Part 3 out of 4
"Ah, Nance," I cried to myself with a sob--I had pretended to
take it lightly enough when he was here, but now--"if you had
heard of a girl who, like yourself this evening, unexpectedly met
two men she had known, and the good man ignored her and the bad
one followed her--oh, Nancy--what sort of girl would you think
she was at heart? What sort of hope could you imagine her
treasuring for her own future? And what sort of significance
would you attach to--"
And just then the bell rang again.
This time I was sure it was you. And, O Maggie, I ran to the door
eager for the touch of your hand and the look in your eyes. I was
afraid to be alone with my own thoughts. I was afraid of the
conclusion to which they were leading me. Maggie, if ever a girl
needed comfort and encouragement and heartening, I did then.
And I got it, dear.
For there was a man at the door, with a great basket of
azaleas--pale, pink earth-stars they are, the sweet, innocent
things--and a letter for me. Here it is. Let me read it to you.
"My dear Miss Omar:
Once on a time there was a Luckless Pot, marred in the making,
that had the luck to be of service to a Pipkin.
It was a saucy Pipkin, though a very winning one, and it had all
the health and strength the poor Pot lacked--physically.
Morally--morally, that young Pipkin was in a most unwholesome
condition. Already its fair, smooth surface was scratched and
fouled. It was unmindful of the treasure of good it contained,
and its responsibility to keep that good intact. And it seemed
destined to crash itself to pieces among pots of baser metal.
What the Luckless Pot did was little--being ignorant of the art
by which diamonds may be attained easily and honestly--but it
gave the little Pipkin a chance.
What the Pipkin did with that chance the Pot learned to-night,
with such pleasure and satisfaction as made it impossible for him
not to share it with her. So while he sent Burnett out to the
conservatory to cut azaleas, he wrote her a note to try to convey
to her what he felt when, in that nicely polished, neatly
decorated and self-respecting Vessel on exhibition in Mrs. Gates'
red room, he recognized the poor little Pipkin of other days.
The Pot, as you know, was a sort of stranded bit of clay that had
never filled the use for which pots are created. He had little
human to interest him. The fate of the Pipkin, therefore, he had
often pondered on; and, in spite of improbabilities, had had
faith in a certain quality of brave sincerity the little thing
showed; a quality that shone through acquired faults like a star
in a murky sky.
This justification of his faith in the Pipkin may seem a small
matter to make so much of. And yet the Pot--that sleeps not well
o' nights, as is the case with damaged pots--will take to bed
with him to-night a pretty, pleasant thought due just to this.
But do not think the Pot an idealist. If he were, he might have
been tempted to mistake the Pipkin for a statelier, more
pretentious Vessel--a Vase, say, all graceful curves and embossed
sides, but shallow, perhaps, possibly lacking breadth. No, the
Pipkin is a pipkin, made of common clay--even though it has the
uncommon sweetness and strength to overcome the tendencies of
clay--and fashioned for those common uses of life, deprivation of
which to anything that comes from the Potter's hands is the most
enduring, the most uncommon sorrow.
O pretty little Pipkin, thank the Potter, who made you as you
are, as you will be--a thing that can cheer and stay men's souls
by ministering to the human needs of them. For you, be sure, the
Potter's `a good fellow and 'twill all be well.'
For the Pot--he sails shortly, or rather, he is to be carted
abroad by some optimistic friends whose hopes he does not
share--to a celebrated repair shop for damaged pots. Whether he
shall return, patched and mended into temporary semblance of a
useful Vessel; whether he shall continue to be merely the same
old Luckless Pot, or whether he shall return at all, O Pipkin,
does not matter much.
But it has been well that, before we two behind the veil had
passed, we met again, and you left me such a fragrant memory.
* * * * * * * * * *
O Maggie, Maggie, some day I hope to see that man and tell him
how sorely the Pipkin needed the Pot's letter!
It's all come so quick, Maggie, and it was over so soon that I
hardly remember the beginning.
Nobody on earth could have expected it less than I, when I came
off in the afternoon. I don't know what I was thinking of as I
came into my dressing-room, that used to be Gray's--the sight of
him seemed to cut me off from myself as with a knife--but it
wasn't of him.
It may have been that I was chuckling to myself at the thought of
Nancy Olden with a dressing-room all to herself. I can't ever
quite get used to that, you know, though I sail around there with
all the airs of the leading lady. Sometimes I see a twinkle in
Fred Obermuller's eye when I catch him watching me, and goodness
knows he's been glum enough of late, but it wasn't--
Yes, I'm going to tell you, but--it's rattled me a bit, Maggie.
I'm so--so sorry, and a little--oh, just a little, little bit
I'd slammed the door behind me--the old place is out of repair
and the door won't shut except with a bang--and I had just
squatted down on the floor to unbutton my high shoes, when I
noticed the chintz curtains in front of the high dressing-box
waver. They must have moved just like that when I was behind them
months--it seems years--ago. But, you see, Topham had never
served an apprenticeship behind curtains, so he didn't suspect.
"Lordy, Nancy," I laughed to myself, "some one thinks you've
got a rose diamond and--"
nd at that moment he parted the curtains and came out.
My heart came beating up to my throat and then, just as I thought
I should choke, it slid down to my boots, sickening me. I didn't
say a word. I sat there, my foot in my lap, staring at him.
Oh, Maggie-girl, it isn't good to get your first glimpse after
all these months of the man you love crouched like a big bull in
a small space, poking his close-cropped black head out like a
turtle that's not sure something won't be thrown at it, and then
dragging his big bulk out and standing over you. He used to be
trim--Tom--and taut, but in those shapeless things, the old
trousers, the dirty white shirt, and the vest too big for him--
"Well," he said, "why don't you say something?"
Tom's voice--Mag, do you remember, the merry Irish boy's voice,
with its chuckles like a brook gurgling as it runs?
No--'tisn't the same voice. It's--it's changed, Maggie. It's
heavy and--and coarse--and--brutal. That's what it is. It sounds
like--like the knout, like--
"Nance--what in hell's--"
"I think I'm--frightened, Tom."
"Oh, the ladyfied airs of her! Ain't you going to faint, Miss
I got up.
"No--no. Sit down, Tom. Tell me about it. How--how did you get
He went to the door, opened it a bit and looked out cautiously.
Mag--Mag--it hurt me--that. Why, do you suppose?
"You're sure nobody'll come in?" he asked.
I turned the key in the lock, forgetting that it didn't really
"Oh, yes, I'm sure," I said. "Why?"
"Why! You have got slow. Just because I didn't say good-by to
them fellows up at the Pen, and--"
"Oh! You've escaped!"
"That's what. First jail-break in fifteen years. What d'ye think
of your Tommy, old girl, eh? Ain't he the gamest? Ain't you proud
My God, Mag! Proud of him. He didn't know--he couldn't
see--himself. He, shut in like a wild beast, couldn't see what
this year has done for him. Oh, the change--the change in him! My
boy Tommy, with the gay, gallus manner, and the pretty, jolly
brogue, and the laughing mouth under his brown mustache. And this
man--his face is old, Mag, old--oh!--and hard--and--and tough,
cheap and tough. There's something in his eyes now and about his
shaven mouth--oh, Maggie, Maggie!
"Look here, Nance." He caught me by the shoulders, knocking up
my chin so that he could look down squarely at me. "What's your
graft? What's it to be between us? What've ye been doing all this
time? Out with it! I want to know."
I shook myself free and faced him.
"I've been--Tom Dorgan, I've been to hear the greatest actors
and actresses in the world say and do the finest things in the
world. I've watched princesses and kings--even if they're only
stage ones. I've read a new book every night--a great picture
book, in which the pictures move and speak--that's the stage, Tom
Dorgan. Much of it wasn't true, but a girl who's been brought up
by the Cruelty doesn't have to be told what's true and what's
false. I've met these people and lived with them--as one does who
thinks the same thoughts and feels what others feel. I know the
world now, Tom Dorgan, the real world of men and women--not the
little world of crooks, nor yet the littler one of fairy stories.
I've got a glimpse, too, of that other world where all the
scheming and lying and cheating is changed as if by magic into
something that deceives all right, but doesn't hurt. It's the
world of art and artists, Tom Dorgan, where people paint their
lies, or write them, or act them; where they lift money all right
from men's pockets, but lift their souls and their lives, too,
away from the things that trouble and bore and--and degrade.
"You needn't sneer; it's made a different Nance out of me, Tom
Dorgan. And, oh, but I'm sorry for the pert little beggar we both
knew that lied and stole and hid and ran and skulked! She was
like a poor little ignorant traveler in a great country where
she'd sized up the world from the few fool crooks she was thrown
in with. She--"
"Aw, cut it!"
"Tom--does--doesn't it mean anything to you? Can't it mean lots
to both of us now that--"
"Cut it, I tell you! Think I killed one guard and beat the other
till I'd broke every bone in his body to come here and listen to
such guff? You've been having a high old time, eh, and you never
give a thought to me up there! I might 'a' rotted in that black
hole for all you'd care, you--"
"Don't! I did, Tom; I did." I was shivering at the name, but I
couldn't bear his thinking that way of me. "I went up once, but
they wouldn't let me see you. I wrote you, but they sent back the
letters. Mag went up, too, but had to come back. And that time I
My voice trailed off. In that minute I saw myself on the way up
to Sing Sing with the basket and all my hopes and all my schemes
for amusing him.
And this is what I'd have seen if they'd let me in--this big,
gruff, murdering beast!
Oh, yes--yes--beast is what he is, and it didn't make him look it
less that he believed me and--and began to think of me in a
"I thought you wouldn't go back on a feller, Nance. That's why I
come straight to you. It was my game to have you hide me for a
day or two, till you could make a strike somewhere and we'd light
out together. How're ye fixed? Pretty smart, eh? You look it, my
girl, you look--My eye, Nance, you look good enough to eat, and
I'm hungry for you!"
Maggie, if I'd had to die for it I couldn't have moved then.
You'd think a man would know when the woman he's holding in his
arms is fainting--sick at the touch of him. A woman would. It
wasn't my Tom that I'd known, that I'd worked with and played
with and--It was a great brute, whose mouth--who had no eyes, no
ears, no senses but--ah! . . .
He laughed when I broke away from him at last. He laughed! And I
knew then I'd have to tell him straight in words.
"Tom," I gasped, "you can have all I've got; and it's plenty
to get you out of the way. But--but you can't have--me--any more.
Oh, the beast in his face! It must have looked like that when the
guard got his last glimpse of it.
"You're kiddin' me?" he growled.
I shook my head.
Then he ripped it out. Said the worst he could and ended with a
curse! The blood boiled in me. The old Nance never stood that;
she used to sneer at other women who did.
"Get out of here!" I cried. "Go--go, Tom Dorgan. I'll send
every cent I've got to you to Mother Douty's within two hours,
but don't you dare--"
"Don't YOU dare, you she-devil! Just make up your mind to drop
these newfangled airs, and mighty quick. I tell you you'll come
with me 'cause I need you and I want you, and I want you now. And
I'll keep you when once I get you again. We'll hang together. No
more o' this one-sided lay-out for me, where you get all the soft
and it's me for the hard. You belong to me. Yes, you do. Just
think back a bit, Nance Olden, and remember the kind of customer
I am. If you've forgot, just let me remind you that what I know
would put you behind bars, my lady, and it shall, I swear, if
I've got to go to the Chair for it!"
Tom! It was Tom talking that way to me. I couldn't bear it.
I made a rush for the door.
He got there, too, and catching me by the shoulder, he lifted his
But it never fell, Mag. I think I could kill a man who struck me.
But just as I shut my eyes and shivered away from him, while I
waited for the blow, a knock came at the door and Fred Obermuller
"Eh? Oh! Excuse me. I didn't know there was anybody else. Nance,
your face is ghastly. What's up?" he said sharply.
He looked from me to Tom--Tom, standing off there ready to spring
on him, to dart past him, to fly out of the window--ready for
anything; only waiting to know what the thing was to be.
My senses came back to me then. The sight of Obermuller, with
those keen, quick eyes behind his glasses, his strong, square
chin, and the whole poise of his head and body that makes men
wait to hear what he has to say; the knowledge that that man was
my friend, mine--Nancy Olden's--lifted me out of the mud I'd sunk
back in, and put my feet again on a level with his.
"Tom," I said slowly, "Mr. Obermuller is a friend of mine.
No--listen! What we've been talking about is settled. Don't bring
it up again. It doesn't interest him and it can't change me; I
swear to you, it can't; nothing can. I'm going to ask Mr.
Obermuller to help you without telling him just what the scrape
is, and--and I'm going to be sure that he'll do it just because
"Because you've taken up with him, have you?" Tom shouted
savagely. "Because she's your--"
"Tom!" I cried.
"Tom--oh, yes, now I remember." Obermuller got between us as he
spoke. "Your friend up--in the country that you went to see and
couldn't. Not a very good-looker, your friend, Nance.
But--farming, I suppose, Mr.--Tom?--plays the deuce with one's
looks. And another thing it does: it makes a man forget sometimes
just how to behave in town. I'll be charmed, Mr. Tom, to oblige a
friend of Miss Olden's; but I must insist that he does not talk
He was quite close to Tom when he finished, and Tom was glaring
up at him. And, Mag, I didn't know which one I was most afraid
for. Don't you look at me that way, Mag Monahan, and don't you
dare to guess anything!
"If you think," growled Tom, "that I'm going to let you get
off with the girl, you're mighty--"
"Now, I've told you not to say that. The reason I'll do the
thing she's going to ask of me--if it's what I think it is--is
because this girl's a plucky little creature with a soul big
enough to lift her out of the muck you probably helped her into.
It's because she's got brains, talent, and a heart. It's
because--well, it's because I feel like it, and she deserves a
"You don't know what she is." It was a snarl from Tom. "You
"Oh, yes, I do; you cur! I know what she was, too. And I even
know what she will be; but that doesn't concern you."
"The hell it don't!"
Obermuller turned his back on him. I was dumb and still. Tom
Dorgan had struck me after all.
"What is it you want me to do, Nance?" Obermuller asked.
"Get him away on a steamer--quick," I murmured--I couldn't look
him in the face--"without asking why, or what his name is."
He turned to Tom. "Well?"
"I won't go--not without her."
"Because you're so fond of her, eh? So fond, your first thought
on quitting the--country was to come here to get her in trouble.
If you've been traced--"
"Ah! You wouldn't like that, eh?" sneered Tom. "Would you?"
"Well, I've had my share of it. And she ain't. Still--I . . .
Just what would it be worth to you to have me out of the way?"
"Oh, Tom--Tom--" I cried.
But Obermuller got in front of me.
"It would be worth exactly one dollar and seventy-five cents.
I think it will amount to about that for cab-hire. I guess the cars
aren't any too safe for you, or it might be less. It may amount
to something more before I get you shipped before the mast on the
first foreign-bound boat. But what's more important," he added,
bringing his fist down with a mighty thump on the table, "you
have just ten seconds to make up your mind. At the end of that
time I'll ring for the police."
* * * * * * * * * * *
I went down to the boat to see it sail, Mag, at seven this
morning. No, not to say good-by to him. He didn't know I was
there. It was to say good-by to my old Tommy; the one I loved.
Truly I did love him, Mag, though he never cared for me. No, he
didn't. Men don't pull down the women they love; I know that now.
If Tom Dorgan had ever cared for me he wouldn't have made a thief
of me. If he'd cared, the last place on earth he'd have come to,
when he knew the detectives would be on his track, would have
been just the first place he made for. If he'd cared, he--
But it's done, Mag. It's all over. Cheap--that's what he is, this
Tom Dorgan. Cheaply bad--a cheap bully, cheap-brained. Remember
my wishing he'd have been a ventriloquist? Why, that man that
tried to sell me to Obermuller hasn't sense enough to be a good
The firm of Dorgan & Olden is dissolved, Mag. The retiring
partner has gone into the theatrical business. As for Dorgan--the
real one, poor fellow! jolly, handsome, big Tom Dorgan--he died.
Yes, he died, Maggie, and was buried up there in the prison
graveyard. A hard lot for a boy; but it's not the worst thing
that can happen to him. He might become a man; such a man as that
fellow that sailed away before the mast this morning.
There I was seated in a box all alone--Miss Nancy Olden, by
courtesy of the management, come to listen to the leading lady
sing coon-songs, that I might add her to my collection of
She's a fat leading lady, very fair and nearly fifty, I guess.
But she's got a rollicking, husky voice in her fat throat that's
sung the dollars down deep into her pockets. They say she's
planted them deeper still--in the foundations of apartment
houses--and that now she's the richest roly-poly on the Rialto.
Do you know, Maggie darlin', what I was saying to myself there in
the box, while I watched the stage and waited for Obermuller? He
said he'd drop in later, perhaps.
"Nance," I said, "I kind of fancy that apartment sort of idea
myself. They tell you, Nancy, that when you've got the artistic
temperament, that that's all you'll ever have. But there's a
chance--one in a hundred--for a body to get that temperament
mixed with a business instinct. It doesn't often happen. But when
it does the result is--dollars. It may be, Nance--I shrewdly
suspect it is a fact that you've got that marvelous mixture. Your
early successes, Miss Olden, in another profession that I needn't
name, would encourage the idea that you're not all heart and no
head. I think, Nance, I shall have you mimic the artists during
working hours and the business men when you're at play. I fancy
apartment houses. They appeal to me. We'll call one `The Nancy'
and another `Olden Hall' and another . . . "
"What'll I call the third apartment house, Mr. O?" I asked
aloud, as I heard the rings on the portiere behind me click.
He didn't answer.
Without turning my head I repeated the question.
And yet--suddenly--before he could have answered, I knew
something was wrong.
I turned. And in that moment a man took the seat beside me and
another stood facing me, with his back against the portieres.
"Miss Olden?" the man beside me asked.
"Nance Olden, the mimic, who entertains at private houses?"
"You--you were at Mrs. Paul Gates' just a week ago, and you gave
your specialties there?"
"Yes--yes, what is it you want?"
He was a little man, but very muscular. I could note the play of
his muscles even in the slight motion he made as he turned his
body so as to get between me and the audience, while he leaned
toward me, watching me intently with his small, quick, blue eyes.
"We don't want to make any scene here," he said very low. "We
want to do it up as quietly as we can. There might be some
mistake, you know, and then you'd be sorry. So should we. I hope
you'll be reasonable and it'll be all the better for you
"What are you talk--what--" I looked from him to the other
fellow behind us.
He leaned a bit farther forward then, and pulling his coat partly
open, he showed me a detective's badge. And the other man quickly
did the same.
I sat back in my chair. The fat star on the stage, with her big
mouth and big baby-face, was doing a cake-walk up and down close
to the footlights, yelling the chorus of her song.
I'll never mimic that song, Mag, although I can see her and hear
it as plain as though I'd listened and watched her all my life.
But there's no fun in it for me. I hate the very bars the
orchestra plays before she begins to sing. I can't bear even to
think of the words. The whole of it is full of horrible
things--it smells of the jail--it looks like stripes--it . . .
"You're not going to faint?" asked the man, moving closer to me.
"Me? I never fainted in my life. . . Where is he now--Tom
"Yes. I was sure I saw him sail, but, of course, I was mistaken.
He has sent you after me, has he? I can hardly believe it of
"I don't know anything that connects you with Dorgan. If he was
in with you on this, you'd better remember, before you say
anything more, that it'll all be used against you."
The curtain had gone down and gone up again. I was watching the
star. She has such a boyish way of nodding her head, instead of
bowing, after she waddles out to the center; and every time she
wipes her lips with her lace handkerchief, as though she'd just
taken one of the cocktails she makes in the play with all the
skill of a bartender. I found myself doing the same thing--wiping
my lips with that very same gesture, as though I had a fat, bare
forearm like a rolling-pin--when all at once the thought came to
me: "You needn't bother, Nancy. It's all up. You won't have any
use for it all."
"Just what is the charge?" I asked, turning to the man beside me.
"Stealing a purse containing three hundred dollars from Mrs.
Paul Gates' house on the night of April twenty-seventh."
It was Obermuller. He had pushed the curtains aside; the crashing
of the orchestra had prevented our hearing the clatter of the
rings. He had pushed by the man standing there, had come in
and--he had heard.
"Nance!" he cried. "I don't believe a word of it. He turned in
his quick way to the men. "What are your orders?"
"To take her to her flat and search it."
Obermuller came over to me then, and took my hand for a minute.
"It's a pity they don't know about the Gray rose diamond," he
whispered, helping me on with my jacket. "They'd see how silly
this little three-hundred dollar business is. . . . Brace up,
Oh, Mag, Mag, to hear a man like that talk to you as though you
were his kind, when you have the feel of the coarse prison
stripes between your dry, shaking fingers, and the close prison
smell is already poisoning your nostrils!
"I don't see--" my voice shook--"how you can believe--in me."
"Don't you?" he laughed. "That's easy. You've got brains,
Nance, and the most imbecile thing you could do just now, when
your foot is already on the ladder, would be just this--to get
off in order to pick up a trinket out of the mud, when there's a
fortune up at the top waiting for you. Clever people don't do
asinine things. And other clever people know that they don't.
You're clever, but so am I--in my weak, small way. Come along,
He pulled my hand in his arm and we walked out, followed by the
Oh, no! It was all very quiet and looked just like a little
theater party that had an early supper engagement. Obermuller
nodded to the manager out in the deserted lobby, who stopped us
and asked me what I thought of the star.
You'll think me mad, Mag. Those fellows with the badges were sure
I was, but Obermuller's eyes only twinkled, and the manager's
grin grew broad when, catching up the end of my skirt and
cake-walking up and down, I sang under my breath that coon-song
that was trailing over and over through my head.
"Bravo! bravo!" whispered the manager, hoarsely, clapping his
I gave one of those quick, funny, boyish nods the star inside
affects and wiped my lips with my handkerchief.
That brought down my house. Even the biggest fellow with the
badge giggled recognizingly, and then put his hand quickly in
front of his mouth and tried to look severe and official.
The color had come back to Obermuller's face; it was worth
"Be patient, Mag; let me tell it my way."
There wasn't room in the coupe waiting out in front for more than
two. So Obermuller couldn't come in it. But he put me in--Mag,
dear, dear Mag--he put me in as if I was a lady--not like Gray; a
real one. A thing like that counts when two detectives are
watching. It counted afterward in the way they treated me.
The big man climbed up on the seat with the driver. The blue-eyed
fellow got in and sat beside me, closing the door.
"I'll be out there almost as soon as you are," Obermuller said,
standing a moment beside the lowered window.
"You good fellow!" I said, and then, trying to laugh: "I'll do
as much for you some day."
He shook his fist laughingly at me, and I waved my hand as we
"You know, Miss, there may be some mistake about this," said
the man next to me, "and--"
"Yes, there may be. In fact, there is."
"I'm sure I'll be very glad if it is a mistake. They do
happen--though not often. You spoke of Dorgan--"
"Yes, Tom Dorgan, who busted out of Sing Sing the other day."
"Surely you're mistaken," I said, smiling right into his blue
eyes. "The Tom Dorgan I mentioned is a sleight-of-hand performer
at the Vaudeville. Ever see him?"
"Clever fellow. You ought to. Perhaps you don't recognize him
under that name. On the bills he's Professor Haughwout. Stage
people have so many names, you know."
"Yes, so have--some other people."
I laughed, and he grinned back at me.
"Now that's mean of you," I said; "I never had but one. It was
all I needed."
It flashed through me then what a thing like this might do to a
name. You know, Mag, every bit of recognition an actress steals
from the world is so much capital. It isn't like the old graft
when you had to begin new every time you took up a piece of work.
And your name--the name the world knows--and its knowing it makes
it worth having like everything--that name is the sum of every
scheme you've planned, of every time you've got away with the
goods, of every laugh you've lifted, of every bit of cleverness
you've thought out and embodied, of everything that's in you, of
everything you are.
But I didn't dare think long of this. I turned to him.
"Tell me about this charge," I said. "Where was the purse?
Whose was it? And why haven't they missed it till after a week?"
"They missed it all right that night, but Mrs. Gates wanted it
kept quiet till the servants had been shadowed and it was
positively proved that they hadn't got away with it."
"And then she thought of me?"
"And then she thought of you."
"I wonder why?"
"Because you were the only person in that room except Mrs.
Gates, the lady who lost the purse, Mrs. Ramsay, and--eh?"
"N--nothing. Mrs. Ramsay, you said?"
"Not Mrs. Edward Ramsay, of Philadelphia?"
"Oh, you know the name?"
"Oh, yes, I know it."
"It was printed, you know, in gold lettering on the inside flap
"I don't know."
"Well, it was, and it contained three hundred dollars, Mrs.
Ramsay says. She had slipped it under the fold of the spread at
the top of the bed in the room where you took off your things in
Mrs. Gates' presence, and put them on again when no one else was
"And you mean to tell me that this is all?" I raged at him;
"that every bit of evidence you have to warrant your treating an
innocent girl like--"
"You didn't behave like a very innocent girl, if you'll
remember," he said dryly, "when I first came into the box. In
fact, if that fellow hadn't just come in then I believe you'd 'a'
confessed the whole job. . . . 'Tain't too late," he added.
I didn't answer. I put my head back against the cushions and
closed my eyes. I could feel the scrutiny of his blue eyes on my
naked face--your face is so unprotected with the eyes closed;
like a fort whose battery is withdrawn. But I was tired--it tires
you when you care. A year ago, Mag, this sort of thing--the risk,
the nearness to danger, the chances one way or the other--would
have intoxicated me. I used to feel as though I was dancing on a
volcano and daring it to explode. The more twistings and turnings
there were to the labyrinth, the greater glory it was to get out.
Maggie darlin', you have before you a mournful spectacle--the
degeneration of Nancy Olden. It isn't that she's lost courage.
It's only that she used to be able to think of only one thing,
and now--What do you suppose it is, Mag? If you know, don't you
dare to tell me.
When we got to the flat Obermuller was already there. At the door
I pulled out my key and opened it with a flourish.
"Won't you come in, gentlemen, and spend the evening?" I asked.
They followed me in. First to the parlor. The two fellows threw
off their coats and searched that through and through--not a
drawer did they miss, not a bit of furniture did they fail to
move. Obermuller and I sat there guying them as they pried about
in their shirt-sleeves. That Trust business has taken the life
out of him of late. All their tricks, all their squeezings, their
cheatings, their bossing and bragging and bullying have got on to
his nerves till he looks like a chained bear getting a drubbing.
And he swears that they're in a conspiracy to freeze him and a
few others like him out; he believes there's actually a paper in
existence that would prove it. But this affair of the purse
seemed to excite him till he behaved like a bad school-boy.
And I? Well, Nance Olden was never far behind at the Cruelty when
there was anything going on. We trailed after them, and when
they'd finished with the bedrooms--yours and mine--I asked the
big fellow to come into the kitchen with Mr. O. and me, while the
blue-eyed detective tackled the dining-room, and I'd get up a
lunch for us all.
Mag, you should have seen Fred Obermuller with a big apron on
him, dressing the salad while I was making sandwiches. The
Cruelty taught me how to cook, even if it did teach me other
things. You wouldn't have believed that the Trust had got him by
the throat, and was choking the last breath out of him. You
wouldn't have believed that our salaries hadn't been paid for
three weeks, that our houses were dwindling every night, that--
I was thinking about it all there in the back of my head, trying
to see a way out of it--you know if there is such an agreement as
Obermuller swears there is, it's against the law--while we
rattled on, the two of us, like a couple of children on a picnic,
when I heard a crash behind me.
The salad bowl had slipped from Obermuller's fingers. He stood
with his back turned to me, his eyes fixed upon that searching
But he wasn't searching any more, Mag. He was standing still as
a pointer that's scented game. He had moved the lounge out from
the wall, and there on the floor, spread open where it had
fallen, lay a handsome elephant-skin purse, with gold corners.
From where I stood, Mag, I could read the plain gold lettering on
the dark leather. I didn't have to move. It was plain
Mrs. EDWARD RAMSAY
Hush, hush, Mag; if you take on so, how can I tell you the rest?
Obermuller got in front of me as I started to walk into the
dining-room. I don't know what his idea was. I don't suppose he
does exactly--if it wasn't to spare me the sight of that damned
Oh, how I hated it, that purse! I hated it as if it had been
something alive that could be glad of what it had done. I wished
it was alive that I could tear and rend it and stamp on it and
throw it in a fire, and drag it out again, with burned and
bleeding nails, to tear it again and again. I wanted to fall on
it and hide it; to push it far, far away out of sight; to stamp
it down--down into the very bottom of the earth, where it could
feel the hell it was making for me.
But I only stood there, stupidly looking at it, having pushed
past Obermuller, as though I never wanted to see anything else.
And then I heard that blue-eyed fellow's words.
"Well," he said, pulling on his coat as though he'd done a good
day's work, "I guess you'd just better come along with me."
"Don't you think you'd better get out of this?" I asked
Obermuller, as he came into the station a few minutes after I got
"Because it won't do you any good to have your name mixed up
with a thing like this."
"But it might do you some good."
I didn't answer for a minute after that. I sat in my chair, my
eyes bent on the floor. I counted the cracks between the chair
and the floor of the office where the Chief was busy with another
case. I counted them six times, back and forth, till my eyes were
clear and my voice was steady.
"You're awfully good," I said, looking up at him as he stood by
me. "You're the best fellow I ever knew. I didn't know men could
be so good to women. . . But you'd better go--please. It'll be
bad enough when the papers get hold of this, without having them
lump you in with a bad lot like me."
He put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a quick little shake.
"Don't say that about yourself. You're not a bad lot."
"But--you saw the purse."
"Yes, I saw it. But it hasn't proved anything to me but this:
you're innocent, Nance, or you're crazy. If it's the first, I
want to stand by you, little girl. If it's the second--good God!
I've got to stand by you harder than ever."
Can you see me sitting there, Mag, in the bright, bare little
room, with its electric lights, still in my white dress and big
white hat, my pretty jacket fallen on the floor beside me?
I could feel the sharp blue eyes of that detective Morris feeding
on my miserable face. But I could feel, too, a warmth like wine
poured into me from that big fellow's voice.
I put my hand up to him and he took it.
"If I'm innocent and can prove it, Fred Obermuller, I'll get
even with you for--for this."
"Do you want to do something for me now?"
"Well, if you want to help me, don't sit there looking like the
criminal ghost of the girl I know."
The blood rushed to my face. Nance Olden, a sniveling coward! Me,
showing the white feather--me, whimpering like a whipped
"You know," I smiled up at him, "I never did enjoy getting
"Hush! But that's better. . . . Tell me now--"
A buzzer sounded. The blue-eyed detective got up and came over to
"Chief's ready," he said. "This way."
They stopped Obermuller at the door. But he pushed past them.
"I want to say just a word to you, Chief," he said. "You
remember me. I'm Obermuller, of the Vaudeville. If you'll send
those fellows out and let me speak to you just a moment, I'll
leave you alone with Miss Olden."
The Chief nodded to the blue-eyed detective, and he and the other
fellow went out and shut the door behind them.
"I want simply to call your attention to the absurdity and
unreasonableness of this thing," Obermuller said, leaning up
against the Chief's desk, while he threw out his left hand with
that big open gesture of his, "and to ask you to bear in mind,
no matter what appearances may be, that Miss Olden is the most
talented girl on the stage to-day; that in a very short time she
will be at the top; that just now she is not suffering for lack
of money; that she's not a high-roller, but a determined,
hard-working little grind, and that if she did feel like taking a
plunge, she knows that she could get all she wants from me
"Even if you can't pay salaries when they're due, Obermuller."
The Chief grinned under his white mustache.
"Even though the Trust is pushing me to the wall; going to such
lengths that they're liable criminally as well as civilly, if I
could only get my hands on proof of their rascality. It's true I
can't pay salaries always when they're due, but I can still raise
a few hundred to help a friend. And Miss Olden is a friend of
mine. If you can prove that she took this money, you prove only
that she's gone mad, but you don't--"
"All right, Obermuller. You're not the lawyer for the defense.
That'll come later--if it does come. I'll be glad to bear in mind
all you've said, and much that you haven't."
"Thank you. Good night. . . . I'll wait for you, Nance,
"I'm going to ask you a lot of questions, Miss Olden," the old
Chief said, when we were alone. "Sit here, please. Morris tells
me you've got more nerve than any woman that's ever come before
me, so I needn't bother to reassure you. You don't look like a
girl that's easily frightened. I have heard how you danced in the
lobby of the Manhattan, how you guyed him at your flat, and were
getting lunch and having a regular picnic of a time when--"
"When he found that purse."
"Exactly. Now, why did you do all that?"
"Why? Because I felt like it. I felt gay and excited and--"
"Not dreaming that that purse was sure to be found?"
"Not dreaming that there was such a purse in existence except
from the detective's say--so, and never fancying for an instant
that it would be found in my flat."
"Hm!" He looked at me from under his heavy, wrinkled old lids.
You don't get nice eyes from looking on the nasty things in this
"Why," I cried, "what kind of a girl could cut up like that
when she was on the very edge of discovery?"
"A very smart girl--an actress; a good one; a clever thief who's
used to bluffing. Of course," he added softly, "you won't
misunderstand me. I'm simply suggesting the different kinds of
girl that could have done what you did. But, if you don't mind,
I'll do the questioning. Nance Olden," he turned suddenly on me,
his manner changed and threatening, "what has become of that
three hundred dollars?"
"Mr. Chief, you know just as much about that as I do."
I threw up my head and looked him full in the face. It was over
now--all the shivering and trembling and fearing. Nance Olden's
not a coward when she's fighting for her freedom; and fighting
alone without any sympathizing friend to weaken her.
He returned the look with interest.
"I may know more," he said insinuatingly.
"Possibly." I shrugged my shoulders.
No, it wasn't put on. There never yet was a man who bullied me
that didn't rouse the fighter in me. I swore to myself that this
old thief-catcher shouldn't rattle me.
"Doesn't it occur to you that under the circumstances a full
confession might be the very best thing for you? I shouldn't
wonder if these people would be inclined to be lenient with you
if you'd return the money. Doesn't it occur--"
"It might occur to me if I had anything to confess--about this
"How long since you've seen Mrs. Edward Ramsay?" He rushed the
question at me.
"How do you know I've ever seen her?"
"I do know you have."
"I don't believe you."
"Thank you; neither do I believe you, which is more to the
point. Come, answer the question: how long is it since you have
seen the lady?"
I looked at him. And then I looked at my glove, and slowly pulled
the fingers inside out, and then--then I giggled. Suddenly it
came to me--that silly, little insane dodge of mine in the
Bishop's carriage that day; the girl who had lost her name; and
the use all that affair might be to me if ever--
"I'll tell you if you'll let me think a minute," I said
sweetly. "It--it must be all of fifteen months."
"Ah! You see I did know that you've met the lady. If you're wise
you'll draw deductions as to other things I know that you don't
think I do. . . . And where did you see her?"
"In her own home."
"Called there," he sneered, "alone?"
"No," I said very gently. "I went there, to the best of my
recollection, with the Bishop--yes, it was the Bishop, Bishop Van
I could see that he didn't believe a word I was saying, which
made me happily eager to tell him more.
"Yes, we drove up to the Square one afternoon in the Bishop's
carriage--the fat, plum-colored one, you know. We had tea
there--at least, I did. I was to have spent the night, but--"
"That's enough of that."
I chuckled. Yes, Mag Monahan, I was enjoying myself. I was having
a run for my money, even if it was the last run I was to have.
"So it's fifteen months since you've seen Mrs. Ramsay, eh?"
He turned on me with a roar.
"And yet it's only a week since you saw her at Mrs. Gates'."
"No? Take care!"
"That night at Mrs. Gates' it was dark, you know, in the front
room. I didn't see Mrs. Ramsay that night. I didn't know she was
there at all till--"
"Till later I was told."
"Who told you?"
He threw down his pencil.
"Look here, this is no lark, young woman, and you needn't
trouble yourself to weave any more fairy tales. Mr. Ramsay is in
a--he's very ill. His own wife hasn't seen him since that night,
so you see you're lying uselessly."
"Really!" So Edward didn't go back to Mrs. Gates' that night.
Tut! tut! After his telephone message, too!
"Now, assuming your innocence of the theft, Miss Olden, what is
your theory; how do you account for the presence of that purse in
"Now, you've hit the part of it that really puzzles me. How do
you account for it; what is your theory?"
He got to his feet, pushing his chair back sharply.
"My theory, if you want to know it, is that you stole the purse;
that your friend Obermuller believes you did; that you got away
with the three hundred, or hid it away, and--"
"And what a stupid thief I must be, then, to leave the empty
purse under my lounge!"
"How do you know it was empty?" he demanded sharply.
"You said so. . . Well, you gave me to understand that it was,
then. What difference does it make? It would be a still stupider
thief who'd leave a full purse instead of an empty one under his
"Yes; and you're not stupid, Miss Olden."
"Thank you. I'm sorry I can't say as much for you."
I couldn't help it. He was such a stupid. The idea of telling me
that Fred Obermuller believed me guilty! The idea of thinking me
such a fool as to believe that! Such men as that make criminals.
They're so fat-witted you positively ache--they so tempt you to
pull the wool over their eyes. O Mag, if the Lord had only made
men cleverer, there'd be fewer Nancy Oldens.
The Chief blew a blast at his speaking-tube that made his purple
cheeks seem about to burst. My shoulders shook as I watched him,
he was so wrathy.
And I was still laughing when I followed the detective out into
the waiting-room, where Obermuller was pacing the floor. At the
sight of my smiling face he came rushing to me.
"Nance!" he cried.
"Orders are, Morris," came in a bellow from the Chief at his
door, "that no further communication be allowed between the
Phew! All the pertness leaked out of me. Oh, Mag, I don't like
that word. It stings--it binds--it cuts.
I don't know what I looked like then; I wasn't thinking of me.
I was watching Obermuller's face. It seemed to grow old and thin
and haggard before my eyes, as the blood drained out of it. He
turned with an exclamation to the Chief and--
And just then there came a long ring at the telephone.
Why did I stand there? O Mag, when you're on your way to the
place I was bound for, when you know that before you'll set foot
in this same bright little room again, the hounds in half a dozen
cities will have scratched clean every hiding-place you've had,
when your every act will be known and--and--oh, then, you wait,
Mag, you wait for anything--anything in the world; even a
telephone call that may only be bringing in another wretch like
yourself; bound, like yourself, for the Tombs.
The Chief himself went to answer it.
"Yes--what?" he growled. "Well, tell Long Distance to get
busy. What's that? St. Francis--that's the jag ward, isn't it?
Who is it? Who? Ramsay!"
I caught Obermuller's hand.
"I don't hear you," the Chief roared. "Oh--yes? Yes, we've got
the thief, but the money--no, we haven't got the money. The deuce
you say! Took it yourself? Out of your wife's purse--yes. . . .
Yes. But we've got the--What? Don't remember where you--"
"Steady, Nance," whispered Obermuller, grabbing my other hand.
I tried to stand steady, but everything swayed and I couldn't
hear the rest of what the Chief was saying, though all my life
seemed condensed into a listening. But I did hear when he jammed
the receiver on the hook and faced us.
"Well, they've got the money. Ramsay took the purse himself,
thinking it wasn't safe there under the spread where any servant
might be tempted who chanced to uncover it. You'll admit the
thing looked shady. The reason Mrs. Ramsay didn't know of it is
because the old man's just come to his senses in a hospital and
been notified that the purse was missing."
"I want to apologize to you, Chief," I mumbled.
"For thinking me stupid? Oh, we were both--"
"No, for thinking me not stupid. I am stupid--stupid--stupid.
The old fellow I told you about, Mr. O., and the way I telephoned
him out of the flat that night--it was--"
I nodded, and then crumbled to the floor.
It was then that they sent for you, Mag.
Why didn't I tell it straight at the first, you dear old Mag?
Because I didn't know the straight of it, then, myself. I was so
heavy-witted I never once thought of Edward. He must have taken
the bills out of the purse and then crammed them in his pocket
while he was waiting there on the lounge and I was pretending to
But it's best as it is--oh, so best! Think, Mag! Two people who
knew her--who knew her, mind--believed in Nancy Olden, in spite
of appearances: Obermuller, while we were in the thick of it,
and; you, you dear girl, while I was telling you of it.
When Obermuller sent for me I thought he wanted to see me about
that play he's writing in which I'm to star--when the pigs begin
Funniest thing in the world about that man, Mag. He knows he
can't get bookings for any play on earth; that if he did they'd
be canceled and any old excuse thrown at him, as soon as Tausig
heard of it and could put on the screws. He knows that there
isn't an unwatched hole in theatrical America through which he
can crawl and pull me and the play in after him. And yet he just
can't let go working on it. He loves it, Mag; he loves it as
Molly loved that child of hers that kept her nursing it all the
years of its life, and left her feeling that the world had been
robbed of everything there was for a woman to do when it died.
Obermuller has told me all the plot. In fact, he's worked it out
on me. I know it as it is, as he wanted it to be, and as it's
going to be. He tells me he's built it up about me; that it will
fit me as never a comedy fitted a player yet, and that we'll make
such a hit--the play and I together--that . . .
And then he remembers that there's no chance; not the ghost of
one; and he falls to swearing at the Trust.
"Don't you think, Mr. O.," I said, as he began again when I
came into his office, "that it might be as well to quit cursing
the Syndicate till you've got something new to say or something
different to rail about? It seems to me a man's likely to get
daffy if he keeps harping on--"
"Oh, I've got it all right, Nance, be sure of that! I've got
something different to say of them and something new to swear
about. They've done me up; that's all. Just as they've fixed
Iringer and Gaffney and Howison."
He threw out his arms and then let them fall to his side.
"Oh, it's easy," he cried, "so easy that I never thought of
it. They've just bought the Vaudeville out of hand and served
notice on me that when my lease expires next month they'll not be
able to renew it, `unfortunately'! That's all. No; not quite. In
order to kill all hope of a new plan in me they've just let it
get to be understood that any man or woman that works for
Obermuller needn't come round to them at any future time."
"Phew! A blacklist."
"Not anything so tangible. It's just a hint, you know, but it
works all right. It works like--"
"What are you going to do; what can you do?"
"Shoot Tausig or myself, or both of us."
"Yes, of course, it's nonsense, or rather it's only what I'd
like to do. . . . But that's not the question. Never mind about
me. It's what are you going to do?"
He looked straight at me, waiting. But I didn't answer. I was
"You don't realize, Nance, what those fellows are capable of.
When Gaffney told me, before he gave up and went West, that there
was a genuine signed conspiracy among them to crush out us
independents, I laughed at him. `It's a dream, Gaffney,' I said.
`Forget it.' `It's no dream, as you'll find out when your turn
comes in time,' he shouted. `It's a fact, and what's more,
Iringer once taxed Tausig to his face with it; told him he knew
there was such a document in existence, signed by the great
Tausig himself, by Heffelfinger of the Pacific circuit; by Dixon
of Chicago, and Weinstock of New Orleans, binding themselves to
force us fellows to the wall, and specifying the per cent. of
profit each one of 'em should get on any increase of business; to
blacklist every man and woman that worked for us; to buy up our
debts and even bring false attachments, when--'"
"Now, weren't there enough real debts to satisfy 'em? They're
hard to please, if you haven't creditors enough to suit 'em!"
He looked grim, but he didn't speak.
"I don't believe it, anyway, Mr. O; and 'tisn't good for you to
keep thinking about just one thing. You'll land where Iringer
did, if you don't look out. How did he know about it, anyway?"
"There was a leak in Tausig's office. Iringer used to be in with
them, and he had it from a clerk who--but never mind that. It's
the blacklisting I'm talking about now. Gray's just been in to
see me, to let me know that she quits at the end of the season.
And his Lordship, too, of course. You're not burdened with a
contract, Nance. Perhaps you'd better think it over seriously for
a day or two and decide if it wouldn't be best--"
"I don't have to," I interrupted then.
"Nance!" he cried, jumping up, as though he'd been relieved of
half his troubles.
"I don't have to think it over," I went on slowly, not looking
at the hand he held out to me. "It doesn't take long to know
that when you're between the devil and the deep sea, you'd better
try--the devil rather than be forced out into the wet."
"What?--you don't mean--"
I knew he was looking at me incredulously, but I just wouldn't
meet his eye.
"My staying with you will do you no good--" was hurrying now to
get it over with--"and it would do me a lot of harm. I think
you're right, Mr. Obermuller; I'd better just go over to where
it's warm. They'll be glad to get me and--and, to tell the truth,
I'll be glad to get in with the Syndicate, even if I can't make
as good terms as I might have by selling that contract,
which--like the famous conspiracy you're half mad about--never
He sat down on the edge of the desk. I caught one glimpse of his
face. It was black; that was enough for me. I turned to go.
"Ah, but it did, Miss Olden, it did!" he sneered.
"I won't believe it on the word of a man that's been in the
lunatic asylum ever since he lost his theater."
"Perhaps you'll believe it on mine."
I jumped. "On yours!"
"Didn't that little bully, when he lost his temper that day at
the Van Twiller, when we had our last fight--didn't he pull a
paper out of his box and shake it in my face, and--"
"But--you could have them arrested for conspiracy and--"
"And the proof of it could be destroyed and then--but I can't
see how this interests you."
"No--no," I said thoughtfully. "I only happened to lump it in
with the contract we haven't--you and I. And as there's no
contract, why there's no need of my waiting till the end of the
"Do you mean to say you'd--you'd--"
"If 'twere done, 'twere better it'd be done--quickly," I said
He looked at me. Sitting there on his desk, his clenched fist on
his knee, he looked for a moment as though he was about to fly at
me. Then all of a sudden he slipped into his chair, leaned back
It wasn't a pleasant laugh, Mag. No--wait. Let me tell you the
"You are so shrewd, Olden, so awfully shrewd! Your eye is so
everlastingly out for the main chance, and you're still so young
that I predict a--a great future for you. I might even suggest
that by cultivating Tausig personally--"
"No, you're right; I needn't. You can discount any suggestion I
might make. You just want to be the first to go over, eh? To get
there before Gray does--to get all there is in it for the first
rebel that lays down his arms; not to come in late when
submission is stale--and cheap. Don't worry about terms, you poor
little babe in the woods. Don't--" His own words seemed to choke
"Don't you think--" I began a bit unsteadily.
"I think--oh, what a fool I've been!"
That stiffened me.
"Of course, you have," I said cordially. "It's silly to fight
the push, isn't it? It's only the cranks that get cocky and think
they can upset the fellows on top. The thing to do is to find out
which is the stronger--if you're a better man than the other
fellow, down him. If he's the champion, enlist under him. But be
in it. What's the use of being a kicker all your life? You only
let some one else come in for the soft things, while you stay
outside and gnaw your finger-nails and plot and plan and starve.
You spend your life hoping to live to-morrow, while the Tausigs
are living high to-day. The thing to do is to be humble if you
can't be arrogant. If they've got you in the door, don't curse,
but placate them. Think of Gaffney herding sheep out in Nevada;
of Iringer in the asylum; of Howison--"
"Admirable! admirable!" he interrupted sarcastically. "The
only fault I have to find with your harangue is that you've
misconceived my meaning entirely. But I needn't enlighten you.
Good morning, Miss Olden--good-by."
He turned to his desk and pulled out some papers. I knew he
wasn't so desperately absorbed in them as he pretended to be.
"Won't you shake hands," I asked, "and wish me luck?"
He put down his pen. His face was white and hard, but as he
looked at me it gradually softened.
`I suppose--I suppose, I am a bit unreasonable just this
minute," he said slowly. "I'm hard hit and--and I don't just
know the way out. Still, I haven't any right to--to expect more
of you than there is in you, you poor little thing! It's not your
fault, but mine, that I've expected--Oh, for God's
sake--Nance--go, and leave me alone!"
I had to take that with me to the Van Twiller, and it wasn't
pleasant. But Tausig received me with open arms.
"Got tired of staying out in the cold--eh?" he grinned.
"I'm tired of vaudeville," I answered. "Can't you give me a
chance in a comedy?"
"Hm! Ambitious, ain't you?"
"Obermuller has a play all ready for me--written for me. He'd
star me fast enough if he had the chance."
"But he'll never get the chance."
"Oh, I don't know."
"But I do. He's on the toboggan; that's where they all get, my
dear, when they get big-headed enough to fight us."
"But Obermuller's not like the others. He's not so easy. And he
is so clever; why, the plot of that comedy is the bulliest
"You've read it--you remember it?"
"Oh, I know it by heart--my part of it. You see, he wouldn't
keep away from me while he was thinking of it. He kept consulting
me about everything in it. In a way, we worked over it
The little man looked at me, slowly closing one eye. It is a
habit of his when he's going to do something particularly nasty.
"Then, in a way, as you say, it is part yours."
"Hardly! Imagine Nance Olden writing a line of a play!"
"Still you--collaborated; that's the word. I say, my dear, if I
could read that comedy, and it was--half what you say it is, I
might--I don't promise, mind--but I might let you have the part
that was written for you and put the thing on. Has he drilled you
any, eh? He was the best stage-manager we ever had before he got
the notion of managing for himself--and ruining himself."
"Well, he's all that yet. Of course, he has told me, and we
agreed how the thing should be done. As he'd write, you know,
he'd read the thing over to me, and I--"
"Fine--fine! A reading from that fool Obermuller would be enough
to open the eyes of a clever woman. I'd like to read that
"But Obermuller would never--"
"But Olden might--"
"Dictate the plot to my secretary, Mason, in there," he nodded
his head back toward the inner room. "She could give him the
plot and as much of her own part in full as she could remember.
You know Mason. Used to be a newspaper man. Smart fellow, that,
when he's sober. He could piece out the holes--yes?"
I looked at him. The little beast sat there, slowly closing one
eye and opening it again. He looked like an unhealthy little
frog, with his bald head, his thin-lipped mouth that laughed,
while the wrinkles rayed away from his cold, sneering eyes that
had no smile in them.
"I--I wouldn't like to make an enemy of a man like Obermuller,
"Bah! Ain't I told you he's on the toboggan?"
"But you never can tell with a man like that. Suppose he got
into that combine with Heffelfinger and Dixon and Weinstock?"
"What're you talking about?"
"Well, it's what I've heard."
"But Heffelfinger and Dixon and Weinstock are all in with us;
who told you that fairy story?"
The little fellow laughed. His is a creaky, almost silent little
laugh; if a spider could laugh he'd laugh that way.
"They're fooling him a bunch or two. Never you mind Obermuller.
He's a dead one."
"Oh, he said that you thought they were in with you, but that
nothing but a written agreement would hold men like that. And
that you hadn't got."
"Smart fellow, that Obermuller. He'd have been a good man to
have in the business if it hadn't been for those independent
ideas he's got. He's right; it takes--"
"So there is an agreement!" I shouted, in spite of myself, as I
He sat back in his chair, or, rather, he let it swallow him
"What business is that of yours? Stick to the business on hand.
Get to work on that play with Mason inside. If it's good, and we
decide to put it on, we'll pay you five hundred dollars down in
addition to your salary. If it's rot, you'll have your salary
weekly all the time you're at it, just the same as if you were
working, till I can place you. In the meantime, keep your ears
and eyes open and watch things, and your mouth shut. I'll speak
to Mason and he'll be ready for you to-morrow morning. Come round
in the morning; there's nobody about then, and we want to keep
this thing dark till it's done. Obermuller mustn't get any idea
what we're up to. . . . He don't love you--no--for shaking him?"
"He's furious; wouldn't even say good-by. I'm done for with him,
anyway, I guess. But what could I do?"
"Nothing, my dear; nothing. You're a smart little girl," he
Just what I'd been hoping for I don't know, but I knew that my
chance had come that morning.
For a week I had been talking Obermuller's comedy to Mason, the
secretary. In the evenings I stood about in the wings and watched
the Van Twiller company in Brambles. There was one fat role in it
that I just ached for, but I lost all that ache and found
another, when I overheard two of the women talking about
Obermuller and me one night.
"He found her and made her," one of 'em said; "just dug her
out of the ground. See what he's done for her; taught her every
blessed thing she knows; wrote her mimicking monologues for her;
gave her her chance, and--and now--Well, Tausig don't pay
salaries for nothing, and she gets hers as regularly as I draw
mine. What more I don't know. But she hasn't set foot on the
stage yet under Tausig, and they say Obermuller--"
I didn't get the rest of it, so I don't know what they say about
Obermuller. I only know what they've said to him about me.
'Tisn't hard to make men believe those things. But I had to stand
it. What could I do? I couldn't tell Fred Obermuller that I was
making over his play, soul and as much body as I could remember,
to Tausig's secretary. He'd have found that harder to believe
than the other thing.
It hasn't been a very happy week for me, I can tell you, Maggie.
But I forgot it all, every shiver and ache of it, when I came
into the office that morning, as usual, and found Mason alone.
Not altogether alone--he had his bottle. And he had had it and
others of the same family all the night before. The poor drunken
wretch hadn't been home at all. He was worse than he'd been that
morning three days before, when I had stood facing him and
talking to him, while with my hands behind my back I was taking a
wax impression of the lock of the desk; and he as unconscious of
it all as Tausig himself.
The last page I had dictated the day before, which he'd been
transcribing from his notes, lay in front of him; the gas was
still burning directly above him, and a shade he wore over his
weak eyes had been knocked awry as his poor old bald head went
bumping down on the type-writer before him.
The thing that favored me was Tausig's distrust of everybody
connected with him. He hates his partners only a bit less than he
hates the men outside the Trust. The bigger and richer the
Syndicate grows, the more power and prosperity it has, the more
he begrudges them their share of it; the more he wants it all for
himself. He is madly suspicious of his clerks, and hires others
to watch them, to spy upon them. He is continually moving his
valuables from place to place, partly because he trusts no man;
partly because he's so deathly afraid his right hand will find
out what his left is doing. He is a full partner of Braun and
Lowenthal--with mental reservations. He has no confidence in
either of them. Half his schemes he keeps from them; the other
half he tells them--part of. He's for ever afraid that the
Syndicate of which he's the head will fall to pieces and become
another Syndicate of which he won't be head.
It all makes him an unhappy, restless little beast; but it helped
me to-day. If it'd been any question of safe combinations and
tangled things like that, the game would have been all up for
Nancy O. But in his official safe Tausig keeps only such papers
as he wants Braun and Lowenthal to see. And in his private desk
in his private office he keeps--
I stole past Mason, sleeping with his forehead on the type-writer
keys--he'll be lettered like the obelisk when he wakes up--and
crept into the next room to see just what Tausig keeps in that
private desk of his.
Oh, yes, it was locked. But hadn't I been carrying the key to it
every minute for the last forty-eight hours? There must be a mine
of stuff in that desk of Tausig's, Mag. The touch of every paper
in it is slimy with some dirty trick, some bad secret, some mean
action. It's a pity that I hadn't time to go through 'em all; it
would have been interesting; but under a bundle of women's
letters, which that old fox keeps for no good reason, I'll bet, I
lit on a paper that made my heart go bumping like a cart over
Yes, there it was, just as Obermuller had vowed it was, with
Tausig's cramped little signature followed by Heffelfinger's,
Dixon's and Weinstock's; a scheme to crush the business life out
of men by the cleverest, up-to-date Trust deviltry; a thing that
our Uncle Sammy just won't stand for.
And neither will Nancy Olden, Miss Monahan.
She grabbed that precious paper with a gasp of delight and closed
But she bungled a bit there, for Mason lifted his head and
blinked dazedly at her for a moment, recognized her and shook his
"No--work to-day," he said.
"No--I know. I'll just look over what we've done, Mr. Mason,"
she answered cheerfully.
His poor head went down again with a bob, and she caught up the
type-written sheets of Obermuller's play. She waited a minute
longer; half because she wanted to make sure Mason was asleep
again before she tore the sheets across and crammed them down
into the waste-basket; half because she pitied the old fellow and
was sorry to take advantage of his condition. But she knew a cure
for this last sorry--a way she'd help him later; and when she
danced out into the hall she was the very happiest burglar in a
world chock full of opportunities.
Oh, she was in such a twitter as she did it! All that old delight
in doing somebody else up, a vague somebody whose meannesses she
didn't know, was as nothing to the joy of doing Tausig up. She
was dancing on a volcano again, that incorrigible Nance! Oh, but
such a volcano, Maggie! It atoned for a year of days when there
was nothing doing; no excitement, no risk, nothing to keep a girl
interested and alive.
And, Maggie darlin', it was a wonderful volcano, that ones that
last one, for it worked both ways. It paid up for what I haven't
done this past year and what I'll never do again in the years to
come. It made up to me for all I've missed and all I'm going to
miss. It was a reward of demerit for not being respectable, and a
preventive of further sins. Oh, it was such a volcano as never
was. It was a drink and a blue ribbon in one. It was a bang-up
end and a bully beginning. It was--
It was Tausig coming in as I was going out. Suddenly I realized
that, but I was in such a mad whirl of excitement that I almost
ran over the little fellow before I could stop myself.
"Phew! What a whirlwind you are!" he cried. "Where are you
"Oh, good morning, Mr. Tausig," I said sweetly. "I never
dreamed you'd be down so early in the morning."
"What're you doing with the paper?" he demanded suspiciously.
My eye followed his. I could have beaten Nancy Olden in that
minute for not having sense enough to hide that precious
agreement, instead of carrying it rolled up in her hand.
"Just taking it home to go over it," I said carelessly, trying
to pass him.
But he barred my way.
"Where's Mason?" he asked.
"Poor Mason!" I said. "He's--he's asleep."
I nodded. How to get away!
"That settles his hash. Out he goes to-day . . . It seems to me
you're in a deuce of a hurry," he added, as I tried to get out
again. "Come in; I want to talk something over with you."
"Not this morning," I said saucily. I wanted to cry. "I've got
an engagement to lunch, and I want to go over this stuff for
Mason before one."
"Hm! An engagement. Who with, now?"
My chin shot up in the air. He laughed, that cold, noiseless
little laugh of his.
"But suppose I want you to come to lunch with me?"
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Tausig. But how could I break my engagement
"How did you guess it?" I laughed. "There's no keeping
anything from you."
He was immensely satisfied with his little self. "I know
him--that old rascal," he said slowly. "I say, Olden, just do
break that engagement with Braun."
"But do--eh? Finish your work here and we'll go off together, us
two, at twelve-thirty, and leave him cooling his heels here when
he comes." He rubbed his hands gleefully.
"But I'm not dressed."
"You'll do for me."
"But not for me. Listen: let me hurry home now and I'll throw
Braun over and be back here to meet you at twelve-thirty."
He pursed up his thin little lips and shook his head. But I
slipped past him in that minute and got out into the street.
"At twelve-thirty," I called back as I hurried off.
I got around the corner in a jiffy. Oh, I could hardly walk, Mag!
I wanted to fly and dance and skip. I wanted to kick up my heels
as the children were doing in the Square, while the organ ground
out, Ain't It a Shame? I actually did a step or two with them, to
their delight, and the first thing I knew I felt a bit of a hand
in mine like a cool pink snowflake and--
Oh, a baby, Mag! A girl-baby more than a year old and less than
two years young; too little to talk; too big not to walk; facing
the world with a winning smile and jabbering things in her soft
little lingo, knowing that every woman she meets will understand.
I did, all right. She was saying to me as she kicked out her
soft, heelless little boot:
"Nancy Olden, I choose you. Nancy Olden, I love you. Nancy
Olden, I dare you not to love me. Nancy Olden, I defy you not to
laugh back at me!"
Where in the world she dropped from, heaven knows. The
organ-grinder picked up the shafts of his wagon and trundled it
away. The piccaninnies melted like magic. But that gay little
flirt, about a year and a half old, just held on to my finger and
I didn't realize just then that she was a lost, strayed or
stolen. I expected every moment some nurse or conceited mamma to
appear and drag her away from me. And I looked down at her--oh,
she was just a little bunch of soft stuff; her face was a
giggling dimple, framed in a big round hat-halo, that had fallen
from her chicken-blond head; and her white dress, with the blue
ribbons at the shoulders, was just a little bit dirty. I like 'em
a little bit dirty. Why? Perhaps because I can imagine having a
little coquette of my own a bit dirty like that, and can't just
see Nance Olden with a spick-and-span clean baby, all feathers
and lace, like a bored little grown-up.
"You're a mouse," I gurgled down at her. "You're a sweetheart.
And suddenly I heard a cry and rush behind me.
It was a false alarm; just a long-legged girl of twelve rushing
round the corner, followed by a lot of others. It hadn't been
meant for me, of course, but in the second when I had remembered
that precious paper and Tausig's rage when he should miss it, I
had pulled my hand away from that bit baby's and started to run.
The poor little tot! There isn't any reason in the world for the
fancies they take any more than for our own; eh, Mag? Why should
she have been attracted to me just because I was so undignified
as to dance with the piccaninnies?
But do you know what that little thing did? She thought I was
playing with her. She gave a crow of delight and came bowling
That finished me. I stooped and picked her up in my arms,
throwing her up in the air to hear her crow and feel her come
"Mouse," I said, "we'll just have a little trip together. The
nurse that'd lose you deserves to worry till you're found. The
mother that's lucky enough to own you will be benefited hereafter
by a sharp scare on your account just now. Come on, sweetheart!"
Oh, the feel of a baby in your arms, Mag! It makes the Cruelty
seem a perfectly unreal thing, a thing one should be unutterably
ashamed of imagining, of accusing human nature of; a thing only
an irredeemably vile thing could imagine. Just the weight of that
little body riding like a bonny boat at anchor on your arm, just
the cocky little way it sits up, chirping and confident; just the
light touch of a bit of a hand on your collar; just that is
enough to push down brick walls; to destroy pictures of bruised
and maimed children that endure after the injuries are healed; to
scatter records that even I--I, Nancy Olden--can't believe and
believe, too, that other women have carried their babies, as I
did some other woman's baby, across the Square.
On the other side I set her down. I didn't want to. I was greedy
of every moment that I had her. But I wanted to get some change
ready before climbing up the steps to the L-station.
She clutched my dress as we stood there a minute in a perfectly
irresistible way. I know now why men marry baby-women: it's to
feel that delicious, helpless clutch of weak fingers; the clutch
of dependence, of trust, of appeal.
I looked down at her with that same silly adoration I've seen on
Molly's face for her poor, lacking, twisted boy. At least, I did
in the beginning. But gradually the expression of my face must
have changed; for all at once I discovered what had been done to
My purse was gone.
Yes, Maggie Monahan, clean gone! My pocket had been as neatly
picked as I myself--well, never mind, as what. I threw back my
head and laughed aloud. Nance Olden, the great doer-up, had been
done up so cleverly, so surely, so prettily, that she hadn't had
an inkling of it.
I wished I could get a glimpse of the clever girl that did it. A
girl--of course, it was! Do you think any boy's fingers could do
a job like that and me not even know?
But I didn't stop to wish very long. Here was I with the thing I
valued most in the world still clutched in my hand, and not a
nickel to my name to get me, the paper, and the baby on our way.
It was the baby, of course, that decided me. You can't be very
enterprising when you're carrying a pink lump of sweetness that's
all a-smile at the moment, but may get all a-tear the next.
"It's you for the nearest police station, you young tough!"
I said, squeezing her. "I can't take you home now and
show you to Mag."
But she giggled and gurgled back at me, the abandoned thing, as
though the police station was just the properest place for a
young lady of her years.
It was not so very near, either, that station. My arm ached when
I got there from carrying her, but my heart ached, too, to leave
her. I told the matron how and where the little thing had picked
me up. At first she wouldn't leave me, but--the fickle little
thing--a glass of milk transferred all her smiles and wiles to
the matron. Then we both went over her clothes to find a name or
an initial or a laundry mark. But we found nothing. The matron
offered me a glass of milk, too, but I was in a hurry to be gone.
She was a nice matron; so nice that I was just about to ask her
for the loan of car-fare when--
When I heard a voice, Maggie, in the office adjoining. I knew
that voice all right, and I knew that I had to make a decision
I did. I threw the whole thing into the lap of Fate. And when I
opened the door and faced him I was smiling.
Oh, yes, it was Tausig.
He started as though he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw me.
"The Lord hath delivered mine enemy into my hand," shone in his
evil little face.
"Why, Mr. Tausig," I cried, before he could get his breath.
"How odd to meet you here! Did you find a baby, too?"
"Did I find--" He glared at me. "I find you; that's enough.
"But the luncheon was to be at twelve-thirty," I laughed. "And
I haven't changed my dress yet."
"You'll change it all right for something not so becoming if you
don't shell out that paper."
"Yes, paper. Look here, if you give it back to me this
minute--now--I'll not prosecute you for--for--"
"For the sake of my reputation?" I suggested softly.
"Yes." He looked doubtfully at me, mistrusting the amiable
deference of my manner.
"That would be awfully good of you," I murmured.
He did not answer, but watched me as though he wasn't sure which
way I'd jump the next moment.
"I wonder what could induce you to be so forgiving," I went on
musingly. "What sort of paper is this you miss? It must be
"Yes, it's valuable all right. Come on, now! Quit your fooling
and get down to business. I'm going to have that paper."
"Do you know, Mr. Tausig," I said impulsively, "if I were you,
and anybody had stolen a valuable paper from me, I'd have him
arrested. I would. I should not care a rap what the public
exposure did to his reputation, so long--so long," I grinned
right up at him, "so long as it didn't hurt me, myself, in the
eyes of the law."
Mad? Oh, he was hopping! A German swear-word burst from him.
I don't know what it meant, but I can imagine.
"Look here, I give you one more chance," he squeaked; "if you
"What'll you do?"
I was sure I had him. I was sure, from the very whisper in which
he had spoken, that the last thing in the world he wanted was to
have that agreement made public by my arrest. But I tripped up on
one thing. I didn't know there was a middle way for a man with
His manner changed.
"Nance Olden," he said aloud now, "I charge you with stealing
a valuable private paper of mine from my desk. Here, Sergeant!"
I hadn't particularly noticed the Sergeant standing at the other
door with his back to us. But from the way he came at Tausig's
call I knew he'd had a private talk with him, and I knew he'd
found the middle way.
"This girl's taken a paper of mine. I want her searched,"
"Do you mean," I said, "that you'll sign your name to such a
charge against me?"
He didn't answer. He had pulled the Sergeant down and was
whispering in his ear. I knew what that meant. It meant a special
pull and a special way of doing things and--
"You'll do well, my girl, to give up Mr. Tausig's property to
him," the Sergeant said stiffly.
"But what have I got that belongs to him?" I demanded.
He grinned and shrugged his big shoulders.
"We've a way of finding out, you know, here. Give it up or--"
"But what does he say I've taken? What charge is there against
me? Have you the right to search any woman who walks in here? And
what in the world would I want a paper of Tausig's for?"
"You won't give it up then?" He tapped a bell.
A woman came in. I had a bad minute there, but it didn't last; it
wasn't the matron I'd brought the baby to.
"You'll take this girl into the other room and search her
thoroughly. The thing we're looking for--" The Sergeant turned
"A small paper," he said eagerly. "A--a contract--just a
single sheet of legal cap paper it was type-written and signed by
myself and some other gentlemen, and folded twice."