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Title: Within the Law: From the Play of Bayard Veiller
Author: Veiller, Bayard, Dana, Marvin
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.

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WITHIN THE LAW

From The Play Of Bayard Veiller

By Marvin Dana



CONTENTS.

     CHAPTER

     I.     The Panel of Light
     II.    A Cheerful Prodigal
     III.   Only Three Years
     IV.    Kisses and Kleptomania
     V.     The Victim of the Law
     VI.    Inferno
     VII.   Within the Law
     VIII.  A Tip from Headquarters
     X.     A Legal Document
     X.     Marked Money
     XI.    The Thief
     XII.   A Bridegroom Spurned
     XIII.  The Advent of Griggs
     XIV.   A Wedding Announcement
     XV.    Aftermath of Tragedy
     XVI.   Burke Plots
     XVII.  Outside the Law
     XVIII. The Noiseless Death
     XIX.   Within the Toils
     XX.    Who Shot Griggs?
     XXI.   Aggie at Bay
     XXII.  The Trap That Failed
     XXIII. The Confession
     XXIV.  Anguish and Bliss



CHAPTER I. THE PANEL OF LIGHT

The lids of the girl’s eyes lifted slowly, and she stared at the panel
of light in the wall. Just at the outset, the act of seeing made not the
least impression on her numbed brain. For a long time she continued to
regard the dim illumination in the wall with the same passive fixity
of gaze. Apathy still lay upon her crushed spirit. In a vague way, she
realized her own inertness, and rested in it gratefully, subtly fearful
lest she again arouse to the full horror of her plight. In a curious
subconscious fashion, she was striving to hold on to this deadness
of sensation, thus to win a little respite from the torture that had
exhausted her soul.

Of a sudden, her eyes noted the black lines that lay across the panel
of light. And, in that instant, her spirit was quickened once again. The
clouds lifted from her brain. Vision was clear now. Understanding seized
the full import of this hideous thing on which she looked.... For the
panel of light was a window, set high within a wall of stone. The rigid
lines of black that crossed it were bars--prison bars. It was still
true, then: She was in a cell of the Tombs.

The girl, crouching miserably on the narrow bed, maintained her fixed
watching of the window--that window which was a symbol of her utter
despair. Again, agony wrenched within her. She did not weep: long ago
she had exhausted the relief of tears. She did not pace to and fro in
the comfort of physical movement with which the caged beast finds a
mocking imitation of liberty: long ago, her physical vigors had been
drained under stress of anguish. Now, she was well-nigh incapable of any
bodily activity. There came not even so much as the feeblest moan from
her lips. The torment was far too racking for such futile fashion of
lamentation. She merely sat there in a posture of collapse. To all
outward seeming, nerveless, emotionless, an abject creature. Even
the eyes, which held so fixedly their gaze on the window, were quite
expressionless. Over them lay a film, like that which veils the eyes of
some dead thing. Only an occasional languid motion of the lids revealed
the life that remained.

So still the body. Within the soul, fury raged uncontrolled. For all the
desolate calm of outer seeming, the tragedy of her fate was being acted
with frightful vividness there in memory. In that dreadful remembrance,
her spirit was rent asunder anew by realization of that which had become
her portion.... It was then, as once again the horrible injustice of her
fate racked consciousness with its tortures, that the seeds of revolt
were implanted in her heart. The thought of revenge gave to her the
first meager gleam of comfort that had lightened her moods through many
miserable days and nights. Those seeds of revolt were to be nourished
well, were to grow into their flower--a poison flower, developed through
the three years of convict life to which the judge had sentenced her.

The girl was appalled by the mercilessness of a destiny that had so
outraged right. She was wholly innocent of having done any wrong. She
had struggled through years of privation to keep herself clean and
wholesome, worthy of those gentlefolk from whom she drew her blood.
And earnest effort had ended at last under an overwhelming
accusation--false, yet none the less fatal to her. This accusation,
after soul-wearying delays, had culminated to-day in conviction. The
sentence of the court had been imposed upon her: that for three years
she should be imprisoned.... This, despite her innocence. She had
endured much--miserably much!--for honesty’s sake. There wrought the
irony of fate. She had endured bravely for honesty’s sake. And the end
of it all was shame unutterable. There was nought left her save a wild
dream of revenge against the world that had martyrized her. “Vengeance
is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.”... The admonition could not
touch her now. Why should she care for the decrees of a God who had
abandoned her!

There had been nothing in the life of Mary Turner, before the
catastrophe came, to distinguish it from many another. Its most
significant details were of a sordid kind, familiar to poverty. Her
father had been an unsuccessful man, as success is esteemed by this
generation of Mammon-worshipers. He was a gentleman, but the trivial
fact is of small avail to-day. He was of good birth, and he was the
possessor of an inherited competence. He had, as well, intelligence, but
it was not of a financial sort.

So, little by little, his fortune became shrunken toward nothingness,
by reason of injudicious investments. He married a charming woman, who,
after a brief period of wedded happiness, gave her life to the birth
of the single child of the union, Mary. Afterward, in his distress over
this loss, Ray Turner seemed even more incompetent for the management of
business affairs. As the years passed, the daughter grew toward maturity
in an experience of ever-increasing penury. Nevertheless, there was no
actual want of the necessities of life, though always a woful lack of
its elegancies. The girl was in the high-school, when her father finally
gave over his rather feeble effort of living. Between parent and child,
the intimacy had been unusually close. At his death, the father left her
a character well instructed in the excellent principles that had been
his own. That was his sole legacy to her. Of worldly goods, not the
value of a pin.

Yet, measured according to the stern standards of adversity, Mary was
fortunate. Almost at once, she procured a humble employment in the
Emporium, the great department store owned by Edward Gilder. To be
sure, the wage was infinitesimal, while the toil was body-breaking
soul-breaking. Still, the pittance could be made to sustain life, and
Mary was blessed with both soul and body to sustain much. So she merged
herself in the army of workers--in the vast battalion of those that give
their entire selves to a labor most stern and unremitting, and most ill
rewarded.

Mary, nevertheless, avoided the worst perils of her lot. She did not
flinch under privation, but went her way through it, if not serenely, at
least without ever a thought of yielding to those temptations that beset
a girl who is at once poor and charming. Fortunately for her, those
in closest authority over her were not so deeply smitten as to make
obligatory on her a choice between complaisance and loss of position.
She knew of situations like that, the cul-de-sac of chastity, worse
than any devised by a Javert. In the store, such things were matters of
course. There is little innocence for the girl in the modern city.
There can be none for the worker thrown into the storm-center of a great
commercial activity, humming with vicious gossip, all alive with
quips from the worldly wise. At the very outset of her employment, the
sixteen-year-old girl learned that she might eke out the six dollars
weekly by trading on her personal attractiveness to those of the
opposite sex. The idea was repugnant to her; not only from the maidenly
instinct of purity, but also from the moral principles woven into her
character by the teachings of a father wise in most things, though a
fool in finance. Thus, she remained unsmirched, though well informed as
to the verities of life. She preferred purity and penury, rather than a
slight pampering of the body to be bought by its degradation. Among her
fellows were some like herself; others, unlike. Of her own sort, in this
single particular, were the two girls with whom she shared a cheap room.
Their common decency in attitude toward the other sex was the unique
bond of union. In their association, she found no real companionship.
Nevertheless, they were wholesome enough. Otherwise they were
illiterate, altogether uncongenial.

In such wise, through five dreary years, Mary Turner lived. Nine hours
daily, she stood behind a counter. She spent her other waking hours
in obligatory menial labors: cooking her own scant meals over the gas;
washing and ironing, for the sake of that neat appearance which was
required of her by those in authority at the Emporium--yet, more
especially, necessary for her own self-respect. With a mind keen and
earnest, she contrived some solace from reading and studying, since
the free library gave her this opportunity. So, though engaged in
stultifying occupation through most of her hours, she was able to find
food for mental growth. Even, in the last year, she had reached a point
of development whereat she began to study seriously her own position in
the world’s economy, to meditate on a method of bettering it. Under this
impulse, hope mounted high in her heart. Ambition was born. By candid
comparison of herself with others about her, she realized the fact that
she possessed an intelligence beyond the average. The training by her
father, too, had been of a superior kind. There was as well, at the back
vaguely, the feeling of particular self-respect that belongs inevitably
to the possessor of good blood. Finally, she demurely enjoyed a modest
appreciation of her own physical advantages. In short, she had
beauty, brains and breeding. Three things of chief importance to any
woman--though there be many minds as to which may be chief among the
three.

I have said nothing specific thus far as to the outer being of Mary
Turner--except as to filmed eyes and a huddled form. But, in a happier
situation, the girl were winning enough. Indeed, more! She was one of
those that possess an harmonious beauty, with, too, the penetrant charm
that springs from the mind, with the added graces born of the spirit.
Just now, as she sat, a figure of desolation, there on the bed in
the Tombs cell, it would have required a most analytical observer to
determine the actualities of her loveliness. Her form was disguised by
the droop of exhaustion. Her complexion showed the pallor of sorrowful
vigils. Her face was no more than a mask of misery. Yet, the shrewd
observer, if a lover of beauty, might have found much for delight, even
despite the concealment imposed by her present condition. Thus, the
stormy glory of her dark hair, great masses that ran a riot of shining
ripples and waves. And the straight line of the nose, not too thin, yet
fine enough for the rapture of a Praxiteles. And the pink daintiness of
the ear-tips, which peered warmly from beneath the pall of tresses. One
could know nothing accurately of the complexion now. But it were easy to
guess that in happier places it would show of a purity to entice, with a
gentle blooming of roses in the cheeks. Even in this hour of unmitigated
evil, the lips revealed a curving beauty of red--not quite crimson,
though near enough for the word; not quite scarlet either; only, a red
gently enchanting, which turned one’s thoughts toward tenderness--with
a hint of desire. It was, too, a generous mouth, not too large; still,
happily, not so small as those modeled by Watteau. It was
altogether winsome--more, it was generous and true, desirable for
kisses--yes!--more desirable for strength and for faith.

Like every intelligent woman, Mary had taken the trouble to reinforce
the worth of her physical attractiveness. The instinct of sex was
strong in her, as it must be in every normal woman, since that appeal is
nature’s law. She kept herself supple and svelte by many exercises, at
which her companions in the chamber scoffed, with the prudent warning
that more work must mean more appetite. With arms still aching from
the lifting of heavy bolts of cloth to and fro from the shelves, she
nevertheless was at pains nightly to brush with the appointed two
hundred strokes the thick masses of her hair. Even here, in the sordid
desolation of the cell, the lustrous sheen witnessed the fidelity of
her care. So, in each detail of her, the keen observer might have found
adequate reason for admiration. There was the delicacy of the hands,
with fingers tapering, with nails perfectly shaped, neither too dull
nor too shining. And there were, too, finally, the trimly shod feet, set
rather primly on the floor, small, and arched like those of a Spanish
Infanta. In truth, Mary Turner showed the possibilities at least, if not
just now the realities, of a very beautiful woman.

Naturally, in this period of grief, the girl’s mind had no concern with
such external merits over which once she had modestly exulted. All
her present energies were set to precise recollection of the ghastly
experience into which she had been thrust.

In its outline, the event had been tragically simple.

There had been thefts in the store. They had been traced eventually to a
certain department, that in which Mary worked. The detective was alert.
Some valuable silks were missed. Search followed immediately. The goods
were found in Mary’s locker. That was enough. She was charged with the
theft. She protested innocence--only to be laughed at in derision by
her accusers. Every thief declares innocence. Mr. Gilder himself was
emphatic against her. The thieving had been long continued. An example
must be made. The girl was arrested.

The crowded condition of the court calendar kept her for three months in
the Tombs, awaiting trial. She was quite friendless. To the world, she
was only a thief in duress. At the last, the trial was very short. Her
lawyer was merely an unfledged practitioner assigned to her defense as
a formality of the court. This novice in his profession was so grateful
for the first recognition ever afforded him that he rather assisted than
otherwise the District Attorney in the prosecution of the case.

At the end, twelve good men and true rendered a verdict of guilty
against the shuddering girl in the prisoner’s dock.

So simple the history of Mary Turner’s trial.... The sentence of the
judge was lenient--only three years!



CHAPTER II. A CHEERFUL PRODIGAL.

That which was the supreme tragedy to the broken girl in the cell merely
afforded rather agreeable entertainment to her former fellows of the
department store. Mary Turner throughout her term of service there had
been without real intimates, so that now none was ready to mourn over
her fate. Even the two room-mates had felt some slight offense, since
they sensed the superiority of her, though vaguely. Now, they found
a smug satisfaction in the fact of her disaster as emphasizing very
pleasurably their own continuance in respectability.

As many a philosopher has observed, we secretly enjoy the misfortunes of
others, particularly of our friends, since they are closest to us. Most
persons hasten to deny this truth in its application to themselves. They
do so either because from lack of clear understanding they are not quite
honest with themselves, from lack of clear introspection, or because, as
may be more easily believed, they are not quite honest in the assertion.
As a matter of fact, we do find a singular satisfaction in the troubles
of others. Contemplation of such suffering renders more striking the
contrasted well-being of our own lot. We need the pains of others
to serve as background for our joys--just as sin is essential as the
background for any appreciation of virtue, even any knowledge of its
existence.... So now, on the day of Mary Turner’s trial, there was a
subtle gaiety of gossipings to and fro through the store. The girl’s
plight was like a shuttlecock driven hither and yon by the battledores
of many tongues. It was the first time in many years that one of the
employees had been thus accused of theft. Shoplifters were so common as
to be a stale topic. There was a refreshing novelty in this case,
where one of themselves was the culprit. Her fellow workers chatted
desultorily of her as they had opportunity, and complacently thanked
their gods that they were not as she--with reason. Perhaps, a very few
were kindly hearted enough to feel a touch of sympathy for this ruin of
a life.

Of such was Smithson, a member of the executive staff, who did not
hesitate to speak his mind, though none too forcibly. As for that,
Smithson, while the possessor of a dignity nourished by years of
floor-walking, was not given to the holding of vigorous opinions. Yet,
his comment, meager as it was, stood wholly in Mary’s favor. And he
spoke with a certain authority, since he had given official attention to
the girl.

Smithson stopped Sarah Edwards, Mr. Gilder’s private secretary, as she
was passing through one of the departments that morning, to ask her if
the owner had yet reached his office.

“Been and gone,” was the secretary’s answer, with the terseness
characteristic of her.

“Gone!” Smithson repeated, evidently somewhat disturbed by the
information. “I particularly wanted to see him.”

“He’ll be back, all right,” Sarah vouchsafed, amiably. “He went
down-town, to the Court of General Sessions. The judge sent for him
about the Mary Turner case.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now,” Smithson exclaimed. Then he added, with a
trace of genuine feeling, “I hope the poor girl gets off. She was a nice
girl--quite the lady, you know, Miss Edwards.”

“No, I don’t know,” Sarah rejoined, a bit tartly. Truth to tell, the
secretary was haunted by a grim suspicion that she herself was not quite
the lady of her dreams, and never would be able to acquire the graces of
the Vere De Vere. For Sarah, while a most efficient secretary, was not
in her person of that slender elegance which always characterized her
favorite heroines in the novels she affected. On the contrary, she was
of a sort to have gratified Byron, who declared that a woman in her
maturity should be plump. Now, she recalled with a twinge of envy that
the accused girl had been of an aristocratic slimness of form. “Oh, did
you know her?” she questioned, without any real interest.

Smithson answered with that bland stateliness of manner which was the
fruit of floor-walking politeness.

“Well, I couldn’t exactly say I knew her, and yet I might say, after a
manner of speaking, that I did--to a certain extent. You see, they put
her in my department when she first came here to work. She was a good
saleswoman, as saleswomen go. For the matter of that,” he added with a
sudden access of energy, “she was the last girl in the world I’d take
for a thief.” He displayed some evidences of embarrassment over the
honest feeling into which he had been betrayed, and made haste to
recover his usual business manner, as he continued formally. “Will you
please let me know when Mr. Gilder arrives? There are one or two little
matters I wish to discuss with him.”

“All right!” Sarah agreed briskly, and she hurried on toward the private
office.

The secretary was barely seated at her desk when the violent opening of
the door startled her, and, as she looked up, a cheery voice cried out:

“Hello, Dad!”

At the same moment, a young man entered, with an air of care-free
assurance, his face radiant. But, as his glance went to the empty
arm-chair at the desk, he halted abruptly, and his expression changed to
one of disappointment.

“Not here!” he grumbled. Then, once again the smile was on his lips
as his eyes fell on the secretary, who had now risen to her feet in a
flutter of excitement.

“Why, Mr. Dick!” Sarah gasped.

“Hello, Sadie!” came the genial salutation. The young man advanced and
shook hands with her warmly. “I’m home again. Where’s Dad?”

Even as he asked the question, the quick sobering of his face bore
witness to his disappointment over not finding his father in the office.
For such was the relationship of the owner of the department store to
this new arrival on the scene. And in the patent chagrin under which the
son now labored was to be found a certain indication of character not
to be disregarded. Unlike many a child, he really loved his father. The
death of the mother years before had left him without other opportunity
for affection in the home, since he had neither brother nor sister. He
loved his father with a depth of feeling that made between the two a
real camaraderie, despite great differences in temperament. In that
simple and sincere regard which he bore for his father, the boy revealed
a heart ready for love, willing to give of itself its best for the one
beloved. Beyond that, as yet, there was little to be said of him with
exactness. He was a spoiled child of fortune, if you wish to have it
so. Certainly, he was only a drone in the world’s hive. Thus far, he
had enjoyed the good things of life, without ever doing aught to deserve
them by contributing in return--save by his smiles and his genial air of
happiness.

In the twenty-three years of his life, every gift that money could
lavish had been his. If the sum total of benefit was small, at least
there remained the consoling fact that the harm was even less. Luxury
had not sapped the strength of him. He had not grown vicious, as have so
many of his fellows among the sons of the rich. Some instinct held him
aloof from the grosser vices. His were the trifling faults that had
their origin chiefly in the joy of life, which manifest occasionally in
riotous extravagancies, of a sort actually to harm none, however absurd
and useless they may be.

So much one might see by a glance into the face. He was well groomed,
of course; healthy, all a-tingle with vitality. And in the clear eyes,
which avoided no man’s gaze, nor sought any woman’s unseemly, there
showed a soul untainted, not yet developed, not yet debased. Through all
his days, Dick Gilder had walked gladly, in the content that springs to
the call of one possessed of a capacity for enjoyment; possessed, too,
of every means for the gratification of desire. As yet, the man of him
was unrevealed in its integrity. No test had been put upon him. The
fires of suffering had not tried the dross of him. What real worth might
lie under this sunny surface the future must determine. There showed now
only this one significant fact: that, in the first moment of his return
from journeyings abroad, he sought his father with all eagerness, and
was sorely grieved because the meeting must still be delayed. It was a
little thing, perhaps. Yet, it was capable of meaning much concerning
the nature of the lad. It revealed surely a tender heart, one responsive
to a pure love. And to one of his class, there are many forces ever
present to atrophy such simple, wholesome power of loving. The ability
to love cleanly and absolutely is the supreme virtue.

Sarah explained that Mr. Gilder had been called to the Court of General
Sessions by the judge.

Dick interrupted her with a gust of laughter.

“What’s Dad been doing now?” he demanded, his eyes twinkling. Then,
a reminiscent grin shaped itself on his lips. “Remember the time that
fresh cop arrested him for speeding? Wasn’t he wild? I thought he would
have the whole police force discharged.” He smiled again. “The trouble
is,” he declared sedately, “that sort of thing requires practice. Now,
when I’m arrested for speeding, I’m not in the least flustered--oh, not
a little bit! But poor Dad! That one experience of his almost soured his
whole life. It was near the death of him--also, of the city’s finest.”

By this time, the secretary had regained her usual poise, which had been
somewhat disturbed by the irruption of the young man. Her round face
shone delightedly as she regarded him. There was a maternal note of
rebuke in her voice as she spoke:

“Why, we didn’t expect you back for two or three months yet.”

Once again, Dick laughed, with an infectious gaiety that brought a smile
of response to the secretary’s lips.

“Sadie,” he explained confidentially, “don’t you dare ever to let the
old man know. He would be all swollen up. It’s bad to let a parent swell
up. But the truth is, Sadie, I got kind of homesick for Dad--yes, just
that!” He spoke the words with a sort of shamefaced wonder. It is not
easy for an Anglo-Saxon to confess the realities of affection in
vital intimacies. He repeated the phrase in a curiously appreciative
hesitation, as one astounded by his own emotion. “Yes, homesick for
Dad!”

Then, to cover an excess of sincere feeling, he continued, with a burst
of laughter:

“Besides, Sadie, I was broke.”

The secretary sniffed.

“The cable would have handled that end of it, I guess,” she said,
succinctly.

There was no word of contradiction from Dick, who, from ample
experience, knew that any demand for funds would have received answer
from the father.

“But what is Dad doing in court?” he demanded.

Sarah explained the matter with her usual conciseness:

“One of the girls was arrested for stealing.”

The nature of the son was shown then clearly in one of its best aspects.
At once, he exhibited his instinct toward the quality of mercy, and,
too, his trust in the father whom he loved, by his eager comment.

“And Dad went to court to get her out of the scrape. That’s just like
the old man!”

Sarah, however, showed no hint of enthusiasm. Her mind was ever of the
prosaic sort, little prone to flights. In that prosaic quality, was to
be found the explanation of her dependability as a private secretary.
So, now, she merely made a terse statement.

“She was tried to-day, and convicted. The judge sent for Mr. Gilder to
come down this morning and have a talk with him about the sentence.”

There was no lessening of the expression of certainty on the young man’s
face. He loved his father, and he trusted where he loved.

“It will be all right,” he declared, in a tone of entire conviction.
“Dad’s heart is as big as a barrel. He’ll get her off.”

Then, of a sudden, Dick gave a violent start. He added a convincing
groan.

“Oh, Lord!” he exclaimed, dismally. There was shame in his voice. “I
forgot all about it!”

The secretary regarded him with an expression of amazement.

“All about what?” she questioned.

Dick assumed an air vastly more confidential than at any time hitherto.
He leaned toward the secretary’s desk, and spoke with a new seriousness
of manner:

“Sadie, have you any money? I’m broker My taxi’ has been waiting outside
all this time.”

“Why, yes,” the secretary said, cheerfully. “If you will----”

Dick was discreet enough to turn his attention to a picture on the
wall opposite while Sarah went through those acrobatic performances
obligatory on women who take no chances of losing money by carrying it
in purses.

“There!” she called after a few panting seconds, and exhibited a flushed
face.

Dick turned eagerly and seized the banknote offered him.

“Mighty much obliged, Sadie,” he said, enthusiastically. “But I must
run. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be enough for the fare!” And, so saying,
he darted out of the room.



CHAPTER III. ONLY THREE YEARS.

When, at last, the owner of the store entered the office, his face
showed extreme irritation. He did not vouchsafe any greeting to the
secretary, who regarded him with an accurate perception of his mood.
With a diplomacy born of long experience, in her first speech Sarah
afforded an agreeable diversion to her employer’s line of thought.

“Mr. Hastings, of the Empire store, called you up, Mr. Gilder, and asked
me to let him know when you returned. Shall I get him on the wire?”

The man’s face lightened instantly, and there was even the beginning of
a smile on his lips as he seated himself at the great mahogany desk.

“Yes, yes!” he exclaimed, with evident enthusiasm. The smile grew in
the short interval before the connection was made. When, finally,
he addressed his friend over the telephone, his tones were of the
cheerfulest.

“Oh, good morning. Yes, certainly. Four will suit me admirably....
Sunday? Yes, if you like. We can go out after church, and have luncheon
at the country club.” After listening a moment, he laughed in a pleased
fashion that had in it a suggestion of conscious superiority. “My dear
fellow,” he declared briskly, “you couldn’t beat me in a thousand years.
Why, I made the eighteen holes in ninety-two only last week.” He laughed
again at the answer over the wire, then hung up the receiver and pushed
the telephone aside, as he turned his attention to the papers neatly
arranged on the desk ready to his hand.

The curiosity of the secretary could not be longer delayed.

“What did they do with the Turner girl?” she inquired in an elaborately
casual manner.

Gilder did not look up from the heap of papers, but answered rather
harshly, while once again his expression grew forbidding.

“I don’t know--I couldn’t wait,” he said. He made a petulant gesture as
he went on: “I don’t see why Judge Lawlor bothered me about the matter.
He is the one to impose sentence, not I. I am hours behind with my work
now.”

For a few minutes he gave himself up to the routine of business,
distributing the correspondence and other various papers for the action
of subordinates, and speaking his orders occasionally to the attentive
secretary with a quickness and precision that proclaimed the capable
executive. The observer would have realized at once that here was a
man obviously fitted to the control of large affairs. The ability that
marches inevitably to success showed unmistakably in the face and form,
and in the fashion of speech. Edward Gilder was a big man physically,
plainly the possessor of that abundant vital energy which is a prime
requisite for achievement in the ordering of modern business concerns.
Force was, indeed, the dominant quality of the man. His tall figure was
proportionately broad, and he was heavily fleshed. In fact, the body was
too ponderous. Perhaps, in that characteristic might be found a clue
to the chief fault in his nature. For he was ponderous, spiritually and
mentally, as well as materially. The fact was displayed suggestively in
the face, which was too heavy with its prominent jowls and aggressive
chin and rather bulbous nose. But there was nothing flabby anywhere.
The ample features showed no trace of weakness, only a rude, abounding
strength. There was no lighter touch anywhere. Evidently a just man
according to his own ideas, yet never one to temper justice with mercy.
He appeared, and was, a very practical and most prosaic business man. He
was not given to a humorous outlook on life. He took it and himself with
the utmost seriousness. He was almost entirely lacking in imagination,
that faculty which is essential to sympathy.

“Take this,” he directed presently, when he had disposed of the matters
before him. Forthwith, he dictated the following letter, and now his
voice took on a more unctuous note, as of one who is appreciative of his
own excellent generosity.

“THE EDITOR,

“The New York Herald.

“DEAR SIR: Inclosed please find my check for a thousand dollars for your
free-ice fund. It is going to be a very hard summer for the poor, and
I hope by thus starting the contributions for your fine charity at
this early day that you will be able to accomplish even more good than
usually.

“Very truly yours.”

He turned an inquiring glance toward Sarah.

“That’s what I usually give, isn’t it?”

The secretary nodded energetically.

“Yes,” she agreed in her brisk manner, “that’s what you have given every
year for the last ten years.”

The statement impressed Gilder pleasantly. His voice was more mellow as
he made comment. His heavy face was radiant, and he smiled complacently.

“Ten thousand dollars to this one charity alone!” he exclaimed. “Well,
it is pleasant to be able to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”
 He paused, evidently expectant of laudatory corroboration from the
secretary.

But Sarah, though she could be tactful enough on occasion, did not
choose to meet her employer’s anticipations just now. For that matter,
her intimate services permitted on her part some degree of familiarity
with the august head of the establishment. Besides, she did not stand in
awe of Gilder, as did the others in his service. No man is a hero to
his valet, or to his secretary. Intimate association is hostile to
hero-worship. So, now, Sarah spoke nonchalantly, to the indignation of
the philanthropist:

“Oh, yes, sir. Specially when you make so much that you don’t miss it.”

Gilder’s thick gray brows drew down in a frown of displeasure, while his
eyes opened slightly in sheer surprise over the secretary’s unexpected
remark. He hesitated for only an instant before replying with an air
of great dignity, in which was a distinct note of rebuke for the girl’s
presumption.

“The profits from my store are large, I admit, Sarah. But I neither
smuggle my goods, take rebates from railroads, conspire against small
competitors, nor do any of the dishonest acts that disgrace other
lines of business. So long as I make my profits honestly, I am honestly
entitled to them, no matter how big they are.”

The secretary, being quite content with the havoc she had wrought in her
employer’s complacency over his charitableness, nodded, and contented
herself with a demure assent to his outburst.

“Yes, sir,” she agreed, very meekly.

Gilder stared at her for a few seconds, somewhat indignantly. Then,
he bethought himself of a subtle form of rebuke by emphasizing his
generosity.

“Have the cashier send my usual five hundred to the Charities
Organization Society,” he ordered. With this new evidence of his
generous virtue, the frown passed from his brows. If, for a fleeting
moment, doubt had assailed him under the spur of the secretary’s words,
that doubt had now vanished under his habitual conviction as to his
sterling worth to the world at large.

It was, therefore, with his accustomed blandness of manner that he
presently acknowledged the greeting of George Demarest, the chief of the
legal staff that looked after the firm’s affairs. He was aware without
being told that the lawyer had called to acquaint him with the issue in
the trial of Mary Turner.

“Well, Demarest?” he inquired, as the dapper attorney advanced into the
room at a rapid pace, and came to a halt facing the desk, after a lively
nod in the direction of the secretary.

The lawyer’s face sobered, and his tone as he answered was tinged with
constraint.

“Judge Lawlor gave her three years,” he replied, gravely. It was plain
from his manner that he did not altogether approve.

But Gilder was unaffected by the attorney’s lack of satisfaction over
the result. On the contrary, he smiled exultantly. His oritund voice
took on a deeper note, as he turned toward the secretary.

“Good!” he exclaimed. “Take this, Sarah.” And he continued, as the girl
opened her notebook and poised the pencil: “Be sure to have Smithson
post a copy of it conspicuously in all the girls’ dressing-rooms, and in
the reading-room, and in the lunch-rooms, and in the assembly-room.” He
cleared his throat ostentatiously and proceeded to the dictation of the
notice:

“Mary Turner, formerly employed in this store, was to-day sentenced to
prison for three years, having been convicted for the theft of goods
valued at over four hundred dollars. The management wishes again to
draw attention on the part of its employees to the fact that honesty is
always the best policy.... Got that?”

“Yes, sir.” The secretary’s voice was mechanical, without any trace of
feeling. She was not minded to disturb her employer a second time this
morning by injudicious comment.

“Take it to Smithson,” Gilder continued, “and tell him that I wish him
to attend to its being posted according to my directions at once.”

Again, the girl made her formal response in the affirmative, then left
the room.

Gilder brought forth a box of cigars from a drawer of the desk, opened
it and thrust it toward the waiting lawyer, who, however, shook his
head in refusal, and continued to move about the room rather restlessly.
Demarest paid no attention to the other’s invitation to a seat, but the
courtesy was perfunctory on Gilder’s part, and he hardly perceived
the perturbation of his caller, for he was occupied in selecting and
lighting a cigar with the care of a connoisseur. Finally, he spoke
again, and now there was an infinite contentment in the rich voice.

“Three years--three years! That ought to be a warning to the rest of the
girls.” He looked toward Demarest for acquiescence.

The lawyer’s brows were knit as he faced the proprietor of the store.

“Funny thing, this case!” he ejaculated. “In some features, one of the
most unusual I have seen since I have been practicing law.”

The smug contentment abode still on Gilder’s face as he puffed in
leisurely ease on his cigar and uttered a trite condolence.

“Very sad!--quite so! Very sad case, I call it.” Demarest went on
speaking, with a show of feeling: “Most unusual case, in my estimation.
You see, the girl keeps on declaring her innocence. That, of course, is
common enough in a way. But here, it’s different. The point is, somehow,
she makes her protestations more convincing than they usually do. They
ring true, as it seems to me.”

Gilder smiled tolerantly.

“They didn’t ring very true to the jury, it would seem,” he retorted.
And his voice was tart as he added: “Nor to the judge, since he deemed
it his duty to give her three years.”

“Some persons are not very sensitive to impressions in such cases, I
admit,” Demarest returned, coolly. If he meant any subtlety of allusion
to his hearer, it failed wholly to pierce the armor of complacency.

“The stolen goods were found in her locker,” Gilder declared in a
tone of finality. “Some of them, I have been given to understand, were
actually in the pocket of her coat.”

“Well,” the attorney said with a smile, “that sort of thing makes
good-enough circumstantial evidence, and without circumstantial evidence
there would be few convictions for crime. Yet, as a lawyer, I’m free to
admit that circumstantial evidence alone is never quite safe as proof of
guilt. Naturally, she says some one else must have put the stolen goods
there. As a matter of exact reasoning, that is quite within the measure
of possibility. That sort of thing has been done countless times.”

Gilder sniffed indignantly.

“And for what reason?” he demanded. “It’s too absurd to think about.”

“In similar cases,” the lawyer answered, “those actually guilty of the
thefts have thus sought to throw suspicion on the innocent in order
to avoid it on themselves when the pursuit got too hot on their trail.
Sometimes, too, such evidence has been manufactured merely to satisfy a
spite against the one unjustly accused.”

“It’s too absurd to think about,” Gilder repeated, impatiently. “The
judge and the jury found no fault with the evidence.”

Demarest realized that this advocacy in behalf of the girl was hardly
fitting on the part of the legal representative of the store she was
supposed to have robbed, so he abruptly changed his line of argument.

“She says that her record of five years in your employ ought to count
something in her favor.”

Gilder, however, was not disposed to be sympathetic as to a matter so
flagrantly opposed to his interests.

“A court of justice has decreed her guilty,” he asserted once again,
in his ponderous manner. His emphasis indicated that there the affair
ended.

Demarest smiled cynically as he strode to and fro.

“Nowadays,” he shot out, “we don’t call them courts of justice: we call
them courts of law.”

Gilder yielded only a rather dubious smile over the quip. This much he
felt that he could afford, since those same courts served his personal
purposes well in deed.

“Anyway,” he declared, becoming genial again, “it’s out of our hands.
There’s nothing we can do, now.”

“Why, as to that,” the lawyer replied, with a hint of hesitation, “I am
not so sure. You see, the fact of the matter is that, though I helped to
prosecute the case, I am not a little bit proud of the verdict.”

Gilder raised his eyebrows in unfeigned astonishment. Even yet, he was
quite without appreciation of the attorney’s feeling in reference to the
conduct of the case.

“Why?” he questioned, sharply.

“Because,” the lawyer said, again halting directly before the desk, “in
spite of all the evidence against her, I am not sure that Mary Turner is
guilty--far from it, in fact!”

Gilder uttered an ejaculation of contempt, but Demarest went on
resolutely.

“Anyhow,” he explained, “the girl wants to see you, and I wish to urge
you to grant her an interview.”

Gilder flared at this suggestion, and scowled wrathfully on the lawyer,
who, perhaps with professional prudence, had turned away in his rapid
pacing of the room.

“What’s the use?” Gilder stormed. A latent hardness revealed itself at
the prospect of such a visitation. And along with this hardness came
another singular revelation of the nature of the man. For there was
consternation in his voice, as he continued in vehement expostulation
against the idea. If there was harshness in his attitude there was,
too, a fugitive suggestion of tenderness alarmed over the prospect of
undergoing such an interview with a woman.

“I can’t have her crying all over the office and begging for mercy,” he
protested, truculently. But a note of fear lay under the petulance.

Demarest’s answer was given with assurance,

“You are mistaken about that. The girl doesn’t beg for mercy. In fact,
that’s the whole point of the matter. She demands justice--strange as
that may seem, in a court of law!--and nothing else. The truth is, she’s
a very unusual girl, a long way beyond the ordinary sales-girl, both in
brains and in education.”

“The less reason, then, for her being a thief,” Gilder grumbled in his
heaviest voice.

“And perhaps the less reason for believing her to be a thief,” the
lawyer retorted, suavely. He paused for a moment, then went on. There
was a tone of sincere determination in his voice. “Just before the judge
imposed sentence, he asked her if she had anything to say. You know,
it’s just a usual form--a thing that rarely means much of anything.
But this case was different, let me tell you. She surprised us all by
answering at once that she had. It’s really a pity, Gilder, that you
didn’t wait. Why, that poor girl made a--damn--fine speech!”

The lawyer’s forensic aspirations showed in his honest appreciation of
the effectiveness of such oratory from the heart as he had heard in the
courtroom that day.

“Pooh! pooh!” came the querulous objection. “She seems to have
hypnotized you.” Then, as a new thought came to the magnate, he spoke
with a trace of anxiety. There were always the reporters, looking for
space to fill with foolish vaporings.

“Did she say anything against me, or the store?”

“Not a word,” the lawyer replied, gravely. His smile of appreciation was
discreetly secret. “She merely told us how her father died when she was
sixteen years old. She was compelled after that to earn her own living.
Then she told how she had worked for you for five years steadily,
without there ever being a single thing against her. She said, too, that
she had never seen the things found in her locker. And she said more
than that! She asked the judge if he himself understood what it means
for a girl to be sentenced to prison for something she hadn’t done.
Somehow, Gilder, the way she talked had its effect on everybody in the
courtroom. I know! It’s my business to understand things like that. And
what she said rang true. What she said, and the way she said it,
take brains and courage. The ordinary crook has neither. So, I had a
suspicion that she might be speaking the truth. You see, Gilder, it all
rang true! And it’s my business to know how things ring in that
way.” There was a little pause, while the lawyer moved back and forth
nervously. Then, he added: “I believe Lawlor would have suspended
sentence if it hadn’t been for your talk with him.”

There were not wanting signs that Gilder was impressed. But the gentler
fibers of the man were atrophied by the habits of a lifetime. What heart
he had once possessed had been buried in the grave of his young wife, to
be resurrected only for his son. In most things, he was consistently a
hard man. Since he had no imagination, he could have no real sympathy.

He whirled about in his swivel chair, and blew a cloud of smoke from his
mouth. When he spoke, his voice was deeply resonant.

“I simply did my duty,” he said. “You are aware that I did not seek
any consultation with Judge Lawlor. He sent for me, and asked me what I
thought about the case--whether I thought it would be right to let the
girl go on a suspended sentence. I told him frankly that I believed that
an example should be made of her, for the sake of others who might be
tempted to steal. Property has some rights, Demarest, although it seems
to be getting nowadays so that anybody is likely to deny it.” Then the
fretful, half-alarmed note sounded in his voice again, as he continued:
“I can’t understand why the girl wants to see me.”

The lawyer smiled dryly, since he had his back turned at the moment.

“Why,” he vouchsafed, “she just said that, if you would see her for ten
minutes, she would tell you how to stop the thefts in this store.”

Gilder displayed signs of triumph. He brought his chair to a level and
pounded the desk with a weighty fist.

“There!” he cried. “I knew it. The girl wants to confess. Well, it’s
the first sign of decent feeling she’s shown. I suppose it ought to be
encouraged. Probably there have been others mixed up in this.”

Demarest attempted no denial.

“Perhaps,” he admitted, though he spoke altogether without conviction.
“But,” he continued insinuatingly, “at least it can do no harm if you
see her. I thought you would be willing, so I spoke to the District
Attorney, and he has given orders to bring her here for a few minutes on
the way to the Grand Central Station. They’re taking her up to Burnsing,
you know. I wish, Gilder, you would have a little talk with her. No harm
in that!” With the saying, the lawyer abruptly went out of the office,
leaving the owner of the store fuming.



CHAPTER IV. KISSES AND KLEPTOMANIA.

“Hello, Dad!”

After the attorney’s departure, Gilder had been rather fussily going
over some of the papers on his desk. He was experiencing a vague feeling
of injury on account of the lawyer’s ill-veiled efforts to arouse his
sympathy in behalf of the accused girl. In the instinct of strengthening
himself against the possibility of yielding to what he deemed weakness,
the magnate rehearsed the facts that justified his intolerance, and,
indeed, soon came to gloating over the admirable manner in which
righteousness thrives in the world. And it was then that an interruption
came in the utterance of two words, words of affection, of love, cried
out in the one voice he most longed to hear--for the voice was that of
his son. Yet, he did not look up. The thing was altogether impossible!
The boy was philandering, junketing, somewhere on the Riviera. His
first intimation as to the exact place would come in the form of a cable
asking for money. Somehow, his feelings had been unduly stirred that
morning; he had grown sentimental, dreaming of pleasant things.... All
this in a second. Then, he looked up. Why, it was true! It was Dick’s
face there, smiling in the doorway. Yes, it was Dick, it was Dick
himself! Gilder sprang to his feet, his face suddenly grown younger,
radiant.

“Dick!” The big voice was softened to exquisite tenderness.

As the eyes of the two met, the boy rushed forward, and in the next
moment the hands of father and son clasped firmly. They were silent in
the first emotion of their greeting. Presently, Gilder spoke, with an
effort toward harshness in his voice to mask how much he was shaken.
But the tones rang more kindly than any he had used for many a day,
tremulous with affection.

“What brought you back?” he demanded.

Dick, too, had felt the tension of an emotion far beyond that of the
usual things. He was forced to clear his throat before he answered
with that assumption of nonchalance which he regarded as befitting the
occasion.

“Why, I just wanted to come back home,” he said; lightly. A sudden
recollection came to give him poise in this time of emotional
disturbance, and he added hastily: “And, for the love of heaven, give
Sadie five dollars. I borrowed it from her to pay the taxi’. You see,
Dad, I’m broke.”

“Of course!” With the saying, Edward Gilder roared Gargantuan laughter.
In the burst of merriment, his pent feelings found their vent. He
was still chuckling when he spoke, sage from much experience of ocean
travel. “Poker on the ship, I suppose.”

The young man, too, smiled reminiscently as he answered:

“No, not that, though I did have a little run in at Monte Carlo. But it
was the ship that finished me, at that. You see, Dad, they hired Captain
Kidd and a bunch of pirates as stewards, and what they did to little
Richard was something fierce. And yet, that wasn’t the real trouble,
either. The fact is, I just naturally went broke. Not a hard thing to do
on the other side.”

“Nor on this,” the father interjected, dryly.

“Anyhow, it doesn’t matter much,” Dick replied, quite unabashed. “Tell
me, Dad, how goes it?”

Gilder settled himself again in his chair, and gazed benignantly on his
son.

“Pretty well,” he said contentedly; “pretty well, son. I’m glad to see
you home again, my boy.” There was a great tenderness in the usually
rather cold gray eyes.

The young man answered promptly, with delight in his manner of speech,
and a sincerity that revealed the underlying merit of his nature.

“And I’m glad to be home, Dad, to be”--there was again that clearing of
the throat, but he finished bravely--“with you.”

The father avoided a threatening display of emotion by an abrupt change
of subject to the trite.

“Have a good time?” he inquired casually, while fumbling with the papers
on the desk.

Dick’s face broke in a smile of reminiscent happiness.

“The time of my young life!” He paused, and the smile broadened. There
was a mighty enthusiasm in his voice as he continued: “I tell you, Dad,
it’s a fact that I did almost break the bank at Monte Carlo. I’d have
done it sure, if only my money had held out.”

“It seems to me that I’ve heard something of the sort before,” was
Gilder’s caustic comment. But his smile was still wholly sympathetic. He
took a curious vicarious delight in the escapades of his son, probably
because he himself had committed no follies in his callow days. “Why
didn’t you cable me?” he asked, puzzled at such restraint on the part of
his son.

Dick answered with simple sincerity.

“Because it gave me a capital excuse for coming home.”

It was Sarah who afforded a diversion. She had known Dick while he was
yet a child, had bought him candy, had felt toward him a maternal liking
that increased rather than diminished as he grew to manhood. Now, her
face lighted at sight of him, and she smiled a welcome.

“I see you have found him,” she said, with a ripple of laughter.

Dick welcomed this interruption of the graver mood.

“Sadie,” he said, with a manner of the utmost seriousness, “you are
looking finer than ever. And how thin you have grown!”

The girl, eager with fond fancies toward the slender ideal, accepted the
compliment literally.

“Oh, Mr. Dick!” she exclaimed, rapturously. “How much do you think I
have lost?”

The whimsical heir of the house of Gilder surveyed his victim
critically, then spoke with judicial solemnity.

“About two ounces, Sadie.”

There came a look of deep hurt on Sadie’s face at the flippant jest,
which Dick himself was quick to note.

He had not guessed she was thus acutely sensitive concerning her
plumpness. Instantly, he was all contrition over his unwitting offense
inflicted on her womanly vanity.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Sadie,” he exclaimed penitently. “Please don’t be really
angry with me. Of course, I didn’t mean----”

“To twit on facts!” the secretary interrupted, bitterly.

“Pooh!” Dick cried, craftily. “You aren’t plump enough to be sensitive
about it. Why, you’re just right.” There was something very boyish about
his manner, as he caught at the girl’s arm. A memory of the days when
she had cuddled him caused him to speak warmly, forgetting the presence
of his father. “Now, don’t be angry, Sadie. Just give me a little kiss,
as you used to do.” He swept her into his arms, and his lips met hers
in a hearty caress. “There!” he cried. “Just to show there’s no ill
feeling.”

The girl was completely mollified, though in much embarrassment.

“Why, Mr. Dick!” she stammered, in confusion. “Why, Mr. Dick!”

Gilder, who had watched the scene in great astonishment, now interposed
to end it.

“Stop, Dick!” he commanded, crisply. “You are actually making Sarah
blush. I think that’s about enough, son.”

But a sudden unaccustomed gust of affection swirled in the breast of
the lad. Plain Anglo-Saxon as he was, with all that implies as to the
avoidance of displays of emotion, nevertheless he had been for a
long time in lands far from home, where the habits of impulsive and
affectionate peoples were radically unlike our own austerer forms. So
now, under the spur of an impulse suggested by the dalliance with the
buxom secretary, he grinned widely and went to his father.

“A little kiss never hurts any one,” he declared, blithely. Then he
added vivaciously: “Here, I’ll show you!”

With the words, he clasped his arms around his father’s neck, and,
before that amazed gentleman could understand his purpose, he had kissed
soundly first the one cheek and then the other, each with a hearty,
wholesome smack of filial piety. This done, he stood back, still beaming
happily, while the astounded Sarah tittered bewilderedly. For his own
part, Dick was quite unashamed. He loved his father. For once, he had
expressed that fondness in a primitive fashion, and he was glad.

The older man withdrew a step, and there rested motionless, under the
sway of an emotion akin to dismay. He stood staring intently at his son
with a perplexity in his expression that was almost ludicrous. When, at
last, he spoke, his voice was a rumble of strangely shy pleasure.

“God bless my soul!” he exclaimed, violently. Then he raised a hand, and
rubbed first one cheek, and after it its fellow, with a gentleness that
was significant. The feeling provoked by the embrace showed plainly in
his next words. “Why, that’s the first time you have kissed me, Dick,
since you were a little boy. God bless my soul!” he repeated. And now
there was a note of jubilation.

The son, somewhat disturbed by this emotion he had aroused, nevertheless
answered frankly with the expression of his own feeling, as he advanced
and laid a hand on his father’s shoulder.

“The fact is, Dad,” he said quietly, with a smile that was good to see,
“I am awfully glad to see you again.”

“Are you, son?” the father cried happily. Then, abruptly his manner
changed, for he felt himself perilously close to the maudlin in this new
yielding to sentimentality. Such kisses of tenderness, however agreeable
in themselves, were hardly fitting to one of his dignity. “You clear out
of here, boy,” he commanded, brusquely. “I’m a working man. But here,
wait a minute,” he added. He brought forth from a pocket a neat sheaf of
banknotes, which he held out. “There’s carfare for you,” he said with a
chuckle. “And now clear out. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Dick bestowed the money in his pocket, and again turned toward the door.

“You can always get rid of me on the same terms,” he remarked slyly. And
then the young man gave evidence that he, too, had some of his father’s
ability in things financial. For, in the doorway he turned with a final
speech, which was uttered in splendid disregard for the packet of money
he had just received--perhaps, rather, in a splendid regard for it. “Oh,
Dad, please don’t forget to give Sadie that five dollars I borrowed from
her for the taxi’.” And with that impertinent reminder he was gone.

The owner of the store returned to his labors with a new zest, for the
meeting with his son had put him in high spirits. Perhaps it might have
been better for Mary Turner had she come to him just then, while he
was yet in this softened mood. But fate had ordained that other events
should restore him to his usual harder self before their interview. The
effect was, indeed, presently accomplished by the advent of Smithson
into the office. He entered with an expression of discomfiture on his
rather vacuous countenance. He walked almost nimbly to the desk and
spoke with evident distress, as his employer looked up interrogatively.

“McCracken has detained--er--a--lady, sir,” he said, feebly. “She has
been searched, and we have found about a hundred dollars worth of laces
on her.”

“Well?” Gilder demanded, impatiently. Such affairs were too common in
the store to make necessary this intrusion of the matter on him. “Why
did you come to me about it?” His staff knew just what to do with
shoplifters.

At once, Smithson became apologetic, while refusing to retreat.

“I’m very sorry, sir,” he said haltingly, “but I thought it wiser, sir,
to--er--to bring the matter to your personal attention.”

“Quite unnecessary, Smithson,” Gilder returned, with asperity. “You know
my views on the subject of property. Tell McCracken to have the thief
arrested.”

Smithson cleared his throat doubtfully, and in his stress of feeling
he even relaxed a trifle that majestical erectness of carriage that had
made him so valuable as a floor-walker.

“She’s not exactly a--er--a thief,” he ventured.

“You are trifling, Smithson,” the owner of the store exclaimed, in high
exasperation. “Not a thief! And you caught her with a hundred dollars
worth of laces that she hadn’t bought. Not a thief! What in heaven’s
name do you call her, then?”

“A kleptomaniac,” Smithson explained, retaining his manner of mild
insistence. “You see, sir, it’s this way. The lady happens to be the
wife of J. W. Gaskell, the banker, you know.”

Yes, Gilder did know. The mention of the name was like a spell in the
effect it wrought on the attitude of the irritated owner of the store.
Instantly, his expression changed. While before his features had been
set grimly, while his eyes had flashed wrathfully, there was now only
annoyance over an event markedly unfortunate.

“How extremely awkward!” he cried; and there was a very real concern
in his voice. He regarded Smithson kindly, whereat that rather puling
gentleman once again assumed his martial bearing. “You were quite
right in coming to me.” For a moment he was silent, plunged in thought.
Finally he spoke with the decisiveness characteristic of him. “Of
course, there’s nothing we can do. Just put the stuff back on the
counter, and let her go.”

But Smithson had not yet wholly unburdened himself. Instead of
immediately leaving the room in pursuance of the succinct instructions
given him, he again cleared his throat nervously, and made known a
further aggravating factor in the situation.

“She’s very angry, Mr. Gilder,” he announced, timidly. “She--er--she
demands an--er--an apology.”

The owner of the store half-rose from his chair, then threw himself back
with an exclamation of disgust. He again ejaculated the words with which
he had greeted his son’s unexpected kisses, but now there was a vast
difference in the intonation.

“God bless my soul!” he cried. From his expression, it was clear that a
pious aspiration was farthest from his thought. On the contrary! Again,
he fell silent, considering the situation which Smithson had presented,
and, as he reflected, his frown betrayed the emotion natural enough
under the circumstances. At last, however, he mastered his irritation to
some degree, and spoke his command briefly. “Well, Smithson, apologize
to her. It can’t be helped.” Then his face lighted with a sardonic
amusement. “And, Smithson,” he went on with a sort of elephantine
playfulness, “I shall take it as a personal favor if you will tactfully
advise the lady that the goods at Altman and Stern’s are really even
finer than ours.”

When Smithson had left the office, Gilder turned to his secretary.

“Take this,” he directed, and he forthwith dictated the following letter
to the husband of the lady who was not a thief, as Smithson had so
painstakingly pointed out:

“J. W. GASKELL, ESQ.,

“Central National Bank, New York.

“MY DEAR Mr. GASKELL: I feel that I should be doing less than my duty as
a man if I did not let you know at once that Mrs. Gaskell is in urgent
need of medical attention. She came into our store to-day, and----”

He paused for a moment. “No, put it this way,” he said finally:

“We found her wandering about our store to-day in a very nervous
condition. In her excitement, she carried away about one hundred
dollars’ worth of rare laces. Not recognizing her, our store detective
detained her for a short time. Fortunately for us all, Mrs. Gaskell was
able to explain who she was, and she has just gone to her home. Hoping
for Mrs. Gaskell’s speedy recovery, and with all good wishes, I am,

“Yours very truly.”

Yet, though he had completed the letter, Gilder did not at once take up
another detail of his business. Instead, he remained plunged in thought,
and now his frown was one of simple bewilderment. A number of minutes
passed before he spoke, and then his words revealed distinctly what had
been his train of meditation.

“Sadie,” he said in a voice of entire sincerity, “I can’t understand
theft. It’s a thing absolutely beyond my comprehension.”

On the heels of this ingenuous declaration, Smithson entered the office,
and that excellent gentleman appeared even more perturbed than before.

“What on earth is the matter now?” Gilder spluttered, suspiciously.

“It’s Mrs. Gaskell still,” Smithson replied in great trepidation. “She
wants you personally, Mr. Gilder, to apologize to her. She says that the
action taken against her is an outrage, and she is not satisfied with
the apologies of all the rest of us. She says you must make one,
too, and that the store detective must be discharged for intolerable
insolence.”

Gilder bounced up from his chair angrily.

“I’ll be damned if I’ll discharge McCracken,” he vociferated, glaring on
Smithson, who shrank visibly.

But that mild and meek man had a certain strength of pertinacity.
Besides, in this case, he had been having multitudinous troubles of
his own, which could be ended only by his employer’s placating of the
offended kleptomaniac.

“But about the apology, Mr. Gilder,” he reminded, speaking very
deferentially, yet with insistence.

Business instinct triumphed over the magnate’s irritation, and his face
cleared.

“Oh, I’ll apologize,” he said with a wry smile of discomfiture. “I’ll
make things even up a bit when I get an apology from Gaskell. I shrewdly
suspect that that estimable gentleman is going to eat humble pie, of my
baking, from his wife’s recipe. And his will be an honest apology--which
mine won’t, not by a damned sight!” With the words, he left the room, in
his wake a hugely relieved Smithson.

Alone in the office, Sarah neglected her work for a few minutes to brood
over the startling contrast of events that had just forced itself on her
attention. She was not a girl given to the analysis of either persons or
things, but in this instance the movement of affairs had come close to
her, and she was compelled to some depth of feeling by the two aspects
of life on which to-day she looked. In the one case, as she knew it, a
girl under the urge of poverty had stolen. That thief had been promptly
arrested, finally she had been tried, had been convicted, had been
sentenced to three years in prison. In the other case, a woman of wealth
had stolen. There had been no punishment. A euphemism of kleptomania had
been offered and accepted as sufficient excuse for her crime. A polite
lie had been written to her husband, a banker of power in the city. To
her, the proprietor of the store was even now apologizing in courteous
phrases of regret.... And Mary Turner had been sentenced to three years
in prison. Sadie shook her head in dolorous doubt, as she again bent
over the keys of her typewriter. Certainly, some happenings in this
world of ours did not seem quite fair.



CHAPTER V. THE VICTIM OF THE LAW.

It was on this same day that Sarah, on one of her numerous trips through
the store in behalf of Gilder, was accosted by a salesgirl, whose name,
Helen Morris, she chanced to know. It was in a spot somewhere out of
the crowd, so that for the moment the two were practically alone.
The salesgirl showed signs of embarrassment as she ventured to lay a
detaining hand on Sarah’s arm, but she maintained her position, despite
the secretary’s manner of disapproval.

“What on earth do you want?” Sarah inquired, snappishly.

The salesgirl put her question at once.

“What did they do to Mary Turner?”

“Oh, that!” the secretary exclaimed, with increased impatience over
the delay, for she was very busy, as always. “You will all know soon
enough.”

“Tell me now.” The voice of the girl was singularly compelling; there
was something vividly impressive about her just now, though her pallid,
prematurely mature face and the thin figure in the regulation black
dress and white apron showed ordinarily only insignificant. “Tell me
now,” she repeated, with a monotonous emphasis that somehow moved Sarah
to obedience against her will, greatly to her own surprise.

“They sent her to prison for three years,” she answered, sharply.

“Three years?” The salesgirl had repeated the words in a tone that was
indefinable, yet a tone vehement in its incredulous questioning. “Three
years?” she said again, as one refusing to believe.

“Yes,” Sarah said, impressed by the girl’s earnestness; “three years.”

“Good God!” There was no irreverence in the exclamation that broke from
the girl’s lips. Instead, only a tense horror that touched to the roots
of emotion.

Sarah regarded this display of feeling on the part of the young woman
before her with an increasing astonishment. It was not in her own nature
to be demonstrative, and such strong expression of emotion as this she
deemed rather suspicious. She recalled, in addition, the fact that his
was not the first time that Helen Morris had shown a particular interest
in the fate of Mary Turner. Sarah wondered why.

“Say,” she demanded, with the directness habitual to her, “why are you
so anxious about it? This is the third time you have asked me about Mary
Turner. What’s it to you, I’d like to know?”

The salesgirl started violently, and a deep flush drove the accustomed
pallor from her cheeks. She was obviously much disturbed by the
question.

“What is it to me?” she repeated in an effort to gain time. “Why,
nothing--nothing at all!” Her expression of distress lightened a little
as she hit on an excuse that might serve to justify her interest.
“Nothing at all, only--she’s a friend of mine, a great friend of mine.
Oh, yes!” Then, in an instant, the look of relief vanished, as once
again the terrible reality hammered on her consciousness, and an
overwhelming dejection showed in the dull eyes and in the drooping
curves of the white lips. There was a monotone of desolation as she
went on speaking in a whisper meant for the ears of no other. “It’s
awful--three years! Oh, I didn’t understand! It’s awful!--awful!” With
the final word, she hurried off, her head bowed. She was still murmuring
brokenly, incoherently. Her whole attitude was of wondering grief.

Sarah stared after the girl in complete mystification. She could not at
first guess any possible cause for an emotion so poignant. Presently,
however, her shrewd, though very prosaic, commonsense suggested a simple
explanation of the girl’s extraordinary distress.

“I’ll bet that girl has been tempted to steal. But she didn’t, because
she was afraid.” With this satisfactory conclusion of her wonderment,
the secretary hurried on her way, quite content. It never occurred to
her that the girl might have been tempted to steal--and had not resisted
the temptation.

It was on account of this brief conversation with the salesgirl that
Sarah was thinking intently of Mary Turner, after her return to the
office, from which Gilder himself happened to be absent for the moment.
As the secretary glanced up at the opening of the door, she did not at
first recognize the figure outlined there. She remembered Mary Turner
as a tall, slender girl, who showed an underlying vitality in every
movement, a girl with a face of regular features, in which was a
complexion of blended milk and roses, with a radiant joy of life shining
through all her arduous and vulgar conditions. Instead of this, now, she
saw a frail form that stood swaying in the opening of the doorway, that
bent in a sinister fashion which told of bodily impotence, while the
face was quite bloodless. And, too, there was over all else a pall of
helplessness--helplessness that had endured much, and must still endure
infinitely more.

As a reinforcement of the dread import of that figure of wo, a man stood
beside it, and one of his hands was clasped around the girl’s wrist, a
man who wore his derby hat somewhat far back on his bullet-shaped head,
whose feet were conspicuous in shoes with very heavy soles and very
square toes.

It was the man who now took charge of the situation. Cassidy, from
Headquarters, spoke in a rough, indifferent voice, well suited to his
appearance of stolid strength.

“The District Attorney told me to bring this girl here on my way to the
Grand Central Station with her.”

Sarah got to her feet mechanically. Somehow, from the raucous notes of
the policeman’s voice, she understood in a flash of illumination that
the pitiful figure there in the doorway was that of Mary Turner, whom
she had remembered so different, so frightfully different. She spoke
with a miserable effort toward her usual liveliness.

“Mr. Gilder will be right back. Come in and wait.” She wished to say
something more, something of welcome or of mourning, to the girl there,
but she found herself incapable of a single word for the moment, and
could only stand dumb while the man stepped forward, with his charge
following helplessly in his clutch.

The two went forward very slowly, the officer, carelessly conscious of
his duty, walking with awkward steps to suit the feeble movements of the
girl, the girl letting herself be dragged onward, aware of the futility
of any resistance to the inexorable power that now had her in its
grip, of which the man was the present agent. As the pair came thus
falteringly into the center of the room, Sarah at last found her voice
for an expression of sympathy.

“I’m sorry, Mary,” she said, hesitatingly. “I’m terribly sorry, terribly
sorry!”

The girl, who had halted when the officer halted, as a matter of course,
did not look up. She stood still, swaying a little as if from weakness.
Her voice was lifeless.

“Are you?” she said. “I did not know. Nobody has been near me the whole
time I have been in the Tombs.” There was infinite pathos in the tones
as she repeated the words so fraught with dreadfulness. “Nobody has been
near me!”

The secretary felt a sudden glow of shame. She realized the justice of
that unconscious accusation, for, till to-day, she had had no thought of
the suffering girl there in the prison. To assuage remorse, she sought
to give evidence as to a prevalent sympathy.

“Why,” she exclaimed, “there was Helen Morris to-day! She has been
asking about you again and again. She’s all broken up over your
trouble.”

But the effort on the secretary’s part was wholly without success.

“Who is Helen Morris?” the lifeless voice demanded. There was no
interest in the question.

Sarah experienced a momentary astonishment, for she was still
remembering the feverish excitement displayed by the salesgirl, who had
declared herself to be a most intimate friend of the convict. But the
mystery was to remain unsolved, since Gilder now entered the office. He
walked with the quick, bustling activity that was ordinarily expressed
in his every movement. He paused for an instant, as he beheld the
two visitors in the center of the room, then he spoke curtly to the
secretary, while crossing to his chair at the desk.

“You may go, Sarah. I will ring when I wish you again.”

There followed an interval of silence, while the secretary was leaving
the office and the girl with her warder stood waiting on his pleasure.
Gilder cleared his throat twice in an embarrassment foreign to him,
before finally he spoke to the girl. At last, the proprietor of
the store expressed himself in a voice of genuine sympathy, for the
spectacle of wo presented there before his very eyes moved him to a real
distress, since it was indeed actual, something that did not depend on
an appreciation to be developed out of imagination.

“My girl,” Gilder said gently--his hard voice was softened by an honest
regret--“my girl, I am sorry about this.”

“You should be!” came the instant answer. Yet, the words were uttered
with a total lack of emotion. It seemed from their intonation that
the speaker voiced merely a statement concerning a recondite matter of
truth, with which sentiment had nothing whatever to do. But the effect
on the employer was unfortunate. It aroused at once his antagonism
against the girl. His instinct of sympathy with which he had greeted
her at the outset was repelled, and made of no avail. Worse, it was
transformed into an emotion hostile to the one who thus offended him by
rejection of the well-meant kindliness of his address

“Come, come!” he exclaimed, testily. “That’s no tone to take with me.”

“Why? What sort of tone do you expect me to take?” was the retort in
the listless voice. Yet, now, in the dullness ran a faint suggestion of
something sinister.

“I expected a decent amount of humility from one in your position,” was
the tart rejoinder of the magnate.

Life quickened swiftly in the drooping form of the girl. Her muscles
tensed. She stood suddenly erect, in the vigor of her youth again. Her
face lost in the same second its bleakness of pallor. The eyes opened
widely, with startling abruptness, and looked straight into those of the
man who had employed her.

“Would you be humble,” she demanded, and now her voice was become softly
musical, yet forbidding, too, with a note of passion, “would you be
humble if you were going to prison for three years--for something you
didn’t do?”

There was anguish in the cry torn from the girl’s throat in the sudden
access of despair. The words thrilled Gilder beyond anything that he
had supposed possible in such case. He found himself in this emergency
totally at a loss, and moved in his chair doubtfully, wishing to say
something, and quite unable. He was still seeking some question, some
criticism, some rebuke, when he was unfeignedly relieved to hear the
policeman’s harsh voice.

“Don’t mind her, sir,” Cassidy said. He meant to make his manner very
reassuring. “They all say that. They are innocent, of course! Yep--they
all say it. It don’t do ‘em any good, but just the same they all swear
they’re innocent. They keep it up to the very last, no matter how right
they’ve been got.”

The voice of the girl rang clear. There was a note of insistence
that carried a curious dignity of its own. The very simplicity of her
statement might have had a power to convince one who listened without
prejudice, although the words themselves were of the trite sort that any
protesting criminal might utter.

“I tell you, I didn’t do it!”

Gilder himself felt the surge of emotion that swung through these
moments, but he would not yield to it. With his lack of imagination,
he could not interpret what this time must mean to the girl before him.
Rather, he merely deemed it his duty to carry through this unfortunate
affair with a scrupulous attention to detail, in the fashion that had
always been characteristic of him during the years in which he had
steadily mounted from the bottom to the top.

“What’s the use of all this pretense?” he demanded, sharply. “You were
given a fair trial, and there’s an end of it.”

The girl, standing there so feebly, seeming indeed to cling for support
to the man who always held her thus closely by the wrist, spoke again
with an astonishing clearness, even with a sort of vivacity, as if she
explained easily something otherwise in doubt.

“Oh, no, I wasn’t!” she contradicted bluntly, with a singular confidence
of assertion. “Why, if the trial had been fair, I shouldn’t be here.”

The harsh voice of Cassidy again broke in on the passion of the girl
with a professional sneer.

“That’s another thing they all say.”

But the girl went on speaking fiercely, impervious to the man’s coarse
sarcasm, her eyes, which had deepened almost to purple, still fixed
piercingly on Gilder, who, for some reason wholly inexplicable to him,
felt himself strangely disturbed under that regard.

“Do you call it fair when the lawyer I had was only a boy--one whom the
court told me to take, a boy trying his first case--my case, that
meant the ruin of my life? My lawyer! Why, he was just getting
experience--getting it at my expense!” The girl paused as if exhausted
by the vehemence of her emotion, and at last the sparkling eyes drooped
and the heavy lids closed over them. She swayed a little, so that the
officer tightened his clasp on her wrist.

There followed a few seconds of silence. Then Gilder made an effort to
shake off the feeling that had so possessed him, and to a certain degree
he succeeded.

“The jury found you guilty,” he asserted, with an attempt to make his
voice magisterial in its severity.

Instantly, Mary was aroused to a new outburst of protest. Once again,
her eyes shot their fires at the man seated behind the desk, and she
went forward a step imperiously, dragging the officer in her wake.

“Yes, the jury found me guilty,” she agreed, with fine scorn in the
musical cadences of her voice. “Do you know why? I can tell you,
Mr. Gilder. It was because they had been out for three hours without
reaching a decision. The evidence didn’t seem to be quite enough for
some of them, after all. Well, the judge threatened to lock them up all
night. The men wanted to get home. The easy thing to do was to find me
guilty, and let it go at that. Was that fair, do you think? And that’s
not all, either. Was it fair of you, Mr. Gilder? Was it fair of you to
come to the court this morning, and tell the judge that I should be sent
to prison as a warning to others?”

A quick flush burned on the massive face of the man whom she thus
accused, and his eyes refused to meet her steady gaze of reproach.

“You know!” he exclaimed, in momentary consternation. Again, her mood
had affected his own, so that through a few hurrying seconds he felt
himself somehow guilty of wrong against this girl, so frank and so
rebuking.

“I heard you in the courtroom,” she said. “The dock isn’t very far from
the bench where you spoke to the judge about my case. Yes, I heard you.
It wasn’t: Did I do it? Or, didn’t I do it? No; it was only that I must
be made a warning to others.”

Again, silence fell for a tense interval. Then, finally, the girl spoke
in a different tone. Where before her voice had been vibrant with the
instinct of complaint against the mockery of justice under which she
suffered, now there was a deeper note, that of most solemn truth.

“Mr. Gilder,” she said simply, “as God is my judge, I am going to prison
for three years for something I didn’t do.”

But the sincerity of her broken cry fell on unheeding ears. The coarse
nature of the officer had long ago lost whatever elements of softness
there might have been to develop in a gentler occupation. As for the
owner of the store, he was not sufficiently sensitive to feel the verity
in the accents of the speaker. Moreover, he was a man who followed the
conventional, with never a distraction due to imagination and sympathy.
Just now, too, he was experiencing a keen irritation against himself
because of the manner in which he had been sensible to the influence
of her protestation, despite his will to the contrary. That irritation
against himself only reacted against the girl, and caused him to
steel his heart to resist any tendency toward commiseration. So, this
declaration of innocence was made quite in vain--indeed, served rather
to strengthen his disfavor toward the complainant, and to make his
manner harsher when she voiced the pitiful question over which she had
wondered and grieved.

“Why did you ask the judge to send me to prison?”

“The thieving that has been going on in this store for over a year has
got to stop,” Gilder answered emphatically, with all his usual energy
of manner restored. As he spoke, he raised his eyes and met the girl’s
glance fairly. Thought of the robberies was quite enough to make him
pitiless toward the offender.

“Sending me to prison won’t stop it,” Mary Turner said, drearily.

“Perhaps not,” Gilder sternly retorted. “But the discovery and
punishment of the other guilty ones will.” His manner changed to a
business-like alertness. “You sent word to me that you could tell me how
to stop the thefts in the store. Well, my girl, do this, and, while I
can make no definite promise, I’ll see what can be done about getting
you out of your present difficulty.” He picked up a pencil, pulled a
pad of blank paper convenient to his hand, and looked at the girl
expectantly, with aggressive inquiry in his gaze. “Tell me now,” he
concluded, “who were your pals?”

The matter-of-fact manner of this man who had unwittingly wronged her so
frightfully was the last straw on the girl’s burden of suffering. Under
it, her patient endurance broke, and she cried out in a voice of utter
despair that caused Gilder to start nervously, and even impelled the
stolid officer to a frown of remonstrance.

“I have no pals!” she ejaculated, furiously. “I never stole anything in
my life. Must I go on telling you over and over again?” Her voice rose
in a wail of misery. “Oh, why won’t any one believe me?”

Gilder was much offended by this display of an hysterical grief, which
seemed to his phlegmatic temperament altogether unwarranted by the
circumstances. He spoke decisively.

“Unless you can control yourself, you must go.” He pushed away the pad
of paper, and tossed the pencil aside in physical expression of his
displeasure. “Why did you send that message, if you have nothing to
say?” he demanded, with increasing choler.

But now the girl had regained her former poise. She stood a little
drooping and shaken, where for a moment she had been erect and tensed.
There was a vast weariness in her words as she answered.

“I have something to tell you, Mr. Gilder,” she said, quietly. “Only,
I--I sort of lost my grip on the way here, with this man by my side.”

“Most of ‘em do, the first time,” the officer commented, with a certain
grim appreciation.

“Well?” Gilder insisted querulously, as the girl hesitated.

At once, Mary went on speaking, and now a little increase of vigor
trembled in her tones.

“When you sit in a cell for three months waiting for your trial, as I
did, you think a lot. And, so, I got the idea that if I could talk to
you, I might be able to make you understand what’s really wrong. And if
I could do that, and so help out the other girls, what has happened to
me would not, after all, be quite so awful--so useless, somehow.” Her
voice lowered to a quick pleading, and she bent toward the man at the
desk. “Mr. Gilder,” she questioned, “do you really want to stop the
girls from stealing?”

“Most certainly I do,” came the forcible reply.

The girl spoke with a great earnestness, deliberately.

“Then, give them a fair chance.”

The magnate stared in sincere astonishment over this absurd, this futile
suggestion for his guidance.

“What do you mean?” he vociferated, with rising indignation. There was
an added hostility in his demeanor, for it seemed to him that this thief
of his goods whom he had brought to justice was daring to trifle with
him. He grew wrathful over the suspicion, but a secret curiosity still
held his temper within bounds “What do you mean?” he repeated; and now
the full force of his strong voice set the room trembling.

The tones of the girl came softly musical, made more delicately resonant
to the ear by contrast with the man’s roaring.

“Why,” she said, very gently, “I mean just this: Give them a living
chance to be honest.”

“A living chance!” The two words were exploded with dynamic violence.
The preposterousness of the advice fired Gilder with resentment so
pervasive that through many seconds he found himself unable to express
the rage that flamed within him.

The girl showed herself undismayed by his anger.

“Yes,” she went on, quietly; “that’s all there is to it. Give them a
living chance to get enough food to eat, and a decent room to sleep in,
and shoes that will keep their feet off the pavement winter mornings. Do
you think that any girl wants to steal? Do you think that any girl wants
to risk----?”

By this time, however, Gilder had regained his powers of speech, and he
interrupted stormily.

“And is this what you have taken up my time for? You want to make a
maudlin plea for guilty, dishonest girls, when I thought you really
meant to bring me facts.”

Nevertheless, Mary went on with her arraignment uncompromisingly. There
was a strange, compelling energy in her inflections that penetrated even
the pachydermatous officer, so that, though he thought her raving, he
let her rave on, which was not at all his habit of conduct, and did
indeed surprise him mightily. As for Gilder, he felt helpless in some
puzzling fashion that was totally foreign to his ordinary self. He was
still glowing with wrath over the method by which he had been victimized
into giving the girl a hearing. Yet, despite his chagrin, he realized
that he could not send her from him forthwith. By some inexplicable
spell she bound him impotent.

“We work nine hours a day,” the quiet voice went on, a curious pathos
in the rich timbre of it; “nine hours a day, for six days in the week.
That’s a fact, isn’t it? And the trouble is, an honest girl can’t live
on six dollars a week. She can’t do it, and buy food and clothes, and
pay room-rent and carfare. That’s another fact, isn’t it?”

Mary regarded the owner of the store with grave questioning in her
violet eyes. Under the urgency of emotion, color crept into the pallid
cheeks, and now her face was very beautiful--so beautiful, indeed, that
for a little the charm of its loveliness caught the man’s gaze, and he
watched her with a new respect, born of appreciation for her feminine
delightfulness. The impression was far too brief. Gilder was not given
to esthetic raptures over women. Always, the business instinct was the
dominant. So, after the short period of amazed admiration over such
unexpected winsomeness, his thoughts flew back angrily to the matters
whereof she spoke so ridiculously.

“I don’t care to discuss these things,” he declared peremptorily, as the
girl remained silent for a moment.

“And I have no wish to discuss anything,” Mary returned evenly. “I
only want to give you what you asked for--facts.” A faint smile of
reminiscence curved the girl’s lips. “When they first locked me up,” she
explained, without any particular evidence of emotion, “I used to sit
and hate you.”

“Oh, of course!” came the caustic exclamation from Gilder.

“And then, I thought that perhaps you did not understand,” Mary
continued; “that, if I were to tell you how things really are, it might
be you would change them somehow.”

At this ingenuous statement, the owner of the store gave forth a gasp of
sheer stupefaction.

“I!” he cried, incredulously. “I change my business policy because you
ask me to!”

There was something imperturbable in the quality of the voice as the
girl went resolutely forward with her explanation. It was as if she
were discharging a duty not to be gainsaid, not to be thwarted by
any difficulty, not even the realization that all the effort must be
ultimately in vain.

“Do you know how we girls live?--but, of course, you don’t. Three of us
in one room, doing our own cooking over the two-burner gas-stove, and
our own washing and ironing evenings, after being on our feet for nine
hours.”

The enumeration of the sordid details left the employer absolutely
unmoved, since he lacked the imagination necessary to sympathize
actually with the straining evil of a life such as the girl had known.
Indeed, he spoke with an air of just remonstrance, as if the girl’s
charges were mischievously faulty.

“I have provided chairs behind the counters,” he stated.

There was no especial change in the girl’s voice as she answered his
defense. It continued musically low, but there was in it the insistent
note of sincerity.

“But have you ever seen a girl sitting in one of them?” she questioned,
coldly. “Please answer me. Have you? Of course not,” she said, after a
little pause during which the owner had remained silent. She shook
her head in emphatic negation. “And do you understand why? It’s simply
because every girl knows that the manager of her department would think
he could get along without her, if he were to see her sitting down
----loafing, you know! So, she would be discharged. All it amounts to
is that, after being on her feet for nine hours, the girl usually walks
home, in order to save carfare. Yes, she walks, whether sick or well.
Anyhow, you are generally so tired, it don’t make much difference which
you are.”

Gilder was fuming under these strictures, which seemed to him altogether
baseless attacks on himself. His exasperation steadily waxed against the
girl, a convicted felon, who thus had the audacity to beard him.

“What has all this to do with the question of theft in the store?”
 he rumbled, huffily. “That was the excuse for your coming here. And,
instead of telling me something, you rant about gas-stoves and carfare.”

The inexorable voice went on in its monotone, as if he had not spoken.

“And, when you are really sick, and have to stop work, what are you
going to do then? Do you know, Mr. Gilder, that the first time a
straight girl steals, it’s often because she had to have a doctor--or
some luxury like that? And some of them do worse than steal. Yes, they
do--girls that started straight, and wanted to stay that way. But, of
course, some of them get so tired of the whole grind that--that----”

The man who was the employer of hundreds concerning whom these grim
truths were uttered, stirred uneasily in his chair, and there came a
touch of color into the healthy brown of his cheeks as he spoke his
protest.

“I’m not their guardian. I can’t watch over them after they leave the
store. They are paid the current rate of wages--as much as any other
store pays.” As he spoke, the anger provoked by this unexpected
assault on him out of the mouth of a convict flamed high in virtuous
repudiation. “Why,” he went on vehemently, “no man living does more
for his employees than I do. Who gave the girls their fine rest-rooms
upstairs? I did! Who gave them the cheap lunch-rooms? I did!”

“But you won’t pay them enough to live on!” The very fact that the words
were spoken without any trace of rancor merely made this statement of
indisputable truth obnoxious to the man, who was stung to more savage
resentment in asserting his impugned self-righteousness.

“I pay them the same as the other stores do,” he repeated, sullenly.

Yet once again, the gently cadenced voice gave answer, an answer
informed with that repulsive insistence to the man who sought to resist
her indictment of him.

“But you won’t pay them enough to live on.” The simple lucidity of the
charge forbade direct reply.

Gilder betook himself to evasion by harking back to the established
ground of complaint.

“And, so, you claim that you were forced to steal. That’s the plea you
make for yourself and your friends.”

“I wasn’t forced to steal,” came the answer, spoken in the monotone that
had marked her utterance throughout most of the interview. “I wasn’t
forced to steal, and I didn’t steal. But, all the same, that’s the plea,
as you call it, that I’m making for the other girls. There are hundreds
of them who steal because they don’t get enough to eat. I said I would
tell you how to stop the stealing. Well, I have done it. Give the girls
a fair chance to be honest. You asked me for the names, Mr. Gilder.
There’s only one name on which to put the blame for the whole
business--and that name is Edward Gilder!... Now, won’t you do something
about it?”

At that naked question, the owner of the store jumped up from his
chair, and stood glowering at the girl who risked a request so full of
vituperation against himself.

“How dare you speak to me like this?” he thundered.

There was no disconcertion exhibited by the one thus challenged. On the
contrary, she repeated her question with a simple dignity that still
further outraged the man.

“Won’t you, please, do something about it?”

“How dare you?” he shouted again. Now, there was stark wonder in his
eyes as he put the question.

“Why, I dared,” Mary Turner explained, “because you have done all the
harm you can to me. And, now, I’m trying to give you the chance to do
better by the others. You ask me why I dare. I have a right to dare!
I have been straight all my life. I have wanted decent food and warm
clothes, and--a little happiness, all the time I have worked for you,
and I have gone without those things, just to stay straight.... The end
of it all is: You are sending me to prison for something I didn’t do.
That’s why I dare!”

Cassidy, the officer in charge of Mary Turner, had stood patiently
beside her all this while, always holding her by the wrist. He had
been mildly interested in the verbal duel between the big man of the
department store and this convict in his own keeping. Vaguely, he had
marveled at the success of the frail girl in declaiming of her injuries
before the magnate. He had felt no particular interest beyond that,
merely looking on as one might at any entertaining spectacle. The
question at issue was no concern of his. His sole business was to take
the girl away when the interview should be ended. It occurred to him now
that this might, in fact, be the time to depart. It seemed, indeed, that
the insistent reiteration of the girl had at last left he owner of the
store quite powerless to answer. It was possible, then, that it were
wiser the girl should be removed. With the idea in mind, he stared
inquiringly at Gilder until he caught that flustered gentleman’s eye.
A nod from the magnate sufficed him. Gilder, in truth, could not trust
himself just then to an audible command. He was seriously disturbed by
the gently spoken truths that had issued from the girl’s lips. He was
not prepared with any answer, though he hotly resented every word of
her accusation. So, when he caught the question in the glance of
the officer, he felt a guilty sensation of relief as he signified an
affirmative by his gesture.

Cassidy faced about, and in his movement there was a tug at the wrist
of the girl that set her moving toward the door. Her realization of what
this meant was shown in her final speech.

“Oh, he can take me now,” she said, bitterly. Then her voice rose above
the monotone that had contented her hitherto. Into the music of her
tones beat something sinister, evilly vindictive, as she faced about at
the doorway to which Cassidy had led her. Her face, as she scrutinized
once again the man at the desk, was coldly malignant.

“Three years isn’t forever,” she said, in a level voice. “When I come
out, you are going to pay for every minute of them, Mr. Gilder. There
won’t be a day or an hour that I won’t remember that at the last it was
your word sent me to prison. And you are going to pay me for that. You
are going to pay me for the five years I have starved making money for
you--that, too! You are going to pay me for all the things I am losing
today, and----”

The girl thrust forth her left hand, on that side where stood the
officer. So vigorous was her movement that Cassidy’s clasp was thrown
off the wrist. But the bond between the two was not broken, for from
wrist to wrist showed taut the steel chain of the manacles. The girl
shook the links of the handcuffs in a gesture stronger than words. In
her final utterance to the agitated man at the desk, there was a cold
threat, a prophecy of disaster. From the symbol of her degradation, she
looked to the man whose action had placed it there. In the clashing of
their glances, hers won the victory, so that his eyes fell before the
menace in hers.

“You are going to pay me for this!” she said. Her voice was little more
than a whisper, but it was loud in the listener’s heart. “Yes, you are
going to pay--for this!”



CHAPTER VI. INFERNO.

They were grim years, those three during which Mary Turner served her
sentence in Burnsing. There was no time off for good behavior. The girl
learned soon that the favor of those set in authority over her could
only be won at a cost against which her every maidenly instinct
revolted. So, she went through the inferno of days and nights in a
dreariness of suffering that was deadly. Naturally, the life there was
altogether an evil thing. There was the material ill ever present in
the round of wearisome physical toil, the coarse, distasteful food, the
hard, narrow couch, the constant, gnawing irksomeness of imprisonment,
away from light and air, away from all that makes life worth while.

Yet, these afflictions were not the worst injuries to mar the girl
convict’s life. That which bore upon her most weightily and incessantly
was the degradation of this environment from which there was never any
respite, the viciousness of this spot wherein she had been cast through
no fault of her own. Vileness was everywhere, visibly in the faces of
many, and it was brimming from the souls of more, subtly hideous. The
girl held herself rigidly from any personal intimacy with her fellows.
To some extent, at least, she could separate herself from their
corruption in the matter of personal association. But, ever present,
there was a secret energy of vice that could not be escaped so
simply--nor, indeed, by any device; that breathed in the spiritual
atmosphere itself of the place. Always, this mysterious, invisible, yet
horribly potent, power of sin was like a miasma throughout the prison.
Always, it was striving to reach her soul, to make her of its own. She
fought the insidious, fetid force as best she might. She was not evil
by nature. She had been well grounded in principles of righteousness.
Nevertheless, though she maintained the integrity of her character,
that character suffered from the taint. There developed over the girl’s
original sensibility a shell of hardness, which in time would surely
come to make her less scrupulous in her reckoning of right and wrong.

Yet, as a rule, character remains the same throughout life as to its
prime essentials, and, in this case, Mary Turner at the end of her term
was vitally almost as wholesome as on the day when she began the serving
of the sentence. The change wrought in her was chiefly of an external
sort. The kindliness of her heart and her desire for the seemly joys of
life were unweakened. But over the better qualities of her nature
was now spread a crust of worldly hardness, a denial of appeal to her
sensibilities. It was this that would eventually bring her perilously
close to contented companioning with crime.

The best evidence of the fact that Mary Turner’s soul was not fatally
soiled must be found in the fact that still, at the expiration of her
sentence, she was fully resolved to live straight, as the saying is
which she had quoted to Gilder. This, too, in the face of sure knowledge
as to the difficulties that would beset the effort, and in the face of
the temptations offered to follow an easier path.

There was, for example, Aggie Lynch, a fellow convict, with whom she
had a slight degree of acquaintance, nothing more. This young woman, a
criminal by training, offered allurements of illegitimate employment in
the outer world when they should be free. Mary endured the companionship
with this prisoner because a sixth sense proclaimed the fact that here
was one unmoral, rather than immoral--and the difference is mighty. For
that reason, Aggie Lynch was not actively offensive, as were most of the
others. She was a dainty little blonde, with a baby face, in which were
set two light-blue eyes, of a sort to widen often in demure wonder over
most things in a surprising and naughty world. She had been convicted of
blackmail, and she made no pretense even of innocence. Instead, she was
inclined to boast over her ability to bamboozle men at her will. She
was a natural actress of the ingenue role, and in that pose she could
unfailingly beguile the heart of the wisest of worldly men.

Perhaps, the very keen student of physiognomy might have discovered
grounds for suspecting her demureness by reason of the thick, level
brows that cast a shadow on the bland innocence of her face. For the
rest, she possessed a knack of rather harmless perversity, a fair
smattering of grammar and spelling, and a lively sense of humor within
her own limitations, with a particularly small intelligence in other
directions. Her one art was histrionics of the kind that made an
individual appeal. In such, she was inimitable. She had been reared in a
criminal family, which must excuse much. Long ago, she had lost track
of her father; her mother she had never known. Her one relation was a
brother of high standing as a pickpocket. One principal reason of her
success in leading on men to make fools of themselves over her, to their
everlasting regret afterward, lay in the fact that, in spite of all the
gross irregularities of her life, she remained chaste. She deserved no
credit for such restraint, since it was a matter purely of temperament,
not of resolve.

The girl saw in Mary Turner the possibilities of a ladylike personality
that might mean much financial profit in the devious ways of which she
was a mistress. With the frankness characteristic of her, she proceeded
to paint glowing pictures of a future shared to the undoing of ardent
and fatuous swains. Mary Turner listened with curiosity, but she was in
no wise moved to follow such a life, even though it did not necessitate
anything worse than a fraudulent playing at love, without physical
degradation. So, she steadfastly continued her refusals, to the great
astonishment of Aggie, who actually could not understand in the least,
even while she believed the other’s declaration of innocence of the
crime for which she was serving a sentence. But, for her own part, such
innocence had nothing to do with the matter. Where, indeed, could be
the harm in making some old sinner pay a round price for his folly? And
always, in response to every argument, Mary shook her head in negation.
She would live straight.

Then, the heavy brows of Aggie would draw down a little, and the baby
face would harden.

“You will find that you are up against a hell of a frost,” she would
declare, brutally.

Mary found the profane prophecy true. Back in New York, she experienced
a poverty more ravaging than any she had known in those five lean years
of her working in the store. She had been absolutely penniless for two
days, and without food through the gnawing hours, when she at last found
employment of the humblest in a milliner’s shop. Followed a blessed
interval in which she worked contentedly, happy over the meager stipend,
since it served to give her shelter and food honestly earned.

But the ways of the police are not always those of ordinary decency. In
due time, an officer informed Mary’s employer concerning the fact of
her record as a convict, and thereupon she was at once discharged. The
unfortunate victim of the law came perilously close to despair then.
Yet, her spirit triumphed, and again she persevered in that resolve
to live straight. Finally, for the second time, she secured a cheap
position in a cheap shop--only to be again persecuted by the police, so
that she speedily lost the place.

Nevertheless, indomitable in her purpose, she maintained the struggle.
A third time she obtained work, and there, after a little, she told
her employer, a candy manufacturer in a small way, the truth as to her
having been in prison. The man had a kindly heart, and, in addition,
he ran little risk in the matter, so he allowed her to remain. When,
presently, the police called his attention to the girl’s criminal
record, he paid no heed to their advice against retaining her services.
But such action on his part offended the greatness of the law’s dignity.
The police brought pressure to bear on the man. They even called in the
assistance of Edward Gilder himself, who obligingly wrote a very severe
letter to the girl’s employer. In the end, such tactics alarmed the
man. For the sake of his own interests, though unwillingly enough, he
dismissed Mary from his service.

It was then that despair did come upon the girl. She had tried with all
the strength of her to live straight. Yet, despite her innocence,
the world would not let her live according to her own conscience. It
demanded that she be the criminal it had branded her--if she were to
live at all. So, it was despair! For she would not turn to evil, and
without such turning she could not live. She still walked the streets
falteringly, seeking some place; but her heart was gone from the quest.
Now, she was sunken in an apathy that saved her from the worst pangs
of misery. She had suffered so much, so poignantly, that at last her
emotions had grown sluggish. She did not mind much even when her tiny
hoard of money was quite gone, and she roamed the city, starving....
Came an hour when she thought of the river, and was glad!

Mary remembered, with a wan smile, how, long ago, she had thought with
amazed horror of suicide, unable to imagine any trouble sufficient
to drive one to death as the only relief. Now, however, the thing was
simple to her. Since there was nothing else, she must turn to that--to
death. Indeed, it was so very simple, so final, and so easy, after the
agonies she had endured, that she marveled over her own folly in not
having sought such escape before.... Even with the first wild fancy, she
had unconsciously bent her steps westward toward the North River. Now,
she quickened her pace, anxious for the plunge that should set the term
to sorrow. In her numbed brain was no flicker of thought as to whatever
might come to her afterward. Her sole guide was that compelling
passion of desire to be done with this unbearable present. Nothing else
mattered--not in the least!

So, she came through the long stretch of ill-lighted streets, crossed
some railroad tracks to a pier, over which she hurried to the far end,
where it projected out to the fiercer currents of the Hudson. There,
without giving herself a moment’s pause for reflection or hesitation,
she leaped out as far as her strength permitted into the coil of
waters.... But, in that final second, natural terror in the face of
death overcame the lethargy of despair--a shriek burst from her lips.

But for that scream of fear, the story of Mary Turner had ended there
and then. Only one person was anywhere near to catch the sound. And that
single person heard. On the south side of the pier a man had just tied
up a motor-boat. He stood up in alarm at the cry, and was just in time
to gain a glimpse of a white face under the dim moonlight as it swept
down with the tide, two rods beyond him. On the instant, he threw off
his coat and sprang far out after the drifting body. He came to it in a
few furious strokes, caught it. Then began the savage struggle to save
her and himself. The currents tore at him wrathfully, but he fought
against them with all the fierceness of his nature. He had strength
a-plenty, but it needed all of it, and more, to win out of the river’s
hungry clutch. What saved the two of them was the violent temper of the
man. Always, it had been the demon to set him aflame. To-night, there
in the faint light, within the grip of the waters, he was moved to
insensate fury against the element that menaced. His rage mounted, and
gave him new power in the battle. Maniacal strength grew out of supreme
wrath. Under the urge of it, he conquered--at last brought himself and
his charge to the shore.

When, finally, the rescuer was able to do something more than gasp
chokingly, he gave anxious attention to the woman whom he had brought
out from the river. Yet, at the outset, he could not be sure that she
still lived. She had shown no sign of life at any time since he had
first seized her. That fact had been of incalculable advantage to him
in his efforts to reach the shore with her. Now, however, it alarmed him
mightily, though it hardly seemed possible that she could have drowned.
So far as he could determine, she: had not even sunk once beneath the
surface. Nevertheless, she displayed no evidence of vitality, though
he chafed her hands for a long time. The shore here was very lonely; it
would take precious time to summon aid. It seemed, notwithstanding, that
this must be the only course. Then just as the man was about to leave
her, the girl sighed, very faintly, with an infinite weariness, and
opened her eyes. The man echoed the sigh, but his was of joy, since now
he knew that his strife in the girl’s behalf had not been in vain.

Afterward, the rescuer experienced no great difficulty in carrying
out his work to a satisfactory conclusion. Mary revived to clear
consciousness, which was at first inclined toward hysteria, but this
phase yielded soon under the sympathetic ministrations of the man. His
rather low voice was soothing to her tired soul, and his whole air
was at once masterful and gently tender. Moreover, there was an
inexpressible balm to her spirit in the very fact that some one was thus
ministering to her. It was the first time for many dreadful years that
any one had taken thought for her welfare. The effect of it was like a
draught of rarest wine to warm her heart. So, she rested obediently as
he busied himself with her complete restoration, and, when finally she
was able to stand, and to walk with the support of his arm, she went
forward slowly at his side without so much even as a question of
whither.

And, curiously, the man himself shared the gladness that touched
the mood of the girl, for he experienced a sudden pride in his
accomplishment of the night, a pride that delighted a starved part of
his nature. Somewhere in him were the seeds of self-sacrifice, the
seeds of a generous devotion to others. But those seeds had been left
undeveloped in a life that had been lived since early boyhood outside
the pale of respectability. To-night, Joe Garson had performed, perhaps,
his first action with no thought of self at the back of it. He had
risked his life to save that of a stranger. The fact astonished him,
while it pleased him hugely. The sensation was at once novel and
thrilling. Since it was so agreeable, he meant to prolong the glow of
self-satisfaction by continuing to care for this waif of the river. He
must make his rescue complete. It did not occur to him to question his
fitness for the work. His introspection did not reach to a point of
suspecting that he, an habitual criminal, was necessarily of a sort to
be most objectionable as the protector of a young girl. Indeed, had any
one suggested the thought to him, he would have met it with a sneer, to
the effect that a wretch thus tired of life could hardly object to any
one who constituted himself her savior.

In this manner, Joe Garson, the notorious forger, led the dripping girl
eastward through the squalid streets, until at last they came to an
adequately lighted avenue, and there a taxicab was found. It carried
them farther north, and to the east still, until at last it came to a
halt before an apartment house that was rather imposing, set in a street
of humbler dwellings. Here, Garson paid the fare, and then helped
the girl to alight, and on into the hallway. Mary went with him quite
unafraid, though now with a growing curiosity. Strange as it all was,
she felt that she could trust this man who had plucked her from death,
who had worked over her with so much of tender kindliness. So, she
waited patiently; only, watched with intentness as he pressed the button
of a flat number. She observed with interest the thick, wavy gray of
his hair, which contradicted pleasantly the youthfulness of his
clean-shaven, resolute face, and the spare, yet well-muscled form.

The clicking of the door-latch sounded soon, and the two entered, and
went slowly up three flights of stairs. On the landing beyond the third
flight, the door of a rear flat stood open, and in the doorway appeared
the figure of a woman.

“Well, Joe, who’s the skirt?” this person demanded, as the man and his
charge halted before her. Then, abruptly, the round, baby-like face of
the woman puckered in amazement. Her voice rose shrill. “My Gawd, if it
ain’t Mary Turner!”

At that, the newcomer’s eyes opened swiftly to their widest, and she
stared astounded in her turn.

“Aggie!” she cried.



CHAPTER VII. WITHIN THE LAW.

In the time that followed, Mary lived in the flat which Aggie Lynch
occupied along with her brother, Jim, a pickpocket much esteemed among
his fellow craftsmen. The period wrought transformations of radical and
bewildering sort in both the appearance and the character of the girl.
Joe Garson, the forger, had long been acquainted with Aggie and her
brother, though he considered them far beneath him in the social scale,
since their criminal work was not of that high kind on which he prided
himself. But, as he cast about for some woman to whom he might take the
hapless girl he had rescued, his thoughts fell on Aggie, and forthwith
his determination was made, since he knew that she was respectable,
viewed according to his own peculiar lights. He was relieved rather than
otherwise to learn that there was already an acquaintance between the
two women, and the fact that his charge had served time in prison did
not influence him one jot against her. On the contrary, it increased in
some measure his respect for her as one of his own kind. By the time he
had learned as well of her innocence, he had grown so interested
that even her folly, as he was inclined to deem it, did not cause any
wavering in his regard.

Now, at last, Mary Turner let herself drift. It seemed to her that she
had abandoned herself to fate in that hour when she threw herself into
the river. Afterward, without any volition on her part, she had been
restored to life, and set within an environment new and strange to her,
in which soon, to her surprise, she discovered a vivid pleasure. So,
she fought no more, but left destiny to work its will unhampered by
her futile strivings. For the first time in her life, thanks to the
hospitality of Aggie Lynch, secretly reinforced from the funds of Joe
Garson, Mary found herself living in luxurious idleness, while her every
wish could be gratified by the merest mention of it. She was fed on the
daintiest of fare, for Aggie was a sybarite in all sensuous pleasures
that were apart from sex. She was clothed with the most delicate
richness for the first time as to those more mysterious garments which
women love, and she soon had a variety of frocks as charming as her
graceful form demanded. In addition, there were as many of books and
magazines as she could wish. Her mind, long starved like her body,
seized avidly on the nourishment thus afforded. In this interest, Aggie
had no share--was perhaps a little envious over Mary’s absorption in
printed pages. But for her consolation were the matters of food and
dress, and of countless junketings. In such directions, Aggie was the
leader, an eager, joyous one always. She took a vast pride in her guest,
with the unmistakable air of elegance, and she dared to dream of great
triumphs to come, though as yet she carefully avoided any suggestion to
Mary of wrong-doing.

In the end, the suggestion came from Mary Turner herself, to the great
surprise of Aggie, and, truth to tell, of herself.

There were two factors that chiefly influenced her decision. The first
was due to the feeling that, since the world had rejected her, she
need no longer concern herself with the world’s opinion, or retain any
scruples over it. Back of this lay her bitter sentiment toward the man
who had been the direct cause of her imprisonment, Edward Gilder. It
seemed to her that the general warfare against the world might well be
made an initial step in the warfare she meant to wage, somehow, some
time, against that man personally, in accordance with the hysterical
threat she had uttered to his face.

The factor that was the immediate cause of her decision on an irregular
mode of life was an editorial in one of the daily newspapers. This was
a scathing arraignment of a master in high finance. The point of the
writer’s attack was the grim sarcasm for such methods of thievery as are
kept within the law. That phrase held the girl’s fancy, and she read the
article again with a quickened interest. Then, she began to meditate.
She herself was in a curious, indeterminate attitude as far as concerned
the law. It was the law that had worked the ruin of her life, which she
had striven to make wholesome. In consequence, she felt for the law no
genuine respect, only detestation as for the epitome of injustice.
Yet, she gave it a superficial respect, born of those three years of
suffering which had been the result of the penalty inflicted on her. It
was as an effect of this latter feeling that she was determined on one
thing of vital importance: that never would she be guilty of anything
to pit her against the law’s decrees. She had known too many hours
of anguish in the doom set on her life because she had been deemed a
violator of the law. No, never would she let herself take any position
in which the law could accuse her.... But there remained the fact that
the actual cause of her long misery was this same law, manipulated by
the man she hated. It had punished her, though she had been without
fault. For that reason, she must always regard it as her enemy, must,
indeed, hate it with an intensity beyond words--with an intensity equal
to that she bore the man, Gilder. Now, in the paragraph she had just
read she found a clue to suggestive thought, a hint as to a means by
which she might satisfy her rancor against the law that had outraged
her--and this in safety since she would attempt nought save that within
the law.

Mary’s heart leaped at the possibility back of those three words,
“within the law.” She might do anything, seek any revenge, work any
evil, enjoy any mastery, as long as she should keep within the law.
There could be no punishment then. That was the lesson taught by the
captain in high finance. He was at pains always in his stupendous
robberies to keep within the law. To that end, he employed lawyers of
mighty cunning and learning to guide his steps aright in such tortuous
paths.

There, then, was the secret. Why should she not use the like means? Why,
indeed? She had brains enough to devise, surely. Beyond that, she
needed only to keep her course most carefully within those limits of
wrong-doing permitted by the statutes. For that, the sole requirement
would be a lawyer equally unscrupulous and astute. At once, Mary’s mind
was made up. After all, the thing was absurdly simple. It was merely a
matter for ingenuity and for prudence in alliance.... Moreover, there
would come eventually some adequate device against her arch-enemy,
Edward Gilder.

Mary meditated on the idea for many days, and ever it seemed
increasingly good to her. Finally, it developed to a point where she
believed it altogether feasible, and then she took Joe Garson into
her confidence. He was vastly astonished at the outset and not quite
pleased. To his view, this plan offered merely a fashion of setting
difficulties in the way of achievement. Presently, however, the
sincerity and persistence of the girl won him over. The task of
convincing him would have been easier had he himself ever known the
torment of serving a term in prison. Thus far, however, the forger
had always escaped the penalty for his crimes, though often close to
conviction. But Mary’s arguments were of a compelling sort as she set
them forth in detail, and they made their appeal to Garson, who was by
no means lacking in a shrewd native intelligence. He agreed that the
experiment should be made, notwithstanding the fact that he felt no
particular enthusiasm over the proposed scheme of working. It is likely
that his own strong feeling of attraction toward the girl whom he had
saved from death, who now appeared before him as a radiantly beautiful
young woman, was more persuasive than the excellent ideas which she
presented so emphatically, and with a logic so impressive.

An agreement was made by which Joe Garson and certain of his more
trusted intimates in the underworld were to put themselves under the
orders of Mary concerning the sphere of their activities. Furthermore,
they bound themselves not to engage in any devious business without her
consent. Aggie, too, was one of the company thus constituted, but she
figured little in the preliminary discussions, since neither Mary nor
the forger had much respect for the intellectual capabilities of the
adventuress, though they appreciated to the full her remarkable powers
of influencing men to her will.

It was not difficult to find a lawyer suited to the necessities of the
undertaking. Mary bore in mind constantly the high financier’s reliance
on the legal adviser competent to invent a method whereby to baffle the
law at any desired point, and after judicious investigation she selected
an ambitious and experienced Jew named Sigismund Harris, just in the
prime of his mental vigors, who possessed a knowledge of the law only to
be equalled by his disrespect for it. He seemed, indeed, precisely
the man to fit the situation for one desirous of outraging the law
remorselessly, while still retaining a place absolutely within it.

Forthwith, the scheme was set in operation. As a first step, Mary Turner
became a young lady of independent fortune, who had living with her a
cousin, Miss Agnes Lynch. The flat was abandoned. In its stead was an
apartment in the nineties on Riverside Drive, in which the ladies
lived alone with two maids to serve them. Garson had rooms in the
neighborhood, but Jim Lynch, who persistently refused the conditions
of such an alliance, betook himself afar, to continue his reckless
gathering of other folk’s money in such wise as to make him amenable to
the law the very first time he should be caught at it.

A few tentative ventures resulted in profits so large that the company
grew mightily enthusiastic over the novel manner of working. In each
instance, Harris was consulted, and made his confidential statement as
to the legality of the thing proposed. Mary gratified her eager mind
by careful studies in this chosen line of nefariousness. After a
few perfectly legal breach-of-promise suits, due to Aggie’s winsome
innocence of demeanor, had been settled advantageously out of court,
Mary devised a scheme of greater elaborateness, with the legal acumen of
the lawyer to endorse it in the matter of safety.

This netted thirty thousand dollars. It was planned as the swindling
of a swindler--which, in fact, had now become the secret principle in
Mary’s morality.

A gentleman possessed of some means, none too scrupulous himself, but
with high financial aspirations, advertised for a partner to invest
capital in a business sure to bring large returns. This advertisement
caught the eye of Mary Turner, and she answered it. An introductory
correspondence encouraged her to hope for the victory in a game of
cunning against cunning. She consulted with the perspicacious Mr.
Harris, and especially sought from him detailed information as to
partnership law. His statements gave her such confidence that presently
she entered into a partnership with the advertiser. By the terms
of their agreement, each deposited thirty thousand dollars to the
partnership account. This sum of sixty thousand dollars was ostensibly
to be devoted to the purchase of a tract of land, which should afterward
be divided into lots, and resold to the public at enormous profit. As
a matter of fact, the advertiser planned to make a spurious purchase
of the tract in question, by means of forged deeds granted by an
accomplice, thus making through fraud a neat profit of thirty thousand
dollars. The issue was, however, disappointing to him in the extreme. No
sooner was the sixty thousand dollars on deposit in the bank than Mary
Turner drew out the whole amount, as she had a perfect right to do
legally. When the advertiser learned of this, he was, naturally enough,
full to overflowing with wrath. But after an interview with Harris he
swallowed this wrath as best he might. He found that his adversary knew
a dangerous deal as to his various swindling operations. In short, he
could not go into court with clean hands, which is a prime stipulation
of the law--though often honored in the breach. But the advertiser’s
hands were too perilously filthy, so he let himself be mulcted in raging
silence.

The event established Mary as the arbiter in her own coterie. Here was,
in truth, a new game, a game most entertaining, and most profitable,
and not in the least risky. Immediately after the adventure with the
advertiser, Mary decided that a certain General Hastings would make an
excellent sacrifice on the altar of justice--and to her own financial
profit. The old man was a notorious roue, of most unsavory reputation
as a destroyer of innocence. It was probable that he would easily fall a
victim to the ingenuous charms of Aggie. As for that precocious damsel,
she would run no least risk of destruction by the satyr. So, presently,
there were elaborate plottings. General Hastings met Aggie in the
most casual way. He was captivated by her freshness and beauty, her
demureness, her ignorance of all things vicious. Straightway, he set his
snares, being himself already limed. He showered every gallant attention
on the naive bread-and-butter miss, and succeeded gratifyingly soon in
winning her heart--to all appearance. But he gained nothing more, for
the coy creature abruptly developed most effective powers of resistance
to every blandishment that went beyond strictest propriety. His ardor
cooled suddenly when Harris filed the papers in a suit for ten thousand
dollars damages for breach of promise.

Even while this affair was still in the course of execution, Mary
found herself engaged in a direction that offered at least the hope
of attaining her great desire, revenge against Edward Gilder. This
opportunity came in the person of his son, Dick. After much contriving,
she secured an introduction to that young man. Forthwith, she showed
herself so deliciously womanly, so intelligent, so daintily feminine,
so singularly beautiful, that the young man was enamored almost at once.
The fact thrilled Mary to the depths of her heart, for in this son of
the man whom she hated she saw the instrument of vengeance for which
she had so longed. Yet, this one thing was so vital to her that she said
nothing of her purposes, not even to Aggie, though that observant person
may have possessed suspicions more or less near the truth.

It was some such suspicion that lay behind her speech as, in negligee,
she sat cross-legged on the bed, smoking a cigarette in a very knowing
way, while watching Mary, who was adjusting her hat before the mirror of
her dressing-table, one pleasant spring morning.

“Dollin’ up a whole lot, ain’t you?” Aggie remarked, affably, with that
laxity of language which characterized her natural moods.

“I have a very important engagement with Dick Gilder,” Mary replied,
tranquilly. She vouchsafed nothing more definite as to her intentions.

“Nice boy, ain’t he?” Aggie ventured, insinuatingly.

“Oh, I suppose so,” came the indifferent answer from Mary, as she tilted
the picture hat to an angle a trifle more jaunty.

The pseudo cousin sniffed.

“You s’pose that, do you? Well, anyhow, he’s here so much we ought to
be chargin’ him for his meal-ticket. And yet I ain’t sure that you even
know whether he’s the real goods, or not.”

The fair face of Mary Turner hardened the least bit. There shone an
expression of inscrutable disdain in the violet eyes, as she turned to
regard Aggie with a level glance.

“I know that he’s the son--the only son!--of Edward Gilder. The fact is
enough for me.”

The adventuress of the demure face shook her head in token of complete
bafflement. Her rosy lips pouted in petulant dissatisfaction.

“I don’t get you, Mary,” she admitted, querulously. “You never used to
look at the men. The way you acted when you first run round with me,
I thought you sure was a suffragette. And then you met this young
Gilder--and--good-night, nurse!”

The hardness remained in Mary’s face, as she continued to regard her
friend. But, now, there was something quizzical in the glance with which
she accompanied the monosyllable:

“Well?”

Again, Aggie shook her head in perplexity.

“His old man sends you up for a stretch for something you didn’t do--and
you take up with his son like----”

“And yet you don’t understand!” There was scorn for such gross stupidity
in the musical voice.

Aggie choked a little from the cigarette smoke, as she gave a gasp when
suspicion of the truth suddenly dawned on her slow intelligence.

“My Gawd!” Her voice came in a treble shriek of apprehension. “I’m
wise!”

“But you must understand this,” Mary went on, with an authoritative
note in her voice. “Whatever may be between young Gilder and me is to be
strictly my own affair. It has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of
you, or with our schemes for money-making. And, what is more, Agnes, I
don’t want to talk about it. But----”

“Yes?” queried Aggie, encouragingly, as the other paused. She hopefully
awaited further confidences.

“But I do want to know,” Mary continued with some severity, “what
you meant by talking in the public street yesterday with a common
pickpocket.”

Aggie’s childlike face changed swiftly its expression from a sly
eagerness to sullenness.

“You know perfectly well, Mary Turner,” she cried indignantly, “that
I only said a few words in passin’ to my brother Jim. And he ain’t no
common pickpocket. Hully Gee! He’s the best dip in the business.”

“But you must not be seen speaking with him,” Mary directed, with a
certain air of command now become habitual to her among the members of
her clique. “My cousin, Miss Agnes Lynch, must be very careful as to her
associates.”

The volatile Agnes was restored to good humor by some subtle quality in
the utterance, and a family pride asserted itself.

“He just stopped me to say it’s been the best year he ever had,” she
explained, with ostentatious vanity.

Mary appeared sceptical.

“How can that be,” she demanded, “when the dead line now is John
Street?”

“The dead line!” Aggie scoffed. A peal of laughter rang merrily from her
curving lips.

“Why, Jim takes lunch every day in the Wall Street Delmonico’s. Yes,”
 she went on with increasing animation, “and only yesterday he went down
to Police Headquarters, just for a little excitement, ‘cause Jim does
sure hate a dull life. Say, he told me they’ve got a mat at the
door with ‘Welcome’ on it--in letters three feet high. Now,
what--do--you--think--of that!” Aggie teetered joyously, the while
she inhaled a shockingly large mouthful of smoke. “And, oh, yes!”
 she continued happily, “Jim, he lifted a leather from a bull who was
standing in the hallway there at Headquarters! Jim sure does love
excitement.”

Mary lifted her dark eyebrows in half-amused inquiry.

“It’s no use, Agnes,” she declared, though without entire sincerity; “I
can’t quite keep up with your thieves’ argot--your slang, you know. Just
what did this brother of yours do?”

“Why, he copped the copper’s kale,” Aggie translated, glibly.

Mary threw out her hands in a gesture of dismay.

Thereupon, the adventuress instantly assumed a most ladylike and mincing
air which ill assorted with the cigarette that she held between her
lips.

“He gently removed a leathern wallet,” she said sedately, “containing
a large sum of money from the coat pocket of a member of the detective
force.” The elegance of utterance was inimitably done. But in the next
instant, the ordinary vulgarity of enunciation was in full play again.
“Oh, Gee!” she cried gaily. “He says Inspector Burke’s got a gold watch
that weighs a ton, an’ all set with diamon’s!--which was give to ‘im
by--admirin’ friends!... We didn’t contribute.”

“Given to him,” Mary corrected, with a tolerant smile.

Aggie sniffed once again.

“What difference does it make?” she demanded, scornfully. “He’s got it,
ain’t he?” And then she added with avaricious intensity: “Just as soon
as I get time, I’m goin’ after that watch--believe me!”

Mary shook her head in denial.

“No, you are not,” she said, calmly. “You are under my orders now. And
as long as you are working with us, you will break no laws.”

“But I can’t see----” Aggie began to argue with the petulance of a
spoiled child.

Mary’s voice came with a certainty of conviction born of fact.

“When you were working alone,” she said gravely, did you have a home
like this?”

“No,” was the answer, spoken a little rebelliously.

“Or such clothes? Most of all, did you have safety from the police?”

“No,” Aggie admitted, somewhat more responsively. “But, just the same, I
can’t see----”

Mary began putting on her gloves, and at the same time strove to give
this remarkable young woman some insight into her own point of view,
though she knew the task to be one well-nigh impossible.

“Agnes,” she said, didactically, “the richest men in this country have
made their fortunes, not because of the law, but in spite of the law.
They made up their minds what they wanted to do, and then they engaged
lawyers clever enough to show them how they could do it, and still keep
within the law. Any one with brains can get rich in this country if he
will engage the right lawyer. Well, I have the brains--and Harris is
showing me the law--the wonderful twisted law that was made for the
rich! Since we keep inside the law, we are safe.”

Aggie, without much apprehension of the exact situation, was moved to a
dimpled mirth over the essential humor of the method indicated.

“Gee, that’s funny,” she cried happily. “You an’ me an’ Joe Garson
handin’ it to ‘em, an’ the bulls can’t touch us! Next thing you know,
Harris will be havin’ us incorporated as the American Legal Crime
Society.”

“I shouldn’t be in the least surprised,” Mary assented, as she finished
buttoning her gloves. She smiled, but there was a hint of grimness in
the bending of her lips. That grimness remained, as she glanced at
the clock, then went toward the door of the room, speaking over her
shoulder.

“And, now I must be off to a most important engagement with Mr. Dick
Gilder.”



CHAPTER VIII. A TIP FROM HEADQUARTERS.

Presently, when she had finished the cigarette, Aggie proceeded to her
own chamber and there spent a considerable time in making a toilette
calculated to set off to its full advantage the slender daintiness of
her form. When at last she was gowned to her satisfaction, she went
into the drawing-room of the apartment and gave herself over to more
cigarettes, in an easy chair, sprawled out in an attitude of comfort
never taught in any finishing school for young ladies. She at the same
time indulged her tastes in art and literature by reading the jokes and
studying the comic pictures in an evening paper, which the maid brought
in at her request. She had about exhausted this form of amusement when
the coming of Joe Garson, who was usually in and out of the apartment
a number of times daily, provided a welcome diversion. After a casual
greeting between the two, Aggie explained, in response to his question,
that Mary had gone out to keep an engagement with Dick Gilder.

There was a little period of silence while the man, with the resolute
face and the light gray eyes that shone so clearly underneath the thick,
waving silver hair, held his head bent downward as if in intent thought.
When, finally, he spoke, there was a certain quality in his voice that
caused Aggie to regard him curiously.

“Mary has been with him a good deal lately,” he said, half
questioningly.

“That’s what,” was the curt agreement.

Garson brought out his next query with the brutal bluntness of his kind;
and yet there was a vague suggestion of tenderness in his tones under
the vulgar words.

“Think she’s stuck on him?” He had seated himself on a settee opposite
the girl, who did not trouble on his account to assume a posture more
decorous, and he surveyed her keenly as he waited for a reply.

“Why not?” Aggie retorted. “Bet your life I’d be, if I had a chance.
He’s a swell boy. And his father’s got the coin, too.”

At this the man moved impatiently, and his eyes wandered to the window.
Again, Aggie studied him with a swift glance of interrogation. Not being
the possessor of an over-nice sensibility as to the feelings of others,
she now spoke briskly.

“Joe, if there’s anything on your mind, shoot it.”

Garson hesitated for a moment, then decided to unburden himself, for he
craved precise knowledge in this matter.

“It’s Mary,” he explained, with some embarrassment; “her and young
Gilder.”

“Well?” came the crisp question.

“Well, somehow,” Garson went on, still somewhat confusedly, “I can’t see
any good of it, for her.”

“Why?” Aggie demanded, in surprise.

Garson’s manner grew easier, now that the subject was well broached.

“Old man Gilder’s got a big pull,” he vouchsafed, “and if he caught on
to his boy’s going with Mary, he’d be likely to send the police after
us--strong! Believe me, I ain’t looking for any trip up the river.”

Aggie shook her head, quite unaffected by the man’s suggestion of
possible peril in the situation.

“We ain’t done nothin’ they can touch us for,” she declared, with
assurance. “Mary says so.”

Garson, however, was unconvinced, notwithstanding his deference to the
judgment of his leader.

“Whether we’ve done anything, or whether we haven’t, don’t matter,” he
objected. “Once the police set out after you, they’ll get you. Russia
ain’t in it with some of the things I have seen pulled off in this
town.”

“Oh, can that ‘fraid talk!” Aggie exclaimed, roughly. “I tell you they
can’t get us. We’ve got our fingers crossed.”

She would have said more, but a noise at the hall door interrupted her,
and she looked up to see a man in the opening, while behind him appeared
the maid, protesting angrily.

“Never mind that announcing thing with me,” the newcomer rasped to the
expostulating servant, in a voice that suited well his thick-set figure,
with the bullet-shaped head and the bull-like neck. Then he turned to
the two in the drawing-room, both of whom had now risen to their feet.

“It’s all right, Fannie,” Aggie said hastily to the flustered maid. “You
can go.”

As the servant, after an indignant toss of the head, departed along the
passage, the visitor clumped heavily forward and stopped in the center
of the room, looking first at one and then the other of the two with a
smile that was not pleasant. He was not at pains to remove the derby
hat which he wore rather far back on his head. By this single sign, one
might have recognized Cassidy, who had had Mary Turner in his charge
on the occasion of her ill-fated visit to Edward Gilder’s office, four
years before, though now the man had thickened somewhat, and his ruddy
face was grown even coarser.

“Hello, Joe!” he cried, familiarly. “Hello, Aggie!”

The light-gray eyes of the forger had narrowed perceptibly as he
recognized the identity of the unceremonious caller, while the lines of
his firmly set mouth took on an added fixity.

“Well?” he demanded. His voice was emotionless.

“Just a little friendly call,” Cassidy announced, in his strident voice.
“Where’s the lady of the house?”

“Out.” It was Aggie who spoke, very sharply.

“Well, Joe,” Cassidy went on, without paying further heed to the girl
for a moment, “when she comes back, just tell her it’s up to her to make
a get-away, and to make it quick.”

But Aggie was not one to be ignored under any circumstances. Now, she
spoke with some acerbity in her voice, which could at will be wondrous
soft and low.

“Say!” she retorted viciously, “you can’t throw any scare into us. You
hadn’t got anything on us. See?”

Cassidy, in response to this outburst, favored the girl with a long
stare, and there was hearty amusement in his tones as he answered.

“Nothing on you, eh? Well, well, let’s see.” He regarded Garson with a
grin. “You are Joe Garson, forger.” As he spoke, the detective took a
note-book from a pocket, found a page, and then read: “First arrested in
1891, for forging the name of Edwin Goodsell to a check for ten thousand
dollars. Again arrested June 19, 1893, for forgery. Arrested in April,
1898, for forging the signature of Oscar Hemmenway to a series of bonds
that were counterfeit. Arrested as the man back of the Reilly gang, in
1903. Arrested in 1908 for forgery.”

There was no change in the face or pose of the man who listened to the
reading. When it was done, and the officer looked up with a resumption
of his triumphant grin, Garson spoke quietly.

“Haven’t any records of convictions, have you?”

The grin died, and a snarl sprang in its stead.

“No,” he snapped, vindictively. “But we’ve got the right dope on you,
all right, Joe Garson.” He turned savagely on the girl, who now had
regained her usual expression of demure innocence, but with her
rather too heavy brows drawn a little lower than their wont, under the
influence of an emotion otherwise concealed.

“And you’re little Aggie Lynch,” Cassidy declared, as he thrust the
note-book back into his pocket. “Just now, you’re posing as Mary
Turner’s cousin. You served two years in Burnsing for blackmail. You
were arrested in Buffalo, convicted, and served your stretch. Nothing on
you? Well, well!” Again there was triumph in the officer’s chuckle.

Aggie showed no least sign of perturbation in the face of
this revelation of her unsavory record. Only an expression of
half-incredulous wonder and delight beamed from her widely opened blue
eyes and was emphasized in the rounding of the little mouth.

“Why,” she cried, and now there was softness enough in the cooing notes,
“my Gawd! It looks as though you had actually been workin’!”

The sarcasm was without effect on the dull sensibilities of the officer.
He went on speaking with obvious enjoyment of the extent to which his
knowledge reached.

“And the head of the gang is Mary Turner. Arrested four years ago for
robbing the Emporium. Did her stretch of three years.”

“Is that all you’ve got about her?” Garson demanded, with such
abruptness that Cassidy forgot his dignity sufficiently to answer with
an unqualified yes.

The forger continued speaking rapidly, and now there was an undercurrent
of feeling in his voice.

“Nothing in your record of her about her coming out without a friend
in the world, and trying to go straight? You ain’t got nothing in that
pretty little book of your’n about your going to the millinery store
where she finally got a job, and tipping them off to where she come
from?”

“Sure, they was tipped off,” Cassidy answered, quite unmoved. And he
added, swelling visibly with importance: “We got to protect the city.”

“Got anything in that record of your’n,” Garson went on venomously,
“about her getting another job, and your following her up again, and
having her thrown out? Got it there about the letter you had old Gilder
write, so that his influence would get her canned?”

“Oh, we had her right the first time,” Cassidy admitted, complacently.

Then, the bitterness of Garson’s soul was revealed by the fierceness in
his voice as he replied.

“You did not! She was railroaded for a job she never done. She went in
honest, and she came out honest.”

The detective indulged himself in a cackle of sneering merriment.

“And that’s why she’s here now with a gang of crooks,” he retorted.

Garson met the implication fairly.

“Where else should she be?” he demanded, violently. “You ain’t got
nothing in that record about my jumping into the river after her?” The
forger’s voice deepened and trembled with the intensity of his emotion,
which was now grown so strong that any who listened and looked might
guess something of the truth as to his feeling toward this woman of whom
he spoke. “That’s where I found her--a girl that never done nobody any
harm, starving because you police wouldn’t give her a chance to work. In
the river because she wouldn’t take the only other way that was left her
to make a living, because she was keeping straight!... Have you got any
of that in your book?”

Cassidy, who had been scowling in the face of this arraignment, suddenly
gave vent to a croaking laugh of derision.

“Huh!” he said, contemptuously. “I guess you’re stuck on her, eh?”

At the words, an instantaneous change swept over Garson. Hitherto, he
had been tense, his face set with emotion, a man strong and sullen,
with eyes as clear and heartless as those of a beast in the wild.
Now, without warning, a startling transformation was wrought. His form
stiffened to rigidity after one lightning-swift step forward, and his
face grayed. The eyes glowed with the fires of a man’s heart in a spasm
of hate. He was the embodiment of rage, as he spoke huskily, his voice a
whisper that was yet louder than any shout.

“Cut that!”

The eyes of the two men locked. Cassidy struggled with all his pride
against the dominant fury this man hurled on him.

“What?” he demanded, blusteringly. But his tone was weaker than its
wont.

“I mean,” Garson repeated, and there was finality in his accents, a
deadly quality that was appalling, “I mean, cut it out--now, here, and
all the time! It don’t go!” The voice rose slightly. The effect of it
was more penetrant than a scream. “It don’t go!... Do you get me?”

There was a short interval of silence, then the officer’s eyes at last
fell. It was Aggie who relieved the tension of the scene.

“He’s got you,” she remarked, airily. “Oi, oi! He’s got you!”

There were again a few seconds of pause, and then Cassidy made an
observation that revealed in some measure the shock of the experience he
had just undergone.

“You would have been a big man, Joe, if it hadn’t been for that temper
of yours. It’s got you into trouble once or twice already. Some time
it’s likely to prove your finish.”

Garson relaxed his immobility, and a little color crept into his cheeks.

“That’s my business,” he responded, dully.

“Anyway,” the officer went on, with a new confidence, now that his eyes
were free from the gaze that had burned into his soul, “you’ve got to
clear out, the whole gang of you--and do it quick.”

Aggie, who as a matter of fact began to feel that she was not receiving
her due share of attention, now interposed, moving forward till her face
was close to the detective’s.

“We don’t scare worth a cent,” she snapped, with the virulence of a
vixen. “You can’t do anything to us. We ain’t broke the law.” There came
a sudden ripple of laughter, and the charming lips curved joyously, as
she added: “Though perhaps we have bent it a bit.”

Cassidy sneered, outraged by such impudence on the part of an
ex-convict.

“Don’t make no difference what you’ve done,” he growled. “Gee!” he went
on, with a heavy sneer. “But things are coming to a pretty pass when a
gang of crooks gets to arguing about their rights. That’s funny, that
is!”

“Then laugh!” Aggie exclaimed, insolently, and made a face at the
officer. “Ha, ha, ha!”

“Well, you’ve got the tip,” Cassidy returned, somewhat disconcerted,
after a stolid fashion of his own. “It’s up to you to take it, that’s
all. If you don’t, one of you will make a long visit with some people
out of town, and it’ll probably be Mary. Remember, I’m giving it to you
straight.”

Aggie assumed her formal society manner, exaggerated to the point of
extravagance.

“Do come again, little one,” she chirruped, caressingly. “I’ve enjoyed
your visit so much!”

But Cassidy paid no apparent attention to her frivolousness; only turned
and went noisily out of the drawing-room, offering no return to her
daintily inflected good-afternoon.

For her own part, as she heard the outer door close behind the
detective, Aggie’s expression grew vicious, and the heavy brows drew
very low, until the level line almost made her prettiness vanish.

“The truck-horse detective!” she sneered. “An eighteen collar, and a
six-and-a-half hat! He sure had his nerve, trying to bluff us!”

But it was plain that Garson was of another mood. There was anxiety in
his face, as he stood staring vaguely out of the window.

“Perhaps it wasn’t a bluff, Aggie,” he suggested.

“Well, what have we done, I’d like to know?” the girl demanded,
confidently. She took a cigarette and a match from the tabouret beside
her, and stretched her feet comfortably, if very inelegantly, on a chair
opposite.

Garson answered with a note of weariness that was unlike him.

“It ain’t what you have done,” he said, quietly. “It’s what they can
make a jury think you’ve done. And, once they set out to get you--God,
how they can frame things! If they ever start out after Mary----” He did
not finish the sentence, but sank down into his chair with a groan that
was almost of despair.

The girl replied with a burst of careless laughter.

“Joe,” she said gaily, “you’re one grand little forger, all right, all
right. But Mary’s got the brains. Pooh, I’ll string along with her as
far as she wants to go. She’s educated, she is. She ain’t like you and
me, Joe. She talks like a lady, and, what’s a damned sight harder,
she acts like a lady. I guess I know. Wake me up any old night and ask
me--just ask me, that’s all. She’s been tryin’ to make a lady out of
me!”

The vivaciousness of the girl distracted the man for the moment from
the gloom of his thoughts, and he turned to survey the speaker with a
cynical amusement.

“Swell chance!” he commented, drily.

“Oh, I’m not so worse! Just you watch out.” The lively girl sprang
up, discarded the cigarette, adjusted an imaginary train, and spoke
lispingly in a society manner much more moderate and convincing than
that with which she had favored the retiring Cassidy. Voice, pose and
gesture proclaimed at least the excellent mimic.

“How do you do, Mrs. Jones! So good of you to call!... My dear Miss
Smith, this is indeed a pleasure.” She seated herself again, quite
primly now, and moved her hands over the tabouret appropriately to her
words. “One lump, or two?... Yes, I just love bridge. No, I don’t play,”
 she continued, simpering; “but, just the same, I love it.” With this
absurd ending, Aggie again arranged her feet according to her liking on
the opposite chair. “That’s the kind of stuff she’s had me doing,” she
rattled on in her coarser voice, “and believe me, Joe, it’s damned near
killing me. But all the same,” she hurried on, with a swift revulsion
of mood to the former serious topic, “I’m for Mary strong! You stick to
her, Joe, and you’ll wear diamon’s.... And that reminds me! I wish she’d
let me wear mine, but she won’t. She says they’re vulgar for an innocent
country girl like her cousin, Agnes Lynch. Ain’t that fierce?... How can
anything be vulgar that’s worth a hundred and fifty a carat?”



CHAPTER IX. A LEGAL DOCUMENT.

Mary Turner spent less than an hour in that mysteriously important
engagement with Dick Gilder, of which she had spoken to Aggie. After
separating from the young man, she went alone down Broadway, walking the
few blocks of distance to Sigismund Harris’s office. On a corner, her
attention was caught by the forlorn face of a girl crossing into the
side street. A closer glance showed that the privation of the gaunt
features was emphasized by the scant garments, almost in tatters.
Instantly, Mary’s quick sympathies were aroused, the more particularly
since the wretched child seemed of about the age she herself had been
when her great suffering had befallen. So, turning aside, she soon
caught up with the girl and spoke an inquiry.

It was the familiar story, a father out of work, a sick mother, a brood
of hungry children. Some confused words of distress revealed the fact
that the wobegone girl was even then fighting the final battle of purity
against starvation. That she still fought on in such case proved enough
as to her decency of nature, wholesome despite squalid surroundings.
Mary’s heart was deeply moved, and her words of comfort came with a
simple sincerity that was like new life to the sorely beset waif. She
promised to interest herself in securing employment for the father,
such care as the mother and children might need, along with a proper
situation for the girl herself. In evidence of her purpose, she took her
engagement-book from her bag, and set down the street and number of the
East Side tenement where the family possessed the one room that
mocked the word home, and she gave a banknote to the girl to serve the
immediate needs.

When she went back to resume her progress down Broadway, Mary felt
herself vastly cheered by the warm glow within, which is the reward of
a kindly act, gratefully received. And, on this particular morning, she
craved such assuagement of her spirit, for the conscience that, in
spite of all her misdeeds, still lived was struggling within her. In
her revolt against a world that had wantonly inflicted on her the worst
torments, Mary Turner had thought that she might safely disregard those
principles in which she had been so carefully reared. She had believed
that by the deliberate adoption of a life of guile within limits allowed
by the law, she would find solace for her wants, while feeling that thus
she avenged herself in some slight measure for the indignities she had
undergone unjustly. Yet, as the days passed, days of success as far as
her scheming was concerned, this brilliant woman, who had tried to deem
herself unscrupulous, found that lawlessness within the law failed to
satisfy something deep within her soul. The righteousness that was
her instinct was offended by the triumphs achieved through so devious
devices, though she resolutely set her will to suppress any spiritual
rebellion.

There was, as well, another grievance of her nature, yet more subtle,
infinitely more painful. This lay in her craving for tenderness. She
was wholly woman, notwithstanding the virility of her intelligence,
its audacity, its aggressiveness. She had a heart yearning for the
multitudinous affections that are the prerogative of the feminine; she
had a heart longing for love, to receive and to give in full measure....
And her life was barren. Since the death of her father, there had been
none on whom she could lavish the great gifts of her tenderness. Through
the days of her working in the store, circumstances had shut her out
from all association with others congenial. No need to rehearse the
impossibilities of companionship in the prison life. Since then, the
situation had not vitally improved, in spite of her better worldly
condition. For Garson, who had saved her from death, she felt a strong
and lasting gratitude--nothing that relieved the longing for nobler
affections. There was none other with whom she had any intimacy except
that, of a sort, with Aggie Lynch, and by no possibility could the
adventuress serve as an object of deep regard. The girl was amusing
enough, and, indeed, a most likable person at her best. But she was,
after all, a shallow-pated individual, without a shred of principle of
any sort whatsoever, save the single merit of unswerving loyalty to her
“pals.” Mary cherished a certain warm kindliness for the first woman
who had befriended her in any way, but beyond this there was no finer
feeling.

Nevertheless, it is not quite accurate to say that Mary Turner had had
no intimacy in which her heart might have been seriously engaged. In one
instance, of recent happening, she had been much in association with a
young man who was of excellent standing in the world, who was of good
birth, good education, of delightful manners, and, too, wholesome and
agreeable beyond the most of his class. This was Dick Gilder, and, since
her companionship with him, Mary had undergone a revulsion greater than
ever before against the fate thrust on her, which now at last she had
chosen to welcome and nourish by acquiescence as best she might.

Of course, she could not waste tenderness on this man, for she had
deliberately set out to make him the instrument of her vengeance against
his father. For that very reason, she suffered much from a conscience
newly clamorous. Never for an instant did she hesitate in her
long-cherished plan of revenge against the one who had brought ruin on
her life, yet, through all her satisfaction before the prospect of final
victory after continued delay, there ran the secret, inescapable sorrow
over the fact that she must employ this means to attain her end. She had
no thought of weakening, but the better spirit within her warred against
the lust to repay an eye for an eye. It was the new Gospel against the
old Law, and the fierceness of the struggle rent her. Just now, the
doing of the kindly act seemed somehow to gratify not only her maternal
instinct toward service of love, but, too, to muffle for a little the
rebuking voice of her inmost soul.

So she went her way more at ease, more nearly content again with herself
and with her system of living. Indeed, as she was shown into the private
office of the ingenious interpreter of the law, there was not a hint of
any trouble beneath the bright mask of her beauty, radiantly smiling.

Harris regarded his client with an appreciative eye, as he bowed in
greeting, and invited her to a seat. The lawyer was a man of fine
physique, with a splendid face of the best Semitic type, in which were
large, dark, sparkling eyes--eyes a Lombroso perhaps might have judged
rather too closely set. As a matter of fact, Harris had suffered a
flagrant injustice in his own life from a suspicion of wrong-doing which
he had not merited by any act. This had caused him a loss of prestige in
his profession. He presently adopted the wily suggestion of the adage,
that it is well to have the game if you have the name, and he resolutely
set himself to the task of making as much money as possible by any means
convenient. Mary Turner as a client delighted his heart, both because of
the novelty of her ideas and for the munificence of the fees which she
ungrudgingly paid with never a protest. So, as he beamed on her now, and
spoke a compliment, it was rather the lawyer than the man that was moved
to admiration.

“Why, Miss Turner, how charming!” he declared, smiling. “Really, my dear
young lady, you look positively bridal.”

“Oh, do you think so?” Mary rejoined, with a whimsical pout, as she
seated herself. For the moment her air became distrait, but she quickly
regained her poise, as the lawyer, who had dropped back into his
chair behind the desk, went on speaking. His tone now was crisply
business-like.

“I sent your cousin, Miss Agnes Lynch, the release which she is to
sign,” he explained, “when she gets that money from General Hastings.
I wish you’d look it over, when you have time to spare. It’s all right,
I’m sure, but I confess that I appreciate your opinion of things,
Miss Turner, even of legal documents--yes, indeed, I do!--perhaps
particularly of legal documents.”

“Thank you,” Mary said, evidently a little gratified by the frank praise
of the learned gentleman for her abilities. “And have you heard from
them yet?” she inquired.

“No,” the lawyer replied. “I gave them until to-morrow. If I don’t
hear then, I shall start suit at once.” Then the lawyer’s manner became
unusually bland and self-satisfied as he opened a drawer of the desk
and brought forth a rather formidable-appearing document, bearing a
most impressive seal. “You will be glad to know,” he went on unctuously,
“that I was entirely successful in carrying out that idea of yours as to
the injunction. My dear Miss Turner,” he went on with florid compliment,
“Portia was a squawking baby, compared with you.”

“Thank you again,” Mary answered, as she took the legal paper which he
held outstretched toward her. Her scarlet lips were curved happily, and
the clear oval of her cheeks blossomed to a deeper rose. For a moment,
her glance ran over the words of the page. Then she looked up at the
lawyer, and there were new lusters in the violet eyes.

“It’s splendid,” she declared. “Did you have much trouble in getting
it?”

Harris permitted himself the indulgence of an unprofessional chuckle of
keenest amusement before he answered.

“Why, no!” he declared, with reminiscent enjoyment in his manner. “That
is, not really!” There was an enormous complacency in his air over the
event. “But, at the outset, when I made the request, the judge just
naturally nearly fell off the bench. Then, I showed him that Detroit
case, to which you had drawn my attention, and the upshot of it all
was that he gave me what I wanted without a whimper. He couldn’t help
himself, you know. That’s the long and the short of it.”

That mysterious document with the imposing seal, the request for which
had nearly caused a judge to fall off the bench, reposed safely in
Mary’s bag when she, returned to the apartment after the visit to the
lawyer’s office.



CHAPTER X. MARKED MONEY.

Mary had scarcely received from Aggie an account of Cassidy’s
threatening invasion, when the maid announced that Mr. Irwin had called.

“Show him in, in just two minutes,” Mary directed.

“Who’s the gink?” Aggie demanded, with that slangy diction which was her
habit.

“You ought to know,” Mary returned, smiling a little. “He’s the
lawyer retained by General Hastings in the matter of a certain
breach-of-promise suit.”

“Oh, you mean yours truly,” Aggie exclaimed, not in the least abashed by
her forgetfulness in an affair that concerned herself so closely. “Hope
he’s brought the money. What about it?”

“Leave the room now,” Mary ordered, crisply. “When I call to you, come
in, but be sure and leave everything to me. Merely follow my lead. And,
Agnes--be very ingenue.”

“Oh, I’m wise--I’m wise,” Aggie nodded, as she hurried out toward her
bedroom. “I’ll be a squab--surest thing you know!”

Next moment, Mary gave a formal greeting to the lawyer who represented
the man she planned to mulct effectively, and invited him to a chair
near her, while she herself retained her place at the desk, within a
drawer of which she had just locked the formidable-appearing document
received from Harris.

Irwin lost no time in coming to the point.

“I called in reference to this suit, which Miss Agnes Lynch threatens to
bring against my client, General Hastings.”

Mary regarded the attorney with a level glance, serenely expressionless
as far as could be achieved by eyes so clear and shining, and her voice
was cold as she replied with significant brusqueness.

“It’s not a threat, Mr. Irwin. The suit will be brought.”

The lawyer frowned, and there was a strident note in his voice when he
answered, meeting her glance with an uncompromising stare of hostility.

“You realize, of course,” he said finally, “that this is merely plain
blackmail.”

There was not the change of a feature in the face of the woman who
listened to the accusation. Her eyes steadfastly retained their clear
gaze into his; her voice was still coldly formal, as before.

“If it’s blackmail, Mr. Irwin, why don’t you consult the police?”
 she inquired, with manifest disdain. Mary turned to the maid, who now
entered in response to the bell she had sounded a minute before. “Fanny,
will you ask Miss Lynch to come in, please?” Then she faced the lawyer
again, with an aloofness of manner that was contemptuous. “Really, Mr.
Irwin,” she drawled, “why don’t you take this matter to the police?”

The reply was uttered with conspicuous exasperation.

“You know perfectly well,” the lawyer said bitterly, “that General
Hastings cannot afford such publicity. His position would be
jeopardized.”

“Oh, as for that,” Mary suggested evenly, and now there was a trace of
flippancy in her fashion of speaking, “I’m sure the police would keep
your complaint a secret. Really, you know, Mr. Irwin, I think you had
better take your troubles to the police, rather than to me. You will get
much more sympathy from them.”

The lawyer sprang up, with an air of sudden determination.

“Very well, I will then,” he declared, sternly. “I will!”

Mary, from her vantage point at the desk across from him, smiled a
smile that would have been very engaging to any man under more favorable
circumstances, and she pushed in his direction the telephone that stood
there.

“3100, Spring,” she remarked, encouragingly, “will bring an officer
almost immediately.” She leaned back in her chair, and surveyed the
baffled man amusedly.

The lawyer was furious over the failure of his effort to intimidate this
extraordinarily self-possessed young woman, who made a mock of his every
thrust. But he was by no means at the end of his resources.

“Nevertheless,” he rejoined, “you know perfectly well that General
Hastings never promised to marry this girl. You know----” He broke off
as Aggie entered the drawing-room,

Now, the girl was demure in seeming almost beyond belief, a childish
creature, very fair and dainty, guileless surely, with those untroubled
eyes of blue, those softly curving lips of warmest red and the more
delicate bloom in the rounded cheeks. There were the charms of innocence
and simplicity in the manner of her as she stopped just within the
doorway, whence she regarded Mary with a timid, pleading gaze, her
slender little form poised lightly as if for flight

“Did you want me, dear?” she asked. There was something half-plaintive
in the modulated cadences of the query.

“Agnes,” Mary answered affectionately, “this is Mr. Irwin, who has come
to see you in behalf of General Hastings.”

“Oh!” the girl murmured, her voice quivering a little, as the lawyer,
after a short nod, dropped again into his seat; “oh, I’m so frightened!”
 She hurried, fluttering, to a low stool behind the desk, beside Mary’s
chair, and there she sank down, drooping slightly, and catching hold of
one of Mary’s hands as if in mute pleading for protection against the
fear that beset her chaste soul.

“Nonsense!” Mary exclaimed, soothingly. “There’s really nothing at all
to be frightened about, my dear child.” Her voice was that with which
one seeks to cajole a terrified infant. “You mustn’t be afraid, Agnes.
Mr. Irwin says that General Hastings did not promise to marry you. Of
course, you understand, my dear, that under no circumstances must you
say anything that isn’t strictly true, and that, if he did not promise
to marry you, you have no case--none at all. Now, Agnes, tell me: did
General Hastings promise to marry you?”

“Oh, yes--oh, yes, indeed!” Aggie cried, falteringly. “And I wish he
would. He’s such a delightful old gentleman!” As she spoke, the girl let
go Mary’s hand and clasped her own together ecstatically.

The legal representative of the delightful old gentleman scowled
disgustedly at this outburst. His voice was portentous, as he put a
question.

“Was that promise made in writing?”

“No,” Aggie answered, gushingly. “But all his letters were in writing,
you know. Such wonderful letters!” She raised her blue eyes toward
the ceiling in a naive rapture. “So tender, and so--er--interesting!”
 Somehow, the inflection on the last word did not altogether suggest the
ingenuous.

“Yes, yes, I dare say,” Irwin agreed, hastily, with some evidences of
chagrin. He had no intention of dwelling on that feature of the letters,
concerning which he had no doubt whatsoever, since he knew the amorous
General very well indeed. They would be interesting, beyond shadow of
questioning, horribly interesting. Such was the confessed opinion of the
swain himself who had written them in his folly--horribly interesting
to all the reading public of the country, since the General was a
conspicuous figure.

Mary intervened with a suavity that infuriated the lawyer almost beyond
endurance.

“But you’re quite sure, Agnes,” she questioned gently, “that General
Hastings did promise to marry you?” The candor of her manner was
perfect.

And the answer of Aggie was given with a like convincing emphasis.

“Oh, yes!” she declared, tensely. “Why, I would swear to it.” The limpid
eyes, so appealing in their soft lusters, went first to Mary, then gazed
trustingly into those of the routed attorney.

“You see, Mr. Irwin, she would swear to that,” emphasized Mary.

“We’re beaten,” he confessed, dejectedly, turning his glance toward
Mary, whom, plainly, he regarded as his real adversary in the combat on
his client’s behalf. “I’m going to be quite frank with you, Miss
Turner, quite frank,” he stated with more geniality, though with a very
crestfallen air. Somehow, indeed, there was just a shade too much of
the crestfallen in the fashion of his utterance, and the woman whom he
addressed watched warily as he continued. “We can’t afford any scandal,
so we’re going to settle at your own terms.” He paused expectantly, but
Mary offered no comment; only maintained her alert scrutiny of the
man. The lawyer, therefore, leaned forward with a semblance of frank
eagerness. Instantly, Aggie had become agog with greedily blissful
anticipations, and she uttered a slight ejaculation of joy; but Irwin
paid no heed to her. He was occupied in taking from his pocket a thick
bill-case, and from this presently a sheaf of banknotes, which he laid
on the desk before Mary, with a little laugh of discomfiture over having
been beaten in the contest.

As he did so, Aggie thrust forth an avaricious hand, but it was caught
and held by Mary before it reached above the top of the desk, and the
avaricious gesture passed unobserved by the attorney.

“We can’t fight where ladies are concerned,” he went on, assuming, as
best he might contrive, a chivalrous tone. “So, if you will just hand
over General Hastings’ letters, why, here’s your money.”

Much to the speaker’s surprise, there followed an interval of silence,
and his puzzlement showed in the knitting of his brows. “You have the
letters, haven’t you?” he demanded, abruptly.

Aggie coyly took a thick bundle from its resting place on her rounded
bosom.

“They never leave me,” she murmured, with dulcet passion. There was
in her voice a suggestion of desolation--a desolation that was the
blighting effect of letting the cherished missives go from her.

“Well, they can leave you now, all right,” the lawyer remarked
unsympathetically, but with returning cheerfulness, since he saw the end
of his quest in visible form before him. He reached quickly forward for
the packet, which Aggie extended willingly enough. But it was Mary who,
with a swift movement, caught and held it.

“Not quite yet, Mr. Irwin, I’m afraid,” she said, calmly.

The lawyer barely suppressed a violent ejaculation of annoyance.

“But there’s the money waiting for you,” he protested, indignantly.

The rejoinder from Mary was spoken with great deliberation, yet with
a note of determination that caused a quick and acute anxiety to the
General’s representative.

“I think,” Mary explained tranquilly, “that you had better see our
lawyer, Mr. Harris, in reference to this. We women know nothing of such
details of business settlement.”

“Oh, there’s no need for all that formality,” Irwin urged, with a great
appearance of bland friendliness.

“Just the same,” Mary persisted, unimpressed, “I’m quite sure you would
better see Mr. Harris first.” There was a cadence of insistence in her
voice that assured the lawyer as to the futility of further pretense on
his part.

“Oh, I see,” he said disagreeably, with a frown to indicate his complete
sagacity in the premises.

“I thought you would, Mr. Irwin,” Mary returned, and now she smiled in
a kindly manner, which, nevertheless, gave no pleasure to the chagrined
man before her. As he rose, she went on crisply: “If you’ll take the
money to Mr. Harris, Miss Lynch will meet you in his office at four
o’clock this afternoon, and, when her suit for damages for breach
of promise has been legally settled out of court, you will get the
letters.... Good-afternoon, Mr. Irwin.”

The lawyer made a hurried bow which took in both of the women, and
walked quickly toward the door. But he was arrested before he reached
it by the voice of Mary, speaking again, still in that imperturbable
evenness which so rasped his nerves, for all its mellow resonance. But
this time there was a sting, of the sharpest, in the words themselves.

“Oh, you forgot your marked money, Mr. Irwin,” Mary said.

The lawyer wheeled, and stood staring at the speaker with a certain
sheepishness of expression that bore witness to the completeness of his
discomfiture. Without a word, after a long moment in which he perceived
intently the delicate, yet subtly energetic, loveliness of this slender
woman, he walked back to the desk, picked up the money, and restored it
to the bill-case. This done, at last he spoke, with a new respect in his
voice, a quizzical smile on his rather thin lips.

“Young woman,” he said emphatically, “you ought to have been a lawyer.”
 And with that laudatory confession of her skill, he finally took
his departure, while Mary smiled in a triumph she was at no pains to
conceal, and Aggie sat gaping astonishment over the surprising turn of
events.

It was the latter volatile person who ended the silence that followed on
the lawyer’s going.

“You’ve darn near broke my heart,” she cried, bouncing up violently,
“letting all that money go out of the house.... Say, how did you know it
was marked?”

“I didn’t,” Mary replied, blandly; “but it was a pretty good guess,
wasn’t it? Couldn’t you see that all he wanted was to get the letters,
and have us take the marked money? Then, my simple young friend, we
would have been arrested very neatly indeed--for blackmail.”

Aggie’s innocent eyes rounded in an amazed consternation, which was not
at all assumed.

“Gee!” she cried. “That would have been fierce! And now?” she
questioned, apprehensively.

Mary’s answer repudiated any possibility of fear.

“And now,” she explained contentedly, “he really will go to our lawyer.
There, he will pay over that same marked money. Then, he will get the
letters he wants so much. And, just because it’s a strictly business
transaction between two lawyers, with everything done according to legal
ethics----”

“What’s legal ethics?” Aggie demanded, impetuously. “They sound some
tasty!” With the comment, she dropped weakly into a chair.

Mary laughed in care-free enjoyment, as well she might after winning the
victory in such a battle of wits.

“Oh,” she said, happily, “you just get it legally, and you get twice as
much!”

“And it’s actually the same old game!” Aggie mused. She was doing her
best to get a clear understanding of the matter, though to her it was
all a mystery most esoteric.

Mary reviewed the case succinctly for the other’s enlightenment.

“Yes, it’s the same game precisely,” she affirmed. “A shameless old roue
makes love to you, and he writes you a stack of silly letters.”

The pouting lips of the listener took on a pathetic droop, and her voice
quivered as she spoke with an effective semblance of virginal terror.

“He might have ruined my life!”

Mary continued without giving much attention to these histrionics.

“If you had asked him for all this money for the return of his letters,
it would have been blackmail, and we’d have gone to jail in all human
probability. But we did no such thing--no, indeed! What we did wasn’t
anything like that in the eyes of the law. What we did was merely to
have your lawyer take steps toward a suit for damages for breach of
promise of marriage for the sum of ten thousand dollars. Then, his
lawyer appears in behalf of General Hastings, and there follow a
number of conferences between the legal representatives of the opposing
parties. By means of these conferences, the two legal gentlemen run up
very respectable bills of expenses. In the end, we get our ten thousand
dollars, and the flighty old General gets back his letters.... My dear,”
 Mary concluded vaingloriously, “we’re inside the law, and so we’re
perfectly safe. And there you are!”



CHAPTER XI. THE THIEF.

Mary remained in joyous spirits after her victorious matching of brains
against a lawyer of high standing in his profession. For the time being,
conscience was muted by gratified ambition. Her thoughts just then were
far from the miseries of the past, with their evil train of consequences
in the present. But that past was soon to be recalled to her with a
vividness most terrible.

She had entered the telephone-booth, which she had caused to be
installed out of an extra closet of her bedroom for the sake of greater
privacy on occasion, and it was during her absence from the drawing-room
that Garson again came into the apartment, seeking her. On being told
by Aggie as to Mary’s whereabouts, he sat down to await her return,
listening without much interest to the chatter of the adventuress.... It
was just then that the maid appeared.

“There’s a girl wants to see Miss Turner,” she explained.

The irrepressible Aggie put on her most finically elegant air.

“Has she a card?” she inquired haughtily, while the maid tittered
appreciation.

“No,” was the answer. “But she says it’s important. I guess the poor
thing’s in hard luck, from the look of her,” the kindly Fannie added.

“Oh, then she’ll be welcome, of course,” Aggie declared, and Garson
nodded in acquiescence. “Tell her to come in and wait, Fannie. Miss
Turner will be here right away.” She turned to Garson as the maid left
the room. “Mary sure is an easy boob,” she remarked, cheerfully. “Bless
her soft heart!”

A curiously gentle smile of appreciation softened the immobility of the
forger’s face as he again nodded assent.

“We might just as well pipe off the skirt before Mary gets here,” Aggie
suggested, with eagerness.

A minute later, a girl perhaps twenty years of age stepped just within
the doorway, and stood there with eyes downcast, after one swift,
furtive glance about her. Her whole appearance was that of dejection.
Her soiled black gown, the cringing posture, the pallor of her face,
proclaimed the abject misery of her state.

Aggie, who was not exuberant in her sympathies for any one other than
herself, addressed the newcomer with a patronizing inflection, modulated
in her best manner.

“Won’t you come in, please?” she requested.

The shrinking girl shot another veiled look in the direction of the
speaker.

“Are you Miss Turner?” she asked, in a voice broken by nervous dismay.

“Really, I am very sorry,” Aggie replied, primly; “but I am only her
cousin, Miss Agnes Lynch. But Miss Turner is likely to be back any
minute now.”

“Can I wait?” came the timid question.

“Certainly,” Aggie answered, hospitably. “Please sit down.”

As the girl obediently sank down on the nearest chair, Garson addressed
her sharply, so that the visitor started uneasily at the unexpected
sound.

“You don’t know Miss Turner?”

“No,” came the faint reply.

“Then, what do you want to see her about?”

There was a brief pause before the girl could pluck up courage enough
for an answer. Then, it was spoken confusedly, almost in a whisper.

“She once helped a girl friend of mine, and I thought--I thought----”

“You thought she might help you,” Garson interrupted.

But Aggie, too, possessed some perceptive powers, despite the fact that
she preferred to use them little in ordinary affairs.

“You have been in stir--prison, I mean.” She hastily corrected the lapse
into underworld slang.

Came a distressed muttering of assent from the girl.

“How sad!” Aggie remarked, in a voice of shocked pity for one so
inconceivably unfortunate. “How very, very sad!”

This ingenuous method of diversion was put to an end by the entrance of
Mary, who stopped short on seeing the limp figure huddled in the chair.

“A visitor, Agnes?” she inquired.

At the sound of her voice, and before Aggie could hit on a fittingly
elegant form of reply, the girl looked up. And now, for the first
time, she spoke with some degree of energy, albeit there was a sinister
undertone in the husky voice.

“You’re Miss Turner?” she questioned.

“Yes,” Mary said, simply. Her words rang kindly; and she smiled
encouragement.

A gasp burst from the white lips of the girl, and she cowered as one
stricken physically.

“Mary Turner! Oh, my God! I----” She hid her face within her arms and
sat bent until her head rested on her knees in an abasement of misery.

Vaguely startled by the hysterical outburst from the girl, Mary’s
immediate thought was that here was a pitiful instance of one suffering
from starvation.

“Joe,” she directed rapidly, “have Fannie bring a glass of milk with an
egg and a little brandy in it, right away.”

The girl in the chair was shaking soundlessly under the stress of her
emotions. A few disjointed phrases fell from her quivering lips.

“I didn’t know--oh, I couldn’t!”

“Don’t try to talk just now,” Mary warned, reassuringly. “Wait until
you’ve had something to eat.”

Aggie, who had observed developments closely, now lifted her voice in
tardy lamentations over her own stupidity. There was no affectation of
the fine lady in her self-reproach.

“Why, the poor gawk’s hungry!” she exclaimed! “And I never got the dope
on her. Ain’t I the simp!”

The girl regained a degree of self-control, and showed something of
forlorn dignity.

“Yes,” she said dully, “I’m starving.”

Mary regarded the afflicted creature with that sympathy born only of
experience.

“Yes,” she said softly, “I understand.” Then she spoke to Aggie. “Take
her to my room, and let her rest there for a while. Have her drink the
egg and milk slowly, and then lie down for a few minutes anyhow.”

Aggie obeyed with an air of bustling activity.

“Sure, I will!” she declared. She went to the girl and helped her to
stand up. “We’ll fix you out all right,” she said, comfortingly. “Come
along with me.... Hungry! Gee, but that’s tough!”

Half an hour afterward, while Mary was at her desk, giving part of her
attention to Joe Garson, who sat near, and part to a rather formidable
pile of neatly arranged papers, Aggie reported with her charge, who,
though still shambling of gait, and stooping, showed by some faint color
in her face and an increased steadiness of bearing that the food had
already strengthened her much.

“She would come,” Aggie explained. “I thought she ought to rest for a
while longer anyhow.” She half-shoved the girl into a chair opposite the
desk, in an absurd travesty on the maternal manner.

“I’m all right, I tell you,” came the querulous protest.

Whereupon, Aggie gave over the uncongenial task of mothering, and
settled herself comfortably in a chair, with her legs merely crossed as
a compromise between ease and propriety.

“Are you quite sure?” Mary said to the girl. And then, as the other
nodded in assent, she spoke with a compelling kindliness. “Then you
must tell us all about it--this trouble of yours, you know. What is your
name?”

Once again the girl had recourse to the swift, searching, furtive
glance, but her voice was colorless as she replied, listlessly:

“Helen Morris.”

Mary regarded the girl with an expression that was inscrutable when she
spoke again.

“I don’t have to ask if you have been in prison,” she said gravely.
“Your face shows it.”

“I--I came out--three months ago,” was the halting admission.

Mary watched the shrinking figure reflectively for a long minute before
she spoke again. Then there was a deeper resonance in her voice.

“And you’d made up your mind to go straight?”

“Yes.” The word was a whisper.

“You were going to do what the chaplain had told you,” Mary went on in
a voice vibrant with varied emotions. “You were going to start all over
again, weren’t you? You were going to begin a new life, weren’t you?”
 The bent head of the girl bent still lower in assent. There came a
cynical note into Mary’s utterance now.

“It doesn’t work very well, does it?” she asked, bitterly.

The girl gave sullen agreement.

“No,” she said dully; “I’m whipped.”

Mary’s manner changed on the instant. She spoke cheerfully for the first
time.

“Well, then,” she questioned, “how would you like to work with us?”

The girl looked up for a second with another of her fleeting, stealthy
glances.

“You--you mean that----?”

Mary explained her intention in the matter very explicitly. Her voice
grew boastful.

“Our kind of work pays well when you know how. Look at us.”

Aggie welcomed the opportunity for speech, too long delayed.

“Hats from Joseph’s, gowns from Lucile’s, and cracked ice from
Tiffany’s. But it ain’t ladylike to wear it,” she concluded with a
reproachful glance at her mentor.

Mary disregarded the frivolous interruption, and went on speaking to the
girl, and now there was something pleasantly cajoling in her manner.

“Suppose I should stake you for the present, and put you in with a good
crowd. All you would have to do would be to answer advertisements for
servant girls. I will see that you have the best of references. Then,
when you get in with the right people, you will open the front door some
night and let in the gang. Of course, you will make a get-away when they
do, and get your bit as well.”

There flashed still another of the swift, sly glances, and the lips of
the girl parted as if she would speak. But she did not; only, her head
sagged even lower on her breast, and the shrunken form grew yet more
shrunken. Mary, watching closely, saw these signs, and in the same
instant a change came over her. Where before there had been an
underlying suggestion of hardness, there was now a womanly warmth of
genuine sympathy.

“It doesn’t suit you?” she said, very softly. “Good! I was in hopes it
wouldn’t. So, here’s another plan.” Her voice had become very winning.
“Suppose you could go West--some place where you would have a fair
chance, with money enough so you could live like a human being till you
got a start?”

There came a tensing of the relaxed form, and the head lifted a little
so that the girl could look at her questioner. And, this time, the
glance, though of the briefest, was less furtive.

“I will give you that chance,” Mary said simply, “if you really want
it.”

That speech was like a current of strength to the wretched girl. She sat
suddenly erect, and her words came eagerly.

“Oh, I do!” And now her hungry gaze remained fast on the face of the
woman who offered her salvation.

Mary sprang up and moved a step toward the girl who continued to stare
at her, fascinated. She was now all wholesome. The memory of her
own wrongs surged in her during this moment only to make her more
appreciative of the blessedness of seemly life. She was moved to a
divine compassion over this waif for whom she might prove a beneficent
providence. There was profound conviction in the emphasis with which she
spoke her warning.

“Then I have just one thing to say to you first. If you are going to
live straight, start straight, and then go through with it. Do you know
what that means?”

“You mean, keep straight all the time?” The girl spoke with a force
drawn from the other’s strength.

“I mean more than that,” Mary went on earnestly. “I mean, forget that
you were ever in prison. I don’t know what you have done--I don’t think
I care. But whatever it was, you have paid for it--a pretty big price,
too.” Into these last words there crept the pathos of one who knew. The
sympathy of it stirred the listener to fearful memories.

“I have, I have!” The thin voice broke, wailing.

“Well, then,” Mary went on, “just begin all over again, and be sure you
stand up for your rights. Don’t let them make you pay a second time. Go
where no one knows you, and don’t tell the first people who are kind to
you that you have been crooked. If they think you are straight, why, be
it. Then nobody will have any right to complain.” Her tone grew suddenly
pleading. “Will you promise me this?”

“Yes, I promise,” came the answer, very gravely, quickened with hope.

“Good!” Mary exclaimed, with a smile of approval. “Wait a minute,” she
added, and left the room.

“Huh! Pretty soft for some people,” Aggie remarked to Garson, with a
sniff. She felt no alarm lest she wound the sensibilities of the girl.
She herself had never let delicacy interfere between herself and money.
It was really stranger that the forger, who possessed a more sympathetic
nature, did not scruple to speak an assent openly. Somehow, he felt an
inexplicable prejudice against this abject recipient of Mary’s bounty,
though not for the world would he have checked the generous impulse on
the part of the woman he so revered. It was his instinct on her behalf
that made him now vaguely uneasy, as if he sensed some malign influence
against her there present with them.

Mary returned soon. In her hand she carried a roll of bills. She went
to the girl and held out the money. Her voice was business-like now, but
very kind.

“Take this. It will pay your fare West, and keep you quite a while if
you are careful.”

But, without warning, a revulsion seized on the girl. Of a sudden, she
shrank again, and turned her head away, and her body trembled.

“I can’t take it,” she stammered. “I can’t! I can’t!”

Mary stood silent for a moment from sheer amazement over the change.
When she spoke, her voice had hardened a little. It is not agreeable to
have one’s beneficence flouted.

“Didn’t you come here for help?” she demanded.

“Yes,” was the faltering reply, “but--but--I didn’t know--it was you!”
 The words came with a rush of desperation.

“Then, you have met me before?” Mary said, quietly.

“No, no!” The girl’s voice rose shrill.

Aggie spoke her mind with commendable frankness.

“She’s lying.”

And, once again, Garson agreed. His yes was spoken in a tone of complete
certainty. That Mary, too, was of their opinion was shown in her next
words.

“So, you have met me before? Where?”

The girl unwittingly made confession in her halting words.

“I--I can’t tell you.” There was despair in her voice.

“You must.” Mary spoke with severity. She felt that this mystery held in
it something sinister to herself. “You must,” she repeated imperiously.

The girl only crouched lower.

“I can’t!” she cried again. She was panting as if in exhaustion.

“Why can’t you?” Mary insisted. She had no sympathy now for the girl’s
distress, merely a great suspicious curiosity.

“Because--because----” The girl could not go on.

Mary’s usual shrewdness came to her aid, and she put her next question
in a different direction.

“What were you sent up for?” she asked briskly. “Tell me.”

It was Garson who broke the silence that followed.

“Come on, now!” he ordered. There was a savage note in his voice under
which the girl visibly winced. Mary made a gesture toward him that he
should not interfere. Nevertheless, the man’s command had in it a
threat which the girl could not resist and she answered, though with
a reluctance that made the words seem dragged from her by some outside
force--as indeed they were.

“For stealing.”

“Stealing what?” Mary said.

“Goods.”

“Where from?”

A reply came in a breath so low that it was barely audible.

“The Emporium.”

In a flash of intuition, the whole truth was revealed to the woman who
stood looking down at the cowering creature before her.

“The Emporium!” she repeated. There was a tragedy in the single word.
Her voice grew cold with hate, the hate born of innocence long tortured.
“Then you are the one who----”

The accusation was cut short by the girl’s shriek.

“I am not! I am not, I tell you.”

For a moment, Mary lost her poise. Her voice rose in a flare of rage.

“You are! You are!”

The craven spirit of the girl could struggle no more. She could only
sit in a huddled, shaking heap of dread. The woman before her had
been disciplined by sorrow to sternest self-control. Though racked by
emotions most intolerable, Mary soon mastered their expression to such
an extent that when she spoke again, as if in self-communion, her words
came quietly, yet with overtones of a supreme wo.

“She did it!” Then, after a little, she addressed the girl with a
certain wondering before this mystery of horror. “Why did you throw the
blame on me?”

The girl made several efforts before her mumbling became intelligible,
and then her speech was gasping, broken with fear.

“I found out they were watching me, and I was afraid they would catch
me. So, I took them and ran into the cloak-room, and put them in a
locker that wasn’t close to mine, and some in the pocket of a coat that
was hanging there. God knows I didn’t know whose it was. I just put them
there--I was frightened----”

“And you let me go to prison for three years!” There was a menace in
Mary’s voice under which the girl cringed again.

“I was scared,” she whined. “I didn’t dare to tell.”

“But they caught you later,” Mary went on inexorably. “Why didn’t you
tell then?”

“I was afraid,” came the answer from the shuddering girl. “I told them
it was the first time I had taken anything and they let me off with a
year.”

Once more, the wrath of the victim flamed high.

“You!” Mary cried. “You cried and lied, and they let you off with a
year. I wouldn’t cry. I told the truth--and----” Her voice broke in a
tearless sob. The color had gone out of her face, and she stood rigid,
looking down at the girl whose crime had ruined her life with an
expression of infinite loathing in her eyes. Garson rose from his chair
as if to go to her, and his face passed swiftly from compassion to
ferocity as his gaze went from the woman he had saved from the river
to the girl who had been the first cause of her seeking a grave in the
waters. Yet, though he longed with every fiber of him to comfort the
stricken woman, he did not dare intrude upon her in this time of her
anguish, but quietly dropped back into his seat and sat watching with
eyes now tender, now baleful, as they shifted their direction.

Aggie took advantage of the pause. Her voice was acid.

“Some people are sneaks--just sneaks!”

Somehow, the speech was welcome to the girl, gave her a touch of courage
sufficient for cowardly protestations. It seemed to relieve the tension
drawn by the other woman’s torment. It was more like the abuse that was
familiar to her. A gush of tears came.

“I’ll never forgive myself, never!” she moaned.

Contempt mounted in Mary’s breast.

“Oh, yes, you will,” she said, malevolently. “People forgive themselves
pretty easily.” The contempt checked for a little the ravages of her
grief. “Stop crying,” she commanded harshly. “Nobody is going to hurt
you.” She thrust the money again toward the girl, and crowded it into
the half-reluctant, half-greedy hand.

“Take it, and get out.” The contempt in her voice rang still sharper,
mordant.

Even the puling creature writhed under the lash of Mary’s tones. She
sprang up, slinking back a step.

“I can’t take it!” she cried, whimpering. But she did not drop the
money.

“Take the chance while you have it,” Mary counseled, still with the
contempt that pierced even the hardened girl’s sense of selfishness. She
pointed toward the door. “Go!--before I change my mind.”

The girl needed, indeed, no second bidding. With the money still
clutched in her hand, she went forth swiftly, stumbling a little in her
haste, fearful lest, at the last moment, the woman she had so wronged
should in fact change in mood, take back the money--ay, even give her
over to that terrible man with the eyes of hate, to put her to death as
she deserved.

Freed from the miasma of that presence, Mary remained motionless for a
long minute, then sighed from her tortured heart. She turned and went
slowly to her chair at the desk, and seated herself languidly, weakened
by the ordeal through which she had passed.

“A girl I didn’t know!” she said, bewilderedly; “perhaps had never
spoken to--who smashed my life like that! Oh, if it wasn’t so awful, it
would be--funny! It would be funny!” A gust of hysterical laughter burst
from her. “Why, it is funny!” she cried, wildly. “It is funny!”

“Mary!” Garson exclaimed sharply. He leaped across the room to face her.
“That’s no good!” he said severely.

Aggie, too, rushed forward.

“No good at all!” she declared loudly.

The interference recalled the distressed woman to herself. She made a
desperate effort for self-command. Little by little, the unmeaning look
died down, and presently she sat silent and moveless, staring at the two
with stormy eyes out of a wan face.

“You were right,” she said at last, in a lifeless voice. “It’s done, and
can’t be undone. I was a fool to let it affect me like that. I really
thought I had lost all feeling about it, but the sight of that girl--the
knowledge that she had done it--brought it all back to me. Well, you
understand, don’t you?”

“We understand,” Garson said, grimly. But there was more than grimness,
infinitely more, in the expression of his clear, glowing eyes.

Aggie thought that it was her turn to voice herself, which she did
without undue restraint.

“Perhaps, we do, but I dunno! I’ll tell you one thing, though. If any
dame sent me up for three years and then wanted money from me, do you
think she’d get it? Wake me up any time in the night and ask me. Not
much--not a little bit much! I’d hang on to it like an old woman to her
last tooth.” And that was Aggie’s final summing up of her impressions
concerning the scene she had just witnessed.



CHAPTER XII. A BRIDEGROOM SPURNED.

After Aggie’s vigorous comment there followed a long silence. That
volatile young person, little troubled as she was by sensitiveness,
guessed the fact that just now further discussion of the event would be
distasteful to Mary, and so she betook herself discreetly to a cigarette
and the illustrations of a popular magazine devoted to the stage. As for
the man, his reticence was really from a fear lest in speaking at all
he might speak too freely, might betray the pervasive violence of his
feeling. So, he sat motionless and wordless, his eyes carefully
avoiding Mary in order that she might not be disturbed by the invisible
vibrations thus sent from one to another. Mary herself was shaken to the
depths. A great weariness, a weariness that cried the worthlessness
of all things, had fallen upon her. It rested leaden on her soul. It
weighed down her body as well, though that mattered little indeed. Yet,
since she could minister to that readily, she rose and went to a settee
on the opposite side of the room where she arranged herself among the
cushions in a posture more luxurious than her rather precise early
training usually permitted her to assume in the presence of others.
There she rested, and soon felt the tides of energy again flowing in
her blood, and that same vitality, too, wrought healing even for her
agonized soul, though more slowly. The perfect health of her gave her
strength to recover speedily from the shock she had sustained. It was
this health that made the glory of the flawless skin, white with a
living white that revealed the coursing blood beneath, and the crimson
lips that bent in smiles so tender, or so wistful, and the limpid
eyes in which always lurked fires that sometimes burst into flame, the
lustrous mass of undulating hair that sparkled in the sunlight like an
aureole to her face or framed it in heavy splendors with its shadows,
and the supple erectness of her graceful carriage, the lithe dignity of
her every movement.

But, at last, she stirred uneasily and sat up. Garson accepted this as a
sufficient warrant for speech.

“You know--Aggie told you--that Cassidy was up here from Headquarters.
He didn’t put a name to it, but I’m on.” Mary regarded him inquiringly,
and he continued, putting the fact with a certain brutal bluntness
after the habit of his class. “I guess you’ll have to quit seeing young
Gilder. The bulls are wise. His father has made a holler.

“Don’t let that worry you, Joe,” she said tranquilly. She allowed a few
seconds go by, then added as if quite indifferent: “I was married to
Dick Gilder this morning.” There came a squeal of amazement from Aggie,
a start of incredulity from Garson.

“Yes,” Mary repeated evenly, “I was married to him this morning. That
was my important engagement,” she added with a smile toward Aggie. For
some intuitive reason, mysterious to herself, she did not care to meet
the man’s eyes at that moment.

Aggie sat erect, her baby face alive with worldly glee.

“My Gawd, what luck!” she exclaimed noisily. “Why, he’s a king fish, he
is. Gee! But I’m glad you landed him!”

“Thank you,” Mary said with a smile that was the result of her sense of
humor rather than from any tenderness.

It was then that Garson spoke. He was a delicate man in his
sensibilities at times, in spite of the fact that he followed devious
methods in his manner of gaining a livelihood. So, now, he put a
question of vital significance.

“Do you love him?”

The question caught Mary all unprepared, but she retained her
self-control sufficiently to make her answer in a voice that to the
ordinary ear would have revealed no least tremor.

“No,” she said. She offered no explanation, no excuse, merely stated the
fact in all its finality.

Aggie was really shocked, though for a reason altogether sordid, not one
whit romantic.

“Ain’t he young?” she demanded aggressively. “Ain’t he good-looking, and
loose with his money something scandalous? If I met up with a fellow
as liberal as him, if he was three times his age, I could simply adore
him!”

It was Garson who pressed the topic with an inexorable curiosity born of
his unselfish interest in the woman concerned.

“Then, why did you marry him?” he asked. The sincerity of him was excuse
enough for the seeming indelicacy of the question. Besides, he felt
himself somehow responsible. He had given back to her the gift of life,
which she had rejected. Surely, he had the right to know the truth.

It seemed that Mary believed her confidence his due, for she told him
the fact.

“I have been working and scheming for nearly a year to do it,” she said,
with a hardening of her face that spoke of indomitable resolve. “Now,
it’s done.” A vindictive gleam shot from her violet eyes as she added:
“It’s only the beginning, too.”

Garson, with the keen perspicacity that had made him a successful
criminal without a single conviction to mar his record, had seized the
implication in her statement, and now put it in words.

“Then, you won’t leave us? We’re going on as we were before?” The hint
of dejection in his manner had vanished. “And you won’t live with him?”

“Live with him?” Mary exclaimed emphatically. “Certainly not!”

Aggie’s neatly rounded jaw dropped in a gape of surprise that was most
unladylike.

“You are going to live on in this joint with us?” she questioned,
aghast.

“Of course.” The reply was given with the utmost of certainty.

Aggie presented the crux of the matter.

“Where will hubby live?”

There was no lessening of the bride’s composure as she replied, with a
little shrug.

“Anywhere but here.”

Aggie suddenly giggled. To her sense of humor there was something vastly
diverting in this new scheme of giving bliss to a fond husband.

“Anywhere but here,” she repeated gaily. “Oh, won’t that be nice--for
him? Oh, yes! Oh, quite so! Oh, yes, indeed--quite so--so!”

Garson, however, was still patient in his determination to apprehend
just what had come to pass.

“Does he understand the arrangement?” was his question.

“No, not yet,” Mary admitted, without sign of embarrassment.

“Well,” Aggie said, with another giggle, “when you do get around to tell
him, break it to him gently.”

Garson was intently considering another phase of the situation, one
suggested perhaps out of his own deeper sentiments.

“He must think a lot of you!” he said, gravely. “Don’t he?”

For the first time, Mary was moved to the display of a slight confusion.
She hesitated a little before her answer, and when she spoke it was in a
lower key, a little more slowly.

“I--I suppose so.”

Aggie presented the truth more subtly than could have been expected from
her.

“Think a lot of you? Of course he does! Thinks enough to marry you! And
believe me, kid, when a man thinks enough of you to marry you, well,
that’s some thinking!”

Somehow, the crude expression of this professional adventuress
penetrated to Mary’s conscience, though it held in it the truth to which
her conscience bore witness, to which she had tried to shut her ears....
And now from the man came something like a draught of elixir to her
conscience--like the trump of doom to her scheme of vengeance.

Garson spoke very softly, but with an intensity that left no doubt as to
the honesty of his purpose.

“I’d say, throw up the whole game and go to him, if you really care.”

There fell a tense silence. It was broken by Mary herself. She spoke
with a touch of haste, as if battling against some hindrance within.

“I married him to get even with his father,” she said. “That’s all there
is to it.... By the way, I expect Dick will be here in a minute or two.
When he comes, just remember not to--enlighten him.”

Aggie sniffed indignantly.

“Don’t worry about me, not a mite. Whenever it’s really wanted, I’m
always there with a full line of that lady stuff.” Thereupon, she sprang
up, and proceeded to give her conception of the proper welcoming of the
happy bridegroom. The performance was amusing enough in itself, but for
some reason it moved neither of the two for whom it was rendered to
more than perfunctory approval. The fact had no depressing effect on the
performer, however, and it was only the coming of the maid that put her
lively sallies to an end.

“Mr. Gilder,” Fannie announced.

Mary put a question with so much of energy that Garson began finally to
understand the depth of her vindictive feeling.

“Any one with him?”

“No, Miss Turner,” the maid answered.

“Have him come in,” Mary ordered.

Garson felt that he would be better away for the sake of the newly
married pair at least, if not for his own. He made hasty excuses and
went out on the heels of the maid. Aggie, however, consulting only her
own wishes in the matter, had no thought of flight, and, if the truth be
told, Mary was glad of the sustaining presence of another woman.

She got up slowly, and stood silent, while Aggie regarded her curiously.
Even to the insensitive observer, there was something strange in the
atmosphere.... A moment later the bridegroom entered.

He was still clean-cut and wholesome. Some sons of wealthy fathers are
not, after four years experience of the white lights of town. And the
lines of his face were firmer, better in every way. It seemed, indeed,
that here was some one of a resolute character, not to be wasted on the
trivial and gross things. In an instant, he had gone to her, had caught
her in his arms with, “Hello, dear!” smothered in the kiss he implanted
on her lips.

Mary strove vainly to free herself.

“Don’t, oh, don’t!” she gasped.

Dick Gilder released his wife from his arms and smiled the beatific
smile of the newly-wed.

“Why not?” he demanded, with a smile, a smile calm, triumphant,
masterful.

“Agnes!”... It was the sole pretext to which Mary could turn for a
momentary relief.

The bridegroom faced about, and perceived Agnes, who stood closely
watching the meeting between husband and wife. He made an excellent
formal bow of the sort that one learns only abroad, and spoke quietly.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Lynch, but”--a smile of perfect happiness shone
on his face--“you could hardly expect me to see any one but Mary under
the circumstances. Could you?”

Aggie strove to rise to this emergency, and again took on her best
manner, speaking rather coldly.

“Under what circumstances?” she inquired.

The young man exclaimed joyously.

“Why, we were married this morning.”

Aggie accepted the news with fitting excitement.

“Goodness gracious! How perfectly lovely!”

The bridegroom regarded her with a face that was luminous of delight.

“You bet, it’s lovely!” he declared with entire conviction. He turned to
Mary, his face glowing with satisfaction.

“Mary,” he said, “I have the honeymoon trip all fixed. The Mauretania
sails at five in the morning, so we will----”

A cold voice struck suddenly through this rhapsodizing. It was that of
the bride.

“Where is your father?” she asked, without any trace of emotion.

The bridegroom stopped short, and a deep blush spread itself over his
boyish face. His tone was filled full to overflowing with compunction as
he answered.

“Oh, Lord! I had forgotten all about Dad.” He beamed on Mary with a
smile half-ashamed, half-happy. “I’m awfully sorry,” he said earnestly.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll send Dad a wireless from the ship,
then write him from Paris.”

But the confident tone brought no response of agreement from Mary. On
the contrary, her voice was, if anything, even colder as she replied to
his suggestion. She spoke with an emphasis that brooked no evasion.

“What was your promise? I told you that I wouldn’t go with you until
you had brought your father to me, and he had wished us happiness.” Dick
placed his hands gently on his wife’s shoulders and regarded her with a
touch of indignation in his gaze.

“Mary,” he said reproachfully, “you are not going to hold me to that
promise?”

The answer was given with a decisiveness that admitted of no question,
and there was a hardness in her face that emphasized the words.

“I am going to hold you to that promise, Dick.”

For a few seconds, the young man stared at her with troubled eyes. Then
he moved impatiently, and dropped his hands from her shoulders. But his
usual cheery smile came again, and he shrugged resignedly.

“All right, Mrs. Gilder,” he said, gaily. The sound of the name provoked
him to new pleasure. “Sounds fine, doesn’t it?” he demanded, with an
uxorious air.

“Yes,” Mary said, but there was no enthusiasm in her tone.

The husband went on speaking with no apparent heed of his wife’s
indifference.

“You pack up what things you need, girlie,” he directed. “Just a
few--because they sell clothes in Paris. And they are some class,
believe me! And meantime, I’ll run down to Dad’s office, and have him
back here in half an hour. You will be all ready, won’t you?”

Mary answered quickly, with a little catching of her breath, but still
coldly.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be ready. Go and bring your father.”

“You bet I will,” Dick cried heartily. He would have taken her in his
arms again, but she evaded the caress. “What’s the matter?” he demanded,
plainly at a loss to understand this repulse.

“Nothing!” was the ambiguous answer.

“Just one!” Dick pleaded.

“No,” the bride replied, and there was determination in the
monosyllable.

It was evident that Dick perceived the futility of argument.

“For a married woman you certainly are shy,” he replied, with a sly
glance toward Aggie, who beamed back sympathy. “You’ll excuse me, won’t
you, Miss Lynch,... Good-by, Mrs. Gilder.” He made a formal bow to his
wife. As he hurried to the door, he expressed again his admiration for
the name. “Mrs. Gilder! Doesn’t that sound immense?” And with that he
was gone.

There was silence in the drawing-room until the two women heard the
closing of the outer door of the apartment. Then, at last, Aggie
relieved her pent-up emotions in a huge sigh that was near a groan.

“Oh Gawd!” she gasped. “The poor simp!”



CHAPTER XIII. THE ADVENT OF GRIGGS.

Later on, Garson, learning from the maid that Dick Gilder had left,
returned, just as Mary was glancing over the release, with which General
Hastings was to be compensated, along with the return of his letters,
for his payment of ten thousand dollars to Miss Agnes Lynch.

“Hello, Joe,” Mary said graciously as the forger entered. Then she spoke
crisply to Agnes. “And now you must get ready. You are to be at Harris’s
office with this document at four o’clock, and remember that you are to
let the lawyer manage everything.”

Aggie twisted her doll-like face into a grimace.

“It gets my angora that I’ll have to miss Pa Gilder’s being led like
a lamb to the slaughter-house.” And that was the nearest the little
adventuress ever came to making a Biblical quotation.

“Anyhow,” she protested, “I don’t see the use of all this monkey
business here. All I want is the coin.” But she hurried obediently,
nevertheless, to get ready for the start.

Garson regarded Mary quizzically.

“It’s lucky for her that she met you,” he said. “She’s got no more
brains than a gnat.”

“And brains are mighty useful things, even in our business,” Mary
replied seriously; “particularly in our business.”

“I should say they were,” Garson agreed. “You have proved that.”

Aggie came back, putting on her gloves, and cocking her small head very
primly under the enormous hat that was garnished with costliest plumes.
It was thus that she consoled herself in a measure for the business of
the occasion--in lieu of cracked ice from Tiffany’s at one hundred and
fifty a carat. Mary gave over the release, and Aggie, still grumbling,
deposited it in her handbag.

“It seems to me we’re going through a lot of red tape,” she said
spitefully.

Mary, from her chair at the desk, regarded the malcontent with a smile,
but her tone was crisp as she answered.

“Listen, Agnes. The last time you tried to make a man give up part of
his money it resulted in your going to prison for two years.”

Aggie sniffed, as if such an outcome were the merest bagatelle.

“But that way was so exciting,” she urged, not at all convinced.

“And this way is so safe,” Mary rejoined, sharply. “Besides, my dear,
you would not get the money. My way will. Your way was blackmail; mine
is not. Understand?”

“Oh, sure,” Aggie replied, grimly, on her way to the door. “It’s clear
as Pittsburgh.” With that sarcasm directed against legal subtleties, she
tripped daintily out, an entirely ravishing vision, if somewhat garish
as to raiment, and soon in the glances of admiration that every man
cast on her guileless-seeming beauty, she forgot that she had ever been
annoyed.

Garson’s comment as she departed was uttered with his accustomed
bluntness.

“Solid ivory!”

“She’s a darling, anyway!” Mary declared, smiling. “You really don’t
half-appreciate her, Joe!”

“Anyhow, I appreciate that hat,” was the reply, with a dry chuckle.

“Mr. Griggs,” Fannie announced. There was a smile on the face of the
maid, which was explained a minute later when, in accordance with her
mistress’s order, the visitor was shown into the drawing-room, for his
presence was of an elegance so extraordinary as to attract attention
anywhere--and mirth as well from ribald observers.

Meantime, Garson had explained to Mary.

“It’s English Eddie--you met him once. I wonder what he wants? Probably
got a trick for me. We often used to work together.”

“Nothing without my consent,” Mary warned.

“Oh, no, no, sure not!” Garson agreed.

Further discussion was cut short by the appearance of English Eddie
himself, a tall, handsome man in the early thirties, who paused just
within the doorway, and delivered to Mary a bow that was the perfection
of elegance. Mary made no effort to restrain the smile caused by the
costume of Mr. Griggs. Yet, there was no violation of the canons of good
taste, except in the aggregate. From spats to hat, from walking coat
to gloves, everything was perfect of its kind. Only, there was an
over-elaboration, so that the ensemble was flamboyant. And the man’s
manners precisely harmonized with his clothes, whereby the whole effect
was emphasized and rendered bizarre. Garson took one amazed look, and
then rocked with laughter.

Griggs regarded his former associate reproachfully for a moment, and
then grinned in frank sympathy.

“Really, Mr. Griggs, you quite overcome me,” Mary said,
half-apologetically.

The visitor cast a self-satisfied glance over his garb.

“I think it’s rather neat, myself.” He had some reputation in the
under-world for his manner of dressing, and he regarded this latest
achievement as his masterpiece.

“Sure some duds!” Garson admitted, checking his merriment.

“From your costume,” Mary suggested, “one might judge that this is
purely a social call. Is it?”

“Well, not exactly,” Griggs answered with a smile.

“So I fancied,” his hostess replied. “So, sit down, please, and tell us
all about it.”

While she was speaking, Garson went to the various doors, and made
sure that all were shut, then he took a seat in a chair near that which
Griggs occupied by the desk, so that the three were close together, and
could speak softly.

English Eddie wasted no time in getting to the point.

“Now, look here,” he said, rapidly. “I’ve got the greatest game in the
world.... Two years ago, a set of Gothic tapestries, worth three hundred
thousand dollars and a set of Fragonard panels, worth nearly as much
more, were plucked from a chateau in France and smuggled into this
country.”

“I have never heard of that,” Mary said, with some interest.

“No,” Griggs replied. “You naturally wouldn’t, for the simple reason
that it’s been kept on the dead quiet.”

“Are them things really worth that much?” Garson exclaimed.

“Sometimes more,” Mary answered. “Morgan has a set of Gothic tapestries
worth half a million dollars.”

Garson uttered an ejaculation of disgust.

“He pays half a million dollars for a set of rugs!” There was a note of
fiercest bitterness come into his voice as he sarcastically concluded:
“And they wonder at crime!”

Griggs went on with his account.

“About a month ago, the things I was telling you of were hung in the
library of a millionaire in this city.” He hitched his chair a little
closer to the desk, and leaned forward, lowering his voice almost to a
whisper as he stated his plan.

“Let’s go after them. They were smuggled, mind you, and no matter what
happens, he can’t squeal. What do you say?”

Garson shot a piercing glance at Mary.

“It’s up to her,” he said. Griggs regarded Mary eagerly, as she sat with
eyes downcast. Then, after a little interval had elapsed in silence, he
spoke interrogatively:

“Well?”

Mary shook her head decisively. “It’s out of our line,” she declared.

Griggs would have argued the matter. “I don’t see any easier way to get
half a million,” he said aggressively.

Mary, however, was unimpressed.

“If it were fifty millions, it would make no difference. It’s against
the law.”

“Oh, I know all that, of course,” Griggs returned impatiently. “But if
you can----”

Mary interrupted him in a tone of finality.

“My friends and I never do anything that’s illegal! Thank you for
coming to us, Mr. Griggs, but we can’t go in, and there’s an end of the
matter.”

“But wait a minute,” English Eddie expostulated, “you see this chap,
Gilder, is----”

Mary’s manner changed from indifference to sudden keen interest.

“Gilder?” she exclaimed, questioningly.

“Yes. You know who he is,” Griggs answered; “the drygoods man.”

Garson in his turn showed a new excitement as he bent toward Mary.

“Why, it’s old Gilder, the man you----”

Mary, however, had regained her self-control, for a moment rudely
shaken, and now her voice was tranquil again as she replied:

“I know. But, just the same, it’s illegal, and I won’t touch it. That’s
all there is to it.”

Griggs was dismayed.

“But half a million!” he exclaimed, disconsolately. “There’s a stake
worth playing for. Think of it!” He turned pleadingly to Garson. “Half a
million, Joe!”

The forger repeated the words with an inflection that was gloating.

“Half a million!”

“And it’s the softest thing you ever saw.”

The telephone at the desk rang, and Mary spoke into it for a moment,
then rose and excused herself to resume the conversation over the wire
more privately in the booth. The instant she was out of the room, Griggs
turned to Garson anxiously.

“It’s a cinch, Joe,” he pleaded. “I’ve got a plan of the house.” He drew
a paper from his breast-pocket, and handed it to the forger, who seized
it avidly and studied it with intent, avaricious eyes.

“It looks easy,” Garson agreed, as he gave back the paper.

“It is easy,” Griggs reiterated. “What do you say?”

Garson shook his head in refusal, but there was no conviction in the
act.

“I promised Mary never to----”

Griggs broke in on him.

“But a chance like this! Anyhow, come around to the back room at
Blinkey’s to-night, and we’ll have a talk. Will you?”

“What time?” Garson asked hesitatingly, tempted.

“Make it early, say nine,” was the answer. “Will you?”

“I’ll come,” Garson replied, half-guiltily. And in the same moment Mary
reentered.

Griggs rose and spoke with an air of regret.

“It’s ‘follow the leader,’” he said, “and since you are against it, that
settles it.”

“Yes, I’m against it,” Mary said, firmly.

“I’m sorry,” English Eddie rejoined. “But we must all play the game
as we see it.... Well, that was the business I was after, and, as it’s
finished, why, good-afternoon, Miss Turner.” He nodded toward Joe, and
took his departure.

Something of what was in his mind was revealed in Garson’s first speech
after Griggs’s going.

“That’s a mighty big stake he’s playing for.”

“And a big chance he’s taking!” Mary retorted. “No, Joe, we don’t want
any of that. We’ll play a game that’s safe and sure.”

The words recalled to the forger weird forebodings that had been
troubling him throughout the day.

“It’s sure enough,” he stated, “but is it safe?”

Mary looked up quickly.

“What do you mean?” she demanded.

Garson walked to and fro nervously as he answered.

“S’pose the bulls get tired of you putting it over on ‘em and try some
rough work?”

Mary smiled carelessly.

“Don’t worry, Joe,” she advised. “I know a way to stop it.”

“Well, so far as that goes, so do I,” the forger said, with significant
emphasis.

“Just what do you mean by that?” Mary demanded, suspiciously.

“For rough work,” he said, “I have this.” He took a magazine pistol from
his pocket. It was of an odd shape, with a barrel longer than is usual
and a bell-shaped contrivance attached to the muzzle.

“No, no, Joe,” Mary cried, greatly discomposed. “None of that--ever!”

The forger smiled, and there was malignant triumph in his expression.

“Pooh!” he exclaimed. “Even if I used it, they would never get on to me.
See this?” He pointed at the strange contrivance on the muzzle.

Mary’s curiosity made her forget for a moment her distaste.

“What is it?” she asked, interestedly. “I have never seen anything like
that before.”

“Of course you haven’t,” Garson answered with much pride. “I’m the first
man in the business to get one, and I’ll bet on it. I keep up with the
times.” For once, he was revealing that fundamental egotism which is the
characteristic of all his kind. “That’s one of the new Maxim silencers,”
 he continued. “With smokeless powder in the cartridges, and the silencer
on, I can make a shot from my coat-pocket, and you wouldn’t even know it
had been done.... And I’m some shot, believe me.”

“Impossible!” Mary ejaculated.

“No, it ain’t,” the man asserted. “Here, wait, I’ll show you.”

“Good gracious, not here!” Mary exclaimed in alarm. “We would have the
whole place down on us.”

Garson chuckled.

“You just watch that dinky little vase on the table across the room
there. ‘Tain’t very valuable, is it?”

“No,” Mary answered.

In the same instant, while still her eyes were on the vase, it fell in
a cascade of shivered glass to the table and floor. She had heard no
sound, she saw no smoke. Perhaps, there had been a faintest clicking
noise. She was not sure. She stared dumfounded for a few seconds, then
turned her bewildered face toward Garson, who was grinning in high
enjoyment.

“I would’nt have believed it possible,” she declared, vastly impressed.

“Neat little thing, ain’t it?” the man asked, exultantly.

“Where did you get it?” Mary asked.

“In Boston, last week. And between you and me, Mary, it’s the only
model, and it sure is a corker for crime.”

The sinister association of ideas made Mary shudder, but she said no
more. She would have shuddered again, if she could have guessed the
vital part that pistol was destined to play. But she had no thought
of any actual peril to come from it. She might have thought otherwise,
could she have known of the meeting that night in the back room of
Blinkey’s, where English Eddie and Garson sat with their heads close
together over a table.

“A chance like this,” Griggs was saying, “a chance that will make a
fortune for all of us.”

“It sounds good,” Garson admitted, wistfully.

“It is good,” the other declared with an oath. “Why, if this goes
through, we’re set up for life. We can quit, all of us.”

“Yes,” Garson agreed, “we can quit, all of us.” There was avarice in his
voice.

The tempter was sure that the battle was won, and smiled contentedly.

“Well,” he urged, “what do you say?”

“How would we split it?” It was plain that Garson had given over the
struggle against greed. After all, Mary was only a woman, despite her
cleverness, and with all a woman’s timidity. Here was sport for men.

“Three ways would be right,” Griggs answered. “One to me, one to you and
one to be divided up among the others.”

Garson brought his fist down on the table with a force that made the
glasses jingle.

“You’re on,” he said, strongly.

“Fine!” Griggs declared, and the two men shook hands. “Now, I’ll
get----”

“Get nothing!” Garson interrupted. “I’ll get my own men. Chicago Red is
in town. So is Dacey, with perhaps a couple of others of the right sort.
I’ll get them to meet you at Blinkey’s at two to-morrow afternoon, and,
if it looks right, we’ll turn the trick to-morrow night.”

“That’s the stuff,” Griggs agreed, greatly pleased.

But a sudden shadow fell on the face of Garson. He bent closer to his
companion, and spoke with a fierce intensity that brooked no denial.

“She must never know.”

Griggs nodded understandingly.

“Of course,” he answered. “I give you my word that I’ll never tell her.
And you know you can trust me, Joe.”

“Yes,” the forger replied somberly, “I know I can trust you.” But the
shadow did not lift from his face.



CHAPTER XIV. A WEDDING ANNOUNCEMENT.

Mary dismissed Garson presently, and betook herself to her bedroom for a
nap. The day had been a trying one, and, though her superb health could
endure much, she felt that both prudence and comfort required that she
should recruit her energies while there was opportunity. She was not
in the least surprised that Dick had not yet returned, though he had
mentioned half an hour. At the best, there were many things that might
detain him, his father’s absence from the office, difficulties in making
arrangements for his projected honeymoon trip abroad--which would never
occur--or the like. At the worst, there was a chance of finding his
father promptly, and of that father as promptly taking steps to prevent
the son from ever again seeing the woman who had so indiscreetly married
him. Yet, somehow, Mary could not believe that her husband would yield
to such paternal coercion. Rather, she was sure that he would prove
loyal to her whom he loved, through every trouble. At the thought
a certain wistfulness pervaded her, and a poignant regret that this
particular man should have been the one chosen of fate to be entangled
within her mesh of revenge. There throbbed in her a heart-tormenting
realization that there were in life possibilities infinitely more
splendid than the joy of vengeance. She would not confess the truth even
to her inmost soul, but the truth was there, and set her a-tremble with
vague fears. Nevertheless, because she was in perfect health, and was
much fatigued, her introspection did not avail to keep her awake, and
within three minutes from the time she lay down she was blissfully
unconscious of all things, both the evil and the good, revenge and love.

She had slept, perhaps, a half-hour, when Fannie awakened her.

“It’s a man named Burke,” she explained, as her mistress lay blinking.
“And there’s another man with him. They said they must see you.”

By this time, Mary was wide-awake, for the name of Burke, the Police
Inspector, was enough to startle her out of drowsiness.

“Bring them in, in five minutes,” she directed.

She got up, slipped into a tea-gown, bathed her eyes in cologne, dressed
her hair a little, and went into the drawing-room, where the two men
had been waiting for something more than a quarter of an hour--to the
violent indignation of both.

“Oh, here you are, at last!” the big, burly man cried as she entered.
The whole air of him, though he was in civilian’s clothes, proclaimed
the policeman.

“Yes, Inspector,” Mary replied pleasantly, as she advanced into the
room. She gave a glance toward the other visitor, who was of a slenderer
form, with a thin, keen face, and recognized him instantly as Demarest,
who had taken part against her as the lawyer for the store at the time
of her trial, and who was now holding the office of District Attorney.
She went to the chair at the desk, and seated herself in a leisurely
fashion that increased the indignation of the fuming Inspector. She did
not trouble to ask her self-invited guests to sit.

“To whom do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Inspector?” she remarked
coolly. It was noticeable that she said whom and not what, as if she
understood perfectly that the influence of some person brought him on
this errand.

“I have come to have a few quiet words with you,” the Inspector
declared, in a mighty voice that set the globes of the chandeliers
a-quiver. Mary disregarded him, and turned to the other man.

“How do you do, Mr. Demarest?” she said, evenly. “It’s four years since
we met, and they’ve made you District Attorney since then. Allow me to
congratulate you.”

Demarest’s keen face took on an expression of perplexity.

“I’m puzzled,” he confessed. “There is something familiar, somehow,
about you, and yet----” He scrutinized appreciatively the loveliness of
the girl with her classically beautiful face, that was still individual
in its charm, the slim graces of the tall, lissome form. “I should have
remembered you. I don’t understand it.”

“Can’t you guess?” Mary questioned, somberly. “Search your memory, Mr.
Demarest.”

Of a sudden, the face of the District Attorney lightened.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “you are--it can’t be--yes--you are the girl,
you’re the Mary Turner whom I--oh, I know you now.”

There was an enigmatic smile bending the scarlet lips as she answered.

“I’m the girl you mean, Mr. Demarest, but, for the rest, you don’t know
me--not at all!”

The burly figure of the Inspector of Police, which had loomed motionless
during this colloquy, now advanced a step, and the big voice boomed
threatening. It was very rough and weighted with authority.

“Young woman,” Burke said, peremptorily, “the Twentieth Century Limited
leaves Grand Central Station at four o’clock. It arrives in Chicago at
eight-fifty-five to-morrow morning.” He pulled a massive gold watch
from his waistcoat pocket, glanced at it, thrust it back, and concluded
ponderously: “You will just about have time to catch that train.”

Mary regarded the stockily built officer with a half-amused contempt,
which she was at no pains to conceal.

“Working for the New York Central now?” she asked blandly.

The gibe made the Inspector furious.

“I’m working for the good of New York City,” he answered venomously.

Mary let a ripple of cadenced laughter escape her.

“Since when?” she questioned.

A little smile twisted the lips of the District Attorney, but he caught
himself quickly, and spoke with stern gravity.

“Miss Turner, I think you will find that a different tone will serve you
better.”

“Oh, let her talk,” Burke interjected angrily. “She’s only got a few
minutes anyway.”

Mary remained unperturbed.

“Very well, then,” she said genially, “let us be comfortable during that
little period.” She made a gesture of invitation toward chairs, which
Burke disdained to accept; but Demarest seated himself.

“You’d better be packing your trunk,” the Inspector rumbled.

“But why?” Mary inquired, with a tantalizing assumption of innocence.
“I’m not going away.”

“On the Twentieth Century Limited, this afternoon,” the Inspector
declared, in a voice of growing wrath.

“Oh, dear, no!” Mary’s assertion was made very quietly, but with an
underlying firmness that irritated the official beyond endurance.

“I say yes!” The answer was a bellow.

Mary appeared distressed, not frightened. Her words were an ironic
protest against the man’s obstreperous noisiness, no more.

“I thought you wanted quiet words with me.”

Burke went toward her, in a rage.

“Now, look here, Mollie----” he began harshly.

On the instant, Mary was on her feet, facing him, and there was a gleam
in her eyes as they met his that bade him pause.

“Miss Turner, if you don’t mind.” She laughed slightly. “For the
present, anyway.” She reseated herself tranquilly.

Burke was checked, but he retained his severity of bearing.

“I’m giving you your orders. You will either go to Chicago, or you’ll go
up the river.”

Mary answered in a voice charged with cynicism.

“If you can convict me. Pray, notice that little word ‘if’.”

The District Attorney interposed very suavely.

“I did once, remember.”

“But you can’t do it again,” Mary declared, with an assurance that
excited the astonishment of the police official.

“How do you know he can’t?” he blustered.

Mary laughed in a cadence of genial merriment.

“Because,” she replied gaily, “if he could, he would have had me in
prison some time ago.”

Burke winced, but he made shift to conceal his realization of the truth
she had stated to him.

“Huh!” he exclaimed gruffly. “I’ve seen them go up pretty easy.”

Mary met the assertion with a serenity that was baffling.

“The poor ones,” she vouchsafed; “not those that have money. I have
money, plenty of money--now.”

“Money you stole!” the Inspector returned, brutally.

“Oh, dear, no!” Mary cried, with a fine show of virtuous indignation.

“What about the thirty thousand dollars you got on that partnership
swindle?” Burke asked, sneering. “I s’pose you didn’t steal that!”

“Certainly not,” was the ready reply. “The man advertised for a partner
in a business sure to bring big and safe returns. I answered. The
business proposed was to buy a tract of land, and subdivide it. The
deeds to the land were all forged, and the supposed seller was
his confederate, with whom he was to divide the money. We formed a
partnership, with a capital of sixty thousand dollars. We paid the money
into the bank, and then at once I drew it out. You see, he wanted to get
my money illegally, but instead I managed to get his legally. For it was
legal for me to draw that money--wasn’t it, Mr. Demarest?”

The District Attorney by an effort retained his severe expression of
righteous disapprobation, but he admitted the truth of her contention.

“Unfortunately, yes,” he said gravely. “A partner has the right to draw
out any, or all, of the partnership funds.”

“And I was a partner,” Mary said contentedly. “You, see, Inspector, you
wrong me--you do, really! I’m not a swindler; I’m a financier.”

Burke sneered scornfully.

“Well,” he roared, “you’ll never pull another one on me. You can gamble
on that!”

Mary permitted herself to laugh mockingly in the face of the badgered
official.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said, graciously. “And let me say,
incidentally, that Miss Lynch at the present moment is painlessly
extracting ten thousand dollars from General Hastings in a perfectly
legal manner, Inspector Burke.”

“Well, anyhow,” Burke shouted, “you may stay inside the law, but
you’ve got to get outside the city.” He tried to employ an elephantine
bantering tone. “On the level, now, do you think you could get away with
that young Gilder scheme you’ve been planning?”

Mary appeared puzzled.

“What young Gilder scheme?” she asked, her brows drawn in bewilderment.

“Oh, I’m wise--I’m wise!” the Inspector cried roughly. “The answer is,
once for all, leave town this afternoon, or you’ll be in the Tombs in
the morning.”

Abruptly, a change came over the woman. Hitherto, she had been cynical,
sarcastic, laughing, careless, impudent. Now, of a sudden, she was all
seriousness, and she spoke with a gravity that, despite their volition,
impressed both the men before her.

“It can’t be done, Inspector,” she said, sedately.

The declaration, simple as it was, aroused the official to new
indignation.

“Who says it can’t?” he vociferated, overflowing with anger at this
flouting of the authority he represented.

Mary opened a drawer of the desk, and took out the document obtained
that morning from Harris, and held it forth.

“This,” she replied, succinctly.

“What’s this?” Burke stormed. But he took the paper.

Demarest looked over the Inspector’s shoulder, and his eyes grew larger
as he read. When he was at an end of the reading, he regarded the
passive woman at the desk with a new respect.

“What’s this?” Burke repeated helplessly. It was not easy for him
to interpret the legal phraseology. Mary was kind enough to make the
document clear to him.

“It’s a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court, instructing
you to let me alone until you have legal proof that I have broken the
law.... Do you get that, Mr. Inspector Burke?”

The plethoric official stared hard at the injunction.

“Another new one,” he stuttered finally. Then his anger sought vent in
violent assertion. “But it can’t be done!” he shouted.

“You might ask Mr. Demarest,” Mary suggested, pleasantly, “as to whether
or not it can be done. The gambling houses can do it, and so keep on
breaking the law. The race track men can do it, and laugh at the law.
The railroad can do it, to restrain its employees from striking. So, why
shouldn’t I get one, too? You see, I have money. I can buy all the law
I want. And there’s nothing you can’t do with the law, if you have money
enough.... Ask Mr. Demarest. He knows.”

Burke was fairly gasping over this outrage against his authority.

“Can you beat that!” he rumbled with a raucously sonorous vehemence.
He regarded Mary with a stare of almost reverential wonder. “A crook
appealing to the law!”

There came a new note into the woman’s voice as she answered the gibe.

“No, simply getting justice,” she said simply. “That’s the remarkable
part of it.” She threw off her serious air. “Well, gentlemen,” she
concluded, “what are you going to do about it?”

Burke explained.

“This is what I’m going to do about it. One way or another, I’m going to
get you.”

The District Attorney, however, judged it advisable to use more
persuasive methods.

“Miss Turner,” he said, with an appearance of sincerity, “I’m going to
appeal to your sense of fair play.”

Mary’s shining eyes met his for a long moment, and before the challenge
in hers, his fell. He remembered then those doubts that had assailed him
when this girl had been sentenced to prison, remembered the half-hearted
plea he had made in her behalf to Richard Gilder.

“That was killed,” Mary said, “killed four years ago.”

But Demarest persisted. Influence had been brought to bear on him. It
was for her own sake now that he urged her.

“Let young Gilder alone.”

Mary laughed again. But there was no hint of joyousness in the musical
tones. Her answer was frank--brutally frank. She had nothing to conceal.

“His father sent me away for three years--three years for something I
didn’t do. Well, he’s got to pay for it.”

By this time, Burke, a man of superior intelligence, as one must be to
reach such a position of authority, had come to realize that here was
a case not to be carried through by blustering, by intimidation, by the
rough ruses familiar to the force. Here was a woman of extraordinary
intelligence, as well as of peculiar personal charm, who merely made
sport of his fulminations, and showed herself essentially armed against
anything he might do, by a court injunction, a thing unheard of until
this moment in the case of a common crook. It dawned upon him that this
was, indeed, not a common crook. Moreover, there had grown in him a
certain admiration for the ingenuity and resource of this woman, though
he retained all his rancor against one who dared thus to resist the duly
constituted authority. So, in the end, he spoke to her frankly, without
a trace of his former virulence, with a very real, if rugged, sincerity.

“Don’t fool yourself, my girl,” he said in his huge voice, which was now
modulated to a degree that made it almost unfamiliar to himself. “You
can’t go through with this. There’s always a weak link in the chain
somewhere. It’s up to me to find it, and I will.”

His candor moved her to a like honesty.

“Now,” she said, and there was respect in the glance she gave the
stalwart man, “now you really sound dangerous.”

There came an interruption, alike unexpected by all. Fannie appeared at
the door.

“Mr. Edward Gilder wishes to see you, Miss Turner,” she said, with no
appreciation of anything dynamic in the announcement. “Shall I show him
in?”

“Oh, certainly,” Mary answered, with an admirable pretense of
indifference, while Burke glared at Demarest, and the District Attorney
appeared ill at ease.

“He shouldn’t have come,” Demarest muttered, getting to his feet, in
reply to the puzzled glance of the Inspector.

Then, while Mary sat quietly in her chair at the desk, and the two men
stood watching doubtfully the door, the maid appeared, stood aside, and
said simply, “Mr. Gilder.”

There entered the erect, heavy figure of the man whom Mary had hated
through the years. He stopped abruptly just within the room, gave a
glance at the two men, then his eyes went to Mary, sitting at her desk,
with her face lifted inquiringly. He did not pause to take in the beauty
of that face, only its strength. He stared at her silently for a moment.
Then he spoke in his oritund voice, a little tremulous from anxiety.

“Are you the woman?” he said. There was something simple and primitive,
something of dignity beyond the usual conventions, in his direct
address.

And there was the same primitive simplicity in the answer. Between the
two strong natures there was no subterfuge, no suggestion of polite
evasions, of tergiversation, only the plea of truth to truth. Mary’s
acknowledgment was as plain as his own question.

“I am the woman. What do you want?”... Thus two honest folk had met face
to face.

“My son.” The man’s answer was complete.

But Mary touched a tragic note in her question. It was asked in no
frivolous spirit, but, of a sudden, she guessed that his coming
was altogether of his own volition, and not the result of his son’s
information, as at first she had supposed.

“Have you seen him recently?” she asked.

“No,” Gilder answered.

“Then, why did you come?”

Thereat, the man was seized with a fatherly fury. His heavy face was
congested, and his sonorous voice was harsh with virtuous rebuke.

“Because I intend to save my boy from a great folly. I am informed that
he is infatuated with you, and Inspector Burke tells me why--he tells
me--why--he tells me----” He paused, unable for a moment to continue
from an excess of emotion. But his gray eyes burned fiercely in
accusation against her.

Inspector Burke himself filled the void in the halting sentence.

“I told you she had been an ex-convict.”

“Yes,” Gilder said, after he had regained his self-control. He stared
at her pleadingly. “Tell me,” he said with a certain dignity, “is this
true?”

Here, then, was the moment for which she had longed through weary days,
through weary years. Here was the man whom she hated, suppliant before
her to know the truth. Her heart quickened. Truly, vengeance is sweet to
one who has suffered unjustly.

“Is this true?” the man repeated, with something of horror in his voice.

“It is,” Mary said quietly.

For a little, there was silence in the room. Once, Inspector Burke
started to speak, but the magnate made an imperative gesture, and the
officer held his peace. Always, Mary rested motionless. Within her, a
fierce joy surged. Here was the time of her victory. Opposite her was
the man who had caused her anguish, the man whose unjust action had
ruined her life. Now, he was her humble petitioner, but this servility
could be of no avail to save him from shame. He must drink of the dregs
of humiliation--and then again. No price were too great to pay for a
wrong such as that which he had put upon her.

At last, Gilder was restored in a measure to his self-possession. He
spoke with the sureness of a man of wealth, confident that money will
salve any wound.

“How much?” he asked, baldly.

Mary smiled an inscrutable smile.

“Oh, I don’t need money,” she said, carelessly. “Inspector Burke will
tell you how easy it is for me to get it.”

Gilder looked at her with a newly dawning respect; then his shrewdness
suggested a retort.

“Do you want my son to learn what you are?” he said.

Mary laughed. There was something dreadful in that burst of spurious
amusement.

“Why not?” she answered. “I’m ready to tell him myself.”

Then Gilder showed the true heart of him, in which love for his boy was
before all else. He found himself wholly at a loss before the woman’s
unexpected reply.

“But I don’t want him to know,” he stammered. “Why, I’ve spared the boy
all his life. If he really loves you--it will----”

At that moment, the son himself entered hurriedly from the hallway.
In his eagerness, he saw no one save the woman whom he loved. At his
entrance, Mary rose and moved backward a step involuntarily, in
sheer surprise over his coming, even though she had known he must
come--perhaps from some other emotion, deeper, hidden as yet even from
herself.

The young man, with his wholesome face alight with tenderness, went
swiftly to her, while the other three men stood silent, motionless,
abashed by the event. And Dick took Mary’s hand in a warm clasp, pressed
it tenderly.

“I didn’t see father,” he said happily, “but I left him a note on his
desk at the office.”

Then, somehow, the surcharged atmosphere penetrated his consciousness,
and he looked around, to see his father standing grimly opposite him.
But there was no change in his expression beyond a more radiant smile.

“Hello, Dad!” he cried, joyously. “Then you got my note?”

The voice of the older man came with a sinister force and saturnine.

“No, Dick, I haven’t had any note.”

“Then, why?” The young man broke off suddenly. He was become aware
that here was something malignant, with a meaning beyond his present
understanding, for he saw the Inspector and Demarest, and he knew the
two of them for what they were officially.

“What are they doing here?” he demanded suspiciously, staring at the
two.

“Oh, never mind them,” Mary said. There was a malevolent gleam in her
violet eyes. This was the recompense of which she had dreamed through
soul-tearing ages. “Just tell your father your news, Dick.”

The young man had no comprehension of the fact that he was only a pawn
in the game. He spoke with simple pride.

“Dad, we’re married. Mary and I were married this morning.”

Always, Mary stared with her eyes steadfast on the father. There was
triumph in her gaze. This was the vengeance for which she had longed,
for which she had plotted, the vengeance she had at last achieved. Here
was her fruition, the period of her supremacy.

Gilder himself seemed dazed by the brief sentence.

“Say that again,” he commanded.

Mary rejoiced to make the knowledge sure.

“I married your son this morning,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I married him. Do you quite understand, Mr. Gilder? I married him.”
 In that insistence lay her ultimate compensation for untold misery. The
father stood there wordless, unable to find speech against this calamity
that had befallen him.

It was Burke who offered a diversion, a crude interruption after his own
fashion.

“It’s a frame-up,” he roared. He glared at the young man. “Tell your
father it ain’t true. Why, do you know what she is? She’s done time.” He
paused for an instant, then spoke in a voice that was brutally menacing.
“And, by God, she’ll do it again!”

The young man turned toward his bride. There was disbelief, hope,
despair, in his face, which had grown older by years with the passing of
the seconds.

“It’s a lie, Mary,” he said. “Say it’s a lie!” He seized her hand
passionately.

There was no quiver in her voice as she answered. She drew her hand from
his clasp, and spoke evenly.

“It’s the truth.”

“It’s the truth!” the young man repeated, incredulously.

“It is the truth,” Mary said, firmly. “I have served three years in
prison.”

There was a silence of a minute that was like years. It was the father
who broke it, and now his voice was become tremulous.

“I wanted to save you, Dick. That’s why I came.”

The son interrupted him violently.

“There’s a mistake--there must be.”

It was Demarest who gave an official touch to the tragedy of the moment.

“There’s no mistake,” he said. There was authority in his statement.

“There is, I tell you!” Dick cried, horrified by this conspiracy of
defamation. He turned his tortured face to his bride of a day.

“Mary,” he said huskily, “there is a mistake.”

Something in her face appalled him. He was voiceless for a few terrible
instants. Then he spoke again, more beseechingly.

“Say there’s a mistake.”

Mary preserved her poise. Yes--she must not forget! This was the hour of
her triumph. What mattered it that the honey of it was as ashes in her
mouth? She spoke with a simplicity that admitted no denial.

“It’s all quite true.”

The man who had so loved her, so trusted her, was overwhelmed by the
revelation. He stood trembling for a moment, tottered, almost it seemed
would have fallen, but presently steadied himself and sank supinely into
a chair, where he sat in impotent suffering.

The father looked at Mary with a reproach that was pathetic.

“See,” he said, and his heavy voice was for once thin with passion, “see
what you’ve done to my boy!”

Mary had held her eyes on Dick. There had been in her gaze a conflict of
emotions, strong and baffling. Now, however, when the father spoke,
her face grew more composed, and her eyes met his coldly. Her voice was
level and vaguely dangerous as she answered his accusation.

“What is that compared to what you have done to me?”

Gilder stared at her in honest amazement. He had no suspicion as to the
tragedy that lay between him and her.

“What have I done to you?” he questioned, uncomprehending.

Mary moved forward, passing beyond the desk, and continued her advance
toward him until the two stood close together, face to face. She spoke
softly, but with an intensity of supreme feeling in her voice.

“Do you remember what I said to you the day you had me sent away?”

The merchant regarded her with stark lack of understanding.

“I don’t remember you at all,” he said.

The woman looked at him intently for a moment, then spoke in a colorless
voice.

“Perhaps you remember Mary Turner, who was arrested four years ago for
robbing your store. And perhaps you remember that she asked to speak to
you before they took her to prison.”

The heavy-jowled man gave a start.

“Oh, you begin to remember. Yes! There was a girl who swore she was
innocent--yes, she swore that she was innocent. And she would have got
off--only, you asked the judge to make an example of her.”

The man to whom she spoke had gone gray a little. He began to
understand, for he was not lacking in intelligence. Somehow, it was
borne in on him that this woman had a grievance beyond the usual run of
injuries.

“You are that girl?” he said. It was not a question, rather an
affirmation.

Mary spoke with the dignity of long suffering--more than that, with the
confident dignity of a vengeance long delayed, now at last achieved.
Her words were simple enough, but they touched to the heart of the man
accused by them.

“I am that girl.”

There was a little interval of silence. Then, Mary spoke again,
remorselessly.

“You took away my good name. You smashed my life. You put me behind the
bars. You owe for all that.... Well’ I’ve begun to collect.”

The man opposite her, the man of vigorous form, of strong face and
keen eyes, stood gazing intently for long moments. In that time, he was
learning many things. Finally, he spoke.

“And that is why you married my boy.”

“It is.” Mary gave the answer coldly, convincingly.

Convincingly, save to one--her husband. Dick suddenly aroused, and spoke
with the violence of one sure.

“It is not!”

Burke shouted a warning. Demarest, more diplomatic, made a restraining
gesture toward the police official, then started to address the young
man soothingly.

But Dick would have none of their interference.

“This is my affair,” he said, and the others fell silent. He stood up
and went to Mary, and took her two hands in his, very gently, yet very
firmly.

“Mary,” he said softly, yet with a strength of conviction, “you married
me because you love me.”

The wife shuddered, but she strove to deny.

“No,” she said gravely, “no, I did not!”

“And you love me now!” he went on insistingly.

“No, no!” Mary’s denial came like a cry for escape.

“You love me now!” There was a masterful quality in his declaration,
which seemed to ignore her negation.

“I don’t,” she repeated bitterly.

But he was inexorable.

“Look me in the face, and say that.”

He took her face in his hands, lifted it, and his eyes met hers
searchingly.

“Look me in the face, and say that,” he repeated.

There was a silence that seemed long, though it was measured in the
passing of seconds. The three watchers dared not interrupt this drama
of emotions, but, at last, Mary, who had planned so long for this hour,
gathered her forces and spoke valiantly. Her voice was low, but without
any weakness of doubt.

“I do not love you.”

In the instant of reply, Dick Gilder, by some inspiration of love,
changed his attitude. “Just the same,” he said cheerfully, “you are my
wife, and I’m going to keep you and make you love me.”

Mary felt a thrill of fear through her very soul.

“You can’t!” she cried harshly. “You are his son!”

“She’s a crook!” Burke said.

“I don’t care a damn what you’ve been!” Dick exclaimed. “From now
on you’ll go straight. You’ll walk the straightest line a woman ever
walked. You’ll put all thoughts of vengeance out of your heart, because
I’ll fill it with something bigger--I’m going to make you love me.”

Burke, with his rousing voice, spoke again:

“I tell you, she’s a crook!”

Mary moved a little, and then turned her face toward Gilder.

“And, if I am, who made me one? You can’t send a girl to prison, and
have her come out anything else.”

Burke swung himself around in a movement of complete disgust.

“She didn’t get her time for good behavior.”

Mary raised her head, haughtily, with a gesture of high disdain.

“And I’m proud of it!” came her instant retort. “Do you know what goes
on there behind those stone walls? Do you, Mr. District Attorney, whose
business it is to send girls there? Do you know what a girl is expected
to do, to get time off for good behavior? If you don’t, ask the
keepers.”

Gilder moved fussily.

“And you----”

Mary swayed a little, standing there before her questioner.

“I served every minute of my time--every minute of it, three full, whole
years. Do you wonder that I want to get even, that some one has got to
pay? Four years ago, you took away my name--and gave me a number....
Now, I’ve given up the number--and I’ve got your name.”



CHAPTER XV. AFTERMATH OF TRAGEDY.

The Gilders, both father and son, endured much suffering throughout the
night and day that followed the scene in Mary Turner’s apartment, when
she had made known the accomplishment of her revenge on the older man
by her ensnaring of the younger. Dick had followed the others out of
her presence at her command, emphasized by her leaving him alone when
he would have pleaded further with her. Since then, he had striven to
obtain another interview with his bride, but she had refused him. He was
denied admission to the apartment. Only the maid answered the ringing of
the telephone, and his notes were seemingly unheeded. Distraught by this
violent interjection of torment into a life that hitherto had known no
important suffering, Dick Gilder showed what mettle of man lay beneath
his debonair appearance. And that mettle was of a kind worth while. In
these hours of grief, the soul of him put out its strength. He learned
beyond peradventure of doubt that the woman whom he had married was
in truth an ex-convict, even as Burke and Demarest had declared.
Nevertheless, he did not for an instant believe that she was guilty of
the crime with which she had been originally charged and for which she
had served a sentence in prison. For the rest, he could understand in
some degree how the venom of the wrong inflicted on her had poisoned her
nature through the years, till she had worked out its evil through the
scheme of which he was the innocent victim. He cared little for the
fact that recently she had devoted herself to devious devices for making
money, to ingenious schemes for legal plunder. In his summing of her,
he set as more than an offset to her unrighteousness in this regard the
desperate struggle she had made after leaving prison to keep straight,
which, as he learned, had ended in her attempt at suicide. He knew
the intelligence of this woman whom he loved, and in his heart was
no thought of her faults as vital flaws. It seemed to him rather that
circumstances had compelled her, and that through all the suffering
of her life she had retained the more beautiful qualities of her
womanliness, for which he reverenced her. In the closeness of their
association, short as it had been, he had learned to know something
of the tenderer depths within her, the kindliness of her, the
wholesomeness. Swayed as he was by the loveliness of her, he was yet
more enthralled by those inner qualities of which the outer beauty was
only the fitting symbol.

So, in the face of this catastrophe, where a less love must have been
destroyed utterly, Dick remained loyal. His passionate regard did not
falter for a moment. It never even occurred to him that he might cast
her off, might yield to his father’s prayers, and abandon her. On the
contrary, his only purpose was to gain her for himself, to cherish and
guard her against every ill, to protect with his love from every attack
of shame or injury. He would not believe that the girl did not care
for him. Whatever had been her first purpose of using him only as an
instrument through which to strike against his father, whatever might
be her present plan of eliminating him from her life in the future, he
still was sure that she had grown to know a real and lasting affection
for himself. He remembered startled glances from the violet eyes, caught
unawares, and the music of her voice in rare instants, and these told
him that love for him stirred, even though it might as yet be but
faintly, in her heart.

Out of that fact, he drew an immediate comfort in this period of his
misery. Nevertheless, his anguish was a racking one. He grew older
visibly in the night and the day. There crept suddenly lines of new
feeling into his face, and, too, lines of new strength. The boy died in
that time; the man was born, came forth in the full of his steadfastness
and his courage, and his love.

The father suffered with the son. He was a proud man, intensely
gratified over the commanding position to which he had achieved in the
commercial world, proud of his business integrity, of his standing in
the community as a leader, proud of his social position, proud most of
all of the son whom he so loved. Now, this hideous disaster threatened
his pride at every turn--worse, it threatened the one person in the
world whom he really loved. Most fathers would have stormed at the boy
when pleading failed, would have given commands with harshness, would
have menaced the recalcitrant with disinheritance. Edward Gilder did
none of these things, though his heart was sorely wounded. He loved
his son too much to contemplate making more evil for the lad by any
estrangement between them. Yet he felt that the matter could not safely
be left in the hands of Dick himself. He realized that his son loved
the woman--nor could he wonder much at that. His keen eyes had
perceived Mary Turner’s graces of form, her loveliness of face. He had
apprehended, too, in some measure at least, the fineness of her mental
fiber and the capacities of her heart. Deep within him, denied any
outlet, he knew there lurked a curious, subtle sympathy for the girl in
her scheme of revenge against himself. Her persistent striving toward
the object of her ambition was something he could understand, since the
like thing in different guise had been back of his own business success.
He would not let the idea rise to the surface of consciousness, for
he still refused to believe that Mary Turner had suffered at his hand
unjustly. He would think of her as nothing else than a vile creature,
who had caught his son in the toils of her beauty and charm, for the
purpose of eventually making money out of the intrigue.

Gilder, in his library this night, was pacing impatiently to and fro,
eagerly listening for the sound of his son’s return to the house. He had
been the guest of honor that night at an important meeting of the Civic
Committee, and he had spoken with his usual clarity and earnestness in
spite of the trouble that beset him. Now, however, the regeneration of
the city was far from his thought, and his sole concern was with the
regeneration of a life, that of his son, which bade fair to be ruined by
the wiles of a wicked woman. He was anxious for the coming of Dick, to
whom he would make one more appeal. If that should fail--well, he must
use the influences at his command to secure the forcible parting of the
adventuress from his son.

The room in which he paced to and fro was of a solid dignity, well
fitted to serve as an environment for its owner. It was very large, and
lofty. There was massiveness in the desk that stood opposite the hall
door, near a window. This particular window itself was huge, high,
jutting in octagonal, with leaded panes. In addition, there was a great
fireplace set with tiles, around which was woodwork elaborately carved,
the fruit of patient questing abroad. On the walls were hung some pieces
of tapestry, where there were not bookcases. Over the octagonal window,
too, such draperies fell in stately lines. Now, as the magnate paced
back and forth, there was only a gentle light in the room, from a
reading-lamp on his desk. The huge chandelier was unlighted.... It was
even as Gilder, in an increasing irritation over the delay, had thrown
himself down on a couch which stood just a little way within an alcove,
that he heard the outer door open and shut. He sprang up with an
ejaculation of satisfaction.

“Dick, at last!” he muttered.

It was, in truth, the son. A moment later, he entered the room, and went
at once to his father, who was standing waiting, facing the door.

“I’m awfully sorry I’m so late, Dad,” he said simply.

“Where have you been?” the father demanded gravely. But there was great
affection in the flash of his gray eyes as he scanned the young man’s
face, and the touch of the hand that he put on Dick’s shoulder was very
tender. “With that woman again?”

The boy’s voice was disconsolate as he replied:

“No, father, not with her. She won’t see me.”

The older man snorted a wrathful appreciation.

“Naturally!” he exclaimed with exceeding bitterness in the heavy voice.
“She’s got all she wanted from you--my name!” He repeated the words with
a grimace of exasperation: “My name!”

There was a novel dignity in the son’s tone as he spoke.

“It’s mine, too, you know, sir,” he said quietly.

The father was impressed of a sudden with the fact that, while this
affair was of supreme import to himself, it was, after all, of still
greater significance to his son. To himself, the chief concerns were
of the worldly kind. To this boy, the vital thing was something deeper,
something of the heart: for, however absurd his feeling, the truth
remained that he loved the woman. Yes, it was the son’s name that Mary
Turner had taken, as well as that of his father. In the case of the son,
she had taken not only his name, but his very life. Yes, it was, indeed,
Dick’s tragedy. Whatever he, the father, might feel, the son was, after
all, more affected. He must suffer more, must lose more, must pay more
with happiness for his folly.

Gilder looked at his son with a strange, new respect, but he could not
let the situation go without protest, protest of the most vehement.

“Dick,” he cried, and his big voice was shaken a little by the force
of his emotion; “boy, you are all I have in the world. You will have
to free yourself from this woman somehow.” He stood very erect, staring
steadfastly out of his clear gray eyes into those of his son. His heavy
face was rigid with feeling; the coarse mouth bent slightly in a smile
of troubled fondness, as he added more softly: “You owe me that much.”

The son’s eyes met his father’s freely. There was respect in them, and
affection, but there was something else, too, something the older man
recognized as beyond his control. He spoke gravely, with a deliberate
conviction.

“I owe something to her, too, Dad.”

But Gilder would not let the statement go unchallenged. His heavy voice
rang out rebukingly, overtoned with protest.

“What can you owe her?” he demanded indignantly. “She tricked you into
the marriage. Why, legally, it’s not even that. There’s been nothing
more than a wedding ceremony. The courts hold that that is only a part
of the marriage actually. The fact that she doesn’t receive you makes it
simpler, too. It can be arranged. We must get you out of the scrape.”

He turned and went to the desk, as if to sit, but he was halted by his
son’s answer, given very gently, yet with a note of finality that to the
father’s ear rang like the crack of doom.

“I’m not sure that I want to get out of it, father.”

That was all, but those plain words summed the situation, made the issue
a matter not of advice, but of the heart.

Gilder persisted, however, in trying to evade the integral fact of his
son’s feeling. Still he tried to fix the issue on the known unsavory
reputation of the woman.

“You want to stay married to this jail-bird!” he stormed.

A gust of fury swept the boy. He loved the woman, in spite of all; he
respected her, even reverenced her. To hear her thus named moved him to
a rage almost beyond his control. But he mastered himself. He remembered
that the man who spoke loved him; he remembered, too, that the word of
opprobrium was no more than the truth, however offensive it might be
to his sensitiveness. He waited a moment until he could hold his voice
even. Then his words were the sternest protest that could have been
uttered, though they came from no exercise of thought, only out of the
deeps of his heart.

“I’m very fond of her.”

That was all. But the simple sincerity of the saying griped the father’s
mood, as no argument could have done. There was a little silence. After
all, what could meet such loving loyalty?

When at last he spoke, Gilder’s voice was subdued, a little husky.

“Now, that you know?” he questioned.

There was no faltering in the answer.

“Now, that I know,” Dick said distinctly. Then abruptly, the young man
spoke with the energy of perfect faith in the woman. “Don’t you see,
father? Why, she is justified in a way, in her own mind anyhow, I mean.
She was innocent when she was sent to prison. She feels that the world
owes her----”

But the older man would not permit the assertion to go uncontradicted.
That reference to the woman’s innocence was an arraignment of himself,
for it had been he who sent her to the term of imprisonment.

“Don’t talk to me about her innocence!” he said, and his voice was
ominous. “I suppose next you will argue that, because she’s been clever
enough to keep within the law, since she’s got out of State Prison,
she’s not a criminal. But let me tell you--crime is crime, whether the
law touches it in the particular case, or whether it doesn’t.”

Gilder faced his son sternly for a moment, and then presently spoke
again with deeper earnestness.

“There’s only one course open to you, my boy. You must give this girl
up.”

The son met his father’s gaze with a level look in which there was no
weakness.

“I’ve told you, Dad----” he began.

“You must, I tell you,” the father insisted. Then he went on quickly,
with a tone of utmost positiveness. “If you don’t, what are you going to
do the day your wife is thrown into a patrol wagon and carried to Police
Headquarters--for it’s sure to happen? The cleverest of people make
mistakes, and some day she’ll make one.”

Dick threw out his hands in a gesture of supreme denial. He was furious
at this supposition that she would continue in her irregular practices.

But the father went on remorselessly.

“They will stand her up where the detectives will walk past her with
masks on their faces. Her picture, of course, is already in the Rogues’
Gallery, but they will take another. Yes, and the imprints of her
fingers, and the measurements of her body.”

The son was writhing under the words. The woman of whom these things
were said was the woman whom he loved. It was blasphemy to think of
her in such case, subjected to the degradation of these processes. Yet,
every word had in it the piercing, horrible sting of truth. His face
whitened. He raised a supplicating hand.

“Father!”

“That’s what they will do to your wife,” Gilder went on harshly; “to the
woman who bears your name and mine.” There was a little pause, and the
father stood rigid, menacing. The final question came rasping. “What are
you going to do about it?”

Dick went forward until he was close to his father. Then he spoke with
profound conviction.

“It will never happen. She will go straight, Dad. That I know. You would
know it if you only knew her as I do.”

Gilder once again put his hand tenderly on his son’s shoulder. His voice
was modulated to an unaccustomed mildness as he spoke.

“Be sensible, boy,” he pleaded softly. “Be sensible!”

Dick dropped down on the couch, and made his answer very gently, his
eyes unseeing as he dwelt on the things he knew of the woman he loved.

“Why, Dad,” he said, “she is young. She’s just like a child in a hundred
ways. She loves the trees and the grass and the flowers--and everything
that’s simple and real! And as for her heart--” His voice was low and
very tender: “Why, her heart is the biggest I’ve ever known. It’s just
overflowing with sweetness and kindness. I’ve seen her pick up a baby
that had fallen in the street, and mother it in a way that--well, no one
could do it as she did it, unless her soul was clean.”

The father was silent, a little awed. He made an effort to shake off the
feeling, and spoke with a sneer.

“You heard what she said yesterday, and you still are such a fool as to
think that.”

The answer of the son came with an immutable finality, the sublime faith
of love.

“I don’t think--I know!”

Gilder was in despair. What argument could avail him? He cried out
sharply in desperation.

“Do you realize what you’re doing? Don’t go to smash, Dick, just at the
beginning of your life. Oh, I beg you, boy, stop! Put this girl out of
your thoughts and start fresh.”

The reply was of the simplest, and it was the end of argument.

“Father,” Dick said, very gently, “I can’t.”

There followed a little period of quiet between the two. The father,
from his desk, stood facing his son, who thus denied him in all honesty
because the heart so commanded. The son rested motionless and looked
with unflinching eyes into his father’s face. In the gaze of each was a
great affection.

“You’re all I have, my boy,” the older man said at last. And now the big
voice was a mildest whisper of love.

“Yes, Dad,” came the answer--another whisper, since it is hard to voice
the truth of feeling such as this. “If I could avoid it, I wouldn’t hurt
you for anything in the world. I’m sorry, Dad, awfully sorry----” He
hesitated, then his voice rang out clearly. There was in his tone, when
he spoke again, a recognition of that loneliness which is the curse and
the crown of being:

“But,” he ended, “I must fight this out by myself--fight it out in my
own way.... And I’m going to do it!”



CHAPTER XVI. BURKE PLOTS.

The butler entered.

“A man to see you, sir,” he said.

Gilder made a gesture of irritation, as he sank into the chair at his
desk.

“I can’t see any one to-night, Thomas,” he exclaimed, sharply.

“But he said it was most important, sir,” the servant went on. He held
out the tray insistently.

The master took the card grudgingly. As his eyes caught the name, his
expression changed slightly.

“Very well,” he said, “show him up.” His glance met the wondering gaze
of his son.

“It’s Burke,” he explained.

“What on earth can he want--at this time of night?” Dick exclaimed.

The father smiled grimly.

“You may as well get used to visits from the police.” There was
something ghastly in the effort toward playfulness.

A moment later, Inspector Burke entered the room.

“Oh, you’re here, too,” he said, as his eyes fell on Dick. “That’s good.
I wanted to see you, too.”

Inspector Burke was, in fact, much concerned over the situation that
had developed. He was a man of undoubted ability, and he took a keen
professional pride in his work. He possessed the faults of his class,
was not too scrupulous where he saw a safe opportunity to make a snug
sum of money through the employment of his official authority, was ready
to buckle to those whose influence could help or hinder his ambition.
But, in spite of these ordinary defects, he was fond of his work and
wishful to excel in it. Thus, Mary Turner had come to be a thorn in his
side. She flouted his authority and sustained her incredible effrontery
by a restraining order from the court. The thing was outrageous to him,
and he set himself to match her cunning. The fact that she had involved
Dick Gilder within her toils made him the more anxious to overcome her
in the strife of resources between them. After much studying, he had
at last planned something that, while it would not directly touch
Mary herself, would at least serve to intimidate her, and as well make
further action easier against her. It was in pursuit of this scheme
that he now came to Gilder’s house, and the presence of the young man
abruptly gave him another idea that might benefit him well. So, he
disregarded Gilder’s greeting, and went on speaking to the son.

“She’s skipped!” he said, triumphantly.

Dick made a step forward. His eyes flashed, and there was anger in his
voice as he replied:

“I don’t believe it.”

The Inspector smiled, unperturbed.

“She left this morning for Chicago,” he said, lying with a manner that
long habit rendered altogether convincing. “I told you she’d go.” He
turned to the father, and spoke with an air of boastful good nature.
“Now, all you have to do is to get this boy out of the scrape and you’ll
be all right.”

“If we only could!” The cry came with deepest earnestness from the lips
of Gilder, but there was little hope in his voice.

The Inspector, however, was confident of success, and his tones rang
cheerfully as he answered:

“I guess we can find a way to have the marriage annulled, or whatever
they do to marriages that don’t take.”

The brutal assurance of the man in thus referring to things that were
sacred, moved Dick to wrath.

“Don’t you interfere,” he said. His words were spoken softly, but
tensely.

Nevertheless, Burke held to the topic, but an indefinable change in his
manner rendered it less offensive to the young man.

“Interfere! Huh!” he ejaculated, grinning broadly. “Why, that’s what
I’m paid to do. Listen to me, son. The minute you begin mixing up with
crooks, you ain’t in a position to give orders to any one. The crooks
have got no rights in the eyes of the police. Just remember that.”

The Inspector spoke the simple truth as he knew it from years of
experience. The theory of the law is that a presumption of innocence
exists until the accused is proven guilty. But the police are out of
sympathy with such finical methods. With them, the crook is presumed
guilty at the outset of whatever may be charged against him. If need
be, there will be proof a-plenty against him--of the sort that the
underworld knows to its sorrow.

But Dick was not listening. His thoughts were again wholly with the
woman he loved, who, as the Inspector declared, had fled from him.

“Where’s she gone in Chicago?”

Burke answered in his usual gruff fashion, but with a note of kindliness
that was not without its effect on Dick.

“I’m no mind-reader,” he said. “But she’s a swell little girl, all
right. I’ve got to hand it to her for that. So, she’ll probably stop at
the Blackstone--that is, until the Chicago police are tipped off that
she is in town.”

Of a sudden, the face of the young man took on a totally different
expression. Where before had been anger, now was a vivid eagerness. He
went close to the Inspector, and spoke with intense seriousness.

“Burke,” he said, pleadingly, “give me a chance. I’ll leave for Chicago
in the morning. Give me twenty-four hours start before you begin
hounding her.”

The Inspector regarded the speaker searchingly. His heavy face was
drawn in an expression of apparent doubt. Abruptly, then, he smiled
acquiescence.

“Seems reasonable,” he admitted.

But the father strode to his son.

“No, no, Dick,” he cried. “You shall not go! You shall not go!”

Burke, however, shook his head in remonstrance against Gilder’s plea.
His huge voice came booming, weightily impressive.

“Why not?” he questioned. “It’s a fair gamble. And, besides, I like the
boy’s nerve.”

Dick seized on the admission eagerly.

“And you’ll agree?” he cried.

“Yes, I’ll agree,” the Inspector answered.

“Thank you,” Dick said quietly.

But the father was not content. On the contrary, he went toward the two
hurriedly, with a gesture of reproval.

“You shall not go, Dick,” he declared, imperiously.

The Inspector shot a word of warning to Gilder in an aside that Dick
could not hear.

“Keep still,” he replied. “It’s all right.”

Dick went on speaking with a seriousness suited to the magnitude of his
interests.

“You give me your word, Inspector,” he said, “that you won’t notify the
police in Chicago until I’ve been there twenty-four hours?”

“You’re on,” Burke replied genially. “They won’t get a whisper out of me
until the time is up.” He swung about to face the father, and there
was a complete change in his manner. “Now, then, Mr. Gilder,” he said
briskly, “I want to talk to you about another little matter----”

Dick caught the suggestion, and interrupted quickly.

“Then I’ll go.” He smiled rather wanly at his father. “You know, Dad,
I’m sorry, but I’ve got to do what I think is the right thing.”

Burke helped to save the situation from the growing tenseness.

“Sure,” he cried heartily; “sure you have. That’s the best any of us can
do.” He watched keenly as the young man went out of the room. It was not
until the door was closed after Dick that he spoke. Then he dropped to a
seat on the couch, and proceeded to make his confidences to the magnate.

“He’ll go to Chicago in the morning, you think, don’t you?”

“Certainly,” Gilder answered. “But I don’t like it.”

Burke slapped his leg with an enthusiasm that might have broken a weaker
member.

“Best thing that could have happened!” he vociferated. And then, as
Gilder regarded him in astonishment, he added, chuckling: “You see, he
won’t find her there.”

“Why do you think that?” Gilder demanded, greatly puzzled.

Burke permitted himself the luxury of laughing appreciatively a moment
more before making his exclamation. Then he said quietly:

“Because she didn’t go there.”

“Where did she go, then?” Gilder queried wholly at a loss.

Once again the officer chuckled. It was evident that he was well pleased
with his own ingenuity.

“Nowhere yet,” he said at last. “But, just about the time he’s starting
for the West I’ll have her down at Headquarters. Demarest will have
her indicted before noon. She’ll go for trial in the afternoon. And
to-morrow night she’ll be sleeping up the river.... That’s where she is
going.”

Gilder stood motionless for a moment. After all, he was an ordinary
citizen, quite unfamiliar with the recondite methods familiar to the
police.

“But,” he said, wonderingly, “you can’t do that.”

The Inspector laughed, a laugh of disingenuous amusement, for he
understood perfectly the lack of comprehension on the part of his
hearer.

“Well,” he said, and his voice sank into a modest rumble that was
none the less still thunderous. “Perhaps I can’t!” And then he beamed
broadly, his whole face smiling blandly on the man who doubted his
power. “Perhaps I can’t,” he repeated. Then the chuckle came again, and
he added emphatically: “But I will!” Suddenly, his heavy face grew hard.
His alert eyes shone fiercely, with a flash of fire that was known
to every patrolman who had ever reported to the desk when he was
lieutenant. His heavy jaw shot forward aggressively as he spoke.

“Think I’m going to let that girl make a joke of the Police Department?
Why, I’m here to get her--to stop her anyhow. Her gang is going to break
into your house to-night.”

“What?” Gilder demanded. “You mean, she’s coming here as a thief?”

“Not exactly,” Inspector Burke confessed, “but her pals are coming to
try to pull off something right here. She wouldn’t come, not if I
know her. She’s too clever for that. Why, if she knew what Garson was
planning to do, she’d stop him.”

The Inspector paused suddenly. For a long minute his face was seamed
with thought. Then, he smote his thigh with a blow strong enough to kill
an ox. His face was radiant.

“By God! I’ve got her!” he cried. The inspiration for which he had
longed was his at last. He went to the desk where the telephone was, and
took up the receiver.

“Give me 3100 Spring,” he said. As he waited for the connection he
smiled widely on the astonished Gilder. “‘Tain’t too late,” he said
joyously. “I must have been losing my mind not to have thought of it
before.” The impact of sounds on his ear from the receiver set him to
attention.

“Headquarters?” he called. “Inspector Burke speaking. Who’s in my
office? I want him quick.” He smiled as he listened, and he spoke again
to Gilder. “It’s Smith, the best man I have. That’s luck, if you ask
me.” Then again he spoke into the mouthpiece of the telephone.

“Oh, Ed, send some one up to that Turner woman. You have the address.
Just see that she is tipped off, that Joe Garson and some pals are going
to break into Edward Gilder’s house to-night. Get some stool-pigeon
to hand her the information. You’d better get to work damned quick.
Understand?”

The Inspector pulled out that watch of which Aggie Lynch had spoken so
avariciously, and glanced at it, then went on speaking:

“It’s ten-thirty now. She went to the Lyric Theater with some woman. Get
her as she leaves, or find her back at her own place later. You’ll have
to hustle, anyhow. That’s all!”

The Inspector hung up the receiver and faced his host with a contented
smile.

“What good will all that do?” Gilder demanded, impatiently.

Burke explained with a satisfaction natural to one who had devised
something ingenious and adequate. This inspiration filled him with
delight. At last he was sure of catching Mary Turner herself in his
toils.

“She’ll come to stop ‘em,” he said. “When we get the rest of the gang,
we’ll grab her, too. Why, I almost forgot her, thinking about Garson.
Mr. Gilder, you would hardly believe it, but there’s scarcely been a
real bit of forgery worth while done in this country for the last twenty
years, that Garson hasn’t been mixed up in. We’ve never once got him
right in all that time.” The Inspector paused to chuckle. “Crooks are
funny,” he explained with obvious contentment. “Clever as he is, Garson
let Griggs talk him into a second-story job, and now we’ll get him with
the goods.... Just call your man for a minute, will you, Mr. Gilder?”

Gilder pressed the electric button on his desk. At the same moment,
through the octagonal window came a blinding flash of light that
rested for seconds, then vanished. Burke, by no means a nervous man,
nevertheless was startled by the mysterious radiance.

“What’s that?” he demanded, sharply.

“It’s the flashlight from the Metropolitan Tower,” Gilder explained with
a smile over the policeman’s perturbation. “It swings around this way
about every fifteen minutes. The servant forgot to draw the curtains.”
 As he spoke, he went to the window, and pulled the heavy draperies
close. “It won’t bother us again.”

The entrance of the butler brought the Inspector’s thoughts back to the
matter in hand.

“My man,” he said, authoritatively, “I want you to go up to the roof and
open the scuttle. You’ll find some men waiting up there. Bring ‘em down
here.”

The servant’s usually impassive face showed astonishment, not unmixed
with dismay, and he looked doubtfully toward his master, who nodded
reassuringly.

“Oh, they won’t hurt you,” the Inspector declared, as he noticed the
man’s hesitation. “They’re police officers. You get ‘em down here, and
then you go to bed and stay there till morning. Understand?”

Again, the butler looked at his master for guidance in this very
peculiar affair, as he deemed it. Receiving another nod, he said:

“Very well, sir.” He regarded the Inspector with a certain helpless
indignation over this disturbance of the natural order, and left the
room.

Gilder himself was puzzled over the situation, which was by no means
clear to him.

“How do you know they’re going to break into the house to-night?” he
demanded of Burke; “or do you only think they’re going to break into the
house?”

“I know they are.” The Inspector’s harsh voice brought out the words
boastfully. “I fixed it.”

“You did!” There was wonder in the magnate’s exclamation.

“Sure,” Burke declared complacently, “did it through a stool-pigeon.”

“Oh, an informer,” Gilder interrupted, a little doubtfully.

“Yes,” Burke agreed. “Stool-pigeon is the police name for him. Really,
he’s the vilest thing that crawls.”

“But, if you think that,” Gilder expostulated, “why do you have anything
to do with that sort of person?”

“Because it’s good business,” the Inspector replied. “We know he’s a spy
and a traitor, and that every time he comes near us we ought to use a
disinfectant. But we deal with him just the same--because we have to.
Now, the stool-pigeon in this trick is a swell English crook. He went
to Garson yesterday with a scheme to rob your house. He tried out Mary
Turner, too, but she wouldn’t stand for it--said it would break the law,
which is contrary to her principles. She told Garson to leave it alone.
But he met Griggs afterward without her knowing anything about it, and
then he agreed to pull it off. Griggs got word to me that it’s coming
off to-night. And so, you see, Mr. Gilder, that’s how I know. Do you get
me?”

“I see,” Gilder admitted without any enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, he
felt somewhat offended that his house should be thus summarily seized as
a trap for criminals.

“But why do you have your men come down over the roof?” he inquired
curiously.

“It wasn’t safe to bring them in the front way,” was the Inspector’s
prompt reply. “It’s a cinch the house is being watched. I wish you would
let me have your latch-key. I want to come back, and make this collar
myself.”

The owner of the house obediently took the desired key from his ring and
gave it to the Inspector with a shrug of resignation.

“But, why not stay, now that you are here?” he asked.

“Huh!” Burke retorted. “Suppose some of them saw me come in? There
wouldn’t be anything doing until after they see me go out again.”

The hall door opened and the butler reentered the room. Behind him came
Cassidy and two other detectives in plain clothes. At a word from his
master, the disturbed Thomas withdrew with the intention of obeying
the Inspector’s directions that he should retire to bed and stay there,
carefully avoiding whatever possibilities of peril there might be in the
situation so foreign to his ideals of propriety.

“Now,” Burke went on briskly, as the door closed behind the servant,
“where could these men stay out of sight until they’re needed?”

There followed a little discussion which ended in the selection of a
store-room at the end of the passage on the ground floor, on which one
of the library doors opened.

“You see,” Burke explained to Gilder, when this matter had been settled
to his satisfaction, and while Cassidy and the other detectives were
out of the library on a tour of inspection, “you must have things right,
when it comes to catching crooks on a frame-up like this. I had these
men come to Number Twenty-six on the other street, then round the block
on the roofs.”

Gilder nodded appreciation which was not actually sincere. It seemed to
him that such elaborate manoeuvering was, in truth, rather absurd.

“And now, Mr. Gilder,” the Inspector said energetically, “I’m going to
give you the same tip I gave your man. Go to bed, and stay there.”

“But the boy,” Gilder protested. “What about him? He’s the one thing of
importance to me.”

“If he says anything more about going to Chicago--just you let him go,
that’s all! It’s the best place for him for the next few days. I’ll get
in touch with you in the morning and let you know then how things are
coming out.”

Gilder sighed resignedly. His heavy face was lined with anxiety. There
was a hesitation in his manner of speech that was wholly unlike its
usual quick decisiveness.

“I don’t like this sort of thing,” he said, doubtfully. “I let you go
ahead because I can’t suggest any alternative, but I don’t like it,
not at all. It seems to me that other methods might be employed with
excellent results without the element of treachery which seems to
involve me as well as you in our efforts to overcome this woman.”

Burke, however, had no qualms as to such plotting.

“You must have crooked ways to catch crooks, believe me,” he said
cheerfully. “It’s the easiest and quickest way out of the trouble for
us, and the easiest and quickest way into trouble for them.”

The return of the detectives caused him to break off, and he gave his
attention to the final arrangements of his men.

“You’re in charge here,” he said to Cassidy, “and I hold you
responsible. Now, listen to this, and get it.” His coarse voice came
with a grating note of command. “I’m coming back to get this bunch
myself, and I’ll call you when you’re wanted. You’ll wait in the
store-room out there and don’t make a move till you hear from me, unless
by any chance things go wrong and you get a call from Griggs. You know
who he is. He’s got a whistle, and he’ll use it if necessary.... Got
that straight?” And, when Cassidy had declared an entire understanding
of the directions given, he concluded concisely. “On your way, then!”

As the men left the room, he turned again to Gilder.

“Just one thing more,” he said. “I’ll have to have your help a little
longer. After I’ve gone, I want you to stay up for a half-hour anyhow,
with the lights burning. Do you see? I want to be sure to give the
Turner woman time to get here while that gang is at work. Your keeping
on the lights will hold them back, for they won’t come in till the house
is dark, so, in half an hour you can get off the job, switch off the
lights and go to bed and stay there--just as I told you before.” Then
Inspector Burke, having in mind the great distress of the man over the
unfortunate entanglement of his son, was at pains to offer a reassuring
word.

“Don’t worry about the boy,” he said, with grave kindliness. “We’ll get
him out of this scrape all right.” And with the assertion he bustled
out, leaving the unhappy father to miserable forebodings.



CHAPTER XVII. OUTSIDE THE LAW.

Gilder scrupulously followed the directions of the Police Inspector.
Uneasily, he had remained in the library until the allotted time was
elapsed. He fidgeted from place to place, his mind heavy with distress
under the shadow that threatened to blight the life of his cherished
son. Finally, with a sense of relief he put out the lights and went to
his chamber. But he did not follow the further directions given him, for
he was not minded to go to bed. Instead, he drew the curtains closely
to make sure that no gleam of light could pass them, and then sat with a
cigar between his lips, which he did not smoke, though from time to time
he was at pains to light it. His thoughts were most with his son, and
ever as he thought of Dick, his fury waxed against the woman who had
enmeshed the boy in her plotting for vengeance on himself. And into his
thoughts now crept a doubt, one that alarmed his sense of justice. It
occurred to him that this woman could not have thus nourished a plan for
retribution through the years unless, indeed, she had been insane, even
as he had claimed--or innocent! The idea was appalling. He could not
bear to admit the possibility of having been the involuntary inflicter
of such wrong as to send the girl to prison for an offense she had not
committed. He rejected the suggestion, but it persisted. He knew the
clean, wholesome nature of his son. It seemed to him incredible that
the boy could have thus given his heart to one altogether undeserving.
A horrible suspicion that he had misjudged Mary Turner crept into his
brain, and would not out. He fought it with all the strength of him,
and that was much, but ever it abode there. He turned for comfort to the
things Burke had said. The woman was a crook, and there was an end
of it. Her ruse of spoliation within the law was evidence of her
shrewdness, nothing more.

Mary Turner herself, too, was in a condition utterly wretched, and for
the same cause--Dick Gilder. That source of the father’s suffering was
hers as well. She had won her ambition of years, revenge on the man who
had sent her to prison. And now the joy of it was a torture, for the
puppet of her plans, the son, had suddenly become the chief thing in her
life. She had taken it for granted that he would leave her after he came
to know that her marriage to him was only a device to bring shame on
his father. Instead, he loved her. That fact seemed the secret of her
distress. He loved her. More, he dared believe, and to assert boldly,
that she loved him. Had he acted otherwise, the matter would have been
simple enough.... But he loved her, loved her still, though he knew the
shame that had clouded her life, knew the motive that had led her to
accept him as a husband. More--by a sublime audacity, he declared that
she loved him.

There came a thrill in her heart each time she thought of that--that
she loved him. The idea was monstrous, of course, and yet---- Here,
as always, she broke off, a hot flush blazing in her cheeks....
Nevertheless, such curious fancies pursued her through the hours. She
strove her mightiest to rid herself of them, but in vain. Ever they
persisted. She sought to oust them by thinking of any one else, of
Aggie, of Joe. There at last was satisfaction. Her interference between
the man who had saved her life and the temptation of the English crook
had prevented a dangerous venture, which might have meant ruin to the
one whom she esteemed for his devotion to her, if for no other reason.
At least, she had kept him from the outrageous folly of an ordinary
burglary.

Mary Turner was just ready for bed after her evening at the theater,
when she was rudely startled out of this belief. A note came by a
messenger who waited for no answer, as he told the yawning maid. As Mary
read the roughly scrawled message, she was caught in the grip of terror.
Some instinct warned her that this danger was even worse than it seemed.
The man who had saved her from death had yielded to temptation. Even
now, he was engaged in committing that crime which she had forbidden
him. As he had saved her, so she must save him. She hurried into the
gown she had just put off. Then she went to the telephone-book and
searched for the number of Gilder’s house.

 * * * * *

It was just a few moments before Mary Turner received the note from the
hands of the sleepy maid that one of the leaves of the octagonal window
in the library of Richard Gilder’s town house swung open, under the
persuasive influence of a thin rod of steel, cunningly used, and Joe
Garson stepped confidently into the dark room.

A faint radiance of moonlight from without showed him for a second as he
passed between the heavy draperies. Then these fell into place, and he
was invisible, and soundless as well. For a space, he rested motionless,
listening intently. Reassured, he drew out an electric torch and set it
glowing. A little disc of light touched here and there about the room,
traveling very swiftly, and in methodical circles. Satisfied by the
survey, Garson crossed to the hall door. He moved with alert assurance,
lithely balanced on the balls of his feet, noiselessly. At the hall door
he listened for any sound of life without, and found none. The door into
the passage that led to the store-room where the detectives waited next
engaged his business-like attention. And here, again, there was naught
to provoke his suspicion.

These preliminaries taken as measures of precaution, Garson went boldly
to the small table that stood behind the couch, turned the button,
and the soft glow of an electric lamp illumined the apartment. The
extinguished torch was thrust back into his pocket. Afterward he carried
one of the heavy chairs to the door of the passage and propped it
against the panel in such wise that its fall must give warning as to the
opening of the door. His every action was performed with the maximum of
speed, with no least trace of flurry or of nervous haste. It was evident
that he followed a definite program, the fruit of precise thought guided
by experience.

It seemed to him that now everything was in readiness for the coming of
his associates in the commission of the crime. There remained only to
give them the signal in the room around the corner where they waited at
a telephone. He seated himself in Gilder’s chair at the desk, and drew
the telephone to him.

“Give me 999 Bryant,” he said. His tone was hardly louder than a
whisper, but spoken with great distinctness.

There was a little wait. Then an answer in a voice he knew came over the
wire.

But Garson said nothing more. Instead, he picked up a penholder from
the tray on the desk, and began tapping lightly on the rim of the
transmitter. It was a code message in Morse. In the room around the
corner, the tapping sounded clearly, ticking out the message that the
way was free for the thieves’ coming.

When Garson had made an end of the telegraphing, there came a brief
answer in like Morse, to which he returned a short direction.

For a final safeguard, Garson searched for and found the telephone
bell-box on the surbase below the octagonal window. It was the work of
only a few seconds to unscrew the bells, which he placed on the desk.
So simply he made provision against any alarm from this source. He then
took his pistol from his hip-pocket, examined it to make sure that
the silencer was properly adjusted, and then thrust it into the right
side-pocket of his coat, ready for instant use in desperate emergency.
Once again, now, he produced the electric torch, and lighted it as he
extinguished the lamp on the table.

Forthwith, Garson went to the door into the hall, opened it, and,
leaving it ajar, made his way in silence to the outer doorway.
Presently, the doors there were freed of their bolts under his skilled
fingers, and one of them swung wide. He had put out the torch now, lest
its gleam might catch the gaze of some casual passer-by. So nicely had
the affair been timed that hardly was the door open before the three
men slipped in, and stood mute and motionless in the hall, while Garson
refastened the doors. Then, a pencil of light traced the length of the
hallway and Garson walked quickly back to the library. Behind him with
steps as noiseless as his own came the three men to whom he had just
given the message.

When all were gathered in the library, Garson shut the hall door,
touched the button in the wall beside it, and the chandelier threw its
radiant light on the group.

Griggs was in evening clothes, seeming a very elegant young gentleman
indeed, but his two companions were of grosser type, as far as
appearances went: one, Dacey, thin and wiry, with a ferret face; the
other, Chicago Red, a brawny ruffian, whose stolid features nevertheless
exhibited something of half-sullen good nature.

“Everything all right so far,” Garson said rapidly. He turned to Griggs
and pointed toward the heavy hangings that shrouded the octagonal
window. “Are those the things we want?” he demanded.

“Yes,” was the answer of English Eddie.

“Well, then, we’ve got to get busy,” Garson went on. His alert,
strong face was set in lines of eagerness that had in it something of
fierceness now.

But, before he could add a direction, he was halted by a soft buzzing
from the telephone, which, though bell-less, still gave this faint
warning of a call. For an instant, he hesitated while the others
regarded him doubtfully. The situation offered perplexities. To give no
attention to the summons might be perilous, and failure to respond might
provoke investigation in some urgent matter; to answer it might easily
provide a larger danger.

“We’ve got to take a chance.” Garson spoke his decision curtly. He went
to the desk and put the receiver to his ear.

There came again the faint tapping of some one at the other end of the
line, signaling a message in the Morse code. An expression of blank
amazement, which grew in a flash to deep concern, showed on Garson’s
face as he listened tensely.

“Why, this is Mary calling,” he muttered.

“Mary!” Griggs cried. His usual vacuity of expression was cast off like
a mask and alarm twisted his features. Then, in the next instant, a
crafty triumph gleamed from his eyes.

“Yes, she’s on,” Garson interpreted, a moment later, as the tapping
ceased for a little. He translated in a loud whisper as the irregular
ticking noise sounded again.

“I shall be there at the house almost at once. I am sending this message
from the drug store around the corner. Have some one open the door for
me immediately.”

“She’s coming over,” Griggs cried incredulously.

“No, I’ll stop her,” Garson declared firmly.

“Right! Stop her,” Chicago Red vouchsafed.

But, when, after tapping a few words, the forger paused for the reply,
no sound came.

“She don’t answer,” he exclaimed, greatly disconcerted. He tried again,
still without result. At that, he hung up the receiver with a groan.
“She’s gone----”

“On her way already,” Griggs suggested, and there was none to doubt that
it was so.

“What’s she coming here for?” Garson exclaimed harshly. “This ain’t no
place for her! Why, if anything should go wrong now----”

But Griggs interrupted him with his usual breezy cheerfulness of manner.

“Oh, nothing can go wrong now, old top. I’ll let her in.” He drew a
small torch from the skirt-pocket of his coat and crossed to the hall
door, as Garson nodded assent.

“God! Why did she have to come?” Garson muttered, filled with
forebodings. “If anything should go wrong now!”

He turned back toward the door just as it opened, and Mary darted into
the room with Griggs following. “What do you want here?” he demanded,
with peremptory savageness in his voice, which was a tone he had never
hitherto used in addressing her.

Mary went swiftly to face Garson where he stood by the desk, while
Griggs joined the other two men who stood shuffling about uneasily by
the fireplace, at a loss over this intrusion on their scheme. Mary moved
with a lissome grace like that of some wild creature, but as she halted
opposite the man who had given her back the life she would have thrown
away, there was only tender pleading in her voice, though her words were
an arraignment.

“Joe, you lied to me.”

“That can be settled later,” the man snapped. His jaw was thrust forward
obstinately, and his clear eyes sparkled defiantly.

“You are fools, all of you!” Mary cried. Her eyes darkened and distended
with fear. They darted from Garson to the other three men, and back
again in rebuke. “Yes, fools! This is burglary. I can’t protect you if
you are caught. How can I? Oh, come!” She held out her hands pleadingly
toward Garson, and her voice dropped to beseeching. “Joe, Joe, you must
get away from this house at once, all of you. Joe, make them go.”

“It’s too late,” was the stern answer. There was no least relaxation in
the stubborn lines of his face. “We’re here now, and we’ll stay till the
business is done.”

Mary went a step forward. The cloak she was wearing was thrown back by
her gesture of appeal so that those watching saw the snowy slope of the
shoulders and the quick rise and fall of the gently curving bosom. The
beautiful face within the framing scarf was colorless with a great fear,
save only the crimson lips, of which the bow was bent tremulously as she
spoke her prayer.

“Joe, for my sake!”

But the man was inexorable. He had set himself to this thing, and even
the urging of the one person in the world for whom he most cared was
powerless against his resolve.

“I can’t quit now until we’ve got what we came here after,” he declared
roughly.

Of a sudden, the girl made shift to employ another sort of supplication.

“But there are reasons,” she said, faltering. A certain embarrassment
swept her, and the ivory of her cheeks bloomed rosily. “I--I can’t have
you rob this house, this particular house of all the world.” Her eyes
leaped from the still obdurate face of the forger to the group of three
back of him. Her voice was shaken with a great dread as she called out
to them.

“Boys, let’s get away! Please, oh, please! Joe, for God’s sake!” Her
tone was a sob.

Her anguish of fear did not swerve Garson from his purpose.

“I’m going to see this through,” he said, doggedly.

“But, Joe----”

“It’s settled, I tell you.”

In the man’s emphasis the girl realized at last the inefficacy of her
efforts to combat his will. She seemed to droop visibly before their
eyes. Her head sank on her breast. Her voice was husky as she tried to
speak.

“Then----” She broke off with a gesture of despair, and turned away
toward the door by which she had entered.

But, with a movement of great swiftness, Garson got in front of her,
and barred her going. For a few seconds the two stared at each other
searchingly as if learning new and strange things, each of the other. In
the girl’s expression was an outraged wonder and a great terror. In the
man’s was a half-shamed pride, as if he exulted in the strength with
which he had been able to maintain his will against her supreme effort
to overthrow it.

“You can’t go,” Garson said sharply. “You might be caught.”

“And if I were,” Mary demanded in a flash of indignation, “do you think
I’d tell?”

There came an abrupt change in the hard face of the man. Into the
piercing eyes flamed a softer fire of tenderness. The firm mouth grew
strangely gentle as he replied, and his voice was overtoned with faith.

“Of course not, Mary,” he said. “I know you. You would go up for life
first.”

Then again his expression became resolute, and he spoke imperiously.

“Just the same, you can’t take any chances. We’ll all get away in a
minute, and you’ll come with us.” He turned to the men and spoke with
swift authority.

“Come,” he said to Dacey, “you get to the light switch there by the hall
door. If you hear me snap my fingers, turn ‘em off. Understand?”

With instant obedience, the man addressed went to his station by the
hall door, and stood ready to control the electric current.

The distracted girl essayed one last plea. The momentary softening of
Garson had given her new courage.

“Joe, don’t do this.”

“You can’t stop it now, Mary,” came the brisk retort. “Too late. You’re
only wasting time, making it dangerous for all of us.”

Again he gave his attention to carrying on the robbery.

“Red,” he ordered, “you get to that door.” He pointed to the one that
gave on the passageway against which he had set the chair tilted. As the
man obeyed, Garson gave further instructions.

“If any one comes in that way, get him and get him quick. You
understand? Don’t let him cry out.”

Chicago Red grinned with cheerful acceptance of the issue in such an
encounter. He held up his huge hand, widely open.

“Not a chance,” he declared, proudly, “with that over his mug.” To avoid
possible interruption of his movements in an emergency, he removed the
chair Garson had placed and set it to one side, out of the way.

“Now, let’s get to work,” Garson continued eagerly. Mary spoke with the
bitterness of defeat.

“Listen, Joe! If you do this, I’m through with you. I quit.”

Garson was undismayed by the threat.

“If this goes through,” he countered, “we’ll all quit. That’s why I’m
doing it. I’m sick of the game.”

He turned to the work in hand with increased energy.

“Come, you, Griggs and Red, and push that desk down a bit so that I can
stand on it.” The two men bent to the task, heedless of Mary’s frantic
protest.

“No! no! no! no! no, Joe!”

Red, however, suddenly straightened from the desk and stood motionless,
listening. He made a slight hissing noise that arrested the attention of
the others and held them in moveless silence.

“I hear something,” he whispered. He went to the keyhole of the door
leading into the passage. Then he whispered again, “And it’s coming this
way.”

At the words, Garson snapped his fingers. The room was plunged in
darkness.



CHAPTER XVIII. THE NOISELESS DEATH.

There was absolute silence in the library after the turning of the
switch that brought the pall of darkness. Long seconds passed, then a
little noise--the knob of the passage door turning. As the door swung
open, there came a gasping breath from Mary, for she saw framed in the
faint light that came from the single burner in the corridor the slender
form of her husband, Dick Gilder. In the next instant he had stepped
within the room and pulled to the door behind him. And in that same
instant Chicago Red had pounced on his victim, the huge hand clapped
tight over the young man’s mouth. Even as his powerful arm held the
newcomer in an inescapable embrace, there came a sound of scuffling feet
and that was all. Finally the big man’s voice came triumphantly.

“I’ve got him.”

“It’s Dick!” The cry came as a wail of despair from the girl.

At the same moment, Garson flashed his torch, and the light fell
swiftly on young Gilder, bowed to a kneeling posture before the couch,
half-throttled by the strength of Chicago Red. Close beside him, Mary
looked down in wordless despair over this final disaster of the night.
There was silence among the men, all of whom save the captor himself
were gathered near the fireplace.

Garson retired a step farther before he spoke his command, so that,
though he held the torch still, he like the others was in shadow. Only
Mary was revealed clearly as she bent in alarm toward the man she had
married. It was borne in on the forger’s consciousness that the face of
the woman leaning over the intruder was stronger to hold the prisoner
and to prevent any outcry than the might of Chicago Red himself, and so
he gave the order.

“Get away, Red.”

The fellow let go his grip obediently enough, though with a trifle of
regret, since he gloried in his physical prowess.

Thus freed of that strangling embrace, Dick stumbled blindly to his
feet. Then, mechanically, his hand went to the lamp on the table back
of the couch. In the same moment Garson snapped his torch to darkness.
When, after a little futile searching, Dick finally found the catch, and
the mellow streamed forth, he uttered an ejaculation of stark amazement,
for his gaze was riveted on the face of the woman he loved.

“Good God!” It was a cry of torture wrung from his soul of souls.

Mary swayed toward him a little, palpitant with fear--fear for herself,
for all of them, most of all for him.

“Hush! hush!” she panted warningly. “Oh, Dick, you don’t understand.”

Dick’s hand was at his throat. It was not easy for him to speak yet. He
had suffered severely in the process of being throttled, and, too, he
was in the clutch of a frightful emotion. To find her, his wife, in this
place, in such company--her, the woman whom he loved, whom, in spite
of everything, he had honored, the woman to whom he had given his name!
Mary here! And thus!

“I understand this,” he said brokenly at last. “Whether you ever did it
before or not, this time you have broken the law.” A sudden inspiration
on his own behalf came to him. For his love’s sake, he must seize on
this opportunity given of fate to him for mastery. He went on with a new
vehemence of boldness that became him well.

“You’re in my hands now. So are these men as well. Unless you do as I
say, Mary, I’ll jail every one of them.”

Mary’s usual quickness was not lacking even now, in this period of
extremity. Her retort was given without a particle of hesitation.

“You can’t,” she objected with conviction. “I’m the only one you’ve
seen.”

“That’s soon remedied,” Dick declared. He turned toward the hall door as
if with the intention of lighting the chandelier.

But Mary caught his arm pleadingly.

“Don’t, Dick,” she begged. “It’s--it’s not safe.”

“I’m not afraid,” was his indignant answer. He would have gone on, but
she clung the closer. He was reluctant to use over-much force against
the one whom he cherished so fondly.

There came a diversion from the man who had made the capture, who was
mightily wondering over the course of events, which was wholly unlike
anything in the whole of his own rather extensive housebreaking
experience.

“Who’s this, anyhow?” Chicago Red demanded.

There was a primitive petulance in his drawling tones.

Dick answered with conciseness enough.

“I’m her husband. Who are you?”

Mary called a soft admonition.

“Don’t speak, any of you,” she directed. “You mustn’t let him hear your
voices.”

Dick was exasperated by this persistent identification of herself with
these criminals in his father’s house.

“You’re fighting me like a coward,” he said hotly. His voice was bitter.
The eyes that had always been warm in their glances on her were chill
now. He turned a little way from her, as if in instinctive repugnance.
“You are taking advantage of my love. You think that because of it I
can’t make a move against these men. Now, listen to me, I----”

“I won’t!” Mary cried. Her words were shrill with mingled emotions.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” she went on wildly. “There never can be
between you and me.”

The young man’s voice came with a sonorous firmness that was new to
it. In these moments, the strength of him, nourished by suffering, was
putting forth its flower. His manner was masterful.

“There can be and there will be,” he contradicted. He raised his voice a
little, speaking into the shadows where was the group of silent men.

“You men back there!” he cried. “If I give you my word to let every one
of you go free and pledge myself never to recognize one of you again,
will you make Mary here listen to me? That’s all I ask. I want a few
minutes to state my case. Give me that. Whether I win or lose, you men
go free, and I’ll forget everything that has happened here to-night.”
 There came a muffled guffaw of laughter from the big chest of Chicago
Red at this extraordinarily ingenuous proposal, while Dacey chuckled
more quietly.

Dick made a gesture of impatience at this open derision.

“Tell them I can be trusted,” he bade Mary curtly.

It was Garson who answered.

“I know that you can be trusted,” he said, “because I know you lo----”
 He checked himself with a shiver, and out of the darkness his face
showed white.

“You must listen,” Dick went on, facing again toward the girl, who was
trembling before him, her eyes by turns searching his expression
or downcast in unfamiliar confusion, which she herself could hardly
understand.

“Your safety depends on me,” the young man warned. “Suppose I should
call for help?”

Garson stepped forward threateningly.

“You would only call once,” he said very gently, yet most grimly. His
hand went to the noiseless weapon in his coat-pocket.

But the young man’s answer revealed the fact that he, too, was
determined to the utmost, that he understood perfectly the situation.

“Once would be quite enough,” he said simply.

Garson nodded in acceptance of the defeat. It may be, too, that in some
subtle fashion he admired this youth suddenly grown resolute, competent
to control a dangerous event. There was even the possibility that some
instinct of tenderness toward Mary herself made him desire that this
opportunity should be given for wiping out the effects of misfortune
which fate hitherto had brought into her life.

“You win,” Garson said, with a half-laugh. He turned to the other men
and spoke a command.

“You get over by the hall door, Red. And keep your ears open every
second. Give us the office if you hear anything. If we’re rushed, and
have to make a quick get-away, see that Mary has the first chance. Get
that, all of you?”

As Chicago Red took up his appointed station, Garson turned to Dick.

“Make it quick, remember.”

He touched the other two and moved back to the wall by the fireplace, as
far as possible from the husband and wife by the couch.

Dick spoke at once, with a hesitancy that betrayed the depth of his
emotion.

“Don’t you care for me at all?” he asked wistfully.

The girl’s answer was uttered with nervous eagerness which revealed her
own stress of fear.

“No, no, no!” she exclaimed, rebelliously.

Now, however, the young man had regained some measure of reassurance.

“I know you do, Mary,” he asserted, confidently; “a little, anyway. Why,
Mary,” he went on reproachfully, “can’t you see that you’re throwing
away everything that makes life worth while? Don’t you see that?”

There was no word from the girl. Her breast was moving convulsively. She
held her face steadfastly averted from the face of her husband.

“Why don’t you answer me?” he insisted.

Mary’s reply came with all the coldness she could command.

“That was not in the bargain,” Mary said, indifferently.

The man’s voice grew tenderly winning, persuasive with the longing of a
lover, persuasive with the pity of the righteous for the sinner.

“Mary, Mary!” he cried. “You’ve got to change. Don’t be so hard. Give
the woman in you a chance.”

The girl’s form became rigid as she fought for self-control. The plea
touched to the bottom of her heart, but she could not, would not yield.
Her words rushed forth with a bitterness that was the cover of her
distress.

“I am what I am,” she said sharply. “I can’t change. Keep your promise,
now, and let’s get out of this.”

Her assertion was disregarded as to the inability to change.

“You can change,” Dick went on impetuously. “Mary, haven’t you ever
wanted the things that other women have, shelter, and care, and the big
things of life, the things worth while? They’re all ready for you, now,
Mary.... And what about me?” Reproach leaped in his tone. “After all,
you’ve married me. Now it’s up to you to give me my chance to make good.
I’ve never amounted to much. I’ve never tried much. I shall, now, if you
will have it so, Mary; if you’ll help me. I will come out all right, I
know that--so do you, Mary. Only, you must help me.”

“I help you!” The exclamation came from the girl in a note of
incredulous astonishment.

“Yes,” Dick said, simply. “I need you, and you need me. Come away with
me.”

“No, no!” was the broken refusal. There was a great grief clutching at
the soul of this woman who had brought vengeance to its full flower.
She was gasping. “No, no! I married you, not because I loved you, but to
repay your father the wrong he had done me. I wouldn’t let myself even
think of you, and then--I realized that I had spoiled your life.”

“No, not spoiled it, Mary! Blessed it! We must prove that yet.”

“Yes, spoiled it,” the wife went on passionately. “If I had understood,
if I could have dreamed that I could ever care---- Oh, Dick, I would
never have married you for anything in the world.”

“But now you do realize,” the young man said quietly. “The thing is
done. If we made a mistake, it is for us to bring happiness out of that
error.”

“Oh, can’t you see?” came the stricken lament. “I’m a jail-bird!”

“But you love me--you do love me, I know!” The young man spoke with
joyous certainty, for some inflection of her voice had told the truth
to his heart. Nothing else mattered. “But now, to come back to this hole
we’re in here. Don’t you understand, at last, that you can’t beat the
law? If you’re caught here to-night, where would you get off--caught
here with a gang of burglars? Tell me, dear, why did you do it? Why
didn’t you protect yourself? Why didn’t you go to Chicago as you
planned?”

“What?” There was a new quality in Mary’s voice. A sudden throb of shock
masked in the surface indifference of intonation.

Dick repeated his question, unobservant of its first effect.

“Why didn’t you go to Chicago as you had planned?”

“Planned? With whom?” The interrogation came with an abrupt force that
cried of new suspicions.

“Why, with Burke.” The young man tried to be patient over her density in
this time of crisis.

“Who told you that I had arranged any such thing?” Mary asked. Now the
tenseness in her manner got the husband’s attention, and he replied with
a sudden gravity, apprehensive of he knew not what.

“Burke himself did.”

“When?” Mary was standing rigid now, and the rare color flamed in her
cheeks. Her eyes were blazing.

“Less than an hour ago.” He had caught the contagion of her mood and
vague alarm swept him.

“Where?” came the next question, still with that vital insistence.

“In this room.”

“Burke was here?” Mary’s voice was suddenly cold, very dangerous. “What
was he doing here?”

“Talking to my father.”

The seemingly simple answer appeared the last straw to the girl’s burden
of frenzied suspicion. Her voice cut fiercely into the quiet of the
room, imperious, savage.

“Joe, turn on that light! I want to see the face of every man in this
room.”

Something fatally significant in her voice set Garson a-leap to the
switch, and, in the same second, the blaze of the chandelier flamed
brilliantly over all. The others stood motionless, blinking in the
sudden radiance--all save Griggs, who moved stealthily in that same
moment, a little nearer the door into the passage, which was nearest to
him.

But Mary’s next words came wholly as a surprise, seemingly totally
irrelevant to this instant of crisis. Yet they rang a-throb with an
hysterical anxiety.

“Dick,” she cried, “what are those tapestries worth?” With the question,
she pointed toward the draperies that shrouded the great octagonal
window.

The young man was plainly astonished, disconcerted as well by the
obtrusion of a sordid detail into the tragedy of the time.

“Why in the world do you----?” he began, impatiently.

Mary stamped her foot angrily in protest against the delay.

“Tell me--quick!” she commanded. The authority in her voice and manner
was not to be gainsaid.

Dick yielded sullenly.

“Oh, two or three hundred dollars, I suppose,” he answered. “Why?”

“Never mind that!” Mary exclaimed, violently. And now the girl’s voice
came stinging like a whiplash. In Garson’s face, too, was growing fury,
for in an instant of illumination he guessed something of the truth.
Mary’s next question confirmed his raging suspicion.

“How long have you had them, Dick?”

By now, the young man himself sensed the fact that something
mysteriously baneful lay behind the frantic questioning on this
seemingly trivial theme.

“Ever since I can remember,” he replied, promptly.

Mary’s voice came then with an intonation that brought enlightenment
not only to Garson’s shrewd perceptions, but also to the heavier
intelligences of Dacey and of Chicago Red.

“And they’re not famous masterpieces which your father bought recently,
from some dealer who smuggled them into this country?” So simple were
the words of her inquiry, but under them beat something evil, deadly.

The young man laughed contemptuously.

“I should say not!” he declared indignantly, for he resented the
implication against his father’s honesty.

“It’s a trick! Burke’s done it!” Mary’s words came with accusing
vehemence.

There was another single step made by Griggs toward the door into the
passage.

Mary’s eye caught the movement, and her lips soundlessly formed the
name:

“Griggs!”

The man strove to carry off the situation, though he knew well that he
stood in mortal peril. He came a little toward the girl who had accused
him of treachery. He was very dapper in his evening clothes, with his
rather handsome, well-groomed face set in lines of innocence.

“He’s lying to you!” he cried forcibly, with a scornful gesture toward
Dick Gilder. “I tell you, those tapestries are worth a million cold.”

Mary’s answer was virulent in its sudden burst of hate. For once, the
music of her voice was lost in a discordant cry of detestation.

“You stool-pigeon! You did this for Burke!”

Griggs sought still to maintain his air of innocence, and he strove
well, since he knew that he fought for his life against those whom
he had outraged. As he spoke again, his tones were tremulous with
sincerity--perhaps that tremulousness was born chiefly of fear, yet to
the ear his words came stoutly enough for truth:

“I swear I didn’t! I swear it!”

Mary regarded the protesting man with abhorrence. The perjured wretch
shrank before the loathing in her eyes.

“You came to me yesterday,” she said, with more of restraint in her
voice now, but still with inexorable rancor. “You came to me to explain
this plan. And you came from him--from Burke!”

“I swear I was on the level. I was tipped off to the story by a pal,”
 Griggs declared, but at last the assurance was gone out of his voice. He
felt the hostility of those about him.

Garson broke in ferociously.

“It’s a frame-up!” he said. His tones came in a deadened roar of wrath.

On the instant, aware that further subterfuge could be of no avail,
Griggs swaggered defiance.

“And what if it is true?” he drawled, with a resumption of his
aristocratic manner, while his eyes swept the group balefully. He
plucked the police whistle from his waistcoat-pocket, and raised it to
his lips.

He moved too slowly. In the same moment of his action, Garson had pulled
the pistol from his pocket, had pressed the trigger. There came no spurt
of flame. There was no sound--save perhaps a faint clicking noise. But
the man with the whistle at his lips suddenly ceased movement, stood
absolutely still for the space of a breath. Then, he trembled horribly,
and in the next instant crashed to the floor, where he lay rigid, dead.

“Damn you--I’ve got you!” Garson sneered through clenched teeth. His
eyes were like balls of fire. There was a frightful grin of triumph
twisting his mouth in this minute of punishment.

In the first second of the tragedy, Dick had not understood. Indeed, he
was still dazed by the suddenness of it all. But the falling of Griggs
before the leveled weapon of the other man, there to lie in that ghastly
immobility, made him to understand. He leaped toward Garson--would have
wrenched the pistol from the other’s grasp. In the struggle, it fell to
the floor.

Before either could pick it up, there came an interruption. Even in the
stress of this scene, Chicago Red had never relaxed his professional
caution. A slight noise had caught his ear, he had stooped, listening.
Now, he straightened, and called his warning.

“Somebody’s opening the front door!”

Garson forgot his weapon in this new alarm. He sprang to the octagonal
window, even as Dick took possession of the pistol.

“The street’s empty! We must jump for it!” His hate was forgotten now
in an emotion still deeper, and he turned to Mary. His face was all
gentleness again, where just before it had been evil incarnate, aflame
with the lust to destroy. “Come on, Mary,” he cried.

Already Chicago Red had snapped off the lights of the chandelier, had
sprung to the window, thrown open a panel of it, and had vanished into
the night, with Dacey at his heels. As Garson would have called out to
the girl again in mad anxiety for haste, he was interrupted by Dick:

“She couldn’t make it, Garson,” he declared coolly and resolutely. “You
go. It’ll be all right, you know. I’ll take care of her!”

“If she’s caught----!” There was an indescribable menace in the forger’s
half-uttered threat.

“She won’t be.” The quality of sincerity in Dick’s voice was more
convincing than any vow might have been.

“If she is, I’ll get you, that’s all,” Garson said gravely, as one
stating a simple fact that could not be disputed.

Then he glanced down at the body of the man whom he had done to death.

“And you can tell that to Burke!” he said viciously to the dead. “You
damned squealer!” There was a supremely malevolent content in his sneer.



CHAPTER XIX. WITHIN THE TOILS.

The going of Garson left the room deathly still. Dick stared for a
moment at the space of window left uncovered by the draperies now, since
the man had hurried past them, without pausing to draw them after him.
Then, presently, the young man turned again to Mary, and took her hand
in his. The shock of the event had somehow steadied him, since it had
drawn his thoughts from that other more engrossing mood of concern over
the crisis in his own life. After all, what mattered the death of this
crook? his fancy ran. The one thing of real worth in all the world
was the life that remained to be lived between him and her.... Then,
violently, the selfishness of his mood was made plain to him. For the
hand he held was shaking like some slender-stalked lily in the clutch
of the sirocco. Even as he first perceived the fact, he saw the girl
stagger. His arm swept about her in a virile protecting embrace--just in
time, or she would have fallen.

A whisper came from her quivering lips. Her face was close to his, else
he could not have caught the uncertain murmuring. That face now was
become ghastly pale. The violet eyes were widened and dull. The muscles
of her face twitched. She rested supinely against him, as if bereft of
any strength of body or of soul. Yet, in the intensity of her utterance,
the feeble whisper struck like a shriek of horror.

“I--I--never saw any one killed before!”

The simple, grisly truth of the words--words that he might have spoken
as well--stirred the man to the deeps of his being. He shuddered, as
he turned his eyes to avoid seeing the thing that lay so very near,
mercifully merged within the shadows beyond the gentle radiance from the
single lamp. With a pang of infinite pity for the woman in his arms, he
apprehended in some degree the torture this event must have inflicted
on her. Frightful to him, it must in truth be vastly worse to her. There
was her womanly sensitiveness to enhance the innate hideousness of the
thing that had been done here before their eyes. There was, too, the
fact that the murderer himself had been the man to whom she owed her
life. Yes, for him, Dick realized with poignant sympathy, the happening
that night was terrible indeed: for her, as he guessed now at last,
the torture must be something easily to overwhelm all her strength. His
touch on her grew tender beyond the ordinary tenderness of love, made
gentler by a great underlying compassion for her misery.

Dick drew Mary toward the couch, there let her sink down in a huddled
attitude of despair.

“I never saw a man--killed before!” she said again. There was a note of
half-hysterical, almost childish complaint in her voice. She moved
her head a little, as if to look into the shadows where _it_ lay,
then checked herself violently, and looked up at her husband with the
pathetic simplicity of terror.

“You know, Dick,” she repeated dully, “I never saw a man killed before.”

Before he could utter the soothing words that rose to his lips, Dick was
interrupted by a slight sound at the door. Instantly, he was all alert
to meet the exigencies of the situation. He stood by the couch, bending
forward a little, as if in a posture of intimate fondness. Then, with
a new thought, he got out his cigarette-case and lighted a cigarette,
after which he resumed his former leaning over the woman as would the
ardent lover. He heard the noise again presently, now so near that
he made sure of being overheard, so at once he spoke with a forced
cheerfulness in his inflection.

“I tell you, Mary,” he declared, “everything’s going to be all right for
you and me. It was bully of you to come here to me like this.”

The girl made no response. She lived still in the nightmare of
murder--that nightmare wherein she had seen Griggs fall dead to the
floor.

Dick, in nervous apprehension as to the issue, sought to bring her to
realization of the new need that had come upon them.

“Talk to me,” he commanded, very softly. “They’ll be here in a minute.
When they come in, pretend you just came here in order to meet me. Try,
Mary. You must, dearest!” Then, again, his voice rose to loudness, as he
continued. “Why, I’ve been trying all day to see you. And, now, here we
are together, just as I was beginning to get really discouraged.... I
know my father will eventually----”

He was interrupted by the swift swinging open of the hallway door. Burke
stood just within the library, a revolver pointed menacingly.

“Hands up!--all of you!” The Inspector’s voice fairly roared the
command.

The belligerent expression of his face vanished abruptly, as his eyes
fell on Dick standing by the couch and Mary reclining there in limp
helplessness. His surprise would have been ludicrous but for the
seriousness of the situation to all concerned. Burke’s glance roved the
room sharply, and he was quickly convinced that these two were in fact
the only present spoil of his careful plotting. His face set grimly, for
the disappointment of this minute surged fiercely within him. He started
to speak, his eyes lowering as he regarded the two before him.

But Dick forestalled him. He spoke in a voice coldly repellent.

“What are you doing in this house at this time of night?” he demanded.
His manner was one of stern disapproval. “I recognize you, Inspector
Burke. But you must understand that there are limits even to what you
can do. It seems to me, sir, that you exceed your authority by such an
intrusion as this.”

Burke, however, was not a whit dismayed by the rebuke and the air of
rather contemptuous disdain with which it was uttered. He waved his
revolver toward Mary, merely as a gesture of inquisitiveness, without
any threat.

“What’s she doing here?” he asked. There was wrath in his rough voice,
for he could not avoid the surmise that his shrewdly concocted scheme to
entrap this woman had somehow been set awry. “What’s she doing here, I
say?” he repeated heavily. His keen eyes were darting once more about
the room, questing some clue to this disturbing mystery, so hateful to
his pride.

Dick’s manner became that of the devoted husband offended by impertinent
obtrusion.

“You forget yourself, Inspector,” he said, icily. “This is my wife. She
has the right to be with me--her husband!”

The Inspector grinned sceptically. He was moved no more effectively by
Mary’s almost hysterical effort to respond to her husband’s leading.

“Why shouldn’t I be here? Why? Why? I----”

Burke broke in on the girl’s pitiful histrionics ruthlessly. He was
not in the least deceived. He was aware that something untoward, as he
deemed it, had occurred. It seemed to him, in fact, that his finical
mechanisms for the undoing of Mary Turner were in a fair way to be
thwarted. But he would not give up the cause without a struggle. Again,
he addressed himself to Dick, disregarding completely the aloof manner
of the young man.

“Where’s your father?” he questioned roughly.

“In bed, naturally,” was the answer. “I ask you again: What are you
doing here at this time of night?”

Burke shook his shoulders ponderously in a movement of impatience over
this prolonging of the farce.

“Oh, call your father,” he directed disgustedly.

Dick remonstrated with an excellent show of dignity.

“It’s late,” he objected. “I’d rather not disturb him, if you don’t
mind. Really, the idea is absurd, you know.” Suddenly, he smiled very
winningly, and spoke with a good assumption of ingenuousness.

“Inspector,” he said briskly, “I see, I’ll have to tell you the truth.
It’s this: I’ve persuaded my wife to go away with me. She’s going to
give all that other sort of thing up. Yes, we’re going away together.”
 There was genuine triumph in his voice now. “So, you see, we’ve got
to talk it over. Now, then, Inspector, if you’ll come back in the
morning----”

The official grinned sardonically. He could not in the least guess just
what had in very deed happened, but he was far too clever a man to be
bamboozled by Dick’s maunderings.

“Oh, that’s it!” he exclaimed, with obvious incredulity.

“Of course,” Dick replied bravely, though he knew that the Inspector
disbelieved his pretenses. Still, for his own part, he was inclined
as yet to be angry rather than alarmed by this failure to impress the
officer. “You see, I didn’t know----”

And even in the moment of his saying, the white beam of the flashing
searchlight from the Tower fell between the undrawn draperies of the
octagonal window. The light startled the Inspector again, as it had done
once before that same night. His gaze followed it instinctively. So,
within the second, he saw the still form lying there on the floor--lying
where had been shadows, where now, for the passing of an instant, was
brilliant radiance.

There was no mistaking that awful, motionless, crumpled posture. The
Inspector knew in this single instant of view that murder had been done
here. Even as the beam of light from the Tower shifted and vanished from
the room, he leaped to the switch by the door, and turned on the lights
of the chandelier. In the next moment, he had reached the door of the
passage across the room, and his whistle sounded shrill. His voice
bellowed reinforcement to the blast.

“Cassidy! Cassidy!”

As Dick made a step toward his wife, from whom he had withdrawn a little
in his colloquy with the official, Burke voiced his command viciously:

“Stay where you are--both of you!”

Cassidy came rushing in, with the other detectives. He was plainly
surprised to find the room so nearly empty, where he had expected to
behold a gang of robbers.

“Why, what’s it all mean, Chief?” he questioned. His peering eyes fell
on Dick, standing beside Mary, and they rounded in amazement.

“They’ve got Griggs!” Burke answered. There was exceeding rage in his
voice, as he spoke from his kneeling posture beside the body, to which
he had hurried after the summons to his aides. He glowered up into the
bewildered face of the detective. “I’ll break you for this, Cassidy,”
 he declared fiercely. “Why didn’t you get here on the run when you heard
the shot?”

“But there wasn’t any shot,” the perplexed and alarmed detective
expostulated. He fairly stuttered in the earnestness of his
self-defense. “I tell you, Chief, there hasn’t been a sound.”

Burke rose to his feet. His heavy face was set in its sternest mold.

“You could drive a hearse through the hole they’ve made in him,” he
rumbled. He wheeled on Mary and Dick. “So!” he shouted, “now it’s
murder!... Well, hand it over. Where’s the gun?”

Followed a moment’s pause. Then the Inspector spoke harshly to Cassidy.
He still felt himself somewhat dazed by this extraordinary event, but
he was able to cope with the situation. He nodded toward Dick as he gave
his order: “Search him!”

Before the detective could obey the direction, Dick took the revolver
from his pocket where he had bestowed it, and held it out.

And it so chanced that at this incriminating crisis for the son, the
father hastily strode within the library. He had been aroused by the
Inspector’s shouting, and was evidently greatly perturbed. His usual
dignified air was marred by a patent alarm.

“What’s all this?” he exclaimed, as he halted and stared doubtfully on
the scene before him.

Burke, in a moment like this, was no respecter of persons, for all his
judicious attentions on other occasions to those whose influence might
serve him well for benefits received.

“You can see for yourself,” he said grimly to the dumfounded magnate.
Then, he fixed sinister eyes on the son. “So,” he went on, with somber
menace in his voice, “you did it, young man.” He nodded toward the
detective. “Well, Cassidy, you can take ‘em both down-town.... That’s
all.”

The command aroused Dick to remonstrance against such indignity toward
the woman whom he loved.

“Not her!” he cried, imploringly. “You don’t want her, Inspector! This
is all wrong!”

Now, at last, Mary interposed with a new spirit. She had regained,
in some measure at least, her poise. She was speaking again with that
mental clarity which was distinctive in her.

“Dick,” she advised quietly, but with underlying urgency in her gently
spoken words, “don’t talk, please.”

Burke laughed harshly.

“What do you expect?” he inquired truculently. “As a matter of fact, the
thing’s simple enough, young man. Either you killed Griggs, or she did.”

The Inspector, with his charge, made a careless gesture toward the
corpse of the murdered stool-pigeon. For the first time, Edward Gilder,
as his glance unconsciously followed the officer’s movement, looked and
saw the ghastly inanimate heap of flesh and bone that had once been a
man. He fairly reeled at the gruesome spectacle, then fumbled with an
outstretched hand as he moved stumblingly until he laid hold on a chair,
into which he sank helplessly. It suddenly smote upon his consciousness
that he felt very old and broken. He marveled dully over the
sensation--it was wholly new to him. Then, soon, from a long way off,
he heard the strident voice of the Inspector remorselessly continuing
in the vile, the impossible accusation.... And that grotesque accusation
was hurled against his only son--the boy whom he so loved. The thing
was monstrous, a thing incredible. This whole seeming was no more than
a chimera of the night, a phantom of bad dreams, with no truth under
it.... Yet, the stern voice of the official came with a strange
semblance of reality.

“Either you killed him,” the voice repeated gratingly, “or she did.
Well, then, young man, did she kill him?”

“Good God, no!” Dick shouted, aghast.

“Then, it was you!” Such was the Inspector’s summary of the case.

Mary’s words came frantically. Once again, she was become desperate over
the course of events in this night of fearful happenings.

“No, no! He didn’t!”

Burke’s rasping voice reiterated the accusation with a certain
complacency in the inevitability of the dilemma.

“One of you killed Griggs. Which one of you did it?” He scowled at Dick.
“Did she kill him?”

Again, the husband’s cry came with the fierceness of despair over the
fate of the woman.

“I told you, no!”

The Inspector, always savagely impressive now in voice and look and
gesture, faced the girl with saturnine persistence.

“Well, then,” he blustered, “did he kill him?”

The nod of his head was toward Dick. Then, as she remained silent: “I’m
talking to you!” he snapped. “Did he kill him?”

The reply came with a soft distinctness that was like a crash of
destiny.

“Yes.”

Dick turned to his wife in reproachful amazement.

“Mary!” he cried, incredulously. This betrayal was something
inconceivable from her, since he believed that now at last he knew her
heart.

Burke, however, as usual, paid no heed to the niceties of sentiment.
They had small place in his concerns as an official of police. His sole
ambition just now was to fix the crime definitely on the perpetrator.

“You’ll swear he killed him?” he asked, briskly, well content with this
concrete result of the entanglement.

Mary subtly evaded the question, while seeming to give unqualified
assent.

“Why not?” she responded listlessly.

At this intolerable assertion as he deemed it, Edward Gilder was
reanimated. He sat rigidly erect in his, chair. In that frightful
moment, it came to him anew that here was in verity the last detail in a
consummate scheme by this woman for revenge against himself.

“God!” he cried, despairingly. “And that’s your vengeance!”

Mary heard, and understood. There came an inscrutable smile on her
curving lips, but there was no satisfaction in that smile, as of one who
realized the fruition of long-cherished schemes of retribution. Instead,
there was only an infinite sadness, while she spoke very gently.

“I don’t want vengeance--now!” she said.

“But they’ll try my boy for murder,” the magnate remonstrated,
distraught.

“Oh, no, they can’t!” came the rejoinder. And now, once again, there
was a hint of the quizzical creeping in the smile. “No, they can’t!”
 she repeated firmly, and there was profound relief in her tones since
at last her ingenuity had found a way out of this outrageous situation
thrust on her and on her husband.

Burke glared at the speaker in a rage that was abruptly grown suspicious
in some vague way.

“What’s the reason we can’t?” he stormed.

Mary sprang to her feet. She was radiant with a new serenity, now that
her quick-wittedness had discovered a method for baffling the mesh of
evidence that had been woven about her and Dick through no fault
of their own. Her eyes were glowing with even more than their usual
lusters. Her voice came softly modulated, almost mocking.

“Because you couldn’t convict him,” she said succinctly. A contented
smile bent the red graces of her lips.

Burke sneered an indignation that was, nevertheless, somewhat fearful of
what might lie behind the woman’s assurance.

“What’s the reason?” he demanded, scornfully. “There’s the body.” He
pointed to the rigid form of the dead man, lying there so very near
them. “And the gun was found on him. And then, you’re willing to swear
that he killed him.... Well, I guess we’ll convict him, all right. Why
not?”

Mary’s answer was given quietly, but, none the less, with an assurance
that could not be gainsaid.

“Because,” she said, “my husband merely killed a burglar.” In her turn,
she pointed toward the body of the dead man. “That man,” she continued
evenly, “was the burglar. You know that! My husband shot him in defense
of his home!” There was a brief silence. Then, she added, with a
wonderful mildness in the music of her voice. “And so, Inspector, as you
know of course, he was within the law!”



CHAPTER XX. WHO SHOT GRIGGS?

In his office next morning, Inspector Burke was fuming over the failure
of his conspiracy. He had hoped through this plot to vindicate his
authority, so sadly flaunted by Garson and Mary Turner. Instead of
this much-to-be-desired result from his scheming, the outcome had been
nothing less than disastrous. The one certain fact was that his most
valuable ally in his warfare against the criminals of the city had been
done to death. Some one had murdered Griggs, the stool-pigeon. Where
Burke had meant to serve a man of high influence, Edward Gilder, by
railroading the bride of the magnate’s son to prison, he had succeeded
only in making the trouble of that merchant prince vastly worse in
the ending of the affair by arresting the son for the capital crime of
murder. The situation was, in very truth, intolerable. More than ever,
Burke grew hot with intent to overcome the woman who had so persistently
outraged his authority by her ingenious devices against the law. Anyhow,
the murder of Griggs could not go unpunished. The slayer’s identity
must be determined, and thereafter the due penalty of the law inflicted,
whoever the guilty person might prove to be. To the discovery of this
identity, the Inspector was at the present moment devoting himself by
adroit questioning of Dacey and Chicago Red, who had been arrested in
one of their accustomed haunts by his men a short time before.

The policeman on duty at the door was the only other person in the room,
and in consequence Burke permitted himself, quite unashamed, to employ
those methods of persuasion which have risen to a high degree of
admiration in police circles.

“Come across now!” he admonished. His voice rolled forth like that of a
bull of Bashan. He was on his feet, facing the two thieves. His head was
thrust forward menacingly, and his eyes were savage. The two men shrank
before him--both in natural fear, and, too, in a furtive policy of their
own. This was no occasion for them to assert a personal pride against
the man who had them in his toils.

“I don’t know nothin’!” Chicago Red’s voice was between a snarl and a
whine. “Ain’t I been telling you that for over an hour?”

Burke vouchsafed no answer in speech, but with a nimbleness surprising
in one of his bulk, gave Dacey, who chanced to be the nearer of the two,
a shove that sent the fellow staggering half-way across the room under
its impetus.

With this by way of appreciable introduction to his seriousness of
purpose, Burke put a question:

“Dacey, how long have you been out?”

The answer came in a sibilant whisper of dread.

“A week.”

Burke pushed the implication brutally.

“Want to go back for another stretch?” The Inspector’s voice was
freighted with suggestions of disasters to come, which were well
understood by the cringing wretch before him.

The thief shuddered, and his face, already pallid from the prison lack
of sunlight like some noxious growth of a cellar, became livid. His
words came in a muffled moan of fear.

“God, no!”

Burke left a little interval of silence then in which the thieves
might tremble over the prospect suggested by his words, but always he
maintained his steady, relentless glare on the cowed creatures. It was
a familiar warfare with him. Yet, in this instance, he was destined
to failure, for the men were of a type different from that of English
Eddie, who was lying dead as the meet reward for treachery to his
fellows.... When, at last, his question issued from the close-shut lips,
it came like the crack of a gun.

“Who shot Griggs?”

The reply was a chorus from the two:

“I don’t know--honest, I don’t!”

In his eagerness, Chicago Red moved toward his questioner--unwisely.

“Honest to Gawd, I don’t know nothin’ about it!”

The Inspector’s fist shot out toward Chicago Red’s jaw. The impact was
enough. The thief went to his knees under the blow.

“Now, get up--and talk!” Burke’s voice came with unrepentant noisiness
against the stricken man.

Cringingly, Chicago Red, who so gloried in his strength, yet was now
altogether humble in this precarious case, obeyed as far as the getting
to his feet was concerned.... It never occurred to him even that he
should carry his obedience to the point of “squealing on a pal!” Had
the circumstances been different, he might have refused to accept the
Inspector’s blow with such meekness, since above all things he loved
a bit of bodily strife with some one near his own strength, and the
Inspector was of a sort to offer him a battle worth while.

So, now, while he got slowly to his feet, he took care to keep at a
respectful distance from the official, though his big hands fairly ached
to double into fists for blows with this man who had so maltreated him.

His own self-respect, of its peculiar sort, was saved by the
interference of Cassidy, who entered the Inspector’s office to announce
the arrival of the District Attorney.

“Send ‘im in,” Burke directed at once. He made a gesture toward the
doorman, and added: “Take ‘em back!”

A grin of evil humor writhed the lips of the police official, and he
added to the attentive doorman a word of direction that might well be
interpreted by the malevolent expression on his face.

“Don’t be rough with ‘em, Dan,” he said. For once, his dominating
voice was reduced to something approaching softness, in his sardonic
appreciation of his own humor in the conception of what these two men,
who had ventured to resist his importunities, might receive at the hands
of his faithful satellites.... The doorman grinned appreciatively, and
herded his victims from the place. And the two went shamblingly in sure
knowledge of the things that were in store. Yet, without thought of
treachery. They would not “squeal”! All they would tell of the death of
Eddie Griggs would be: “He got what was coming to him!”

The Inspector dropped into his swivel chair at the desk whilst he
awaited the arrival of Demarest, the District Attorney. The greetings
between the two were cordial when at last the public prosecutor made his
appearance.

“I came as soon as I got your message,” the District Attorney said, as
he seated himself in a chair by the desk. “And I’ve sent word to Mr.
Gilder.... Now, then, Burke, let’s have this thing quickly.”

The Inspector’s explanation was concise:

“Joe Garson, Chicago Red, and Dacey, along with Griggs, broke into
Edward Gilder’s house, last night! I knew the trick was going to be
pulled off, and so I planted Cassidy and a couple of other men just
outside the room where the haul was to be made. Then, I went away,
and after something like half an hour I came back to make the arrests
myself.” A look of intense disgust spread itself over the Inspector’s
massive face. “Well,” he concluded sheepishly, “when I broke into the
room I found young Gilder along with that Turner woman he married, and
they were just talking together.”

“No trace of the others?” Demarest questioned crisply.

At the inquiry, Burke’s face crimsoned angrily, then again set in grim
lines.

“I found Griggs lying on the floor--dead!” Once again the disgust showed
in his expression. “The Turner woman says young Gilder shot Griggs
because he broke into the house. Ain’t that the limit?”

“What does the boy say?” the District Attorney demanded.

Burke shook his head dispiritedly.

“Nothing,” he answered. “She told him not to talk, and so, of course, he
won’t, he’s such a fool over her.”

“And what does she say?” Demarest asked. He found himself rather amused
by the exceeding chagrin of the Inspector over this affair.

Burke’s voice grew savage as he snapped a reply.

“Refuses to talk till she sees a lawyer.” But a touch of cheerfulness
appeared in his tones as he proceeded. “We’ve got Chicago Red and Dacey,
and we’ll have Garson before the day’s over. And, oh, yes, they’ve
picked up a young girl at the Turner woman’s place. And we’ve got one
real clue--for once!” The speaker’s expression was suddenly triumphant.
He opened a drawer of the desk, and took out Garson’s pistol, to which
the silencer was still attached.

“You never saw a gun like that before, eh?” he exclaimed.

Demarest admitted the fact after a curious examination.

“I’ll bet you never did!” Burke cried, with satisfaction. “That thing
on the end is a Maxim silencer. There are thousands of them in use on
rifles, but they’ve never been able to use them on revolvers before.
This is a specially made gun,” he went on admiringly, as he took it
back and slipped it into a pocket of his coat. “That thing is absolutely
noiseless. I’ve tried it. Well, you see, it’ll be an easy thing--easiest
thing in the world!--to trace that silencer attachment. Cassidy’s
working on that end of the thing now.”

For a few minutes longer, the two men discussed the details of the
crime, theorizing over the baffling event. Then, presently, Cassidy
entered the office, and made report of his investigations concerning the
pistol with the silencer attachment.

“I got the factory at Hartford on the wire,” he explained, “and they
gave me Mr. Maxim himself, the inventor of the silencer. He said this
was surely a special gun, which was made for the use of Henry Sylvester,
one of the professors at Yale. He wanted it for demonstration purposes.
Mr. Maxim said the things have never been put on the market, and that
they never will be.”

“For humane reasons,” Demarest commented, nodding approbation.

“Good thing, too!” Burke conceded. “They’d make murder too devilish
easy, and it’s easy enough now.... Well, Cassidy?”

“I got hold of this man, Sylvester,” Cassidy went on. “I had him on the
‘phone, too. He says that his house was robbed about eight weeks ago,
and among other things the silencer was stolen.” Cassidy paused, and
chuckled drily. “He adds the startling information that the New Haven
police have not been able to recover any of the stolen property. Them
rube cops are immense!”


Demarest smiled slyly, as the detective, at a nod from his superior,
went toward the door.

“No,” he said, maliciously; “only the New York police recover stolen
goods.”

“Good-night!” quoth Cassidy, turning at the door, in admission of his
discomfiture over the thrust, while Burke himself grinned wryly in
appreciation of the gibe.

Demarest grew grave again, as he put the question that was troubling him
most.

“Is there any chance that young Gilder did shoot Griggs?”

“You can search me!” the Inspector answered, disconsolately. “My men
were just outside the door of the room where Eddie Griggs was shot to
death, and none of ‘em heard a sound. It’s that infernal silencer thing.
Of course, I know that all the gang was in the house.”

“But tell me just how you know that fact,” Demarest objected very
crisply. “Did you see them go in?”

“No, I didn’t,” the Inspector admitted, tartly. “But Griggs----”

Demarest permitted himself a sneer born of legal knowledge.

“Griggs is dead, Burke. You’re up against it. You can’t prove that
Garson, or Chicago Red, or Dacey, ever entered that house.”

The Inspector scowled over this positive statement.

“But Griggs said they were going to,” he argued.

“I know,” Demarest agreed, with an exasperating air of shrewdness; “but
Griggs is dead. You see, Burke, you couldn’t in a trial even repeat what
he told you. It’s not permissible evidence.”

“Oh, the law!” the Inspector snorted, with much choler. “Well, then,” he
went on belligerently, “I’ll charge young Gilder with murder, and call
the Turner woman as a witness.”

The District Attorney laughed aloud over this project.

“You can’t question her on the witness-stand,” he explained
patronizingly to the badgered police official. “The law doesn’t allow
you to make a wife testify against her husband. And, what’s more, you
can’t arrest her, and then force her to go into the witness-stand,
either. No, Burke,” he concluded emphatically, “your only chance of
getting the murderer of Griggs is by a confession.”

“Then, I’ll charge them both with the murder,” the Inspector growled
vindictively. “And, by God, they’ll both go to trial unless somebody
comes through.” He brought his huge fist down on the desk with violence,
and his voice was forbidding. “If it’s my last act on earth,” he
declared, “I’m going to get the man who shot Eddie Griggs.”

Demarest was seriously disturbed by the situation that had developed. He
was under great personal obligations to Edward Gilder, whose influence
in fact had been the prime cause of his success in attaining to the
important official position he now held, and he would have gone far
to serve the magnate in any difficulty that might arise. He had been
perfectly willing to employ all the resources of his office to relieve
the son from the entanglement with a woman of unsavory notoriety. Now,
thanks to the miscarried plotting of Burke to the like end, what before
had been merely a vicious state of affairs was become one of the utmost
dreadfulness. The worst of crimes had been committed in the house of
Edward Gilder himself, and his son acknowledged himself as the murderer.
The District Attorney felt a genuine sorrow in thinking of the anguish
this event must have brought on the father. He had, as well, sympathy
enough for the son. His acquaintance with the young man convinced him
that the boy had not done the deed of bloody violence. In that fact was
a mingling of comfort and of anxiety. It had been better, doubtless,
if indeed Dick had shot Griggs, had indicted a just penalty on a
housebreaker. But the District Attorney was not inclined to credit the
confession. Burke’s account of the plot in which the stool-pigeon had
been the agent offered too many complications. Altogether, the aspect of
the case served to indicate that Dick could not have been the slayer....
Demarest shook his head dejectedly.

“Burke,” he said, “I want the boy to go free. I don’t believe for a
minute that Dick Gilder ever killed this pet stool-pigeon of yours. And,
so, you must understand this: I want him to go free, of course.”

Burke frowned refusal at this suggestion. Here was a matter in which his
rights must not be invaded. He, too, would have gone far to serve a man
of Edward Gilder’s standing, but in this instance his professional pride
was in revolt. He had been defied, trapped, made a victim of the gang
who had killed his most valued informer.

“The youngster’ll go free when he tells what he knows,” he said angrily,
“and not a minute before.” His expression lightened a little. “Perhaps
the old gentleman can make him talk. I can’t. He’s under that woman’s
thumb, of course, and she’s told him he mustn’t say a word. So, he
don’t.” A grin of half-embarrassed appreciation moved the heavy jaws as
he glanced at the District Attorney. “You see,” he explained, “I can’t
make him talk, but I might if circumstances were different. On account
of his being the old man’s son, I’m a little cramped in my style.”

It was, in truth, one thing to browbeat and assault a convict like Dacey
or Chicago Red, but quite another to employ the like violence against
a youth of Dick Gilder’s position in the world. Demarest understood
perfectly, but he was inclined to be sceptical over the Inspector’s
theory that Dick possessed actual cognizance as to the killing of
Griggs.

“You think that young Gilder really knows?” he questioned, doubtfully.

“I don’t think anything--yet!” Burke retorted. “All I know is this:
Eddie Griggs, the most valuable crook that ever worked for me, has been
murdered.” The official’s voice was charged with threatening as he went
on. “And some one, man or woman, is going to pay for it!”

“Woman?” Demarest repeated, in some astonishment.

Burke’s voice came merciless.

“I mean, Mary Turner,” he said slowly.

Demarest was shocked.

“But, Burke,” he expostulated, “she’s not that sort.” The Inspector
sneered openly.

“How do you know she ain’t?” he demanded. “Well, anyhow, she’s made a
monkey out of the Police Department, and, first, last, and all the time,
I’m a copper... And that reminds me,” he went on with a resumption of
his usual curt bluntness, “I want you to wait for Mr. Gilder outside,
while I get busy with the girl they’ve brought down from Mary Turner’s
flat.”



CHAPTER XXI. AGGIE AT BAY.

Burke, after the lawyer had left him, watched the door expectantly for
the coming of the girl, whom he had ordered brought before him. But,
when at last Dan appeared, and stood aside to permit her passing into
the office, the Inspector gasped at the unexpectedness of the vision.
He had anticipated the coming of a woman of that world with which he was
most familiar in the exercise of his professional duties--the underworld
of criminals, some one beautiful perhaps, but with the brand of
viciousness marked subtly, yet visibly for the trained eye to see. Then,
even in that first moment, he told himself that he should have been
prepared for the unusual in this instance, since the girl had to do with
Mary Turner, and that disturbing person herself showed in face and form
and manner nothing to suggest aught but a gentlewoman. And, in the next
instant, the Inspector forgot his surprise in a sincere, almost ardent
admiration.

The girl was rather short, but of a slender elegance of form that was
ravishing. She was gowned, too, with a chic nicety to arouse the envy of
all less-fortunate women. Her costume had about it an indubitable air,
a finality of perfection in its kind. On another, it might have appeared
perhaps the merest trifle garish. But that fault, if in fact it ever
existed, was made into a virtue by the correcting innocence of
the girl’s face. It was a childish face, childish in the exquisite
smoothness of the soft, pink skin, childish in the wondering stare of
the blue eyes, now so widely opened in dismay, childish in the wistful
drooping of the rosebud mouth.

The girl advanced slowly, with a laggard hesitation in her movements
obviously from fear. She approached the desk, from behind which the
Inspector watched, fascinated by the fresh and wholesome beauty of this
young creature. He failed to observe the underlying anger beneath the
girl’s outward display of alarm. He shook off his first impression by
means of a resort to his customary bluster in such cases.

“Now, then, my girl,” he said roughly, “I want to know----”

There came a change, wrought in the twinkling of an eye. The tiny,
trimly shod foot of the girl rose and fell in a wrathful stamp.

“How dare you!” The clear blue eyes were become darkened with anger.
There was a deepened leaf of red in either cheek. The drooping lips
drooped no longer, but were bent to a haughtiness that was finely
impressive.

Before the offended indignation of the young woman, Burke sat bewildered
by embarrassment for once in his life, and quite at a loss.

“What’s that?” he said, dubiously.

The girl explained the matter explicitly enough.

“What do you mean by this outrage?” she stormed. Her voice was low
and rich, with a charming roundness that seemed the very hallmark of
gentility. But, now, it was surcharged with an indignant amazement over
the indignity put upon her by the representatives of the law. Then,
abruptly, the blue eyes were softened in their fires, as by the sudden
nearness of tears.

“What do you mean?” the girl repeated. Her slim form was tense with
wrath. “I demand my instant release.” There was indescribable rebuke in
her slow emphasis of the words.

Burke was impressed in spite of himself, in spite of his accustomed cold
indifference to the feelings of others as necessity compelled him
to make investigation of them. His harsh, blustering voice softened
perceptibly, and he spoke in a wheedling tone, such as one might employ
in the effort to tranquillize a spoiled child in a fit of temper.

“Wait a minute,” he remonstrated. “Wait a minute!” He made a pacifically
courteous gesture toward one of the chairs, which stood by an end of the
desk. “Sit down,” he invited, with an effort toward cajoling.

The scorn of the girl was superb. Her voice came icily, as she answered:

“I shall do nothing of the sort. Sit down, indeed!--here! Why, I
have been arrested----” There came a break in the music of her tones
throbbing resentment. A little sob crept in, and broke the sequence of
words. The dainty face was vivid with shame. “I--” she faltered, “I’ve
been arrested--by a common policeman!”

The Inspector seized on the one flaw left him for defense against her
indictment.

“No, no, miss,” he argued, earnestly. “Excuse me. It wasn’t any common
policeman--it was a detective sergeant.”

But his effort to placate was quite in vain. The ingenuous little beauty
with the child’s face and the blue eyes so widely opened fairly panted
in her revolt against the ignominy of her position, and was not to be so
easily appeased. Her voice came vibrant with disdain. Her level gaze on
the Inspector was of a sort to suggest to him anxieties over possible
complications here.

“You wait!” she cried violently. “You just wait, I tell you, until my
papa hears of this!”

Burke regarded the furious girl doubtfully.

“Who is your papa?” he asked, with a bit of alarm stirring in his
breast, for he had no mind to offend any one of importance where there
was no need.

“I sha’n’t tell you,” came the petulant retort from the girl. Her ivory
forehead was wrinkled charmingly in a little frown of obstinacy. “Why,”
 she went on, displaying new symptoms of distress over another appalling
idea that flashed on her in this moment, “you would probably give my
name to the reporters.” Once again the rosebud mouth drooped into curves
of sorrow, of a great self-pity. “If it ever got into the newspapers, my
family would die of shame!”

The pathos of her fear pierced through the hardened crust of the police
official. He spoke apologetically.

“Now, the easiest way out for both of us,” he suggested, “is for you
to tell me just who you are. You see, young lady, you were found in the
house of a notorious crook.”

The haughtiness of the girl waxed. It seemed as if she grew an inch
taller in her scorn of the Inspector’s saying.

“How perfectly absurd!” she exclaimed, scathingly. “I was calling on
Miss Mary Turner!”

“How did you come to meet her, anyhow?” Burke inquired. He still
held his big voice to a softer modulation than that to which it was
habituated.

Yet, the disdain of the girl seemed only to increase momently. She
showed plainly that she regarded this brass-buttoned official as one
unbearably insolent in his demeanor toward her. Nevertheless, she
condescended to reply, with an exaggeration of the aristocratic drawl to
indicate her displeasure.

“I was introduced to Miss Turner,” she explained, “by Mr. Richard
Gilder. Perhaps you have heard of his father, the owner of the
Emporium.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard of his father, and of him, too,” Burke admitted,
placatingly.

But the girl relaxed not a whit in her attitude of offense.

“Then,” she went on severely, “you must see at once that you are
entirely mistaken in this matter.” Her blue eyes widened further as
she stared accusingly at the Inspector, who betrayed evidences of
perplexity, and hesitated for an answer. Then, the doll-like, charming
face took on a softer look, which had in it a suggestion of appeal.

“Don’t you see it?” she demanded.

“Well, no,” Burke rejoined uneasily; “not exactly, I don’t!” In the
presence of this delicate and graceful femininity, he experienced a
sudden, novel distaste for his usual sledge-hammer methods of attack
in interrogation. Yet, his duty required that he should continue his
questioning. He found himself in fact between the devil and the deep
sea--though this particular devil appeared rather as an angel of light.

Now, at his somewhat feeble remark in reply to her query, the childish
face grew as hard as its curving contours would permit.

“Sir!” she cried indignantly. Her little head was thrown back in
scornful reproof, and she turned a shoulder toward the official
contemptuously.

“Now, now!” Burke exclaimed in remonstrance. After all, he could not be
brutal with this guileless maiden. He must, however, make the situation
clear to her, lest she think him a beast--which would never do!

“You see, young lady,” he went on with a gentleness of voice and manner
that would have been inconceivable to Dacey and Chicago Red; “you see,
the fact is that, even if you were introduced to this Mary Turner by
young Mr. Gilder, this same Mary Turner herself is an ex-convict, and
she’s just been arrested for murder.”

At the dread word, a startling change was wrought in the girl. She
wheeled to face the Inspector, her slender body swaying a little toward
him. The rather heavy brows were lifted slightly in a disbelieving
stare. The red lips were parted, rounded to a tremulous horror.

“Murder!” she gasped; and then was silent.

“Yes,” Burke went on, wholly at ease now, since he had broken the ice
thus effectually. “You see, if there’s a mistake about you, you don’t
want it to go any further--not a mite further, that’s sure. So, you see,
now, that’s one of the reasons why I must know just who you are.” Then,
in his turn, Burke put the query that the girl had put to him a little
while before. “You see that, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, yes!” was the instant agreement. “You should have told me all
about this horrid thing in the first place.” Now, the girl’s manner was
transformed. She smiled wistfully on the Inspector, and the glance of
the blue eyes was very kind, subtly alluring. Yet in this unbending,
there appeared even more decisively than hitherto the fine qualities
in bearing of one delicately nurtured. She sank down in a chair by the
desk, and forthwith spoke with a simplicity that in itself was somehow
peculiarly potent in its effect on the official who gave attentive ear.

“My name is Helen Travers West,” she announced.

Burke started a little in his seat, and regarded the speaker with a new
deference as he heard that name uttered.

“Not the daughter of the railway president?” he inquired.

“Yes,” the girl admitted. Then, anew, she displayed a serious agitation
over the thought of any possible publicity in this affair.

“Oh, please, don’t tell any one,” she begged prettily. The blue eyes
were very imploring, beguiling, too. The timid smile that wreathed the
tiny mouth was marvelously winning. The neatly gloved little hands were
held outstretched, clasped in supplication. “Surely, sir, you see now
quite plainly why it must never be known by any one in all the wide,
wide world that I have ever been brought to this perfectly dreadful
place--though you have been quite nice!” Her voice dropped to a note
of musical prayerfulness. The words were spoken very softly and very
slowly, with intonations difficult for a man to deny. “Please let me go
home.” She plucked a minute handkerchief from her handbag, put it to her
eyes, and began to sob quietly.

The burly Inspector of Police was moved to quick sympathy. Really, when
all was said and done, it was a shame that one like her should by some
freak of fate have become involved in the sordid, vicious things that
his profession made it obligatory on him to investigate. There was a
considerable hint of the paternal in his air as he made an attempt to
offer consolation to the afflicted damsel.

“That’s all right, little lady,” he exclaimed cheerfully. “Now, don’t
you be worried--not a little bit. Take it from me, Miss West.... Just go
ahead, and tell me all you know about this Turner woman. Did you see her
yesterday?”

The girl’s sobs ceased. After a final dab with the minute handkerchief,
she leaned forward a little toward the Inspector, and proceeded to put a
question to him with great eagerness.

“Will you let me go home as soon as I’ve told you the teensy little I
know?”

“Yes,” Burke agreed promptly, with an encouraging smile. And for a good
measure of reassurance, he added as one might to an alarmed child: “No
one is going to hurt you, young lady.”

“Well, then, you see, it was this way,” began the brisk explanation.
“Mr. Gilder was calling on me one afternoon, and he said to me then that
he knew a very charming young woman, who----”

Here the speech ended abruptly, and once again the handkerchief was
brought into play as the sobbing broke forth with increased violence.
Presently, the girl’s voice rose in a wail.

“Oh, this is dreadful--dreadful!” In the final word, the wail broke to a
moan.

Burke felt himself vaguely guilty as the cause of such suffering on the
part of one so young, so fair, so innocent. As a culprit, he sought his
best to afford a measure of soothing for this grief that had had its
source in his performance of duty.

“That’s all right, little lady,” he urged in a voice as nearly
mellifluous as he could contrive with its mighty volume. “That’s all
right. I have to keep on telling you. Nobody’s going to hurt you--not a
little bit. Believe me! Why, nobody ever would want to hurt you!”

But his well-meant attempt to assuage the stricken creature’s wo was
futile. The sobbing continued. With it came a plaintive cry, many times
repeated, softly, but very miserably.

“Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”

“Isn’t there something else you can tell me about this woman?” Burke
inquired in desperation before the plaintive outburst. He hoped to
distract her from such grief over her predicament.

The girl gave no least heed to the question.

“Oh, I’m so frightened!” she gasped.

“Tut, tut!” the Inspector chided. “Now, I tell you there’s nothing at
all for you to be afraid of.”

“I’m afraid!” the girl asserted dismally. “I’m afraid you will--put
me--in a cell!” Her voice sank to a murmur hardly audible as she
spoke the words so fraught with dread import to one of her refined
sensibilities.

“Pooh!” Burke returned, gallantly. “Why, my dear young lady, nobody in
the world could think of you and a cell at the same time--no, indeed!”

Instantly, the girl responded to this bald flattery. She fairly radiated
appreciation of the compliment, as she turned her eyes, dewy with tears,
on the somewhat flustered Inspector.

“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed, with naive enjoyment.

Forthwith, Burke set out to make the most of this favorable opportunity.

“Are you sure you’ve told me all you know about this woman?” he
questioned.

“Oh, yes! I’ve only seen her two or three times,” came the ready
response. The voice changed to supplication, and again the clasped hands
were extended beseechingly.

“Oh, please, Commissioner! Won’t you let me go home?”

The use of a title higher than his own flattered the Inspector, and he
was moved to graciousness. Besides, it was obvious that his police net
in this instance had enmeshed only the most harmless of doves. He smiled
encouragingly.

“Well, now, little lady,” he said, almost tenderly, “if I let you
go now, will you promise to let me know if you are able to think of
anything else about this Turner woman?”

“I will--indeed, I will!” came the fervent assurance. There was
something almost--quite provocative in the flash of gratitude that shone
forth from the blue eyes of the girl in that moment of her superlative
relief. It moved Burke to a desire for rehabilitation in her estimation.

“Now, you see,” he went on in his heavy voice, yet very kindly, and with
a sort of massive playfulness in his manner, “no one has hurt you--not
even a little bit, after all. Now, you run right home to your mother.”

The girl did not need to be told twice. On the instant, she sprang up
joyously, and started toward the door, with a final ravishing smile for
the pleased official at the desk.

“I’ll go just as fast as ever I can,” the musical voice made assurance
blithely.

“Give my compliments to your father,” Burke requested courteously. “And
tell him I’m sorry I frightened you.”

The girl turned at the door.... After all, too great haste might be
indiscreet.

“I will, Commissioner,” she promised, with an arch smile. “And I know
papa will be so grateful to you for all your kindness to me!”

It was at this critical moment that Cassidy entered from the opposite
side of the office. As his eyes fell on the girl at the door across from
him, his stolid face lighted in a grin. And, in that same instant of
recognition between the two, the color went out of the girl’s face. The
little red lips snapped together in a line of supreme disgust against
this vicissitude of fate after all her manoeuverings in the face of the
enemy. She stood motionless in wordless dismay, impotent before this
disaster forced on her by untoward chance.

“Hello, Aggie!” the detective remarked, with a smirk, while the
Inspector stared from one to the other with rounded eyes of wonder, and
his jaw dropped from the stark surprise of this new development.

The girl returned deliberately to the chair she had occupied through
the interview with the Inspector, and dropped into it weakly. Her form
rested there limply now, and the blue eyes stared disconsolately at the
blank wall before her. She realized that fate had decreed defeat for her
in the game. It was after a minute of silence in which the two men sat
staring that at last she spoke with a savage wrath against the pit into
which she had fallen after her arduous efforts.

“Ain’t that the damnedest luck!”

For a little interval still, Burke turned his glances from the girl to
Cassidy, and then back again to the girl, who sat immobile with her blue
eyes steadfastly fixed on the wall. The police official was, in truth,
totally bewildered. Here was inexplicable mystery. Finally, he addressed
the detective curtly.

“Cassidy, do you know this woman?”

“Sure, I do!” came the placid answer. He went on to explain with the
direct brevity of his kind. “She’s little Aggie Lynch--con’ woman, from
Buffalo--two years for blackmail--did her time at Burnsing.”

With this succinct narrative concerning the girl who sat mute and
motionless in the chair with her eyes fast on the wall, Cassidy relapsed
into silence, during which he stared rather perplexedly at his chief,
who seemed to be in the throes of unusual emotion. As the detective
expressed it in his own vernacular: For the first time in his
experience, the Inspector appeared to be actually “rattled.”

For a little time, there was silence, the while Burke sat staring at the
averted face of the girl. His expression was that of one who has just
undergone a soul-stirring shock. Then, presently, he set his features
grimly, rose from his chair, and walked to a position directly in the
front of the girl, who still refused to look in his direction.

“Young woman----” he began, severely. Then, of a sudden he laughed.
“You picked the right business, all right, all right!” he said, with a
certain enthusiasm. He laughed aloud until his eyes were only slits, and
his ample paunch trembled vehemently.

“Well,” he went on, at last, “I certainly have to hand it to you, kid.
You’re a beaut’!”

Aggie sniffed vehemently in rebuke of the gross partiality of fate in
his behalf.

“Just as I had him goin’!” she said bitterly, as if in self-communion,
without shifting her gaze from the blank surface of the wall.

Now, however, Burke was reminded once again of his official duties, and
he turned quickly to the attentive Cassidy.

“Have you got a picture of this young woman?” he asked brusquely. And
when Cassidy had replied in the negative, he again faced the adventuress
with a mocking grin--in which mockery, too, was a fair fragment for
himself, who had been so thoroughly within her toils of blandishment.

“I’d dearly love to have a photograph of you, Miss Helen Travers West,”
 he said.

The speech aroused the stolid detective to a new interest.

“Helen Travers West?” he repeated, inquiringly.

“Oh, that’s the name she told me,” the Inspector explained, somewhat
shamefacedly before this question from his inferior. Then he chuckled,
for he had sense of humor sufficient to triumph even over his own
discomfiture in this encounter. “And she had me winging, too!” he
confessed. “Yes, I admit it.” He turned to the girl admiringly. “You
sure are immense, little one--immense!” He smiled somewhat more in his
official manner of mastery. “And now, may I have the honor of asking you
to accept the escort of Mr. Cassidy to our gallery.”

Aggie sprang to her feet and regarded the Inspector with eyes in which
was now no innocence, such as had beguiled him so recently from those
ingenuous orbs.

“Oh, can that stuff!” she cried, crossly. “Let’s get down to business on
the dot--and no frills on it! Keep to cases!”

“Now you’re talking,” Burke declared, with a new appreciation of the
versatility of this woman--who had not been wasting her time hitherto,
and had no wish to lose it now.

“You can’t do anything to us,” Aggie declared, strongly. There remained
no trace of the shrinking violet that had been Miss Helen Travers West.
Now, she revealed merely the business woman engaged in a fight against
the law, which was opposed definitely to her peculiar form of business.

“You can’t do anything to me, and you know you can’t!” she went on, with
an almost convincing tranquillity of assertion. “Why, I’ll be sprung
inside an hour.” There came a ripple of laughter that reminded the
Inspector of the fashion in which he had been overcome by this woman’s
wiles. And she spoke with a certitude of conviction that was rather
terrifying to one who had just fallen under the stress of her spells.

“Why, habeas corpus is my lawyer’s middle name!”

“On the level, now,” the Inspector demanded, quite unmoved by the final
declarations, “when did you see Mary Turner last?”

Aggie resorted anew to her practices of deception. Her voice held the
accents of unimpeachable truth, and her eyes looked unflinchingly into
those of her questioner as she answered.

“Early this morning,” she declared. “We slept together last night,
because I had the willies. She blew the joint about half-past ten.”

Burke shook his head, more in sorrow than in anger.

“What’s the use of your lying to me?” he remonstrated.

“What, me?” Aggie clamored, with every evidence of being deeply wounded
by the charge against her veracity. “Oh, I wouldn’t do anything
like that--on the level! What would be the use? I couldn’t fool you,
Commissioner.”

Burke stroked his chin sheepishly, under the influence of memories of
Miss Helen Travers West.

“So help me,” Aggie continued with the utmost solemnity, “Mary never
left the house all night. I’d swear that’s the truth on a pile of Bibles
a mile high!”

“Have to be higher than that,” the Inspector commented, grimly. “You
see, Aggie Lynch, Mary Turner was arrested just after midnight.” His
voice deepened and came blustering. “Young woman, you’d better tell all
you know.”

“I don’t know a thing!” Aggie retorted, sharply. She faced the Inspector
fiercely, quite unabashed by the fact that her vigorous offer to commit
perjury had been of no avail.

Burke, with a quick movement, drew the pistol from his pocket and
extended it toward the girl.

“How long has she owned this gun?” he said, threateningly.

Aggie showed no trace of emotion as her glance ran over the weapon.

“She didn’t own it,” was her firm answer.

“Oh, then it’s Garson’s!” Burke exclaimed.

“I don’t know whose it is,” Aggie replied, with an air of boredom well
calculated to deceive. “I never laid eyes on it till now.”

The Inspector’s tone abruptly took on a somber coloring, with an
underlying menace.

“English Eddie was killed with this gun last night,” he said. “Now, who
did it?” His broad face was sinister. “Come on, now! Who did it?”

Aggie became flippant, seemingly unimpressed by the Inspector’s
savageness.

“How should I know?” she drawled. “What do you think I am--a
fortune-teller?”

“You’d better come through,” Burke reiterated. Then his manner changed
to wheedling. “If you’re the wise kid I think you are, you will.”

Aggie waxed very petulant over this insistence.

“I tell you, I don’t know anything! Say, what are you trying to hand me,
anyway?”

Burke scowled on the girl portentously, and shook his head.

“Now, it won’t do, I tell you, Aggie Lynch. I’m wise. You listen to me.”
 Once more his manner turned to the cajoling. “You tell me what you know,
and I’ll see you make a clean get-away, and I’ll slip you a nice little
piece of money, too.”

The girl’s face changed with startling swiftness. She regarded the
Inspector shrewdly, a crafty glint in her eyes.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “If I tell you what I know about
Mary Turner and Joe Garson, I get away?”

“Clean!” Burke ejaculated, eagerly.

“And you’ll slip me some coin, too?”

“That’s it!” came the hasty assurance. “Now, what do you say?”

The small figure grew tense. The delicate, childish face was suddenly
distorted with rage, a rage black and venomous. The blue eyes were
blazing. The voice came thin and piercing.

“I say, you’re a great big stiff! What do you think I am?” she stormed
at the discomfited Inspector, while Cassidy looked on in some enjoyment
at beholding his superior being worsted. Aggie wheeled on the detective.
“Say, take me out of here,” she cried in a voice surcharged with
disgust. “I’d rather be in the cooler than here with him!”

Now Burke’s tone was dangerous.

“You’ll tell,” he growled, “or you’ll go up the river for a stretch.”

“I don’t know anything,” the girl retorted, spiritedly. “And, if I did,
I wouldn’t tell--not in a million years!” She thrust her head forward
challengingly as she faced the Inspector, and her expression was
resolute. “Now, then,” she ended, “send me up--if you can!”

“Take her away,” Burke snapped to the detective.

Aggie went toward Cassidy without any sign of reluctance.

“Yes, do, please!” she exclaimed with a sneer. “And do it in a hurry.
Being in the room with him makes me sick! She turned to stare at the
Inspector with eyes that were very clear and very hard. In this moment,
there was nothing childish in their gaze.

“Thought I’d squeal, did you?” she said, evenly. “Yes, I will”--the red
lips bent to a smile of supreme scorn--“like hell!”



CHAPTER XXII. THE TRAP THAT FAILED.

Burke, despite his quality of heaviness, was blest with a keen sense of
humor, against which at times his professional labors strove mutinously.
In the present instance, he had failed utterly to obtain any information
of value from the girl whom he had just been examining. On the contrary,
he had been befooled outrageously by a female criminal, in a manner to
wound deeply his professional pride. Nevertheless, he bore no grudge
against the adventuress. His sense of the absurd served him well, and he
took a lively enjoyment in recalling the method by which her plausible
wiles had beguiled him. He gave her a real respect for the adroitness
with which she had deceived him--and he was not one to be readily
deceived. So, now, as the scornful maiden went out of the door under the
escort of Cassidy, Burke bowed gallantly to her lithe back, and blew
a kiss from his thick fingertips, in mocking reverence for her as
an artist in her way. Then, he seated himself, pressed the desk
call-button, and, when he had learned that Edward Gilder was arrived,
ordered that the magnate and the District Attorney be admitted, and that
the son, also, be sent up from his cell.

“It’s a bad business, sir,” Burke said, with hearty sympathy, to the
shaken father, after the formal greetings that followed the entrance of
the two men. “It’s a very bad business.”

“What does he say?” Gilder questioned. There was something pitiful
in the distress of this man, usually so strong and so certain of his
course. Now, he was hesitant in his movements, and his mellow voice came
more weakly than its wont. There was a pathetic pleading in the dulled
eyes with which he regarded the Inspector.

“Nothing!” Burke answered. “That’s why I sent for you. I suppose Mr.
Demarest has made the situation plain to you.”

Gilder nodded, his face miserable.

“Yes,” he has explained it to me, he said in a lifeless voice. “It’s
a terrible position for my boy. But you’ll release him at once, won’t
you?” Though he strove to put confidence into his words, his painful
doubt was manifest.

“I can’t,” Burke replied, reluctantly, but bluntly. “You ought not to
expect it, Mr. Gilder.”

“But,” came the protest, delivered with much more spirit, “you know very
well that he didn’t do it!”

Burke shook his head emphatically in denial of the allegation.

“I don’t know anything about it--yet,” he contradicted.

The face of the magnate went white with fear.

“Inspector,” he cried brokenly, “you--don’t mean--”

Burke answered with entire candor.

“I mean, Mr. Gilder, that you’ve got to make him talk. That’s what I
want you to do, for all our sakes. Will you?”

“I’ll do my best,” the unhappy man replied, forlornly.

A minute later, Dick, in charge of an officer, was brought into the
room. He was pale, a little disheveled from his hours in a cell. He
still wore his evening clothes of the night before. His face showed
clearly the deepened lines, graven by the suffering to which he had been
subjected, but there was no weakness in his expression. Instead, a new
force that love and sorrow had brought out in his character was plainly
visible. The strength of his nature was springing to full life under the
stimulus of the ordeal through which he was passing.

The father went forward quickly, and caught Dick’s hands in a mighty
grip.

“My boy!” he murmured, huskily. Then, he made a great effort, and
controlled his emotion to some extent. “The Inspector tells me,” he went
on, “that you’ve refused to talk--to answer his questions.”

Dick, too, winced under the pain of this meeting with his father in
a situation so sinister. But he was, to some degree, apathetic from
over-much misery. Now, in reply to his father’s words, he only nodded a
quiet assent.

“That wasn’t wise under the circumstances,” the father remonstrated
hurriedly. “However, now, Demarest and I are here to protect your
interests, so that you can talk freely.” He went on with a little catch
of anxiety in his voice. “Now, Dick, tell us! Who killed that man? We
must know. Tell me.”

Burke broke in impatiently, with his blustering fashion of address.

“Where did you get----?”

But Demarest raised a restraining hand.

“Wait, please!” he admonished the Inspector. “You wait a bit.” He went
a step toward the young man. “Give the boy a chance,” he said, and his
voice was very friendly as he went on speaking. “Dick, I don’t want to
frighten you, but your position is really a dangerous one. Your only
chance is to speak with perfect frankness. I pledge you my word, I’m
telling the truth, Dick.” There was profound concern in the lawyer’s
thin face, and his voice, trained to oratorical arts, was emotionally
persuasive. “Dick, my boy, I want you to forget that I’m the District
Attorney, and remember only that I’m an old friend of yours, and of your
father’s, who is trying very hard to help you. Surely, you can trust me.
Now, Dick, tell me: Who shot Griggs?”

There came a long pause. Burke’s face was avid with desire for
knowledge, with the keen expectancy of the hunter on the trail, which
was characteristic of him in his professional work. The District
Attorney himself was less vitally eager, but his curiosity, as well as
his wish to escape from an embarrassing situation, showed openly on
his alert countenance. The heavy features of the father were twisting
a little in nervous spasms, for to him this hour was all anguish, since
his only son was in such horrible plight. Dick alone seemed almost
tranquil, though the outward calm was belied by the flickering of his
eyelids and the occasional involuntary movement of the lips. Finally he
spoke, in a cold, weary voice.

“I shot Griggs,” he said.

Demarest realized subtly that his plea had failed, but he made ar effort
to resist the impression, to take the admission at its face value.

“Why?” he demanded.

Dick’s answer came in the like unmeaning tones, and as wearily.

“Because I thought he was a burglar.”

The District Attorney was beginning to feel his professional pride
aroused against this young man who so flagrantly repelled his attempts
to learn the truth concerning the crime that had been committed. He
resorted to familiar artifices for entangling one questioned.

“Oh, I see!” he said, in a tone of conviction. “Now, let’s go back a
little. Burke says you told him last night that you had persuaded your
wife to come over to the house, and join you there. Is that right?”

“Yes.” The monosyllable was uttered indifferently. “And, while the two
of you were talking,” Demarest continued in a matter-of-fact manner. He
did not conclude the sentence, but asked instead: “Now, tell me, Dick,
just what did happen, won’t you?”

There was no reply; and, after a little interval, the lawyer resumed his
questioning.

“Did this burglar come into the room?”

Dick nodded an assent.

“And he attacked you?”

There came another nod of affirmation.

“And there was a struggle?”

“Yes,” Dick said, and now there was resolution in his answer.

“And you shot him?” Demarest asked, smoothly.

“Yes,” the young man said again.

“Then,” the lawyer countered on the instant, “where did you get the
revolver?”

Dick started to answer without thought:

“Why, I grabbed it----” Then, the significance of this crashed on his
consciousness, and he checked the words trembling on his lips. His eyes,
which had been downcast, lifted and glared on the questioner. “So,” he
said with swift hostility in his voice, “so, you’re trying to trap me,
too!” He shrugged his shoulders in a way he had learned abroad. “You!
And you talk of friendship. I want none of such friendship.”

Demarest, greatly disconcerted, was skilled, nevertheless, in
dissembling, and he hid his chagrin perfectly. There was only reproach
in his voice as he answered stoutly:

“I am your friend, Dick.”

But Burke would be no longer restrained. He had listened with increasing
impatience to the diplomatic efforts of the District Attorney, which had
ended in total rout. Now, he insisted on employing his own more drastic,
and, as he believed, more efficacious, methods. He stood up, and spoke
in his most threatening manner.

“You don’t want to take us for fools, young man,” he said, and his big
tones rumbled harshly through the room. “If you shot Griggs in mistake
for a burglar, why did you try to hide the fact? Why did you pretend
to me that you and your wife were alone in the room--when you had _that_
there with you, eh? Why didn’t you call for help? Why didn’t you
call for the police, as any honest man would naturally under such
circumstances?”

The arraignment was severely logical. Dick showed his appreciation of
the justice of it in the whitening of his face, nor did he try to answer
the charges thus hurled at him.

The father, too, appreciated the gravity of the situation. His face was
working, as if toward tears.

“We’re trying to save you,” he pleaded, tremulously.

Burke persisted in his vehement system of attack. Now, he again brought
out the weapon that had done Eddie Griggs to death.

“Where’d you get this gun?” he shouted.

Dick held his tranquil pose.

“I won’t talk any more,” he answered, simply. “I must see my wife
first.” His voice became more aggressive. “I want to know what you’ve
done to her.”

Burke seized on this opening.

“Did she kill Griggs?” he questioned, roughly.

For once, Dick was startled out of his calm.

“No, no!” he cried, desperately.

Burke followed up his advantage.

“Then, who did?” he demanded, sharply. “Who did?”

Now, however, the young man had regained his self-control. He answered
very quietly, but with an air of finality.

“I won’t say any more until I’ve talked with a lawyer whom I can trust.”
 He shot a vindictive glance toward Demarest.

The father intervened with a piteous eagerness.

“Dick, if you know who killed this man, you must speak to protect
yourself.”

Burke’s voice came viciously.

“The gun was found on you. Don’t forget that.”

“You don’t seem to realize the position you’re in,” the father insisted,
despairingly. “Think of me, Dick, my boy. If you won’t speak for your
own sake, do it for mine.”

The face of the young man softened as he met his father’s beseeching
eyes.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” he said, very gently. “But I--well, I can’t!”

Again, Burke interposed. His busy brain was working out a new scheme for
solving this irritating problem.

“I’m going to give him a little more time to think things over,”
 he said, curtly. He went back to his chair. “Perhaps he’ll get to
understand the importance of what we’ve been saying pretty soon.” He
scowled at Dick. “Now, young man,” he went on briskly, “you want to do
a lot of quick thinking, and a lot of honest thinking, and, when you’re
ready to tell the truth, let me know.”

He pressed the button on his desk, and, as the doorman appeared,
addressed that functionary.

“Dan, have one of the men take him back. You wait outside.”

Dick, however, did not move. His voice came with a note of
determination.

“I want to know about my wife. Where is she?”

Burke disregarded the question as completely as if it had not been
uttered, and went on speaking to the doorman with a suggestion in his
words that was effective.

“He’s not to speak to any one, you understand.” Then he condescended to
give his attention to the prisoner. “You’ll know all about your wife,
young man, when you make up your mind to tell me the truth.”

Dick gave no heed to the Inspector’s statement. His eyes were fixed on
his father, and there was a great tenderness in their depths. And he
spoke very softly:

“Dad, I’m sorry!”

The father’s gaze met the son’s, and the eyes of the two locked. There
was no other word spoken. Dick turned, and followed his custodian out
of the office in silence. Even after the shutting of the door behind the
prisoner, the pause endured for some moments.

Then, at last, Burke spoke to the magnate.

“You see, Mr. Gilder, what we’re up against. I can’t let him go--yet!”

The father strode across the room in a sudden access of rage.

“He’s thinking of that woman,” he cried out, in a loud voice. “He’s
trying to shield her.”

“He’s a loyal kid, at that,” Burke commented, with a grudging
admiration. “I’ll say that much for him.” His expression grew morose, as
again he pressed the button on his desk. “And now,” he vouchsafed, “I’ll
show you the difference.” Then, as the doorman reappeared, he gave his
order: “Dan, have the Turner woman brought up.” He regarded the two men
with his bristling brows pulled down in a scowl. “I’ll have to try a
different game with her,” he said, thoughtfully. “She sure is one clever
little dame. But, if she didn’t do it herself, she knows who did, all
right.” Again, Burke’s voice took on its savage note. “And some one’s
got to pay for killing Griggs. I don’t have to explain why to Mr.
Demarest, but to you, Mr. Gilder. You see, it’s this way: The very
foundations of the work done by this department rest on the use of
crooks, who are willing to betray their pals for coin. I told you a
bit about it last night. Now, you understand, if Griggs’s murder
goes unpunished, it’ll put the fear of God into the heart of every
stool-pigeon we employ. And then where’d we be? Tell me that!”

The Inspector next called his stenographer, and gave explicit
directions. At the back of the room, behind the desk, were three large
windows, which opened on a corridor, and across this was a tier of
cells. The stenographer was to take his seat in this corridor, just
outside one of the windows. Over the windows, the shades were drawn, so
that he would remain invisible to any one within the office, while yet
easily able to overhear every word spoken in the room.

When he had completed his instructions to the stenographer, Burke turned
to Gilder and Demarest.

“Now, this time,” he said energetically, “I’ll be the one to do the
talking. And get this: Whatever you hear me say, don’t you be surprised.
Remember, we’re dealing with crooks, and, when you’re dealing with
crooks, you have to use crooked ways.”

There was a brief period of silence. Then, the door opened, and Mary
Turner entered the office. She walked slowly forward, moving with the
smooth strength and grace that were the proof of perfect health and of
perfect poise, the correlation of mind and body in exactness. Her form,
clearly revealed by the clinging evening dress, was a curving group of
graces. The beauty of her face was enhanced, rather than lessened, by
the pallor of it, for the fading of the richer colors gave to the fine
features an expression more spiritual, made plainer the underlying
qualities that her accustomed brilliance might half-conceal. She paid
absolutely no attention to the other two in the room, but went straight
to the desk, and there halted, gazing with her softly penetrant eyes of
deepest violet into the face of the Inspector.

Under that intent scrutiny, Burke felt a challenge, set himself to match
craft with craft. He was not likely to undervalue the wits of one
who had so often flouted him, who, even now, had placed him in a
preposterous predicament by this entanglement over the death of a spy.
But he was resolved to use his best skill to disarm her sophistication.
His large voice was modulated to kindliness as he spoke in a casual
manner.

“I just sent for you to tell you that you’re free.”

Mary regarded the speaker with an impenetrable expression. Her tones as
she spoke were quite as matter-of-fact as his own had been. In them was
no wonder, no exultation.

“Then, I can go,” she said, simply.

“Sure, you can go,” Burke replied, amiably.

Without any delay, yet without any haste, Mary glanced toward Gilder
and Demarest, who were watching the scene closely. Her eyes were somehow
appraising, but altogether indifferent. Then, she went toward the outer
door of the office, still with that almost lackadaisical air.

Burke waited rather impatiently until she had nearly reached the door
before he shot his bolt, with a fine assumption of carelessness in the
announcement.

“Garson has confessed!”

Mary, who readily enough had already guessed the essential hypocrisy of
all this play, turned and confronted the Inspector, and answered without
the least trace of fear, but with the firmness of knowledge:

“Oh, no, he hasn’t!”

Her attitude exasperated Burke. His voice roared out wrathfully.

“What’s the reason he hasn’t?”

The music in the tones of the answer was a vocal rebuke.

“Because he didn’t do it.” She stated the fact as one without a hint of
any contradictory possibility.

“Well, he says he did it!” Burke vociferated, still more loudly.

Mary, in her turn, resorted to a bit of finesse, in order to learn
whether or not Garson had been arrested. She spoke with a trace of
indignation.

“But how could he have done it, when he went----” she began.

The Inspector fell a victim to her superior craft. His question came
eagerly.

“Where did he go?”

Mary smiled for the first time since she had been in the room, and in
that smile the Inspector realized his defeat in the first passage of
this game of intrigue between them.

“You ought to know,” she said, sedately, “since you have arrested him,
and he has confessed.”

Demarest put up a hand to conceal his smile over the police official’s
chagrin. Gilder, staring always at this woman who had come to be his
Nemesis, was marveling over the beauty and verve of the one so hating
him as to plan the ruin of his life and his son’s.

Burke was frantic over being worsted thus. To gain a diversion, he
reverted to his familiar bullying tactics. His question burst raspingly.
It was a question that had come to be constant within his brain during
the last few hours, one that obsessed him, that fretted him sorely,
almost beyond endurance.

“Who shot Griggs?” he shouted.

Mary rested serene in the presence of this violence. Her answer capped
the climax of the officer’s exasperation.

“My husband shot a burglar,” she said, languidly. And then her insolence
reached its culmination in a query of her own: “Was his name Griggs?” It
was done with splendid art, with a splendid mastery of her own emotions,
for, even as she spoke the words, she was remembering those shuddering
seconds when she had stood, only a few hours ago, gazing down at the
inert bulk that had been a man.

Burke betook himself to another form of attack.

“Oh, you know better than that,” he declared, truculently. “You
see, we’ve traced the Maxim silencer. Garson himself bought it up in
Hartford.”

For the first time, Mary was caught off her guard.

“But he told me----” she began, then became aware of her indiscretion,
and checked herself.

Burke seized on her lapse with avidity.

“What did he tell you?” he questioned, eagerly.

Now, Mary had regained her self-command, and she spoke calmly.

“He told me,” she said, without a particle of hesitation, “that he had
never seen one. Surely, if he had had anything of the sort, he would
have shown it to me then.”

“Probably he did, too!” Burke rejoined, without the least suspicion that
his surly utterance touched the truth exactly. “Now, see here,” he went
on, trying to make his voice affable, though with small success, for he
was excessively irritated by these repeated failures; “I can make it a
lot easier for you if you’ll talk. Come on, now! Who killed Griggs?”

Mary cast off pretense finally, and spoke malignantly.

“That’s for you to find out,” she said, sneering.

Burke pressed the button on the desk, and, when the doorman appeared,
ordered that the prisoner be returned to her cell.

But Mary stood rebellious, and spoke with a resumption of her cynical
scorn.

“I suppose,” she said, with a glance of contempt toward Demarest, “that
it’s useless for me to claim my constitutional rights, and demand to see
a lawyer?”

Burke, too, had cast off pretense at last.

“Yes,” he agreed, with an evil smirk, “you’ve guessed it right, the
first time.”

Mary spoke to the District Attorney.

“I believe,” she said, with a new dignity of bearing, “that such is my
constitutional right, is it not, Mr. Demarest?”

The lawyer sought no evasion of the issue. For that matter, he was
coming to have an increasing respect, even admiration, for this young
woman, who endured insult and ignominy with a spirit so sturdy, and
met strategem with other strategem better devised. So, now, he made his
answer with frank honesty.

“It is your constitutional right, Miss Turner.”

Mary turned her clear eyes on the Inspector, and awaited from that
official a reply that was not forthcoming. Truth to tell, Burke was far
from comfortable under that survey.

“Well, Inspector?” she inquired, at last.

Burke took refuge, as his wont was when too hard pressed, in a mighty
bellow.

“The Constitution don’t go here!” It was the best he could do, and it
shamed him, for he knew its weakness. Again, wrath surged in him, and
it surged high. He welcomed the advent of Cassidy, who came hurrying in
with a grin of satisfaction on his stolid face.

“Say, Chief,” the detective said with animation, in response to Burke’s
glance of inquiry, “we’ve got Garson.”

Mary’s face fell, though the change of expression was almost
imperceptible. Only Demarest, a student of much experience, observed the
fleeting display of repressed emotion. When the Inspector took thought
to look at her, she was as impassive as before. Yet, he was minded to
try another ruse in his desire to defeat the intelligence of this woman.
To this end, he asked Gilder and the District Attorney to withdraw,
while he should have a private conversation with the prisoner. As she
listened to his request, Mary smiled again in sphinx-like fashion, and
there was still on her lips an expression that caused the official a
pang of doubt, when, at last, the two were left alone together, and he
darted a surreptitious glance toward her. Nevertheless, he pressed on
his device valiantly.

“Now,” he said, with a marked softening of manner, “I’m going to be your
friend.”

“Are you?” Mary’s tone was non-committal.

“Yes,” Burke declared, heartily. “And I mean it! Give up the truth about
young Gilder. I know he shot Griggs, of course. But I’m not taking any
stock in that burglar story--not a little bit! No court would, either.
What was really back of the killing?” Burke’s eyes narrowed cunningly.
“Was he jealous of Griggs? Well, that’s what he might do then. He’s
always been a worthless young cub. A rotten deal like this would
be about his gait, I guess.... Tell me, now: Why did he shoot Eddie
Griggs?”

There was coarseness a-plenty in the Inspector’s pretense, but it
possessed a solitary fundamental virtue: it played on the heart of the
woman whom he questioned, aroused it to wrath in defense of her mate. In
a second, all poise fled from this girl whose soul was blossoming in the
blest realization that a man loved her purely, unselfishly. Her words
came stumblingly in their haste. Her eyes were near to black in their
anger.

“He didn’t kill him! He didn’t kill him!” she fairly hissed. “Why, he’s
the most wonderful man in the world. You shan’t hurt him! Nobody shall
hurt him! I’ll fight to the end of my life for Dick Gilder!”

Burke was beaming joyously. At last--a long last!--his finesse had won
the victory over this woman’s subtleties.

“Well, that’s just what I thought,” he said, with smug content. “And
now, then, who did shoot Griggs? We’ve got every one of the gang.
They’re all crooks. See here,” he went on, with a sudden change to the
respectful in his manner, “why don’t you start fresh? I’ll give you
every chance in the world. I’m dead on the level with you this time.”

But he was too late. By now, Mary had herself well in hand again, vastly
ashamed of the short period of self-betrayal caused by the official’s
artifice against her heart. As she listened to the Inspector’s
assurances, the mocking expression of her face was not encouraging to
that astute individual, but he persevered manfully.

“Just you wait,” he went on cheerfully, “and I’ll prove to you that I’m
on the level about this, that I’m really your friend.... There was a
letter came for you to your apartment. My men brought it down to me.
I’ve read it. Here it is. I’ll read it to you!”

He picked up an envelope, which had been lying on the desk, and drew out
the single sheet of paper it contained. Mary watched him, wondering much
more than her expression revealed over this new development. Then, as
she listened, quick interest touched her features to a new life. In her
eyes leaped emotions to make or mar a life.

This was the letter:

“I can’t go without telling you how sorry I am. There won’t never be a
time that I won’t remember it was me got you sent up, that you did time
in my place. I ain’t going to forgive myself ever, and I swear I’m going
straight always.

“Your true friend,

“HELEN MORRIS.”

For once, Burke showed a certain delicacy. When he had finished the
reading, he said nothing for a long minute--only, sat with his cunning
eyes on the face of the woman who was immobile there before him. And,
as he looked on her in her slender elegance of form and gentlewomanly
loveliness of face, a loveliness intelligent and refined beyond that of
most women, he felt borne in on his consciousness the fact that here
was one to be respected. He fought against the impression. It was to him
preposterous, for she was one of that underworld against which he was
ruthlessly at war. Yet, he could not altogether overcome his instinct
toward a half-reverent admiration.... And, as the letter proved, she
had been innocent at the outset. She had been the victim of a mistaken
justice, made outcast by the law she had never wronged.... His mood of
respect was inevitable, since he had some sensibilities, though they
were coarsened, and they sensed vaguely the maelstrom of emotions that
now swirled in the girl’s breast.

To Mary Turner, this was the wonderful hour. In it, the vindication of
her innocence was made complete. The story was there recorded in black
and white on the page written by Helen Morris. It mattered little--or
infinitely much!--that it came too late. She had gained her evil place
in the world, was a notorious woman in fact, was even now a prisoner
under suspicion of murder. Nevertheless, she felt a thrill of ecstasy
over this written document--which it had never occurred to her to wrest
from the girl at the time of the oral confession. Now that it had been
proffered, the value of it loomed above almost all things else in the
world. It proclaimed undeniably the wrong under which she had suffered.
She was not the thief the court had adjudged her. “Now, there’s nobody
here but just you and me. Come on, now--put me wise!”

Mary was again the resourceful woman who was glad to pit her brain
against the contriving of those who fought her. So, at this moment, she
seemed pliant to the will of the man who urged her thus cunningly. Her
quick glance around the office was of a sort to delude the Inspector
into a belief that she was yielding to his lure.

“Are you sure no one will ever know?” she asked, timorously.

“Nobody but you and me,” Burke declared, all agog with anticipation of
victory at last. “I give you my word!”

Mary met the gaze of the Inspector fully. In the same instant,
she flashed on him a smile that was dazzling, the smile of a woman
triumphant in her mastery of the situation. Her face was radiant,
luminous with honest mirth. There was something simple and genuine
in her beauty that thrilled the man before her, the man trying so
vindictively to trap her to her own undoing. For all his grossness,
Burke was of shrewd perceptions, and somewhere, half-submerged under
the sordid nature of his calling, was a love of things esthetic, a
responsiveness to the appeals of beauty. Now, as his glance searched
the face of the girl who was bubbling with mirth, he experienced an odd
warming of his heart under the spell of her loveliness--a loveliness
wholly feminine, pervasive, wholesome. But, too, his soul shook in a
premonition of catastrophe, for there was mischief in the beaming eyes
of softest violet. There was a demon of mockery playing in the curves of
the scarlet lips, as she smiled so winsomely.

All his apprehensions were verified by her utterance. It came in a most
casual voice, despite the dancing delight in her face. The tones were
drawled in the matter-of-fact fashion of statement that leads a listener
to answer without heed to the exact import of the question, unless very
alert, indeed.... This is what she said in that so-casual voice:

“I’m not speaking loud enough, am I, stenographer?”

And that industrious writer of shorthand notes, absorbed in his task,
answered instantly from his hidden place in the corridor.

“No, ma’am, not quite.”

Mary laughed aloud, while Burke sat dumfounded. She rose swiftly, and
went to the nearest window, and with a pull at the cord sent the shade
flying upward. For seconds, there was revealed the busy stenographer,
bent over his pad. Then, the noise of the ascending shade, which had
been hammering on his consciousness, penetrated, and he looked up.
Realization came, as he beheld the woman laughing at him through the
window. Consternation beset him. He knew that, somehow, he had bungled
fatally. A groan of distress burst from him, and he fled the place in
ignominious rout.

There was another whose spirit was equally desirous of flight--Burke!
Yet once again, he was beaten at his own game, his cunning made of no
avail against the clever interpretation of this woman whom he assailed.
He had no defense to offer. He did not care to meet her gaze just
then, since he was learning to respect her as one wronged, where he
had regarded her hitherto merely as of the flotsam and jetsam of the
criminal class. So, he avoided her eyes as she stood by the window
regarding him quizzically. In a panic of confusion quite new to him in
his years of experience, he pressed the button on his desk.

The doorman appeared with that automatic precision which made him
valuable in his position, and the Inspector hailed the ready presence
with a feeling of profound relief.

“Dan, take her back!” he said, feebly.

Mary was smiling still as she went to the door. But she could not resist
the impulse toward retort.

“Oh, yes,” she said, suavely; “you were right on the level with me,
weren’t you, Burke? Nobody here but you and me!” The words came in a
sing-song of mockery.

The Inspector had nothing in the way of answer--only, sat motionless
until the door closed after her. Then, left alone, his sole audible
comment was a single word--one he had learned, perhaps, from Aggie
Lynch:

“Hell!”



CHAPTER XXIII. THE CONFESSION.

Burke was a persistent man, and he had set himself to getting the
murderer of Griggs. Foiled in his efforts thus far by the opposition
of Mary, he now gave himself over to careful thought as to a means
of procedure that might offer the best possibilities of success. His
beetling brows were drawn in a frown of perplexity for a full quarter
of an hour, while he rested motionless in his chair, an unlighted
cigar between his lips. Then, at last, his face cleared; a grin of
satisfaction twisted his heavy mouth, and he smote the desk joyously.

“It’s a cinch it’ll get ‘im!” he rumbled, in glee.

He pressed the button-call, and ordered the doorman to send in Cassidy.
When the detective appeared a minute later, he went directly to his
subject with a straightforward energy usual to him in his work.

“Does Garson know we’ve arrested the Turner girl and young Gilder?” And,
when he had been answered in the negative: “Or that we’ve got Chicago
Red and Dacey here?”

“No,” Cassidy replied. “He hasn’t been spoken to since we made the
collar.... He seems worried,” the detective volunteered.

Burke’s broad jowls shook from the force with which he snapped his jaws
together.

“He’ll be more worried before I get through with him!” he growled.
He regarded Cassidy speculatively. “Do you remember the Third Degree
Inspector Burns worked on McGloin? Well,” he went on, as the detective
nodded assent, “that’s what I’m going to do to Garson. He’s got
imagination, that crook! The things he don’t know about are the things
he’s afraid of. After he gets in here, I want you to take his pals one
after the other, and lock them up in the cells there in the corridor.
The shades on the corridor windows here will be up, and Garson will see
them taken in. The fact of their being there will set his imagination to
working overtime, all right.”

Burke reflected for a moment, and then issued the final directions for
the execution of his latest plot.

“When you get the buzzer from me, you have young Gilder and the Turner
woman sent in. Then, after a while, you’ll get another buzzer. When you
hear that, come right in here, and tell me that the gang has squealed.
I’ll do the rest. Bring Garson here in just five minutes.... Tell Dan to
come in.”

As the detective went out, the doorman promptly entered, and thereat
Burke proceeded with the further instructions necessary to the carrying
out of his scheme.

“Take the chairs out of the office, Dan,” he directed, “except mine and
one other--that one!” He indicated a chair standing a little way from
one end of his desk. “Now, have all the shades up.” He chuckled as he
added: “That Turner woman saved you the trouble with one.”

As the doorman went out after having fulfilled these commands, the
Inspector lighted the cigar which he had retained still in his mouth,
and then seated himself in the chair that was set partly facing the
windows opening on the corridor. He smiled with anticipatory triumph as
he made sure that the whole length of the corridor with the barred
doors of the cells was plainly visible to one sitting thus. With a final
glance about to make certain that all was in readiness, he returned to
his chair, and, when the door opened, he was, to all appearances, busily
engaged in writing.

“Here’s Garson, Chief,” Cassidy announced.

“Hello, Joe!” Burke exclaimed, with a seeming of careless friendliness,
as the detective went out, and Garson stood motionless just within the
door.

“Sit down, a minute, won’t you?” the Inspector continued, affably. He
did not look up from his writing as he spoke.

Garson’s usually strong face was showing weak with fear. His chin, which
was commonly very firm, moved a little from uneasy twitchings of his
lips. His clear eyes were slightly clouded to a look of apprehension,
as they roved the room furtively. He made no answer to the Inspector’s
greeting for a few moments, but remained standing without movement,
poised alertly as if sensing some concealed peril. Finally, however,
his anxiety found expression in words. His tone was pregnant with alarm,
though he strove to make it merely complaining.

“Say, what am I arrested for?” he protested. “I ain’t done anything.”

Even now, Burke did not look up, and his pen continued to hurry over the
paper.

“Who told you you were arrested?” he remarked, cheerfully, in his
blandest voice.

Garson uttered an ejaculation of disgust.

“I don’t have to be told,” he retorted, huffily. “I’m no college
president, but, when a cop grabs me and brings me down here, I’ve got
sense enough to know I’m pinched.”

The Inspector did not interrupt his work, but answered with the utmost
good nature.

“Is that what they did to you, Joe? I’ll have to speak to Cassidy about
that. Now, just you sit down, Joe, won’t you? I want to have a little
talk with you. I’ll be through here in a second.” He went on with the
writing.

Garson moved forward slightly, to the single chair near the end of the
desk, and there seated himself mechanically. His face thus was turned
toward the windows that gave on the corridor, and his eyes grew yet more
clouded as they rested on the grim doors of the cells. He writhed in his
chair, and his gaze jumped from the cells to the impassive figure of
the man at the desk. Now, the forger’s nervousness increased momently it
swept beyond his control. Of a sudden, he sprang up, and stepped close
to the Inspector.

“Say,” he said, in a husky voice, “I’d like--I’d like to have a lawyer.”

“What’s the matter with you, Joe?” the Inspector returned, always with
that imperturbable air, and without raising his head from the work that
so engrossed his attention. “You know, you’re not arrested, Joe. Maybe,
you never will be. Now, for the love of Mike, keep still, and let me
finish this letter.”

Slowly, very hesitatingly, Garson went back to the chair, and sank
down on it in a limp attitude of dejection wholly unlike his customary
postures of strength. Again, his fear-fascinated eyes went to the row
of cells that stood silently menacing on the other side of the corridor
beyond the windows. His face was tinged with gray. A physical sickness
was creeping stealthily on him, as his thoughts held insistently to the
catastrophe that threatened. His intelligence was too keen to permit
a belief that Burke’s manner of almost fulsome kindliness hid nothing
ominous--ominous with a hint of death for him in return for the death he
had wrought.

Then, terror crystallized. His eyes were caught by a figure, the figure
of Cassidy, advancing there in the corridor. And with the detective
went a man whose gait was slinking, craven. A cell-door swung open, the
prisoner stepped within, the door clanged to, the bolts shot into their
sockets noisily.

Garson sat huddled, stricken--for he had recognized the victim thrust
into the cell before his eyes.... It was Dacey, one of his own cronies
in crime--Dacey, who, the night before, had seen him kill Eddie Griggs.
There was something concretely sinister to Garson in this fact of
Dacey’s presence there in the cell.

Of a sudden, the forger cried out raucously:

“Say, Inspector, if you’ve got anything on me, I--I would----” The cry
dropped into unintelligible mumblings.

Burke retained his manner of serene indifference to the other’s
agitation. Still, his pen hurried over the paper; and he did not trouble
to look up as he expostulated, half-banteringly.

“Now, now! What’s the matter with you, Joe? I told you that I wanted to
ask you a few questions. That’s all.”

Garson leaped to his feet again resolutely, then faltered, and
ultimately fell back into the chair with a groan, as the Inspector went
on speaking.

“Now, Joe, sit down, and keep still, I tell you, and let me get through
with this job. It won’t take me more than a minute more.”

But, after a moment, Garson’s emotion forced hint to another appeal.

“Say, Inspector----” he began.

Then, abruptly, he was silent, his mouth still open to utter the words
that were now held back by horror. Again, he saw the detective walking
forward, out there in the corridor. And with him, as before, was a
second figure, which advanced slinkingly. Garson leaned forward in his
chair, his head thrust out, watching in rigid suspense. Again, even
as before, the door swung wide, the prisoner slipped within, the door
clanged shut, the bolts clattered noisily into their sockets.

And, in the watcher, terror grew--for he had seen the face of Chicago
Red, another of his pals, another who had seen him kill Griggs. For a
time that seemed to him long ages of misery, Garson sat staring dazedly
at the closed doors of the tier of cells. The peril about him was
growing--growing, and it was a deadly peril! At last, he licked his dry
lips, and his voice broke in a throaty whisper.

“Say, Inspector, if you’ve got anything against me, why----”

“Who said there was anything against you, Joe?” Burke rejoined, in a
voice that was genially chiding. “What’s the matter with you to-day,
Joe? You seem nervous.” Still, the official kept on with his writing.

“No, I ain’t nervous,” Garson cried, with a feverish effort to appear
calm. “Why, what makes you think that? But this ain’t exactly the place
you’d pick out as a pleasant one to spend the morning.” He was silent
for a little, trying with all his strength to regain his self-control,
but with small success.

“Could I ask you a question?” he demanded finally, with more firmness in
his voice.

“What is it?” Burke said.

Garson cleared his throat with difficulty, and his voice was thick.

“I was just going to say--” he began. Then, he hesitated, and was
silent, at a loss.

“Well, what is it, Joe?” the Inspector prompted.

“I was going to say--that is--well, if it’s anything about Mary Turner,
I don’t know a thing--not a thing!”

It was the thought of possible peril to her that now, in an instant, had
caused him to forget his own mortal danger. Where, before, he had been
shuddering over thoughts of the death-house cell that might be awaiting
him, he now had concern only for the safety of the woman he cherished.
And there was a great grief in his soul; for it was borne in on him that
his own folly, in disobedience to her command, had led up to the murder
of Griggs--and to all that might come of the crime. How could he ever
make amends to her? At least, he could be brave here, for her sake, if
not for his own.

Burke believed that his opportunity was come.

“What made you think I wanted to know anything about her?” he
questioned.

“Oh, I can’t exactly say,” Garson replied carelessly, in an attempt to
dissimulate his agitation. “You were up to the house, you know. Don’t
you see?”

“I did want to see her, that’s a fact,” Burke admitted. He kept on with
his writing, his head bent low. “But she wasn’t at her flat. I guess she
must have taken my advice, and skipped out. Clever girl, that!”

Garson contrived to present an aspect of comparative indifference.

“Yes,” he agreed. “I was thinking of going West, myself,” he ventured.

“Oh, were you?” Burke exclaimed; and, now, there was a new note in
his voice. His hand slipped into the pocket where was the pistol, and
clutched it. He stared at Garson fiercely, and spoke with a rush of the
words:

“Why did you kill Eddie Griggs?”

“I didn’t kill him!” The reply was quick enough, but it came weakly.
Again, Garson was forced to wet his lips with a dry tongue, and to
swallow painfully. “I tell you, I didn’t kill him!” he repeated at last,
with more force.

Burke sneered his disbelief.

“You killed him last night--with this!” he cried, viciously. On the
instant, the pistol leaped into view, pointed straight at Garson. “Why?”
 the Inspector shouted. “Come on, now! Why?”

“I didn’t, I tell you!” Garson was growing stronger, since at last
the crisis was upon him. He got to his feet with lithe swiftness
of movement, and sprang close to the desk. He bent his head forward
challengingly, to meet the glare of his accuser’s eyes. There was no
flinching in his own steely stare. His nerves had ceased their jangling
under the tautening of necessity.

“You did!” Burke vociferated. He put his whole will into the assertion
of guilt, to batter down the man’s resistance. “You did, I tell you! You
did!”

Garson leaned still further forward, until his face was almost level
with the Inspector’s. His eyes were unclouded now, were blazing. His
voice came resonant in its denial. The entire pose of him was intrepid,
dauntless.

“And I tell you, I didn’t!”

There passed many seconds, while the two men battled in silence, will
warring against will.... In the end, it was the murderer who triumphed.

Suddenly, Burke dropped the pistol into his pocket, and lolled back in
his chair. His gaze fell away from the man confronting him. In the same
instant, the rigidity of Garson’s form relaxed, and he straightened
slowly. A tide of secret joy swept through him, as he realized his
victory. But his outward expression remained unchanged.

“Oh, well,” Burke exclaimed amiably, “I didn’t really think you did,
but I wasn’t sure, so I had to take a chance. You understand, don’t you,
Joe?”

“Sure, I understand,” Garson replied, with an amiability equal to the
Inspector’s own.

Burke’s manner continued very amicable as he went on speaking.

“You see, Joe, anyhow, we’ve got the right party safe enough. You can
bet on that!”

Garson resisted the lure.

“If you don’t want me----” he began suggestively; and he turned toward
the door to the outer hall. “Why, if you don’t want me, I’ll--get
along.”

“Oh, what’s the hurry, Joe?” Burke retorted, with the effect of stopping
the other short. He pressed the buzzer as the agreed signal to Cassidy.
“Where did you say Mary Turner was last night?”

At the question, all Garson’s fears for the woman rushed back on him
with appalling force. Of what avail his safety, if she were still in
peril?

“I don’t know where she was,” he exclaimed, doubtfully. He realized his
blunder even as the words left his lips, and sought to correct it as
best he might. “Why, yes, I do, too,” he went on, as if assailed by
sudden memory. “I dropped into her place kind of late, and they said
she’d gone to bed--headache, I guess.... Yes, she was home, of course.
She didn’t go out of the house, all night.” His insistence on the point
was of itself suspicious, but eagerness to protect her stultified his
wits.

Burke sat grim and silent, offering no comment on the lie.

“Know anything about young Gilder?” he demanded. “Happen to know where
he is now?” He arose and came around the desk, so that he stood close to
Garson, at whom he glowered.

“Not a thing!” was the earnest answer. But the speaker’s fear rose
swiftly, for the linking of these names was significant--frightfully
significant!

The inner door opened, and Mary Turner entered the office. Garson with
difficulty suppressed the cry of distress that rose to his lips. For
a few moments, the silence was unbroken. Then, presently, Burke, by a
gesture, directed the girl to advance toward the center of the room.
As she obeyed, he himself went a little toward the door, and, when it
opened again, and Dick Gilder appeared, he interposed to check the young
man’s rush forward as his gaze fell on his bride, who stood regarding
him with sad eyes.

Garson stared mutely at the burly man in uniform who held their
destinies in the hollow of a hand. His lips parted as if he were about
to speak. Then, he bade defiance to the impulse. He deemed it safer for
all that he should say nothing--now!... And it is very easy to say
a word too many. And that one may be a word never to be unsaid--or
gainsaid.

Then, while still that curious, dynamic silence endured, Cassidy came
briskly into the office. By some magic of duty, he had contrived to give
his usually hebetudinous features an expression of enthusiasm.

“Say, Chief,” the detective said rapidly, “they’ve squealed!”

Burke regarded his aide with an air intolerably triumphant. His voice
came smug:

“Squealed, eh?” His glance ran over Garson for a second, then made
its inquisition of Mary and of Dick Gilder. He did not give a look to
Cassidy as he put his question. “Do they tell the same story?” And then,
when the detective had answered in the affirmative, he went on speaking
in tones ponderous with self-complacency; and, now, his eyes held
sharply, craftily, on the woman.

“I was right then, after all--right, all the time! Good enough!” Of
a sudden, his voice boomed somberly. “Mary Turner, I want you for the
murder of----”

Garson’s rush halted the sentence. He had leaped forward. His face was
rigid. He broke on the Inspector’s words with a gesture of fury. His
voice came in a hiss:

“That’s a damned lie!... I did it!”



CHAPTER XXIV. ANGUISH AND BLISS.

Joe Garson had shouted his confession without a second of reflection.
But the result must have been the same had he taken years of thought.
Between him and her as the victim of the law, there could be no
hesitation for choice. Indeed, just now, he had no heed to his own fate.
The prime necessity was to save her, Mary, from the toils of the law
that were closing around her. For himself, in the days to come, there
would be a ghastly dread, but there would never be regret over the
cost of saving her. Perhaps, some other he might have let suffer in his
stead--not her! Even, had he been innocent, and she guilty of the crime,
he would still have taken the burden of it on his own shoulders. He had
saved her from the waters--he would save her until the end, as far
as the power in him might lie. It was thus that, with the primitive
directness of his reverential love for the girl, he counted no sacrifice
too great in her behalf. Joe Garson was not a good man, at the world
esteems goodness. On the contrary, he was distinctly an evil one,
a menace to the society on which he preyed constantly. But his good
qualities, if few, were of the strongest fiber, rooted in the deeps of
him. He loathed treachery. His one guiltiness in this respect had been,
curiously enough, toward Mary herself, in the scheme of the burglary,
which she had forbidden. But, in the last analysis, here his deceit
had been designed to bring affluence to her. It was his abhorrence
of treachery among pals that had driven him to the murder of the
stool-pigeon in a fit of ungovernable passion. He might have stayed his
hand then, but for the gusty rage that swept him on to the crime. None
the less, had he spared the man, his hatred of the betrayer would have
been the same.... And the other virtue of Joe Garson was the complement
of this--his own loyalty, a loyalty that made him forget self utterly
where he loved. The one woman who had ever filled his heart was Mary,
and for her his life were not too much to give.

The suddenness of it all held Mary voiceless for long seconds. She was
frozen with horror of the event.

When, at last, words came, they were a frantic prayer of protest.

“No, Joe! No! Don’t talk--don’t talk!”

Burke, immensely gratified, went nimbly to his chair, and thence
surveyed the agitated group with grisly pleasure.

“Joe has talked,” he said, significantly.

Mary, shaken as she was by the fact of Garson’s confession, nevertheless
retained her presence of mind sufficiently to resist with all her
strength.

“He did it to protect me,” she stated, earnestly.

The Inspector disdained such futile argument. As the doorman appeared in
answer to the buzzer, he directed that the stenographer be summoned at
once.

“We’ll have the confession in due form,” he remarked, gazing pleasedly
on the three before him.

“He’s not going to confess,” Mary insisted, with spirit.

But Burke was not in the least impressed. He disregarded her completely,
and spoke mechanically to Garson the formal warning required by the law.

“You are hereby cautioned that anything you say may be used against
you.” Then, as the stenographer entered, he went on with lively
interest. “Now, Joe!”

Yet once again, Mary protested, a little wildly.

“Don’t speak, Joe! Don’t say a word till we can get a lawyer for you!”

The man met her pleading eyes steadily, and shook his head in refusal.

“It’s no use, my girl,” Burke broke in, harshly. “I told you I’d
get you. I’m going to try you and Garson, and the whole gang for
murder--yes, every one of you.... And you, Gilder,” he continued,
lowering on the young man who had defied him so obstinately, “you’ll go
to the House of Detention as a material witness.” He turned his gaze to
Garson again, and spoke authoritatively: “Come on now, Joe!”

Garson went a step toward the desk, and spoke decisively.

“If I come through, you’ll let her go--and him?” he added as an
afterthought, with a nod toward Dick Gilder.

“Oh, Joe, don’t!” Mary cried, bitterly. “We’ll spend every dollar we can
raise to save you!”

“Now, it’s no use,” the Inspector complained. “You’re only wasting time.
He’s said that he did it. That’s all there is to it. Now that we’re sure
he’s our man, he hasn’t got a chance in the world.”

“Well, how about it?” Garson demanded, savagely. “Do they go clear, if I
come through?”

“We’ll get the best lawyers in the country,” Mary persisted,
desperately. “We’ll save you, Joe--we’ll save you!”

Garson regarded the distraught girl with wistful eyes. But there was
no trace of yielding in his voice as he replied, though he spoke very
sorrowfully.

“No, you can’t help me,” he said, simply. “My time has come, Mary....
And I can save you a lot of trouble.”

“He’s right there,” Burke ejaculated. “We’ve got him cold. So, what’s
the use of dragging you two into it?”

“Then, they go clear?” Garson exclaimed, eagerly. “They ain’t even to be
called as witnesses?”

Burke nodded assent.

“You’re on!” he agreed.

“Then, here goes!” Garson cried; and he looked expectantly toward the
stenographer.

The strain of it all was sapping the will of the girl, who saw the man
she so greatly esteemed for his service to her and his devotion about
to condemn himself to death. She grew half-hysterical. Her words came
confusedly:

“No, Joe! No, no, no!”

Again, Garson shook his head in absolute refusal of her plea.

“There’s no other way out,” he declared, wearily. “I’m going
through with it.” He straightened a little, and again looked at the
stenographer. His voice came quietly, without any tremulousnesss.

“My name is Joe Garson.”

“Alias?” Burke suggested.

“Alias nothing!” came the sharp retort. “Garson’s my monaker. I shot
English Eddie, because he was a skunk, and a stool-pigeon, and he got
just what was coming to him.” Vituperation beyond the mere words beat in
his voice now.

Burke twisted uneasily in his chair.

“Now, now!” he objected, severely. “We can’t take a confession like
that.”

Garson shook his head--spoke with fiercer hatred, “because he was a
skunk, and a stool-pigeon,” he repeated. “Have you got it?” And then, as
the stenographer nodded assent, he went on, less violently: “I croaked
him just as he was going to call the bulls with a police-whistle. I used
a gun with smokeless powder. It had a Maxim silencer on it, so that it
didn’t make any noise.”

Garson paused, and the set despair of his features lightened a little.
Into his voice came a tone of exultation indescribably ghastly. It
was born of the eternal egotism of the criminal, fattening vanity in
gloating over his ingenuity for evil. Garson, despite his two great
virtues, had the vices of his class. Now, he stared at Burke with a
quizzical grin crooking his lips.

“Say,” he exclaimed, “I’ll bet it’s the first time a guy was ever
croaked with one of them things! Ain’t it?”

The Inspector nodded affirmation. There was sincere admiration in
his expression, for he was ready at all times to respect the personal
abilities of the criminals against whom he waged relentless war.

“That’s right, Joe!” he said, with perceptible enthusiasm.

“Some class to that, eh?” Garson demanded, still with that gruesome air
of boasting. “I got the gun, and the Maxim-silencer thing, off a fence
in Boston,” he explained. “Say, that thing cost me sixty dollars, and
it’s worth every cent of the money.... Why, they’ll remember me as the
first to spring one of them things, won’t they?”

“They sure will, Joe!” the Inspector conceded.

“Nobody knew I had it,” Garson continued, dropping his braggart manner
abruptly.

At the words, Mary started, and her lips moved as if she were about to
speak.

Garson, intent on her always, though he seemed to look only at Burke,
observed the effect on her, and repeated his words swiftly, with a
warning emphasis that gave the girl pause.

“Nobody knew I had it--nobody in the world!” he declared. “And nobody
had anything to do with the killing but me.”

Burke put a question that was troubling him much, concerning the motive
that lay behind the shooting of Griggs.

“Was there any bad feeling between you and Eddie Griggs?”

Garson’s reply was explicit.

“Never till that very minute. Then, I learned the truth about what
he’d framed up with you.” The speaker’s voice reverted to its former
fierceness in recollection of the treachery of one whom he had trusted.

“He was a stool-pigeon, and I hated his guts! That’s all,” he concluded,
with brutal candor.

The Inspector moved restlessly in his chair. He had only detestation
for the slain man, yet there was something morbidly distasteful in the
thought that he himself had contrived the situation which had resulted
in the murder of his confederate. It was only by an effort that he shook
off the vague feeling of guilt.

“Nothing else to say?” he inquired.

Garson reflected for a few seconds, then made a gesture of negation.

“Nothing else,” he declared. “I croaked him, and I’m glad I done it. He
was a skunk. That’s all, and it’s enough. And it’s all true, so help me
God!”

The Inspector nodded dismissal to the stenographer, with an air of
relief.

“That’s all, Williams,” he said, heavily. “He’ll sign it as soon as
you’ve transcribed the notes.”

Then, as the stenographer left the room, Burke turned his gaze on the
woman, who stood there in a posture of complete dejection, her white,
anguished face downcast. There was triumph in the Inspector’s voice
as he addressed her, for his professional pride was full-fed by this
victory over his foes. But there was, too, an undertone of a feeling
softer than pride, more generous, something akin to real commiseration
for this unhappy girl who drooped before him, suffering so poignantly
in the knowledge of the fate that awaited the man who had saved her, who
had loved her so unselfishly.

“Young woman,” Burke said briskly, “it’s just like I told you. You can’t
beat the law. Garson thought he could--and now----!” He broke off, with
a wave of his hand toward the man who had just sentenced himself to
death in the electric-chair.

“That’s right,” Garson agreed, with somber intensity. His eyes were
grown clouded again now, and his voice dragged leaden. “That’s right,
Mary,” he repeated dully, after a little pause. “You can’t beat the
law!”

There followed a period of silence, in which great emotions were vibrant
from heart to heart. Garson was thinking of Mary, and, with the thought,
into his misery crept a little comfort. At least, she would go free.
That had been in the bargain with Burke. And there was the boy, too. His
eyes shot a single swift glance toward Dick Gilder, and his satisfaction
increased as he noted the alert poise of the young man’s body, the
strained expression of the strong face, the gaze of absorbed yearning
with which he regarded Mary. There could be no doubt concerning the
depth of the lad’s love for the girl. Moreover, there were manly
qualities in him to work out all things needful for her protection
through life. Already, he had proved his devotion, and that abundantly,
his unswerving fidelity to her, and the force within him that made these
worthy in some measure of her.

Garson felt no least pang of jealousy. Though he loved the woman with
the single love of his life, he had never, somehow, hoped aught for
himself. There was even something almost of the paternal in the purity
of his love, as if, indeed, by the fact of restoring her to life he had
taken on himself the responsibility of a parent. He knew that the boy
worshiped her, would do his best for her, that this best would suffice
for her happiness in time. Garson, with the instinct of love, guessed
that Mary had in truth given her heart all unaware to the husband whom
she had first lured only for the lust of revenge. Garson nodded his
head in a melancholy satisfaction. His life was done: hers was just
beginning, now.... But she would remember him--oh, yes, always! Mary was
loyal.

The man checked the trend of his thoughts by a mighty effort of will.
He must not grow maudlin here. He spoke again to Mary, with a certain
dignity.

“No, you can’t beat the law!” He hesitated a little, then went on, with
a certain curious embarrassment. “And this same old law says a woman
must stick to her man.”

The girl’s eyes met his with passionate sorrow in their misty deeps.
Garson gave a significant glance toward Dick Gilder, then his gaze
returned to her. There was a smoldering despair in that look. There
were, as well, an entreaty and a command.

“So,” he went on, “you must go along with him, Mary.... Won’t you? It’s
the best thing to do.”

The girl could not answer. There was a clutch on her throat just then,
which would not relax at the call of her will.

The tension of a moment grew, became pervasive. Burke, accustomed as
he was to scenes of dramatic violence, now experienced an altogether
unfamiliar thrill. As for Garson, once again the surge of feeling
threatened to overwhelm his self-control. He must not break down! For
Mary’s sake, he must show himself stoical, quite undisturbed in this
supreme hour.

Of a sudden, an inspiration came to him, a means to snap the tension,
to create a diversion wholly efficacious. He would turn to his boasting
again, would call upon his vanity, which he knew well as his chief
foible, and make it serve as the foil against his love. He strove
manfully to throw off the softer mood. In a measure, at least, he
won the fight--though always, under the rush of this vaunting, there
throbbed the anguish of his heart.

“You want to cut out worrying about me,” he counseled, bravely. “Why,
I ain’t worrying any, myself--not a little bit! You see, it’s something
new I’ve pulled off. Nobody ever put over anything like it before.”

He faced Burke with a grin of gloating again.

“I’ll bet there’ll be a lot of stuff in the newspapers about this, and
my picture, too, in most of ‘em! What?”

The man’s manner imposed on Burke, though Mary felt the torment that his
vainglorying was meant to mask.

“Say,” Garson continued to the Inspector, “if the reporters want any
pictures of me, could I have some new ones taken? The one you’ve got of
me in the Gallery is over ten years old. I’ve taken off my beard since
then. Can I have a new one?” He put the question with an eagerness that
seemed all sincere.

Burke answered with a fine feeling of generosity.

“Sure, you can, Joe! I’ll send you up to the Gallery right now.”

“Immense!” Garson cried, boisterously. He moved toward Dick Gilder,
walking with a faint suggestion of swagger to cover the nervous tremor
that had seized him.

“So long, young fellow!” he exclaimed, and held out his hand. “You’ve
been on the square, and I guess you always will be.”

Dick had no scruple in clasping that extended hand very warmly in his
own. He had no feeling of repulsion against this man who had committed
a murder in his presence. Though he did not quite understand the other’s
heart, his instinct as a lover taught him much, so that he pitied
profoundly--and respected, too.

“We’ll do what we can for you,” he said, simply.

“That’s all right,” Garson replied, with such carelessness of manner as
he could contrive. Then, at last, he turned to Mary. This parting must
be bitter, and he braced himself with all the vigors of his will to
combat the weakness that leaped from his soul.

As he came near, the girl could hold herself in leash no longer. She
threw herself on his breast. Her arms wreathed about his neck. Great
sobs racked her.

“Oh, Joe, Joe!” The gasping cry was of utter despair.

Garson’s trembling hand patted the girl’s shoulder very softly, a caress
of infinite tenderness.

“That’s all right!” he murmured, huskily. “That’s all right, Mary!”
 There was a short silence; and then he went on speaking, more firmly.
“You know, he’ll look after you.”

He would have said more, but he could not. It seemed to him that the
sobs of the girl caught in his own throat. Yet, presently, he strove
once again, with every reserve of his strength; and, finally, he so far
mastered himself that he could speak calmly. The words were uttered with
a subtle renunciation that was this man’s religion.

“Yes, he’ll take care of you. Why, I’d like to see the two of you with
about three kiddies playing round the house.”

He looked up over the girl’s shoulder, and beckoned with his head to
Dick, who came forward at the summons.

“Take good care of her, won’t you?”

He disengaged himself gently from the girl’s embrace, and set her within
the arms of her husband, where she rested quietly, as if unable to fight
longer against fate’s decree.

“Well, so long!”

He dared not utter another word, but turned blindly, and went, stumbling
a little, toward the doorman, who had appeared in answer to the
Inspector’s call.

“To the Gallery,” Burke ordered, curtly.

Garson went on without ever a glance back.... His strength was at an
end.

 * * * * *

There was a long silence in the room after Garson’s passing. It was
broken, at last, by the Inspector, who got up from his chair, and
advanced toward the husband and wife. In his hand, he carried a sheet of
paper, roughly scrawled. As he stopped before the two, and cleared
his throat, Mary withdrew herself from Dick’s arms, and regarded the
official with brooding eyes from out her white face. Something strange
in her enemy’s expression caught her attention, something that set new
hopes alive within her in a fashion wholly inexplicable, so that she
waited with a sudden, breathless eagerness.

Burke extended the sheet of paper to the husband.

“There’s a document,” he said gruffly. “It’s a letter from one Helen
Morris, in which she sets forth the interesting fact that she pulled off
a theft in the Emporium, for which your Mrs. Gilder here did time. You
know, your father got your Mrs. Gilder sent up for three years for that
same job--which she didn’t do! That’s why she had such a grudge against
your father, and against the law, too!”

Burke chuckled, as the young man took the paper, wonderingly.

“I don’t know that I blame her much for that grudge, when all’s said and
done.... You give that document to your father. It sets her right. He’s
a just man according to his lights, your father. He’ll do all he can to
make things right for her, now he knows.”

Once again, the Inspector paused to chuckle.

“I guess she’ll keep within the law from now on,” he continued,
contentedly, “without getting a lawyer to tell her how.... Now, you two
listen. I’ve got to go out a minute. When I get back, I don’t want to
find anybody here--not anybody! Do you get me?”

He strode from the room, fearful lest further delay might involve him
in sentimental thanksgivings from one or the other, or both--and Burke
hated sentiment as something distinctly unprofessional.

 * * * * *

When the official was gone, the two stood staring mutely each at the
other through long seconds. What she read in the man’s eyes set the
woman’s heart to beating with a new delight. A bloom of exquisite rose
grew in the pallor of her cheeks. The misty light in the violet eyes
shone more radiant, yet more softly. The crimson lips curved to strange
tenderness.... What he read in her eyes set the husband’s pulses to
bounding. He opened his arms in an appeal that was a command. Mary went
forward slowly, without hesitation, in a bliss that forgot every sorrow
for that blessed moment, and cast herself on his breast.





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