Part 1 out of 3
AUNT JANE'S NIECES IN SOCIETY
EDITH VAN DYNE
LIST OF CHAPTERS
I UNCLE JOHN'S DUTY
II A QUESTION OF "PULL"
IV THE THREE NIECES
V PREPARING FOR THE PLUNGE
VI THE FLY IN THE BROTH
VII THE HERO ENTERS AND TROUBLE BEGINS
VIII OPENING THE CAMPAIGN
IX THE VON TAER PEARLS
XIII DIANA REVOLTS
XIV A COOL ENCOUNTER
XV A BEWILDERING EXPERIENCE
XVI MADAME CERISE, CUSTODIAN
XVII THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
XVIII A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS
XIX POLITIC REPENTANCE
XX A TELEPHONE CALL
XXI THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
XXIII THE CRISIS
XXIV A MATTER OF COURSE
UNCLE JOHN'S DUTY
"You're not doing your duty by those girls, John Merrick!"
The gentleman at whom this assertion was flung in a rather angry tone
did not answer his sister-in-law. He sat gazing reflectively at the
pattern in the rug and seemed neither startled nor annoyed. Mrs.
Merrick, a pink-cheeked middle-aged lady attired in an elaborate morning
gown, knitted her brows severely as she regarded the chubby little man
opposite; then, suddenly remembering that the wrinkles might leave their
dreadful mark on her carefully rolled and massaged features, she
banished them with a pass of her ringed hand and sighed dismally.
"It would not have mattered especially had the poor children been left
in their original condition of friendless poverty," she said. "They were
then like a million other girls, content to struggle for a respectable
livelihood and a doubtful position in the lower stratas of social
communion. But you interfered. You came into their lives abruptly,
appearing from those horrid Western wilds with an amazing accumulation
of money and a demand that your three nieces become your special
_protegees_. And what is the result?"
The little man looked up with a charming smile of good humored raillery.
His keen gray eyes sparkled as mischievously as a schoolboy's. Softly he
rubbed the palms of his hands together, as if enjoying the situation.
"What is it, Martha, my dear? What is the result?" he asked.
"You've raised them from their lowly condition to a sphere in which they
reign as queens, the envy of all who know them. You've lavished your
millions upon them unsparingly; they are not only presumptive heiresses
but already possessed of independent fortunes. Ah, you think you've been
generous to these girls; don't you, John Merrick?" "Go on, Martha; go
"You've taken them abroad--you took my own daughter, John Merrick, and
left _me_ at home!--you've lugged your three nieces to the mountains and
carried them to the seashore. You even encouraged them to enlist in an
unseemly campaign to elect that young imbecile, Kenneth Forbes, and--"
"Oh, Martha, Martha! Get to the point, if you can. I'm going,
"Not until you've heard me out. You've given your nieces every advantage
in your power save one, and the neglect of that one thing renders futile
all else you have accomplished."
Now, indeed, her listener seemed perplexed. He passed a hand over his
shiny bald head as if to stimulate thought and exorcise bewilderment.
"What is it, then? What have I neglected?" was his mild enquiry.
"To give those girls their proper standing in society."
He started; smiled; then looked grave.
"You're talking foolishly," he said. "Why, confound it, Martha, they're
as good girls as ever lived! They're highly respected, and--" "Sir, I
refer to Fashionable Society." The capitals indicate the impressive
manner in which Mrs. Merrick pronounced those words.
"I guess money makes folks fashionable; don't it, Martha?"
"No, indeed. How ignorant you are, John. Can you not understand that
there is a cultured, aristocratic and exclusive Society in New York that
millions will not enable one to gain _entree_ to?"
"Oh, is there? Then I'm helpless."
"You are not, sir."
"Eh? I thought you said--"
"Listen, John; and for heaven's sake try for once to be receptive. I am
speaking not only for the welfare of my daughter Louise but for Beth
and Patricia. Your nieces are charming girls, all three. With the
advantages you have given them they may well become social celebrities."
"H-m-m. Would they be happier so?"
"Of course. Every true woman longs for social distinction, especially if
it seems difficult to acquire. Nothing is dearer to a girl's heart than
to win acceptance by the right social set. And New York society is the
most exclusive in America."
"I'm afraid it will continue to exclude our girls, Martha."
"Not if you do your duty, John."
"That reminds me. What is your idea of my duty, Martha? You've been
talking in riddles, so far," he protested, shifting uneasily in his
"Let me explain more concisely, then. Your millions, John Merrick, have
made you really famous, even in this wealthy metropolis. In the city and
at your club you must meet with men who have the _entree_ to the most
desirable social circles: men who might be induced to introduce your
nieces to their families, whose endorsement would effect their proper
"It isn't nonsense at all."
"Then blamed if I know what you're driving at."
"You're very obtuse."
"I won't agree to that till I know what 'obtuse' means. See here,
Martha; you say this social position, that the girls are so crazy
for--but they've never said anything to _me_ about it--can't be bought.
In the next breath you urge me to buy it. Phoo! You're a thoughtless,
silly woman, Martha, and let your wild ambitions run away with your
Mrs. Merrick sighed, but stubbornly maintained her position.
"I don't suggest 'buying' such people; not at all, John. It's what is
called--ah--ah--'influence'; or, or--"
"Or 'pull.' 'Pull' is a better word, Martha. Do you imagine there's any
value in social position that can be acquired by 'pull'?"
"Of course. It has to be acquired some way--if one is not born to it. As
a matter of fact, Louise is entitled, through her connection with _my_
"Pshaw, I knew _your_ family, Martha," he interrupted. "An arrant lot of
"Don't get riled. It's the truth. I _knew_ 'em. On her father's side
Louise has just as much to brag about--an' no more. We Merricks never
amounted to much, an' didn't hanker to trip the light fantastic in
swell society. Once, though, when I was a boy, I had a cousin who
spelled down the whole crowd at a spellin'-bee. We were quite proud of
him then; but he went wrong after his triumph, poor fellow! and became a
book agent. Now, Martha, I imagine this talk of yours is all hot air,
and worked off on me not because the girls want society, but because you
want it for 'em. It's all _your_ ambition, I'll bet a peanut."
"You misjudge me, as usual, John. I am urging a matter of simple
justice. Your nieces are lovely girls, fitted to shine in any sphere of
life," she continued, knowing his weak point and diplomatically
fostering it. "Our girls have youth, accomplishments, money--everything
to fit them for social triumphs. The winter season is now approaching;
the people are flocking back to town from their country homes;
fashionable gaieties and notable events will soon hold full sway. The
dear girls are surely entitled to enjoy these things, don't you think?
Aren't they _worthy_ the best that life has to offer? And why shouldn't
they enter society, if you do your full duty? Once get them properly
introduced and they will be able to hold their own with perfect ease.
Give me the credit for knowing these things, John, and try to help your
nieces to attain their ambition."
"But _is_ it their ambition?" he asked, doubtfully.
"They have not said so in words; but I can assure you it _is_ their
ambition, because all three are sensible, spirited, young women, who
live in this age and not the one you yourself knew a half century or so
Mr. Merrick sighed and rubbed his head again. Then he slowly rose.
"Mornin', Martha," he said, with a somewhat abstracted nod at his
sister-in-law. "This is a new idea to me. I'll think it over."
A QUESTION OF "PULL"
John Merrick's face was not so cheery as usual as he made his way into
the city. This suggestion of Martha Merrick's regarding his inattention
to duty to his beloved nieces was no easy nut to crack.
He knew his sister-in-law to be a wordly-minded, frivolous woman, with
many trivial ambitions; but in this instance he had misgivings that she
might be right. What did he, John Merrick, know of select society? A
poor man, of humble origin, he had wandered into the infantile, embryo
West years ago and there amassed a fortune. When he retired and returned
to "civilization" he found his greatest reward In the discovery of three
charming nieces, all "as poor as Job's turkey" but struggling along
bravely, each in her individual characteristic way, and well worthy
their doting uncle's affectionate admiration. Mrs. Merrick had recited
some of the advantages they had derived from the advent of this rich
relative; but even she could not guess how devoted the man was to the
welfare of these three fortunate girls, nor how his kindly, simple heart
resented the insinuation that he was neglecting anything that might
contribute to their happiness.
Possession of money had never altered John Merrick's native simplicity.
He had no extravagant tastes, dressed quietly and lived the life of the
people. On this eventful morning the man of millions took a cross-town
car to the elevated station and climbed the stairs to his train. Once
seated and headed cityward he took out his memorandum book to see what
engagements he had for the day. There were three for the afternoon. At
twelve o'clock he had promised to meet Von Taer.
"H-m-m. Von Taer."
Gazing reflectively from the window he remembered a conversation with a
prominent banker some month or so before. "Von Taer," the banker had
said, "is an aristocrat with an independent fortune, who clings to the
brokerage business because he inherited it from his father and
grandfather. I hold that such a man has no moral right to continue in
business. He should retire and give the other fellow a chance."
"Why do you call him an aristocrat?" Mr. Merrick had enquired.
"Because his family is so ancient that it shames the ark itself. I
imagine his ancestors might have furnished Noah the lumber to build his
ship. In New York the '400' all kowtow to Von Taer."
"Seems to me he has the right to be a broker if he wants to," asserted
"The right; yes. But, between us, Mr. Merrick, this society swell has no
mental capacity to handle such an uncertain business. He's noted for
doing unwarranted things. To me it's a marvel that Von Taer hasn't
shipwrecked the family fortunes long ago. Luck has saved him, not
That speech of a few weeks ago now seemed prophetic to John Merrick.
Within a few days the aristocratic broker had encountered financial
difficulties and been forced to appeal to Mr. Merrick, to whom he
obtained an introduction through a mutual friend. Von Taer was
doubtless solvent, for he controlled large means; but unless a saving
hand was extended at this juncture his losses were sure to be severe,
and might even cripple him seriously.
All this Mr. Merrick shrewdly considered in the space of a few moments.
As he left the train he looked at his watch and found it was barely
eleven. He decided not to await the hour of appointment. With his usual
brisk stride he walked to Von Taer's offices and was promptly admitted
to the broker's sanctum.
Hedrik Von Taer was a fine looking man, tall, grave, of dignified
demeanor and courteous manners. He stood until his visitor was seated
and with a gesture of deference invited him to open the conversation.
"I've decided to make you the loan, Von Taer," began Mr. Merrick, in his
practical, matter-of-fact way. "Three hundred thousand, wasn't it? Call
on Major Doyle at my office this afternoon and he'll arrange it for
An expression of relief crossed the broker's face.
"You are very kind, sir," he answered. "I assure you I fully appreciate
"Glad to help you," responded the millionaire, briskly. Then he paused
with marked abruptness. It occurred to him he had a difficult
proposition to make to this man. To avoid the cold, enquiring eyes now
fixed upon him he pulled out a cigar and deliberately cut the end. Von
Taer furnished him a match. He smoked a while in silence.
"This loan, sir," he finally began, "is freely made. There are no
strings tied to it. I don't want you to feel I'm demanding any sort of
return. But the truth is, you have it in your power to grant me a
Von Taer bowed.
"Mr. Merrick has generously placed me under an obligation it will afford
me pleasure to repay," said he. But his eyes held an uneasy look,
"It's this way," explained the other: "I've three nieces--fine girls,
Von Taer--who will some day inherit my money. They are already
independent, financially, and they're educated, well-bred and amiable
young women. Take my word for it."
"I am sure your statements are justified, Mr. Merrick." Yet Hedrik Von
Taer's face, usually unexpressive, denoted blank mystification. What
connection could these girls have with the favor to be demanded?
"Got any girls yourself, Von Taer?"
"A daughter, sir. My only child.
"A young lady now, sir."
"Then you'll understand. I'm a plain uneducated man myself. Never been
any nearer swell society than a Fifth Avenue stage. My money has given
me commercial position, but no social one worth mentioning. Your '400's'
a bunch I can't break into, nohow."
A slight smile hovered over the other's lips, but he quickly controlled
"They tell me, though," continued the speaker, "that _your_ family has
long ago climbed into the top notch of society. You're one o' the big
guns in the battery, an' hold the fort against all comers."
Von Taer merely bowed. It was scarcely necessary to either admit or
contradict the statement. Uncle John was a little indignant that his
companion showed no disposition to assist him in his explanation, which
a clear head might now easily comprehend. So, with his usual frankness,
he went directly to the point.
"I'd like my girls to get into the best--the most select--circles," he
announced. "They're good and pretty and well-mannered, so it strikes me
they're entitled to the best there is a-going. I don't want to mix with
your swell crowd myself, because I ain't fit; likewise the outfit ain't
much to my taste, askin' your pardon; but with women it's different.
They need to stand high an' shine bright to make 'em really happy, and
if any special lot is particularly ex-clusive an' high-falutin', that's
the crowd they long to swarm with. It's human nature--female human
nature, anyhow. You catch my idea, Von Taer, don't you?"
"I think so, Mr. Merrick. Yet I fail to see how I can be of service to
you in gratifying the ambition of your charming nieces." "Then I'll
go, and you may forget what I've said." The visitor arose and took his
hat from the table. "It was only a fool notion, anyway; just a thought,
badly expressed, to help my girls to a toy that money can't buy."
Hedrik Von Taer gazed steadily into the man's face. There was something
in the simple, honest self-abnegation of this wealthy and important
person that won the respect of all he met. The broker's stern eyes
softened a bit as he gazed and he allowed a fugitive smile, due to his
own change of attitude, to wreathe his thin lips again--just for an
"Sit down, please, Mr. Merrick," he requested, and rather reluctantly
Uncle John resumed his seat. "You may not have an especially clear idea
of New York society, and I want to explain my recent remark so that you
will understand it. What is called 'the 400' may or may not exist; but
certainly it is no distinct league or association. It may perhaps be
regarded as a figure of speech, to indicate how few are really admitted
to the most exclusive circles. Moreover, there can be no dominant
'leader of society' here, for the reason that not all grades of society
would recognize the supremacy of any one set, or clique. These cliques
exist for various reasons. They fraternize generally, but keep well
within their own circles. Kindred tastes attract some; ancient lineage
others. There is an ultra-fashionable set, a sporting set, a literary
set, an aristocratic set, a rather 'fast' set, a theatrical set--and so
on. These may all lay claim with certain justice to membership in good
society. Their circles are to an extent exclusive, because some
distinction must mark the eligibility of members. And outside each
luminous sphere hovers a multitude eager to pass the charmed circle and
so acquire recognition. Often it is hard to separate the initiate from
the uninitiate, even by those most expert. Is it difficult to comprehend
such a condition as I have described, Mr. Merrick?"
"Somewhat, Mr. Von Taer. The wonder to me is why people waste time in
"It is the legitimate occupation of many; the folly of unwise ambition
impels others. There is a fascination about social life that appeals to
the majority of natures. Let us compare society to a mountain whose
sides are a steep incline, difficult to mount. To stand upon the
summit, to become the cynosure of all eyes, is a desire inherent,
seemingly, in all humanity; for humanity loves distinction. In the
scramble toward the peak many fall by the wayside; others deceive
themselves by imagining they have attained the apex when they are far
from it. It is a game, Mr. Merrick, just as business is a game, politics
a game, and war a game. You know how few really win."
"Here," said Uncle John, musingly, "is a philosophy I did not expect
from you, Von Taer. They tell me you're one who stands on top the peak.
And you were born that way, and didn't have to climb. Seems to me you
rather scorn the crowd that's trying to climb to an eminence you never
had to win. That wouldn't be my way. And I suspect that if the crowd
wasn't trying to climb to you, your own position wouldn't be worth a
Von Taer had no answer to this criticism. Perhaps he scarcely heard it,
for he appeared lost in a brown study. Finally he said: "Will you
permit my daughter to call upon your nieces, Mr. Merrick?"
"Of course, sir."
"Then kindly give me their addresses."
Uncle John wrote them on a slip of paper.
"You may now dismiss the subject from your mind, sir, as you lately
advised me to do. Whatever may be accomplished in the direction you have
suggested I will gladly undertake. If I succeed it will be exceedingly
gratifying to us all, I am sure."
Mr. Merrick left the office in a rather humbled and testy mood. He
disliked to ask favors at any time and now felt that he had confided
himself to the mercy of this callous aristocrat and met with a distinct
But he had done it for the sake of his beloved nieces--and they would
never know what humiliation this unsatisfactory interview had cost him.
Diana Von Taer can not be called a type. She was individual.
Aristocratic to her finger tips, she was unlike all other aristocrats.
An admitted queen of society, her subjects were few and indifferent. She
possessed ancient lineage, was highly accomplished, had been born to the
purple, as the saying is; but none of these things conspired to make her
the curious creature she was.
As we make her acquaintance she is twenty-three years of age--and looks
eighteen. She is tall and slender and carries her handsome form with
exquisite grace. Diana is never abrupt; her voice is ever modulated to
soft, even tones; she rises from a chair or couch with the lithe,
sinuous motion of a serpent uncoiling.
Her face, critically regarded, is not so admirable as her form. The
features are a trifle too elongated, and their delicacy is marred by a
nose a bit broad and unshapely and a mouth with thin lips primly set.
Her dark eyes might be magnificent if wide open: but through the narrow
slits of their lids, half hidden by long curling lashes, the eyes peer
at you with a cold, watchful, intent gaze that carries a certain uncanny
and disconcerting fascination.
Yet the girl is essentially feminine. If you refrain from meeting that
discomfiting gaze--and her familiars have learned to avoid it--Diana
impresses you as being graceful, dainty and possessed of charming
manners. Her taste in dress is perfect. She converses fluently on many
topics. It is her custom to rise at ten o'clock, whatever time she may
have retired the night before; to read until luncheon; to devote the
remainder of her day to the requirements of society.
Eligible young men of admitted social standing call upon Diana at such
intervals as the proprieties require. They chatter "small talk" and are
careful to address her with deference. With an exception to be referred
to later these young men have no more thought of "flirting" with Miss
Von Taer than they would with the statue of the goddess, her namesake.
Her dinner parties and entertainments are very successful. She is
greatly admired, _per se_, but has no intimate friends.
When her mother died, some years before, an aunt had come to live with
Diana, and now posed as her chaperon. Mrs. Cameron was a stolid,
corpulent lady, with a countenance perpetually placid and an habitual
aversion to displaying intellect. Her presence in the establishment,
although necessary, was frankly ignored. Fortunately she never obtruded
Hedrik Von Taer was passionately devoted to his daughter. He alone,
perhaps, of all the world, thoroughly understood her and appreciated her
talents. She may have frightened him at times, but that only added to
his admiration. In return Diana displayed a calm, but affectionate
regard for her father.
Often after dinner these two would pass an hour together in a corner of
the drawing-room, where the cold gray eyes of the man met the intent,
half-veiled glance of the girl with perfect understanding. They talked
of many things, including business. Hedrik had no secrets from his
daughter. The desperate condition of his finances, when he had been
caught in a "corner" on wheat and nearly crushed, had not dismayed her
in the least. It was she who had counseled him to appeal to John
Merrick, since the name and fame of the eccentric millionaire were
familiar to her as to him.
He related to Diana his interview with Mr. Merrick on his return home.
He was saved. The three hundred thousand were now in the bank to his
credit and he could weather the coming storm easily--perhaps with
profit. In a tone half amused, half serious, he told her of the little
millionaire's desire to secure _entree_ into good society for his three
Diana laughed with her lips; her eyes never laughed. Then she took in
her hand the paper containing the addresses of the three girls and
regarded it thoughtfully.
"It is a curious request, _mon pere_," she said, in her soft, even
tones; "but one we cannot diplomatically disregard. Provided, however--"
"Yes, Diana;" as she paused.
"Provided these prospective _debutantes_ are not wholly impossible."
"I realize that," returned her father. "John Merrick is a great power in
the city. He has been useful to me, and may be again. I have this chance
to win him. But the man is very common clay, despite his wealth, and his
three nieces are likely to be made of the same material. Should they
prove impossible you cannot well descend to introducing them to our
"I am not certain of that, sir," said the girl, with a pretty shrug. "My
position is too secure to be jeopardized by any error of this sort. I
believe I may introduce these girls without risk. I shall not vouch for
them too strongly, and after their debut they must stand or fall on
their own merits."
"It is something a Von Taer has never yet done," remarked the man,
"To commercialize his social position? But, father dear, the age is fast
commercializing everything. I think our especial set is as yet
comparatively free from contamination by the 'lately rich'; but even
among us money has glossed many offenses that a generation ago would
have meant social ostracism."
"That is true, Diana."
"Life with me is a bit dull, as well. Everlasting routine, however
admirable, is tiresome. I scent amusement in this adventure, which I
have decided to undertake. With your permission I will see these girls
and quickly decide their fate. Should they prove not too dreadfully
_outre_ you may look to see them my especial _proteges_."
"I leave all to your discretion, Diana," returned Von Taer, with a sigh.
"If, in the end, some of the more particular venture to reproach them."
"It will not matter," interrupted the daughter, lightly, as her dark
eyes narrowed to a hair's breadth. "Any who dares reproach Diana Von
Taer will afford her interesting occupation. And to offset that remote
contingency we shall permanently enslave the powerful John Merrick. I
understand he is hard as nails in financial matters; but to us the man
has disclosed his one weakness--ambition to promote his three nieces.
Since we have discovered this vulnerable point, let us take advantage of
it. I am satisfied the loan of three hundred thousand was but a
lure--and how cleverly the man gauged us!"
Von Taer scowled.
"Get your wraps, Diana. The carriage is waiting, and we are due at Mrs.
THE THREE NIECES
The Von Taers did not affect motor cars. In some circles the carriage
and pair is still considered the more aristocratic mode of conveyance.
Established customs do not readily give way to fads and freaks.
Consulting her memoranda as she rode along; in her handsome, tastefully
appointed equipage, Diana found that Louise Merrick, one of the three
girls she had set out to discover, was the nearest on her route.
Presently she rang the bell at the Merrick residence, an eminently
respectable dwelling; in a desirable neighborhood.
Diana could not resist a sigh of relief as her observant glance noted
this detail. A dignified butler ushered her into a reception room and
departed with her card.
It was now that the visitor's nose took an upward tendency as she
critically examined her surroundings. The furnishings were abominable, a
mixture of distressingly new articles with those evidently procured
from dealers in "antiquities." Money had been lavished here, but good
taste was absent. To understand this--for Miss Von Taer gauged the
condition truly--it is necessary to know something of Mrs. Martha
This lady, the relict of John Merrick's only brother, was endowed with a
mediocre mind and a towering ambition. When left a widow with an only
daughter she had schemed and contrived in endless ways to maintain an
appearance of competency on a meager income. Finally she divided her
capital, derived from her husband's life insurance, into three equal
parts, which she determined to squander in three years in an attempt to
hoodwink the world with the belief that she was wealthy. Before the
three years were ended her daughter Louise would be twenty, and by that
time she must have secured a rich _parti_ and been safely married. In
return for this "sacrifice" the girl was to see that her mother was made
This worldly and foolish design was confided to Louise when she was only
seventeen, and her unformed mind easily absorbed her mother's silly
ambition. It was a pity, for Louise Merrick possessed a nature sweet
and lovable, as well as instinctively refined--a nature derived from her
dead father and with little true sympathy with Mrs. Merrick's
unscrupulous schemes. But at that age a girl is easily influenced, so it
is little wonder that under such tuition Louise became calculating, sly
and deceitful, to a most deplorable degree.
Such acquired traits bade fair in the end to defeat Mrs. Merrick's
carefully planned _coup_, for the daughter had a premature love affair
with a youth outside the pale of eligibility. Louise ignored the fact
that he had been disinherited by his father, and in her reckless
infatuation would have sacrificed her mother without thought or remorse.
The dreadful finale had only been averted by the advent of Uncle John
Merrick, who had changed the life plans of the widow and her heedless
daughter and promptly saved the situation.
John Merrick did not like his sister-in-law, but he was charmed by his
lovely niece and took her at once to his affectionate old heart. He saw
the faults of Louise clearly, but also appreciated her sweeter
qualities. Under his skillful guidance she soon redeemed herself and
regained control of her better nature. The girl was not yet perfect, by
any means; she was to an extent artificial and secretive, and her
thoughtless flirtations were far from wise; but her two cousins and her
uncle had come to know and understand her good points. They not only
bore patiently with her volatile nature but strove to influence her to
demonstrate her inherent good qualities.
In one way her mother's calculating training had been most effective.
Louise was not only a dainty, lovely maid to the eye, but her manners
were gracious and winning and she had that admirable self-possession
which quickly endears one even to casual acquaintances. She did not
impress more intimate friends as being wholly sincere, yet there was
nothing in her acts, since that one escapade referred to, that merited
Of course the brilliant idea of foisting her precious daughter upon the
"select" society of the metropolis was original with Mrs. Merrick.
Louise was well content with things as they were; but not so the
mother. The rise from poverty to affluence, the removal of all cares and
burdens from her mind, had merely fostered still greater ambitions.
Uncle John's generosity had endowed each of his three nieces with an
ample fortune. "I want 'em to enjoy the good things of life while
they're at an age to enjoy 'em," he said; "for the older one gets the
fewer things are found to be enjoyable. That's my experience, anyhow."
He also told the girls frankly that they were to inherit
jointly--although not equally--his entire fortune. Yet even this glowing
prospect did not satisfy Mrs. Merrick. Since all her plans for Louise,
from the very beginning, had been founded on personal selfishness, she
now proposed to have her daughter gain admission to recognized
fashionable society in order that she might herself bask in the
reflection of the glory so obtained and take her place with the proud
matrons who formed the keystone of such society. After carefully
considering ways and means to gain her object she had finally conceived
the idea of utilizing Mr. Merrick. She well knew Uncle John would not
consider one niece to the exclusion of the others, and had therefore
used his influence to get all three girls properly "introduced."
Therefore her delight and excitement were intense when the butler
brought up Diana's card and she realized that "the perfectly swell Miss
Von Taer" was seated in her reception room. She rushed to Louise, who,
wholly innocent of any knowledge of the intrigue which had led to this
climax, opened her blue eyes in astonishment and said with a gasp:
"Oh, mother! what shall I do?"
"Do? Why, go down and make yourself agreeable, of course. It's your
chance, my dear, your great chance in life! Go--go! Don't, for heaven's
sake, keep her waiting."
Louise went down. In her most affable and gracious way she approached
the visitor and said:
"It is very nice of you to call upon me. I am _so_ glad to meet Miss Von
Taer." Diana, passing conversational nothings with the young girl, was
pleased by her appearance and self-possession. This aspirant for social
honors was fresh, fair and attractive, with a flow of small talk at her
"Really," thought the fastidious visitor, "this one, at least, will do
me no discredit. If she is a fair sample of the others we shall get
along very nicely In this enterprise."
To Louise she said, before going:
"I'm to have an evening, the nineteenth. Will you assist me to receive?
Now that we are acquainted I wish to see more of you, my dear, and I
predict we shall get along famously together."
The girl's head swam. Help Miss Von Taer to receive! Such an honor had
been undreamed of an hour ago. But she held her natural agitation under
good control and only a round red spot Upon each cheek betrayed her
inward excitement as she prettily accepted the invitation. Beneath their
drooping lashes Diana's sagacious eyes read the thoughts of the girl
quite accurately. Miss Von Taer enjoyed disconcerting anyone in any way,
and Louise was so simple and unsophisticated that she promised to afford
considerable amusement in the future.
By the time Diana had finished her brief call this singular creature had
taken the measure of Louise Merrick in every detail, including her
assumption of lightness and her various frivolities. She understood that
in the girl were capabilities for good or for evil, as she might be led
by a stronger will. And, musingly, Diana wondered who would lead her.
As for Louise, she was enraptured by her distinguished visitor's
condescension and patronage, and her heart bounded at the thought of
being admitted to the envied social coterie in which Diana Von Taer
shone a bright, particular star.
The second name in the list of John Merrick's nieces was that of
Elizabeth De Graf. She lived at a good private hotel located in an
exclusive residence district.
It was true that Elizabeth--or "Beth," as she was more familiarly
called--was not a permanent guest at this hotel. When in New York she
was accustomed to live with one or the other of her cousins, who
welcomed her eagerly. But just now her mother had journeyed from the old
Ohio home to visit Beth, and the girl had no intention of inflicting
her parent upon the other girls. Therefore she had taken rooms at the
hotel temporarily, and the plan suited her mother excellently. For one
thing, Mrs. De Graf could go home and tell her Cloverton gossips that
she had stopped at the most "fashionable" hotel in New York; a second
point was that she loved to feast with epicurean avidity upon the
products of a clever _chef_, being one of those women who live to eat,
rather than eat to live.
Mrs. De Graf was John Merrick's only surviving sister, but she differed
as widely from the simple, kindly man in disposition as did her
ingenious daughter from her in mental attainments. The father, Professor
De Graf, was supposed to be a "musical genius." Before Beth came into
her money, through Uncle John, the Professor taught the piano and
singing; now, however, the daughter allowed her parents a liberal
income, and the self-engrossed musician devoted himself to composing
oratorios and concertas which no one but himself would ever play. To
be quite frank, the girl cared little for her gross and selfish parents,
and they in turn cared little for her beyond the value she afforded them
in the way of dollars and cents. So she had not lived at home, where
constant quarrels and bickerings nearly drove her frantic, since Uncle
John had adopted her. In catering to this present whim of her mother,
who longed to spend a few luxurious weeks in New York, Beth sacrificed
more than might be imagined by one unacquainted with her sad family
Whimsical Major Doyle often called Uncle John's nieces "the Three
Graces"; but Beth was by odds the beauty of them all. Splendid brown
eyes, added to an exquisite complexion, almost faultless features and a
superb carriage, rendered this fair young girl distinguished in any
throng. Fortunately she was as yet quite unspoiled, being saved from
vanity by a morbid consciousness of her inborn failings and a sincere
loathing for the moral weakness that prevented her from correcting those
faults. Judging Beth by the common standard of girls of her age, both
failings and faults were more imaginary than real; yet it was her
characteristic to suspect and despise in herself such weaknesses as
others would condone, or at least regard leniently. For here was a girl
true and staunch, incapable of intrigue or deceit, frank and outspoken,
all these qualities having been proven more than once. Everyone loved
Beth De Graf save herself, and at this stage of her development the
influence of her cousins and of Uncle John had conspired to make the
supersensitive girl more tolerant of herself and less morbid than
I think Beth knew of Diana Von Taer, for the latter's portrait
frequently graced the society columns of the New York press and at times
the three nieces, in confidential mood, would canvass Diana and her
social exploits as they did the acts of other famous semi-public
personages. But the girl had never dreamed of meeting such a celebrity,
and Miss Von Taer's card filled her with curious wonder as to the errand
that had brought her.
The De Grafs lived _en suite_ at the hotel, for Beth had determined to
surround her Sybaritic mother with all attainable luxury, since the
child frequently reproached herself with feeling a distinct repulsion
for the poor woman. So to-day Diana was ushered into a pretty parlor
where Beth stood calmly awaiting her.
The two regarded one another in silence a moment, Miss De Graf's frank
eyes covering the other with a comprehensive sweep while Miss Von Taer's
narrowed gaze, profoundly observant, studied the beautiful girl before
her with that impenetrable, half-hidden gleam that precluded any
"Miss Von Taer, I believe," said Beth, quietly glancing at the card she
held. "Will you be seated?"
Diana sank gracefully into a chair. The sinuous motion attracted Beth's
attention and gave her a slight shiver.
"I am so glad to meet you, my dear," began the visitor, in soft, purring
accents. "I have long promised myself the pleasure of a call, and in
spite of many procrastinations at last have accomplished my ambition."
Beth resented the affectation of this prelude, and slightly frowned.
Diana was watching; she always watched. "Why should you wish to call
upon me?" was the frank demand. "Do not think me rude, please; but I am
scarcely in a position to become a desirable acquaintance of Miss Von
Taer." The tone was a trifle bitter, and Diana noted it. A subtile
antagonism seemed springing up between them and the more experienced
girl scented in this danger to her plans. She must handle this young
lady more cautiously than she had Louise Merrick.
"Your position is unimpeachable, my dear," was the sweet-toned response.
"You are John Merrick's niece."
Beth was really angry now. She scowled, and it spoiled her beauty. Diana
took warning and began to think quickly.
"I referred to my social position, Miss Von Taer. Our family is honest
enough, thank God; but it has never been accepted in what is termed
Diana laughed; a quiet, rippling laugh as icy as a brook in November,
but as near gaiety as she could at the moment accomplish. When she
laughed this way her eyes nearly closed and became inscrutable. Beth
had a feeling of repulsion for her caller, but strove to shake it off.
Miss Von Taer was nothing to her; could be nothing to her.
"Your uncle is a very wealthy man," said Diana, with easy composure. "He
has made you an heiress, placing you in a class much sought after in
these mercenary days. But aside from that, my dear, your personal
accomplishments have not escaped notice, and gossip declares you to be a
very fascinating young woman, as well as beautiful and good. I do not
imagine society claims to be of divine origin, but were it so no one is
more qualified to grace it."
The blandishments of this speech had less effect upon Beth than the
evident desire to please. She began to feel she had been ungracious, and
straightway adopted a more cordial tone.
"I am sure you mean well, Miss Von Taer," she hastened to say, "and I
assure you I am not ungrateful. But it occurred to me we could have
nothing in common." "Oh, my dear! You wrong us both."
"Do you know my uncle?" enquired Beth.
"He is the friend of my father, Mr. Hedrik Von Taer. Our family owes Mr.
John Merrick much consideration. Therefore I decided to seek pleasure in
the acquaintance of his nieces."
The words and tone seemed alike candid. Beth began to relent. She sat
down for the first time, taking a chair opposite Diana.
"You see," she said, artlessly, "I have no personal inclination for
society, which is doubtless so large a part of your own amusement. It
seems to me artificial and insipid."
"Those who view from a distance the husk of a cocoanut, have little idea
of the milk within," declared Diana, softly.
"True," answered Beth. "But I've cracked cocoanuts, and sometimes found
the milk sour and tainted."
"The difference you observe in cocoanuts is to be found in the various
grades of society. These are not all insipid and artificial, I assure
"They may be worse," remarked Beth. "I've heard strange tales of your
orgies." Diana was really amused. This girl was proving more
interesting than the first niece she had interviewed. Unaccustomed to
seeking acquaintances outside her own exclusive circle, and under such
circumstances, these meetings were to her in the nature of an adventure.
A creature of powerful likes and dislikes, she already hated Beth most
heartily; but for that very reason she insisted on cultivating her
"You must not judge society by the mad pranks of a few of its members,"
she responded, in her most agreeable manner. "If we are not to set an
example in decorum to the rest of the world we are surely unfitted to
occupy the high place accorded us. But you must see and decide for
"I? No, indeed!"
"Ah, do not decide hastily, my dear. Let me become your sponsor for a
short time, until you really discover what society is like. Then you may
act upon more mature judgment."
"I do not understand you, Miss Von Taer."
"Then I will be more explicit. I am to receive a few friends at my home
on the evening of the nineteenth; will you be my guest?" Beth was
puzzled how to answer. The thought crossed her mind that perhaps Uncle
John would like her to be courteous to his friend's daughter, and that
argument decided her. She accepted the invitation.
"I want you to receive with me," continued Diana, rising. "In that way I
shall be able to introduce you to my friends."
Beth wondered at this condescension, but consented to receive. She was
annoyed to think how completely she had surrendered to the will of Miss
Von Taer, for whom she had conceived the same aversion she had for a
snake. She estimated Diana, society belle though she was, to be sly,
calculating and deceitful. Worse than all, she was decidedly clever, and
therefore dangerous. Nothing good could come of an acquaintance with
her, Beth was sure; yet she had pledged herself to meet her and her
friends the nineteenth, lit a formal society function. How much Beth De
Graf misjudged Diana Von Taer the future will determine. The interview
had tired Diana. As she reentered her carriage she was undecided whether
to go home or hunt up the third niece. But Willing Square was not five
minutes' drive from here, so she ordered the coachman to proceed there.
"I am positively out of my element in this affair," she told herself,
"for it is more difficult to cultivate these inexperienced girls than I
had thought. They are not exactly impossible, as I at first feared, but
they are so wholly unconventional as to be somewhat embarrassing as
_protegees_. Analyzing the two I have met--the majority--one strikes me
as being transparently affected and the other a stubborn, attractive
fool. They are equally untrained in diplomacy and unable to cover their
real feelings. Here am I, practically dragging them into the limelight,
when it would be far better for themselves--perhaps for me--that they
remained in oblivion. Ah, well: I called it an adventure: let me hope
some tangible plot will develop to compensate me for my trouble. Life
seems deadly dull; I need excitement. Is it to be furnished by John
Merrick's nieces, I wonder?" Willing Square is a new district, crowded
with fashionable apartment houses. That is, they are called fashionable
by their builders and owners and accepted as such by their would-be
fashionable occupants. Diana knew at least two good families resident in
Willing Square, and though she smiled grimly at the rows of
"oppressively new and vulgar" buildings, she still was not ashamed to
have her equipage seen waiting there.
Number 3708 Willing Square is a very substantial and cozy appearing
apartment building owned in fee by Miss Patricia Doyle. Diana was
unaware of this fact, but rang the Doyle bell and ascended to the second
A maid received her with the announcement that Miss Doyle had "just
stepped out," but was somewhere in the building. Would the visitor care
to wait a few minutes?
Yes; Diana decided she would wait. She took a seat in the snug front
parlor and from her position noted the series of rooms that opened one
into another throughout the suite, all richly but tastefully furnished
in homely, unassuming manner. "This is better," she mused. "There is
no attempt at foolish display in this establishment, at any rate. I hope
to find Miss Doyle a sensible, refined person. The name is Irish."
A door slammed somewhere down the line of rooms and a high-pitched voice
cried in excited tones:
"I've found a baby! Hi, there, Nunkie, dear--I've found a baby!"
Thereupon came the sound of a chair being pushed back as a man's voice
answered in equal glee:
"Why, Patsy, Patsy! it's the little rogue from upstairs. Here, Bobby;
come to your own old Uncle!"
"He won't. He belongs to me; don't you, Bobby darlin'?"
A babyish voice babbled merrily, but the sounds were all "goos" and
"ahs" without any resemblance to words. Bobby may have imagined he was
talking, but he was not very intelligible.
"See here, Patsy Doyle; you gimme that baby." cried the man, pleadingly.
"I found him myself, and he's mine. I've dragged him here all the way
from his home upstairs, an' don't you dare lay a finger on him. Uncle
"Fair play, Patsy! Bobby's my chum, and--"
"Well, I'll let you have half of him, Nunkie. Down on your hands and
knees, sir, and be a horse. That's it--Now, Bobby, straddle Uncle John
and drive him by his necktie--here it is. S-t-e-a-d-y, Uncle; and
neigh--neigh like a horse!"
"How does a horse neigh, Patsy?" asked a muffled voice, choking and
chuckling at the same time.
"'Nee, hee-hee--hee; hee!'"
Uncle John tried to neigh, and made a sorry mess of it, although Bobby
shrieked with delight.
Then came a sudden hush. Diana caught the maid's voice, perhaps
announcing the presence of a visitor, for Patsy cried in subdued
"Goodness me, Mary! why didn't you say so? Listen, Uncle John--"
"Leggo that ear, Bobby--leggo!"
"--You watch the baby, Uncle John, and don't let anything happen to
him. I've got a caller."
Diana smiled, a bit scornfully, and then composed her features as a
young girl bustled into the room and came toward her with frank
cordiality indicated in the wide smile and out-stretched hand.
"Pardon my keeping you waiting," said Patsy, dropping into a chair
opposite her visitor, "Uncle John and I were romping with the baby from
upstarts--Bobby's such a dear! I didn't quite catch the name Mary gave
me and forgot to look at your card."
"I am Miss Von Taer."
"Not Diana Von Taer, the swell society girl?" cried Patsy eagerly.
Diana couldn't remember when she had been so completely nonplused
before. After an involuntary gasp she answered quietly:
"I am Diana Von Taer."
"Well, I'm glad to meet you, just the same," said Patsy, cheerfully. "We
outsiders are liable to look on society folk as we would on a cage of
monkeys--because we're so very ignorant, you know, and the bars are
really between us." This frank disdain verged on rudeness, although
the girl had no intention of being rude. Diana was annoyed in spite of
her desire to be tolerant.
"Perhaps the bars are imaginary," she rejoined, carelessly, "and it may
be you've been looking at the side-show and not at the entertainment in
the main tent. Will you admit that possibility, Miss Doyle?"
Patsy laughed gleefully.
"I think you have me there, Miss Von Taer. And what do _I_ know about
society? Just nothing at all. It's out of my line entirely."
"Perhaps it is," was the slow response. "Society appeals to only those
whose tastes seem to require it."
"And aren't we drawing distinctions?" enquired Miss Doyle. "Society at
large is the main evidence of civilization, and all decent folk are
members of it."
"Isn't that communism?" asked Diana.
"Perhaps so. It's society at large. But certain classes have leagued
together and excluded themselves from their fellows, admitting only
those of their own ilk. The people didn't put them on their
pedestals--they put themselves there. Yet the people bow down and
worship these social gods and seem glad to have them. The newspapers
print their pictures and the color of their gowns and how they do their
hair and what they eat and what they do, and the poor washwomen and
shop-girls and their like read these accounts more religiously than they
do their bibles. My maid Mary's a good girl, but she grabs the society
sheet of the Sunday paper and reads it from top to bottom. I never look
at it myself."
Diana's cheeks were burning. She naturally resented such ridicule,
having been born to regard social distinction with awe and reverence.
Inwardly resolving to make Miss Patricia Doyle regret the speech she hid
all annoyance under her admirable self-control and answered with smooth
"Your estimate of society, my dear Miss Doyle, is superficial."
"Don't I know it, then?" exclaimed Patsy. "Culture and breeding,
similarity of taste and intellectual pursuits will always attract
certain people and band them together in those cliques which are called
'social sets,' They are not secret societies; they have no rules of
exclusion; congenial minds are ever welcome to their ranks. This is a
natural coalition, in no way artificial. Can you not appreciate that,
"Yes, indeed," admitted Patsy, promptly. "You're quite right, and I'm
just one of those stupid creatures who criticise the sun because there's
a cloud before it. Probably there are all grades of society, because
there are all grades of people."
"I thought you would agree with me when you understood," murmured Diana,
and her expression was so smug and satisfied that Patsy was seized with
an irresistible spirit of mischief.
"And haven't I seen your own pictures in the Sunday papers?" she asked.
"Perhaps; if you robbed your maid of her pleasure."
"And very pretty pictures they were, too. They showed culture and
breeding all right, and the latest style in gowns. Of course those
intellectual high-brows in your set didn't need an introduction to you;
you were advertised as an example of ultra-fashionable perfection, to
spur the ambition of those lower down in the social scale. Perhaps it's
a good thing."
"Are you trying to annoy me?" demanded Diana, her eyes glaring under
their curling lashes.
"Dear me--dear me!" cried Patsy, distressed, "see how saucy and impudent
I've been--and I didn't mean a bit of it! Won't you forgive me, please,
Miss Von Taer? There! we'll begin all over again, and I'll be on my good
behavior. I'm so very ignorant, you know!"
Diana smiled at this; it would be folly to show resentment to such a
"Unfortunately," she said, "I have been unable to escape the vulgar
publicity thrust upon me by the newspapers. The reporters are preying
vultures, rapacious for sensation, and have small respect for anyone. I
am sure we discourage them as much as we can. I used to weep with
mortification when I found myself 'written up'; now, however, I have
learned to bear such trials with fortitude--if not with resignation."
"Forgive me!" said Patsy, contritely. "Somehow I've had a false idea of
these things. If I knew you better, Miss Von Taer, you'd soon convert me
to be an admirer of society."
"I'd like to do that, Miss Doyle, for you interest me. Will you return
"Indeed I will," promised the girl, readily. "I'm flattered that you
called on me at all, Miss Von Taer, for you might easily have amused
yourself better. You must be very busy, with all the demands society
makes on one. When shall I come? Make it some off time, when we won't be
Diana smiled at her eagerness. How nescient the poor little thing was!
"Your cousins, Miss Merrick and Miss De Graf, have consented to receive
with me on the evening of the nineteenth. Will you not join us?"
"Louise and Beth!" cried Patsy, astounded.
"Isn't it nice of them? And may I count upon you, also?"
Patsy smiled dubiously into the other's face.
"Let me out of it!" she said. "Can't you see I'm no butterfly?"
Diana saw many things, having taken a shrewd account of the girl long
before this. Miss Patricia Doyle was short and plump, with a round,
merry face covered with freckles, hair indisputably red and a
_retrousse_ nose. Also she possessed a pair of wonderful blue eyes--eyes
that danced and scintillated with joyous good humor--eyes so captivating
that few ever looked beyond them or noted the plain face they
glorified. But the critic admitted that the face was charmingly
expressive, the sweet and sensitive mouth always in sympathy with the
twinkling, candid eyes. Life and energy radiated from her small person,
which Miss Von Taer grudgingly conceded to possess unusual fascination.
Here was a creature quite imperfect in detail, yet destined to allure
and enchant whomsoever she might meet. All this was quite the reverse of
Diana's own frigid personality. Patsy would make an excellent foil for
"As you please, my dear," she said graciously; "but do you not think it
would amuse you to make your debut in society--unimpeachable
society--and be properly introduced to the occupants of the 'pedestals,'
as your cousins will be?"
Patsy reflected. If Beth and Louise had determined to undertake this
venture why should she hold back? Moreover, she experienced a girlish
and wholly natural curiosity to witness a fashionable gathering and
"size up" the lions for herself. So she said:
"I'll come, if you really want me; and I'll try my best to behave
nicely. But I can't imagine why you have chosen to take us three girls
under your wing; unless--" with sudden intuition, "it's for Uncle John's
"That was it, at first," replied Diana, rising to go; "but now that I've
seen you I'm delighted to have you on your own account. Come early,
dear; we must be ready to receive our guests by nine."
"Nine o'clock!" reflected Patsy, when her visitor had gone; "why, I'm
often in bed by that time."
PREPARING FOR THE PLUNGE
John Merrick lived with the Doyles at their Willing Square apartments.
There were but two of the Doyles--Patricia and her father, Major Doyle,
a tall, handsome, soldierly man with white moustache and hair. The Major
was noted as a "character," a keen wit and a most agreeable type of the
"old Irish gentleman." He fairly worshipped his daughter, and no one
blamed him for it. His business, as special agent and manager for his
brother-in-law's millions, kept the Major closely occupied and afforded
John Merrick opportunity to spend his days as be pleased. The rich man
was supposed to be "retired," yet the care of his investments and income
was no light task, as the Major found.
We are accustomed to regard extreme wealth as the result of hard-headed
shrewdness, not wholly divorced from unscrupulous methods, yet no one
could accuse John Merrick or his representative with being other than
kindly, simple-hearted and honest. Uncle John says that he never
intended to "get rich"; it was all the result of carelessness. He had
been so immersed in business that he failed to notice how fast his
fortune was growing. When he awoke to a realization of his immense
accumulation he promptly retired, appointing Major Doyle to look after
his investments and seeking personal leisure after many years of hard
work. He instructed his agent to keep his income from growing into more
capital by rendering wise assistance to all worthy charities and
individuals, and this, as you may suppose, the Major found a herculean
task. Often he denounced Uncle John for refusing to advise him, claiming
that the millionaire had selfishly thrust the burden of his wealth on
the Major's broad shoulders. While there was an element of truth in this
the burden it was not so heavy as to make the old soldier unhappy, and
the two men loved and respected one another with manly cordiality.
Patricia was recognized as Uncle John's favorite niece and it was
understood she was to inherit the bulk of his property, although some
millions might be divided between Beth and Louise "if they married
wisely." Neither Uncle John nor the Major ever seemed to consider
Patsy's marrying; she was such a child that wedlock for her seemed a
The Sunday afternoon following Diana Von Taer's visit to the three
nieces found the girls all congregated in Patsy's own room, where an
earnest discussion was being conducted. That left Uncle John to take his
after-dinner nap in the big Morris chair in the living room, where Major
Doyle sat smoking-sulkily while he gazed from the window and begrudged
the moments Patsy was being kept from him.
Finally the door opened and the three girls trooped out.
"Huh! Is the conspiracy all cut-an'-dried?" growled the Major.
Uncle John woke up with a final snort, removed the newspaper from his
face and sat up. He smiled benignantly upon his nieces.
"It's all your fault, sor!" declared Major Doyle, selecting the little
millionaire as the safest recipient of his displeasure. "Your
foolishness has involved us all in this dreadful complication. Why on
earth couldn't you leave well-enough alone?"
Uncle John received the broadside with tolerant equanimity.
"What's wrong; my dears?" he enquired, directing his mild glance toward
the bevy of young girls.
"I am unaware that anything is wrong, Uncle," replied Louise gravely.
"But since we are about to make our debut in society it is natural we
should have many things to discuss that would prove quite uninteresting
to men. Really, Uncle John, this is a great event--perhaps the most
important event of our lives."
"Shucks an' shoestrings!" grunted the Major. "What's in this
paper-shelled, painted, hollow thing ye call 'society' to interest three
healthy, wide-awake girls? Tell me that!"
"You don't understand, dear," said Patsy, soothing him with a kiss.
"I think he does," remarked Beth, with meditative brows. "Modern society
is a man-made--or woman-made--condition, to a large extent artificial,
selfish and unwholesome."
"Oh, Beth!" protested Louise. "You're talking like a rank socialist. I
can understand common people sneering at society, which is so far out of
their reach; but a girl about to be accepted in the best circles has no
right to rail at her own caste."
"There can be no caste in America," declared Beth, stubbornly.
"But there _is_ caste in America, and will be so long as the
exclusiveness of society is recognized by the people at large,"
continued Louise. "If it is a 'man-made condition' isn't it the most
respected, most refined, most desirable condition that one may attain
"There are plenty of honest and happy people in the world who ignore
society altogether," answered Beth. "It strikes me that your social
stars are mighty few in the broad firmament of humanity."
"But they're stars, for all that, dear," said Uncle John, smiling at her
with a hint of approval in his glance, yet picking up the argument; "and
they look mighty big and bright to the crowd below. It's quite natural.
You can't keep individuals from gaining distinction, even in America.
There are few generals in an army, for instance; and they're 'man-made';
but that's no reason the generals ain't entitled to our admiration."
"Let's admire 'em, then--from a distance," retorted the Major, realizing
the military simile was employed to win his sympathy.
"Certain things, my dear Major, are naturally dear to a girl's heart,"
continued Uncle John, musingly; "and we who are not girls have no right
to condemn their natural longings. Girls love dancing, pink teas and
fudge-parties, and where can they find 'em in all their perfection but
in high society? Girls love admiration and flirtations--you do, my
dears; you can't deny it--and the male society swells have the most time
to devote to such things. Girls love pretty dresses--"
"Oh, Uncle! you've hit the nail on the head now," exclaimed Patsy,
laughing. "We must all have new gowns for this reception, and as we're
to assist Miss Von Taer the dresses must harmonize, so to speak,
and--and--" "And be quite suited to the occasion," broke in Louise;
"And wear our lives out with innumerable fittings," concluded Beth,
"But why new dresses?" demanded the Major. "You've plenty of old ones
that are clean and pretty, I'm sure; and our Patsy had one from the
dressmaker only last week that's fit for a queen."
"Oh, Daddy! you don't understand," laughed Patsy.
"This time, Major, I fear you don't," agreed Beth. "Your convictions
regarding society may be admirable, but you're weak on the gown
"If the women would only listen to me," began the Major, dictatorially;
but Uncle John cut him short.
"They won't, sir; they'll listen to no man when it comes to
"Don't they dress to captivate the men, then?" asked the Major, with
"Not at all," answered Louise, loftily. "Men seldom know what a woman
has on, if she looks nice; but women take in every detail of dress and
criticise it severely if anything happens to be out of date, ill
fitting or in bad taste."
"Then they're in bad taste themselves!" retorted the Major, hotly.
"Tut-tut, sir; who are you to criticise woman's ways?" asked Uncle John,
much amused. The Major was silenced, but he glared as if unconvinced.
"Dressmaking is a nuisance," remarked Beth, placidly; "but it's the
penalty we pay for being women."
"You're nothing but slips o' girls, not out of your teens," grumbled the
Major. And no one paid any attention to him.
"We want to do you credit, Uncle John," said Patsy, brightly. "Perhaps
our names will be in the papers."
"They're there already," announced Mr. Merrick, picking up the Sunday
paper that lay beside him.
A chorus of exclamations was followed by a dive for the paper, and even
the Major smiled grimly as he observed the three girlish heads close
together and three pair of eager eyes scanning swiftly the society
"Here it is!" cried Patsy, dancing up and down like a school-girl; and
Louise read in a dignified voice--which trembled slightly with
excitement and pleasure--the following item:
"Miss Von Taer will receive next Thursday evening at the family mansion
in honor of Miss Merrick, Miss Doyle and Miss De Graf. These three
charming _debutantes_ are nieces of John Merrick, the famous tin-plate
"Phoo!" growled the Major, during the impressive hush that followed;
"that's it, exactly. Your names are printed because you're John
Merrick's nieces. If it hadn't been for tin-plate, my dears, society
never would 'a' known ye at all, at all!"
THE FLY IN THE BROTH
Diana was an experienced entertainer and under her skillful supervision
the reception proved eminently successful. Nor had she cause to be
ashamed of the three _protegees_ she presented to society, since capable
_modistes_ had supplemented their girlish charms and freshness with
costumes pertinent to the occasion. Perhaps Patsy's chubby form looked a
little "dumpish" in her party gown, for some of Diana's female guests
regarded her with quiet amusement and bored tolerance, while the same
critical posse was amazed and envious at Beth's superb beauty and
stately bearing. After all, it was Louise who captured the woman
contingency and scored the greatest success; for her appearance was not
only dainty and attractive but she was so perfectly self-possessed and
responsive and bore herself so admirably under the somewhat trying;
circumstances of a debut that she won the cordial goodwill of all whom
she encountered. The hostess was elaborately gowned in white pompadour
satin, trimmed with white chiffon and embroidered in pink roses and
pearls. The Von Taer home was handsomely decorated for the occasion,
since Diana never did anything by halves and for her own credit insisted
on attention to those details of display that society recognizes and
loves. Hundreds of long-stemmed American Beauties and Kentia palms were
combined in beautifying the spacious hall, while orchids in marvelous
variety nodded their blossoms in the great drawing-room, where the
young-ladies received. These rare and precious flowers were arranged in
bronze baskets with sprays of maidenhair. In the music room adjoining,
great clusters of Madam Chantenay roses embellished the charming scene.
Branches of cherry-blossoms, supplied by hot-houses, were banked in the
lofty dining-room, where a Japanese pergola made of bamboo and lighted
with red lanterns was erected at the upper end. The attendants here were
Japanese girls in native costume, and the long table was laid with a
lace cloth over pink satin, with butterfly bows of pink tulle. The table
itself was decorated with cut-glass baskets of Cecil Brunner roses
mingled with lilies of the valley and refreshments were distributed to
the standing guests as they entered.
The affair was in the nature of a typical "crush," for Diana's list of
eligibles included most of the prominent society folk then in town, and
she was too important a personage to have her invitations disregarded.
Beth and Patsy were fairly bewildered by the numerous introductions,
until names became meaningless in their ears; but Louise, perfectly
composed and in no wise distracted by her surroundings or the music of
the orchestra and the perpetual buzz of conversation in the crowded
rooms, impressed each individual upon her memory clearly, and was not
likely to blunder in regard to names or individuality in the future.
This is a rare talent, indeed, and scores, largely in one's favor; for
no one likes to think himself so unimportant as to be forgotten, under
It was during the thick of the reception that one of Miss Von Taer's
intimates, a graceful blond girl, suddenly seized her arm and whispered:
"Oh, Diana! Guess who's here--guess, my dear!" Diana knew. Her eyes,
always narrowed until the lashes shielded their sharp watchfulness,
seldom missed observing anything of importance. She pressed her friend's
hand and turned again to the line of guests, while Louise, who had
overheard the excited whisper, wondered casually what it might mean.
Soon after she knew. A tall, handsome young fellow was bowing before
Diana, who--wonder of wonders!--for an instant unclosed her great eyes
and shot an electric glance into his smiling face. The glance was brief
as unexpected, yet it must have told the young man something, for he
flushed and bowed again as if to hide his embarrassment. It also told
Louise something, and her heart, which had given a quick bound at sight
of the man's face, began to cry out against Diana Von Taer's artifices.
"Mr. Arthur Weldon," said the hostess, in her soft voice; and now, as
the young man turned an eager gaze on Louise and half extended his hand,
the girl's face grew pale and she imitated Diana to the extent of
dropping her eyes and bowing with frigid indifference. Standing close
he whispered "Louise!" in a pleading tone that made Diana frown
wickedly. But the girl was unresponsive and another instant forced him
to turn to Beth.
"Why, Arthur! are you here, then?" said the girl, in a surprised but
"That is not astonishing, Miss Beth," he replied. "The puzzling fact is
that _you_ are here--and under such auspices," he added, in a lower
Patsy now claimed him, with a frank greeting, and Arthur Weldon could do
little more than press her hand when the line forced him to move on and
give place to others.
But this especial young fellow occupied the minds of all four girls long
after the crowd had swallowed him up. Diana was uneasy and obviously
disturbed by the discovery that he was known to the three cousins, as
well as by the memory of his tone as he addressed Louise Merrick.
Louise, who had read Diana's quick glance with the accuracy of an
intuitionist, felt a sudden suspicion and dislike for Diana now
dominating her. Behind all this was a mystery, which shall be explained
here because the reader deserves to be more enlightened than the
Arthur Weldon's nature was a queer combination of weakness and strength.
He was physically brave but a moral coward. The motherless son of a man
wholly immersed in business, he had been much neglected in his youth and
his unstable character was largely the result of this neglect. On
leaving college he refused a business career planned for him by his
father, who cast him off with scornful indifference, and save for a slim
temporary allowance promised to disinherit him. It was during this
period that Arthur met Louise and fell desperately in love with her. The
girl appeared to return the young fellow's devotion, but shrewd, worldly
Mrs. Merrick, discovering that the boy was practically disinherited and
had no prospects whatever, forbade him the house. Louise, until now but
mildly interested in the young-man, resented her mother's interference
and refused to give him up. She found ways to meet Arthur Weldon outside
her home, so that the situation had become complicated and dangerous
when Uncle John seized his three nieces and whisked them off to Europe.
Young Weldon, under an assumed name, followed and attached himself to
the party; but John Merrick's suspicions were presently aroused and on
discovering the identity of the youth he forbade him or Louise to "make
love" or even speak of such a thing during the remainder of the trip.
The young fellow, by manly acts on some occasions and grave weaknesses
on others, won Uncle John's kindly interest. The old gentleman knew
human nature, and saw much to admire as well as condemn in Louise's
friend. Beth and Patsy found him a pleasant comrade, and after all
love-making was tabooed they were quite a harmonious party. Finally the
sudden death of Weldon's father left him the possessor of a fortune. He
returned to America to look after his newly-acquired business and became
so immersed in it that Louise felt herself neglected when she came home
expecting him to dance attendance upon her as before. She treated him
coldly and he ceased calling, his volatile and sensitive nature
resenting such treatment. It is curious what little things influence
the trend of human lives. Many estrangements are caused by trifles so
intangible that we can scarcely locate them at all.
At first the girl was very unhappy at the alienation, but soon schooled
herself to forget her former admirer. Arthur Weldon, for his part,
consoled himself by plunging into social distractions and devoting
himself to Diana Von Taer, whose strange personality for a time
The business could not hold young Weldon's vacillant temperament for
long; neither could Diana. As a matter of fact his heart, more staunch
than he himself suspected, had never wavered much from Louise. Yet pride
forbade his attempting to renew their former relations. It was now some
months since he had seen the girl, and his eager exclamation was wrested
from him by surprise and a sudden awakening to the fact that his love
for her had merely slumbered.
Diana, worldly, cold and calculating as was her nature, had been
profoundly touched by Arthur's devotion to her. Usually young men were
soon repulsed by her unfortunate personality, which was not easily
understood. Therefore her intense nature responded freely to this
admirer's attentions, and if Diana could really love she loved Arthur
Weldon. He had never proposed to her or even intimated it was his
intention to do so, but she conceived a powerful desire to win him and
had never abandoned this motive when he grew cold and appeared to desert
her. Just now he was recently back from Italy, where he had passed
several months, and Diana's reception was his first reappearance in
society. The girl had planned to bring him to her side this evening and
intended to exert her strongest fascinations to lure him back to his
former allegiance; so her annoyance may be guessed when she found her
three _protegees_ seemingly more familiar with the young man than was
At last the line ended and the introductions were complete. The
_debutantes_ were at once the center of interested groups composed of
those who felt it a duty or pleasure to show them attention. Diana
wandered to the music room and waylaid Arthur Weldon, who was just about
to make his escape from the house, having decided it was impossible to
find an opportunity to converse with Louise that evening.
"I'm so glad you came, Arthur," she said, a quick glance assuring her
they were not overheard. "You landed from the steamer but yesterday, I
"And came straightway to pay my respects to my old friend," he answered
lightly. "Isn't it unusual for you to present _debutantes_, Diana?"
"You know these girls, don't you, Arthur?"
"Yes; I met them in Europe."
"And flirted with Miss Merrick? Be honest, Arthur, I know your secret."
"Do you? Then you know we were merely good friends," said he, annoyed at
"Of course. You called her 'Louise,' didn't you?"
"To be sure. And Patsy called me 'Arthur. You may have heard her."
"That's Miss Patricia Doyle--our dear little Patsy."
"Oh. I'm sure you didn't fall in love with _her_, at any rate."
"I'm not so sure. Everybody loves Patsy. But I had no time for
love-making. I was doing Europe."
"Wasn't that a year or so ago?" she asked, realizing he was trying to
evade further reference to Louise.
"And since then?"
"I've been away the last six or seven months, as you know, on my second
"But before that--when you first returned?"
"If I remember rightly I was then much in the society of Miss Von Taer.
Is the catechism ended at last?"
"Yes," she replied, laughing. "Don't think me inquisitive, Arthur; I was
surprised to find you knew these girls, with whom I am myself but
"Yet you introduce them to your very select set?"
"To please my father, who wishes to please Mr. Merrick."
"I understand," said he, nodding. "But they're nice girls, Diana.
You're not running chances, I assure you."
"That relieves me," she replied rather scornfully. "If Arthur Weldon
will vouch for them--"
"But I don't. I'll vouch for no one--not even myself," he declared
hastily. She was calmly reading his face, and did not seem to approve
"Are you as fickle as ever, then, _mon cher_?" she asked, softly.
"I'm not fickle, Diana. My fault is that I'm never serious."
"I cannot remember ever being serious; at least, where a girl was
Diana bit her lips to restrain a frown, but her eyes, which he was
avoiding, flashed wickedly.
"That is surely a fault, my Arthur," was her tender reply. "Were you
never serious during our quiet evenings together; our dances, theatre
parties and romps?"
"That was merely fun. And you, Diana?"
"Oh, I enjoyed the fun, too. It meant so much to me. I began to live,
then, and found life very sweet. But when you suddenly left me and went
abroad--ah, _that_ was indeed serious."
Her tone was full of passionate yearning. He laughed, trying to appear
at ease. Some sort of an understanding must be had with Diana sooner or
later, and she might as well realize at this present interview that the
old relations could not be restored. His nature was not brutal and he
disliked to hurt her; moreover, the boy had an uneasy feeling that he
had been a far more ardent admirer of this peculiar girl than any fellow
should be who had had no serious intentions; yet it would be folly to
allow Diana to think she could win him back to his former allegiance. No
compromising word had ever left his lips; he had never spoken of love to
her. Yet the girl's attitude seemed to infer a certain possession of him
which was far from agreeable.
Having gone so far, he should have said more; but here again his lack of
moral courage proved his stumbling-block, and he weakly evaded a frank
expression of his true feelings. "Life," he began somewhat haltingly,
to break the embarrassing pause, "is only serious when we make it so;
and as soon as we make it serious it makes us unhappy. So I've adopted
one invariable rule: to laugh and be gay."
"Then I too will be gay, and together we'll enjoy life," responded
Diana, with an effort to speak lightly. "I shall let your moods be my
moods, Arthur, as a good friend should. Are we not affinities?"
Again he knew not what to say. Her persistence in clinging to her
intangible hold upon him was extremely irritating, and he realized the
girl was far too clever for him to cope with and was liable to cause him
future trouble. Instead of seizing the opportunity to frankly undeceive
her he foolishly evaded the subject.
"You've been tempting fate to-night," he remarked with assumed
carelessness. "Don't you remember that to stand four girls in a row is a
"Only for the one who first winks. Isn't that the way the saying goes? I
seldom wink, myself," she continued, smilingly. "But I have no faith in
ill omens. Their power is entirely due to mental fear."
"I think not," said Arthur, glad the conversation had taken this turn.
"Once I knew a fellow with thirteen letters in his name. He had no
mental fear. But he proposed to a girl--and was accepted."
She gave him one of those sudden, swift glances that were so
"If you had a middle initial, there would be thirteen letters in your
own name, Arthur Weldon."
"But I haven't, Diana; I haven't," he protested, eagerly. "And if ever I
propose to a girl I'm sure she'll refuse me. But I've no intention of
doing such a crazy thing, so I'm perfectly safe."
"You cannot be sure until you try, Arthur," she replied pointedly, and
with a start he became conscious that he was again treading upon
"Come; let us rejoin your guests," said he, offering her his arm. "They
would all hate me if they knew I was keeping the fair Diana from them so
long." "Arthur, I must have a good long; talk with you--one of our
old, delightful confabs," she said, earnestly. "Will you call Sunday
afternoon? Then we shall be quite undisturbed."
"Sunday afternoon?" he answered.
"All right; I'll come, Diana."
She gave him a grateful look and taking his arm allowed him to lead her
back to the drawing-room. The crush was over, many having already
departed. Some of the young people were dancing in the open spaces to
the music of a string orchestra hidden behind a bank of ferns in the
Louise and Beth were the centers of attentive circles; Patsy conversed
with merry freedom with a group of ancient dowagers, who delighted in
her freshness and healthy vigor and were flattered by her consideration.
Mrs. Merrick--for she had been invited--sat in a corner gorgeously robed
and stiff as a poker, her eyes devouring the scene. Noting the triumph
of Louise she failed to realize she was herself neglected. A single
glance sufficed to acquaint Diana with all this, and after a gracious
word to her guests here and there she asked Arthur to dance with her. He
could not well refuse, but felt irritated and annoyed when he observed
Louise's eyes fastened upon him in amused disdain. After a few turns he
discovered some departing ones waiting to bid their hostess _adieu_, and
escaped from his unpleasant predicament by halting his partner before
them. Then he slipped away and quietly left the house before Diana had
time to miss him.
THE HERO ENTERS AND TROUBLE BEGINS
The Von Taer reception fully launched the three nieces in society.
Endorsed by Diana and backed by John Merrick's millions and their own
winsome charms, they were sure to become favorites in that admirable set
to which they had fortunately gained admittance.
Cards poured in upon them during; the succeeding days and they found
themselves busy returning calls and attending dinners, fetes, bridge
parties and similar diversions. The great Mrs. Sandringham took a
decided fancy to Louise, and when the committee was appointed to arrange
for the social Kermess to be held in December, this dictatorial leader
had the girl's name included in the list. Naturally the favor led to all
three cousins taking active part in the most famous social event of the
season, and as an especial mark of favoritism they were appointed to
conduct the "flower booth," one of the important features of the
Mrs. Merrick was in the seventh heaven of ecstatic delight; Uncle John
declared his three girls were sure to become shining lights, if not
actual constellations, wherever they might be placed; Major Doyle
growled and protested; but was secretly pleased to have "our Patsy the
captain of the dress parade," where he fondly imagined she outclassed
all others. All former denunciations of society at large were now
ignored, even by unimpressive Beth, and the girls soon became deeply
interested in their novel experiences.
Arthur Weldon sulked at home, unhappy and undecided, for a day or two
after the reception. Sunday noon he dispatched a messenger to Diana with
a note saying he would be unable to keep his appointment with her that
afternoon. Then he went straight to the Merrick home and sent his card
to Louise. The girl flushed, smiled, frowned, and decided to go down.
No one had ever interested her so much as Arthur Weldon. There had been
a spice of romance about their former relations that made her still
regard him as exceptional among mankind. She had been asking herself,
since the night of the reception, if she still loved him, but could not
come to a positive conclusion. The boy was no longer "ineligible," as he
had been at first; even Uncle John could now have no serious objection
to him. He was handsome, agreeable, occupied a good social position and
was fairly well off in the way of worldly goods--the last point removing
Mrs. Merrick's former rejection of Arthur as a desirable son-in-law.
But girls are wayward and peculiar in such an _affaire du coeur_, and
none of these things might have weighed with Louise had she not
discovered that Diana Von Taer was in love with Arthur and intended to
win him. That aroused the girl's fighting instincts, rendered the young
man doubly important, and easily caused Louise to forget her resentment
at his temporary desertion of her. Perhaps, she reflected, it had
partially been her own fault. Now that Arthur showed a disposition to
renew their friendship, and she might promise herself the satisfaction
of defeating Diana's ambitions, it would be diplomatic, at least, to
receive the youth with cordial frankness.
Therefore she greeted him smilingly and with outstretched hand, saying:
"This is quite a surprise, Mr. Weldon. I'd a notion you had forgotten
me." "No, indeed, Louise! How could you imagine such a thing?" he
"There was some evidence of the fact," she asserted archly. "At one time
you gave me no peace; then you became retiring. At last you disappeared
wholly. What could I think, sir, under such circumstances?"
He stood looking down at her thoughtfully. How pretty she had grown; and
how mature and womanly.
"Louise," said he, gently, "don't let us indulge in mutual reproaches.
Some one must have been at fault and I'll willingly take all the blame
if you will forgive me. Once we were--were good friends. We--we intended
to be still more to one another, Louise, but something occurred, I don't
know what, to--to separate us."
"Why, you went away," said the girl, laughing; "and that of course
"You treated me like a beggar; don't forget that part of it, dear. Of
course I went away."
"And consoled yourself with a certain Miss Diana Von Taer. It has lately
been rumored you are engaged to her." "Me? What nonsense?" But he
hushed guiltily, and Louise noted everything and determined he should
not escape punishment.
"Diana, at least, is in earnest," she remarked, with assumed
indifference. "You may not care to deny that you have been very
attentive to her."
"Not especially so," he declared, stoutly.
"People gossip, you know. And Diana is charming."
"She's an iceberg!"
"Oh, you have discovered that? Was she wholly unresponsive, then?"
"No," he said, with a touch of anger. "I have never cared for Diana,
except in a friendly way. She amused me for a while when--when I was
wretched. But I never made love to her; not for a moment. Afterward,
"Well; what then?" as he hesitated, growing red again.
"I found she had taken my careless attentions in earnest, and the play
was getting dangerous. So I went abroad."
Louise considered this explanation seriously. She believed he was
speaking the truth, so far as he knew. But at the same time she realized
from her own experience that Arthur might as easily deceive himself as
Diana in his estimate as to the warmth of the devotion he displayed. His
nature was impetuous and ardent. That Diana should have taken his
attentions seriously and become infatuated with the handsome young
fellow was not a matter to cause surprise.
Gradually Louise felt her resentment disappearing. In Arthur's presence
the charm of his personality influenced her to be lenient with his
shortcomings. And his evident desire for a reconciliation found an echo
in her own heart.
Mutual explanations are excellent to clear a murky atmosphere, and an
hour's earnest conversation did much to restore these two congenial
spirits to their former affectionate relations. Of course Louise did not
succumb too fully to his pleadings, for her feminine instinct warned her
to keep the boy on "the anxious seat" long enough to enable him to
appreciate her value and the honor of winning her good graces. Moreover,
she made some severe conditions and put him on his good behavior. If he
proved worthy, and was steadfast and true, why then the future might
reward him freely.
Diana had been making careful plans for her interview with Arthur that
Sunday afternoon. With no futile attempt to deceive herself as to
existent conditions she coldly weighed the chances in her mental scale
and concluded she had sufficient power to win this unstable youth to her
side and induce him to forget that such a person as Louise Merrick ever
Diana was little experienced in such affairs, it is true. Arthur Weldon
had been her first and only declared admirer, and no one living had
studied his peculiar nature more critically than this observant girl.
Also she knew well her own physical failings. She realized that her
personality was to many repulsive, rather than attractive, and this in
spite of her exquisite form, her perfect breeding and many undeniable
accomplishments. Men, as a rule, seldom remained at her side save
through politeness, and even seemed to fear her; but never until now had
she cared for any man sufficiently to wish to retain or interest him.
There were unsuspected fascinations lying dormant in her nature, and
Miss Von Taer calmly reflected that the exercise of these qualities,
backed by her native wit and capacity for intrigue, could easily
accomplish the object she desired.
Thus she had planned her campaign and carefully dressed herself in
anticipation of Arthur's call when his note came canceling the
engagement. After rereading his lame excuse she sat down in a quiet
corner and began to think. The first gun had been fired, the battle was
on, and like a wise general she carefully marshaled her forces for
An hour or two later she turned to her telephone book and called up the
Merrick establishment. A voice, that of a maid, evidently, answered her.
"I wish to speak with Miss Merrick," said Diana.
Louise, annoyed at being disturbed, left Arthur's side to respond to the
"Who is it, please?" she asked.
"Is Mr. Weldon still there, or has he gone?" enquired Diana, disguising
her voice and speaking imperatively.. "Why, he's still here," answered
bewildered Louise; "but who is talking, please?"
"Do you wish to speak with Mr. Weldon?" continued the girl, mystified at
such an odd procedure.
Diana hung up her receiver, severing the connection. The click of the
instrument assured Louise there was no use in waiting longer, so she
returned to Arthur. She could not even guess who had called her. Arthur
could, though, when he had heard her story, and Diana's impudent
meddling made him distinctly uneasy. He took care not to enlighten
Louise, and the incident was soon forgotten by her.
"It proved just as I expected," mused Diana, huddled in her reclining'
chair. "The fool has thrown me over to go to her. But this is not
important. With the situation so clearly defined I shall know exactly
what I must do to protect my own interests."
Mr. Von Taer was away from home that Sunday afternoon, and would not
return until a late hour. Diana went to the telephone again and after
several unsuccessful attempts located her cousin, Mr. Charles Connoldy
Mershone, at a club.
"It's Diana," she said, when at last communication was established. "I
want you to come over and see me; at once."
"You'll have to excuse me, Di," was the answer. "I was unceremoniously
kicked out the last time, you know."
"Father's away. It's all right, Charlie. Come along."
"Can't see it, my fair cousin. You've all treated me like a bull-pup,
and I'm not anxious to mix up with that sort of a relationship. Anything
more? I'm going to play pool to win my dinner."
"Funds running low, Charlie?"
"Worse than that; they're invisible."
"Then pay attention. Call a taxi at once, and get here as soon as you
can. I'll foot the bill--and any others that happen to be bothering
A low, surprised whistle came over the wire.
"What's up, Di?" he asked, with new interest.
"Come and find out."
"Can I be useful?"
"Assuredly; to yourself."
"All right; I'm on the way."
He hung up, and Diana gave a sigh of content as she slowly returned to
her den and the easy chair, where Mr. Mershone found her "coiled" some
half hour later.
"This is a queer go," said the young man, taking a seat and glancing
around with knitted brows. "It isn't so long since dear Uncle Hedrik
tumbled me out of here neck and crop; and now Cousin Diana invites me to
At first glance young Mershone seemed an attractive young fellow, tall,
finely formed and well groomed. But his eyes were too close together and
his handsome features bore unmistakable marks of dissipation.
"You disgraced us a year or so ago, Charlie," said Diana, in her soft,
quiet accents, "and under such circumstances we could not tolerate you.
You can scarcely blame us for cutting your acquaintance. But now--"
"Well, now?" he enquired coolly, trying to read her impassive face.
"I need the services of just such an unscrupulous and clever individual
as you have proven yourself to be. I'm willing to pay liberally for
those services, and you doubtless need the money. Are we allies, then?"
Mershone laughed, with little genuine mirth.
"Of course, my dear cousin," he responded; "provided you propose any
legal villainy. I'm not partial to the police; but I really need the
money, as you suggest."
"And you will be faithful?" she asked, regarding him doubtfully.
"To the cause, you may be sure. But understand me: I balk at murder and
burglary. Somehow, the police seem to know me. I'll not do anything that
might lead to a jail sentence, because there are easier ways to get
money. However, I don't imagine your proposed plan is very desperate,
Diana; it's more liable to be dirty work. Never mind; you may command
me, my dear cousin--if the pay is ample."
"The pay will be ample if you succeed," she began.
"I don't like that. I may not succeed."
"Listen to me, Charlie. Do you know Arthur Weldon?"
"Slightly; not very well."
"I intend to marry him. He has paid me marked attentions in the past;
"Wants to slip the leash. Quite natural, my dear."
"He has become infatuated with another girl; a light-headed,
inexperienced little thing who is likely to marry the first man who asks
her. She is very rich--in her own right, too--and her husband will be a