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Children of the Whirlwind by Leroy Scott

Part 6 out of 6

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ahead! I feel rather like--like a juggler who's trying for the first
time to keep a lot of new things going in the air all at once. But I
think there's a chance that I may succeed! I'll tell you just one
thing. It all has to do with Larry. I think I may help Larry."

"I'll get Red Hannigan," the Duchess said briefly. "What do you want
with him?"

"Have him come to the Hotel Grantham--room eleven-forty-two--at
eight-fifteen sharp!"

"He'll be there," said the Duchess.

There followed a swirling taxi-ride back to the Grantham, and a rapid
change into her most fetching evening gown (she had not even a thought
of dinner) to play her bold part in the drama which she was excitedly
writing in her mind and for which she had just engaged her cast. She
was on fire with terrible suspense: would the other actors play their
parts as she intended they should?--would her complicated drama have
the ending she was hoping for?

Had she been in a more composed, matter-of-fact state of mind, this
play which she was staging would have seemed the crudest, most
impossible melodrama--a thing both too absurd and too dangerous for
her to risk. But Maggie was just then living through one of the
highest periods of her life; she cared little what happened to her.
And it is just such moods that transform and elevate what otherwise
would be absurd to the nobly serious; that changes the impossible into
the possible; just as an exalted mood or mind is, or was, the primary
difference between Hamlet, or Macbeth, or Lear, and any of the
forgotten Bowery melodramas of a generation now gone.

She had been dressed for perhaps ten nervous minutes when the bell
rang. She admitted a slight, erect, well-dressed, middle-aged man with
a lean, thin-lipped face and a cold, hard, conservative eye: a man of
the type that you see by the dozens in the better hotels of New York,
and seeing them you think, if you think of them at all, that here is
the canny president of some fair-sized bank who will not let a client
borrow a dollar beyond his established credit, or that here is the
shrewd but unobtrusive power behind some great industry of the Middle
West.

"I'm Hannigan," he announced briefly. "I know you're Old Jimmie
Carlisle's girl. The Duchess told me you wanted me on something big.
What's the idea?"

"You want to get Larry Brainard, don't you?--or whoever it was that
squealed on you?"

There was a momentary gleam in the hard, gray eyes. "I do."

"That's why you're here. In a little over an hour, if you stay quiet
in the background, you'll have what you want."

"You've got a swell-looking lay-out here. What's going to be pulled
off?"

"It's not what I might tell you that's going to help you. It's what
you hear and see."

"All right," said the thin-lipped man. "I'll pass the questions, since
the Duchess told me to do as you said. She's square, even if she does
have a grandson who's a stool. I suppose I'm to be out of sight during
whatever happens?"

"Yes."

In the room there were two spacious closets, as is not infrequent in
the better class of modern hotels; and it had been these two closets
which had been the practical starting-point of Maggie's development of
Dick Sherwood's proposition. To one of these she led Hannigan.

"You'll be out of sight here, and you'll get every word."

He stepped inside, and she closed the door. Also she took the
precaution of locking it. She wished Hannigan to hear, but she wished
no such contretemps as Hannigan bursting forth and spoiling her play
when it had reached only the middle of its necessary action.

Barlow came promptly at half-past eight. He brought news which for a
few moments almost completely upset Maggie's delicately balanced
structure.

"I know who you are now," he said brusquely. "And part of your game's
cold before you start."

"Why?--What part?"

"Just after you left Headquarters Officer Gavegan showed up. He had
this Larry Brainard in tow--had pinched him out on Long Island."

This announcement staggered Maggie; for the moment made all her
strenuous planning seem to have lost its purpose. In her normal
condition she might either have given up or betrayed her real intent.
But just now, in her super-excited state, in which she felt she was
fighting desperately for others, she was acting far above her ordinary
capacity; and she was making decisions so swift that they hardly
seemed to proceed from conscious thought. So Barlow, vigilant watcher
of faces that he was, saw nothing unusual in her expression or manner.

"What did you do with him?" she asked.

"Left him with Gavegan--and with Casey, who had just come in. Trailing
with Brainard was a swell named Hunt, cussing mad. He was snorting
around about being pals with most of the magistrates, and swore he'd
have Brainard out on bail inside an hour. But what he does don't make
any difference to me. Your proposition seems to me dead cold, since
I've already got Brainard, and got him right. I wouldn't have bothered
to have come here at all except for something you let drop about the
pals he might have been working with these last few months."

"That's exactly it," she caught him up. "I never thought that you'd
catch Larry Brainard here. How could I, when, if you know me as you
say, you also know that he and I are in different camps--are fighting
each other? What's going to happen here is something that will show
you the people Larry Brainard's been mixed up with--that will turn up
for you the people you want."

"But what's going to happen?" Barlow demanded.

To this Maggie answered in much the same strain she had used with
Hannigan a few minutes earlier. "I told you down at Headquarters that
everything that's important you'll learn by being present when the
thing actually happened. What I tell you doesn't count for much--it
might not be true. It's what you see and hear for yourself when things
begin to happen. You're to wait in here." She led him to the second
large closet and opened the door.

"See here," he demanded, "are you framing something on me?"

"How can I, in a big hotel like this? And even if I were to try, you'd
certainly make me pay for it later. Besides, you've got a gun. Please
go in quick; I'm expecting the people here any minute. And don't make
a sound that might arouse their suspicions and queer everything."

He entered, and she closed the door. So carefully that he did not hear
it, she locked the door; no more than in Hannigan's case did she want
Barlow to come bungling into a scene before it had reached its climax.

All was now ready for the curtain to rise. Quivering all through she
waited for Barney Palmer, whose entrance was to open her drama. She
glanced at her wrist-watch which she had left upon the little
lacquered writing-table. Ten minutes of nine. Ten more minutes to
wait. She felt far more of sickening suspense than ever did any young
playwright on the opening night of his first play. For she was more
than merely playwright. In her desperate, overwrought determination
Maggie had assumed for herself the super-mortal role of dea ex
machina. And in those moments of tense waiting Maggie, who so
feverishly loathed all she had been, was not at all sure whether she
was going to succeed in her part of goddess from the machine.

At five minutes to nine there was a ring. She gave a little jump at
the sound. That was Barney. Though generally when Barney came he used
the latch-key which his assumed dear cousinship, and the argued
possibility of their being out and thus causing him to wait around in
discomfort, Miss Grierson's sense of propriety had unbent far enough
to permit him to possess. The truth was, of course, that Barney had
desired the key so that he might have most private conferences with
Maggie, at any time necessity demanded, without the stolidly
conscientious Miss Grierson ever knowing what had happened and being
therefore unable to give dangerous testimony.

Maggie crossed and opened the door. But instead of Barney Palmer, it
was Larry who stepped in. He quickly closed the door behind him.

"Larry!" she cried startled. "Why--why, I thought the police had you!"

"They did. But Hunt was with me, and he got hold of a magistrate who
would have made Hunt a present of the Tombs and Police Headquarters if
he had owned them."

"Then you're out on bail?"

"Got out about ten minutes ago. Hunt didn't have any property he could
put up as security, so he 'phoned my grandmother. She walked in with
an armload of deeds. Why, she must own as much property in New York as
the Astor Estate."

"Larry, I'm so glad!" And then, remembering what, according to her
plan, was due to begin to happen almost any moment, she exclaimed in
dismay: "But, Larry, oh, why did you come here now!"

"I wanted to know--you understand--what you had decided to do after
learning about your father. And I wanted to tell you that, after all
my great boasts to you, I seem to have failed in every boast. Item
one, the police have got me. Item two, since the police have got me,
my old pals will also most likely get me. Item three, when I was
arrested at Cedar Crest Miss Sherwood learned that I had known you all
along and believes I was part of a conspiracy to clean out the family;
so she chucked me--and I've lost what I believed my big chance to make
good. So, you see, Maggie, it looks as if you were right when you
predicted that I was going to fail in everything I said I was going to
do."

"Larry--Miss Sherwood believes that!" she breathed. And then she
remembered again, and caught his arm with sudden energy. "Larry, you
mustn't stay here!"

"Why not?"

Her answer was almost identical with one she had given the previous
evening. "Because Barney Palmer may be here the next minute!"

His response was in sense also identical. "Then I'll stay right here.
There's no one I want to see as much as Barney Palmer. And this time
I'll have it out with him!"

Maggie was in consternation at this unexpected twist which was not in
the brain-manuscript of her play at all--which indeed threatened to
take her play right out of her hands. "Please go, Larry!" she cried
desperately. "And please give me a chance! You'll spoil it all if you
stay!"

"I'm going to stay right here," was his grim response.

She realized there was no changing him. She glimpsed a closet door
behind him, and caught at the chance of saving at least a fragment of
her drama.

"Stay, then but, Larry, please give me a chance to do what I want to
do! Please!" By this time she had dragged him across the room and had
started to unlock the closet. "Just wait in here--and keep quiet!
Please!"

He took the key from her fumbling hands, unlocked the door, and
slipped the key into his pocket. "All right--I'll give you your
chance," he promised.

He stepped through the door and closed it upon himself, entombing
himself in blackness. The next moment the glare of a pocket flash was
in his face, blinding him.

"Larry Brainard!" gritted a low voice in the darkness.

Larry could see nothing, but there was no mistaking that voice. "Red
Hannigan!" he exclaimed.

"Yes--you damned squealer! And I'm going to finish you off right
here!"

The light clicked out, and a pair of lean hands almost closed on
Larry's wind-pipe. But Larry caught the wrists of the older man in a
grip the other could not break. There was a brief struggle in the
blackness of the closet, then the slighter man stood still with his
wrists manacled by Larry's hands.

"Evidently you haven't a gun on you, Red, or you, wouldn't have tried
this," Larry commented. "Anyhow, you couldn't have got away with
killing in a big hotel, whether you had strangled me or shot me. I
don't blame you for being sore at me, Red--only you've got me all
wrong. But you and I are evidently here for the same purpose: to get
next to something that's going to happen out in the room. What do you
say, Red?--let's suspend hostilities for the present. You've got me
where you can follow me, and you can get me any time."

"You bet I'll get you!" declared Hannigan. And then after a few more
words an armistice was agreed upon between the two men in the closet
and silently, tensely, they stood in the dark awaiting whatever was to
happen.

Outside Maggie, that amateur playwright who had tried so desperately
to prearrange events, that inexperienced goddess from the machine,
stood in a panic of fear and suspense the like of which she had never
known.

CHAPTER XXXIV

But when Barney's latch-key slid into the door and Barney, in a smart
dinner jacket, came in, Maggie was herself again. Indeed she was
better than herself, for there rushed to her support that added power
which she had just been despairing of, which carries some people
through an hour of crisis, and which may occasionally lift an actor
above himself when fortune gives him a difficult yet splendid part
which is the great chance of his career.

And Maggie showed to the eye that she was better than her best, for
Barney exclaimed the instant he was beside her: "Gee, Maggie, you look
like the Queen of Sheba, whoever that dame was! Any guy would fall for
you to-night--and fall so hard that he'd break, or go broke!"

But Barney was too eager to await any response. "What's behind the
hurry-up call you sent in? Anything broken yet?"

"Something big! But sit down. There's a lot to tell. And I must tell
it quick--before my"--she could not force herself to say "father"--
"before Old Jimmie comes, and Dick."

"Then Dick's coming?"

"Yes. Things have taken a twist so that everything breaks to-night.
But sit down, and I'll tell you everything."

She had noted that the door behind which Larry stood, and to which he
had captured the key, was open a bare half-inch. It looked no more
suspicious than any closet door that by accident had swung free of its
latch, but by deft maneuvering Maggie managed so that Barney sat at
the table with his back toward both closets.

"Go to it, Maggie," he urged.

The plan which had swiftly developed from Dick Sherwood's idea
required that she should tell much that was the truth and much that
was not truth, and required that she should play with every faculty
and every attraction she possessed upon Barney's tremendous vanity and
upon his jealous admiration of her. She had to make him believe more
in her as a pal than ever before; she had to make him want her more as
a woman than ever before. And at this moment she felt herself
thrillingly equal to this vampire role her over-stimulated sense of
justice had commanded her to undertake.

"Things have gone great," she began, speaking concisely, yet trying
not in this eager brevity to lose the convincing effect that she would
be the complete mistress of any enterprise to which she yielded her
interest. "Dick Sherwood proposed to me again, and this time I said
`yes.' I saw that he was ready for anything, so I took some things
into my hands. I had to, for I saw we had to act quick even at the
risk of losing a bit of the maximum figure we had counted on. You see
I realized the danger to us in Larry Brainard suddenly showing up, and
his knowing, as he told us he did, who the sucker is that we've been
stringing along. Anything might happen, any minute, from Larry
Brainard that would upset everything. So I reasoned that we had to
collect quick or run the risk of never getting a nickel."

"Some bean you've got, Maggie," he said admiringly. "Keep your foot on
the gas pedal."

"What I did was only, the carrying-out of the plan you had decided on-
-of course carrying it out quicker, and with a few little changes that
the urgent situation demanded. After he proposed I broke down, as per
schedule, and confessed that I had deceived him to the extent that I
was already married. Married to a man I didn't love, and who didn't
love me, but who was a tight-wad and who wouldn't let me go unless he
saw a lot of money in it for him. And I gave Dick all the rest of the
story, just as we had doped it out."

"Great work, Maggie! How did he take it?"

"Exactly as we figured he would. He was sorry for me; it didn't make
any difference at all in his feelings for me. He'd buy my husband off-
-give him any price he wanted--and just so I wouldn't have to feel
myself bound to such a man a minute longer than necessary he'd make a
bargain with him at once and pay him part of the money right down. To-
night, if he could get in touch with my husband. And so, Barney, since
we had to act quick and there was no time to bring in another man that
I could pass off as my husband, I confessed to him that I was married
to you."

"To me!" exclaimed Barney.

"And he's coming here in less than an hour, with real money in his
pockets, to see if he can't fix a deal with you."

"Me!" exclaimed the startled Barney again. His beady eyes glowed at
her ardently. "Gee, you know I wish I really was married to you,
Maggie! If I was, you bet money couldn't ever pry you loose from me!"

"Well, there's the whole lay-out, Barney. It's up to you to be my
grasping, bargaining, unloving husband for about an hour."

"I hadn't thought of myself in that part," he objected. "I'd figured
that we'd bring in a new man to be the husband. It's pretty dangerous
for me, my stringing Dick along all this while and then suddenly to
enter the act as your husband--and to take the money."

"Dangerous!" There was sudden contempt in her voice and in her eyes.
"So you're that kind of man, Barney--afraid! And afraid after my
telling Dick you were my husband, and his swallowing the thing without
a suspicion! Well, right this minute is when we call this deal off--
and every other deal!"

"Oh, don't be so quick with that temper of yours, Maggie! I merely
said it was dangerous. Of course I'll do it."

And then Barney asked, with a cunning he tried to hide: "But why did
you ask me to have Old Jimmie show up here right after me? We don't
need him."

"Just what's behind your saying that, Barney?" she demanded sharply.

He squirmed a little, then spoke the truth. "You don't love your
father any too much, and he doesn't love you any too much--I know
that. He needn't really know how much we take off Sherwood; if he
wasn't here, he'd have to take our word for what we got and we'd tell
him we got mighty little. Then the real money would be divided fifty-
fifty between just you and me."

"I may not love my father, but he's in this on the same basis as you
are, or I'm out of it," she declared. "I thought you might suggest
something like this; that's one reason I asked you to have him come.
Another reason--and this is something I forgot to tell you awhile
ago--when I broke down and confessed everything to Dick Sherwood, I
told Dick that Old Jimmie was really my guardian; and we both agreed
that he should be present as a witness to any agreement, and to
protect my interests. Still another reason is that since we had to
work so fast, the thing to do was to split the money on the spot in
three ways, and then each of us shoot off in a different direction to-
night before any bad luck had a chance to break. In fact, Barney, this
present minute is when you and I say our good-byes."

He forgot his scheme to defraud Old Jimmie in the far greater concern
aroused by her last words. He leaned across the table and tried to
take her hand, an attempt she deftly thwarted.

"But listen, Maggie," he asked with husky eagerness, "you and I are
going to have an understanding to join up with each other soon, aren't
we? You know what I mean--belong to each other. You know how I feel
about: you!"

This was the principal point Maggie had been maneuvering toward.
Before her was the most difficult scene of the many which she had
planned, on her successful management of which the success of
everything seemed to depend. Within she was palpitant with the strain
and suspense of it all; but on Barney she held cool, appraising eyes.
In this splendid composure, her momentary withdrawal from him, she
seemed to Barney more beautiful, more desirable, more indispensable,
than at any time since he had discovered back at the Duchess's that
Maggie was a find.

"Of course I know exactly what you mean, Barney," she responded with
deliberation, bewitchingly alluring in her air of superiority. "I've
known for a long time you and I would have to have a real talk. Are
you ready for a straight talk now?"

"As straight as you can talk it!"

"I'll probably fall for some man and marry him. Every woman does. But
if I marry him, it'll be because I love him. But my marrying a man
doesn't mean I'm going to go into business with him. I'm not going to
mix love with business--not unless the man is the right sort of man.
Of course it would be better if the man I marry and the man I take on
as a business partner were the same man--but I'm not going to take any
risks. You understand me so far.

"Surest thing you know. And every word you've said proves that your
head isn't just something to look pretty with. Let me slip this over
to you right at the start--I'm the right sort of man!"

"That's exactly what I want to find out," she continued, with her
deliberation, with the air of sitting secure upon the highest level.
"I know now what I can do. I've proved it. Now I'm going right ahead
putting over big things. You once told me I had it in me to be the
best ever--and I now know I can be. I know I've got to tie up with a
man, and the man has got to be just as good in his way as I am in
mine. Right there's where I'm in doubt about you. I said I was going
to talk straight--and I'm handing it to you straight. I don't know how
good you are."

"You mean you think I'm not big enough to work with you?"

"I mean exactly what I said. I said that I didn't really know how good
you are, and that I wasn't going to tie up with any man except the
best in the business. You've hinted now and then at a lot of big
things you've put across and how strong you were in certain quarters
where it paid to be strong--but I really know mighty little about you,
Barney. This present job hasn't required you to do anything special,
and all the really hard work I've done myself. Of course I know you
are a good dancer, and clever with the ladies, and know how to pick up
a sucker and string him along. But that's everything I do know. And,
there are hundreds of men who are good at these things. The man I tie
up with has got to be good at a lot of other things--and I've got to
know he's good!"

"Good at what other things, Maggie?" he asked with suppressed
eagerness.

"He's got to be good at putting over all kinds of situations. I don't
care how he does it. So clever at putting things over that no one ever
guesses he's the man who did it. And he's got to be able to give me
protection. You know what I mean. A woman in the game I'm going in for
is absolutely through, as far as doing anything big is concerned, the
minute she gets a police record. I've got to have a man who's able to
stand between me and the police. And I've got to know from past
performances that the man can do these things. Just large words about
what he can do, or hints about what he has done, don't count for a
nickel with me. This is plain, hard business I'm talking, Barney, and
I don't mean to hurt your feelings when I tell you that you don't
measure up in any way to the man I need."

It had been difficult for Barney to hold himself until she had
finished. To start with, he had the vain man's constant itch to tell
of his exploits, his dislike for the anonymity of his cleverness
unjustly ascribed to some other man. And then Maggie had played upon
him even more skillfully than she imagined.

"I'm exactly the man you need in every way!" he exploded.

"Those are just words," she said evenly. "I said I had to have
something more than mere words."

"I'm ace-high with Chief Barlow!"

"You've got to be more explicit."

Barney was now all excitement. "Don't you get what that means? I've
never been locked up once, and yet I've been pulling stuff all the
time! And yet look how Larry Brainard, that the bunch thought was so
clever, got hooked and was sent away. I guess you know the answer!"

"Again, Barney, I've got to ask you to be more explicit."

"Then the answer is that all the while I've been working on an
understanding with Barlow. I guess that's explicit!"

"You mean," she said in her cool voice, "that you've been a stool-
pigeon for Barlow?"

"Sure!--though I don't like the word. That's the only safe way of
staying steady in the game--an understanding with the police. All
there is to it is now and then to tip the police off about some dub of
a crook: of course you've got to be smooth enough not to let anyone
guess your game."

"That doesn't seem to me such a strong talking point in your favor,"
she said thoughtfully.

"But don't you get the idea? I'm so strong with Barlow that I can get
away with anything I want to. That means I can give you the protection
from the police you just spoke about. See?"

"Yes I see." Again she spoke thoughtfully. "But I told you I had to be
shown. You must have done some pretty big things to have got such a
standing with Barlow. For example?"

"I could write you a book!" He laughed in his excited pride. "You ask
for an example. I could hardly hold myself in awhile ago when you said
you'd practically swung the present deal alone, and that I'd done
almost nothing. Why, Maggie, I did just one smooth little thing
without which there couldn't have been any deal."

"What?"

"You'll admit that nothing would have been safe with Larry Brainard
determined to butt in on what you did?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm the little guy that fixed Larry Brainard so he wouldn't
hurt anyone!"

"You did that?" For the first time Maggie showed what seemed to be a
live interest. "How?"

"How? You'll say it was clever when you learn how. And you'll say that
I'm the man you want on that count of being able to put over a
situation so that no one will ever guess I'm the man who did it.
You'll admit that putting Larry Brainard out of business, so he'd stay
out, was certainly a stiff job--for though I don't like him, I admit
that Larry is one wise bird. One thing I did was to suggest to Barlow
that he force Larry to become a police stool. I knew Larry would
refuse, and I figured out everything else exactly as it has happened.
I ask you, wasn't that putting something clever over?"

"It certainly was clever!" admired Maggie.

"Wait! That's only half. To finish Larry off so that he wouldn't have
a chance I had to finish him off not only with the cops, but also with
his pals. So I tipped off Barlow to the game Red Hannigan and Jack
Rosenfeldt were pulling and--"

"Then Larry Brainard really didn't do that?"

"No; I did it! Listen--there's some more to it. I spread the word, so
that it seemed to be a leak from the Police Department, that it was
Larry who had squealed on Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt. Did his
old pals start out to get Larry? Well, now, did they! If I do say it
myself, that was smooth work!"

"It was wonderful! " agreed Maggie.

"And there's still more, Maggie! You remember that charge of stick-up
and attempted murder of a Chicago guy that the police are trying to
land Larry on? I put that over! I'm the party that was messed up in
that. I was trying to put over a neat little job all on my own; but
something went wrong just as I thought I was cleaning out the sucker,
and I had to be rough with that Chicago guy in order to make a get-
away from him. I beat it straight to Barlow, and said that right here
was the chance to fasten something on Larry. Barlow took my tip. My
foot may have slipped on the original job, but my bean certainly did
act quick, and you've got to admit I turned an apparent failure into
something bigger than success would have been. And that's certainly
traveling!"

"It certainly is!"

"And now, Maggie "--Barney pressed her eagerly--"I've shown you I'm
just the sort you said a man had to be for you to tie up with him.
I've shown you I can guarantee you police protection. And I've shown
you I'm able to put over clever situations without any one ever
guessing I'm the party who put 'em over. I fit all your
specifications! How about our settling right now to join up some
place--Toronto's the best bet--say three days after we make our get-
away after to-night's clean-up? Let's be quick about this, Maggie--
before Old Jimmie comes in. He's due any minute now!"

"Isn't that him at the door now?" breathed Maggie.

Both waited intently for a moment. But though she pretended so,
Maggie's interest was not upon the outer door. Her attention was
fixed, as it had been with sickening fear this last minute, upon that
half-inch crack in the closet door behind Barney. Why had she, in her
dismayed urgence, allowed Larry to possess himself of that closet
key?--when her plan had been to keep Hannigan as well as Barlow
forcibly behind the scenes until she had acted out her play? She now
hoped almost against hope that Hannigan would not burst forth and ruin
what was yet to come. Since that door unluckily had to be unlocked,
her one chance was given her by the presence of Larry. Perhaps Larry
could perceive the larger things she was striving for, and in some way
restrain Hannigan.

These thoughts were but an instant in passing through her brain.
Barney's eyes came back from the outer door to her face. "That's not
Old Jimmie yet."

"No," her lips said. But her brain was saying, since the crack still
remained a half-inch crack, "Larry understands--he's holding back Red
Hannigan!"

Barney returned swiftly to his charge. "How about Toronto, Maggie--say
exactly seventy-two hours from now--the Royal Brunswick Hotel?"

Maggie realized she could no longer put him off if she were to keep
him unsuspicious for the next hour. Besides, in her desperate
disillusionment concerning herself, she did not care what happened to
her, or what people might think of her, if only she could keep this
play going till its final moment.

"Yes," she said--"if we each feel the same way toward each other when
this evening's ended."

"Maggie!" he cried. "Maggie!" This time, when he exultantly caught at
her hand, she dared not refuse it to him. And she felt an additional
loathing for Barney's caress because she knew that Larry was a witness
to it.

Indeed, it was difficult for Larry, at the sight of Maggie's hand in
Barney's too eager palms, to hold himself in check; and to do this in
addition to holding in check the slight, quivering Red Hannigan, whose
collar and whose right wrist he had been gripping these last three
minutes. For Larry, as Maggie had hoped, had dimly apprehended
something of Maggie's plan, and he felt himself bound by the promise
she had extracted from him, to let her go through with whatever she
had under way; though he had no conception of her plan's extent, and
could, of course, not know of the intention of her overwrought mind to
give her plan its final touch in what amounted to her own self-
destruction, and in her vanishing utterly out of the knowledge of all
who knew her.

Another minute passed; then Larry heard three peculiar rings of the
bell of the outer door--an obvious signal. Maggie answered the
summons, and Larry saw Old Jimmie enter. There followed a rapid and
compact conference between the three, the substance of which was the
telling of Old Jimmie of the developments against Dick Sherwood which
Maggie had a little earlier recited to Barney, together with
instructions to Old Jimmie concerning his new role as Maggie's
guardian. It seemed to Larry that he caught signs of uneasiness in
Jimmie, but to all the older man nodded his head.

Presently there was a loud ring. "That's Dick!" exclaimed Barney in a
whisper. "And mighty eager, too--shows that by being ahead of the
time you set! Let him in, Maggie."

Maggie was startled by the ring, though she did not show it. She
thought rapidly. She had definitely asked Dick to telephone before
coming. Why hadn't he telephoned? Perhaps something had happened to
prevent it, or perhaps an idea had come to him by which their plan
could be bettered without a telephone message. In either case, she and
Dick might have to improvise and deftly catch cues tossed to each
other, as experienced actors sometimes do without the audience ever
knowing that a hiatus in the play has been skillfully covered.

Maggie stood up. "You both understand what you're to do?"

Both whispered "yes." Larry watched Maggie start across the room, his
whole figure quivering with suspense as to what was going to happen
when Dick entered. He was quite sure there was more here than appeared
upon the surface, quite sure that Maggie did not intend that the
business with Dick should work out as she had outlined. What could
Maggie possibly be up to? he asked himself in feverish wonderment, and
could find no answer. For of course Larry had no knowledge of that
most important fact: that Maggie had actually made a confession to
Dick--not the fraudulent confession she had told Barney of--but an
honest and complete confession, and that in consequence she and Dick
were working in cooperation.

From his crack Larry could not quite see the outer door. But after she
opened the door he saw Maggie fall back with an inarticulate cry, her
face suddenly blanched with astounded fright. And then Larry
experienced one of the greatest surprises of his life--a surprise so
unnerving that he almost loosed his hold upon Red Hannigan. For
instead of Dick there walked into the room the tall, white-haired
figure of Joe Ellison, and Joe's lean, prison-blanched face was
aquiver with a devastating purpose. How in the name of God had Joe
come to be here?--and what did that terrible look portend?

But Larry's surprise was but an unperturbing emotion compared to the
effect of her father's appearance, with his terrible face, upon
Maggie. Life seemed suddenly to go out of her. She realized that the
clever play which she had constructed so rapidly, and upon which she
had counted to clear the tangle for which she was in part responsible,
and to bring her back in time as the seeming fulfillment of the dream
of a happy and undisillusioned father--she realized that her poor,
brilliant play had come to an instant end before it was fairly
started, and that the control of events had passed into other hands.

CHAPTER XXXV

At the entrance of Joe Ellison instead of the expected Dick, Barney
and Old Jimmie had sprung up from the table in amazement. Joe strode
past Maggie, hardly heeding his daughter, and faced the two men.

"I guess you know me, Jimmie Carlisle!" said Joe with a terrifying
restraint of tone. "The pal I trusted--the pal I turned everything
over to--the pal who double-crossed me in every way!"

"Joe Ellison!" gasped Jimmie, suddenly as ghastly as a dead man. "I--I
didn't know you were out."

"I'm out, all right. But I'll probably go in again for what I'm going
to do to you! And you there"--turning on Barney--"you're got up enough
like a professional dancer to be the Barney Palmer I've heard of!"

"What business is it of yours who I am?" Barney tried to bluster.
"Perhaps you won't mind introducing yourself."

"I'm the man who's going to settle with you and Old Jimmie Carlisle!
Is that introduction enough. If not, then I'm Joe Ellison, the father
of this girl here you call Maggie Carlisle and Maggie Cameron, that
you two have made into a crook."

"Your daughter!" exclaimed Barney in stupefaction. "Why, she's Jimmie
Carlisle's--"

"He's always passed her off as such; that much I've learned. Speak up,
Jimmie Carlisle! Whose daughter is this girl you've turned into a
crook?"

"Your daughter, Joe," stammered Old Jimmie. "But about my making her
into a crook--you're--you're all wrong there."

"So she's not a crook, and you didn't make her one?" demanded Joe with
the calm of unexploded dynamite whose fuse is sputtering. "I left you
about twelve or fifteen hundred a year to bring her up on--as a
decent, respectable girl. That's twenty-five or thirty a week. If
she's not a crook, how can she on twenty-five a week have all the
swell clothes I've seen her in, and be living in a suite like this
that costs from twenty-five to fifty a day? And if she isn't a crook,
why is she mixed up with two such crooks as you? And if she isn't a
crook, why is she in a game to trim young Dick Sherwood?"

The two men started and wilted at these driving questions. "But--but,
Joe," stammered Old Jimmie, "you've gone out of your head. She's not
in any such game. She never even heard of any Dick Sherwood."

"Cut out your lies, Jimmie Carlisle!" Joe ordered harshly. "We've got
something more to do here, the four of us, than to waste any time on
lies. And just to prove to you that your lies will be wasted, I'll lay
all my cards face up on the table. Since I got out I've been working
for the Sherwoods. Larry Brainard was working there before me, and got
me my job. I've seen this girl here--my daughter that you've made into
a crook--out there twice. Dick Sherwood was supposed to be in love
with her. At the end of this afternoon some officers came to the
Sherwoods' and arrested Larry Brainard. I was working outside,
overheard what was happening, and crept up on the porch. Officer
Gavegan, who was in charge, found a painting among Larry Brainard's
things. Miss Sherwood said that it was a picture of Miss Maggie
Cameron who had been visiting there, and I could see that it was.
Officer Gavegan said it was a picture of Maggie Carlisle, daughter of
Jimmie Carlisle, and that she was a crook. Larry Brainard, cornered,
had to admit that Gavegan was right. I guessed at once who Maggie
Carlisle was, since she was just the age my girl would have been and
since you never had any children. And that's how, Jimmie Carlisle,
standing there outside the window," concluded the terrible voice of
Joe Ellison, "I learned for the first time that the baby I'd trusted
with you to be brought up straight, and that I believed was now happy
somewhere as a nice, decent girl, you had really brought up as your
own daughter and trained to be a crook!"

Old Jimmie shrank back from Joe's blazing eyes; his mouth opened
spasmodically, but no words came therefrom. There was stupendous
silence in the room. Within the closet, Larry now understood that low,
strange sound he had heard on the Sherwoods' porch and which Gavegan
and Hunt had investigated. It had been the suppressed cry of Joe
Ellison when he had learned the truth--the difference between his
dreams and the reality. He could not imagine what that moment had been
to Joe: the swift, unbelievable knowledge that had seemed to be
tearing his very being apart.

Larry had an impulse to step out to Joe's side. But just as a little
earlier he had felt the scene had belonged to Maggie, he now felt that
this situation, the greatest in Joe's life, belonged definitely to
Joe, was almost sacredly Joe's own property. Also he felt that he was
about to learn many things which had puzzled him. Therefore he held
himself back, at the same time keeping his hold upon Red Hannigan.

During this moment of silence, while Larry was wondering what was
going to happen, his eyes also took in the figure of Maggie, all her
powers of action and expression still paralyzed by appalling
consternation. He understood, at least to a degree, what she was going
through. He knew this much of her plan: that she had intended to cut
loose in some way from Barney and Old Jimmie, and that she had
intended that her father should continue to cherish the dream that had
been his happiness for so long. And now her father had come upon her
in the company of Barney and Old Jimmie and in a situation whose every
superficial circumstance was such as to make him believe the worst of
her!

Joe turned on the smartly dressed Barney. "I'll take you first, you
imitation swell, because I'm saving Jimmie Carlisle to the last!" went
on Joe's crunching voice. "I'm going to twist your damned neck for
what you've helped do to my girl, but if you want to say anything
first, say it."

Barney's response was a swift movement of his right hand toward his
left armpit. But Barney Palmer, like almost all his kind, was a very
indifferent gunman; and he had no knowledge of the reputation for
masterful quickness that had been Joe Ellison's twenty years earlier.
Before his compact automatic was fairly out of its holster beneath his
armpit, it was in Joe Ellison's hands.

"I sized you up for that kind of rat and was watching you," continued
Joe in his same awful grimness. "I'm not going to shoot you, unless
you make me. I'm going to twist that pretty neck of yours. But first,
out with anything you've got to say for yourself!"

"I haven't had anything to do with this business," said Barney, trying
to affect a bold manner.

"You lie! I know that in this game against Dick Sherwood, in which you
used my girl, you were the real leader!"

"Well--even if I did use your girl, I only used her the way I found
her."

"You lie again! I know how your kind work: cleverly putting crooked
ideas into girls' minds, and exciting their imagination, so they'll
work with you. Your case is closed." He turned to his one-time friend.
"What have you got to say for yourself, Jimmie Carlisle?"

Old Jimmie believed that his last hour was come. He showed something
of the defiant, almost maniacal courage of a coward who realizes he
can retreat no farther.

"What I got to say, Joe Ellison," he snarled in a sudden rage which
bared his yellow teeth, "is that I'm even with you at last!"

"Even with me? What for?"

"For the way you double-crossed me in nineteen-one in that Gordon
business. You never gave me a dime--said the thing had fallen down--
yet I know there was a big haul!"

"I told you the truth. That Gordon thing was a fizzle."

"There's where you're lying! It was a clean-up! And I knew you'd been
cheating me out of my share in other deals!"

"You're absolutely wrong, Jimmie Carlisle. But if you thought that,
why didn't you have it out with me at the time?"

"Because I knew you would lie! You were a better talker than I was,
and since our outfit always sided with you, I knew I wouldn't have a
chance then. But I reasoned that if I kept quiet and kept on being
your friend, I'd get my chance to get even if I waited awhile. I
waited--and I certainly got my chance!"

"Go on, Jimmie Carlisle!"

And Old Jimmie went on--a startlingly different Old Jimmie, his pent-
up evil now loosed into quivering, malignant triumph; went on with the
feverish exultation of a twisted, perverted mind that has brooded long
over an imagined injustice, that has brooded greedily and long in
private over his revenge, and at last has his chance to gloat in the
open.

"When you were sent away, Joe Ellison, and turned over your daughter
to me with those orders about seeing that she was brought up as a
decent girl, I began to see the big chance I'd been waiting for. I
asked myself, What is the dearest thing in the world to Joe Ellison?
The answer was, this idea he'd got about his girl. I asked myself,
What is the biggest way I can get even with Joe Ellison? The answer
was, to make Joe Ellison believe all the time he's in stir that his
girl is growing up the way he wants her to be and yet to bring her up
the exact thing he didn't want her to be. And that's exactly what I
did!"

"You--did--such a thing?" breathed Joe Ellison, almost incredulous.

"That's exactly what I did!" Old Jimmie went on, gloatingly." It was
easy. No one knew you had a daughter, so I passed her off as my own
baby by a marriage I'd not told any one about. I saw that she always
lived among crooks, looked at things the way crooks do, and grew up
with no other thought than to be a crook. I never had an idea of using
her myself, till she began to look like such a good performer this
last year; and then my idea, no matter what Barney Palmer may have
planned, was to use her only in a couple of stunts. My main idea
always was, when you came out with your grand idea of what your girl
had grown up to be, for you suddenly to see your girl, and know her as
your girl, and know her to be a crook. That smash to you was the big
thing to me--what I'd planned for, and waited for. I didn't expect the
blow-off to come like this; I didn't expect to be caught in it when it
did happen. But since it has happened, well--There's your daughter,
Joe Ellison! Look at her! Look at what I've made her! I guess I'm even
all right!"

"My God!" breathed Joe Ellison, staring at the lean face twisting with
triumphant malignancy. "I didn't think there could be such a man!"

He slowly turned upon Maggie. This was the first direct recognition he
had taken of her since his entrance.

"I don't suppose you can guess what your being what you are has meant
to me," he began in a numbed tone which grew accusingly harsh as he
continued. "But I'd think that a daughter of mine, with such a mother,
would have had more instinctive sense than to have gone into such a
game with such a pair of crooks!"

"It's true--I have been what you think me--I did go into this thing
against Dick Sherwood," Maggie responded in a voice that at first was
faltering, then that stumbled rapidly on in her eagerness to pour out
all the facts. "But--but Larry Brainard had kept after me--and
finally he made me see how wrong I was headed. And then, this
afternoon, before I spoke to you, Larry told me that you were my real
father. When I learned the truth--how I had been cheated out of being
something else--how I was the exact opposite of what you had wanted me
to be and believed me to be--I felt about it almost exactly as you
feel about it. I--I made up my mind to clear up at once all the wrong
I was responsible for--and then disappear in such a way that you'd
never have your dream of me spoiled. And so--and so this afternoon,
after I left Cedar Crest, I confessed the whole truth to Dick
Sherwood--about our plan to cheat him. And like the really splendid
fellow he is, Dick Sherwood offered to help me set straight the things
I wanted to set straight. Particularly to clear Larry Brainard. And so
my being here as you find me is part of a plan between Dick Sherwood
and myself. It's really a frame-up. A frame-up to catch Barney Palmer
and Jimmie Carlisle."

"A frame-up!" ejaculated these two in startled unison.

"How a frame-up?" demanded her father, no bit of the accusing
harshness gone out of his voice.

"Our plan against Dick Sherwood was to have him propose to me, then
for me to confess that I was really married to a mean sort of man I
didn't love--the idea being that Dick would be infatuated enough to
pay a big sum to a dummy husband, and the three of us would disappear
as soon as we got Dick's money. Dick offered to go through with the
plan as Barney Palmer and Jimmie Carlisle had shaped it up--go through
with it to-night--and then after money had passed, we'd have a
criminal case against them. By reminding him that Larry Brainard knew
just what we were up to, and might spoil everything if we didn't act
at once, I got Barney Palmer worked up to the point where he was going
to pose as my husband and take the money. Dick Sherwood was to come a
little later, after he'd first telephoned me, with a big roll of
marked money."

There were stuttered exclamations from Barney and Old Jimmie, which
were cut off by the dominant incisiveness of Joe Ellison's words to
his daughter:

"I think you're lying to me! Besides, even if you're telling the
truth, it's a pretty way you've taken to clear things up! Don't you
see that by letting Dick Sherwood come here and play such a part,
you'd be dead sure to involve him and his family in a dirty police
story that the papers of the whole country would play up as a
sensation? It's plain to any one that that's no way a person who
wanted to square things would use Dick Sherwood. And that's why I
think you're lying!"

"I had thought of that--you're right," said Maggie. "And so I wasn't
going to do it. He was going to telephone me--just about this time--
and when he called up I was going to fake his message. I was going to
tell Barney Palmer and Old Jimmie that Dick had just telephoned he
wasn't coming, because one of the two had just sold him a tip for ten
thousand dollars that this was a crooked game. I thought this would
have started a quarrel between the two; they are suspicious of each
other, anyhow. Each would have accused the other, and in their quarrel
they would have been likely to have let out a lot of truth that would
have completely given each other away."

"Not a bad plan at all," commented Joe Ellison. He tried to peer deep
into his daughter for a moment, his inflamed face relaxing neither in
its harshness nor its doubt of her. "But since you are the clever
crook I actually know you to be from your work on Dick Sherwood, and
since Jimmie Carlisle says he has trained you to be a crook, I believe
that everything you've told me is just something you've cleverly
invented on the spur of the moment--just so many lies."

"But--but--"

She broke off before the harsh, accusing doubt of his pale face. For a
fraction of a moment no one spoke. Then the telephone bell began to
ring.

"Dick!" breathed Maggie, and started for the telephone.

"Stay right where you are!" her father ordered. "I'll answer that
telephone myself, and see whether you're lying to me about Dick
Sherwood! . . . No, we'll do this together. I'll hold the receiver and
hear what he says. You'll do the talking and you'll answer just what I
tell you to, and you'll keep your hand tight over the mouthpiece while
I'm giving you your orders. You two"--to Barney and Old Jimmie, with a
significant movement of Barney's automatic--"you'd better behave while
this telephone business is going on."

The next moment Larry was hearing, or rather witnessing, the strangest
telephone conversation of his experience. Maggie was holding the
transmitter, and Joe had the receiver at his ears, grimly covering the
two men with the automatic. Maggie obediently kept her palm tight over
the mouthpiece during Joe's brief whispered directions, and no one in
the room except Joe, not even Maggie, had the slightest idea of what
was really passing over the wires.

What Larry heard was no more than a dozen most commonplace words in
the world, transformed into the most absorbing words in the language.
Joe ordered Maggie to answer with "hello" in her usual tone, which she
did, and Joe, after a startled expression at the first words that came
over the wire, listened with immobile face for four or five seconds.
Then he nodded imperatively to Maggie and she put her hand over the
mouthpiece.

"Ask him how much, and when he wanted it to be paid," he ordered.

"How much, and when does he want it to be paid?" repeated Maggie.

Again Joe listened for several moments; and then ordered as before:
"Say 'Yes.'"

"Yes," said Maggie.

Another period of waiting, and Joe ordered: "Say, 'I've got a much
better plan that supersedes the old.'"

"I've got a much better plan that supersedes the old."

There was yet another period of waiting, then Joe commanded: "Tell him
he really mustn't and say good-bye quick."

"You really mustn't! Good-bye!"

The instant her "Good-bye" was out of her mouth Joe clicked the
receiver upon its hook, and stood regarding the breathless Maggie. His
pale, stern face was not quite so severe as before. Presently he
spoke: "I know now that you really were sick of what you'd been trying
to do--that you'd really broken away from these two--that you'd really
confessed to Dick, and are now all square with him."

The word "Father!" struggled chokingly toward her lips. But she only
said:

"I'm glad--you know."

"And you were shrewd in that guess you made of what one of these two
would do." Joe crossed back to Barney and Old Jimmie. "You two must
have been almighty afraid, because of Larry Brainard, that your game
was suddenly collapsing, and each must have been trying to grab a
piece for himself before he ran away."

"What you talking about?" gruffly demanded Barney.

"Perhaps I'm talking about you. But more particularly about Jimmie
Carlisle. For just now Dick Sherwood said when he telephoned, that an
hour or two ago Jimmie Carlisle had hunted him up, had hinted that he
was going to lose a lot of money unless he was properly advised, and
offered to give him certain valuable information for five thousand
cash."

Barney turned upon his partner. "You damned thief!" he snarled, tensed
as if about to spring upon the other.

Old Jimmie, turned greenishly pale, shrank away from Barney, his every
expression proclaiming his guilt. Then Maggie again found her voice:

"And at about the same time Barney was trying to double-cross Jimmie
Carlisle, Barney proposed to me that, after we'd got Dick Sherwood's
money, we'd tell Jimmie Carlisle we'd got very little, and divide the
real money fifty-fifty between just us two."

"You damned thief!" snarled Old Jimmie back at his partner.

The next moment Barney and Old Jimmie were upon each other, striking
wildly, clawing. But the moment after Joe Ellison, his repressed rage
now unloosed, and with the super-strength of his supreme fury, had
torn the two apart.

"You don't do that to each other--that job belongs to me!" he cried.
His right arm flung Barney backward so that Barney went staggering
over himself and sprawled upon the floor. Joe gripped Old Jimmie's
collar, and his right hand painfully twisted Jimmie's arm. "And I
finish you off first, Jimmie Carlisle, for what you've done to me and
my girl! But for Larry Brainard you, Jimmie Carlisle, would have
succeeded in your scheme to make my girl a crook! I'd like to give you
a thousand years of agony, you damned rat--but that's beyond me!" His
right hand shifted swiftly from Old Jimmie's arm to his throat. "But
I'm going to choke your rat's life out of you!--your lying, sneaking
devil's life out of you!"

Old Jimmie squirmed and twisted with those long fingers clamped
mercilessly around his throat, his eyes rolling, and his mouth gaping
with voiceless cries. He was indeed being shaken as a rat might be
shaken.

"Don't!--Don't!" cried the frantic Maggie, and started to seize her
father to pull him away. But she was halted by her arm being caught by
Barney.

"Let Jimmie have it!" he said fiercely to her, and flung her to the
farthest corner of the room. And grimly exultant over what seemed to
be Old Jimmie's doom, he started for the door to make his own escape.

Up to the moment of Joe Ellison's eruption Larry had felt bound to
remain a mere spectator where he was: long as the time had seemed to
him, it had in fact been less than half an hour. He had felt bound at
first by his promise to Maggie to let her work out her plan; and bound
later by his sense that this situation belonged to Joe Ellison. But
now this swift crisis dissolved all such obligations. He sprang from
his closet to take his part in the drama that was so swiftly
unfolding.

CHAPTER XXXVI

Larry caught and whirled around Barney Palmer just as the hand of the
escaping Barney was on the knob of the outer door.

"No, you don't, Barney Palmer!" he cried. "You stay right here!"

Startled as Barney was by this appearance of his dearest enemy, he
wasted no precious time on mere words. He swung a vicious blow at
Larry, intended to remove this barrier to his freedom. But the
experienced Larry let it glance off his forearm, and with the need of
an instantaneous conclusion he sent a terrific right to Barney's chin.
Barney staggered back, fell in a crumpled heap, and lay motionless.

Sparing only the fraction of a second to see that Barney was
momentarily out of it, Larry sprang upon Joe Ellison and tried to
break the deadly grips Joe held upon Old Jimmie.

"Stop, Joe--stop!" he cried peremptorily. "Your killing Jimmie
Carlisle isn't going to help things!"

Without relaxing his holds, Joe turned upon this interferer.

"Larry Brainard! How'd you come in here?"

"I've been here all the time. But, Joe--don't kill Jimmie Carlisle!"

"You keep out--this is my business!" Joe fiercely replied. "If you've
been here all the time, then you know what he's done to me, and what
he's done to my girl! You know he deserves to have his neck twisted
off--and I'm going to twist it off!"

Larry perceived that Joe's sense of tremendous injury had made him for
the moment a madman in his rage. Only the most powerful appeal had a
chance to bring him back to sanity.

"Listen, Joe--listen!" he cried desperately, straining to hold back
the other's furious strength from its destructive purpose. "After
what's happened, every one is bound to know that Maggie is your
daughter! Understand that, Joe?--every one will know that Maggie is
your daughter! It's not going to help you to be charged with murder.
And think of this, Joe--what's it going to do to your daughter to have
her father a murderer?"

"What's that?" Joe Ellison asked dazedly.

Larry saw that his point had penetrated to the other's reason. So he
drove on, repeating what he had said.

"Understand this, Joe?--every one will now know that Maggie is your
daughter! You simply can't prevent their knowing that now! Remember
how for over fifteen years you've been trying to do the best you could
for her! Do you now want to do the worst thing you can do? The worst
thing you can do for Maggie is to make her father a murderer!"

"I guess that's right Larry," he said huskily. "Thanks."

He pushed the half-strangled Jimmie Carlisle away from him. "You'll
get yours in some other way!" he said grimly.

Old Jimmie, staggering, caught the back of a chair for support. He
tenderly felt his throat and blinked at Larry and Joe and Maggie. He
did not try to say anything. In the meantime Barney had recovered
consciousness, had struggled up, and was standing near Old Jimmie.
Their recognition that they were sharers of defeat had served to
restore something of the sense of alliance between the two.

"Well, anyhow, Larry Brainard," snarled Barney, "you haven't had
anything to do with putting this across!"

It was Joe Ellison who replied. "Larry Brainard has had everything to
do with putting this across. He's been beating you all the time from
the very beginning, though you may not have known it. And though he's
seemed to be out of things for the last few hours, he's been the
actual power behind everything that's happened up to this minute. So
don't fool yourself--Larry Brainard has beaten you out at every
point!"

A sense of triumph glowed within Larry at this. There had been a time
when he had wanted the animal satisfaction which would have come from
his giving violent physical punishment to these two--particularly to
Barney. But he had no desire now for such empty vengeance.

"Well, I guess you've got nothing on me," Barney growled at them, "so
I'll be moving along. Better come, too, Jimmie."

While he spoke a figure had moved from Larry's closet with the silence
of a swift shadow. It's thin hand gripped Barney's shoulder.

"I guess _I've_ got something on you!" it said.

Barney whirled. "Red Hannigan!" he gasped.

"Yes, Red Hannigan!--you stool--you squealer!" said Red Hannigan. "I
heard you brag about being Barlow's stool, and I heard everything else
you bragged about to Joe Ellison's girl. I'd bump you off right now if
I had my gat with me and if I had any chance at a get-away. But I'll
be looking after you, and the gang will be looking after you, till you
die--the same as you set us after Larry Brainard! No matter what else
happens to you, you'll always have that as something extra waiting for
you! And when the time comes, we'll get you!"

As silently as he had appeared from the closet, as silently he let
himself out of the room. The glowering features of Barney had faded to
a pasty white while Hannigan had spoken, and now the hand which tried
to bring a handkerchief to his lips shook so that he could hardly find
his face. For none knew so well as Barney Palmer how inescapable was
this thing which would be hanging over him until the end of his days.

Before any one in the room could speak there came a loud pounding from
within the door of the closet Larry and Red Hannigan had not occupied.
"Oh, I'd completely forgotten!" exclaimed Maggie--and indeed she had
forgotten all that was not immediately connected with the situation
created by her father's unexpected entrance. She crossed and unlocked
the door, and Barlow stepped out.

"Chief Barlow!" exclaimed the astonished Larry, and all the other men
gazed at the Chief of Detectives with an equal surprise.

"He is part of my frame-up," Maggie explained at large. "I wanted both
the police and Larry's old friends to know the truth at first hand--
and clear him before I went away."

"Wasn't that Red Hannigan who just spoke?" were Barlow's first words.

"Yes," said Larry.

Barney, and Old Jimmie as well, had perked up at the appearance of
Barlow, as though at aid which had come just in time. But Barlow
turned upon Barney a cold police eye.

"I heard you brag that you were my stool. That's a lie."

"Why--why--Chief--" Barney stammered. He had counted upon help here,
where there had existed mutually advantageous relations for so long.

"I heard you say you had my protection. That's another lie. You've
squealed on a few people, but I've never given you a thing."

Barney gasped at this. He knew, as every one in the room also knew,
that Barlow was lying. But Barlow held all the cards. Rough and
ruthless police politician that he was, he made it his business always
to hold the highest cards. As sick of soul as a man can be, Barney
realized that Barlow was doing exactly what Barlow always did--was
swinging to the side that had the most evidence and that would prove
most advantageous to him. And Barney realized that he was suffering
the appointed fate of all stool-pigeons who are found out by their
fellow criminals to be stool-pigeons. Such informers are of no further
use, and according to the police code they must be given punishment so
severe as to dissipate any unhealthy belief on the public's part that
there could ever have been any alliance between the two.

"I've used this young lady who seems to have been Jimmie Carlisle's
daughter and now seems to be the daughter of this old-timer Joe
Ellison, for a little private sleuthing on my own hook," Barlow went
on--for it was the instinct of the man to claim the conception and
leadership of any idea in whose development he had a part. He spoke in
a brusque tone--as why should he not, since he was addressing an
audience he lumped together as just so many crooks? "Through this
little stunt I pulled to-night, I've got on to your curves, Barney
Palmer. And yours, too, Jimmie Carlisle. And I'm going to run the pair
of you in."

This was too much for Barney Palmer. Even though he knew that his
position as a stool, who was known to be a stool, was without hope
whatever, he went utterly to pieces.

"For God's sake, Chief," he burst out frantically, "you're not going
to treat me like that! You could get me out of this easy! Think of all
I've done for you! For God's sake, Chief--for God's sake--"

"Shut up!" ordered Barlow, doubling a big fist.

Chokingly Barney obeyed. Old Jimmie, coward though he was, and lacking
entirely Barney's quality of a bravo, had accepted the situation with
the twitching calm of one to whom the worst has often happened. "Shut
up," repeated Barlow, "and get it fixed in your beans that I'm going
to run you two in."

"Run them in because of this Sherwood affair?" asked Larry.

"Surest thing you know. I've got all the evidence I seed."

"But--" Larry was beginning protestingly, when the doorbell rang
again. Maggie opened the door, and there entered Miss Sherwood, with
Hunt just behind her, and Dick just behind him, and Casey and Gavegan
following these three. All in the room were surprised at this invasion
with the sole exception of Joe Ellison.

"When Mr. Dick spoke over the 'phone about your coming," he said to
Miss Sherwood, "I asked you not to do it."

Barlow was prompt to speak, and the sudden change in his voice would
have been amazing to those who do not know how the little great men of
the Police Department, and other little great men, can alter their
tones. He had recognized Miss Sherwood at once, as would any one else
at all acquainted with influential New York.

"Miss Sherwood, I believe," he said, essaying a slight bow.

"Yes. Though I fear I have not the pleasure of knowing you."

"Deputy Barlow, head of the Detective Bureau of the Police
Department," he informed her. "Entirely at your service."

"Just what is going on here?" she queried. "I know a part of what has
happened"--she was addressing herself particularly to Maggie and
Larry--"for Dick telephoned me about seven, and I came right into
town. He told me everything he knew--which threw a different light on
a lot of events--and Dick telephoned at about nine that I was coming
over. But something more seems to have happened."

"Miss Sherwood, it's like--" began Barlow.

"Just a second, Chief," Larry interrupted. Larry knew what a
sensational story this would be as it had developed--and he knew in
advance just how it would be seized upon and played up by the
newspapers. And Larry did not want unpleasant publicity for his
friends (three in that room were trying to make a fresh start in
life), nor for those who had been his friends. "Chief, do you want to
make an arrest on a charge which will involve every person in this
room in a sensational story? Of course I know most of us here don't
weigh anything with you. But why drag Miss Sherwood, who is innocent
in every way, into a criminal story that will serve to cheapen her and
every decent person involved? Besides, it can only be a conspiracy
charge, and there's more than a probability that you can't prove your
case. So why make an arrest that will drag in Miss Sherwood?"

Barlow had a mind which functioned with amazing rapidity on matters
pertaining to his own interest. He realized on the instant how it
might count for him in the future if he were in a position to ask a
favor of a person of Miss Sherwood's standing; and he spoke without
hesitation:

"I don't know anything about this Sherwood matter. If anyone ever asks
me, they'll not get a word."

There was swift relief on the faces of Barney and Old Jimmie; to be
instantly dispelled by Chief Barlow's next statement which followed
his last with only a pause for breath:

"The main thing we want is to stick these two crooks away." He turned
on Barney and Old Jimmie. "I've just learned you two fellows are the
birds I want for that Gregory stock business. I've got you for fair on
that. It'll hold you a hundred times tighter than any conspiracy
charge. Casey, Gavegan--hustle these two crooks out of here."

The next moment Casey and Gavegan had handcuffs on the prisoners and
were leading them out.

"Good for you, Larry," Casey whispered warmly as he went by with
Barney. "I knew you were going to win out, though it might be an
extra-inning game!"

At the door Barlow paused. "I hope I've done everything all right,
Miss Sherwood?"

"Yes--as far as I know, Mr. Barlow."

Again Barlow started out, and again turned. "And you, Brainard," he
said, rather grudgingly, "I guess you needn't worry any about that
charge against you. It'll be dropped."

And with that Barlow followed his men and his prisoners out of the
room.

Then for a moment there was silence. As Larry saw and felt that
moment, it was a moment so large that words would only make a
faltering failure in trying to express it. He himself was suddenly
free of all clouds and all dangers. He had succeeded in what he had
been trying to do with Maggie. A father and a daughter were meeting,
with each knowing their relationship, for the first time. There was so
much to be said, among all of them, that could only be said as souls
relaxed and got acquainted with each other.

It was so strained, so stupendous a moment that it would quickly have
become awkward and anti-climacteric but for the tact of Miss Sherwood.

"Mr. Brainard," she began, in her smiling, direct manner, with a touch
of brisk commonplace in it which helped relieve the tension, "I want
to apologize to you for the way I treated you late this afternoon. As
I said, I've just had a talk with Dick and he's told me everything--
except some things we may all have to tell each other later. I was
entirely in the wrong, and you were entirely in the right. And the way
you've handled things seems to have given Dick just that shock which
you said he needed to awaken him to be the man it's in him to be. I'm
sure we all congratulate you."

She gave Larry no chance to respond. She knew the danger, in such an
emotional crisis as this, of any let-up. So she went right on in her
brisk tone of ingratiating authority.

"I guess we've all been through too much to talk. You are all coming
right home with me. Mr. Brainard and Mr. Ellison live there, I'm their
boss, and they've got to come. And you've got to come, Miss Ellison,
if you don't want to offend me. I won't take 'no.' Besides, your place
is near your father. Wear what you have on; in a half a minute you can
put enough in a bag to last until to-morrow. To-morrow we'll send in
for the rest of your things--whatever you want--and send a note to
your Miss Grierson, paying her off. You and your father will have my
car," she concluded, "Mr. Brainard and Dick will ride in Dick's car,
and Mr. Hunt will take me."

And as she ordered, so was it.

For fifteen minutes--perhaps half an hour--after it rolled away from
the Grantham Hotel there was absolute stillness in Miss Sherwood's
limousine, which she had assigned to Maggie and her father. Maggie was
near emotional collapse from what she had been through; and now she
was sitting tight in one corner, away from the dark shadow in the
other corner that was her newly discovered father who had cared for
her so much that he had sought to erase from her mind all knowledge of
his existence. She wanted to say something--do something; she was torn
with a poignant hunger. But she was so filled with pulsing desires and
fears that she was impotent to express any of the million things
within her.

And so they rode on, dark shadows, almost half the width of the deeply
cushioned seat between them. Thus they had ridden along Jackson
Avenue, almost into Flushing, when the silence was broken by the first
words of the journey. They were husky words, yearning and afraid of
their own sound, and were spoken by Maggie's father.

"I--I don't know what to call you. Will--will Maggie do?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"I'm--I'm not much," the husky voice ventured on; "but what you said
about going away--for my sake--do you think you need to do it?"

"I've made--such a mess of myself," she choked out.

"Other people were to blame," he said. "And out of it all, I think
you're going to be what--what I dreamed you were. And--and--"

There was another stifling silence. "Yes?" she prompted.

"I wanted to keep out of your life--for your sake," he went on in his
strained, suppressed voice. "But--but if you're not ashamed of me now
that you know all"--in the darkness his groping hand closed upon
hers--"I wish you wouldn't--go away from me, Maggie."

And then the surging, incoherent thing in her that bad been struggling
to say itself this last half-hour, suddenly found its voice in a
single word:

"Father!" she cried, and flung her arms around his neck.

"Maggie!" he sobbed, crushing her to him.

All the way to Cedar Crest they said not another word; just clung to
each other in the darkness, sobbing--the first miraculous embrace of a
father and daughter who had each found that which they had never
expected to have.

CHAPTER XXXVII

It was ten the next morning at Cedar Crest, and Larry Brainard sat in
his study mechanically going over his figures and plans for the
Sherwood housing project.

For Larry the storms of the past few weeks, and the whirlwind of last
night, had cleared away. There was quiet in the house, and through the
open windows he could glimpse the broad lawn almost singing in its
sun-gladdened greenness, and farther on he could glimpse the Sound
gleaming placidly. Once for perhaps ten minutes he had seen the
overalled and straw-hatted figure of Joe Ellison busy as usual among
the flowers. He had strained his eyes for a glimpse of Maggie, but he
had looked in vain.

Despite all that had come to pass at the Grantham the previous
evening, Larry was just now feeling restless and rather forlorn. His
breakfast had been brought to him in his room, and he had not seen a
single member of last night's party at the Grantham since they had all
divided up according to Miss Sherwood's orders and driven away; that
is he had really seen no one except Dick.

Dick had gripped his hand when he had slipped in beside Dick in the
low seat of the roadster. "You're all right, Captain Nemo!--only I'm
going to be so brash as to call you Larry after this," Dick had said.
"If you'll let me, you and I are going to be buddies."

He was all right, Dick was. Dick Sherwood was a thoroughbred.

And there was another matter which had pleased him. The Duchess had
called him up that morning, had congratulated him in terms so brief
that they sounded perfunctory, but which Larry realized had all his
grandmother's heart in them, and had said she wanted him to take over
the care of all her houses--those she had put up as bail for him. When
could he come in to see her about this? . . . He understood this
dusty-seeming, stooped, inarticulate grandmother of his as he had not
before. Considering what her life had been, she also was a brick.

But notwithstanding all this, Larry was lonely--hungrily lonely--and
was very much in doubt. Miss Sherwood had spoken to him fair enough
the night before--yet he really did not know just how he stood with
her. And then--Maggie. That was what meant most to him just now. True,
Maggie had emerged safe through perils without and within; and to get
her through to some such safety as now was hers had been his chief
concern these many months. He wanted to see her, to speak to her. But
he did not know what her attitude toward him would now be. He did not
know how to go about finding her. He was not even certain where she
had spent the night. He wanted to see her, yet was apulse with fear of
seeing her. She would not be hostile, he knew that much; but she might
not love him; and at the best a meeting would be awkward, with so wide
a gap in their lives to be bridged. . . .

He was brooding thus when there was a loud knocking at his door.
Without waiting for his invitation to enter, the door was flung open,
and Hunt strode in leaving the door wide behind him. His face was just
one great, excited grin. He gave Larry a thump upon the back, which
almost knocked Larry over, and then pulled him back to equilibrium by
seizing a hand in both of his, and then almost shook it off.

"Larry, my son," exploded the big painter, "I've just done it! And I
did it just as you ordered me to! Forgot that Miss Sherwood and I had
had a falling out, and as per your orders I walked straight up to her
and asked her. And Larry, you son-of-a-gun, you were right! She said
'yes'!"

"You're lucky, old man!" exclaimed Larry, warmly returning the
painter's grip.

"And, Larry, that's not all. You told me I had the clearness of vision
of a cold boiled lobster--said I was the greatest fool that ever had
brains enough not to paint with the wrong end of an umbrella. Paid me
some little compliment like that."

"Something like that," Larry agreed.

"Well, Larry, old son, you were right again! I've been a worse fool
than all you said. Been blinder than one of those varnished skulls
some tough-stomached people use for paper-weights. After she'd said
'yes' she gave me the inside story of why we had fallen out. And guess
why it was?"

"You don't want me to guess. You want to tell me. So go to it."

"Larry, we men will never know how clever women really are!" Hunt
shook his head with impressive emphasis. "Nor how they understand our
natures--the clever women--nor how well they know how to handle us.
She confessed that our quarrel was, on her part, carefully planned
from the beginning with a definite result in view. She told me she'd
always believed me a great painter, if I'd only break loose from the
pretty things people wanted and paid me so much for. The trouble, as
she saw it, was to get me to cut loose from so much easy money and
devote myself entirely to real stuff. The only way she could see was
for her to tell me I couldn't paint anything worth while, and tell it
so straight-out as to make me believe that she believed it--and thus
make me so mad that I'd chuck everything and go off to prove to her
that I damned well could paint! I certainly got sore--I ducked out of
sight, swearing I'd show her--and, oh, well, you know the rest! Tell
me now, can you think of anything cleverer than the way she handled
me?"

"It's just about what I would expect of Miss Sherwood," Larry
commented.

"Excuse me," said a voice behind them. "I found the door open; may I
come in?"

Both men turned quickly. Entering was Miss Sherwood.

"Isabel!" exclaimed the happy painter. "I was just telling Larry
here--you know!"

Miss Sherwood's tone tried to be severe, and she tried not to smile--
and she succeeded in being just herself.

"I came to talk business with Mr. Brainard. And I'm going to stay to
talk business with Mr. Brainard. But I'll give him five seconds for
congratulations--provided at the end of the five seconds Mr. Hunt gets
out of the room."

Larry congratulated the two; congratulated them as warmly as he felt
his as yet dubious position in this company warranted. At the end of
the five seconds Hunt was closing the door upon his back.

"I've always loved him--and I want to thank you, Mr. Brainard," she
said with her simple directness. And before Larry could make response
of any kind, she shifted the subject.

"I really came in to see you on business, Mr. Brainard. I hope I made
my attitude toward you clear enough last night. If I did not, let me
say now that I think you have made good in every particular--and that
I trust you in every particular. What I wished especially to say now,"
she went on briskly, giving Larry no chance to stammer out his
appreciation, "is that I wish to go ahead without any delay with your
proposition for developing the Sherwood properties in New York City
which we discussed some time ago. A former objection you raised is now
removed: you are cleared, and are free to work in the open. I want you
to take charge of affairs, with Dick working beside you. I think it
will be Dick's big chance. I've talked it over with him this morning,
and he's eager for the arrangement. I hope you are not going to refuse
the offer this time."

"I can't--not such an offer as that," Larry said huskily. "But, Miss
Sherwood, I didn't expect--"

"Then it's settled," she interrupted with her brisk tone. "There'll be
a lot of details, but we'll have plenty of time to talk them over
later." She stood up. "There are some changes here at Cedar Crest
which I want begun at once and which I want you to supervise. If you
don't mind we'll look things over now."

He followed beside her along the curving, graveled walks. She headed
toward the cliff, but he had no idea where she was leading until a
sharp turn brought them almost upon the low cottage which these last
few weeks had been Joe Ellison's home.

"Here is where we start our changes," said the business-like Miss
Sherwood. "The door's open, so we might as well go right in."

They stepped into a tiny entry, and from thence into a little sitting-
room. The room was filled with cut flowers, but Larry did not even see
them. For as they entered, Maggie sprang up, startled, from a chair,
and, whiter than she had been before in all her life, gazed at him as
if she wanted to run away. She stood trembling and slender in a linen
frock of most simple and graceful lines. It was Miss Sherwood's frock,
though Larry did not know this; already it had been decided that all
those showy Grantham gowns were never to be worn again.

Once more Miss Sherwood came to the rescue of a stupendous situation,
just as her tact had rescued a situation too great for words the night
before.

"Of course you two people now perceive that I'm a fraud--that I've got
you together by base trickery. So much being admitted, let's proceed."
She turned on Larry. "Maggie--we've agreed that I am to call her that-
-Maggie stayed with me last night. There are two beds in my room. But
we didn't sleep much. Mostly we talked. If there's anything Maggie
didn't tell me about herself, I can't guess what there's left to tell.
According to herself, she's terrible. But that's for us to judge;
personally I don't believe her. She confessed that she really loved
you, but that after the way she'd treated you, of course she wasn't
fit for you. Which, of course, is just a girl's nonsense. I suppose
you, Mr. Brainard, are thinking something of the sort regarding your
own self. It is equally nonsense. You both love each other--you've
both been through a lot--nothing of importance now stands between you-
-so don't waste any of your too short lives in coming together."

She took a deep breath and went on. "You might as well know, Mr.
Brainard, that Maggie is going to live with me for the present--that,
of course, she is going to be a very great burden to me--and it will
be a great favor to me if you'll marry her soon and take her off my
hands." And then the voice that had tried to keep itself brisk and
even, quavered with a sudden sob. "For Heaven's sake, dear children--
don't be fools!"

And with that she was gone.

For an instant Larry continued to gaze at Maggie's slender, trembling
figure. But something approaching a miracle--a very human miracle--had
just happened. All those doubts, fears, indecisions, unexpressed
desires, agonies of self-abasement, which might have delayed their
understanding and happiness for weeks and months, had been swept into
nothingness by the incisive kindliness of Miss Sherwood. In one minute
she had said all they might have said in months; there was nothing
more to say. There was nothing left of the past to discuss. Before
them was only the fact of that immediate moment, and the future.

Tremblingly, silently, Larry crossed to that trembling, silent figure
in white. She did not retreat. Tremblingly he took her hands and
looked down into her dark eyes. They were now flowing tears, but they
met his squarely, holding back nothing. The look in her eyes answered
all he desired to know just then, for he gathered her tight into his
arms. Wordlessly, but with a sharp, convulsive sob, she threw her arms
about his neck--and thus embracing, shaken with sharp sobs, they stood
while the minutes passed, not a single word having been spoken. And so
it was that these two, both children of the storm, at last came
together. . . .

Presently Joe Ellison chanced to step unsuspectingly into the room.
Seeing what he did, he silently tiptoed out. There was a garden chair
just outside his door. Into this he sank and let his thin face fall
into his hands. His figure shook and hot tears burned through his
fingers. For his heart told him that his great dream was at last come
true.

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