a moment Simpson joined them with his ladder.  Rockwell promptly
opened the inner door of the vestibule and proceeded to ascend the
stairs. Simpson trudged after him, and Merriam and the priest followed
perforce.

They reached the second floor and the third and continued on up to the
fourth, which was the top floor.

Arriving there, Merriam found Rockwell pointing to a sort of trapdoor in
the ceiling above the landing at the head of the stairs.

"Right!" he whispered.

Simpson calmly set his ladder down, separated its legs, and planted it
firmly beneath the trap. He and Rockwell paid no attention to the doors
of the two apartments which opened off the landing within a few feet of
them.  Simpson amended the ladder and, exerting his strength, pushed the
trap door up.  It moved with a grating sound, startlingly loud in their
quasi-burglarious situation The night air rushed in.  The trap gave upon
the roof of the building.

Simpson did not hesitate but pulled himself up on to the roof.

Rockwell followed.

"You’re to come too," he said as he looked down at Merriam gleefully and
winked.  He was evidently pleased with himself.  "You wait here, Father
Murray.  Remember, if any one comes you’re a roof inspector.  That’s
next door to a sky pilot anyway!"

The priest groaned but made no protest, well knowing, doubtless, that
rebellion now would avail him naught, and Merriam quickly followed
Rockwell on to the roof.

It was a flat tar-and-gravel roof--not an unpleasant place to be in the
starry April night.  They circled about chimneys and miscellaneous pipe
heads and stepped across brick ledges, which seemed to separate
different sections of the building from one another.

Presently they were approaching the opposite side of the building,
having circled the interior court and light wells.  They came to another
trap-door, a twin of the one by which they had ascended.

Simpson was about to open this second trap when Rockwell spoke:

"Wait a minute!"

Stooping lower and lower till at last he seemed to be almost sitting on
his heels as he walked, he made his way to the edge of the roof on the
new street and peeped over the parapet--a dozen feet perhaps beyond the
trapdoor.  For a moment only he looked, then returned in the same
cautious and laborious manner.

"We were right," he said to Simpson.

"Watchers?" Simpson asked.

"Two of them.  And half way down the block a taxi."

But now Simpson was carefully raising the trap-door. After listening for
a minute he put his head down and looked.

"Coast is clear," he reported.

"Go ahead, then," said Rockwell.

So Simpson put his legs down inside, hung, and dropped into the
vestibule.  Rockwell and Merriam followed.

Straightening himself up inside, Merriam found Rockwell facing the door
of the right-hand apartment.

"This is Jennie’s!" he whispered.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                                *JENNIE*


Rockwell knocked twice.  A girl with a thin, dark face peeped out.

"Hello, Margery," said Rockwell.

"Oh, how d’you do?" said the girl, recognizing the speaker.  Relief was
mingled in her tone with continuing caution.  "Who’s with you?"

"Friends," said Rockwell.  "Mr. Merriam, the Senator’s double.  And
Simpson."

"Simpson can’t come here!" said Margery sharply.

Merriam glanced at Simpson and was amazed to see how moved he was.  He
had a sense that the man could hardly keep himself from trembling.

"He’s come to help take Norman away," said Rockwell.  "He need go no
farther than the hall. Come, Margery, let us in.  We can’t stand here
all night.  I’ll explain to both of you inside.  I’m George’s friend,
you know."

"Well!"  Still unwillingly Margery released the chain and moved back,
opening the door for them.

As they stepped inside she stared at Merriam.

"The devil!" she exclaimed.

"No," said the young man, "my name’s Merriam.  How do you do, Miss
Milton?"

He looked at Margery almost as curiously as she was looking at him.  He
was really as innocent as Mollie June--more so, in fact, not being
married,--and Margery was the first member of the demi-monde or the near
demimonde with whom he had ever had personal contact.  He found her
disappointing. She was thin to the point of angularity, in a trying
yellow negligee, with straight black hair, black eyes that were
unpleasantly direct, and a lean dark face that was undeniably hard.

For a moment only she stared.  Then she shut the door and spoke to
Simpson:

"You stay here!"

"Yes," said Simpson, with more than servitorial humility.

Rockwell was advancing into the sitting room, which opened immediately
off the tiny hall, and Merriam, feeling himself dismissed by Miss
Milton, followed.

Merriam’s sole first impression of the sitting room was of a soft,
rather agreeable harmony in yellow.  The wall paper, the hangings, the
upholstery of chairs and davenport, the shades of lights were all in
mild tints of that pleasant colour. Probably Margery’s yellow negligee
was intended to fit into this ensemble.

But he had no time for detailed observation. For as they stepped forward
the yellow portières at one side of the room parted, and another girl
appeared between them--undoubtedly Jennie.

This time he was surprised but hardly disappointed. The figure between
the portières was that of a stage parlour maid--just the right height
for a soubrette and just pleasantly, youthfully slender, yet rounded, in
a trim-fitting dress of some black material, cut rather low at the
throat and edged with white, with a ridiculously small, purely
ornamental, white apron with pockets. Black-silk-stockinged ankles and
black, high-heeled satin pumps completed a picture that was both chic
and demure.  Merriam remembered that it was as a parlour maid that
Norman had first known Jennie and guessed that this costume had been
assumed for his benefit.

In a moment the portières closed behind her. She was looking at the
older man, having barely glanced at Merriam.

"How do, Mr. Rockwell," she said.

Merriam, almost with alarm, recognised the tones that had so piqued him
over the telephone.

Then she turned to him.

"This is----  Gee, but you’re like him!  I wouldn’t have believed it."

"Miss Higgins, Mr. Merriam," said Rockwell tardily.

Merriam responded awkwardly:

"How do you do, Miss----"

"’Miss Jennie’ will do," interrupted Jennie.

(Merriam remembered uncomfortably how Mollie June had hit upon a similar
"compromise.")

"I ain’t partial to ’Higgins,’" Jennie added. "I’m thinking of changing
it to ’Montmorency.’  Wouldn’t ’Jennie Montmorency’ be nice, Mr.
Rockwell?"

"I don’t think it fits very well," said Rockwell. "You’d better change
it to Simpson."

Jennie coloured.  She coloured easily, as Merriam was to learn.  Now
that she had turned again to Rockwell he had a chance to look at her
face. She was an exceedingly pretty blonde.  Her throat was attractively
rounded, her shoulders also. Those shoulders might be unpleasant when
she was older and stouter, but at present they were charming. Her chin
and cheeks were also daintily full--quite the opposite of Margery
Milton’s.  The cheeks were pink, slightly heightened with rouge perhaps
but not with paint.  The eyes were softly, brightly blue.  The hair fair
and smoothly wavy, if one may attempt to express a nuance by combining
contradictory terms.  In short, she was, as some of her admirers
undoubtedly expressed it, "not a bit hard to look at."

For a moment Jennie’s colour flooded.  Then came her retort to Rockwell:

"Mind your own business," she said.

The words were sharp, but somehow the tone was not.  The voice was still
soft and--warm.  It is the only word.  It was the voice one might
attribute to a kitten, if a kitten were gifted with articulate speech.

Rockwell only laughed.  At the same moment Margery Milton entered from
the hall, where she had presumably been impressing upon Simpson the
necessity of remaining in strict hiding.

Jennie glanced at her friend.

"Well," she said, "may as well sit down."

She dropped into a chair and crossed one leg over the other.

"You’ve come to take Georgie away," she continued as the others sat
down.

"Yes," said Rockwell.  "Listen, Jennie.  You too, Margery," and he began
to explain the new situation which had resulted primarily from Margery’s
confidences to Thompson.  He did not soften this point in his relation.

"See what your gabbling’s done," said Jennie, without anger, to her
friend when he had finished. "You always talk too much."

"I can talk if I please," said Margery sullenly.

"It will pay you better to keep still this time," said Rockwell.

"Pay me?  How much?" demanded Margery promptly.

"Say a hundred dollars."

"A hundred----!  I’m mum as a stone image. When do I get it, though?"

"Here’s twenty now on account."  Rockwell held out a yellow-backed bill,
which Margery quickly accepted.  "You get the rest when this is all
over."

"How do I know I get the rest?"

"Shut up, Marge," said Jennie.  "You know Mr. Rockwell."

"We’ve no time to lose," Rockwell continued, looking at his watch.
"It’s twenty-five minutes to ten now.  Thompson said ten, but he might
come a bit sooner.  We must get Norman away at once. You understand that
you’re to let Mr. Merriam go to bed in his stead.  When Thompson comes
you must admit him.  You can pretend to be unwilling to do so, but you
must let him in without too much fuss.  You’re to tell him that Norman’s
not here and has not been here--that there’s a man here who looks
tremendously like Norman and that at first you fooled Margery into
thinking it was Norman."

While Rockwell was issuing these instructions Jennie’s cheeks had grown
hot.

"I’m not that kind," she cried.  "I’ve never had any one but George."
Margery also glowered.

"I know that, my dear," said Rockwell, mendaciously perhaps but
promptly.  "But you’ve got to do what I tell you to-night.  You don’t
care what a fellow like Thompson thinks.  He always thinks the worst
anyhow.  It’s to save George. He’ll be ruined unless we can fool
Thompson completely to-night.  It’s for George," he repeated. "You’d do
a lot for George."

Jennie’s colour was subsiding.  She had uncrossed her legs and was
sitting erect.  She looked fixedly at Rockwell.

"I _have_ done a lot for him," she said.

"I know," said Rockwell.  "And you’ll do this to-night."  He was using
his most persuasive tones.

Jennie stole an almost timid glance at Merriam.

The latter’s youthful chivalry was aroused.  He was filled with pity for
her, mingled with something like admiration on account of her
prettiness. He saw her, more or less correctly, as a pathetic victim of
real love and a false social system.  He smiled at her reassuringly.

"It’ll be all right," he said.  "I shan’t trouble you at all."

Jennie’s glance lingered on his face--the face that was so much like
Norman’s.  She saw him for the clean, innocent, naïve boy that he was.
He was what George Norman might once have been, long years ago.  I am
afraid that something akin to interest crept into her look.  She dropped
her eyes.

"All right," she said curtly to Rockwell.  "I suppose I will."

"Jennie, you’re a fool!" cried Margery.

"Shut up, Marge," said Jennie, with whom this seemed to be a frequent
locution.

Rockwell had already risen.

"Is George dressed?" he asked.

"No," said Jennie.  "He’s too sick."

"Come, then," said Rockwell to Merriam.  "We must help him into his
things."

He crossed the small room and passed through the yellow portières.
Having been at the apartment earlier in the day with Aunt Mary, he was
acquainted with its geography.

Merriam rose to follow, but he felt that something more ought to be said
to relieve the half-hostile awkwardness of the situation.  Jennie’s eyes
were still cast down.

"Is he pretty sick?" he asked as he moved across the room.  He was not
much concerned about Senator Norman, but he could think of no other
remark.

Jennie raised her eyes and looked at him--an unreadable glance.

"Pretty sick," she said, almost indifferently.

Merriam paused a moment before the portières, looking back, still
meeting her eyes.

Then he turned his own away and pushed the portières aside.  He found
himself in a dining room, done entirely in blue, as the sitting room was
in yellow.  Rockwell was already opening a door on the further side.
Merriam quickened his steps and was close behind the older man in
entering a small white bedroom.

On a single bed therein lay Senator George Norman.  Evidently he had
heard their voices in the sitting room, for he had raised himself on his
elbow.

He and Merriam stared at each other in the amazement that is inevitable
to two men who find themselves really bearing a striking physical
resemblance to each other, however much they may have been forewarned.
We are so accustomed to the idea that each of us has a sort of exclusive
copyright on his own particular exterior that we cannot seriously
believe in anything approaching a replica unless actually confronted
with it.

The Senator did not look especially "boyish" as he lay there.  His
ruffled hair was indeed practically untouched with gray, but his cheeks
were haggard and feverish, and there were many little wrinkles about his
mouth and eyes.  For all that Merriam could hardly believe he was not
looking into a mirror.  The experience was hardly pleasant for either
man.  "This is what I shall be like some time when I am old and ill,"
Merriam thought; and the Senator can hardly have escaped the bitter
reflection of the man who has left many years behind him: "That is what
I was once."  Looking closer, Merriam could detect slight differences.
The lips and nostrils of his distinguished relative were undoubtedly a
little fuller than his own, and--yes, he surely was not flattering
himself in thinking that the chin was rounder and weaker.  But above all
such trivial points the likeness rose overwhelmingly, incredibly
complete.  Merriam even recognised a similarity of movement as the sick
man impatiently twisted himself on the bed.

Rockwell was standing silent, also no doubt inspecting the resemblance
of which he had made such remarkable use.

The Senator was the first to find his tongue.

"So you’re my virtuous double," he said, with a sort of petulant scorn.

"The voice, too!" Rockwell thought.  He almost dreaded to hear Merriam’s
reply, which would echo the very quality and timbre of the other’s
speech, as if he were mocking him.  But Merriam did not seem to notice.
The fact is one cannot judge the sound of one’s own voice nor appreciate
the similarity in another’s tones or in an imitation.

"I’m the double," Merriam was saying.

For a moment longer the Senator stared.  Then he laughed.  He evidently
laughed more easily than Merriam, and somewhat differently.  Merriam
made a mental note that if he should be involved in any further
impersonation he must be careful of his laugh.

"Well, it’s rather convenient just this minute," said Norman, none too
courteously, "though it may be damned inconvenient in the end."

"We’ll help you dress," said Rockwell.  "We’ve come to take you to the
hotel, you know."

"Yes, I know that all right," said Norman.  "If I’m to be a damned
reformer, I must get out of this."  He laughed again.  "Hand me those
trousers, will you?"

He put his legs out of the bed.  He had already dressed himself as far
as his shirt.  Then he had apparently given the job up and got back into
bed.

"I’m weak as a kitten," he continued, "and I’ve the deuce of a fever,
but I guess I can make it. You’ve a taxi, of course?"

"Yes," said Rockwell.

He did not tell Norman that the road to the taxi lay through two
trapdoors and across a roof. Neither did he mention the fact that
Merriam was to stay at Jennie’s or allude to Thompson’s coming.  Perhaps
he feared that if Norman knew of Thompson’s approach he would prefer to
stay where he was and join forces with him again.

In a very few minutes Norman was fully dressed--in the evening clothes
in which he had left the hotel the night before, on his way, as he
supposed, to Mayor Black’s.  Rockwell tied his white bow for him.

During the process of dressing he and Merriam were continually glancing
at each other.  Neither could resist the attraction.  Several times they
caught each other at it.

At about their third mutual detection, which happened during the tying
of the bow, Norman laughed again.

"We’re certainly a pair," he said.  "Whether aces or deuces remains to
be seen, eh?

"Gad, but I’m weak," he added, sinking on to the bed as Rockwell
finished his job.  "You may have to carry me downstairs."

"We’ll carry you all right," said Rockwell. "We’re all ready, aren’t
we?"

"I suppose so," said Norman.

Rockwell stooped and picked him up in his arms, exerting himself only
moderately, apparently, in so doing.  The Senator was light on account
of his carefully preserved slenderness, and Rockwell was really very
strong.

"Bring his hat, Merriam," said the latter.

Rockwell carried him through the blue dining room into the sitting room,
Merriam following with the silk hat.  Both Jennie and Margery were
standing.

Norman waved his hand limply to Jennie over Rockwell’s shoulder.

"Bye-bye, pet," he said.  "I’m all in, you see. Sorry to have bothered
you like this when I wasn’t fit."

"Georgie boy!" cried Jennie.

With a little run she came up behind Rockwell, caught Norman’s hand, and
kissed it.

"You’ll let me know how you are?  You’ll come back?"

"Course I will," said Norman, though he had promised Aunt Mary that
afternoon that he would "cut out" Jennie and the whole of that part of
his life to which she belonged.

It may be that Jennie suspected something of the sort.  There were tears
in her bright, soft eyes, and her cheeks were pale enough to make her
slight rouging obvious.

"You will, won’t you?" she said.  "Come soon, Georgie boy!"

Norman only smiled at her and feebly waved again.  Rockwell meanwhile
was moving towards the hallway.  Jennie followed closely, though Margery
tried to prevent her.

"Let them go, Jen!" whispered Margery.

"Shut up, Marge!" said Jennie almost fiercely.

And then the catastrophe which Margery had been trying to forestall, and
which Rockwell had not sufficiently foreseen or else had not cared to
prevent, occurred: Jennie came face to face with Simpson in the little
hallway.  She stopped short.

"You!" she said.

"Yes, Miss Jennie," said Simpson, looking at her steadily.  "I didn’t
mean you should see me. I came to help take Mr. Norman away.  It was me
that discovered the plan to catch him here."

Jennie knew from Rockwell’s earlier explanation that this was true.  She
tried to give Simpson what she herself would probably have called the
"once-over"--a scornful survey from head to foot.  But her histrionic
purpose failed her.  Her eyes fell too quickly.

"Well, be quick about it," she said.  For the first time her voice was
harsh.

Rockwell meanwhile had carried Norman on into the outer hall--for
Simpson had already opened the door--and set him down leaning against
the banister.

"Margery!" he called sharply.

Margery, glad of any diversion, advanced quickly:

"What do you want?"

"A stepladder.  Got one?"

"Why--yes!"

"Go with her, Simpson, and get it," Rockwell commanded.

"Yes, Mr. Rockwell."

"This way," said Margery, and she and Simpson passed by Jennie and
Merriam, who stood a little behind Jennie, and disappeared into the
flat.

Jennie gave one quick look at Norman, who was leaning weakly against the
railing staring in front of him, turned away with eyes that were very
bright and a little hard, brushed past Merriam, and went back into the
sitting room and sat down.

Almost at the same moment Simpson returned, carrying a rather tall
stepladder and followed by Margery.

Norman came out of his apathy and stared. Simpson set the ladder up in
the center of the hall, mounted it, and climbed through the trap, which
they had left open when they descended.

"Here.  Catch!" said Rockwell.  He tossed Norman’s silk hat up through
the trap, and Simpson caught it.

Then he stooped, picked Norman up again, and began to mount the ladder
with him.

"What in hell!" said the sick man.

Rockwell did not reply but continued to mount and then hoisted the
Senator up so that Simpson could catch him under the arms and draw him
through the trap.

Finally he spoke to Merriam:

"Take this ladder inside.  Then you must go straight to bed.  He’ll be
here any time now.  I’ll ’phone from the hotel when we get there."

He swung himself up on to the roof.  The trap closed.

"Well, I’ll be damned!" said Margery Milton.

Merriam did not like profanity in women, even in Margeries.

"Very likely you will," he said.

Margery looked at him sharply:

"You think you’re smart, don’t you?  Are you going to bring that ladder
in?"



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                           *A NEW ANTAGONIST*


Merriam shut the stepladder together, lifted it into an oblique
position, and carried it through the inner hallway into the sitting
room, where he stopped, not knowing where to go with it.

Jennie was still sitting.  She looked up at him. The same expression of
interest which had showed in her eyes once before returned to them.  She
smiled and shifted her position, crossing her knees. But she volunteered
no information as to what he should do with the stepladder which he was
awkwardly holding.

Meanwhile Margery had followed him into the inner hall, closed the door,
and put up the chain. She now came past him and pushed aside the
portières into the dining room.

"Bring it this way, please," she said, quite politely.

He carried the ladder through the blue dining room into a kitchenette,
and thence through a door which Margery held open on to a narrow back
porch, from which he had a glimpse of a sort of orderly labyrinth of
steep wooden stairs and narrow back porches around the four sides of an
inner court.

He returned into the kitchenette, which was almost entirely filled up
with a gas stove.  Margery shut the door.

"Go into the sitting room and talk to Jen," she said.  "I want her to
forget about Simpson.  I’ll change the bed for you."

"Thank you," said Merriam, who began to perceive that Miss Milton, in
spite of her profanity, had certain admirable qualities.

He went through the dining room, hesitated for a moment before the
portières--he could not have said why--and then pushed them open.

Jennie had risen and was standing beside a table between the windows.
The table held a parchment-shaded lamp, a newspaper, a small camera, and
a bowl of violets.  Merriam had not noticed the flowers before.  He
remembered the violets worn by the floor clerk at the hotel, and
wondered whether George Norman had saved himself trouble at the
florist’s by ordering two bunches from the same lot, to be sent to
different addresses.

Jennie was looking down at the flowers.  She must have been aware of his
presence.  If so, she was apparently content that he should have the
benefit of a good look at her trim figure and at her face in profile,
which was its best view.  She had a pretty nose; the artificially
heightened colour of her cheeks was charming in this light; and the
bright knob of her fair hair over her ear was a most alluring ornament.

In a moment she bent gracefully down to smell the violets.  As she
straightened up she turned to look at him--a serious, appraising look
that was somehow intimate.  Then she smiled brightly.

"Come in, Mr.----" (she seemed to forget his name and let it go) "and
sit down."

She tripped across the room to the davenport and sat, indicating that he
was to sit beside her.

Merriam wanted both to take that seat and not to take it.  He took it.

She crossed one leg over the other and looked at him, smiling.  One
small, squarish, plump hand lay on her knee, ready, Merriam half
divined, to be taken if any one should desire to take it.  He wondered
if it were true that she had "never had any one but George."

"I forget your name," she said confidentially.

"Merriam."  It was not said stiffly.  He was too much attracted to be
stiff.  He realised that he was answering her smile.

"What’s your first name?"

"John."

"Then I shall call you ’John.’  I don’t like last names--and ’Mister’
and ’Miss.’"

"They’re stiff," he said, "playing up" alarmingly as on a former
occasion.

She scrutinised his face, growing grave.

"You’re awfully like George," she said, "except here."

She raised her hand, and with the tip of her forefinger touched his
chin.

"You’re sterner," she added.

It was the very point Merriam himself had noted. He admired her
acuteness of observation.  And of course he was flattered.  But he
realised that he was not being particularly stern at that moment.

"I expect I am," he said, trying to look, if not to be, more so.

Jennie moved an inch or two farther away from him, as if a little
frightened by the iron qualities of this male.

"Where’s Margery?" she asked.

"Here," said Margery’s voice, with disconcerting patness.

She came through the portières and surveyed the two of them with an
ironical look that was by no means lost on Merriam.  He felt ashamed of
himself.

But Jennie gave him a quick glance with a little pout in it, as if to
say, "What a nuisance!  When we were just beginning to get acquainted!"

And straightway his shame fled and he smiled at her.

Margery, however, was speaking in her most businesslike tones:

"I’ve changed your bed, and you’d better get into it as quick as you
can.  It’s late now."

"Yes," said Merriam, rising.  "What time is it?"

Before he could get out his own timepiece Jennie raised her arm and
glanced at a small gold wrist watch.

"Oh!  Five minutes after ten!" she cried.  She rose too.  "You must
hurry."

"Yes," said Merriam.

He moved to the portières--hesitated.  He did not know how to take leave
under these novel circumstances.

"Good night, ladies," he ventured in rather ceremonious tones.

To his chagrin both girls burst out laughing.

"Good night, gentleman!" Jennie called merrily after him, and their
renewed giggling pursued him as, in painful confusion, he crossed to the
door of the bedroom.

He shut that door behind him and rapidly undressed, stimulated to speed
in his operations by a vigorous mental kicking of himself as an ass and
a "boob."  A suit of pajamas, apparently quite new; was laid out on a
chair.  He got into these and slipped into bed.

The moment he was recumbent he realised that he had forgotten to turn
out his light.  No matter. He had no idea of sleeping.  Besides Thompson
would be there any minute.

Ah, Thompson!  With relief his mind seized upon this topic.  It was
sufficiently absorbing. Any minute now Thompson would burst in,
demanding Senator Norman.  He, Merriam, would pretend he had never seen
Thompson before, never even heard of him.  "My name is not Norman," he
would say.  "My name is Merriam.  Who are you?  And what do you want?"
Thompson would stare, falter, begin to apologise and explain.  It was
pleasingly dramatic.  He pursued the interview. His own conduct therein
displayed the quintessence of composure and _savoir faire_.  Jennie and
Margery--yes, both of them were present--would be impressed; they would
laugh at him no longer.  Thompson was sacrificed mercilessly.

But the minutes passed and nothing happened. There was no sign of the
real Thompson.  What was wrong?  The silence of the small, lighted
bedroom began to get on Merriam’s excited nerves. Had Thompson somehow,
in spite of Rockwell’s elaborate precautions, got wind of the real
situation, discovered their trick before it was played? Had he remained
at the hotel, seen the real Norman return, and perceived the whole
imposition?

A light knock sounded on his door.  Merriam jumped and then lay still.

"Can I come in?"

It was Jennie’s voice.

"Yes," he said, embarrassed; but what other reply could be made?

Jennie opened the door and came to his bedside. She had changed her
attire completely.  She now wore the costume of a _ballerina_--a tight
pink corsage, very low and sleeveless, with the slightest of pink loops
over her shoulders, a short, fluffy pink skirt barely to her knees, pink
tights, and pink dancing slippers.  Over one of the bright knobs of her
hair was a pink rose.  She was much more brilliantly rouged than before,
and he was conscious of a warm scent of powder and perfume.

Merriam lay staring at her without speaking, subconsciously shocked
perhaps, but openly bewildered and fascinated.

She smiled at him and seemed to be inspecting him in return.  Her left
hand hung at her side, holding something heavy, but she put out her
right and touched his hair--with a single little movement ruffled it.

"You look very nice lying there," she said in the most natural tones in
the world.  "How do I look?"

She stepped back and pirouetted, turning completely around on her toes.
The fluffy pink skirts swung out and circled with her in a most
entrancing manner.  Merriam was quite dazzled.  The white gleam of her
back as she turned, the slender white arms, held gracefully away from
her sides, in spite of that heavy something in one hand, the tight
slimness of the waist, the glimpse of pink legs beneath the circling
skirt--he had seen the like only on the stage.  It was rather
overpowering so close at hand.

But in a single rosy moment her revolution was completed.  She was
facing him again and relaxing down off her toes.

"How do I look?" she repeated, smiling, with the slightest natural
augmentation of her artificial flush.

Merriam swallowed.  "Stunning!" he ejaculated.

She beamed.  "Of course I do," she said.

Then her face seemed to harden.  She stepped closer to the bed so that
she was almost bending over him.

"I’ve got a part to play," she said.  "Well, I’m going to play it."
There was a touch of something like defiance in her voice now.  "I’ve
cooked up a plot for Mister Thompson.  Marge don’t like it, but she’ll
help.  I’ll show him!  You’ve got to help too."

She raised her left hand, displaying the heavy object held therein,
which he had not yet identified. He was somewhat startled to see that it
was a small revolver.

"Take it," she said.

As he did not instantly put out his arm she tossed it across so that it
fell on the bed on the other side of him.

"It’s loaded," she said, "with blanks.  Mister Thompson shall see you
first.  But afterwards Marge and I will see what we can do with him.
We’ll get him to stay for a little supper, and I’m going to play up to
him.  I’ll do a dance on the table.  But when he tries to catch me I’ll
scream. That’s where you come in.  You rush out with your revolver and
drive him out of the house. Won’t it be fun?" she demanded, glowing with
excitement.  "We’ll have the goods on him.  He’ll keep his face shut
after that.  Whatever he knows or thinks about George!  We’ll have a
fine story for Mrs. Thompson, if he don’t.  Oh!"

A doorbell had rung loudly in the kitchenette.

"There he is now.  Remember!  When I scream!"

She was gone from the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

Merriam lay as if dazed.  This "high life" was proving almost too fast
for his bucolic and pedagogical wits.  He jumped when the bell rang
again more violently.  Then he heard the sound of the hall door being
opened and a loud masculine voice. Was it Thompson’s?  A moment or two
later the voice became more distinct, and he could hear the girls’
voices too.  He could not be sure it was Thompson.  Was it some one of
his "henchmen" instead?  Whoever he was, he was in the sitting room.  In
a moment or two he would almost certainly be coming out to the bedroom.

Merriam suddenly remembered the revolver and reached for it and slipped
it under the bedclothes. He had several minutes more to wait.  The
voices became lower.  Then they were raised again. Suddenly he heard the
rings of the portières clash--the curtains had been sharply flung aside.
Margery’s thin voice came to him.

"See for yourself, then!" it said.

"That’s better," said the masculine voice in tones half amused, half
irritated.  Was it Thompson?

Light footsteps and heavy footsteps crossed the dining room together.
The bedroom door was opened.

"Sir," said Margery to Merriam, in tones a little shrill with
excitement, "this is a Mr. Crockett. He has some crazy notion about your
being Senator Norman.  See for yourself, Mr.--Crockett!"  She spoke his
name as though it were an insult. "Remember, he’s sick," she added
warningly. Margery was not a bad actress.

Crockett!  Crockett himself!  So much the better!  With an effort
Merriam steadied his nerves. Mr. Crockett advanced to the bedside--a
tall, imposing gentleman in evening clothes with keen blue eyes and a
thin remnant of lightish hair.

"Well, George," he said blandly, "glad to see you.  Your little friends
are very loyal.  But they couldn’t keep me away from you."

Merriam instantly disliked Mr. Crockett.  He plunged with zest into his
part.

"George?" he inquired coldly.  "My name’s not George!"

"Oh, come, come, Norman!  You’re caught. Fess up."

But he looked closer.  At the same moment Margery lifted a silk shade
off the electric bulb by the bureau, and the cold hard light fell full
on the younger man’s face.

"Who do you think I am?" said Merriam.  "And who are you?" he added in
an insolent tone.

The impressive financier stared.  He bent down and stared harder.

"Well?"  Merriam demanded with all the hauteur he could muster.  And
then: "Got an eye-ful?"

He had preconceived this colloquy in much more dignified phrases, but
the insulting tag of boyish slang popped out of him unawares.  However,
he could not have done better.  Probably he could never, by taking
thought, have done as well. Senator Norman would assuredly not have used
that expression; it had been coined long since his day in Boyville.

Mr. Crockett was convinced.  But he was a gentleman of considerable
imperturbability.  He merely straightened up and asked:

"Who are you?"

The younger man suddenly decided not to give his name.  There was that
in Mr. Crockett’s blue eyes that suggested an uncomfortable pertinacity
and ruthlessness in following up any clue he might get hold of.

"What business is that of yours?" said Merriam.

Mr. Crockett blinked.  He was doubtless unaccustomed to such replies.
But he merely asked another question:

"Where are you from?"

"Down State," said Merriam.  That was both insolent and safe: Illinois
is tolerably sizable.

"How old are you?"

Merriam saw an advantage in answering this query truthfully.

"Twenty-eight," he said.  "What of it?"

"You don’t happen to be a young nephew or cousin of Senator Norman’s, do
you?" asked Mr. Crockett, hitting the bull’s-eye with his first arrow.

Merriam, somewhat startled, countered with a flat denial:

"No, I’m not.  I’ve been told I look like him," he added.  "Somebody
took me for him last night. But I’m only related to him through Adam and
Eve--so far as I know."

Mr. Crockett scanned him narrowly:

"Somebody took you for Norman last night?"

"They sure did."  Having struck the slangy note by accident, Merriam was
enough of an actor to keep it up.

"I should be much obliged if you will tell me about that."

Merriam’s self-confidence returned.  He had been realising how little
this dialogue was developing in accordance with his pleasing
anticipations. Instead of the rôle of a polished man of the world,
delivering brilliant thrusts of irony and reducing his interlocutor to
apologetic confusion, he had stumbled inadvertently on that of a slangy
youth, submitting to be catechised by an individual who remained
singularly composed and had proved dangerously shrewd.  But at last he
had led up adroitly enough to the story which Rockwell had charged him
to tell.  He set himself to tell it in character:

"Well, if you want to know, I came up to the City on
business--yesterday.  When I got my work done I thought I’d have a
little fun--see the sights, you know.  I don’t know this town much, but
I got hold of a taxi man who took me around.  I looked in at several
places.  I guess I had a pretty good time.  I don’t remember much.  I
had more highballs than I’m used to.  We ended up at a dance hall
somewhere.  There were some pretty girls there.  Somebody said, ’You’re
Senator Norman, aren’t you?’  That struck me as funny.  ’Sure, I am,’ I
said, and I kept it up.  Soon everybody in the place was calling me
’Senator.’  I treated the gang.  Then I got into a fight.  I don’t
remember how.  Somebody knocked me down, I think.  But I wasn’t hurt
any.  After that I picked up this little girl that lives here--the one
in pink,--and she brought me home with her.  I had a bad head on this
morning and a bad cold besides.  The little girl is a good sport.  She
let me stay here all day. I’m going down home in the morning."

"I see," said Mr. Crockett slowly.

Merriam had need of all his self-command to conceal his elation as he
perceived that his formidable antagonist had swallowed bait, hook, and
sinker, as the idiom goes.  He was obviously piecing Merriam’s narrative
together in his mind with the _Tidbits_ story about Norman.  Margery,
who had remained standing unobtrusive and silent by the bureau, flashed
Merriam a commendatory glance.

Stimulated thereby, he pertly followed up his advantage:

"Care for any more of my personal memoirs?"

"No, thank you," said Mr. Crockett with a rather sour smile.  "Good
night, Mr.--Mr.----"

He was angling for the name again, but with a feebleness unworthy of a
great financier.

"Mr. Blank," said Merriam.  "I’ve a bit of a reputation to keep up in my
own home town."

"I see," said Mr. Crockett again.  "Well, I’m sorry to have intruded.
Take care of your reputation!"

He turned away towards the door.

In that open door Jennie had stood listening. Now her cue had come.  She
took it promptly. She advanced into the bedroom, stepping lightly on her
toes, her pink skirt waving prettily.  She smiled her brightest smile at
Mr. Crockett.

"He isn’t Senator Norman, is he?" she cried gaily.

"He certainly isn’t," said Mr. Crockett, looking at her.  No man could
have helped looking at her.

"You were awfully rude about it," said Jennie, pouting.  She had stopped
about two feet in front of him.

"Was I?"

"I should say you were.  Awfully!  You ought to do something to make up
for it."

"What ought I to do?" asked Mr. Crockett.

"You might stay for a little supper with Margery and me."

"Might I?"

Unexpectedly Mr. Crockett looked away from Jennie.  He looked at
Merriam, thoughtfully--a disconcerting thoughtfulness.  Then he turned
back to Jennie.

"Perhaps I might," he said, with a faint smile.

Merriam read his mind.  He was sure he did. The man might or might not
be slightly attracted by Jennie’s prettiness, but what he was thinking
was that he would be able to get more out of her than he had been able
to get from Merriam.  The latter at once perceived that Jennie’s
melodramatic scheme was dangerous and silly.  It might have been all
right with Thompson, but not with this man.  She hadn’t sense enough to
see the difference. But he could do nothing to stop her.

Already she had cried, "Oh, goody!" like a little girl.

She stepped past Mr. Crockett, brushing him with her skirts, put her
hands on his shoulders and began playfully to push him towards the
dining room.

"It’s all ready," she was saying.  "We got it for the man inside, but he
says he isn’t hungry. We have sandwiches and olives and cheese and
beer--and there’s whiskey, if you like."

"I’ll take beer," said Mr. Crockett, mustering a certain lightness and
allowing himself to be pushed.

Merriam looked at Margery, still standing by the bureau.  She too had
changed her costume.  She now wore an evening dress of black and gold,
in which she looked very well, rather brilliant, in fact. But what
Merriam noticed was the understanding look in her eyes.  She had read
Mr. Crockett’s purpose as clearly as he had.

"We’ll be careful," she said.  "You did fine. Shall I turn out the
light?"

"No," said Merriam.  "Leave it, please."

She walked out of the room and closed the door.



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                       *AN EVENTFUL SUPPER PARTY*


Though Margery had closed the door Merriam could hear practically
everything that went on in the adjoining room--as one commonly can in an
apartment.

"Get the food from the ice chest, will you, Marge?" cried Jennie, in
tones whose gaiety sounded genuine.  "I’ll set out the drinks.  Let’s
have a cocktail to start with, Mr.----"

She interrupted herself:

"What’s your first name?"

"Well," said Crockett, "one of my first names is Henry."

"Then I’ll call you ’Harry.’  I hate last names--and ’Mister’ and
’Miss’!"

Merriam in his recumbent solitude made a cynically humorous grimace.
She had used those very words with him--had begun the same way. Her
regular formula doubtless.

"I’m ’Jennie,’ you know," she continued. "Now, what kind of cocktail?"

"I’ll stick to beer, please."

"But I want to start with a cocktail!  Have one with me!  Please!"

The tone was that of a teasing child.  In his mind’s eye Merriam could
see vividly the trim pink figure (as it had pirouetted before him) and
the pretty pouting face.  But Crockett was apparently unmoved.

"Bye and bye," he said suavely.  "Go ahead with your cocktail.  We don’t
all have to drink the same things, do we?  I’ll start with beer and work
up to cocktails."

"Well, then," said Jennie, with a swift return to unpetulant gaiety,
"Marge is bringing your old beer.  Oh, goody!  See!  Cheese sandwiches
and chicken sandwiches and lettuce-and-mayonnaise sandwiches!"

Evidently Margery had returned well laden from the ice chest.

"Which kind will you have, Harry?"

"Cheese, thank you," said "Harry."

"There!  With my own fingers!"

Jennie spoke with some confidence that the touch of her fingers would
render bread and cheese ambrosial.

"Thank you," said "Harry" again, with the barest nuance of dryness in
his tone.  "I’ll open the beer.  What will you drink, Miss Milton?"

Undoubtedly he was snubbing Jennie!  Those blue eyes of his might
perhaps be attentive enough to white arms and tight waists and pink legs
when he himself had sought them out, but they were not to be distracted
by any such frivolous phenomena when serious business was afoot.  Jennie
would fail!  Merriam was sure of it.

But at any rate she was not easily snubbed.

"Her name’s Margery," she cried, consistent in her antipathy to
surnames.

"Well, Margery?" said Crockett, complaisantly.

"Beer," said Margery.

It was the first word Merriam had heard her speak.  Her taciturnity
comforted him.  Jennie was a little fool, but Margery would keep her
head. They would waste their time and their sandwiches and beer on
Crockett, but perhaps she would foil any inquiries he might presently
attempt.

"Don’t set things in the middle of the table, Marge," cried.  Jennie.
"Set ’em around the edge. I’m going to do a dance for you, Harry.
Wouldn’t you like to see me dancing on the table?"

"It would be very charming," said "Harry."  But the tone was merely
gallant; it betokened no quickening of pulse.

"I must have a sandwich first, though," said Jennie quickly.  Even she
perceived that she was not making progress.

There followed eating and drinking, accompanied by a patter of gay,
disconnected sallies from Jennie, relating chiefly to the eatables and
drinkables. "Harry," continually appealed to by that name, remained
calmly polite.  Margery, when addressed, responded in monosyllables.
Ripe olives and cold tongue and mustard were produced.  Jennie had her
cocktail, and then another.  She needed stimulant, poor girl, to keep up
the gay vivacity which was meeting with so little encouragement.  A
second bottle of beer was opened for "Harry" and Margery.

Meanwhile Merriam, still listening, was engaged also in active
cogitation.  He saw well enough into Crockett’s thought.  The latter had
been momentarily convinced by his, Merriam’s, well-told tale. (Margery
had said he had "done fine.")  But the keen, realistic mind behind those
blue eyes had almost immediately rebounded and seized upon the
overwhelming inherent improbability of that yarn. That there should be a
man without close relationship to Norman who resembled him so strongly
was in itself decidedly remarkable.  That this man should encounter
Norman’s mistress, by pure chance, at a public dance and go home with
her was even more curious.  And that all this should happen, merely
fortuitously, on the very night on which Senator Norman had
unaccountably broken, before nine o’clock, solemn promises given with
every appearance of sincerity and willingness shortly before eight, and
suddenly gone over to a party for which throughout a score of years he
had expressed nothing but dislike and contempt--the mathematical chances
against such a series of coincidences were simply incalculable.

It was a quick, clear perception of this abstract, apriori incredibility
that Merriam had read in Crockett’s final glance before Jennie playfully
pushed him out of the bedroom.  Doubtless he was still revolving it in
his mind as he sat at Jennie’s table, responding with merely mechanical
politeness to her rather pitiful attempts to pique his interest and
desire.  Well, let him revolve it.  The story all hung together.  What
could he make of it?  Little enough, probably, with the data he had now.
But that was why he was lingering here at Jennie’s--in the hope of
getting more data.  After another cocktail or two Jennie would not know
what she was saying.  Then he would begin to hint, to ask questions.
Could Margery keep her quiet? A single word might give him a clue.

Merriam became conscious of a wish that Rockwell were at hand to help.
But that wish instantly gave birth to further fears.  Rockwell had said
he would telephone from the hotel as soon as they arrived.  That message
might come any minute now--with Crockett there!  Whereabouts in the flat
was the telephone?  He had not noticed it anywhere.  He looked about the
bedroom.  But it was not there, of course.

Ought not that message to have come already? Surely they should be at
the hotel by now unless something had gone wrong.  He suddenly envisaged
all the perils of discovery, which he had hitherto been too much
occupied to realise, involved in the transportation of the sick Senator
across the roof--down through the other trapdoor into the other
hall--down three flights of stairs--along two blocks of city street to
the taxi.  They might so easily have been noted by some of Thompson’s,
or Crockett’s, watchers, and followed to the hotel.  Then they would be
caught indeed--in the very fact.  Verily, the paths of the impostor are
perilous!

Then Merriam’s mind was brought sharply back from these alarming
excursions to his own scarcely less dangerous situation.  Crockett had
for the first time volunteered a remark.  It was just such a remark as
Merriam had anticipated.

"Nice boy you have in there."

His voice was slightly lowered but only slightly. Perhaps he did not
realise the perfection of the acoustic properties of flats.

"Very nice boy!" agreed Jennie cordially.

Merriam noticed with alarm just the faintest touch of the effect of
cocktails in her accent.  How many had the girl had by now?

"So you met him at Reiberg’s, did you?" Crockett pursued.

"Reiberg’s?" said Jennie doubtfully, "Reiberg’s?"

"Yes," Margery cut in.  "Picked him up there and brought him home.  I
call it a shame.  Jen’s never done that sort of thing before."

"I expect you took to him because he looks so much like Senator Norman,"
suggested Crockett, rather skillfully persistent.

"Yes," said Jennie, "looks very like George. But he’s _not_ George.
He’s John!"

"John what?" asked Crockett mildly.

"John Blank!" said Margery sharply.  "He told you he didn’t want to give
his name.  Jen, keep your face shut!"

"I beg your pardon, I’m sure," said Crockett.

"Have a cocktail now!" said Jennie, quite unabashed.

Crockett at last agreed to a cocktail, and it was fixed for him, and the
conversation, if such it could be called, again concerned itself with
incidents to the consumption of food and drink.

Thank God for Margery!  She had won the first trick.  But Crockett would
try again.  And Jennie would grow more and more difficult to handle.
Aside from the danger, Merriam hated to think of Jennie’s getting really
drunk.  Could not Margery get rid of the man?  The trouble was he had
stayed at Jennie’s invitation.  Could not he, Merriam, do something?

He felt under the bedclothes until he found the revolver.  He drew it
out and looked at it.  But of what use was it, really?  Would Crockett
blench at the mere pointing of a pistol?  He doubted it. It was loaded
only with blanks, Jennie had said. And he dared not fire it anyway.  The
occupants of a dozen adjoining flats would hear the report. People would
come bursting in.  The police would be called.  Well, was not that the
solution?  To have Crockett caught in that flat by the police in
connection with a shooting?  Perhaps, but not a nice one for himself.
Not to be tried except as the very last resort.  Besides, would it serve
their purpose?  A public exposure of Crockett would do no good.  What
they needed was a threat of possible exposure to hold over him--not the
exposure itself.

If only Jennie could succeed in her purpose of enticing him into some
display of amorousness, of which he and Margery might be witnesses.  It
would be pleasant to "have the goods on him," to use Jennie’s phrase.
Why did she not dance for him?  But Crockett would not be enticed.  He
might, however, pretend to be.  He might decide to "play up" in that way
if through Margery’s watchfulness he could get nothing out of Jennie
without doing so.

But now there flashed into Merriam’s mind a doubt of the efficacy of
Jennie’s scheme even if they should succeed in carrying it out.  Suppose
Crockett should catch hold of her after her dance and try to kiss her,
and she should scream, and he should rush out with his revolver, and
Crockett should be intimidated thereby into ignominious exit?  That
would be very good fun, but would it give them any hold over him in case
of need?  He could deny it. Against his word the only witnesses would be
Jennie and Margery, whose testimony would not be taken very seriously,
and himself--a nobody and an impostor.  No wonder Margery, the
clear-headed, had disapproved.  They ought to get more tangible
evidence--something in writing or a photograph.

He suddenly remembered the camera on the table in the living room, and
recalled also a certain college episode, a rather lurid incident of his
fraternity days, in which a camera and a girl and a priggish freshman
had figured.  It suggested to him a decidedly picturesque and
venturesome procedure against Crockett.  But he shook his head.  It was
too violent, too rough.  All very well for a parcel of boys with a
freshman.  But with Mr. Crockett, the mighty capitalist!  No!  Hardly!

Just then he heard Jennie say:

"Get your mandolin, Marge.  I’m going to dance now."

"Fine!" said Crockett.  But he was still cool, amused.

Margery made no reply, but she evidently complied.  In a moment there
came a preliminary strumming on the mandolin.

"Help me up, Harry," said Jennie.

"With pleasure," said "Harry."

He was helping her to mount on to the table.

"Move that siphon off," Jennie said.  "I might kick it over."

There was gay excitement in her voice.  Cocktails had made her
indifferent to appreciation.  As for Merriam, the conscience of a
realist compels me to report a sense of disappointment: he wanted to see
the dance.

"Now sit down again," cried Jennie.  "You can see better."

At this frankness Crockett laughed.  There was the sound of his dropping
into a chair.

"Now, Marge!" Jennie commanded.

But Margery did not strike into her tune and the dance did not begin,
for at that instant the telephone rang.

It was in the dining room, then!

There was a quick movement of chairs and feet. Then Crockett’s voice
said, "Hello!"

He was answering it!

"That’s not fair!" cried Margery.  "It’s not for you!"

"Keep off!" said Crockett in a quick, stern whisper, and then, evidently
into the telephone, "Yes!  Yes!"

Merriam leapt out of bed, revolver in hand, in his pajamas and flung
open the door.

Crockett was standing by the wall at the telephone. Jennie, in her
ballet costume, stood transfixed in the center of the table.  Margery
was rushing at Crockett.

"You--you spy!" she screamed.

Merriam, in the door, pointed his revolver.

"Drop it!" he cried, meaning the telephone receiver.  "Hands up!"

But Crockett, catching Margery by the shoulder with his free hand, held
her powerfully at arm’s length and only smiled at Merriam’s revolver.

"Why?" he asked into the telephone, and added quickly, "Nothing!  These
girls are romping so!"

But his words could hardly be heard for Margery’s screaming.  He dropped
the receiver and put the hand thus freed over the mouthpiece.

"Shut up!" he said fiercely to Margery, and gave her shoulder a violent
wrench.

"O--oh!" she groaned.

Something had to be done instantly, for Crockett was turning back to the
telephone.  With a sort of impulsive desperation Merriam threw the
revolver at Crockett’s head.  The man dodged, and the revolver struck
the opposite wall and fell to the floor. But the movement took him away
from the telephone, and Merriam, rushing forward, added the impetus of a
straight-arm thrust, which sent him staggering against the table.

Then Merriam caught up the receiver.

"Hello!  Hello!" he cried into the mouthpiece.

For an instant no reply.  Then Central’s voice said sweetly:

"Your party’s hung up."  And added, in tones of unwonted interest:
"What’s the row there? Shall I send the police?"

"No, no!" said Merriam.  "There’s nothing wrong here."

He hung up and turned to face the room.

Crockett was still leaning against the table. Margery was clutching the
arm which a moment before had gripped her, and Jennie had jumped down
from the table and caught hold of his other arm.  But the financier
appeared very little ruffled.  He even smiled at Merriam, not
unpleasantly.

"Well, Mr. Merriam," he said, "suppose we sit down and talk it over--if
these ladies will release me, that is."

"Mr. Merriam!"  Then the message _had_ been from Rockwell, and Crockett
had got the name after all.  How much more had he learned? Merriam was
quite willing to talk in the hope of finding that out.

"Very well," he said.  "Let him go, Margery,--Jennie."

"I’ll dance for both of you!" cried Jennie, whose cheeks were decidedly
flushed.

"No!" said Merriam.  "Sit down, please."

"Sit down, Jen!" seconded Margery, viciously.

"Oh, well!"  Jennie plopped petulantly into a chair.

The others sat, Merriam and Crockett across from each other.  The
financier looked steadily at the younger man.

"Miss Milton was right," he began quietly. "The message was not for me.
It was for you, Mr. Merriam.  I think I ought to give it to you."

"If you please," said Merriam.

"It was that you should ’come at once to the hotel.’"

Merriam managed not to blink.

"What hotel?" he asked.

For an instant Crockett weighed his answer.  Then:

"The De Soto," he said.

But Merriam had read the meaning of the momentary pause: Rockwell had
not named the hotel--he wouldn’t, of course--Crockett was guessing.

"De Soto?" he asked, looking as puzzled as he could.  "I thought it
might be from the Nestor House."  (He was using the first name that
popped into his head.)

"Oh," said Crockett lightly, "Mr. Rockwell would be much more likely to
telephone from the De Soto."

Merriam was startled, but he could only go on as he had begun.

"Rockwell?" he echoed, as if still further mystified.

"Come, come," said Crockett, "I recognised his voice.  I know it
perfectly."

"No friend of mine," Merriam persisted.  There might be no advantage in
continued denial, but certainly there could be none in admission.

"Really, Mr. Merriam, hadn’t you better tell me the whole story?  You’ll
not find me ungenerous. I’ll let you down easy."

"The whole story?" said Merriam.  "Thought I told you my whole story in
the bedroom a while back.  What more do you want?"

Crockett shrugged his shoulders.  He smiled blandly:

"What I want is another cocktail, I guess. You’ll join me, Mr. Merriam?
You’ve had nothing all evening.  It must have been dull for you, lying
in there, while these pretty ladies have been entertaining me so
charmingly.  I understood you were sick, you know," he added slyly, "or
I should have insisted on your coming out long ago."  Then, quickly, so
as to give Merriam no chance to reply: "Jennie, my dear, let’s have your
pretty dance now.  We were interrupted."

"No," said Jennie, rather sleepily, "I’m tired."

"Have a cocktail," said Crockett promptly. "Then you’ll be all right
again."

Jennie looked up with interest.  "Well," she said.

Crockett rose to mix the drinks.

"You’ll have one, too, Mr. Merriam?"

But during the brief interchange between Crockett and Jennie, Merriam
had been doing some quick thinking--wild thinking, perhaps.  The plan
suggested by his college memory, which before he had rejected as too
violent, his mind now seized upon and was eagerly shaping to the present
situation.

When Crockett addressed him, he rose.

"No," he said.  "I’m tired too.  I _am_ sick."  He simulated a slight
dizziness.  "I’ll go lie down again.  If you’ll excuse me."

He moved to the bedroom door, affecting uncertainty in his steps.  As he
passed into the bedroom he called: "Margery!"



                             *CHAPTER XXI*

                             *FLASH LIGHTS*


In a moment Margery had followed him.

"Shut the door."  He barely formed the words with his lips.

She obeyed.

"That camera--in the sitting room," he whispered.  "Can you take a flash
light with it?"

"Sure," came the whispered answer.  "That’s what we use it for."

"Have you any rope?"

"Rope?" echoed Margery’s whisper.  "There’s a clothesline on the back
porch."

"Bring it to me!"

Margery looked at him.  But a high degree of mutual confidence had been
established between these two.  She nodded.

"Right away?"

"Yes.  _He_ mustn’t see it."

"No."

She opened the door and closed it behind her. Merriam sat on the edge of
the bed, thinking hard.

"He wants a drink of water," he heard her say to the others in the
dining room.

With one ear, so to speak--that is to say, with so much of his mind as
could attend to one ear,--he listened to Crockett and Jennie, engaged
still in the business of mixing drinks.  With the rest of his mind he
was making plans, with a rapidity and confident daring that astonished
himself.

In a moment Margery had returned.  In her right hand she carried a glass
of water.  Her left hand, hanging at her side, seemed to hold carelessly
only a newspaper, folded in two.  But as soon as she had closed the door
she produced from between the folds a fairly stout clothesline, loosely
coiled.

Merriam tried its toughness and surveyed its length.

"All right," he whispered.  "Now go back. Drink with them.  Jennie must
dance.  And have Crockett sit where he was before."

This was at the end of the table nearest the telephone and nearest also
to Merriam’s door.

Again Margery looked at him.  She glanced at the rope.  But she asked no
questions.  Without a word she went out and closed the door behind her.
Admirable girl!

Merriam’s next actions were rather remarkable. He felt hastily in the
pockets of his trousers, which lay over a chair, and produced a
penknife.  With this instrument he cut off four pieces of rope, each
about four feet long.  This left about ten feet in the main piece.  With
this main piece he proceeded to manufacture a slip noose, carefully
testing both the strength of the slipknot and the readiness of its
slipping.  Then he gathered the noose and the four other pieces of rope
into his left hand and rose and stood before the door, drawing a deep
breath and listening.

He had, of course, kept track more or less of the happenings in the
other room.  Margery, on returning, had demanded another glass of beer
and had yielded to insistence that she have a cocktail instead.  Then
she had suggested that Jennie dance.  Jennie had already been assisted
on to the table again, and Margery was picking tentatively at her
mandolin.

"R-ready!" cried Jennie, a little unsteadily.

Merriam stepped back and turned the button of his electric bulb, so as
to have no light behind him.

Then, as Margery struck into a bright quick tune, he softly opened the
door with his right hand, holding his left hand with the ropes behind
him, and stood looking at Jennie, whose pink toes had begun to patter
merrily on the polished table.

Jennie saw him and laughed to him, her eyes and her cheeks bright.

"Come in, Johnny," she cried, and for a second one pink leg pointed
straight at him as she turned.

"Couldn’t resist, eh?" chuckled Crockett, who was leaning back in the
heavy chair Merriam had wished him to occupy.  He was apparently really
pleased for the first time.  "Don’t blame you," he added.  "Come on in."

His eyes, quite unsuspicious, returned to the circling skirts and the
flushed face bobbing above them.

This was Merriam’s moment.

He stepped quickly behind Crockett’s chair, dropped the short pieces of
rope on the floor, raised the noose with both hands, slipped it over the
man’s head, and pulled it suddenly tight about his neck.

Crockett emitted a strangled oath and started to rise, but Merriam with
one hand on his shoulder thrust him down again, and with the other
tightened the noose about his throat.

"Sit still," he threatened, "or I’ll choke you!"

Margery’s tune had stopped abruptly, and Jennie stood still on the
table, staring down in frightened bewilderment.

"Margery!" Merriam commanded, "take one of these pieces of rope and tie
his arm to the arm of the chair."

The arm referred to was immediately raised away from the chair, but the
noose tightened with a further jerk, and the arm fell limply back.  In
fact Crockett was gasping and choking so desperately that Merriam was
compelled to loosen the rope a little.

"Take it quietly," he cautioned, with perhaps a trifle more of youthful
ferocity and exultation than the romantic hero should exhibit, "or I’ll
hang you sitting down!"

Margery, obedient as usual, had stepped quickly forward, picked up a
piece of rope, and begun to bind the arm nearest her to the chair.

Crockett, somewhat eased, though still gasping a little, turned his head
to look at Merriam.  His first involuntary startled alarm was passing.
The blue eyes looked steadily at the young man.  A trace of their
earlier cool amusement returned.  He looked away again and sat perfectly
still, acquiescent.

Merriam, however, remained warily at his post in charge of the slip
noose while Margery tied both arms.

"Now tie his feet to the legs of the chair," said Merriam.  "Jennie, you
can help.  Jump down and tie his right foot while Margery ties the
left."

But Jennie, still on the table, shook her pretty head.

"I’d rather dance," she said, and regardless of the lack of music she
folded her arms and began to do the steps of the Highland Fling.

"Let her alone," said Margery, who had gone down on her knees and was at
work on the left foot.

Jennie tossed her head and quickened the tempo of her dance, keeping her
eyes on Crockett, who, though still swallowing with difficulty, affected
to regard her with interest.

Margery crossed to Crockett’s other side and knelt again.  In a moment
she completed her labours and rose, her cheeks a little reddened by her
posture and vigorous work.

"There!" she said, looking straight at Merriam, as if she were a soldier
reporting to his officer.

"Thank you very much," said the young man.

He loosened the noose, leaving it still in place, however, about
Crockett’s neck.  Then he stepped to the side of the table and held out
his arms to Jennie.

"Come!" he said, "I’ll lift you down."

She stood still.  "You don’t like my dancing," she pouted.  "_He_ likes
it!"  She pointed at Crockett, who, twisting his eased neck about,
smiled.

"I’ll like lifting you down," said Merriam.

Jennie smiled and approached the edge of the table.  For a moment he
held a rosy, fragrant burden in his arms, and in that moment Jennie
raised her face to his as if to be kissed.  She was really rather
incorrigible.

On a different occasion the young man might have been irresistibly
tempted (he had not thought of Mollie June for a long time), but just
now he was no more in a mood to be enticed than Crockett had been an
hour before.

He set her lightly and quickly on her feet.

"There!" he said.

She made a face at him and dropped petulantly into a chair.

Merriam turned to face his well-trussed victim.

The said victim was now sufficiently at ease to open the conversation.

"Well, Mr. Merriam," he said, "you’ve managed it rather cleverly.  Very
neat, in fact.  You have me a prisoner all right.  But what’s the big
idea? It seems to me you’ve only given yourself away. Before I only knew
your name and that you were in connection with Rockwell and that your
presence was desired at some hotel--the Nestor House, we’ll say, to
avoid argument, Now it’s very clear that you are deeply implicated in
the extraordinary events that have been happening.  Otherwise you would
have had no sufficient motive for this rather violent, not to say
melodramatic, line of conduct."  He glanced, with a smile, at his
pinioned arms.

This point of view, however, had already occurred to Merriam; and the
answer was that Crockett, knowing already of a direct, confidential
connection between Senator Norman’s double and Senator Norman’s new
manager, would in a few hours at most be able to work out the whole
truth of the situation.

So he only answered his victim’s smile with another smile equally
good-humoured.

"I don’t think I’ve given away anything much," he said.  "And I felt it
was time to take out a bit of insurance."

"Insurance?" repeated Crockett.

"Yes.  Insurance that you will treat me with that generosity which you
half promised a while ago."

"I promised nothing!" said Crockett, the smile fading out of his eyes.
"I refuse to give any promise whatever."

"That’s all right," said Merriam, still good-humouredly.  "In fact, I
shouldn’t count much on promises anyway.

"You’re married, I believe?" he continued to Crockett.

Crockett did not reply.

"And a church member, I presume?  And a member of a number of highly
respectable clubs?"

He paused and waited, smiling.

The smile was too much for Crockett.  After a moment of holding in, he
said sharply:

"Well?"

"Well, a gentleman who is all those things ought to be careful how he
accepts entertainment from unattached young ladies, like our pretty
Jennie here--in their flats at midnight."  And then to Margery, "Go and
get your camera ready.

"When I was in college," Merriam continued, "the fraternity I belonged
to initiated a freshman who turned out to be goody-goody.  He wouldn’t
play cards, wouldn’t dance, wouldn’t go to the theater, wouldn’t smoke.
Even refused coffee and tea. Above all he simply wouldn’t look at a
girl.  All he would do was study and go to class--and to church and
Sunday School.  To make it worse he was a handsome cuss with loads of
money and his own motor car.  He got on the fellows’ nerves. Then a show
came to town with a girl in the chorus that two of the fellows knew.  So
a bunch of us went to the show, and afterwards the two fellows who knew
the girl brought her back to the chapter house in a taxi, with an opera
cloak over the black tights which she wore in the last act.  We gave her
a little supper, and then four of us went upstairs to get the good
little boy.  He hadn’t gone to the show.  He was studying his
trigonometry.  We didn’t have to lasso him, of course, because there
were four of us.  When we brought him into the dining room, the girl
stood up and dropped off her cloak.  It was worth something to see his
face. Then we tied him into a chair, just the same way you’re tied now.
We set a beer bottle and half-emptied glass handy, and the girl sat on
his knees and cocked one black leg over the arm of the chair and put one
hand under his chin and put her lips to his cheek.  And then we took the
flash."

"Oh, goody!" cried Jennie, ecstatically pleased by this climax.  But
Crockett by this time was staring at the story-teller with really
venomous eyes.

Merriam avoided those eyes and addressed himself to Jennie, the
appreciative.

"That was all," he said.  "We gave the girl a twenty-dollar bill and the
roses and sent her back to the hotel in the taxi.  We could only show
the picture to a few chaps, of course.  One of the fellows did finally
tell the story to one girl whom a lot of us knew and showed her the
picture.  It worked fine.  The good little boy’s reputation was made,
and he had to live up to it, to the extent at least of becoming human.
He became one of the finest fellows we ever had.  The year after he
graduated," Merriam finished reflectively, "he married the one girl who
had seen the picture, and the chapter gave it to her with their wedding
present."

During this sequel Margery had returned with the camera and with some
flash-light powder, for which she had had to search, in a dust pan.

"Damn you!" cried the great financier virulently, straining helplessly
at the ropes which confined his arms and legs.  "If you think it will do
you any good to take an indecent picture of me----"

"Cut that!" said Merriam sharply.  "Do you want me to tighten that noose
again?"

Crockett subsided with a snort that might have made whole boards of
directors tremble.

"Indecent!" said Merriam, enjoying himself hugely, as if he were still
in college.  "Certainly not!  Only pretty.  Very pretty.  Come, Jennie!
How about the pose?"

"I’ll show you!" cried Jennie.  Half dancing on her toes, with skirts
fluttering, and eyes sparkling the more, it seemed, because of
Crockett’s bitterly hostile regard, she tripped around the table and
stood by his side, facing the same way he faced. She plucked the rose
from her hair and stuck it behind Crockett’s ear.  It drooped
grotesquely over his thin hair.  Then, laughing at the rose, she put one
bare arm about his neck, her hand extending beyond his face on the other
side.

"Give me a cocktail glass in that hand!" she cried.  "Never mind what’s
in it.  Anything!"

Merriam filled a glass from the siphon and put it into the hand referred
to.

Then Jennie raised a pink leg and put it on the table, stretching
straight in front of herself and Crockett towards the center of the
board, amid the plates and glasses and crumpled napkins.  She put her
other hand under Crockett’s chin as if about to tickle him, dropped her
face close to his, and looked at Merriam with eyes of laughing inquiry.

"Fine!" said Merriam.  "Are you ready, Margery?"

Margery was already pointing the camera.

"Not yet," she said.

He addressed himself to the victim:

"Mr. Crockett, you can, of course, wink or twist your face to spoil the
picture.  If you do, I’ll simply have to choke you a little before we
try again. So you’d better look pleasant!"

"Ready!" said Margery.

Merriam set the dust pan, with the little heap of powder in the center
of it, on a plate on the sideboard beside Margery, lit a match, and,
with a last glance at Jennie’s extraordinary pose and laughing face,
switched off the lights and touched the powder.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                          *VIRTUE TRIUMPHANT*


Immediately after the flash Merriam switched on the lights, and his eyes
sought Crockett.  Apparently the man had faced the camera stolidly--a
grotesque figure surmounted by the dangling flower and enveloped as it
were in Jennie’s acrobatic pose.

"All right!" said Merriam, coughing in the smoke which filled the small
room.  "But we’ll take one more.  You never can be sure of a single
film.  Got some more powder, Margery?"

"Yes," said Margery, who had set the camera down and stepped aside to
open a window.  She passed into the sitting room.

Jennie gingerly removed her leg from the table and her arm from about
Crockett’s neck.  In the latter process she spilled a little of the
water from the cocktail glass--unintentionally, let us hope--on
Crockett’s head.

"Damn!"

Jennie, quite regardless, eased herself on her two legs again.

"Gee!" she said.  "I couldn’t have held that pose much longer.  In
another second I’d have split at the waist!"

Merriam laughed.  "Look what you’ve done," he said.

Jennie caught up a napkin and mopped the face and head.

"Sorry!" she cried sympathetically.  "I didn’t mean to wet him!  There!"
and she dropped a light kiss on the cleansed cheek and smiled her
rosiest smile at the trussed victim.

Crockett answered Jennie’s smile with a glare that might have caused a
panic on the Stock Exchange.

It had no very serious effect, however, on Jennie. She shrugged her
pretty shoulders and daintily chucked him under the chin.

"That isn’t a nice look!" she said.

At this point Margery returned with a package of flash-light powder and
began to pour a second little pile on the dust pan.

"Take your pose!" said Merriam to Jennie.

"Not that one," said Jennie.  "It’s too hard.  Look!"

She picked the rose from above Crockett’s ear and stepped behind his
chair.  Then she stooped till her chin rested on the top of his head and
let her two bare arms drop past his cheeks till her hands came together
on his shirt front.  In her hands she held the rose pointing upward so
that the blossom was just below his chin.

The effect was distinctly comical--Crockett’s dour countenance, with its
angry eyes, framed above by Jennie’s pretty laughing face, resting on
the very top of his head, at the sides by her round white arms, and
below by the rose under his chin.

"Fine!" Merriam laughed.  "It’s better than the other.  Ready, Margery?"

"Yes."

A second time he switched off the lights and touched a match to the
powder.

Again Crockett had not even blinked so far as Merriam could judge.  Well
satisfied, the latter spoke to Margery:

"Put that camera away, will you, please, where it could not be easily
found except by yourself."

Margery picked up the camera and departed into the kitchenette.

Then, "Let him alone, Jennie," he said.  For Jennie had left the back of
Crockett’s chair and perched herself on the edge of the table beside him
and was flicking him under the chin with the rose.

"All right," she said.  "He’s no fun.  He’s very cross!"

She slid off the table and dropped into a chair, transferring her
attention to Merriam, as though in the hope that he might be less
obdurately disposed.

But Merriam addressed himself to the other man.

"Now, Mr. Crockett," he said, "this little supper party and
entertainment are over, I believe.  If you wish to leave, I shall be
glad to release you and permit you to do so."

Crockett’s reply was a sound between a grunt and a growl.

Merriam walked around the table and picked up the revolver where it had
fallen by the wall.

"I don’t believe," he continued, "that it will do you any good to start
any rough-house when I have freed you.  If you do, Jennie and Margery
will scream, and I shall fire this revolver.  That will bring in
neighbours and probably the police, whose testimony would thus be added
to that of the pictures we have taken as to your manner of spending your
evening.  You will understand that while I shall have those pictures
developed the first thing in the morning I shall not show them to any
one except Mr. Rockwell unless you compel me to do so."

By this time Crockett had become articulate.

"Compel you to do so?" he repeated stiffly. "May I ask what you mean by
that?"

"Well," said Merriam, "you see I am an enthusiastic supporter of the
Reform League as led by Mr. Rockwell and Senator Norman and Mayor Black.
You, I understand, are opposed to the League and its policies.  So long
as your opposition relates itself only to those policies and involves
only open public discussion of their merits, I shall, of course, have no
reason to interfere.  But if your opposition should take the form of any
personal attack, on Senator Norman, let us say, I should feel compelled
to retaliate by a personal attack upon you, making use of these pictures
we have taken to-night and the story that will readily weave itself
about them. Do you see?"

"See!" Crockett cried.  "Of course I see. Blackmail!  How much do you
want for that camera?  Name your price."

"It has no cash price," returned Merriam steadily.  "Now if I release
you, will you leave quietly?"

For a long moment the financier stared at the younger man who had
worsted him.  Then:

"At this moment," he said acridly, "I certainly have no other desire
than to get away from this place and to be rid of my present
companionship."

Merriam was tempted to laugh at the stilted dignity of this phraseology,
but he managed to keep a straight face.

"Very well," he said.  "Margery,"--for Margery had just returned from
the kitchenette minus the camera,--"help me untie him, will you?  Feet
first."

Margery and Merriam knelt for a moment at the two sides of Crockett’s
chair and released his two legs.  Then Merriam again put the table
between himself and Crockett and stood waiting, revolver in hand,
leaving to Margery the work of unbinding the arms.  He was afraid that
his own near presence to Crockett when the latter found himself free
might tempt him irresistibly to personal assault.

In the moment during which he stood waiting he became conscious that
Jennie, half reclining in the chair into which she had dropped, was
smiling at him--a pretty, confidential smile which he did not
understand.

But he had no time to consider Jennie just then, for Margery had
completed her work.  The last piece of rope fell on the floor, and she
lifted the slip noose from about Crockett’s neck.  He had been rather
tightly bound and did not instantly have the full use of his limbs.
Margery took his arm to assist him.

"My coat and hat!" he said, not looking at Merriam.

"In the sitting room," said Margery.

He turned himself in that direction and in a jerky walk, with some
support from Margery, moved towards and through the portières.  He had
disdained to cast so much as a glance at either Merriam or Jennie.

Jennie resented this.  "Old crosspatch!" she cried.

Merriam stepped hastily to the portières and peeped through.  Crockett
had caught up his light overcoat and silk hat from a chair.  He refused
Margery’s offer to help him on with his coat and made, already moving
more naturally, for the hall door.  Margery followed him.  The door
opened--closed again.  Margery returned from the hallway.

Merriam advanced through the portières into the sitting room.

"Well!" he exclaimed.

"Well!" returned Margery, with a dry laugh--the first laugh Merriam had
heard from her during the whole evening.

"See what he does in the street," she added. "Raise the shade about a
foot.  I’ll turn off the light."

Merriam acted promptly on this excellent hint. In a moment the room was
in darkness, and he was kneeling by the window watching the street
below, which was fairly well illuminated from arc lights at either
corner.  Part way down the block on the other side of the roadway a car,
presumably a taxi, stood by the curb, with a man walking up and down
beside it.  Jennie’s flat was too high up for Merriam to be able to see
the sidewalk immediately below.  If, therefore, Crockett on emerging
from the building merely walked away, he would see nothing.  But this
was hardly likely.

Presently, sure enough, the taxi showed sudden signs of life.  The man
hastily got in, and the car rolled forward, crossing the street
diagonally, and stopped directly below Merriam’s window. Crockett had
come out and signalled it.  A moment later it shot away down the block
and turned the corner.

Merriam still knelt by the window, peering into the street.  He was
looking for signs of any remaining watchers, for he had his own exit to
think of: Rockwell had wanted him to "come at once to the hotel."

As he knelt there in the dark he suddenly sensed a warm fragrant body
close beside his own.  A pair of soft bare arms slipped about his neck.

"It was fine!" Jennie’s voice whispered in his ear.  "You’re a nice
boy!"

She had crept up behind him in the dark.  Margery must have left the
room.

For a moment Merriam knelt in fascinated silent rigidity.  When he moved
it was only to turn his head.  And the turning of his head brought his
face close to Jennie’s, which, with the dim light from the street upon
it, smiled at him with a kind of saucy tenderness.  It was the face of a
pretty child, with the lure of womanhood added, but with nothing else of
maturity in it.

Her lips puckered.  "Kiss me!" she whispered.

As he still only stared she quickly leaned forward a couple of inches
more--her lips rested on his.

I am very much afraid that for an instant Merriam’s lips responded.  He
half turned on one knee. His arms involuntarily closed about the
seductive little body.  He felt the short silk skirts crush deliciously
against his legs.

And then a grotesque sort of composite picture of all the things he
ought to remember, including Rockwell, Norman, Mollie June, and the
members of the Riceville School Board, rushed across his mind.  He
struggled to his feet, pushing Jennie not roughly--away.

"Margery!" he called.

"Yes?" came Margery’s voice from the dining room.

"Turn on the lights!"

By the time Margery had stepped through the portières and pushed the
switch Jennie had thrown herself face downward on the davenport, crying.

"Nobody loves me!" she sobbed.

Margery, standing by the switch, looked from Merriam at the window to
Jennie on the couch and back again.  Her expression indicated no
bewilderment--rather a humorously cynical comprehension.  She knew her
Jennie.

At any rate, that glance steadied the young man. After meeting it for a
moment he turned to Jennie. Poor little girl!  He felt that he
understood her perfectly.  There was a side of himself that was like
that.  Only he had other sides powerfully developed, and Jennie had no
other sides.  All his young chivalry rose up, in alliance with the
missionary spirit of the teacher.  He desired greatly to help her.

After an instant’s hesitation he crossed the room and drew up a chair
beside the davenport.

"Jennie," he said, "listen!"

"Go away!" said Jennie.

"I _am_ going away in a minute.  But I want to tell you something
first."

Her sobbing ceased, but he waited till she asked:

"Well, what?"

"There _is_ somebody who loves you."

Hopefully Jennie raised her head and turned her face to him--still oddly
pretty in spite of the tear-streaked rouge.  But after a moment’s look
she said resentfully:

"It isn’t you!"

"No," said Merriam, "it isn’t I."

Even at this rate the discussion was apparently interesting enough to
rouse her.  With a sudden movement she curled herself up, half sitting,
half reclining, in a corner of the davenport, and smoothed the crumpled
skirts over her knees.

"Do you mean George?" she asked.

"No," said Merriam, "I mean Mr. Simpson."

"_Mister_ Simpson!"  She laughed derisively, not prettily at all.  "A
waiter!"

"Listen, Jennie.  Simpson is a fine fellow, with lots of brains and lots
of courage.  He has shown both within the last twenty-four hours.  He’s
rendered a very important service to Mr. Rockwell and Senator Norman,
and they’re going to give him a lot of money for a reward.  I don’t know
how much--maybe five thousand dollars.  And he’s crazy about you.  He’ll
marry you in a minute if you’ll let him, in spite of--George.  He’ll
take you away on a fine trip--anywhere you want to go. And afterwards
he’ll set up in a business of his own--a café or whatever he likes.
You’ll have a real home and a husband and money enough and friends.
It’ll be a lot better than this stuff--like to-night.  It really would.
Think it over, Jennie!"

On the last words he rose.

"He’s right!" cried Margery, who had drawn near.

"Shut up, Marge!" said Jennie.

But Merriam, looking closely at her with the sharp eye of a teacher to
see whether or not his point had gone home, was satisfied.  He was sure
that she would think it over in spite of herself.

He looked at his watch.  It was ten minutes after one.

"I must telephone at once to Mr. Rockwell in Senator Norman’s rooms at
the Hotel De Soto," he said to Margery.

"Yes," said Margery.  "The hotel number is Madison 1-6-8-1."

"Thank you."

Without looking again at Jennie, he went to the telephone in the dining
room.  In a moment he had the hotel and had asked to be connected with
Senator Norman’s rooms.  It was Rockwell’s voice that answered, "Hello!"

"This is Merriam."

"Thank God!  Where are you?"

"At Jennie’s."

"Still?  What the devil was the ruction there when I called up?"

"I’ll tell you about that later.  Do you still want me to come to the
hotel?"

"Certainly.  As fast as you can."

"You got the Senator back all right?"

"Yes.  But he’s pretty sick.  Caught more cold, I guess.  Hobart’s
worried about him.  You’ll have to stay over another day all right.  And
make that speech."

Merriam groaned.

"Listen!" said Rockwell.  "You’ll have to be mighty careful about
getting into the hotel.  You aren’t Senator Norman just now, you know.
The Senator has already returned to the hotel, openly, with me, three
hours ago, and is sick in his rooms. We’ll have to smuggle you in
without any one’s seeing you.  But I have a plan--or rather Simpson has.
You’d better come down on the Elevated. That’ll be better than a taxi
this time.  No chauffeur to tell on you.  Be sure you get away from
there without being followed.  Margery’ll show you a way.  Get off at
Madison and Wabash. Simpson will meet you there and smuggle you in the
back way.  You can come right away?"

"Yes."

"Then for Heaven’s sake come!  We’ll talk after you get here."  He hung
up.

Merriam stared at the instrument as he slowly replaced his own receiver.
Another day.  "And make that speech!"  Would this kaleidoscopic, unreal
phantasm of adventures never end?  When would he wake up?  He perceived
suddenly that he was very tired.  But he must brace up sufficiently to
get back to the hotel.  There doubtless he would be permitted to go to
bed and snatch at least a few hours’ sleep--before the speech!

He turned and found Margery standing between the portières, watching
him.

"Well!" she said sharply.

"I must--must--get dressed," he finished, realising for the first time
since he had leapt out of bed with his revolver to divert Crockett from
the telephone that he was attired only in pajamas. "Rockwell says you
can tell me a way to get away from here without being seen by any
watchers."

"Yes," said Margery.  "Go and dress.  I’ll attend to that."

He went into the bedroom and began to get into his clothes, working
mechanically.

Presently he was ready--though with such a loose and rakish bow as he
had never before disported--and emerged into the dining room.

There he encountered a cheering spectacle. Margery was seated at the
table between a coffee percolator, efficiently bubbling, and an electric
toaster.  She was buttering hot toast.  Jennie sat at one side of the
table.  A pale blue kimono now covered her dancing costume, and she
looked quite demure.  She raised her eyes almost shyly as Merriam
entered.

"Well!" he exclaimed.  "This is grand.  Margery, you certainly are a
trump!"

Margery’s rather sallow cheeks flushed slightly. "You’ll need it," was
all she said, and proceeded to fill a cup for him from the percolator.

"How do I get away?" Merriam asked as he sipped.

"Back stairs," said Margery succinctly.  "I’ll show you."

Munching toast, he enquired the whereabouts of the nearest Elevated
station and was duly instructed.

He had a second cup of the black coffee.  Margery did not take any and
would not give Jennie any.

"We go straight to bed," she said decidedly.

From time to time Merriam cast an unwilling glance at Jennie, sitting
downcast and out of it on Margery’s other side.  About the third time
Jennie intercepted his glance and answered it with a small wistful
smile.  After that he would not look again. In a few minutes, of course,
this very early breakfast--it was somewhere around two o’clock--was
over, and Merriam rose.

"I must be off," he said, and hesitated.  "I am very much indebted to
both of you for--all the help you have given me this evening!" (Inwardly
he abused himself for his stiltedness; it was like his telling Mollie
June he was glad to have helped her in algebra.)

Jennie rose too and came around the table towards him.  She had suddenly
summoned back a smile, and she moved daintily inside the blue kimono.
Above the stalk of that straight, demure, Japanesy blue, her head nodded
like a bright blossom--with its fair, wavy hair, blue eyes, and
childishly rounded cheeks, still gaudy with the remains of rouge.

She tripped forward till she was almost touching Merriam, stopped, and
suddenly raised her eyes to him.

"Kiss me good-bye!" she said.

We may suspect that it was a sort of point of honour with Jennie to
retrieve the rebuff she had received in the sitting room.  As for
Merriam, in spite of the obvious deliberateness of this assault, I am
not perfectly sure I could answer for him if it had not been for
Margery.  But Margery’s presence saved him from serious temptation.

Instead of stooping to kiss the lifted lips he caught Jennie’s hand that
hung at her side, and, stepping back half a step, raised the hand and
kissed it.

Sometimes the inspirations of youth are singularly happy.  It seems to
me that this one was of that kind: it involved neither yielding nor
discourtesy.

Jennie was somewhat taken aback, yet she could not be hurt by a gesture
so gallant.

"Good-bye, Jennie," he said.  "I hope to be the best man at your wedding
before long."

"Oh!" she said, and withdrew her hand.  Then: "Good-bye!"

After a moment’s hesitation and a last quite shy glance at Merriam she
suddenly gathered up the skirts of the kimono and ran into the sitting
room.

"Are you ready?" said Margery dryly.

"My coat.  I haven’t a hat," he added, remembering that under Rockwell’s
instructions he had left this article in the taxi in which they had come
to the flat.

"Your coat’s in the hall," said Margery.  "I can get you a hat too."

The dining room was connected directly with the hallway, and in a moment
Margery had returned with Merriam’s light overcoat and with a man’s
derby--probably Norman’s property.

"Thank you," said Merriam, taking them.

"This way," she replied, moving towards the kitchenette.

In the kitchenette he was momentarily surprised to see Margery opening a
tin box labeled "Bread."  Was she going to equip him with a lunch?  But
she drew out, not a loaf, but the camera.

"You’ll want to take this along," she said.

"Indeed, yes."

Then he followed her out on to the back porch, where earlier--ages ago,
it seemed--he had deposited the stepladder.

"Now," said Margery, "you go down these stairs and diagonally across the
court to that archway. See?"  She pointed.  "That brings you out on the
other side of the block.  Nobody will be looking for you there.  And the
Elevated station is three and one-half blocks west.  Put on your hat and
coat.  I’ll hold it."

"Thank you so much," said Merriam, as the coat slipped on.

Then he turned, took off his hat again, and held out his hand.

"Good-bye, Margery," he said, shaking hands heartily.  "Thank you--for
everything."

For a moment they looked at each other with mutual respect.

Then Merriam said:

"I’m going to send Simpson around to see Jennie.  Shan’t I?"

"You can try it," said Margery.  "Good-bye."

She went back into the kitchenette and closed the door.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*

                                *RETURN*


"Madison and Wabash!" shouted the guard.

Merriam started, picked up his camera, and made for the door.  He had
scarcely heard the other stations called and thanked his stars that he
had waked up for this one.

He descended the stairs from the Elevated platform and found Simpson
waiting.

"Good morning, Simpson."

"Good morning."

"Mr. Rockwell says you can get me into the hotel unnoticed."

Simpson looked at him sideways, hesitated, then turned and started
slowly west.

Merriam fell into step beside him and for a moment wondered obtusely
what ailed the man.  Then he understood.  Of course!  He wanted news of
Jennie.  Perhaps he was suspicious as to how Merriam might have spent
his time in that apartment. Perhaps he, like Margery, knew his Jennie
only too well.

To set his mind at rest, Merriam plunged at once into a sketchy summary
of the events at the flat--Crockett’s arrival--"almost as soon as you
had left," he placed it--his own telling of his story--Crockett’s being
half convinced--Jennie’s plan--the supper party (without reference to
Jennie’s change of costume or the dancing on the table)--Rockwell’s
telephone call--the tying up and the flash lights.

"I have the films here," he added, exhibiting the camera as tangible
evidence that he was not yarning.  "Can you get them developed for me in
the morning?"

"Yes," said Simpson, in a much less frigid tone than before.  He took
the camera.

"After Crockett had gone," Merriam continued smoothly, "I talked to
Jennie about you.  I told her she ought to marry you, and how well
you’ve shown up in this affair, and that Senator Norman and Rockwell are
going to pay you a bit of money for it, which you’ve certainly earned,
and that you would take her away on a little trip anywhere she wanted to
go, and then set up in a business of your own somewhere, and that she
would be a lot happier that way than now."

An older man, more sensitive to the dynamite in the situation, would
probably have spoken less freely and less successfully.  Whatever else
Simpson may have felt, he could not question his companion’s youthful
candour and good will.  After perhaps a dozen steps he spoke in a
carefully controlled voice:

"What did she say?"

"She didn’t answer me," lied Merriam.  "I told her to think it over.
She was impressed all right. And when I left I told Margery I was going
to send you around."

"What did Margery say?" asked Simpson quickly.

"She said yes, you should come."

Simpson drew a deep breath and stopped short at a corner.

"I’m very much obliged to you, sir," he said, looking quickly at Merriam
and quickly away again.

Merriam held out his hand.

"Good luck!" he said.

Simpson grasped the hand and shook it intensely. Then, resuming his
really admirable self-control, he said:

"We turn down here.  I’m going to take you up a fire escape.  It’s the
only way.  You can’t go into a hotel in the regular way even at this
time of night without being seen."

They turned into an alley which ran behind the Hotel De Soto, and
presently came to a door--a servants’ entrance--in the ugly blank wall
of yellow brick.

Simpson opened the door, and they passed into a bare hallway,
pine-floored, plaster-walled, lighted at intervals by unshaded,
low-powered incandescents.

Many doors of yellow pine opened on both sides of this hall, but
Simpson, walking rapidly and quietly, passed them all, turned into a
further stretch of hallway, narrower and still more dimly lighted, and
stopped before a door of iron--evidently a fire door.  He got out a key
and unlocked this door, and they emerged into the air again in the inner
court of the hotel, a great dismal well, the depository of drifts of
soot, accentuated here and there by scraps of paper and other rubbish,
and the haunt, for reasons difficult to understand, of the indomitable,
grimy wild pigeons of the Loop.

Simpson closed the iron door behind them and began a searching scrutiny
of the rows of windows. All but half a dozen or so were dark.  It looked
safe.

Satisfied, Simpson walked twenty feet or more along the side of the
court and stopped below a fire escape.  The platform at the lower end of
the iron stairway was placed too high for a man to reach it from the
ground unaided.

"Give me a boost," said Simpson.  He stooped and placed the camera on
the ground.

In a moment Merriam had hoisted him up, so that he could catch hold of
the end of the platform and pull himself on to it.  Then Simpson lay
down on his stomach and dropped his arms over the edge of the platform.
Merriam first handed up the camera and then with a little jump caught
his hands and was drawn up until he in his turn could get hold of the
edge of the landing and scramble on to it.

A moment later they were erect and had begun stealthily to mount the
narrow stairs.

It seemed to Merriam that they went up interminably--a short flight--a
turn--another short flight--along a platform past sleeping
windows--another flight.  He got out of breath, and began to feel very
tired.  The effect of Margery’s coffee was wearing off.

But at last Simpson stopped on one of the platforms and peered through a
window.  It was one of which the shades were not drawn at all and was
open about two inches at the bottom.

"This is it," said Simpson, and he stooped, opened the window, and
climbed in.

As soon as Merriam had followed, Simpson closed the window and drew the
shade.  Then he crossed the dark room and pushed a switch.

"Where are we?" asked Merriam.

"This room is next to Senator Norman’s bedroom," said Simpson, "on the
other side from the sitting room.  The couple who had it left this
evening, and Mr. Rockwell has taken it for you under the name of Wilson.
Mr. Rockwell will be expecting us."

He moved to a door at the side and knocked softly four times--once,
twice, and once again.

Almost immediately a key was turned on the other side, the door was
opened, and Rockwell stood surveying them.

There was only a dim light in the room behind him.  With a glance over
his shoulder at the bed where the sick Senator lay--the same bed in
which Merriam had played at being sick on the previous afternoon,--he
entered the new room and closed the door.

"You’ve made it!" he said.  "Thank Heaven! You weren’t seen, Simpson?"

"I think not, sir."

He looked closely at Merriam.  "You’re tired," he said.

"I sure am."

"Well, so am I.  What a day!  And to-morrow will be as bad.  Maybe
worse.  Never again will I father an impostor.  But we’ve got to see it
through this time.  Sit down.  Have a cigarette, and tell me what
happened at the flat.  Then I’ll let you go to bed and snatch a few
hours’ sleep. You must be in fighting trim to-morrow, you know--for the
speech!"

Merriam took the proffered cigarette and dropped gratefully into a
chair.  Rockwell and Simpson also sat down.

"How’s Senator Norman?" Merriam asked.

"Sick.  Hobart looks serious, but he says he’ll pull around in a day or
two.  He’s dosing him heavily.  You’ve simply got to stay by us and play
the game until he’s on his feet again."

"I suppose so.  Well----"

He was about to repeat the summary of the events of his evening which he
had already given Simpson, so as to get it over and get to bed. But
before he could begin a knock sounded at the side door through which
Rockwell had entered.

Simpson went to the door and opened it.  It was Dr. Hobart.

"Miss Norman and Mrs. Norman want to come in," he said.

Rockwell hesitated.  No doubt he would have preferred to hear Merriam’s
story himself first, without even Aunt Mary present.

Merriam meanwhile sat up, suddenly forgetting his fatigue: he was to see
Mollie June still that night.  He had not hoped for that.

"I supposed they would have gone to bed," he said, to cover his
involuntary show of interest.

"No," said Rockwell.  "After the dinner party they waited for me to come
back with Norman, of course.  Then he was so ill that Hobart kept us all
busy for a couple of hours doing things.  We didn’t want to get in a
nurse on account of--you, you know.  And then they wanted to wait till
you came. We expected you a long time ago.  Well," he added, turning to
the physician, "tell them to come along."

It was at least a minute before they arrived. Merriam was oddly nervous.
He had been through strange scenes since he had left Mollie June in the
Peacock Cabaret, and she must have divined as much.

They entered, Aunt Mary first with Mollie June behind her, and Merriam
and Rockwell rose.  The two women were dressed just as they had been at
the dinner party--Aunt Mary in the black evening gown and Mollie June in
the filmy rose.  Mollie June looked just a little pale and tired, but
Aunt Mary had not turned a hair.

"Well, young man," began the older woman briskly, "you’ve kept us up
till a pretty time of night.  What was happening there where you were
when Mr. Rockwell telephoned?  Sit down and tell us."

Evidently Aunt Mary, conscious of the ungodly hour, did not think it
necessary to allow Merriam time for even a formal greeting of her young
sister-in-law, who had stopped uncertainly in the doorway.

But Merriam was not to be hurried to quite that degree, whatever the
time of night or morning might be.  He turned to Mollie June.

"You’re coming in, aren’t you?  Take this chair."

He pushed a rocker towards her, concerned at her evident fatigue.

She came forward and sat down, then raised her eyes to him with a grave
"Thank you."

For a moment Merriam did not understand that steady, unsmiling look.
Then he thought he did understand.  It had a questioning quality.
Mollie June’s mind was at ease now about her husband, since he was back
and not supposed to be seriously ill, and she, like Simpson earlier, was
wondering--not that it concerned her, of course--how Merriam had spent
the night--so large a part of it--at Jennie’s flat.  She, too, knew
Jennie, to the extent at least of having seen and in a measure
comprehended her.  Perhaps even in a Mollie June there is that which
enables her to understand a Jennie and her lure for a youthful male.  He
remembered Mollie June’s description of her and the cool detachment with
which it had been uttered: "She’s pretty and sweet, and--warm."

For just an instant Merriam was slightly confused. He had verified that
description--all of it.

It is to be feared that his embarrassment, slight and merely
instantaneous though it was, did not escape Mollie June.  She dropped
her eyes, still unsmiling.

Merriam’s second sketch of his evening’s adventures differed from the
one he had given Simpson in being fuller and in two particular points:
first, of course, in omitting reference to his missionary efforts in
Simpson’s behalf, which, however laudable, were hardly for the ears of
Mollie June; and, second, in including mention of Jennie’s change into
her ballet costume--because he realised as he talked that the pictures,
to be developed in the morning, would exhibit that detail most
unmistakably and that he would do well to prepare Mollie June’s
mind--and Simpson’s, for that matter--in advance.  But he laid his
emphasis on the more dramatic episodes--the hurled revolver, the tying
up, the flash lights, and Crockett’s angry exit.  He told it humorously
and well, and was rewarded by Mollie June’s interest.  Her questioning
gravity disappeared, and she followed him with eager attention and with
a return of pretty colour to her cheeks.

Aunt Mary and Rockwell--not to mention Simpson--also listened
attentively.  When Merriam had finished they looked at each other.

"Well," said Rockwell, "I’m not sure but that it would have been better
to let him go as soon as you had told him your yarn, but on the whole I
think you did mighty well.  Those pictures may come in handy."

Aunt Mary rose.  "You certainly are an enterprising young man, Mr.
Merriam," she said dryly. "Now go to bed and get some sleep.  You make
your début as an orator at noon, you know!  Come, Mollie June."

"Good night, Miss Norman," said Merriam, and he advanced to Mollie June,
who had also risen.

"Good night, Mrs. Mollie June."  He dropped his voice for the last three
words and held out his hand.

She took it with an unconscious happy smile.

"Good night--Mr. John," she said.

Whatever she may have feared or suspected his story had established an
alibi for him.



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*

                          *THE REFORM LEAGUE*


"Quarter to ten," said Rockwell cheerily. "I’ve let you sleep to the
last possible moment. Here’s your breakfast on the stand.  Better eat it
and drink your coffee first.  Then a shave and get at this."  He
indicated a small pile of manuscript on the writing table.  "Your
speech, Senator!" he grinned.

"Good Lord!" groaned Merriam, remembering everything.  He perceived also
that he was to breakfast alone--no Mollie June.  But the sight of the
manuscript fascinated and aroused him. He realised, as he had not done
before, that within a few hours he was to make a public address in a
great Chicago club before many of the city’s most prominent men and
women--on what subject even he had no idea!

"Good Lord!" he said again and put his feet out.  "How’s Senator
Norman?" he asked.

"Sleeping now," said Rockwell.  "Hobart thinks he can get him on his
feet by night.  He’s due to start for Cairo this evening, you know, on a
stumping trip."  Then quickly: "You’ll find these sliced oranges
refreshing.  Have your bath first if you want to."

Merriam was in the midst of his breakfast when Rockwell returned.  "By
the way," he said, "here are your pictures," and he took some unmounted
prints from an envelope.

Merriam reached for them with curiosity and something like trepidation.
They were not good flash lights--a little blurred,--but the faces and
attitudes were unmistakable.  Jennie’s foot and leg extending forward
across the table were very much in evidence in the first of them.

"Rather striking poses," commented Rockwell.

"Jennie’s invention," said Merriam defensively.

"No doubt.  Well, they could hardly be better for their purpose.  I
think Crockett will go slow all right."

"Have--has Miss Norman seen them?"

"Yes.  And Simpson, of course."  For a moment Rockwell quizzically
regarded Merriam’s face, in which a further unspoken question was
anxiously plain.  Then he answered it: "No one else.  Mrs. Norman is
still sleeping.  I’m not sure Aunt Mary will consider them proper
pictures for her to see anyway.  Come," he added briskly, "you’ve eaten
only one piece of toast.  You must get outside of at least one more
piece.  And then shave.  I’ll strop your razor for you.  I’m your valet
this morning, Senator."

With a sigh Merriam glanced at the waiting speech and tackled a second
piece of toast, with the feeling that its mastication was a task of
almost impossible difficulty.  He achieved it, however, to the rhythmic
accompaniment of Rockwell’s stropping, consumed another cup of
coffee--his third, I regret to say,--and proceeded to shave.

At last Merriam was collared and tied and was slipping into his coat.
Rockwell rose and laid down the manuscript.

"Ready?" he said.  "Very good.  You can get to work.  It’s a quarter
past ten.  The luncheon is at twelve-thirty.  But we shan’t appear at
the luncheon itself.  Too dangerous.  You’d have to meet a lot of men
who know the Senator--meet them face to face in cold daylight and talk
to them. We’d never get away with it.  So I’ll telephone that you’ve
been detained by important business but will be in for the speeches.
That way we’ll come in by ourselves, with everybody else set and no
opportunity for personal confabulations.  You’ll have to run the
gauntlet of their eyes, of course. But you can do that."

Earnestly for a moment he scrutinised Merriam’s face and figure, as if
to reassure himself that the astounding imposture had been and was still
really possible.

"Yes," he continued confidently, "that’ll be all right.  The speeches
are scheduled to begin at one-fifteen.  We’ll leave here at five or ten
minutes after one.  That gives you nearly three hours to salt down the
speech.  You can learn it verbatim or only master the outline and
substance and give it in your own words.  Perhaps you’d better learn a
good deal of it just as it is.  Aunt Mary has it chock-full of the
Senator’s pet words and phrases. Your own style might be too different.
Do you commit easily?"

"Fairly so," said Merriam.  As a matter of fact the speech itself
presented few terrors to him.  He had done a good deal of debating and
declaiming in college, and of course in his capacity as principal of the
high school he was called upon for "a few words" on every conceivable
occasion in Riceville.

"Good.  Go to it, then.  I’ll make myself scarce. Here are cigarettes.
You won’t be disturbed.  _Au revoir_, Senator!  If you want anything,
knock on this door.  Either Hobart or I will answer."

Grinning, Rockwell departed into the real, the sick Senator’s, bedroom,
leaving Merriam with the typewritten manuscript.

He worked away for a couple of hours, sometimes sitting down, more often
walking back and forth, occasionally refreshing himself with a
cigarette, and faithfully learning by heart Aunt Mary’s Senator Norman’s
speech on "Municipal Reform."

By half past twelve he had mastered it to his satisfaction.  He decided
to go through with it once more by the clock.  It was designed, as he
knew from a pencil note at the top of the first page, to take thirty
minutes.  He did so, and came out at the end by five minutes to one.

Evidently his delivery was a little more rapid than Senator Norman’s.
He must remember to speak slowly.

He had just reached this conclusion when a knock sounded at the side
door and Rockwell entered.

"I’ve got it by heart," said Merriam.

"Good!  Come into the sitting room, then. You’re to have a cup of coffee
and a sandwich before you start."

"Fine.  I am a bit hollow.  How’s the Senator?"

Rockwell looked worried, but answered, "Sleeping again now.  Come along
if you’re ready."

"In a minute."

Merriam bathed his face and hands, folded the speech and put it in his
pocket, and followed Rockwell across the Senator’s bedroom, with just a
glance at the sick man in the bed and a nod to Dr. Hobart, who sat by
the window with a newspaper into the sitting room.

After his morning of intense, solitary labour he was somewhat nonplused
for a moment by the size of the company he found assembled there--Aunt
Mary and Mollie June, of course, Alicia, Mr. Wayward, and Father Murray.
He said good morning to each of them.

Alicia reminded him that it was really afternoon now.

"We shall meet Black in the car," said Rockwell. "Then the roll of the
conspirators will be complete!"

Mollie June, who had had no speech to learn, had slept late and was now
as blooming as ever.

"We’re all going to hear you," she said as she gave Merriam her hand.

"Good Heavens!" he said, with a twinge of the stage fright which he had
thus far had no time to feel.  "I shouldn’t mind the others, but
you----"

He left that dangerous remark unfinished.

To Aunt Mary he said: "I’ve learned the speech by heart.  I admire it
very much," and was pleased to note that even Aunt Mary had an author’s
susceptibility to praise.

Meanwhile Simpson, who was in attendance, had poured out a cup of
coffee, and Mollie June brought it to him with a sandwich on a plate.

"Won’t you sit down to eat it?" she asked, regarding him with a look of
awe which flattered him enormously and served to quiet his rising
nervousness.

(Mollie June had taken oratory of all degrees and on all possible
occasions on the part of Norman as a matter of course, but the thought
that John Merriam, who was only a little older than herself and had
taken her to "sociables" and had wanted to make love to her but had not
dared, was about to address the distinguished Urban Club of Chicago at
one of its formidable luncheons filled her with admiration.)

"Thank you," he said, taking the coffee and the sandwich.  "No, I think
I’ll eat it standing."  But he smiled at her with the confidence which
her admiration had given him, thereby increasing the admiration--a
pleasing psychological circle.

But now Rockwell was at his side and barely gave him time to finish his
sandwich and gulp down the coffee.

"Miss Norman and the Senator and I go with Mayor Black in the Senator’s
car," said that master of ceremonies and conspiracies.  "The other four
of you are to follow in the Mayor’s machine.  Here’s your coat and hat."

Along the hall--down in the elevator--through the lobby to the
pavement--Merriam had only a dazed sense of being part of an
irresistible, conspicuous procession which was carrying him whither he
had no strong desire to go.

A limousine was already drawn up at the curb, and the hotel starter was
deferentially holding the door.

Mayor Black was already within the car.

"Ah, Senator," the Mayor ejaculated, "I’m glad to see you up again, and
to have you--really you--coming to the Reform League!"

For an instant Merriam did not understand. Then he realised that the
Mayor thought he was addressing the real Senator Norman.  It was a good
omen for the continued success of his impersonation.

He sank into the seat opposite the Mayor, who was facing forward with
Aunt Mary beside him. Rockwell climbed in and sat next to Merriam.  The
door slammed, and the machine started.

Then, as the Mayor still beamed at him and as neither of the others
spoke, Merriam said gently:

"I’m still the impostor, I’m afraid, Mr. Mayor."

"Eh!"

The Mayor leaned forward to scrutinise his face and then turned as if
bewildered and still unconvinced to Rockwell.

"Yes," said Rockwell.  "I tried to get you on the ’phone this morning,
but your line was busy, and I didn’t have a chance to try again.  The
Senator is still sick.  Worse, in fact.  Mr. Merriam is going to keep
the Senator’s engagement at the Urban Club for him."

"My God!" cried the Mayor.  "Speak before all those people!  You never
can do it!"

"Yes, we can," said Rockwell, with smiling serenity.  "You were fooled
again yourself just now," he pointed out.

The Mayor groaned.  "Then we still don’t know where Senator Norman
himself will stand when he’s up," he said.

"I telephoned you yesterday that he had agreed to everything," said Aunt
Mary coldly.  "That was true."

"While he was sick," said Black.  "Will he stick to it when he’s well
again?"

"He’ll have to stick," said Rockwell.  "Ten times more so after this
speech.  He can’t possibly go back on that."

"If this Mr.--Mr. Merriam," said the Mayor, eyeing him with profound
dislike, "is unmasked at the Urban Club, it would be the utter ruin of
us all."

"It undoubtedly would," replied Rockwell cheerfully.  "All the more
reason why we should all keep a stiff upper lip and play up for him."

"No!" cried the Mayor.  "It’s insane!  Stop the car!  I’ll step into the
nearest store and telephone that the Senator has fainted in the cab and
can’t appear.  Anything is better than this awful risk."

He put out his hand for the cord to signal to the chauffeur.  But
Rockwell roughly struck his arm down.

"Sit still!" he commanded savagely.  "Do you want us to choke you again?
This car goes on to the Urban Club.  Senator Norman has a fine speech,
and he’ll make it well.  No one will suspect. The thing has the one
essential characteristic of successful imposture--boldness to the point
of impossibility.  If any one notices any slight change in his
appearance or voice or manner, it will be put down to his illness.  It
will cinch the whole thing as nothing else could.  You’ve got to go
through with it, Mayor."

Mr. Black groaned again and relapsed into a dismal silence.

Fortunately he did not have long to brood, nor Merriam long to work up
the nervousness which this dialogue had naturally renewed in him.  In a
couple of minutes after the Mayor’s second and more lamentable groan the
limousine stopped before the imposing entrance of the Urban Club.

"Sit tight, Mayor!" Rockwell warned.

Then the doorman of the Club opened the car, and Rockwell descended and
helped Aunt Mary out and Merriam and the Mayor followed.

Inside their coats and the men’s hats were quickly taken from them by
efficient checkroom boys, and they were guided immediately to the
elevator.  The speeches had already begun upstairs, some one said.

They stepped out into the hallway outside the Club’s big dining room.
From inside came the noise of clapping.  Some one had just finished
speaking.

"This is our chance," said Rockwell, meaning doubtless that they could
best enter during the interlude between speeches.  "Go ahead, Senator.
Take the Mayor’s arm!"

In a moment they were passing through a group of tuxedoed servants at
the door.  Merriam was conscious of a large room in pleasant tones of
brown with a low raftered ceiling and many windows of small leaded
panes.  The tables were arranged in the form of a great horseshoe, with
the closed end--the speakers’ table--opposite the door. The horseshoe
was lined inside and out with guests, perhaps two hundred in all--men
who looked either distinguished or intelligent, occasionally both, and
women who were either distinguished or intelligent or beautiful--from
some points of view the great city’s best.

Then came the turning of many eyes to look at himself and Mayor Black,
and the toastmaster at the center of the speakers’ table rose and called
to them:

"Senator!  Mayor!  This way."

He pointed to two empty chairs on either side of his own.

Merriam nodded, and, still propelling the semi-comatose Black, circled
one side of the horseshoe, giving the line of guests as wide a berth as
he could, to avoid possible contretemps from personal greetings to which
he might be unable to make suitable response.

Arrived at the speakers’ table, he shook hands warmly with the
toastmaster--a bald, benevolent-looking man of much aplomb, whose name
he never learned--and with two or three other men from nearby
chairs--evidently personal acquaintances of Senator Norman’s--who rose
to welcome him, making talk the while of apologies for being late.
Presently he found himself seated at the toastmaster’s right, facing the
distinguished company.  No one had betrayed any suspicion.  The
imposture was, in fact, as Rockwell had said, so bold as to be
unthinkable.

Mayor Black had meanwhile been seated at the toastmaster’s left, and
Rockwell and Aunt Mary had been guided to two vacant seats at the left
end of the speakers’ table.  The necessity of greeting friends had
somewhat roused the Mayor, who had found his tongue and managed to
respond, though for him haltingly.

The toastmaster leaned towards Merriam and whispered:

"You’re to speak last, Senator.  Colonel Edwards is next, then Mayor
Black, then you."

With that he rose and felicitated the company on the arrival of the two
distinguished servants of the City and the Nation between whom he now
had the honour to sit.

He then introduced Colonel Edwards, a stout, quite unmilitary-looking
gentleman, who was earnestly interested and mildly interesting on the
subject of good roads for the space of fifteen minutes.

Merriam’s attention was distracted almost at the beginning of Colonel
Edwards’ speech by the arrival at the entrance of the dining room, now
directly opposite him, of the second taxi-load from the hotel.  Alicia
caught Merriam’s eye and smiled at him mischievously.  Evidently she was
enjoying the situation to the full.  Mollie June, on the other hand,
though deliciously crowned with a small blossomy hat of obvious
expensiveness, was entirely grave, her eyes fixed almost too steadily
and too anxiously on our youthful hero, where he sat in the seats of the
mighty, outwardly at least as much at ease as if he had been accustomed
for thirty years to find himself at the speakers’ table of historic
clubs.

Colonel Edwards suddenly sat down.  He was one of those rare public
speakers who occasionally disconcert their audiences by stopping when
they are through.

The toastmaster gasped, but rose to his feet and the occasion and called
upon Mayor Black.

As the Mayor slowly rose Merriam was most uncomfortably
anxious--uncertain whether the city’s chief executive was even yet
sufficiently master of himself to face an audience successfully.  But
Mr. Black was one of those gentlemen, not uncommon in public life, who
are apparently more at ease before an audience than in any other
situation.  His great mellow voice boomed forth, and Merriam relaxed.
That speech was hardly, perhaps, one of the Mayor’s masterpieces.  But
that mattered little, of course.  He produced an admirably even flow of
head tones.  It _sounded_ like a perfectly good speech.

Merriam, at any rate, was quite oblivious of any lack of strict logical
coherence in the Mayor’s remarks.  He was suddenly smitten by the
realisation that his own turn came next.  For a moment he fought a panic
of blankness, then mentally grabbed at the opening sentences of what he
had so carefully committed during the morning.  Outwardly serene and
attentive to the speaker, inwardly he hastily rehearsed his first half
dozen paragraphs, and, winking his eyes somewhat rapidly perhaps, fixed
the outline of the rest of it in his mind.

The Mayor rose to a climax of thunderous tone and eloquent gesture and
sat.  Loud applause followed.

Across the clapping hands Merriam glanced at Mr. Wayward and Alicia and
Mollie June where they sat at one side of the horseshoe.  The other two
were clapping, but Mollie June was not.  He thought she looked pale, but
of course he was too far away to be sure.  "She is afraid for me," he
thought, and gratitude for her interest mingled with a fine resolve to
show her that she had no cause for fear--that he would give a good
account of himself anywhere--for her.

The glow of that resolution carried him through the ordeal of the
toastmaster’s introduction and brought him to his feet with smiling
alacrity at the proper moment.

The applause was hearty.  There is magic still, strange as it may seem,
in the word "senator."  He was forced to bow again and again.

Then he struck into his speech--Aunt Mary’s speech.  He found himself
letter-perfect.  He had at least half his mind free to attend to his
delivery. He gave it slowly, impressively, grandly facing first one part
of his audience and then another.  George Norman himself before packed
galleries in the Senate Chamber at Washington had never done better. And
it was a good speech, deftly conceived, clearly reasoned, aptly worded.
Merriam himself in all his morning’s study of it had not realised how
perfectly it was adapted to the occasion and the audience.  Down at the
far end of the speakers’ table, the female author of it sat unnoticed,
watching with tight-pressed lips its effect; her only right to be there,
if any one had asked you, the accident of her relationship to the
wonderful Senator.

He reached the end.  As he rounded out the last sentence his eyes rested
triumphantly for a second on Mollie June.  Whether or not her cheeks had
been pale before, they were flushed now.  He sat down.

The room rocked.  The applause this time was no mechanical reaction.  It
was an ovation.  The toastmaster leaped to his feet with ponderous
agility and grabbed for Merriam’s hand.  The latter found himself
standing, the center of a group of excited men, all of whom he must
pretend to know, overwhelming him with congratulations.

Behind him he caught a remark that was doubtless not intended for his
ears: "How the devil does he keep his youthful looks and fire?  He might
be twenty-five!"

Then Rockwell charged into the group, excited himself, but persistent
with the formula, "Pressing engagement," and got him out of the room,
and into the elevator, and through the hallway on the first floor, with
his hat and coat restored, and into the limousine, which darted away for
the hotel.



                             *CHAPTER XXV*

                        *SECOND COUNCIL OF WAR*


Merriam and Rockwell were alone in the Senator’s car.

Merriam leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes.  He was at
once fatigued and excited.  It almost seemed to him that he was still
addressing the Urban Club.  Then he seemed to be talking still but to a
single auditor--a girl with flushed cheeks and eyes that shone with
excited pride.

He opened his eyes.  Rockwell was regarding him steadily.  "I don’t
wonder you feel done up," he said.  "It was splendid, my boy.  You spoke
like a veteran.  You ought to go into public life on your own.  Perhaps
you will."  He seemed to meditate.  Then: "You saw Crockett, I suppose?"

"No!" exclaimed Merriam.

"Didn’t you?  He was seated six places to your right at the speakers’
table.  Right in line with you, of course.  Not strange you missed him.
Just as well, perhaps.  It might have shaken even _your_ nerve."

The phrase "even _your_ nerve" was pleasant praise to Merriam.  He had
never thought of himself as possessed of any exceptional _sang froid_.
But perhaps he had behaved with rather creditable composure in a trying
situation.

"_He_ was shaken, I can tell you," Rockwell was saying.  "Lord, I was on
pins!  I didn’t know but what when you rose to speak he would jump up
and denounce you.  But not he.  He simply lay back and stared and kept
moistening his lips.  I suppose he couldn’t make up his mind for sure
whether you were the Senator or the double or whether he himself had
gone crazy or not.  We’ll hear from him, though," he added reflectively.

"I suppose so," said Merriam wearily.  "I wish to Heaven we were clean
through the thing!"  That feeling had come suddenly, and for the moment
he meant it, though he was having the time of his life.

"So do I," said Rockwell heartily.  "But we’re not.  Not by a long shot.
So you must buck up. Here’s the hotel.  You shall have a real meal now.
That’ll put heart into you again."

The machine stopped, and the door was opened.

"Quick time, now!" Rockwell whispered.

Senator Norman and his new political manager, Mr. Rockwell of the Reform
League, rushed almost precipitately into the lobby of the Hotel De Soto
and made a bee line for the nearest elevator.  It was obvious that
important business urgently called them, for they merely nodded
hurriedly in response to several cordial salutations.

As the elevator shot up Rockwell leaned heavily against the side of the
car, took off his hat, though there was no one with them, drew a deep
breath, and comically winked both eyes at Merriam.

"What a life!" he ejaculated.

Stepping out at Floor Three, they were greeted by the spectacle of Dr.
Hobart bending over the floor clerk’s desk and evidently having a
delightful tête-à-tête with the handsome young mistress of that sanctum,
whose eyes were coquettishly raised to his, though her head was slightly
bent--for she was smelling an American Beauty rose.  A large vase of the
same expensive flowers adorned one corner of her desk.

Only a momentary glimpse did Merriam and Rockwell have of this pretty
tableau, for Dr. Hobart at once straightened up as if in some
embarrassment and came towards them.

"I was just thinking it was about time for you to be back," he said,
though he surely did not expect them to believe that he had just been
thinking anything of the sort.

The pretty floor clerk, no whit nonplused, bowed and smiled at Rockwell.
But she studiously failed to observe Senator Norman’s presence.

Dr. Hobart walked down the hall with them.

"How’s Norman?" Rockwell asked.

"No better, I’m afraid," said the physician apologetically.  "He has a
high fever, and a while ago he was slightly delirious.  I had to give
him more of the drug.  He’s sleeping again now.  Simpson is with him, of
course."

"Damn!" said Rockwell, with a sort of deliberate earnestness.

They reached the sitting room and entered it. There was no one there.
Simpson was apparently in the Senator’s bedroom.  Merriam dropped into a
chair and closed his eyes again.  Rockwell walked across to a window and
stood staring out. Dr. Hobart stopped uncertainly in the middle of the
room and fiddled with a cigarette without being able to make up his mind
to light it.  For several moments none of them spoke.

But Rockwell was not the man to remain long in any apathy of inaction.
He turned suddenly, and Merriam, whom the prolonged unnatural silence
had caused to open his eyes, saw that he had made up his mind to
something.

"Hobart," he said, "I suppose Simpson isn’t practically necessary in
there."  He indicated the sick room.

"N-no," said Dr. Hobart, "I suppose not.  He’s just watching.  Norman
will sleep soundly for some time."

"Then ask him to come here, will you?"

The physician disappeared into the bedroom and in a moment returned with
Simpson.

"Simpson," said Rockwell, "we’re going to have a meal here, for nine
people.  A luncheon, if you like.  But make it hearty.  Choose the stuff
yourself, and serve it as quickly as you can, please."

For a moment Simpson stared.  Then, as if remembering a nearly forgotten
cue, he replied submissively, "Yes, sir," and turned to the door.

As that door closed behind Simpson, Merriam suddenly stood up.

"I must send a telegram to Riceville," he said, starting for the writing
table for a blank.

"Wait a bit," said Rockwell.  "You can send it just as well an hour from
now."

Merriam was disposed to argue, but just then the rest of their party
trooped in, having returned to the hotel in Mayor Black’s car.

Alicia walked straight up to Merriam, gay with enthusiasm, caught his
hand, and squeezed it.

"My dear boy," she cried, "it was perfectly splendid!  I’ve half a mind
to kiss you!"

"Please do," said Merriam.

"I will," said Alicia promptly, and before the young man could realise
what was happening she had put her gloved hands on his shoulders and
kissed him on one cheek.

Merriam was vastly astonished.  In the circles in which he had moved in
Riceville or even at college, his remark could have been taken only as a
daring pleasantry.  But he undoubtedly had _sang froid_, for he
concealed his confusion, or most of it, and said:

"Let me turn the other cheek."

"Oh, I mustn’t be a pig," said Alicia.  "I’ll leave the other cheek for
Mollie June."

At this Merriam’s confusion became, I fear, perfectly apparent, for the
remainder of the party had followed Alicia into the room and were
grouped about him.

"Kiss him quick, Mollie dear," said the incorrigible Alicia, thereby
causing confusion in a second person present.

But Mayor Black, no longer to be restrained, saved the situation.  He
seized Merriam’s hand and pumped it.

"One of the best speeches I ever heard the Senator make!" he asserted,
in tones which Merriam feared might rouse the real Senator in the
adjoining room.

Mr. Wayward meanwhile was patting him on the back and murmuring, "Fine!
Excellent!"

Merriam turned to Aunt Mary:

"I tried to do it justice," he said.

"You gave it exceedingly well," said Aunt Mary, with less reserve than
he had ever seen her exhibit before.

"Indeed you did!" cried Mollie June earnestly, her eyes shining with
sincerity.

And that tribute, from the least qualified judge of them all, was, I
regret to state, the one which young Merriam treasured the most.

Simpson, who had worked with amazing alacrity, and even inspired his
assistants to celerity had completed his preparations and announced that
he was ready to serve the luncheon.

Rockwell delayed the meal for several minutes the sake of an apparently
important conference into which he had drawn Mr. Wayward and the Mayor
over by the window.

Presently, however, they all sat down, with Merriam beside Mollie June.
The luncheon passed, as luncheons do, in small talk and anecdote.

At last Rockwell, having finished the last morsel of a piece of French
pastry, laid down his fork and fixed his eyes significantly on Mr.
Wayward, who was in mid-career with something like his fifteenth
anecdote.  Mr. Wayward faltered but rallied and finished his story.  It
was the best one he had told, but there was only perfunctory laughter.
Every one about the table was looking at Rockwell, realising that at
last the great question that was in all their minds, "What are we to do
next?" was to be discussed and decided.  Simpson, it should be added,
had dismissed his assistants as soon as the dessert course was served,
so that only the initiated were present.

Three times during the meal Dr. Hobart had left the table to enter the
sick room.  On the second occasion he had remained away some minutes.
Rockwell now turned to him.

"Give us your report, Doctor," he said abruptly.

"Well," replied the physician, "he is better. Half an hour ago he was
awake for perhaps five minutes.  His temperature is lower, though he
still has some fever.  He is sleeping again now, more quietly than at
any time since he returned to the hotel.  In short, he is doing as well
as could be expected.  But it is out of the question for him to start on
that speech-making tour this evening."

"Undoubtedly," said Aunt Mary, with much decision.

"Just so," said Rockwell.  "That being the case, two alternatives
present themselves: to announce his illness and call off the trip, or to
go on playing the game as we have begun, with Mr. Merriam’s help."

Merriam gasped and opened his mouth to protest, but Rockwell waved him
down.

"The Mayor and Mr. Wayward and I have been discussing the matter.  At
first blush, there may seem to be little question as to which of these
two courses we should pursue.  Having come safely--so far as we know at
least--through all the perils of discovery thus far, it may seem that we
should tempt fortune no further, but let Mr. Merriam return to his
school, publish the fact of the Senator’s illness, and cancel the
speaking engagements."

"Surely yes," interjected Merriam, and Aunt Mary and Father Murray and
Mollie June and even Alicia seemed to assent.

"On further consideration," Rockwell continued imperturbably, "I think
you will all see that the thing is not so clear.  The course I have just
suggested may be--doubtless is--the more prudent one, if prudence were
all, but it is decidedly unfair to George Norman."

At this Aunt Mary almost visibly pricked up her ears.

"In his name," Rockwell went on, "we have thrown over the conservative
wing of the party, with whom he has always stood and who have supported
him--have ’betrayed’ them, as they will put it, in this traction matter
and in aligning him with the Reform League.  We did so on the theory
that he was to appeal to the people and to come back stronger than ever
as the leader of the new and growing progressive element, which is sure
to be dominant in the next election if only they can find such a leader
as Norman could be.  But if we cancel this trip and let him drop out of
the campaign, if we stop now, where will he be?  He will have lost his
old backers and will not have made new ones.  He will be politically
dead.  We shall have played absolutely into the hands of Crockett and
Thompson and the rest of the gang, and shall have accomplished nothing
but the political ruin of George Norman."

All the persons about the table except Mayor Black and Mr. Wayward
stared hard at Rockwell as this new view of their predicament sank into
their minds.  The Mayor and Mr. Wayward smiled and nodded and watched
the effect on the others. Particularly they watched Merriam, who sat
dumfounded and vaguely alarmed.  What new entanglements was Rockwell
devising for him?  He must get back to Riceville.  Involuntarily--he
could not have said why--he cast a quick glance at Mollie June, and
encountered a similar glance from her.  They both looked away in
confusion.

Aunt Mary spoke:

"Tell us your plan."

It was like her--that masterful acceptance, without comment, of the
situation.

"My plan, as you call it," said Rockwell, fixing his eyes not on Aunt
Mary but on Merriam, "is simply that we should go on for another day or
two as we have begun--play the game for George until he can take the
cards in his own hands.  This is Thursday.  He is scheduled to leave
this evening for Cairo, to speak there at nine o’clock to-morrow
morning, to go on to East St. Louis for a talk before the Rotary Club at
noon, and then up to Springfield for an address in the evening.  Is that
correct?"

"Yes," said Aunt Mary.  "And he was to speak in Bloomington and Peoria
on Saturday and in Moline and Freeport on Sunday."

"The speeches are all ready, I believe?"

"Yes.  George and I outlined them together some time ago, and I have
them written and typed."

"Exactly.  Turn the manuscripts over to Mr. Merriam as you did this
morning.  He will have time on the train on the way to each place to
master the speech to be given at that point.  We shall take a special
car.  Mr. Wayward and I will go with him.  You"--he was addressing Aunt
Mary--"and the Mayor and Dr. Hobart--and Simpson," he added, glancing up
at the waiter, who stood listening in the background,--"and the rest of
you will stay here to guard George.  That will be easy when the
newspapers are full of his speeches out in the State."

"Mr. Crockett will know," said Father Murray timidly.

"He may suspect," said Rockwell with a grin. "But if you keep every one
away from George--conceal his presence here,--he can’t be sure whether
it’s George himself or his double who is speech-making over the State.
And if he were sure, he wouldn’t dare denounce him.  Thanks to Mr.
Merriam’s clever trick last night, he has a particularly strong reason
for keeping his mouth shut. If on the other hand we give up and lie
down--cancel the trip,--he can easily start all manner of nasty stories
about his escapades.  I’m sorry to say it, but George has a pretty
widespread sporting reputation."  Rockwell glanced apologetically at
Mollie June, but continued.  "When a man with such a character is laid
up, people are ready to believe anything except that he is really
legitimately sick.  Things will be safer here than they would be if we
abandoned our trick.  And our part out in the State will be ’nuts,’
compared to what it was at the Urban Club this noon, for instance.  Very
few people out there know Norman well.  There is no question at all that
Mr. Merriam will get by. And we know from this noon that he will make
the speeches in fine shape."

"The speeches will need to be altered a bit," said Aunt Mary, "if they
are to appeal to the progressives."

"Mr. Merriam can attend to that on the train," said Rockwell.  "Soften
the standpattism and throw in some progressive dope.  Can’t you?"  He
appealed to Merriam.

"I suppose I could," said Merriam, "but--my school."

"I know," said Rockwell, "but it will be only a day or two longer.
We’ll telegraph again, of course.  If you were really sick, as we’ve
been telling them, they’d have to get along, wouldn’t they? You’ve got
to see us through.  We must keep the ball rolling.  It will probably be
only one more day.  George will be able to travel to-morrow, I presume?"
he asked of Dr. Hobart.  "By noon, anyway?"

"By noon, I hope," said the physician with cheerful optimism.

"You see?" said Rockwell.  "George can catch the noon train for
Springfield and get there in time to take on the evening speech.  Mr.
Merriam will have made the two at Cairo and East St. Louis. He can go
back to Riceville from Springfield."

Just then the telephone rang, and I believe every person in the room
jumped.

Rockwell rose to answer it.

"Senator Norman?  Yes, he is here.  But he is engaged.  This is Mr.
Rockwell, his manager.  You can give the message to me."

A moment later he put his hand over the receiver and turned to Merriam.

"He insists on speaking to the Senator.  You’ll have to answer.  I think
it’s Crockett.  For Heaven’s sake, be careful!"

Merriam took the receiver:

"Hello!"

A voice which he remembered only too well from the night before at
Jennie’s replied:

"This is Mr. Crockett, I have the honour, I believe, of speaking to Mr.
Merriam."

"You have the wrong number!" said Merriam and hung up.

But before he had had time to explain to the others or even to wonder
whether he had done wisely, the bell jangled again.  He turned back to
the instrument.  Rockwell came quickly to his side, and Merriam, taking
down the receiver, held it so that his "manager" too should be able to
hear what came over the wire.

"Hello!"

"Ah!  Senator Norman, by your voice," said Crockett in tones of
elaborate irony.  "I wish to congratulate you, Senator, on your speech
this noon.  It was a magnificent effort.  So full of progressive ideas
and youthful virility!"

"Thank you," said Merriam.

"And, Senator, I really must see you right away.  I am calling from the
lobby.  I will come up to your rooms at once, if I may.  Or meet you
anywhere else you say.  It is of the utmost importance to you, Mr.
Mer----" (he pretended to correct himself) "to you, Senator, as well as
to me."

"Wait a minute," said Merriam.  He put his hand over the mouthpiece and
looked at Rockwell.

"Tell him you will see him at eight o’clock this evening, here."

Merriam repeated this message.

"At _eight_?" said Crockett, with significant emphasis on the hour.
"Very good, Senator.  Thank you."  He hung up.

Rockwell and Merriam turned to the others. Aunt Mary and the rest had
risen.  They were standing by their places about the table, looking
rather scared.

"_Eight_ o’clock?" questioned Aunt Mary, with an emphasis similar to
Crockett’s.

"Yes," said Rockwell doggedly.  "Because"--he addressed Merriam--"your
train goes at seven. At seven-thirty Miss Norman shall telephone
Crockett, expressing your regret that you overlooked the fact that you
would have to be gone by that time. Man alive!" he cried.  "Don’t you
see?  The Senator can’t be sick now--after your public appearance this
noon.  Half the people who count in Chicago saw you--him, there--right
as a trivet--obviously perfectly well.  And we can’t keep _you_ here,
with Crockett and Thompson continually nosing ’round.  There’s nothing
for it but for you to start on that trip.  The trip’s a godsend.  Write
your telegram to Riceville!"

Merriam glanced around the circle of faces. Mad as the thing was, they
all seemed to agree with Rockwell.  Mayor Black and Mr. Wayward and even
Simpson seemed to be asking him, as man to man, to stand by them.
Father Murray was timidly expectant.  Dr. Hobart, he noticed, was
staring down at the table as if in thought.  Aunt Mary, looking him full
in the eyes, gave an affirmative nod.  Alicia’s eyes and shoulders
registered appeal as conspicuously as if she had been a movie actress.
And Mollie June seemed to be begging him not to desert her.

With a gesture of resignation he went over to the writing table and sat
down to compose his third mendacious telegram to Riceville.



                             *CHAPTER XXVI*

                  *THE BUSINESS OF BEING AN IMPOSTOR*


The writing of that telegram occupied Merriam for several minutes.  He
was distracted by scruples.  He did not like lying, and he felt, truly
enough, that he was cheating his employers, the Board of Education of
Riceville, and the patrons of the school, and his boys and girls, by
staying away from the work he was paid to do.

When, after a last momentary hesitation, he wrote his name and looked
up, he found Simpson standing by him, ready to take the message.  He
noticed the man’s new air of cheerfulness.

But he had no time to reflect on this phenomenon, for the party was
breaking up.

There were four of them left--Merriam and Rockwell, Aunt Mary and Mollie
June.

"Well," said Rockwell, with a sigh, "we’re off again.  You’d better go
to your own room--Mr. Wilson’s room.  I promised the reporters to see
them at half past four, and it’s nearly that now. You’ll need to pack.
Take these speeches with you.  I’ll let you know when the taxi comes."

In a moment Merriam was crossing the Senator’s room.  Involuntarily he
cast a glance at the sick man in the bed.  In a small chair by the head
of the bed Mollie June was sitting, her eyes on her husband.  She looked
up as Merriam traversed the room, met his gaze soberly for an instant,
and then looked back at Norman.

Merriam passed through the door on the other side into his own room.  He
closed the door softly behind him, set the portfolio on a chair, and put
his hand to his forehead.  The tiny connubial tableau of which he had
just had a glimpse had brought home to him, as nothing before had done,
the fact that Mollie June really was another man’s wife. The acute
realisation left him blank.  He crossed over, sank into a chair by the
window, and stared out across the fire escape.  Another man’s wife! And
he loved her.  Of course he loved her, just as he had always done.  And
she loved him, a little at least.  That such a thing should happen to
him--and her!  Because he had been a coward three years ago in
Riceville!

How long he sat dully revolving such thoughts as these he had no idea.
He was startled by the opening of the door from the Senator’s bedroom.
He sprang to his feet with the involuntary thought that it might be
Mollie June--though of course she would have knocked.  It was Simpson.

"Shall I pack your things, sir?"

"Why--yes," said Merriam.

He knew from novels that the valet of the hero always packs his bag.
Evidently Simpson had come in this capacity.  To Merriam’s American
self-sufficiency it seemed an absurd practice.  Why shouldn’t any man
put his own things into a grip for himself?  But he was glad of company.

"You can help," he added, and took a couple of steps in the direction of
the bureau, with the idea of taking things out of drawers.

"Oh, don’t bother, sir!" said Simpson quickly. In his tone there was
something subtly patronising. For he who has been a butler and a waiter
and a valet among the real elite feels even himself to be socially
superior to the unbutlered and unvaleted.

"Simpson," said Merriam suddenly, "you’ve seen Jennie!"

Simpson stopped absolutely still for a moment with a couple of folded
shirts in his hands.  Then he placed the shirts in the suit case,
straightened up, and looked at Merriam.

"Yes, Mr."--he hesitated and decided to use the real name--"yes, Mr.
Merriam, I have.  I went out there this morning, as you suggested."

"She let you in?"

"Yes she did.  She let me sit down on the sofa with her, and we had a
long talk.  I ended by asking her again to marry me--and she said she
would."

"And she kissed you!" Merriam cried gaily. He had for the moment
forgotten his own troubles in Simpson’s happiness, for which he rightly
felt he might claim some credit, and in an appreciative recollection of
Jennie’s temperament.  Within a dozen hours she had also kissed Crockett
and himself.  But Jennie was born to kiss.

Simpson looked quickly at the younger man and returned to his packing.
"Yes," he said, "she did."

Merriam regretted his exclamation, which had, in fact, told too much.
For several minutes he watched in silence the deft, efficient work of
his companion.  Then he asked:

"When is it to be?"

"The wedding, sir?"

"Yes."

"As soon as you and Mr. Rockwell can spare me, sir."

Simpson closed the hand bag, closed the suit case and strapped it.

"Is there anything else I can do, sir?"

"I believe not."

The waiter hesitated.  Then he decided to speak what was in his heart:

"I am very greatly indebted to you, sir," he said, with an admirable
combination of dignity and feeling.  "You have made a happy man of a
very wretched one and have--saved a young girl who was on a very wrong
track.  If ever I can render you any service, you can always command me,
sir."

Merriam sprang up and advanced, holding out his hand.

"I’m tremendously glad," he said.  "I have accomplished one thing anyway
with all this miserable imposture."

Simpson shook his hand heartily.  Then:

"Shall I leave you now, sir?"

"Why, yes, please," said Merriam.  He was loth, to be left alone, but
there was clearly nothing more to be said between him and Simpson.

In a moment the waiter had withdrawn through the door into the Senator’s
bedroom.  Merriam’s thoughts followed him into that room, where Mollie
June doubtless still sat by her husband’s bed.

But just then a knock sounded at the hall door. He looked up startled.
He was not expecting any one to approach from that direction.  Who could
have any business with "Mr. Wilson"?

Another knock.  Merriam hesitated.  Should he go to the door, or simply
sit tight till the knocker became convinced that there was no one within
and went away?  He decided upon the latter course. Any one whom he ought
to see Rockwell would bring to him.

A third time the knock sounded, discreet but persistent.  Then suddenly
a key was inserted in the lock and turned, the door opened, and in
stepped--Crockett!

Merriam sprang to his feet but did not speak.

"Thank you," said Crockett over his shoulder--to whom Merriam could not
see.

He closed the door and advanced:

"Is it Mr. Wilson?" he asked ironically, "or Mr. Merriam--or Senator
Norman?"

"Is it Mr. Crockett, the financier, or a house-breaker?" Merriam
retorted.

Mr. Crockett laughed, but it was an unpleasant, forced laugh.

"Since you do not answer my question," he said, "I don’t see that I need
answer yours.  See here," he continued, with a change of tone, "how much
is it worth to you to turn over to me those pictures you took last
night--films and all, of course--and get out of this?"

"You won’t accomplish anything by insulting me!" cried Merriam, a flare
of youthful anger somewhat impairing his dignity.

"Insulting you!" echoed Crockett sneeringly. "My dear sir, as a complete
impostor you can hardly expect to get away with that pose.  I’ll admit
you’re good at it.  That impersonation of the Senator before the Urban
Club this noon was a masterpiece.  But what’s the game?  Does Rockwell
really suppose he can swing Senator Norman over permanently to the
so-called Reformers?  Let me tell you that as soon as the real Norman is
on his feet again Thompson and I and the rest of us will get hold of him
and bring him around in no time.  We know too many things about your
handsome Boy Senator.  He can’t shake us now.  So what’s the use?
Unless," he added suddenly, "the plan is to kill him off and substitute
you permanently!"

"Hardly so desperate as that," said Merriam, smiling.  The other man’s
long speech had given him time to recover himself.

"Well, then, why not make a good thing out of it for yourself and get
away while you can?  It isn’t as if no one had suspected you.  _I_ not
only suspect but know.  I haven’t told any one else yet, but you can
hardly expect me to keep your secret indefinitely."

"You forget the pictures," said Merriam, as sweetly as he could.

Crockett obviously mastered a "damn" and chased the expression that rose
to accompany it from his face.

"Let’s keep to business," he said.  "How much is Rockwell paying you for
this job?"

"No monetary consideration has been mentioned between us," said Merriam.
It was the truth, of course, but perhaps he need not have been so
stilted about it.

"You surely don’t expect me to believe that. Come!  Whatever the amount
is, I’ll double it. All I ask of you is, first, to hand over to me the
pictures, and, second, to pick up your bags, which I see are already
packed, and walk out of that door with me.  We’ll step across the street
to my bank, I’ll pay you the sum in cash, and you can skidoo. No
exposure is involved, you see--of you or your friends.  I’m not
revengeful.  I don’t need to be. All I have to do is to wait until I can
get hold of Norman.  In the meantime you get clear of a situation that
otherwise is likely to prove very nasty for you personally and very
nasty likewise for your Reformer associates.  You will note that I trust
to your honour to give me all the copies of the pictures and not to
sting me on the amount I am to pay you."

"Honour among thieves?" queried Merriam.

"Who’s insulting now?" Crockett demanded.

"I am," said Merriam.  "At least, I’m trying my best to be.  Mr.
Crockett, you spoke of walking out of that door.  I’ll thank you to do
that very thing--at once!  If you don’t, I’ll call in Mr. Rockwell, and
we’ll put you out.  I’m tempted to try it by myself, but I don’t care to
risk any noisy scuffling."

"Prudent young man!" sneered Crockett, retreating nevertheless in the
direction of the hall door.  "I understand that you reject my offer?"

"I certainly do."

"Very good.  I hereby serve notice on you that I shall immediately
expose the whole of your atrocious masquerade!  It will be the ruin of
you and Rockwell and Norman and Mayor Black and every other person who
has been mixed up in it. Oh, you’ll be a nine days’ wonder in the city,
but no one of you will ever have a scrap of public credit again!"

"And on the following day," retorted Merriam, "those pretty pictures we
know of will be published in _Tidbits_.  They’ll be running sketches
called ’A Financier in a Flat’ in every music hall in town."

"You blackmailer!"

"On the contrary you’ve tried to get me to take blackmail and I’ve
refused it."

With a sound remarkably like the snarling "bah" which regularly
accompanies the retreat of the foiled villain of melodrama, Crockett
turned towards the door through which he had been invited to depart.
But in the course of the three or four steps which he had to take to
reach, that exit he recovered something of his dignity and finesse.

Having opened the door, he turned and bowed ironically.

"Good evening, Senator," he said.  "I’m afraid I shall be prevented from
keeping my appointment with you at eight.  If you should change your
mind within the next half hour, you can reach me by ’phone at the Union
League.  Otherwise, look out!"

On this warning note he closed the door behind him.

Merriam found himself with a whirling brain. As a quiet pedagogue he was
not accustomed to scenes of battle such as he had just passed through.
He walked up and down and mechanically lit a cigarette.

As he did so, his mind seized upon one question. Who had unlocked the
door for Crockett?  Some chambermaid or bell boy?  Or the floor clerk?
At any rate it must have been done with her connivance and by her
authority, for she was the commanding general of Floor Three.  Why had
she done or permitted this outrageous thing? Suddenly Merriam recalled
her studied ignoring of him on the last two occasions of his passing her
desk, and compared it with her whispered "The violets are lovely" when
he first asked for Senator Norman’s key.  There had been something
between her and Norman.  He, Merriam, in taking on the Senator’s rôle
had dropped out that part of it, and she was offended.  How seriously he
could not tell.

He concluded that he must attempt to reinstate himself--Norman--in the
pretty floor clerk’s good graces, and rather hastily decided upon a
plan, He went to the telephone and asked for the hotel florist.  How
much were violets?  Well, they had some lovely large bunches for five
dollars.  This figure rather staggered the rural pedagogue, but he
promptly asked to have one of those bunches sent up at once to "Mr.
Wilson," giving his room number, 325.  He would present his peace
offering in person.  "I am sure these flowers will look lovely on your
desk--or if you will wear them at your waist?" he would say, or
something of the sort.  This was probably not the way Senator Norman
would have done--he would have run no such open risk,--but we must make
allowances for Merriam’s inexperience.

But he never carried out his ill-conceived plan. For he had barely left
the telephone when he was arrested by a light knock on the door leading
into the Senator’s bedroom.  This time he was sure it was Mollie June,
and he was right.

When he opened the door she stood there with a finger at her lips.

"Aunt Mary has taken my place with George," she said in a low tone.
"She says I may give you some tea.  It will be late before you can get
your dinner on the train.  Would you like it?"

"Tremendously," said Merriam sincerely.

"Come into the sitting room, then."

She crossed the sick room to the door at the other side which led to the
sitting room, and he followed, with a nod to Aunt Mary, who now sat by
the sleeping Senator’s bed.

Arrived in the sitting room, he was further delighted to find that
neither Rockwell nor Simpson was present.  It was to be a genuine
tête-à-tête. By one of the windows stood a small table with the tea
things upon it, the kettle already singing over an alcohol flame.
Beside the table stood a large armchair and a small rocker.

"The big chair is for you," said Mollie June, seating herself in the
rocker and adjusting the flame.

"Thank you," he said and sat.  Then a mingling of pleasure and
embarrassment held him awkwardly silent.

Mollie June was apparently quite composed.

"George is ever so much better," she said.  "He was awake a few minutes
ago, and he seemed almost well.  He has only a very little fever left."

She smiled brightly at Merriam, who dimly realised that it was to the
fact that her mind was now at ease about her husband that he owed this
treat.

Mollie June set a brightly flowered cup on a saucer to match and placed
a small spoon beside it. Then she took up the sugar tongs, and her hand
hovered over the bowl.

"One lump or two?"

"Two, please," said Merriam, noting the slenderness and whiteness of the
fingers that held the tongs and the pinkness of the small nails.  (Why
else except to display charming fingers and nails were sugar tongs
invented?)

"Lemon or cream?"

Merriam was sophisticated enough to know that the right answer was
"Lemon," but he preferred cream, and an admirable instinct of honesty
led him to say so.

Through the open window came the pleasant air of the spring afternoon.
The canyon-like street without, being an east-and-west street, was
flooded with sunlight.  With the breeze there entered also the
stimulating roar of the city’s lively traffic.  The breeze stirred
Mollie June’s soft wavy hair.  It also caused the alcohol flame under
the brass kettle to flutter and sputter, and Mollie June leaned forward
to regulate it.  The youthful firmness of her cheeks and chin showed
like a lovely cameo in the bright light, which would have been unkind to
an older face.  Having adjusted the flame, she suddenly looked up at
Merriam and smiled.

"Mollie June," he cried, "there is nothing lovelier in the world than
your eyes when you look up and smile like that!"

He had not meant to say anything of that sort, but it was forced out of
him.

Mollie June’s smile lingered, and the cameo became faintly, charmingly
tinted.  But she evidently felt that some rebuke was needed.

"_Mrs._ Mollie June, you must remember," she said gently.

Then, taking up her cup and leaning back in her small rocker, she asked:

"How did you get along with the speeches?"

"Not very well," said Merriam.  He hesitated in his mind whether to tell
her of Crockett’s interruption but decided not to.  It would take too
long--he could not waste the precious minutes so. "I’ll have the dickens
of a time with them," he added.

"Oh, no, you won’t!" she cried, as if shocked at the idea.  "You were
wonderful this noon.  I was so proud of you."

"You had a right to be," said Merriam.  "It was because you were there
that I could do well."  Which was perhaps partially true.

"Why don’t you go into it yourself?" asked Mollie June.

"Public life?  Perhaps I will.  I may go back to the University for a
law course and then try to get into politics."

This plan had just occurred to Merriam, but he did not disclose that
fact.  In uttering one’s inspirations to a pretty woman one usually
presents them as though they were the fruit of mature consideration.

"That would be fine," said Mollie June without much enthusiasm.  "But
you’ll be at Riceville next year?"

"I suppose so.  I’ll have to save up a bit more."

"I may be at home for Christmas," she said. "I’ll see you then."

Merriam considered this painfully.

"No," he said at last slowly.  "I shan’t be there. I shall be away for
the holidays."

"You could stay over," said Mollie June, wonderingly reproachful.

"I suppose I could.  But I mustn’t.  Just to see you--publicly, is too
hard on me.  And if I see you alone like this,--I say things I oughtn’t
to--make love to you."

Mollie June sat drooping, with downcast eyes, her cup in her lap.

Suddenly he was on his knees beside her.  He put his arms about her, to
the great peril of flowered china.

"Mollie June!" he whispered.  He softly kissed her cheek.

She raised her eyes and looked deep into his.

"John!" she whispered back, though she seemed to struggle not to do so.

After a moment he smiled sadly and got to his feet.

"I mustn’t have any more tea," he said, as if that beverage was too
intoxicating, as indeed under the circumstances it was.

Fortunately--since of all things what they needed was a
diversion,--Merriam at that moment became conscious of a portentous
knocking on a distant door.  He realised that it was on the door to "Mr.
Wilson’s" room and remembered.  The flowers--for the floor clerk!

He hurried to the hall and called the boy from the second door down the
corridor, where he was about to pound again.

In a moment he reëntered the room, bearing a lovely great bunch of
fragrant English violets--and thinking hard.  But he was equal to the
emergency.

He advanced to Mollie June, who stood now with her back to the window,
her slender form outlined against the light, her face in shadow.

"I’ve never given you anything, Mollie June," he said.  "These are for
you--and the sick room."  He held them for her to smell.

She took them from him, barely touching his hand as she did so, and
buried her face in them for a long minute.  Then she raised her eyes to
him over them.

"Thank you, Mr. John," she said with a sad smile.

And just then Aunt Mary entered from the Senator’s bedroom.

"See what Mr. Merriam has ordered for George!" said Mollie June.  "Isn’t
he thoughtful?"

"Very," said Aunt Mary, in her customary dry tone.



                            *CHAPTER XXVII*

                          *THE CODE TELEGRAM*


Rockwell had returned with Alicia.  He briskly declared that it was time
to start for the train.  Mayor Black, it appeared, was below in his car
and was going to the station with them.

"I’ve told Simpson to take your bags down. Except the portfolio.  You’d
better keep that in your own hands.  What progress with the speeches?"

"Not much," said Merriam.  "But I shall have the whole evening on the
train.  I’ll get them."

He crossed the sick room, where Dr. Hobart was now bending over the
Senator, apparently making an examination.  He thrust the pile of
manuscripts back into the portfolio.  Then, after a glance about the
room, reminiscent of his burglarious entry the night before, he caught
up his coat and hat and returned to the sitting room again.

"Are we ready?" he asked of Rockwell.

"Waiting for Hobart--for a final report on the Senator’s condition."

"Aren’t you coming to the station with us, Mollie June?" Alicia was
saying.

"No," said Mollie June, her eyes on a large bunch of violets which she
was arranging in a bowl. "I must stay with my husband."

"But Aunt Mary will be here.  I think she owes it to you to come with
us, don’t you, Mr. Merriam?"

"No," said Merriam, "I think she is right in staying."

Alicia looked from him to Mollie June, then shrugged her shoulders and
turned to Rockwell, who was cautioning Aunt Mary--as if Aunt Mary ever
needed cautioning!--about maintaining the closest possible guard on the
Senator’s rooms in their absence.

Merriam moved to Mollie June’s side.

"I shan’t see you again," he said.

"No," said Mollie June.

For a single moment she looked up from the flowers into his face.  Her
eyes held tears, and she blushed slightly.  In her look he read
unwilling love and shame.

He would have moved away, impotently miserable, but her hand, which had
dropped to her side between them, suddenly touched his, closed in his
for an instant, and was withdrawn, leaving something--something very
small, cool, and fragile--a single violet.

He understood, of course, that it was to be his souvenir of her, all he
could have of her, through the long years to come while she played out
her loathsome rôle as the wife of the dissipated Boy Senator and he
taught school at Riceville or--what did it matter what he did?

His hand closed quickly on the violet, and he turned to face Dr. Hobart,
who was just entering from the sick room.

The physician was highly reassuring.  The Senator was doing very well
indeed.

"He’ll be able to meet us in Springfield, then, to-morrow night?"
demanded Rockwell.

"I think he’ll be well enough to do that," returned Hobart, with a
slight evasiveness which Rockwell and Merriam had occasion a few hours
later to recall with some vividness.  But at the moment they scarcely
noticed it.

"Good!" cried Rockwell.  "We’re off.  No!  Wait."

He drew a folded paper from his pocket and handed it to Aunt Mary.

"This paper describes a simple form of code telegram.  Use it in your
messages to us in regard to the Senator’s progress and when and where he
is to join us.  You’ll wire at least once a day, of course."

"Yes," said Aunt Mary, accepting the paper.

Merriam shook hands with Aunt Mary.

"I hope," she said, "that some day, after all this is over, we may be
able to have you visit us, when George can thank you for the inestimable
service you have rendered him."

"I should be delighted," Merriam murmured, though he had no great mind
to be thanked by George Norman.

Then he shook hands with Mollie June and met her eyes for a moment, but,
under the gaze of Aunt Mary and Rockwell and Alicia, "Good-bye," was all
he could say.

"Good-bye.  Thank you for--everything," she replied, and her eyes
followed his figure as Rockwell swept him from the room.

The closing of the door of the Senator’s sitting room upon Merriam
marked the beginning of a period of a dozen hours or more that was
utterly phantasmal and unreal to him both at the time and in his
recollection afterwards.  He seemed to move and speak and act without
volition and without any clear realisation of what he was doing or why
he was doing it.

After dinner with Rockwell and Mr. Wayward--an excellent meal served in
the private car by an amiable gentleman of colour, Merriam read the
speech which he was to deliver at Cairo in the morning, and then had to
pull himself together and commit that speech, but he did even this
mechanically. And finally to bed in his compartment, at first to a long,
uneasy dream, in which he appeared to be making an interminable speech
to an audience consisting of Mollie June, Jennie, an inattentive floor
clerk, Aunt Mary, and Simpson, and then to a heavy slumber, from which
he was roused with difficulty the next morning.

In the morning it was the same way with him--everything dully unreal.
Breakfast.  Going over the speech again.  Then it was nine o’clock, and
the train was running into Cairo.  A crowd at the station.  A cheer or
two.  He was being assisted into an automobile.  A sort of procession
with a band through several blocks of streets to a small park.

Merriam found himself sitting with Rockwell and Mr. Wayward and several
local notables in a band stand, with a considerable concourse of people
sitting and standing about on the grass below. Some native orator made a
short speech.  A number by the band.  Then the Mayor of Cairo was
effusively introducing Senator Norman.  The Mayor sat down amid
applause.

Merriam rose, advanced to the rail, and began on his speech.  He felt
himself to be a sort of animated phonograph.  The words which he had
learned the night before and reviewed that morning ran trippingly off
his tongue.  His collegiate training and subsequent experience in public
speaking came to the aid of his subconscious self, which seemed to be
functioning with practically no direction from his higher centers.  He
turned pleasantly as he spoke to face now one part of his circle of
auditors and now another.  He suited his tone to the words in different
parts of the speech.  He even achieved an occasional appropriate
gesture.

At last he came to the end of what he had learned and stopped as the
phonograph stops when the end of a record is reached.  And for a moment
he stood there by the rail, blank, at a loss--as a phonograph would have
stood.  He had to rouse himself with a jerk of conscious attention
before he perceived that what he had to do next was to step back and sit
down.

The applause was fairly satisfactory.  The Mayor of Cairo leaned across
Rockwell to shake hands and congratulate him, and Mr. Wayward, on the
other side, patted his shoulder and said, "Good enough!"  And the band
struck into a patriotic air.

Merriam awoke.  It was as if lights had been turned on and doors opened.
He realised that it was a bright, sunny morning, that a band was
playing, that he, John Merriam, was alive and young, and that he was
having a whimsically glorious adventure which he could not afford to
miss the joy of even if Mollie June was Senator Norman’s wife.

In this rejuvenated mood he joyously descended with the others from the
band stand and climbed into the automobile and lay back happily, between
Rockwell and the Cairo Mayor, to relish the slow processional
drive--still preceded by the band--back to the station.

"Feeling better?" asked Rockwell, who had not failed to note his
previous lethargy.

"Feeling fine!" he replied, and gave his attention to the scenery of
Cairo’s Main Street and the crowds therein, waiting eagerly for a
glimpse of the remarkable Boy Senator.

As the automobile passed close to the curb on turning a corner, Merriam
caught one remark:

"He does look just like a young man!"

The speaker was a decidedly pretty girl in a boldish sort of way.
Merriam sensed and seized upon the privileges of age.  He leaned
forward:

"Thank you, my dear," he said.  "At least I’m young enough to know a
pretty girl when I see one."

Which incident will serve to show that Merriam was really awake again.
Also, it probably won more votes for Senator Norman’s party at the next
election than the whole of Aunt Mary’s able speech as delivered by the
human phonograph a few minutes earlier.

They reached the station and regained the private car.  Merriam sank
into a wonderful armchair in the sitting room compartment, glanced about
him at the luxurious appointments, and lit a cigarette with gusto.

"I shouldn’t mind this riches-and-fame business for quite a while," he
thought.  (Mollie June was for the time forgotten; thus it is with the
fickle male.)

Rockwell had sat down in the next chair.  Merriam made an effort of
memory.

"East St. Louis next?" he asked.

"Yes," said Rockwell.  "We’ll have to get at the speech as soon as the
train starts."

Just then a small but vociferous urchin appeared in the door of the car.
His cap proclaimed him a telegraph messenger.

"Telegram for Mr. Rockwell!" he shouted, as though Mr. Rockwell were
probably in the next county.

Rockwell signed the book, and the lad slowly withdrew himself, taking
generous eyefuls of Rockwell, "Senator Norman," and the private car.  As
he lingered with a last backward stare in the doorway, Merriam winked at
him, and the boy grinned and generously, democratically winked back.

Turning from that wink to Rockwell, Merriam was startled.  The man sat
limp with the telegram on his knee and a pencil in his hand.  I will not
say he was pale, but certainly he was haggard.

He handed the telegram to Merriam.

Merriam tried to read it, but could make no sense at all.  It was very
long but apparently a mere string of words with little intelligible
meaning.

"What----?" he began.

"It’s code," said Rockwell.  "I’ve underlined the words that count."

Picking out the significant words by means of Rockwell’s underlining,
Merriam read:


George kidnapped from rooms whereabouts unknown doctor disappeared
cancel trip return Mary.



                            *CHAPTER XXVIII*

                         *SIMPSON AS DETECTIVE*


A moment later Mr. Wayward, who had stopped at the station cigar stand
to replenish his stock of nicotine, rejoined them and was shown the
telegram.

His first comment was profane.

"We’ve got to go back," said Rockwell.  "Now that they have Norman in
their power--for Crockett is behind this, of course,--they may denounce
us--may make Norman himself denounce us--any minute.  They have no end
of a grip on him, and he has no great love for the rôle of Reformer
himself--nor for me.  Our only hope is to get back to Chicago and find
him and get hold of him again."  He jumped to his feet, "I must see the
station master at once."

"Yes," said Mr. Wayward, "there’s nothing else for it."

Rockwell hastily departed to announce their changed plans to the station
master, and Merriam and Mr. Wayward looked at each other.  The latter’s
face had assumed the humorous smile which had been his expression
towards the whole affair from the beginning.

"It’s been a damn fool business all along," he said.

"I suppose it has," said Merriam.

"Good fun for you, though."  Mr. Wayward lit a cigar.

"Yes," Merriam assented.  But he was thinking of something else.  Back
to Chicago!  The young rascal was realising that that meant he should
see Mollie June again.

Mr. Wayward puffed meditatively.

"’Doctor disappeared,’" he quoted from the telegram.  "That means Hobart
was in it. Probably he was the chief agent.  Crockett’s bribed him."

Merriam suddenly remembered the tableau which Rockwell and he had
surprised as they stepped out of the elevator at the Hotel De Soto on
the previous afternoon: Dr. Hobart in confidential conference with the
floor clerk.

"Probably they bribed the floor clerk, too," he said.  "Hobart seemed to
be sweet on her."

"So?" said Mr. Wayward.  And after a minutes consideration: "Very
likely.  They could hardly have managed without the floor clerk in
fact."

Presently he added:

"We’ve got to go back all right.  But I don’t what we can do except to
surrender."

"We still have my pictures of Crockett at Jennie’s."

"Well, I hope so.  Unless they’ve bribed Simpson, too.  Those pictures
are one of the things that may make them give us a chance to surrender."

The two men smoked in silence for several minutes--until Rockwell
returned.

"Well, that’s fixed," he announced.  "There’s a north-bound express due
in half an hour and reported on time that will take us into Chicago by
nine o’clock to-night.  You’re sick, of course, Senator," he added to
Merriam.  "Bronchitis again!"

They continued to talk until the north-bound train arrived and picked up
their car, and they were started on their return trip.

At Carbondale Rockwell sent off telegrams to the several cities which
Merriam was to have visited, cancelling Senator Norman’s speaking tour
on account of a renewed attack of bronchitis.  He also sent a message in
code to Aunt Mary, giving the hour when they were due to arrive.

The three men talked, of course, but they had so few facts to go on that
they could only formulate gloomy speculations, with nothing really in
the way of definite conclusion beyond what Mr. Wayward and Merriam had
reached in their first few minutes of chat immediately after the arrival
of Aunt Mary’s message.  How the kidnapping had been managed or where
Norman might be, they simply could not tell.

They had one practical point to decide, namely, their first procedure on
reaching the city.  It was obviously not safe for "Senator Norman" to go
directly to the Hotel De Soto.  They could not tell what the situation
there might be since the kidnapping.  It was finally agreed that
Rockwell and Merriam should leave the train at Fifty-Third Street and
take a taxicab to Rockwell’s bachelor apartment on Drexel Boulevard,
while Mr. Wayward should go on to the Twelfth Street Station and thence
to the hotel to see Aunt Mary.  Their next step was to depend on what he
learned there. Rockwell was afraid even to telephone from his apartment,
for fear the wire to the Senator’s suite might be tapped.  Merriam was
not keen on this arrangement because it evidently postponed his seeing
Mollie June and might even prevent his doing so altogether.  But this
was not an objection which he could raise in the discussion.

At last they were running into the City.  Fifty-Third Street was
reached, and Rockwell and Merriam shook hands with Mr. Wayward and
descended from the private car.

Rockwell’s first act in the station was to buy an evening paper.  He
scanned the sheet anxiously, with Merriam looking over his shoulder.
The first page carried a paragraph reporting the abandonment of Senator
Norman’s down-State speaking tour "on account of a return of his
bronchitis."  Rockwell had sent no word to this effect to any one in
Chicago, but evidently the news had come in from some one or more of the
towns to which he had wired cancellations.  There were, however, no
headlines in regard to the kidnapping of a United States Senator from
one of the city’s leading hotels and no exposé of their imposture.

"They’re still keeping it dark," said Rockwell, with a flash of renewed
hope on his haggard face. "We’re going to have a chance to make terms."

A moment later they were in a taxicab bound for his apartment.  They
rode in silence.  Merriam wondered if he should see Mollie June
again--though just what good that would do him or what he should say to
her he could not have told.

"I shall see her once--alone," he said to himself, "whatever happens.
I’ve done enough for them to have a right to demand that."

And on that scene of unhappy farewell--for what else could it be?--his
thoughts halted.  His mind would go no farther.

The taxicab stopped, and they got out, and Merriam found himself in
front of a decidedly imposing apartment building.  Rockwell hurried him
through a sumptuous entry and into an elevator. They shot up three
flights.  Then in a hallway Rockwell unlocked a door, and they entered
the sitting room of his apartment--a large room in quiet tones,
furnished somewhat in the taste of a good men’s club.

Merriam sank into a chair.

"Played out?" asked Rockwell, standing over him and speaking in his old
manner of matter-of-fact good humour, which had deserted him during that
trying day.

"Yes," said Merriam.  He felt, in fact, quite exhausted, although he had
done nothing since ten o’clock that morning except smoke and eat two
meals and wait.

"So am I," said Rockwell, "and we must get fit again.  We may have a
busy night ahead.  Suppose we have a shower and then coffee?  That’ll
brace us up."

Three quarters of an hour later, the two men, much refreshed by the
shock of cold water and the odd stimulation which always follows
re-dressing in fresh clothes, were sitting on opposite sides of
Rockwell’s writing table, waiting for an electric percolator to "perk,"
when the doorbell rang. They looked at each other.

"Curtain up for the last act," said Rockwell as he went to answer it.

It was Mr. Wayward with Aunt Mary and Father Murray and Mayor Black.
Mollie June, Merriam saw, was not with them.

"Come in," said Rockwell, oddly formal.

Merriam, as he rose, noticed the change in Aunt Mary.  Always before she
had seemed a creature of no age at all; now she was obviously a quite
elderly woman.  The Mayor’s plump face was gray and drawn with anxiety.
Even Mr. Wayward looked more worried than he had seemed all day.

For a moment the four of them stood together just inside the room,
staring at Merriam, accusingly as it were, as if he had been the cause
of their trouble.

But Rockwell, having closed the door, turned and after one glance at the
group spoke loudly, with exaggerated briskness:

"Sit down, all of you--and tell me.  You’ll find this a comfortable
chair, Aunt Mary.  Over there, Mayor.  You’re at home here, Wayward."

Father Murray took Aunt Mary’s arm and led her to the chair Rockwell had
indicated.  Solemnly they all sat down.

Rockwell was both daunted and impatient.  After another look at Aunt
Mary, he turned to the Mayor:

"When did it happen?"

But before the Mayor could reply, Aunt Mary spoke up.  She was not so
far gone as she looked.

"Between five minutes after eight and half past nine this morning," she
said.  "Mollie June and I had gone downstairs for breakfast in the
Wedgewood Room and then for a short walk--over to Michigan Avenue and
back.  Dr. Hobart suggested both.  He said we ought to get out that much
before we settled down for the day in the rooms, and that he would stay
with George till we returned. He said that George was much better, and
he looked better.  When we got back--it was exactly half past
nine,--both he and George were gone."

Aunt Mary paused for an instant on this disastrous climax.

"We were terribly upset," she continued.  "We could hardly believe our
senses.  Mollie June cried, and at first I could not think what I ought
to do. But presently I had mind enough to telephone for Mayor Black and
Father Murray, and by the time they came I was calm enough to think
quietly and join them in making plans."

"You were wonderful," said Father Murray.

"We could make no kind of announcement or complaint.  George was not
supposed to be there. You"--she looked at Merriam---"were probably at
that very moment making a speech in his name at Cairo.  We could say
nothing to anybody.  We figured out that you were either still at Cairo
or on your way to East St. Louis, and we sent messages to Mr. Rockwell
at both places.  We had to stop that insane speaking tour and get you
both back here as soon as possible.  We telephoned to the hotel office
for Dr. Hobart, but they said he had resigned as house physician the
night before. Then we sent for Simpson.  He didn’t seem greatly
surprised.  In fact, he said that Dr. Hobart had offered him money early
that morning ’to help in restoring Senator Norman to his real friends.’
That seems to have been the way Hobart put it.  Simpson refused the
money, he said, and didn’t learn what the plan was.  He said that he had
meant to tell me of the offer but hadn’t been able to get away from his
work.  It was still only a couple of hours since Dr. Hobart had talked
with him.  He said he would try to find Hobart and learn where George
was, and then he went away, and we haven’t heard from him since.
Finally, I went out to see the floor clerk, thinking she must have seen
when George was taken out, but there was a new girl. The former one had
quit, she said, at nine o’clock--simply telephoned the office that she
was leaving and hung up and slipped away."

"Have you tried to see Crockett?" Rockwell asked.

"I have," said the Mayor.  "Been trying all day. But both at his office
and at his house they say he isn’t in and they don’t know where he is or
when he will be back.  And he wasn’t at any of his clubs."

"It’s a pretty clean get-away," said Rockwell.

Merriam spoke up.  "I have some hopes of Simpson," he said.  "His
continued absence may mean that he is following some sort of trail."

"Maybe," said Rockwell.  "Meanwhile this coffee"--he drew attention to
the percolator--"is getting pretty black, and black coffee is what we
all need.  After that we’ll see."

"Where is Mrs. Norman?" Merriam asked timidly while Rockwell was pouring
and passing the coffee.

"We left her at the hotel with Alicia," said Mr. Wayward.  "We had to
leave some one there, in case some message should come from Simpson or
from Crockett or from George himself."

The coffee was drunk in a dismal silence. Mr. Wayward attempted one or
two semi-cheerful remarks, but they fell flat.

"The first question," said Rockwell when the cups had been emptied, "is:
where is George Norman?  Crockett may have taken him to his own house.
But that is unlikely.  Or to some other hotel.  Or to one of his clubs.
Or, if he is still really sick, to a hospital.  I think myself a hotel
is the most probable.  That could have been managed with a minimum of
explanations.  In any case we have got to find him.  But this is no case
for amateurs.  I propose to engage a professional private detective and
commission him to find George.  Also Hobart.  It oughtn’t to take him
more than twenty-four hours.  Then we can make further plans.  If Norman
is still sick, we may have to re-kidnap him.  If he is up and himself
again, it will be a matter of parleying with him and Crockett and making
such terms as we can.  Has any one a better suggestion?"

It appeared that no one had, and Rockwell was looking up the detective
agency, when the doorbell rang again.

Father Murray sprang to his feet.

"Yes, you answer it," said Rockwell.

Before the priest could reach the door an impatient rat-a-tat-tat
sounded on the panel.

He opened to Alicia and Simpson.

"Good heavens, you’re slow!" cried Alicia. "And glum as the grave," she
added, glancing about the circle of faces.  "Simpson has found George."

There were exclamations.

Rockwell put down the telephone book and went to Alicia.

"Dear!" he said.

And Alicia, turning, put her arms about his neck and kissed him.  "You
poor fellow!" she cried.

Then Rockwell turned to Simpson.

"Sit down here, Simpson," he said.  "Have some coffee?  You look
fagged."

"Thank you, sir.  I _am_ pretty much all in."

Rockwell drew a cup of coffee and took it to him, and the waiter gulped
it down.

"Thank you, sir," he said again.  "Now I can tell you.  I owe a good
deal to that young gentleman"--he indicated Merriam,--"and when I saw
the trouble you were all in I decided to do what I could.  Of course we
knew Mr. Crockett was at the bottom of the thing, and I decided he was
the most findable person in it.  I figured that he wouldn’t appear at
his office and wouldn’t go home, but that sooner or later he would show
up at one of his clubs.  You remember I asked you this morning what
clubs he belonged to."  This to Mayor Black.

The Mayor assented.

"You mentioned five.  That was a pretty large order, but I got some of
my pals who are taxicab drivers to help me, and between us we kept a
pretty close watch on all of them.  He didn’t come near the one I was
watching myself, and I didn’t hear anything from the others till five
o’clock.  Then one of the boys sent word to me that he had entered the
Grill Club on Monroe Street.  I went right over and hung around there
for nearly three hours. It was a quarter to eight when he came out.  He
took a taxi, and I followed in another.  He drove to St. John’s Hospital
over on the West Side.  I was right after him and followed him into the
building.  He doesn’t know me, of course, and paid no attention to me.
He spoke to the nurse at the desk and then stepped into a waiting room.
The nurse looked hard at me, but I said, ’I’m with him,’ and stepped
back towards the door.  She thought I was his man and took no further
notice of me.  Pretty soon Dr. Hobart came down.  He didn’t see me, but
I saw him plainly.  He looked pretty much worried--scared, I thought.
He and Mr. Crockett talked for a while in the waiting room, but I
couldn’t hear anything they said.  Then Mr. Crockett left, and Dr.
Hobart went back upstairs. I could have spoken to him after Mr. Crockett
had gone out, but I thought I had better not let them know that any one
was on their trail--for fear they would move him again.  Then I had an
idea.  I went up to the desk again.  I said to the nurse: ’How is Mr.
Merriam?’  She looked at me.  ’He’s pretty sick,’ she said, and turned
away.  I didn’t see what more I could do, so I took my taxi back to the
De Soto and went up to the Senator’s suite and found Miss Wayward and
Mrs. Norman, and Miss Wayward brought me here."

For a moment Rockwell seemed sunk in thought. Then he roused himself,
glanced around the circle of faces, and spoke:

"First of all, Mr. Simpson, I want to say that you have done a very
clever bit of work.  We were about to engage a private detective to
undertake what you have already accomplished.  I think I can safely say
that we will see that you are suitably rewarded."

"You can," said Mr. Wayward emphatically--which was satisfactory since
he was the person present from whom any substantial monetary reward must
come.

"Thank you, sir," said Simpson.

The Mayor broke in:

"It’s pretty clear what has happened.  They got Norman downstairs while
Miss Norman and Mrs. Norman were at breakfast, put him in a taxi, drove
to the hospital, and entered him under the name of Merriam.  And Dr.
Hobart has stayed in attendance."

"And he’s still sick--perhaps worse," said Aunt Mary anxiously.

"Why did they enter him as Merriam?" asked Rockwell, thinking aloud.
"It must mean that Crockett doesn’t dare denounce us or doesn’t wish to
do so, that he means to make terms with us and preserve the secrecy of
the whole affair.  As I see it, there will have to be one more
substitution"--he addressed the real owner of the name of Merriam,--"of
you for Norman--at the hospital. You have reported yourself to your
Riceville people as sick.  Very well, you have gone to a hospital. From
the hospital you return to your work.  It will strengthen your alibi.
And Norman will be restored to us--on Crockett’s conditions, of course.
But we shall escape the worst.  We shall come off safe yet.  But it must
happen at once," he continued, with a note of new anxiety.  "The whole
State knows that Norman’s speaking tour has been abandoned, that he came
back to Chicago to-day, that he is in the City now.  We must get hold of
Crockett some way to-night.  The final substitution must be made before
morning."

Mr. Wayward was looking at his watch.  "It’s eleven o’clock now," he
said.  "But you’d better try telephoning.  His clubs, I think."

"Yes," said Rockwell.  "The Grill Club!  That’s where you found him,
Simpson?  He may have gone back there for the night.  I’ll try that
first."

He went quickly to the telephone.

While Rockwell was looking up the number and the rest waiting in painful
expectancy, the doorbell for the third time startled them.

"I’ll go, sir," said Simpson.

In a moment he had opened the door.

On the threshold stood Crockett--a pale, hesitant, almost seedy
Crockett, very different from the serene, confident, well-groomed
financier whom Merriam had first encountered forty-eight hours before at
Jennie’s.

Rockwell dropped the book:

"Come in, Mr. Crockett.  I was just going to ’phone to you."

Crockett advanced a couple of steps into the room.  Then he stopped.
There was something portentous in his air of mournful gravity.  His eyes
travelled from face to face.  For a moment they rested on Merriam.  Then
they came to a full stop on Aunt Mary.

The whole roomful remained silent, fascinated by his look, which seemed
to speak, not of threat, which they might have expected, but of some
disaster beyond threat.

At last with an effort he turned his eyes from Aunt Mary to Rockwell.

"I have to tell you," he said, "that George Norman is dead."



                             *CHAPTER XXIX*

                          *THE FINAL DILEMMA*


I do not suppose Mr. Crockett desired to be unnecessarily cruel.
Doubtless he would have preferred to break his devastating news more
gently.  But he was himself in a state of nervous exhaustion from
fatigue, worry, and perhaps remorse, and the circle of anxious faces had
proved too much for his self-control.

Realising too late the brutal bluntness of his announcement, he broke
into a hurried flow of words:

"We took him from the hotel this morning to St. John’s Hospital.  We
thought he would be just as well off there--even better off.  Dr. Hobart
thought he was nearly well anyway.  But the ride and the effort of
listening to Hobart’s explanations apparently fatigued him.  By the time
they got to the hospital he was very sick again.  His bronchitis--if it
ever was bronchitis--turned into pneumonia--double acute pneumonia.  He
got worse and worse all day.  Dr. Hobart and the physicians and nurses
at the hospital did everything possible for him.  But it was no use.  He
died at nine o’clock."

All eyes turned suddenly to Aunt Mary, who had risen, holding on to the
back of her chair.

Father Murray was at her side in an instant, and Alicia hurried to her.

"No," said Aunt Mary, brokenly, "I’m not going--to faint--or anything.
But I want--to be alone."

Rockwell sprang to his feet.  "My bedroom," he said, and led the way to
the door of his chamber, which opened off the sitting room.

In a moment Aunt Mary, walking between Father Murray and Alicia, had
passed into the bedroom.

Mr. Wayward’s voice broke the stillness.

"Poor fellow!" he said.

For a minute or two they all paid the tribute of silence to the dead.
But it was impossible to be really very sorry for George Norman.  He had
had an easy, pleasure-filled life--wealth, luxury, fame, and a good
time, according to his own conception of a good time, up to the very
beginning of his brief illness.  That his last few, largely unconscious
hours had been passed in a hospital away from his friends had certainly
been almost no grief to him.  The only sorrow genuinely possible was
over the common folly, and the universal final tragedy, of humankind.
In a few moments the thoughts of the entire group that remained in
Rockwell’s sitting room were irresistibly drawn back to the strange and
somewhat dangerous situation in which the unexpected death had left
them.

Presently Rockwell spoke:

"Technically, Mr. Crockett, I suppose it is not Senator Norman but Mr.
Merriam who died at St. John’s Hospital."

(Merriam was somewhat startled at this turn of thought; this phase of
the matter had not yet occurred to him.)

"You have made no announcement?" Rockwell asked.

"No," said Crockett.  "I have done nothing. When Hobart telephoned me
that--what had happened, I rushed out to the hospital again--I don’t
know why.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then I telephoned from the hospital
to the De Soto and got Mrs. Norman, and she told me you were all here,
so I came here.  I have done nothing."

While he was speaking Alicia and Father Murray returned from the
bedroom.

"She is all right," said Alicia.  "She asked us to leave her alone for a
few minutes.  Did you tell Mrs. Norman?" she added, addressing Crockett.

"What had happened?  Yes," said Crockett.

Merriam’s thoughts flew to Mollie June, alone in the vast, heartless
hotel with the news of her husband’s death.

"Ought not some one to go to her?" he asked.

"Presently," said Rockwell.  "We must first consider the situation a
little--hers as well as ours."

Mayor Black spoke up:

"It will be pretty awkward for her--aside from natural grief and all
that--that her husband should have died in a hospital under another name
without her being present, while the man to whom the other name belongs
was impersonating him in public. And awkward for Miss Norman.  For the
rest of us, too.  Damned awkward!"

"It is a hard thing to have to close the career of George Norman with
such a story," said Mr. Wayward.

"It must never happen!" said a voice behind them.

They all turned.  Aunt Mary was standing in the door of the bedroom.
She already looked more like herself.  She was one of those souls who
may sink under passive anxiety and suspense but find themselves again
immediately when a call for action comes.  She had scarcely been left
alone, apparently, when the same thought which the Mayor and Mr. Wayward
had expressed had occurred to her--the peril to the name of Norman,
which was perhaps even more dear to her than her brother himself had
been.  And instantly, by some powerful effort of will, she had put grief
behind her and turned to face this new danger.

"It must never happen," she repeated, advancing into the room, where
Alicia, and the men too, unmindful of the etiquette which should have
brought them to their feet, sat staring at her. "The secret must be
kept.  It is more important now than ever.  With George alive, it would
not have mattered so much.  He would have lived it down triumphantly.
Only the rest of us would have suffered--not he, nor the Name.  But
now--_it must be kept_!"

"But how _can_ it be kept?" said Crockett, in a tone of desperation.

For a moment no one spoke.

Then Rockwell, looking from face to face, drew a deep breath.

"There is just one way," he said.  "It was John Merriam who died.
Senator Norman is alive."  He waved his hand at Merriam.  "He must go on
living!"

"But that is impossible," said Mayor Black and Merriam together.

"Face the alternative first," said Rockwell. "George--the real
George--was admitted to the hospital about nine o’clock this morning.
At that same hour Senator Norman was making a speech at Cairo before an
audience representing the entire county.  That is known all over the
State.  He took the next train back to Chicago.  But that train did not
reach Chicago until after--after the death."

"We could have the hour of the death changed on the records," proposed
Mr. Wayward.  "It is already announced all over the State that Senator
Norman is ill again.  He could be rushed from the train to the hospital
and die there during the night."

"Then we should have two deaths on our hands," said Rockwell, "and only
one body.  Unless we bring Merriam to life again.  How are we to do
that?  It is pretty hard to get hospital authorities to falsify their
records.  And dozens of people must know the supposed facts--nurses,
doctors, clerks at the hospital.  We could never keep them all from
talking.  The reporters would get hold of it within twenty-four hours.
No, Senator Norman cannot have died at the hospital.  He is alive. He
must go on living!"

"Can’t he die at the hotel--to-night or to-morrow?" said Merriam.

"Then what becomes of you?" asked Rockwell.

"Why, I should go back to Riceville."

"You can’t.  You’re dead!  And how can Senator Norman die at the hotel
when we should not be able to produce his body there?"

"We could get the body," said Mr. Wayward, speaking in a lowered tone.
"As Mr. Merriam’s friends we would take his body away from the hospital
to be buried and bring it to the hotel."

"We shall have to send for the real Merriam’s friends," said Rockwell.
"From Riceville and--wherever your people live."  He looked at Merriam.
"We should have no body to show them. We could bury a loaded casket.
But why should we, who must be strangers to him from their point of
view, have been in such a hurry when they could get here in a few hours?
Probably they would want to take his body elsewhere for burial.  Very
likely they would have the coffin we had buried raised and opened.  And
how could we get a dead body into the Hotel De Soto?  Up a fire escape?"

In the earnestness of his argument Rockwell evidently did not realise
the gruesomeness of his language.

Aunt Mary shuddered.

"No!" she said.  "I will not have George’s body smuggled about the
city."

She paused, looking strangely at Merriam. None of the others, not even
Rockwell, ventured to speak.

"Alicia told me, I believe, that you have no near relatives?" she said
presently.

"None nearer than cousins," Merriam replied.

For a long minute more Aunt Mary stared at him.  She closed her eyes,
opened them, and looked again.  Then her lips shut tight for a moment in
an expression of momentous decision.  She leaned forward.

"You have the Norman blood in you," she said to Merriam, "on your
mother’s side.  You are fine stuff.  We have all seen that.  We will
make a Norman of you, if you will.  You shall take George’s place--to
save his name!"

"But----" Merriam began.

But Rockwell cut in:

"It’s absolutely the only way," he cried.  "The only other alternative
is to let the whole story come out."

"Then that’s what we have to do," said Mr. Wayward. "Make a clean breast
of it."

"No!" said Aunt Mary.

"No!" echoed Rockwell.  "Think what that means--to George’s memory,
first of all.  That in his last hours his relatives and friends were
conspiring against him, with the help of a stranger double, to force him
to abandon the kind of life he was leading and the disreputable
interests with which he was associated.--I beg your pardon, Mr.
Crockett!"

Crockett waved a feeble hand to indicate forgiveness or indifference.

"And then to Mollie June," Rockwell continued. "That she had connived at
the impersonation of her husband during his last illness by another man.
How far did that other man take her husband’s place, will be the
question every man and woman in the State will ask.  And all the rest of
us.  Aunt Mary.  And Mr. Merriam, who will lose his job and his
professional standing.  And the Mayor and myself, who will be ruined
politically and every other way.  Even you, Mr. Wayward, would find
yourself in an exceedingly unpleasant situation.  And Mr. Crockett, on
the other side, would be no better off.  For the story of the kidnapping
must come out."

The wilted financier uttered a sort of groan.

"But can the other thing be done?" asked the Mayor, the perspiration of
mental anguish showing on his forehead.

"Certainly it can," said, Rockwell eagerly. "Senator Norman has come
back to Chicago. Here he is.  Presently he will arrive at the hotel. He
will be pretty sick.  You and I"--he looked at Mr. Wayward--"will
support him to the elevator and to his rooms.  He will be ill for
several days. We must get hold of Hobart again to attend him. Then we
will announce that he is threatened with tuberculosis and is to retire
from public life.  He must resign his seat in the Senate.  We daren’t go
ahead with that.  It would be too dangerous--and too serious a fraud
besides."  (Evidently there was some limit to a Reformer’s
unscrupulousness.)  "He will go to his ranch in Colorado to recuperate.
You will actually go."  He was addressing Merriam now.  "You must live
there for a year or so. During that time only a few of Norman’s private
friends will visit you.  We will coach you up on these a few at a time.
If any of them notice any slight changes in you, they will lay it to
your illness.  You will easily take your place in the whole circle of
his private life."

"But the property," said Mr. Wayward.  "The Norman fortune."

"Reverts to me and Mollie June," said Aunt Mary, who was evidently heart
and soul with Rockwell.  "If we are satisfied----"

She stopped.  The mention of Mollie June had recalled a phase of the
situation which Rockwell and the Mayor and even Mr. Wayward had
apparently forgotten--so little are men accustomed to consider their
women folk when the real game of business or politics is on.  Merriam
and Alicia had not forgotten it, but had not been able so far to get a
word in.  As for Aunt Mary I cannot say--she was so near to being a man
herself.

"Mollie June!" repeated Rockwell aghast.

"Exactly," said Merriam, somewhat bitterly. Him, too, Rockwell had been
treating pretty much as a lifeless pawn in the game.

But Aunt Mary, when roused, was equal to anything.

"We shall manage that," she said.  "I will go to Colorado with Mr.
Merriam.  Mollie June can return to her father for a time.  We can
arrange a separation--or----"

Even Aunt Mary hesitated.  But Alicia took the cue.

"Or they can be married--or remarried," she said, fixing her bright
eyes, with a gleam of mischievous understanding in them, on Merriam.

The argument had come to a full stop.  The whole roomful sat looking at
Merriam, who tried to think and found he could not, except that he
realised that all the rest had tacitly accepted Rockwell’s plan.

"Come!" said Alicia vivaciously.  "It isn’t so bad, is it?  The Norman
fortune and--Mollie June!"

Bad!  The prospect was so dazzling to Merriam that he could not take his
mind off it in order to think calmly.  To die to his old self--to his
poverty and loneliness, to his teaching with which he had long been
bored,--and to step as if by magic into a new life with wealth,
leisure--and Mollie June! For surely she loved him, and she had not
loved George Norman.  She would marry him--after an interval, of course.

"I must think," he said, weakly, in response to Alicia’s exhortation.

"Of course you must," said Rockwell.  "You must accustom your mind to
it.  But it will all be perfectly easy.  You were brought up on a farm,
weren’t you?  You will take to the ranch life like anything.  It’s
mostly stock-raising.  You can go in for scientific farming.  After a
few months it would probably be a good thing for you to travel, perhaps
for a year or two--especially if you and Mollie June should marry.  Get
out of the country, so as to leave Norman’s old life entirely behind you
for a while.  You might take a trip around the world."

Merriam’s youthful heart bounded in spite of himself.  A trip around the
world with Mollie June!

"As to your old self," Rockwell continued, "that’s quite simple, too.
Norman was entered at the hospital under your name.  A death certificate
must have been given by now."  He looked at Crockett.

"I don’t know," said Crockett.  "Hobart may have held off on that."

"At any rate it can be.  In fact, it will have to be.  Hobart shall
telegraph to Riceville and to your cousins, wherever they are.  He was
the house physician at the De Soto where you took sick.  That was how he
came to be attending you. When you got bad he took you to the hospital.
Nothing more natural.  The rest of us will not need to appear at all."

"Aunt Mary will have to appear," said Alicia. "She will want to attend
the funeral."

"She became acquainted with you at the hotel, then," said Rockwell.
"Took an interest in a young man who was alone and ill.  When your
relatives and friends come Hobart will have the body already laid out in
a casket.  He can advise immediate burial here in the city.  Aunt Mary
can offer a lot in the Norman plot at Lakewood. Would your cousins
probably consent to that?"

"Very likely," said Merriam, rather in a daze. It was confusing to be
discussing the details of one’s own interment.

"Then everything will follow in regular course," said Rockwell, speaking
as if all difficulties were solved.  "George will be buried with his
family, and you can start for Colorado."

For a second time the talk came to a full stop. The new plan was
outlined in full.  It remained only to decide upon it or to reject it
and face the alternative of a public confession.  All of them except
Merriam had already accepted the scheme, apparently, gruesome and
bizarre as it was.  It was for all the rest so much the easiest way and
the most advantageous.  But it did not require any of them to die--to
die to his own self, his friends, his very name.  On the other hand it
did not offer them any such positive rewards as were proffered to
Merriam--a fortune and love.  We can hardly wonder that he was somewhat
stupefied by the alternatives that beat upon his mind.  The loss of all
that up to this point in his life had been his identity versus Mollie
June--that was the essence of the struggle within him.

He sat beside Rockwell’s table, staring at the now silent percolator,
trying to think but able only to feel.  The others were looking uneasily
at him and at one another.  Aunt Mary’s eyes and Alicia’s demanded of
Rockwell, who had always managed everything, that he should manage this
too.  Once he started to speak, but gave it up and looked appealingly at
Alicia instead.  Indeed he might justifiably feel that this was Alicia’s
job.  She acknowledged as much in her own mind and was trying to decide
what to do or say, when the one person present who had not spoken
throughout the entire scene came to the rescue.

Through all their long discussion Simpson had stood unobtrusive and
unnoticed in the background, but he had followed every word.  For his
fortunes too, humble, indeed, but sufficiently important to him, were
bound up in this decision.  If the deception was to be continued, his
assistance, in the matter of silence at least, would be necessary, and
he could expect a large--honorarium; if it came to a public confession,
he could still expect something, but probably a good deal less; and to
win and hold Jennie he needed a considerable sum of money.

So now he advanced a step and spoke:

"Shall I call a taxi for you, Mr. Merriam, to take you to the hotel?"

"Of course!" cried Alicia, jumping up.  "You must go and see Mollie
June.  It all depends now upon her."

The others too stirred and expressed more or less audible acquiescence,
and Simpson had his reward in the shape of approving glances from
Rockwell and Mr. Wayward.

Merriam got to his feet with the other men because Alicia had risen.  He
was not so obtuse nor so much dazed that he did not see what they were
doing.  They were trying to rush him.  They calculated that though
Mollie June in the abstract might contend indecisively with other
abstract considerations, Mollie June in the flesh would decide him in
the twinkling of an eye.  He saw that plainly enough.  Nevertheless, for
his part it did now depend altogether upon Mollie June.  If he was to do
this thing--to abandon his old self and enter upon what must be in some
degree a lifelong career of deception,--it would be for her sake--not
only in order to win her sooner, years sooner, than he could otherwise
have the slightest hope of doing, but to save her from scandal, and
because she loved him and wanted him too at once (comparatively
speaking) as he wanted her.

So his decision was made almost as soon as he was on his feet.  He
looked with some dignity from one waiting face to another about the
circle.

"Yes," he said quietly, "it does depend on her. You may call a taxi,
Simpson."



                             *CHAPTER XXX*

                             *MOLLIE JUNE*


Almost before Merriam’s brief sentence was out of his mouth Simpson had
started for the telephone.  But Mayor Black spoke up:

"My car and chauffeur are below.  We came up from the hotel in it.  You
can use it."

"You go with him, Aunt Mary," said Rockwell, again taking command.  "You
see her first," he continued.  "Mr. Merriam can wait somewhere--in ’Mr.
Wilson’s’ room.  When you have explained the general situation you can
call him in and leave them together and--give him his chance."

Even at this moment it was a slight shock to Merriam to realise that the
state of feeling between himself and Mollie June, which they had
supposed completely hidden, had been clearly perceived by the others--or
at least, he thought swiftly, by Rockwell and Aunt Mary and Alicia.  He
smiled a little cynically to himself as he understood that they had been
willing to use this interest of his as a motive in securing his easy
acquiescence in their previous schemes.  Evidently they were counting on
it in Mollie June too.  That gave him a thrill of hope which made him
forget his cynicism.

Father Murray had put Aunt Mary’s wrap about her, and Rockwell had got
Merriam’s hat and his own.

Merriam found Alicia by his side.  She held out her hand, and when he
took it she squeezed his fingers in the way she had and said
significantly, with all of a woman’s interest in a romance:

"Good luck!"

"Thank you," said Merriam, but his answering smile was again a little
cynical.

Then he opened the door for Aunt Mary and waved his hand to the others,
with some amusement at the anxious looks with which they were regarding
him.  Even Simpson’s countenance was perturbed!

Rockwell and the Mayor went down to the street with them and put them in
the limousine.  The Mayor directed the chauffeur to drive them to the
hotel and then to return for himself and the others. Rockwell spoke to
Aunt Mary:

"You put the essential facts before her and then leave them--leave Mr.
Merriam to do the rest!"

And again Merriam smiled with an acid amusement that is commonly
supposed to belong to the middle-aged and old but is really most
characteristic of those who are under thirty.

Rockwell glanced at Merriam as if about to give him too a parting
exhortation, but hesitated, checked perhaps by the younger man’s
expression, and spoke to the driver instead: "All right!"

They had started, and Merriam tried to think. His whole life turned in a
very peculiar sense on the events of the next hour--whether he should
continue to be himself or take up the life of another man.  He got that
far.  But what he should say to Mollie June--even what it was he wanted
to say to her--he could not get on with it.  The mood of youthful
cynicism was by no means the right mood for the business in hand.

And then--too soon for him now--they were at the hotel.

So little had he been able to think clearly that it was not until he was
helping Aunt Mary out of the machine that he realised that in entering
the hotel with her again this way, in the character of the dead Senator,
he was already in effect consenting to Rockwell’s plan and binding its
consequences upon himself and Mollie June.

He had a wild idea of getting back into the limousine and driving away
and later entering the hotel via the fire escape again.  But Aunt Mary
was already on the pavement.

As they entered the lobby Merriam glanced about to see whether he was
noticed and recognised as the Senator.  He was.  At least three men whom
he did not know bowed and raised their hats, and one of them took a step
forward as if to approach them.  But Merriam looked away and guided Aunt
Mary as rapidly as possible to the elevators.

When they emerged on Floor Three, Merriam asked for the key, explaining
casually that "Mr. Wilson" was a friend.

In a couple of minutes he had escorted Aunt Mary to the door of her
sitting room--Senator Norman’s no longer--or was it still to be Senator
Norman’s?--and had himself entered "Mr. Wilson’s" room.

His first act there was to call up the hotel florist--as he had done
once before on this same telephone.  But this time Merriam’s order was
for roses, to be sent up at once.

He hung up the receiver and walked nervously about the room.

Was it not time for him to go to Mollie June? Aunt Mary was being
terribly long about her explanation.  Had Mollie June broken down under
her grief--grief for George Norman?--or merely from anxiety and
conflicting emotions?  Was she refusing to see him?  Was she ill?

He jumped up and walked back and forth in his nervousness, watching the
door to the other bedroom, at which he might expect to receive Aunt
Mary’s summons.

A knock at last!  But it was at the wrong door, the hall door.  In a
sort of hesitating amazement he went to answer it.  It was the boy with
the roses.  He had forgotten ordering them.

He signed for the flowers and brought them into the room and took them
out of their box and tissue paper.  They were lovely--the most exquisite
colour, between pink and red, that has no name but that of the flower
itself--pink and red harmonised in soft coolness and fragrance--Mollie
June’s flowers without a doubt.

But had he done well in ordering them?  Was this a time for lover-like
gifts?  Should he not have got white roses, such as one sends to a
funeral?

And then, as he stood in this anxiety, came Aunt Mary’s knock at the
bedroom door.

He started as if caught in a guilty action and thrust the flowers back
into their box before he went to open to her.

"How is she?"

But Aunt Mary herself looked so broken that he led her to a chair.

Then, "How is she?" he repeated.  He could not wait.

"She is very quiet."

"You told her the--the plan?"

"Yes."

"She understood it?"

"I think so."

"Am I to go to her?"

"I suppose so," said Aunt Mary with a sigh. "Mr. Rockwell said----"  She
stopped.

Merriam showed her the roses.

"Should I take these to her?"

Aunt Mary looked at him and at the flowers.

"I think perhaps you might," she said, and then sat staring out across
the fire escape.

She looked so very miserable that Merriam impulsively patted her
shoulder.  She glanced up quickly at that, then turned her eyes to the
window again.  He could not read her look, but he was not sorry he had
betrayed his affectionate sympathy. If he was to be her brother for the
rest of their lives----

After a moment more of hesitation he picked up the flowers and passed
through the former sick room to the sitting room.

Mollie June was sitting in a small straight-backed chair by the window,
looking out.  But Merriam was sure at the first glance that she saw
nothing.  She had merely turned automatically towards the light, as all
but the old or the self-conscious tend to do.  As Aunt Mary had said she
was very quiet.  Her back was of course towards the room and Merriam.

He waited for a moment just inside the door, looking at her, forgetting
the flowers in his hands. He was sorry for her and very uncertain what
he ought to do.  Then he became a little frightened, because she sat so
still.  She gave no sign of having heard him.

With conscious effort, because he must do something, he crossed the room
till he stood beside her.  Still she did not turn her eyes from the
window.

He stood looking down at her.  She was a pathetic figure as she sat
there--the more pathetic, to the eyes of youth at least, because she was
so lovely, so young and fresh really, although a little pale and
heavy-eyed.  He saw dark shadows under her eyes which must have come
from tears.

The sight of these unlocked him, drowned all his hesitations in pitying
love.  He dropped on his knees beside her chair, laying the long-stemmed
roses regardlessly on the floor and putting one hand on the back of her
chair.

"Mollie June!" he said.

She did not start.  Evidently she had known he was there.  She looked
first at the flowers on the floor and then at his face.

"I am so sorry," he cried.

"Are you sorry or glad?" she asked.

"I am terribly sorry for you," he answered. Her hands lay together in
her lap, and he attempted to take one of them.

But she moved them slightly.

"Don’t," she said.

"Don’t make me strange to you, Mollie June," he cried.

"How can I help it?" she answered.  "I am strange to myself too.  You
see, I am glad!  I am sorry for George," she went on quickly.  "It is
terrible to me that he is dead.  But I am so glad I do not have to be
his wife any more!"

Once more, as on a former occasion, some dim notion came to Merriam of
what it must mean to a girl to be connubially in the power of a man she
does not love.  He pitied and loved her greatly. Also he marvelled.  How
had she come through it all so fresh and unchanged?  The answer, of
course, was youth.  But youth could not know the answer.

"I am glad too," he said.

Her eyes, which as she dropped them had rested on the roses on the
floor, came back to his face.

"You are glad I have to marry you."

"But you don’t!"

"You know I do."

Instantly he saw that Aunt Mary had not put the thing fairly before her.
In Aunt Mary’s mind it was settled.  The course of action which promised
to save the precious Norman name from scandal was the only possible
course of action.  She had so represented it to Mollie June.

"No, no!" Merriam cried.  "You shall not be forced into this.  You shall
never be forced in anything again if I can help it.  I will not be
forced myself--even to marry you."

"What else can we do?" asked Mollie June, searching his face.

"It’s fairly simple," he said, a little bitterly. "Not easy, but simple.
I will write a brief, plain account of the whole affair--the
impersonation--from beginning to end, and send for a reporter and give
it to him.  That will end everything.  I will sit down now at that desk
and write it and call for a man and give it to him while Aunt Mary
thinks we are still talking--unless you tell me not to."

"Would you do that?"

"Indeed I will!"

He rose to his feet.  He meant it, and she saw that he meant it.  To be
forced in this thing was, in fact, even less to his liking perhaps than
to hers.

Standing, he saw the roses at his feet.  He stooped and picked them up
and handed them to her.

"You’ll let me give you these?" he said, his manner more determined than
lover-like.  "I saw them from the elevator as I was coming up here with
Aunt Mary.  They were so like you that I could not help buying them and
bringing them to you."

She accepted them passively, looking up at him. Perhaps she liked him
determined rather than lover-like.

"I am not giving you up," he went on gravely. "But you will go away
somewhere with Aunt Mary, and I will go back to Riceville.  I have my
contract for the rest of this year at least.  And if you will wait a few
years--you will want to wait and rest a while,--I will come back and win
you in my own right."

She did not answer but looked up at him, still searching his face.

For a moment he stood regarding her.  That image of her as she sat there
with the flowers in her lap and her uplifted face and questioning eyes,
more lovely than ever in their intense gravity in spite of their trace
of tears, remained one of the permanent treasures of his memory.

He turned away and walked over to the writing table and sat down.  It
was a moment or two before he could think why he was there.  Then he
remembered and drew towards him several sheets of the hotel stationery
and took up a pen.  He realised that he was in a very poor frame of mind
for literary composition, but he mastered his attention and wrote:

                _Statement by John Merriam regarding His
                    Impersonation of Senator Norman_


He underlined those words and resisted an impulse to turn and look at
Mollie June.  He wanted to know whether she was looking at him or
looking out at the window again.  He wanted, too, merely to see her.
But he would not look.  With a heroic effort he brought his mind back to
the paper before him.  How to begin?  Where to begin?  It was a long
story, he realised.  He must make it as brief as possible.  He could
omit much. But he must introduce himself.  The public did not know him
from Adam.  He seized at this straw.

"My name is John Merriam," he wrote.  "I am the principal of the high
school at Riceville, Illinois. On my mother’s side I am related to----"

He stopped abruptly.  It was the fragrance of roses that interrupted
him.  Mollie June had risen and come over beside him.  His effort of
concentration had been so great that he had not heard her. She carried
the flowers pressed against the bosom of her dress.  The action was
probably mechanical; she was too much engrossed to think to put them
down.  She did not look at him but over his shoulder at his writing.
She read it.

Apparently his opening statement caught her attention.  She looked at
him and smiled slightly, more with her mouth than her eyes, which were
still grave.

"You wouldn’t like to change your name, would you?" she said.

"Mollie June!"  He was on his feet.

She backed away from him, pressing her flowers tight.

"Would you?" she demanded.

"It’s not that," he said, not daring to advance towards her lest she
should retreat farther.

"A woman always has to change her name when she marries.  Why shouldn’t
a man do it for once?"

He started forward now and caught her arm and led her back to her chair
and dropped on his knees again beside her.

"Dearest Mollie June," he said, "I’ll change my name to yours so gladly,
if you will let me.  So as to have you sooner than I could the other
way. But not unless you want me to!" he added fiercely. "For yourself!"

She looked at him, shyly now.

"I would rather have it the other way myself," she said, tears standing
in her eyes at last, "and wait and change my name to yours.  But I think
we ought to do it this way for George."

"For George!"

"Yes, and Aunt Mary.  She has been very good to me.  George was good to
me too in his way. And he was my husband, and he’s dead.  If we can save
his name and save her--this way,--don’t you think we ought to?"

Then of course he put his arms about her.

"I won’t call you George, though!" she said presently, very
emphatically.

"What will you call me, dearest?"

She smiled at him through her tears and with a gesture that ravished him
lifted his hand and kissed it.

"Mr. John!" she whispered.

He would have kissed her again, but she hurried on.

"We’ll pretend to people that it’s a nickname left over from some game
or play."

"It _is_ left over from a sort of--play," he answered, and then she was
ready for another kiss.



                                THE END





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