Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Kevin Handy, John Hagerson, and PG Distributed Proofreaders
OUT OF THE ASHES
ETHEL WATTS MUMFORD
Marcus Gard sat at his library table apparently in rapt contemplation of
a pair of sixteenth century bronze inkwells, strange twisted shapes,
half man, half beast, bearing in their breasts twin black pools. But his
thoughts were far from their grotesque beauty--centered on vast schemes
of destruction and reconstruction. The room was still, so quiet, in
spite of its proximity to the crowded life of Fifth Avenue, that one
divined its steel construction and the doubled and trebled casing of its
many windows. The walls, hung with green Genoese velvet, met a carved
and coffered ceiling, and touched the upper shelf of the breast-high
bookcases that lined the walls. No picture broke the simple unity of
color. Here and there a Donatello bronze silhouetted a slim shape, or a
Florentine portrait bust smiled with veiled meaning from the quiet
shadows. The shelves were rich in books in splendid bindings, gems of
ancient workmanship or modern luxury, for the Great Man had the instinct
of the masterpiece.
The door opened softly, and the secretary entered, a look of uncertainty
on his handsome young face. The slight sound of his footfall disturbed
the master's contemplation. He looked up, relieved to be drawn for a
moment from his reflection.
"What is it, Saunders?" he asked, leaning back and grasping the arms of
his chair with a gesture of control familiar to him.
"Mrs. Martin Marteen is here, very anxious to see you. She let me
understand it was about the Heim Vandyke. I knew you were interested, so
I ventured, Mr. Gard--"
"Yes, yes--quite right. Let her come in here." He rose as he spoke,
shook his cuffs, pulled down his waistcoat and ran a hand over his bald
spot and silvery hair. Marcus Gard was still a handsome man. He remained
standing, and, as the door reopened, advanced to meet his guest. She
came forward, smiling, and, taking a white-gloved hand from her sable
muff, extended it graciously.
"Very nice of you to receive me, Mr. Gard," she said, and the tone of
her mellow voice was clear and decisive. "I know what a busy man you
"At your service." He bowed, waved her to a seat and sank once more into
his favorite chair, watching her the while intently. If she had come to
negotiate the sale of the Heim Vandyke, let her set forth the
conditions. It was no part of his plan to show how much he coveted the
picture. In the meantime she was very agreeable to look at. Her strong,
regular features suggested neither youth nor age. She was of the goddess
breed. Every detail of the lady's envelope was perfect--velvet and fur,
a glimpse of exquisite antique lace, a sheen of pearl necklace, neither
so large as to be ostentatious nor so small as to suggest economy. The
Great Man's instinct of the masterpiece stirred. "What can I do for
you?" he said, as she showed no further desire to explain her visit.
"I let fall a hint to Mr. Saunders," she answered--and her smile shone
suddenly, giving her straight Greek features a fascinating humanity--"
that I wanted to see you about the Heim Vandyke." She paused, and his
"Yes--portrait? A good example, I believe."
She laughed quietly. "As you very well know, Mr. Gard. But that, let me
own, was merely a ruse to gain your private ear. I have nothing to do
with that gem of art."
The Great Man's face fell. He was in for a bad quarter of an hour. Lady
with a hard luck story--he was not unused to the type--but Mrs. Martin
Marteen! He could not very well dismiss her unheard, an acquaintance of
years' standing, a friend of his sister's. His curiosity was aroused.
What could be the matter with the impeccable Mrs. Marteen? Perhaps she
had been speculating. She read his thoughts.
"Quite wrong, Mr. Gard. I have not been drawn into the stock market. The
fact is, I _have_ something to sell, but it isn't a picture--autographs.
You collect them, do you not? Now I have in my possession a series of
autograph letters by one of the foremost men of his day; one, in fact,
in whom you have the very deepest interest."
"Napoleon!" he exclaimed.
She smiled. "I have heard him so called," she answered. "I have here
some photographs of the letters. They are amateur pictures--in fact, I
took them myself; so you will have to pardon trifling imperfections. But
I'm sure you will see that it is a series of the first importance." From
her muff she took a flat envelope, slipped off the rubber band with
great deliberation, glanced at the enclosures and laid them on the
The Great Man's face was a study. His usual mask of indifferent
superiority deserted him. The blow was so unexpected that he was for
once staggered and off his guard. His hand was shaking, as with an oath
he snatched up the photographs. It was his own handwriting that met his
eye, and Mrs. Marteen had not exaggerated when she had designated the
letters as a "series of the first importance." With the shock of
recognition came doubt of his own senses. Mrs. Martin Marteen
blackmailing him? Preposterous! His eyes sought the lady's face. She was
quite calm and self-possessed.
"I need not point out to you, Mr. Gard, the desirability of adding these
to your collection. These letters give clear information concerning the
value to you of the Texas properties mentioned, which are now about to
pass into the possession of your emissaries if all goes well. Of course,
if these letters were placed in the hands of those most interested it
would cause you to make your purchase at a vastly higher figure; it
might prevent the transaction altogether. But far more important than
that, they conclusively prove that your company _is_ a monopoly framed
in the restraint of trade--proof that will be a body blow to your
defense if the threatened action of the federal authorities takes place.
"Of course," continued Mrs. Marteen, as Gard uttered a suppressed oath,
"you couldn't foresee a year ago what future conditions would make the
writing of those letters a very dangerous thing; otherwise you would
have conducted your business by word of mouth. Believe me, I do not
underrate your genius."
He laid his hands roughly upon the photographs. "I have a mind to have
you arrested this instant," he snarled.
"But you won't," she added--"not while you don't know where the
originals are. It means too much to you. The slightest menacing move
toward me would be fatal to your interests. I don't wish you any harm,
Mr. Gard; I simply want money."
In spite of his perturbation, amazement held him silent. If a shining
angel with harp and halo had confronted him with a proposition to rob a
church, the situation could not have astonished him more. She gave him
time to recover.
"Of course you must readjust your concepts, particularly as to me. You
thought me a rich woman--well, I'm not. I've about twenty-five thousand
dollars left, and a few--resources. My expenses this season will be
"Why this season?" He asked the question to gain time. He was thinking
"My daughter Dorothy makes her debut, as perhaps you may have heard."
Gard gave another gasp. Here was a mother blackmailing the Gibraltar of
finance for her little girl's coming-out party. Suddenly, quite as
unexpectedly to himself as to his hearer, he burst into a peal of
"I see--I see. 'The time has come to talk of many things.'"
She met his mood. "Well, not so _much_ time. You see, not _all_ kings
are cabbage heads--and while pigs may not have wings, riches have."
"You are versatile, Mrs. Marteen. I confess this whole interview has an
'Alice in Wonderland' quality." He was regaining his composure. "But I
see you want to get down to figures. May I inquire your price?"
"Fifty thousand dollars." There was finality in her tone.
"And how soon?"
"Within the next week. You know this is a crisis in this affair--I
waited for it."
"Indeed! You seem to have singular foresight."
She nodded gravely. "Yes, and unusual means of obtaining information, as
it is needless for me to inform you. I am, I think, making you a very
reasonable offer, Mr. Gard. You would have paid twice as much for the
"And how do you propose, Mrs. Marteen, to effect this little business
deal without compromising either of us?" His tone was half banter, but
her reply was to the point.
"I will place my twenty-five thousand with your firm, with the
understanding that you are to invest for me, in any deal you happen to
be interested in--Texas, for instance. It wouldn't be surprising if my
money should treble, would it? In fact, there is every reason to expect
it--is there not? If all I own is invested in these securities, I would
not desire them to decline, would I? I merely suggest this method," she
continued, with a shrug as if to deprecate its lack of originality,
"because it would be a transaction by no means unusual to you, and would
attract no attention."
He looked at her grimly. "You think so?" Let me hear how you intend to
carry out the rest of the transaction--the delivery of the autographs in
"To begin with, I will place in your hands the plates--all the
"How can I be sure?" he demanded.
"You can't, of course; but you will have to accept my assurance that I
am honest. I promise to fulfill my part of the bargain--literally to the
letter. You may verify and find that the series is complete. Your
attorneys, to whom you wrote these, will doubtless tell you that they
personally destroyed these documents, but they doubtless have a record
of the dates of letters received at this time. You can compare; they are
all there; I hold out nothing."
"But if they say they have destroyed the letters--what in the name of--"
"Oh, no; they destroyed your communications perhaps, after 'contents
noted.' But they never had your letters, for the simple reason that they
never received them. Very excellent copies they were--most excellent."
Mr. Marcus Gard was experiencing more sensations during his chat with
Mrs. Marteen than had fallen to his lot for many a long day. His
tremendous power had long made his position so secure that he had met
extraordinary situations with the calm of one who controls them. He had
startled and held others spellbound by his own infinite foresight,
resource and energy. The situation was reversed. He gazed fascinated in
the fine blue eyes of another and more ruthless general.
"My dear madam, do you mean to infer that this _coup_ of yours was
planned and executed a year ago, when I, even I," and he thumped his
deep chest, "had no idea what these letters might come to mean? Do you
mean to tell me _that_?"
"Yes"--and she smiled at his evident reluctance to believe--"yes,
exactly. You see, I saw what was coming--I knew the trend. I have
friends at court--the Supreme Court, it happens--and I was certain that
the 'little cloud no larger than a man's hand' might very well prove to
contain the whirlwind; so--well, there was just a flip of accident that
makes the present situation possible. But the rest was designed, I
regret to admit--cold-blooded design on my part."
"With this end in view?" He tapped the photographs strewn upon his desk.
"With this end in view," she confessed.
He was silent a moment, lost in thought; then he turned upon her
"Mind, I haven't acceded to your demands," he shouted.
"Is the interview at an end?" she asked, rising and adjusting the furs
about her throat. "If so, I must tell you the papers are in the hands of
persons who would be very much interested in their contents. If they
don't see me--hearing from me won't do, you understand, for a situation
is conceivable, of course, when I might be coerced into sending a
message or telephoning one--if they don't _see_ me personally, the
packet will be opened--and eventually, after the Texas Purchase is
adjusted, they will find their way into the possession of the District
Attorney. I have taken every possible precaution."
"I don't doubt that in the least, madam--confound it, I don't! Now when
will you put the series, lock, stock and barrel, into my hands?"
"When you've done that little turn for me in the market, Mr. Gard. You
may trust me."
"On the word--of a debutante?" he demanded, with a snap of his square
For the first time she flushed, the color mantling to her temples; she
was a very handsome woman.
"On the word of a debutante," she answered, and her voice was steady.
"Well, then"--he slapped the table with his open hand--"if you'll send
me, to the office, what you want to invest, I'll give orders that I will
personally direct that account."
"Thank you so much," she murmured, rising.
"Don't go!" he exclaimed, his request a command. "I want to talk with
you. Don't you know you're the first person, man or woman, who has _held
me up_--me, Marcus Gard! I don't see how you had the nerve. I don't see
how you had the idea." He changed his bullying tone suddenly. "I wish--I
wish you'd _talk_ to me. I'm as curious as any woman."
Mrs. Martin Marteen moved toward the door.
"I'm selling you your autographs--not my autobiography. I'm _so_ glad to
have seen you. Good afternoon, Mr. Gard."
She was gone, and the Great Man had not the presence of mind to escort
his visitor to the door or ring for attendance. He remained standing,
staring after her. His gaze shifted to the table, where, either by
accident or design, the photographs remained, scattered. He chuckled
grimly. Accident! Nothing was accidental with that Machiavelli in
petticoats. She knew he would read those accursed lines, and realize
with every sentence that in truth she was "letting him down easy." There
was no danger of his backing out of his bargain. Seated at the desk, he
perused his folly, and grunted with exasperation. Well, after all, what
of it? He had coveted a masterpiece; now he was to have two in one--the
contemplation of his own blunder, and Mrs. Marteen's criminal
genius--cheap at the price. How long had this been going on? Whom had
she victimized? And how in the world had she been able to obtain the
whole correspondence? That his lawyers should have been deceived by
copies was not so surprising--they never dreamed of a substitution; the
matter, not the letter, was proof enough to them of genuineness. But--he
thumped his forehead. He had been staying with friends at Newport at the
time. Had Mrs. Marteen been there? Of course! He took up the
incriminating documents again and thoroughly mastered their contents,
every turn of phrase, every between-the-line inference. Accidents could
happen; he must be prepared for the worst. Not that negotiations would
fail--but--not until the originals were in his hands and personally done
away with would he feel secure. He recalled Mrs. Marteen's graceful and
sumptuously clad figure, her clear-cut, beautiful head, the power of her
unwavering sapphire eyes, the gentle elegance of her voice. And this
woman--had--held him up!
He turned on the electric lamp, opened a secret compartment drawer in
the table, abstracted a tiny key, and, deftly making a packet of the
scattered proofs, unlocked a small hidden safe behind a row of first
editions of Bunyan and consigned them to secure obscurity.
A moment later his secretary entered the room in response to his ring.
"I'm going out," he said. "Lock up, will you, and at any time Mrs.
Marteen wants to see me admit her at once."
Mr. Saunders' face shone. He, too, was a devout worshiper at the shrine
"The Vandyke?" he inquired hopefully.
"Well, no--but I'm negotiating for a very remarkable series of
* * * * *
When Marcus Gard dressed that evening he was so absent-minded that his
valet held forth for an hour in the servants' hall, with assurances that
some mighty _coup_ was toward. Not since the days of B.L. & W. or the
rate war on the S. & O. had his master shown such complete absorption.
"He's like a blind drunk, or a man in a trance, he is--he's just not
there in the head, and you have to walk around and dress his body, like
he was a dumb wax-work. If I get the lay, Smathers, I'll tip you off.
There might be something in it for us. He's due for dinner and bridge at
the Met., but unless Frenchy puts him out of the motor, he won't know
when he gets there"--which proved true. Three times the chauffeur
respectfully advised his master of their arrival, before the wondering
eyes of the club _chasseur_, before the Great Man, suddenly recalled to
the present, descended from his car and was conducted to his waiting
The first one of the company to shake hands with him was Victor
Mahr--and Victor Mahr was a friend of Mrs. Marteen. The sudden
recollection of this fact made him cast such a glance of scrutiny at the
gentleman as to quite discompose him.
"What's the old man up to, gimleting me in the eye like that? He's got
something up his sleeve," thought Mahr.
"I wonder did she ever corner _him_?" was the question uppermost in
Gard's mind. He hated Mahr, and rather hoped that the lady had, then
flushed with resentment at the thought that she would stoop to blackmail
a man so obviously outside the pale. His mood was so unusual that every
man in the circle was stirred with unrest and misgiving. Dinner
brightened the general gloom, though there were but trifling inroads
into the costly vintages. One doesn't play bridge with the Big Ones
unless one's head is clear. Not till supper time did the talk drift from
honors and trumps. Gard played brilliantly. His absent-mindedness
changed to savage concentration. He played to win, and won.
"What's new in the art world?" inquired Denning, as he lit a cigar.
"There was a rumor you were after the Heim Vandyke."
"Nothing new," Gard answered. "Haven't had time to bother. By the way,
Mahr, what sort of a girl is the little debutante daughter of Mrs.
Marteen--you know her, don't you?" He was watching Mahr keenly, and
fancied he detected a shifty glance at the mention of the name. But Mahr
"Dorothy? She's the season's beauty--really a stunning-looking girl. You
must have seen her; she was in Denning's box with her mother at 'La
Boheme' last week."
"And," added Denning, "she'll be with us again to-morrow night."
"Oh," said Card, with indifference. "The dark one--I
remember--tall--yes, she's like her mother, devilish handsome. Must send
that child some flowers, I suppose."
Gard returned home, disgusted with himself. Why had he forced his mood
upon these men? Why, above all things, had he mentioned Mrs. Marteen to
Mahr, whom he despised? For the simple pleasure of speaking of her, of
mentioning her name? Why had he suspected Mahr of being one of her
victims? And why, in heaven's name, had he resented the very same
notion? He lay in bed numbering the men of money and importance whom he
knew shared Mrs. Marteen's acquaintance. They were numerous, both his
friends and enemies. What had _they_ done? What was her hold over
_them_? Had she in all cases worked as silently, as thoroughly, as
understandingly as she had with him? Did she always show her hand at the
psychological moment? Did she rob only the rich--the guilty? Was she
Robin Hood in velvet, antique lace and sables? Ah, he liked that--Mme.
Robin Hood. He fell asleep at last and dreamed that he met Mrs. Marteen
under the greenwood tree, and watched her as with unerring aim she sent
a bolt from her bow through the heart of a running deer.
He awoke when the valet called him, and was amused with his dream. Not
in years had such an interest entered his life. He rose, tubbed and
breakfasted, and went, as was his wont, to his sister's sitting room.
"Well, Polly," he roared through the closed doors of her bedroom, "up
late, as usual, I suppose! Well, I'm off. By the way, we aren't using
the opera box next Monday night; lend it to Mrs. Marteen. That little
girl of hers is coming out, you know, and we ought to do something for
'em now and again. I'll be at the library after three, if you want me."
At the office he found a courteous note thanking him for his kindness in
offering to direct her investments and inclosing Mrs. Marteen's cheque
for twenty-five thousand dollars. Gard studied the handwriting closely.
It was firm, flowing, refined, yet daring, very straight as to alignment
and spaced artistically. Good sense, good taste, nice discrimination, he
commented. He smiled, tickled by a new idea. He would not give the usual
orders in such matters. When a lovely lady inclosed her cheque, begging
to remind him of his thoughtful suggestion (mostly mythical) at Mrs.
So-and-So's dinner, he cynically deposited the slip, and wrote out
another for double the amount, if he believed the lady deserving; if
not, a polite note informed the sender that his firm would gladly open
an account with her, and he was sure her interests "would receive the
best possible attention and advice." In this case he determined to
accept the responsibility exactly as it was worded, ignoring the
circumstances that had forced his hand. He would make her nest egg hatch
out what was required. It should be an honest transaction in spite of
its questionable inception. Every dollar of that money should work
overtime, for results must come quickly.
He gave his orders and laid his plans. Never had his business interests
appealed to him as keenly as at that moment, and never for a moment did
he doubt the honesty of the lady's villainy. She would not "hold out on
His first care that morning had been to make a luncheon appointment with
his lawyer, and to elicit the information that, as far as his attorney
knew, the incriminating correspondence had been destroyed when received.
"As soon as your instructions were carried out, Mr. Gard. Of course,
none of us quite realized the changes that were coming--but--what those
letters would mean now! Too much care cannot be taken. I've often
thought a code might be advisable in the future, when the written word
must be relied on."
Gard smiled grimly and agreed. "Those letters would make a pretty basis
for blackmail, wouldn't they? Oh, by the way, you are Victor Mahr's
lawyers, aren't you?"
As he had half expected, he surprised a flash of suspicion and knowledge
in the other's eyes.
"What makes you speak of him in that connection?" laughed the lawyer.
"I don't," said Gard. "I happened to be playing bridge with him last
night and from something he let fall I gathered your firm had been
acting for him. Well, he needs the best legal advice that's to be had,
or I miss my guess." He rose and took leave of his friend, entered his
motor and was driven rapidly uptown.
Still his thoughts were of Mrs. Marteen, and again unaccountable
annoyance possessed him. Confound it! Mahr _had_ been held up. Clifton
knew about it; that argued that Mahr had taken the facts, whatever they
were, to them. Had he told them who it was who threatened him? Then
Clifton knew that Mrs. Marteen was a--Hang it! What possible right had
he to jump to the wild conviction that Victor Mahr had been blackmailed
at all? Because he was a friend of the lady's--a pretty reason that! Did
men make friends of--Yes, they did; he intended to himself; why not that
hound of a Mahr? Clifton _did_ know something. Mahr was just the sort of
scoundrel to drag in a woman's name. Why shouldn't he in such a case?
Then, with one of his quick changes of mood, he laughed at himself. "I'm
jealous because I think I'm not the only victim! It's time I consulted a
physician. I'm going dotty. She's a wonder, though, that woman. What a
brain, and what a splendid presence! But there's something vital
lacking; no soul, no conscience--that's the trouble," he commented
inwardly--little dreaming that he exactly voiced the criticism
universally passed upon himself. Then his thoughts took a new tack.
"Wonder what the daughter is like? I'll have to hunt her up. It's a
joke--if it _is_ on me! Must see my debutante. After all, if I'm paying,
I ought to look her over. She's going to the Opera--in Denning's
Gard broke two engagements, and at the appointed hour found himself
wandering through the corridor back of the first tier boxes at the
Metropolitan. Its bare convolutions were as resonant as a sea shell.
Vast and vague murmurs of music, presages of melodies, undulated through
the passages, palpitated like the living breath of Euterpe, suppressed
excitement lurked in every turn, there was throb and glow in each
pulsating touch of unseen instruments. Gard found his heart tightening,
his nostrils expanding. A flash of the divine fire of youth leaped
through his veins. Adventure suddenly beckoned him--the lure of the
unknown, of the magic _x_ of algebra in human equation. So great was his
enjoyment that he savored it as one savors a dainty morsel, lingering
over it, fearful that the next taste may destroy the perfect flavor.
He paced the corridor, nodding here and there, pausing for a moment to
chat with this or that personage, affable, noncommittal,
Chesterfieldian, handsome and distinguished in his clean, silver-touched
Inwardly he was fretting for their appearance--his debutante and Mme.
Robin Hood. Of course they must do the conventional thing and be late.
But to his pleased surprise, just as the overture was drawing to its
close, he saw Denning and his wife approaching. Behind them he discerned
the finely held head and chiseled features of the Lady of Compulsion,
and close beside her a slender, girlish figure, shrouded in a silver and
ermine cloak, a tinsel scarf half veiled a flower face, gentle,
tremulous and inspired--a Jeanne d'Arc of high birth and luxurious
rearing. Something tightened about his heart. The child's very
appearance was dramatic coupled with the presence of her mother. What
the one lacked, the other possessed in its clearest essence.
With a hasty greeting to Denning and his diamond-sprinkled spouse, Gard
turned with real cordiality to Mrs. Marteen.
"This _is_ a pleasure!" He beamed with sincerity. "Dear madam, present
me to your lovely daughter. We must be friends, Miss Dorothy. Your very
wise and resourceful mamma has given me many an interesting hour--more
than she has ever dreamed, I believe."
He turned, accompanied them to the box and assisted the ladies with
their wraps. Dorothy turned upon him a pair of violet eyes, that at the
mention of her mother's name had lighted with adoration.
"Isn't she wonderful!" she murmured, casting a bashful glance at Mrs.
Marteen; then she added with simple gratefulness: "I'm glad you're
friends." In her child's fashion she had looked him over and approved.
A glow of pride suffused him. The obeisance of the kings of finance was
not so sweet to his natural vanity. "She's one in a million," he
answered heartily. "She should have been a man--and yet we would have
lost much in that case--you, for instance." He turned toward Mrs.
Marteen. "I congratulate you," he smiled. "She's just the sort of a girl
that _should_ have a good time--the very best the world can give her;
the world owes it. But aren't you"--and he lowered his voice--"just a
little afraid of those ecstatic eyes? Dear child, she must keep all the
pink and gold illusions--" The end of his sentence he spoke really to
himself. But an expression in his hearer's face brought him to sudden
consciousness. Quite unexpectedly he had surprised fear in the classic
marble of the goddess face. The woman, who had not hesitated to commit
crime, feared the contact of the world for her child. It was a curious
revelation. All that was best, most generous and kindly in his nature
rose to the surface, and his smile was the rare one that endeared him to
his friends. "Let her have every pleasure that comes her way," he added.
"By the way, I'm sending you our box for Monday night. I hope you will
avail yourself of it. My sister will join you, and perhaps you will all
give me the pleasure of your company at Delmonico's afterward."
She hesitated for a moment, her eyes turning involuntarily toward the
girl. Then the human dimple enriched her cheeks, and it was with real
_camaraderie_ that she nodded an acceptance.
His attitude was humbly grateful. "I'll ask the Dennings, too," he
continued. "They're due elsewhere, I know, but they could join us."
The curtain was already rising and Gard, excusing himself, found his way
to the masculine sanctuary, the directors' box, of which he rarely
availed himself, and from a shadowy corner observed his debutante and
her beautiful mother through his powerful opera glasses. He found
himself taking a throbbing interest in the visitors at the loge
opposite. He was as interested in Dorothy Marteen's admirers as any fond
father could be; and yet his eyes turned with strange, fascinated
jealousy to the older woman's loveliness. Suddenly he drew in the focus
of his glasses. A face had come within the rim of his observation--the
face of a man sitting in the row in front of him. That man, too, had his
glasses turned toward the group on the other side of the diamond
horseshoe, and the look on his face was not pleasant to see. A lean,
triumphant smile curled his heavy purple lips, the radiating wrinkles at
the corner of his eyes were drawn upward in a Mephistophelian hardness.
It was Victor Mahr. His expression suddenly changed to one of intense
disgust, as a tall young man entered the Denning box and bent in evident
admiration over Dorothy's smiling face. Victor Mahr rose from his seat,
and with a curt nod to Gard, who feigned interest elsewhere, disappeared
into the corridor.
* * * * *
Mrs. Marteen stood at her desk, a mammoth affair of Jacobean type,
holding in her hand a sheet of crested paper, scrawled over in a large,
MY DEAR MRS. MARTEEN:
If you will be so good as to drop in at the library at
five, it will give me great pleasure to go over with you
the details of my stewardship. The commission with
which you honored me has, I think, been well directed
to an excellent result. Moreover, a little chat with you
will be, as always, a real pleasure to--
Yours in all admiration,
J. MARCUS GARD.
P.S.--I suggest your coming here, as the details of
business are best transacted in the quiet of a business
and I therefore crave your presence and indulgence.--
Mrs. Marteen was dressing for the street; her hands were gloved, her
sable muff swung from a gem-studded chain, her veil was nicely adjusted;
yet she hesitated, her eyes upon a busy silver clock that already marked
the appointed hour. The room was large, wainscoted in dark paneling; a
capacious fireplace jutted far out, and was made further conspicuous by
two settees of worm-eaten oak. The chairs that backed along the walls
were of stalwart pattern. A collection of English silver tankards was
the chief decoration, save straight hangings of Cordova leather at the
windows, and a Spanish embroidery, tarnished with age, that swung beside
the door. Hardly a woman's room, and yet feminine in its minor touches;
the gallooned red velvet cushions of the Venetian armchair; the violets
that from every available place shed their fresh perfume on the quiet
air, a summer window box crowded with hyacinths, the wicker basket, home
of a languishing Pekinese spaniel, tucked under one corner of the table.
Mrs. Marteen continued to hesitate, and the hands of the clock to travel
Suddenly drawing herself erect, she walked with no uncertain tread to
the right-hand wall of the mantel and pushed back a double panel of the
wainscoting, revealing the muzzle of a steel safe let into the masonry
of the wall. A few deft twirls opened the combination, and the metal
door swung outward. Within the recess the pigeonholes were crammed with
papers and morocco jewel cases. Pressing a secret spring, a second door
jarred open in the left inner wall. From this receptacle she withdrew
several packets of letters and a set of plates with their accompanying
prints. Over them all she slipped a heavy rubber band, laid them aside
and closed the hiding place with methodical care. The compromising
documents disappeared within the warm hollow of her muff, and with a
last glance around, Mrs. Marteen unlocked the door and descended to the
street, where her walnut-brown limousine awaited her. Her face, which
had been vivid with emotion, took on its accustomed mask of cold
perfection, and when she was ushered into the anxiously awaiting
presence of Marcus Gard, she was the same perfectly poised machine,
wound up to execute a certain series of acts, that she had been on the
occasion of her former visit. Of their friendly acquaintance of the last
ten days there was no trace. They were two men of business met to
consult upon a matter of money. The host was thoroughly disappointed.
For ten days he had lost no opportunity of following up both Dorothy and
her mother. Dorothy had responded with frank-hearted liking; Mrs.
Marteen had suffered herself to be interested.
"How's my debutante?" he asked cordially, as Mrs. Marteen entered.
"She's very well, thank you," the marble personage replied. "I came in
answer to your note."
"Rather late," he complained. "I've been waiting for you anxiously, most
anxiously--but now you're here, I'm ready to forgive. Do you know, this
is the first opportunity I have had, since you honored me before, of
having one word in private with you?"
She ignored his remark. "I have brought the correspondence of which I
"I never doubted it, my dear lady. But before we proceed to conclude
this little deal I want to ask you a question or two. Surely you will
not let me languish of curiosity. I want to know--tell me--how did you
ever hit upon this plan of yours?"
She unbent from her rigid attitude and answered, almost as if the words
were drawn from her against her will: "After Martin, my husband
died--I--I found myself poor, quite to my astonishment, and with Dorothy
to support. Among his effects--" She paused and turned scarlet; she was
angry at herself for answering, angry at him for daring to question her
"You found--" prompted Gard.
"Well--" she hesitated, and then continued boldly--"some letters
from--never mind whom. They showed me that my husband had been most
cruelly robbed and mistreated; men had traded upon his honor, and had
ruined him. Then and there I saw my way. This man--these men--had
political aspirations. Their plans were maturing. I waited. Then I
'wondered if they would care to have the matter in their opponents'
hands.' The swindle would be good newspaper matter. They replied that
they would 'mind very much.' I succeeded in getting back something of
what Martin had been cheated out of--"
He beamed approval. "And mighty clever and plucky of you. And then?"
This time the delayed explosion of her anger came. "How dare you
question me? How dare you pry into my life?"
"You dared to pry into mine, remember," he snapped.
"For a definite and established purpose," she retorted; "and let us
proceed, if you will."
Gard shifted his bulk and grasped the arms of his chair.
"As you please. You deposited with me the sum of twenty-five thousand
dollars. I personally took charge of that account, and invested it for
you. The steps of these transactions I will ask you to follow."
"Is it necessary?"
"It is. Also that now you set before me the--autographs, together with
their reproductions of every kind, on this table, and permit me to
verify the collection by the list supplied by my lawyers."
She frowned, and taking the packet from its resting place, unslipped the
band and spread out its contents.
"They are all there," she said slowly, and there was hurt pride in her
Without stopping to consult either the memoranda or the letters, he
swept the whole together, and, striding to the fireplace, consigned them
to the flames.
"The plates!" she gasped, rising and following him. "They must be
He smiled at her grimly. "I'll take care of that. And now, if you will
come to the table, I will explain your account with my firm. I bought
L.U. & Y. for you at the opening, the day following our compact, feeling
sure we would get at least a five-point rise, and that would be earning
a bit of interest until I could put you in on a good move. I had private
information the following day in Forward Express stock. I sold for you,
and bought F.E. If you have followed that market you will see what
happened--a thirty-point rise. Then I drew out, cashed up and clapped
the whole thing into Union Short. I had to wait three days for that, but
when it came--there, look at the figures for yourself. Your account with
Morley & Gard stands you in one hundred thousand dollars, and it will be
more if you don't disturb the present investment for a few days."
Mrs. Marteen's eyes were wide.
"What are you doing this for?" she said calmly. "That wasn't the
bargain. I'll not touch a penny more."
"Why did I do it? Because I won't have any question of blackmail between
us. Like the good friend that you are, you gave me something which might
otherwise have been to my hurt. On the other hand, I invested your money
for you wisely, honestly, sanely and with all the best of my experience
and knowledge. It's clean money there, Mrs. Marteen, and I'm ready to do
as much again whenever you need it. You say you won't take it--why, it's
yours. You must. I want to be friends. I don't want this thing lying
between us, crossing our thoughts. If I ask you impertinent questions,
which I undoubtedly shall, I want them to have the sanction of good
will. I want you to know that I feel nothing but kindness for
you--nothing but pleasure in your company."
He paused, confounded by the blank wall of her apparent indifference.
Marcus Gard was accustomed to having his friendly offices solicited.
That his overtures should be rebuffed was incredible. Moreover, he had
looked for feminine softening, had expected the moist eye and quivering
lip as a matter of course; it seemed the inevitable answer to that cue.
It was not forthcoming. Again the conviction of some great psychic loss
"My dear Mr. Gard," the level, colorless voice was saying, "I fear we
are quite beside the subject, are we not? I am not requesting anything.
I am not putting myself under obligations to you; I trust you
Had an explosion wrecked the building, without a doubt Marcus Gard, the
resourceful and energetic leader of men, would, without an instant's
hesitation, have headed the fire brigade. Before this moral bomb he
remained silent, paralyzed, uncertain of himself and of all the world.
He could not adjust himself to that angle of the situation. Mrs. Marteen
somehow conveyed to his distracted senses that blackmail was a mere
detail of business, and "being under obligations" a heinous crime. At
that rate the number of criminals on his list was legion, and certainly
appeared unconscious of the enormity of their offense. It dawned upon
him that he, the Great Man, was being "put in his place"; that his
highly laudable desire for righteousness was being treated as forward
and rather ridiculous posing. The buccaneer had outpointed him and taken
the wind out of his sails, which now flapped ignominiously. The pause
due to his mental rudderlessness continued till Mrs. Marteen herself
broke the silence.
"You appear to consider my attitude an inexplicable one. It is merely
unexpected. I feel sure that when you have considered the matter you
will see, as I do, that business affairs must be free from any
hint--of--shall we say, favoritisms?"
Gard found his voice, his temper and his curiosity at the same instant.
"No, hang it, I _don't_ see!"
She looked at him with tolerance, as a mother upon an excited child.
"I have specified a certain sum as the price of certain articles. You
accepted my terms. I do not ask you for a bonus. I do not ask you to
take it upon yourself to rehabilitate me in your own estimation. I
cannot accept this cheque, Mr. Gard, however I may appreciate your
generosity." She pushed the yellow paper toward him.
The action angered him. "If," he roared, "you had obtained these by any
mere chance, I might see your position. But according to your own
account you obtained them by elaborate fraud, feeling sure of their
eventual value; and yet you sit up and say you don't care to be
reinstated in my regard--just as if money could do that--you--"
She interrupted him. "Then why this?" and she held out the statement. He
was silent. "I repeat," she said, "I will not be under obligations to
you or to anyone." She rose with finality, picked up the statement and
cheque, crossed to the fire and dropped both the papers on the blazing
logs. "If you will have the kindness to send me the purchase money, plus
the sum I consigned to your keeping--as a blind to others, not to
ourselves--I shall be very much indebted to you."
Gard watched her with varying emotions. "Well," he said slowly, "that
money belongs to you. I made it for you and you're going to have it. In
the meantime, as you may require the 'purchase money,' as you call it,
to settle bills for soda water and gardenias, I'll make you out another
cheque; the remainder will stay with the firm on deposit for
you--whether you wish it or not. This is one time when I'm not to be
dictated to--no, nor blackmailed." He spoke roughly and glanced at her
quickly. Not an eyelash quivered. His voice changed. "I wish I
understood you," he grumbled. "I wish I did. But perhaps that would,
after all, be a great pity. You're an extraordinary woman, Mrs. Marteen.
You've 'got me going,' as the college boys say--but I like you, hanged
if I don't. And I repeat, at the risk of having you sneer at me again, I
meant every word I said, and I still mean it; and I'm sorry you don't
see it that way."
Her smile glorified her face.
"Please don't think I reject your proffered friendship," she said,
extending her hand.
He would have taken it in both of his, but something in her manner
warned him to meet it with the straight, firm grasp of manly assurance.
"_Au revoir, mon ami_." She nodded and was gone.
For several moments he stood by the door that had closed after her. Then
he chuckled, frowned, chuckled again and sat down once more before his
* * * * *
The _salons_ of Mrs. Marteen's elaborate apartment were gay with flowers
and palms, sweet with perfumes and throbbing with music. Dorothy, an
airy, dazzling figure in white, her face radiant with innocent
excitement, stood by her mother, whose marble beauty had warmed with
happiness as Galatea may have thrilled to life. Everyone who was anybody
crowded the rooms, laughing, gossiping, congratulating, nibbling at
dainties and sipping beverages. The throng ebbed, renewed, passed from
room to room, to return again for a final look at the lovely debutante
and a final word with her no less attractive mother. A dozen
distinguished men, both young and old, sought to ingratiate themselves,
but Dorothy's joyous heart beat only for the day itself--her coming out,
the launching of her little ship upon the bright waters frequented by
Sirens, Argonauts and other delightful and adventurous people hitherto
but shadow fictions. It was as exciting and wonderful as Christmas. She
had been showered with presents, buried in roses. Everyone was filled
with friendly thoughts of which she was the center. There was no envy,
hatred or malice in all the world.
Marcus Gard advanced into the drawing room, the sound of his name,
announced at the door, causing sudden and free passage to the center of
attraction. He beamed upon Mrs. Marteen with real pleasure in her
stately loveliness, and turned to Dorothy, who, her face alight with
greeting, came frankly toward him. From the moment of their first
meeting there had been instant understanding and liking. Gard took her
outstretched hands with an almost fatherly thrill.
"You are undoubtedly a pleasing sight, Miss Marteen," he smiled; "and a
long life and a merry one to you. Your daughter does you credit, dear
lady," he added, turning to his hostess.
Dorothy, bubbling over with enthusiasm, claimed his hand again. "It was
so sweet of you to send me that necklace in those wonderful flowers.
See--I'm wearing it." She fondled a slender seed pearl rope at her
throat. "Mother told me it was far too beautiful and I must send it
back. But I was most undutiful. I said I wouldn't--just wouldn't. I know
you picked it out for me yourself--now, didn't you?" He nodded somewhat
whimsically. "There! I told mother so; and it would be rude, most rude,
not to accept it--wouldn't it?"
He laughed gruffly. "It certainly would--and, really, you know your
mother has a mania for refusing things. Why, I owe her--never mind, I
won't tell you now--but I would have felt very much hurt, Miss
Debutante, if you'd thrown back my little present. I'm sure I selected
something quite modest and inconspicuous.... Dear me, I'm blocking the
whole doorway. Pardon me."
He stepped back, nodding here and there to an acquaintance. Finally
catching sight of his sister in the dining room, he joined her, and
stood for a moment gazing at the commonplace comedy of presentations.
Miss Gard yawned. "My dear Marcus, who ever heard of you attending a
tea? Really, I didn't know you knew these people so well."
Gard was glad of this opportunity. His sister had a praiseworthy manner
of distributing his slightest word--of which he not infrequently took
"Well, you see, I was indebted to Marteen for a number of kindnesses in
the early days, though we'd rather drifted apart before he died--had
some slight business differences, in fact. But I'd like to do all I can
for his widow and that really sweet child of theirs. I have a small nest
egg in trust for her--some investments I advised Mrs. Marteen to make.
Who is that chap who's so devoted?" he asked suddenly, switching the
subject, as his quick eye noted the change of Dorothy's expression under
the admiring glances of a tall young man of athletic proportions, whose
face seemed strangely familiar.
Miss Gard lorgnetted. "That? Oh, that's only Teddy Mahr, Victor Mahr's
son. He was a famous 'whaleback'--I think that's what they call it--on
the Yale football team. They say that he's the one thing, besides
himself, that the old cormorant really cares about."
Marcus Gard stiffened, and his jaw protruded with a peculiar bunching of
the cheek muscles, characteristic of him in his moments of irritation.
He looked again at Dorothy, absorbed in the conversation of the
"whaleback" from Yale, recognized the visitor at the Denning box, and,
with an untranslatable grunt, abruptly took his departure, leaving his
sister to wonder over the strangeness of his actions.
Once out of the house, his anger blazed freely, and his chauffeur
received a lecture on the driving and care of machines that was as
undeserved as it was vigorous and emphatic.
Moved by a strange mingling of anger, curiosity and jealousy, Gard's
first act on entering his library was to telephone to a well known
detective agency--no surprising thing on his part, for not infrequently
he made use of their services to obtain sundry details as to the
movements of his opponents, and when, as often happened, cranks
threatened the thorny path of wealth and prominence, he had found
protection with the plain clothes men.
"Jordan," he growled over the wire, "I want Brencherly up here right
away. Is he there?....All right. I want some information he may be able
to give me offhand. If not--well, send him now."
He hung up the receiver and paced the room, his eyes on the rug, his
hands behind his back, disgusted and angry with his own anger and
Half an hour had passed, when a young man of dapper appearance was
ushered in. Gard looked up, frowning, into the mild blue eyes of the
"Hello, Brencherly. Know Victor Mahr?"
"Yes," said the youth.
"Tell me about him," snapped Gard. "Sit down."
Brencherly sat. "Well, he's the head of the lumber people. Rated at six
millions. Got one son, named Theodore; went to Yale. Wife was Mary
Theobald, of Cincinnati--"
Gard interrupted. "I don't want the 'who's who,' Brencherly, or I
wouldn't have sent for you. I want to know the worst about him. Cut
"Well, his deals haven't been square, you know. He's had two or three
nasty suits against him; he's got more enemies than you can shake a
stick at. His confidential lawyer is Twickenbaur, the biggest scoundrel
unhung. Of course nobody knows that; Twickenbaur's reputation is too
bad--Mahr goes to _your_ lawyers, apparently."
"There isn't any blackmail in any of _that_," the older man snarled.
"Oh!" cried the youth, his blue eyes lighting. "Oh, it's blackmail you
want! Well, the only thing that looks that way is a story that nobody
has been able to substantiate. We heard it as we hear lots of things
that don't get out; but there was a yarn that Mahr was a bigamist; that
his first wife was living when he married Miss Theobald. She died when
the boy was born, and in that case she was never his legal wife, and of
course now never can be. The other woman's dead, too, they say; but
who's to prove it? That would be a fine tale for the coin, if anyone had
the goods to show."
"I suppose the office looked that up when they got it, didn't they? Good
for the coin, eh? What did you find?"
The informant actually blushed. "You aren't accusing us, Mr. Gard!"
"Accusing nothing. I know a few things, Brencherly, remember. Baker
Allen told me your office held him up good and plenty to turn in a
different report when his wife employed you, and you 'got the goods on
him.' Now, don't give me any bluff. I want facts, and I pay you for
them, don't I? Well, when you got that story, you looked it up hard,
Brencherly, thoroughly cowed, nodded assent. "But we couldn't get a line
on it anywhere. If there were any proofs, somebody else had them--that's
"U'm!" said Marcus, and sat a moment silent. When he spoke again it was
with an apparent frankness that would have deceived the devil himself.
"See here, I'll tell you my reason for all this, so perhaps you can
answer more intelligently. Martin Marteen was a friend of mine, and I'm
interested in his little daughter, who has just come out. Theodore Mahr
is attentive to her, and I'm not keen about it, and what you tell me
about his father doesn't make me any happier. What sort of a woman is
Mrs. Marteen--from your point of view? Of course I know her well
socially, but what's her rating with you?"
"Ai, sir," Brencherly answered promptly. "Exceptionally fine woman--very
intelligent. I should say that, with a word from you, she ought to be
able to handle the situation, and any girl living. But the boy's all
right, Mr. Gard, even if Mahr isn't. And after all, there may not be a
word of truth in that romance I spun to you. We couldn't land a thing.
What made us think there might be something in it was that we got it
second hand from an old servant of Mahr's. _He_ told the man that told
us; but the old boy's gone, too."
Gard rose from his chair and resumed his pacing. Brencherly remained
seated, patiently waiting. Presently Gard turned on him.
"That'll do, Brencherly. You may go; and don't let me catch you tipping
Mahr off that I've been having you rate him, do you understand?"
The detective sprang to his feet with alacrity. "Oh, no, Mr. Gard--never
a word. You know, sir, you're one of our very best clients."
Left alone, Gard sat down wearily, ran his hands through his hair, then
held his throbbing temples between his clenched fists. Somehow, on his
slender evidence, that was no evidence in fact, he was convinced of the
truth of Mahr's perfidy; convinced that the lady rated A1 by the keenest
detective bureau in the country had obtained the proofs of guilt and
used them with the same perfect business sagacity she had used in his
own case. It sickened him. Somehow he could forgive her handling such a
case as his. It was purely commercial; but this other was uglier stuff.
His soul rebelled. He would not have it so; he would not believe--and
yet he was convinced against his own logic. He had tried to cheat the
arithmetic when he had tried to make her extortion money an honestly
made acquisition. And she had refused to be a party to the flimsy
Mrs. Marteen was a blackmailer, an extortioner--that was the truth, the
truth that he would not let himself recognize. Her depredations probably
had much wider scope than he guessed. He must save her from herself; he
must somehow reach the submerged personality and awaken it to the
hideousness of that other, the soulless, heartless automaton that
schemed and executed crimes with mechanical exactitude. He took a long
breath of determination, and again grinned at the farce he was playing
for his own benefit. Through repetition he was beginning to believe in
the fiction of his former intimacy with Marteen. True, he had known him
slightly, had once or twice snatched a hasty luncheon in his company at
one of his clubs; but far from liking each other, the two men had been
fundamentally antagonistic. Neither was Dorothy an excuse for his
peculiar state of mind. He was drawn to her with strong protective
yearning. Her childlike beauty pleased him. He wished she were his
daughter, or a little sister to pet and spoil. But it was not for her
sake that he savagely longed to make the mother into something
different, "remolded nearer to his heart's desire." Was it the woman
herself, or her enigmatic dual personality that held him? He wished he
knew. He found his mind divided, his emotions many and at cross
purposes. His keen, almost clairvoyant intuition was at fault for once.
It sent no sure signal through the fog of his troubled heart.
How would it all end? Ah, how would it end? He sensed the situation as
one of climax. It could not quietly dissolve itself and be absorbed in
the sea of time and forgotten commonplace.
As an outlet for his mental discomfort, his restless spirit busied
itself in hating Victor Mahr. He had always disliked the man; now he
malignantly resented his very existence; Mahr became the personification
of the thing he most wished to forget--the victimizing power of the
woman who had enthralled him. Gard had met the one element he could not
control or change--the past; and his conquering soul raged at its own
"There shall be no more of this!" he said aloud. "She sha'n't again.
"I'll what?" the demon in his brain jeered at him. "What will you do?
She will not 'be under obligations.' Perhaps, even, she likes her
strange profession; perhaps she finds the delight of battle, that you
know so well, in pitting her wits against the brains of the mighty;
perhaps she has a cynic soul that finds a savage joy in running down the
faults of the seemingly faultless--running them to earth and taking her
profit therefrom. Who are you, Marcus Gard, to cavil at the lust of
conquest--to sneer at the controlling of destinies?"
"I won't be beaten," declared his ego, "even if I have no weapon. I'll
search till I find the way to the citadel, and if there is none open,
I'll smash one through!"
* * * * *
"Mrs. Martin Marteen requests the pleasure of Mr. Marcus Gard's company
at dinner"--the usual engraved invitation, with below a girlish scrawl:
"You'll come, won't you? It's my very last dinner before we go
He took a stubby quill, which, for some occult reason, he preferred for
his intimate correspondence, and scribbled: "Of course, little friend.
The crowned heads can wait." He tossed the envelope on the pile for
special delivery, and speared the invitation on a letter file.
Two months had passed, and he was no nearer the solution of the problem
he had set himself. His affection for the girl had deepened--become
ratified by his experience of her sweetness and intelligence. They were
"pally," as she put it, happily contented in each other's society. On
the other hand, the fascination that Mrs. Marteen exercised over him was
far from being placid enjoyment. She continued to vex his heart and
irritate his imagination. Her tolerance of young Mahr's attentions to
Dorothy drove him distracted, his only relief being that Miss Gard, his
sister, swayed, as always, by his slightest wish, had developed a most
maternal delight in Dorothy's presence, and was doing all in her power
to make the girl's season a most successful one; also, in accord with
his obvious desire--her influence was antagonistic to Mahr, his son and
his motor car, his house and his flowers, everything that was his; in
spite of which, Dorothy's manner toward Teddy Mahr was undoubtedly one
of encouragement. Honesty compelled Gard to own that he could not find
in the boy the echo of the objectionable sire. Perhaps the long dead
mother, who was never a lawful wife, had, by some retributive turn of
justice, endowed him wholly with her own qualities. Gard could almost
find it in his breast to like the big, large-hearted, gentle boy, but
for a final irony of fate--the son's blind adoration of his father, and
that father's obvious but helpless dislike of the impending romance.
Every element of contradiction seemed to be present in the tangle and to
bind the older watchers to silence. What could anyone do or say? And
meanwhile, in the pause before the storm, Dorothy's violet eyes smiled
into her Teddy's brown devoted ones with tender approval.
One move only had Gard made with success, and the doing thereof had
given him supreme satisfaction. The account opened in his office in Mrs.
Marteen's name had been transferred to Dorothy, and with such publicity
that Mrs. Marteen was unable to raise objections. Right and left he told
the tale of his having desired to advise the widow of his old friend, of
his successful operations, of Mrs. Marteen's refusal to accept her just
gains as "too great," and his determination that the account,
transferred to the daughter, should reach its proper destination. The
first result of his outwitting of the beneficiary was a doubling of the
usual letters inclosing a cheque and requesting advice. The secretary
was plainly disgusted, but Gard grimly paid the price of his checkmate,
and by his generosity certainly precluded any accusation of favoritism.
As he read Dorothy's note on the invitation, he chuckled at the thought
of his own cleverness, and rejoiced in the knowledge that his debutante
had become somewhat his ward and protegee.
The bell of his private telephone rang--only his intimates had the
number of that wire--and he raised the receiver with sudden conviction
that the voice he would hear was Dorothy's. "Well, my dear?" he said.
There was a little gurgle, and an obviously disguised voice replied:
"And who do you think this is?"
"Why, the queen of the debutantes, of course. I felt it in my bones; it
was a pleasurable sensation."
"Wrong," the voice came back, "quite wrong. This is the superintendent
of the Old Ladies' Home, and we want autographed photographs of you for
all the old ladies' dressers--to cheer them up, you know."
"Certainly, my dear madam; they shall be sent at once. To your
apartment, I suppose. Is there anything else?"
"Yes; you might bring them yourself. Did you know that mother has been
ordered off to Bermuda at once? The doctor says she's dreadfully run
down. She won't let me go with her. She wants me to do a lot of things;
and then in three weeks we all go South. Mother's doctor says she
mustn't wait. Isn't it a bore? And Tante Lydia is coming to-day to
chaperon me. Did you get my invitation?"
Gard's heart sank. "Dear me! That's bad news. How long will your mother
"Oh, just the voyage and straight home again. But do come in this
afternoon and have tea; perhaps you could persuade her to stay a week
there--she won't obey me."
"They are very insubordinate in the Old Ladies' Home. I'll drop in this
afternoon. Good-by, my dear."
He hung up the receiver and glowered. "Not well! Mrs. Marteen in the
doctor's care!" He could not associate her perfection with illness of
any kind. It gave him a distinct pang, and for the first time a feeling
of protective tenderness. This instantly translated itself into a lavish
order of violets, and a mental note to see that, her stateroom was made
beautiful for her voyage.
Adding his signature to the pile of letters that Saunders handed him
served to pass the moments till he could officially declare himself free
for the day and be driven to the abode of the two beings who had so
absorbed his interest.
He found Mrs. Marteen reclining on a _chaise-longue_ in her
library-sitting room, the Pekinese spaniel in her lap and Dorothy by her
side. She looked weary, but not ill, and Gard felt a glow of comfort.
"Dear lady, I came at once. Dorothy advised me of your impending
journey, and led me to believe you were not well. But I am
reassured--you do not seem a drooping flower."
Mrs. Marteen laughed. "How 1830! Couldn't you put it into a madrigal? It
really is absurd, though, sending me off like this. But they threatened
me with nerves--fancy that--nerves! And never having had an attack of
that sort, of course I'm terrified. I shall leave my butterfly in good
hands, however. My sister is to take my place; and I sha'n't be gone
long, you know."
"We hope not, don't we, Dorothy? What boat do you honor, and what date?"
Mrs. Marteen hesitated. "I'm not sure. The _Bermudian_ sails this week.
If I cannot go then, and that is possible, I may take the _Cecelia_, and
make the Caribbean trip. It's a little longer, but on my return I would
join Dorothy and Mrs. Trevor, crossing directly from Bermuda to Florida.
It's absurd, isn't it, to play the invalid! But insomnia is really
getting its hold on me. A good sleep would be a novelty just now, and
bromides depress me, so--there you are! I suppose I must take the
doctor's advice and my maid, and fly for my health's sake."
In spite of the natural tone and her apparent frankness, Gard remained
unconvinced. He could not have explained why. All his life he had found
his intuitions superior to his logical deductions. They had led him to
his present exalted position and had kept him there. No sooner had this
inner self refused to accept Mrs. Marteen's story than his mind began
supplying reasons for her departure--and the very first held him
spellbound. Was it another move in her perpetual game? Was she on the
track of someone's secret? Was her scheming mind now following some new
clew that must lead to the discovery of a hidden or forgotten crime--the
burial place of some well entombed family skeleton? He shivered.
Mrs. Marteen observed him narrowly.
"Mr. Gard is cold, Dorothy. Send for the tea, dear--or will you have
something else? Really, _you_ look like the patient who should seek
climate and rest."
"Perhaps you're right," he said slowly. "Perhaps I _will_ go--perhaps
with you. It would be pleasant to have your society for so many weeks,
uninterrupted and almost alone. I'll think of it--if I can arrange my
He had been watching her closely, and seemed to surprise in the depths
of her eyes and the slow assuming of her impenetrable manner, that his
suggestion was far from receiving approval.
"But, my dear sir," she answered, "much as that would be my pleasure,
would it be wise for you? Everyone tells me the next few weeks will be
crucial. Your presence may be needed in Washington."
"Well, I suppose it will," he retorted almost angrily. "But I've a
pretty good idea what the result will be, and my sails are trimmed."
"Then do come," she invited cordially; "it will be delightful!" She had
read the meaning of his tone; knew quite as well as he that her words
had brought home to him the impossibility of his leaving. She could
afford to be pressing.
More and more convinced of some ulterior motive in Mrs. Marteen's
departure, his irritation made him gruff. Even Dorothy, seeing his
ill-temper, retired to the far corner of the room, and eyed him with
surprise above her embroidery. Feeling the discord of his present mood,
he rose to take his leave.
"Do arrange to come," smiled Mrs. Marteen, with just a touch of irony in
her clear voice.
"You are very kind," he answered; "but, somehow, I'm not so sure you
He bowed himself out and, sore-hearted, sought the crowded solitude of
the Metropolitan Club. His next move was characteristic. Having got
Gordon on the wire, he requested as complete a list as possible of the
passengers to sail by the _Bermudian_ and the _Cecelia_. A new
possibility had presented itself. If the psychological moment in
someone's affairs was eventuating, something for which she had long
planned the denouement. That person might be sailing. If only he could
accompany her, perhaps in the isolated world of a steamer's life, he
might bring his will to bear--force from her a promise to cease from her
pernicious activities, and an acceptance of his future aid in all
financial matters--two things he had found it impossible to accomplish,
or even propose, heretofore. But she was right; the moment was critical,
and his presence might be necessary in Washington at any moment.
When, later that night, the lists were delivered at his home, he spent a
throbbing half-hour. There were several possibilities. Mrs. Allison was
Bermuda bound; so was Morgan Beresford. Both had fortunes, a whispered
past and ambitions. The Honorable Fortescue, the wealthy and impeccable
Senator, the shining light of "practical politics," was Havana bound on
the _Cecelia_, so was Max Brutgal, the many-millioned copper baron. Mrs.
Allison he discarded as a possibility. He was sure that Mme. Robin Hood
would disdain such an easy victim and refuse to hound one of her own
sex. Looking over the list, he singled out Brutgal, if it were the
_Cecelia_, and Beresford, if it were the _Bermudian_. Beresford was
devoted to the lovely and somewhat severe Mrs. Claigh. He might be more
than willing to suppress some event in his patchwork past.
Gard threw the lists from him angrily. After all, what right had he to
interfere? What business of his was it which fly was elected to feed the
spider? He went to bed, and passed a sleepless night trying to
determine, nevertheless, which was the doomed insect. He would have
liked to prevent the ships from leaving the harbor, or invent a
situation that would make it as impossible for Mrs. Marteen to leave as
it was for him to accompany her.
A few days later, when Mrs. Marteen finally announced her intention of
departing on the longer cruise, Gard seriously contemplated a copper
raid that would keep Brutgal at the ticker. Then he as furiously
abandoned the idea, washed his hands of the whole affair and did not go
near Mrs. Marteen for three days. At the end of that time, having
thoroughly punished himself, he relented, and continued to shower the
lady with attentions until the very moment of her final leave taking. He
accompanied her to the steamer, saw her gasp of pleasure at the bower of
violets prepared for her and formally accepted the post of sub-guardian
As the tugs dragged out the unwilling vessel from her berth, he caught a
glimpse of Brutgal, his coarse, heavy face set off by an enormous
sealskin collar, join Mrs. Marteen at the rail and bid blatantly for her
attention. Gard turned his back, took Dorothy by the arm, and, in spite
of her protestations, left the wharf. His motor took Tante Lydia and
Dorothy to their apartment, where he left them with many assurances of
his desire to be of service.
He sent a wireless message and was comforted. He wondered how, in the
old days that were only yesterdays, people could have endured separation
without any means of communication, and he blessed the name of Marconi
as cordially as he cursed the name of Brutgal. To exasperate him
further, the rest of the day seemed obsessed by Victor Mahr. He was in
the elevator that took him up to his office; he was at the club in the
afternoon; he was a guest at the Chamber of Commerce banquet in the
evening, and was placed opposite Marcus Gard. Despite his desire to let
the man alone, he could not resist the temptation to talk with him.
Mahr, whatever else he might be, was no fool, and even as Gard seemed a
prey to nervous irritation, so Mahr appeared to experience a bitter
pleasure in parrying his adversary's vicious thrusts and lunging at
every opening in the other's arguments. Both men appeared to ease some
inner turbulence, for they calmed down as the dinner progressed, and
ended the evening in abstraction and silence, broken as they parted by
Gard's sudden question:
"And how's that good-looking son of yours, Mahr?"
Mahr shot an underbrow glance at Gard, and took his time to answer.
"If he does what I want him to," he said at last, "he'll take a year or
two out West and learn the lumber business--and I think he will."
"Good idea," said Gard curtly. "Good-night."
One day of restlessness succeeded another. Ill at ease, Gard felt
himself waiting--for what? It was the strain of anxiety, such as a miner
feels deep in the heart of the earth, knowing that far down the black
corridor the dynamite has been placed and the fuse laid. Why was the
expected explosion delayed? One must not go forward to learn. One must
sit still and wait. A thousand times he asked himself the meaning of
this latent dread. He set it down to his suspicions of Mrs. Marteen's
departure. Then why this fibril anxiety never to be long beyond call?
Surely, and the demon in his brain laughed with amusement, he did not
expect her to send him a cryptic wireless--"Everything arranged;
operation a success; appendix removed without opposition," or "Patient
unmanageable; must use anesthetic."
Four days had passed, four miserable days, relieved only by a few
pleasant hours with Dorothy and the enjoyment he always found in
watching her keen delight in every entertainment. He went everywhere,
where he felt sure of seeing her, and could he have removed Teddy Mahr
from the obviously reserved place at Dorothy's side, he could have
enjoyed those moments without the undercurrent of his troubled fears.
That Mahr was rebelliously angry at the situation was evident. Gard had
seen the look in his eyes on more than one occasion, and it boded evil
to someone. What had he meant when he spoke of his son's probable
absence of a year or more "to study the lumber business"? Gard
approached the young man and found him quite innocent of any such plan.
"Oh, yes," he had answered, "father's keen on my being what he calls
practical, but," and he had smiled frankly at his questioner, "I
wouldn't leave now--not for the proud possession of every tree, flat or
standing, this side of the Pacific."
Dorothy, when questioned, blushed and smiled and evaded, assuring Gard
that of all the men she had met that season he alone came up to her
ideal, and employed every artifice a woman uses between the ages of nine
and ninety, when she does not want to give an answer that answers. The
very character of her replies, however, convinced Gard that there was
more than a passing interest in her preference. There was something
sweetly ingenuous in her evasions, a softness in her violet eyes at the
mention of Teddy's prosaic name that was not to be misunderstood. Gard
sighed. Still the sense of impending danger oppressed him. He found
himself neglectful of his many and vital interests. He took himself
severely in hand, and set himself to unrelenting work, fixing his
attention on the matters in hand as if he would drive a nail through
them. Heavy circles appeared under his eyes, and the lines from nose to
chin sharpened perceptibly. More than ever he looked the eagle, stern
and remote, capable of daring the very sun in high ambitious flight, or
of sudden and death-dealing descent; but deep in his heart fear had
* * * * *
"Hello! Oh, good morning. Is that you, Teddy? Yes, you did wake me
up--but I'm very glad. Half past ten?--good gracious!--you never
telephone me before that?--Oh, what a whopper! You called me at half
past eight--day before yesterday--Why, of course--I know that--but you
did just the same. Why, yes, I'd love to. What time to-morrow? That will
be jolly; but do have the wind-shield--I hate to be blown out of the
car--no, it _isn't_ becoming--You're a goose!--besides, my hair tickles
my nose. No, I haven't had a word from mother, and I don't understand it
at all. She might have sent me a wireless. Yes, I'm awfully lonely--who
wouldn't miss her?--Well, now, you don't have a chance to miss me
much--Oh, really!--I'm dreadfully sorry for you!--poor old dear! Well, I
can't, positively, to-day--to-morrow, at three; and I'll be ready--yes,
_really_ ready. Good-by."
Dorothy hung up the receiver, yawned as daintily as a Persian kitten,
rubbed her eyes and rang the maid's bell. She smiled happily at the
golden sunlight that crept through the slit of the drawn pink curtains.
Another beautiful brand new day to play with, a day full of delightful,
adventurous surprises--a debutante's luncheon, a matinee, a the dansant,
a dinner, too. Dorothy swung her little white feet from under the covers
and crinkled her toes delightedly ere she thrust them in the cozy satin
slippers that awaited them; a negligee to match, with little dangling
bunches of blue flower buds, she threw over her shoulders with a
delicate shiver, as the maid closed the window and admitted the full
light of day. Hopping on one foot by way of waking up exercises, she
crossed to the dressing-table, dabbed a brush at her touseled hair, then
concealed it under a fluffy boudoir cap. She paused to innocently admire
her reflection in the silver rimmed mirror, turning her head from side
to side, the better to observe the lace frills and twisted ribbons of
her coiffe. Breakfast arrived, steaming on its little white and chintz
tray, and Dorothy smacked hungry lips.
"Oo--oo--how perfectly lovely--crumpets! and scrambled eggs! I'm
starved!" She settled herself, eagerly cooing over the fragrant coffee.
"Now, if only Mother were here," she exclaimed. "It's so lonely
breakfasting without her!"
But her loneliness was not for long. An avalanche of Aunt Lydia entered
the room, quite filling it with her fluttering presence. Tante Lydia's
morning cap was quite as youthful as that of her niece, her flowered
wrapper as belaced and befurbelowed as the lingiere could make it, and
her high heeled mules were at least two sizes too small, and slapped as
"My dear," she bubbled girlishly, thrusting a stray lock of questionable
gold beneath her cap, "I thought I'd just run in and sit with you. I've
had my breakfast ages ago--indeed, yes--and seen the housekeeper, and
ordered everything. It was shockingly late when we got in last night, my
dear. I really hadn't a notion it was after three, till you came after
me into the conservatory. That _was_ a delightful affair last night, I
must say, even if Mrs. May _is_ so loud. She isn't stingy in the way she
entertains, like Mrs. Best's, where we were Wednesday. That was
positively a shabby business. Now, dear, what do we do to-day? I've just
looked over my calendar, and I want to see yours. Really, we are so
crowded that we've got to cut something out--we really have." As she
spoke she crossed to Dorothy's slim-legged, satin wood writing desk, and
picked up an engagement book. "You lunch with the Wootherspoons--that's
good. Then I can go to the Caldens for bridge in the afternoon at four.
You won't be back from the matinee and tea at the Van Vaughns' until
after six, and we dine at the Belmans' at eight. That'll do very nicely.
And then, dear, about my dress at Bendel's; I do wish you could find a
minute to see my fitting. I can't tell whether I ought to have that
mauve so near my face, or whether it ought to be pink; and you know that
fitter doesn't care _how_ I look, just so she gets that gown _of_ her
hands, and I _can't_ make up my mind--when I can't see myself at a
distance _from_ myself, and those fitting rooms are _so_ small!"
Dorothy paused in the midst of a bite. "Tante Lydia, you _know_ if she
said 'mauve' you'd want 'pink' and 'mauve' if she said 'pink,' and all
you really need is somebody to argue with; and, besides, they both look
the same at night."
Mrs. Mellows pouted fat pink lips, and looked more than ever an elderly
infant about to burst into tears.
"Dorothy," she sniffed, "I do think you are the most trying child! I
only wish to look well for _your_ sake. I have no vanity--why should I
have? It's only my desire to be presentable on your account." Her blue
orbs suffused with tears.
Dorothy leaped from the divan, to the imminent danger of the breakfast
tray. "Now, Aunt Lydia, don't be foolish. I didn't mean to hurt your
feelings, and, besides, you know you are the really, truly belle of the
ball. Why, you bad thing! Where were you all last evening? Didn't I have
to go after you--and into the conservatory, at that! And what did I
find, pray--you and a beautiful white-haired beau, with a goatee! And
now you say you are _only_ dressing for _me_--Oh, fie!--oh, fie!--oh,
fie!" She kissed her aunt on a moist blue eye, and bounced back to her
The chaperon was mollified and flattered. "But, my dear," she returned
to the charge, "you know mauve is so unbecoming; if one should become a
Dorothy snipped a bit of toast in her aunt's direction. "But, why, my
dear Lydia," she teased, "should one ever be pale? There are first aids
to beauty, you know--and a very _nice_ rouge can be had--"
"Dorothy, how can you!" exclaimed the lady, overcome with horror.
"Rouge! What _are_ you saying, and what _are_ young girls coming to! At
your age, I'd never heard the word, no, indeed. And, besides, my love,
it is indecorous of you to address me as 'Lydia.' I am your mother's
Her charge giggled joyously. "Nobody would believe it, never in the
world! You aren't one day older than I am, not a day. If you were, you
wouldn't care whether it was mauve or pink--nor flirt in the
"You're teasing me!" was Mrs. Mellows' belated exclamation. "And, my
dear, I don't think it _quite_ nice, really."
The insistent call of the telephone arrested the conversation. Dorothy
took up the receiver, and Aunt Lydia became all attention.
"Hello!--Oh, it's you again--I thought I rang off--Oh, really--no, I'm
"Who is it?" questioned Aunt Lydia in a sibilant whisper.
Dorothy went on talking, carefully refraining from any mention of names.
"Yes--did you?--that's awfully kind--yes, I love violets; no, they
haven't come, by messenger--how extravagant! No, I'm not going out
_just_ yet--not in this get up. What color? Pink--_and_ a lace cap--a
duck of a lace cap. Send the photographs around--Oh, _that's_ all right;
Aunt Lydia is here--aren't you, Aunt Lydia?--Oh, oh--what a horrid
word!--unsay it at once! All right, you're forgiven. I'm busy _all_
day--_all, all_ day--yes, and this evening. No, orchids won't go with my
gown to-night--don't be silly--of course, gardenias go with everything,
but--now, what nonsense!--I'm going to hang up--Indeed, I _will_.
Good-b--what? Now, listen to me--"
A tap at the door, and Aunt Lydia, hypnotized as she was by the
telephone conversation, had presence of mind enough to open the door and
receive a square box tied with purple ribbon. She dexterously untied the
loose bow knot, and withdrew from its tissue wrappings, a fragrant
bouquet of violets. An envelope enclosing a card fell to the floor. With
suppleness hardly to be expected from one of her years, she stooped to
pick it up, and in a twinkling had the donor's name before her.
Dorothy hung up the receiver and turned. "So you know who sent the
flowers, and who was on the 'phone," she laughed. "Tante, you should
have been a detective--you really should."
"How can you!" almost wept Mrs. Mellows. "I only opened it to save you
the trouble. Of course, I knew all along that it was Teddy Mahr--I
guessed--why not? Really, Dorothy, you misinterpret my interest in you,
really, you do."
Dorothy laughed. "Now, now," she scolded, "don't say that. Here, I'll
divide with you." She separated the fragrant bunch into its components
of smaller bunches, snipped the purple ribbon in two, and neatly devised
two corsage adornments. "Here," she bubbled, "one for you and one for
me--and don't say such mean things about me any more. If you do, I'll
tell Mother about all your flirtations the minute she gets back--I will,
"That reminds me, my dear," said Mrs. Mellows, her apple-pink face
becoming suddenly serious, "I don't understand why we haven't had any
news from your mother, really, I don't. She might have sent us just a
wireless or something."
"It _is_ odd." Dorothy's laugh broke off midway in a silvery chuckle.
"But something may have gone wrong with the telegraphic apparatus, you
know. We might get the company, and find out if any other messages have
been received from her."
"I never thought of that," exclaimed Mrs. Mellows. "You are quick
witted, Dorothy, I will say that for you. Suppose you do find out."
Dorothy turned to the telephone and made her inquiry. "There," she said
at length, "I guessed it--no messages at all; they are sure it's out of
order. Well, that does relieve one's mind. It isn't because she's ill,
or anything like that. Now, Aunt Lydia, that's _my_ mail."
"Why, child!" the mature Cupid protested, "_I_ wasn't going to open your
letters. Indeed, I think you are positively insulting to me! Here,
that's from your cousin Euphemia, I know her hand; and that's just a
circular, I'm sure--and Tappe's bill. My dear, you've been perfectly
foolish about hats this winter. This is a handwriting I don't know, but
it's smart stationery--and, dear me, look at all these little cards. I
really don't see how the postman bothers to see that they're all
delivered; they're such little slippery things--more teas--and bridge."
"And how about yours?" questioned Dorothy, amused. "What did you get?"
Aunt Lydia bridled. "Oh, nothing much. Some cards, a bill or two--"
"Bill or coo, you mean," said her niece with a playful clutch at her
chaperon's lap-full of missives. "If that isn't a man's letter, I'll eat
my cap, ribbons and all--and that one, and that one."
Mrs. Mellows rose hastily, gathered her flowing negligee about her and
beat a retreat.
She turned at the door, "You're a rude little girl, and I shan't count
on you to go to Bendel's. If you want me, I'll be here from half past
two to four, when I go for bridge." With the air of a Christian martyr
she betook herself to the seclusion of her own rooms.
Dorothy suffered herself to be dressed as she opened her mail. Aunt
Lydia had diagnosed it with almost psychic exactness, and its mystery
had ceased to be interesting. Last of all she opened a plain envelope
with typewritten directions. The enclosure, also typewritten, gave a
first impression of an announcement of a special sale, or request for
assistance from some charitable organization. Idly she glanced at it,
flipped it over, and found it to be unsigned. A word or two caught her
attention. She turned back, and read:
Miss DOROTHY MARTEEN:
"That the sins of the parents should be visited upon
the children is, perhaps, hard. But we feel it time for
you to understand thoroughly your situation, in order
that you may determine what your future is to be. You
have been reared all your life on stolen, or what is worse,
extorted money. We hope you have not inherited the
callous nature of your mother, and that this information
will not leave you unashamed. Not a gown you have
worn, nor a possession you have enjoyed, but has been
yours through theft. That you may verify this statement,
open the steel safe, back of the second panel of the
library wall to the left of the fireplace. The combination
is, 18.104.22.168.0. A button on the inner edge on the
right releases a spring, opening a second compartment,
where the material of your future luxuries is stored. A
look will be sufficient. I hardly think you will then
care to occupy the position in the lime light to which
you have been brought by such means. Obscurity is
even exile. Talk it over with your
mother. We think she will agree with us.
The words danced before Dorothy's eyes, a sudden stopping of the heart,
a hot flush, a painful dizziness that was at once physical and mental,
made her clutch at the table for support. She dropped the letter, and
stood staring at it, fascinated, as in a nightmare.
An anonymous letter, a cruel, hateful, wicked atrocity! Why should she
receive such a thing? she, who never in her whole life, had wished
anyone ill. It couldn't be so. She had misread, misunderstood. She
picked up the message and looked at it again. It was surely intended for
her, there could be no mistake. Then fear came upon her. The abrupt
entrance of the maid, carrying her hat and veil, gave her a spasm of
panic. No one must see, no one must know. The wretched sender of this
hideous libel must believe it ignored--never received. She thrust the
paper hastily into the bosom of her dress. Its very contact seemed to
"That will do," she said. "I'm not going out just yet. I--I have some
notes to write; don't bother me now."
Her voice sounded strange. She glanced quickly at the maid, fearing to
surprise a look of suspicion. It seemed impossible that that cracked
voice of hers would pass unnoticed. But the maid bowed, carefully placed
a pair of white gloves by the hat and jacket, and went out as if nothing
Dorothy, left alone, stood still for a moment as if robbed of all
volition. Then, with a suppressed cry, she dragged out the accusing
document and carried it to the light. Who could do such a thing! Who
would be such a lying coward! Her helplessness made her rage. Oh, to be
able to confront this traducer, this libeler. To see him punished, to
tell him to his face what she thought of him I Somewhere he was in the
world, laughing to himself in the safety of his namelessness--knowing
her futile anger and indignation--satisfied to have shamed and insulted
her--and her mother--her great, resourceful, splendid mother, away and
ill when this dastardly attack was made. Impulsively she turned to run
to her aunt, and lay the matter before her, but paused and sat down on
the little chair before her writing desk. Covering her eyes with her
clenched hands she tried to think. Tante Lydia was worse than useless,
scatterbrained, self-centered, incapable. What would she do? Lament and
call all her friends in conclave; send in the police; acknowledge her
fright, and give this nameless writer the satisfaction of knowing that
his shaft had found its mark?
Teddy! Teddy would come to her at once. But what could he do? Sympathy
was not what she wanted; it was support and guidance. With a trembling
hand she smoothed the paper before her and, controlling herself, reread
every word with minutest care. But this third perusal left her more at
sea than before. What did this enmity mean? What could have incited it?
Why did this wretch give her such minute instructions? She knew of no
safe in the library--could it be just possible that such a thing _did_
exist? Could it be possible that this liar had obtained knowledge of her
mother's private affairs to such an extent that he knew of facts that
had remained unknown even to her?--the daughter! A new cause for fear
loomed before her. Had this venomous enemy access to the house? Was he
able to come and go at will, ferreting out its secrets?
Dorothy turned about quickly, almost expecting to see some sinister
shadow leering at her from the doorway, or disappearing into the
wardrobe. Her terror had something in it of childish nightmare. Acting
as if under a spell of compulsion, she rose and tiptoed to the door. She
looked down the hall, and found it empty. The querulous voice of Mrs.
Mellows came to her, raised in complaint against hooked-behind dresses.
Like a lovely little ghost she flitted down the corridor to the library,
paused for an instant with a beating heart, and, entering, closed the
door with infinite precautions and shot the bolt.
She was panting as if from some painful exertion. Her hands were damp
and chill, her temples throbbed. The room seemed strange, close
shuttered and silent, as if it sheltered the silent, unresponsive dead.
The air was oppressive, and the light that filtered through the dim
blinds was vague and uncanny.
It was some moments before she felt herself under sufficient control to
cross by the big Jacobean table, and face the hooded fireplace--"to the
left, the second panel." She stared at it. To all appearances it was
reassuringly the same as all the others. Gently she pushed it right and
left, then up and down, but her pressure was so slight and nervous that
it did not stir the heavy wood. She breathed a great sigh of relief, and
beginning now to believe herself the victim of some cruel hoax, she
dared a firmer pressure. The panel responded--moved--slid slowly behind
its fellow--revealing the steel muzzle of a safe let into the solid
masonry. It seemed the result of some evil witchcraft; her blood
chilled. Yet, with renewed eagerness, she turned the combination. She
did not need to refer to the letter, she knew it by heart--the numbers
were seared there. The heavy door swung outward. Within she saw
well-remembered cases of velvet and morocco. This contained her mother's
diamond collar; that her lavalliere; the emerald pendant was in the box
of ivory velvet; the earrings and the antique diamond rings in the
little round-topped casket, embossed and inlaid. Sliding her finger
along the inner frame of the safe, she felt a knob, and pressed it. One
side of the receptacle clicked open, revealing an inner compartment.
Then panic seized her. She could never recall shutting the safe door and
replacing the panel, the movements were automatic. She was out of the
library and running down the corridor before she realized it. Once more
in the sanctuary of her own room, she threw herself upon the bed, buried
her face in the tumbled pillow and gasped for breath.
"What shall I do!--what shall I do!" she moaned aloud. "I'm afraid--Oh,
I'm afraid!" like a little child crying in the night in the awful
isolation of an empty house. Suddenly she sat up. The tears dried upon
her curved lashes. Of course, of course--Mr. Gard, her friend, her
mother's friend. The very thought of him steadied her. The terrified
child of her untried self, vanished before the coming of a new and
active womanhood. She thought quickly and clearly. "He would be at his
office," she reasoned. "He had mentioned an important meeting. She would
go there at once--cancelling her luncheon engagement on the ground of
some simple ailment. Tante Lydia must not know. Once let Gard, with his
master grip, control the situation, and she would feel safe as in a
walled castle strongly defended. A tower of strength--a tower of
strength." She repeated the words to herself as if they were a talisman.
She felt as if, from afar, her mother had counseled her. She would go to
him. It was the right thing, the only thing to do.
* * * * *
The morning of the fifth day since Mrs. Marteen's departure found Gard
in early consultation in the directors' room of his Wall Street office,
facing a board of directors with but one opinion--he must go at once to
Washington. Strangely enough, the plan met with stubborn resistance from
his inner self. There was every reason for his going, but he did not
want to go. His advisers and fellow directors looked in amazement as
they saw him hesitate, and for once the Great Man was at a loss to
explain. He knew, and they knew, that there was nothing that should
detain him, nothing that could by any twist be construed into a valid
excuse for refusal. He amazed himself and them by abruptly rising from
his seat, bunching the muscles of his jaw in evident antagonism and
hurling at them his ultimatum in a voice of defiance.
"Of course, gentlemen, it is evident that I must go, and I will. The
situation requires it. But I ask you to name someone else--the
vice-president, and you, Corrighan--in case something arises to prevent
my leaving the city."
Langley, the lawyer, rose protesting.
"But, Mr. Gard, no one _can_ take your place. It's the penalty, perhaps,
of being what and who you are, but the honor of your responsibilities
demands it. There is more at stake than your own interests, or the
interest of your friends. There's the public, your stockholders. You owe
it to them and to yourself to shoulder this responsibility without any
'ifs,' 'ands' or 'buts.'"
Gard turned as if to rend him. "I have told you I'll go, haven't I?
But--and there _is_ a but--gentlemen, you must select another delegate,
or delegation, in case circumstances arise--"
Denning's voice interrupted from the end of the table. "Gard, what
excuse is the only excuse for not returning one's partner's lead? Sudden
"Or when you _must_ have the lead yourself," snapped Gard. "I cannot go
into this matter with you, gentlemen. The contingency I speak of is very
remote--if it is a contingency at all. But I must be frank. I cannot
have you take my enforced absence, if such should be necessary, as
defalcation or a shirking of my duty--so I warn you."
"The chance is remote," Denning replied in quiet tones that palliated.
"Let us decide, then, who, in case this vague possibility should shape
itself, will act as delegates. I do not think we can improve on the
president's suggestion, but," and he turned to Gard sternly, "I trust
the contingency is _so_ remote that we may consider it an impossibility
for all our sakes, and your own."
Gard did not answer. In silence he heard the motion carried, and
silently and without his usual affability he turned and left the room.
The others eyed each other with open discomfiture.
"Well, gentlemen, the meeting is over," said Denning gloomily. "We may
as well adjourn."
A very puzzled and uneasy group dispersed before the tall marble office
building, while in his own private office Gard paced the floor, from
time to time punching the open palm of his left hand with the clenched
fist of his right, in fury at himself.
"Am I mad--am I mad?" he repeated mechanically. "Has the devil gotten
into me?" His confidential clerk knocked, and seeing the Great Man's
face, paused in trepidation. "What is it? What is it?" snapped Gard.
"There's Brenchcrly, sir, in the outer office. He wouldn't give his
message--said you'd want to see him in private; so I ventured--"
"Brencherly!" Gard's heart missed a beat. He stopped short. He felt the
mysterious dread from which he had suffered to be shaping itself from
the darkness of uncertainty. "Show him in," he ordered, and, turning to
the window, gazed blindly out, centering his self-control. "Well?" he
said without turning, as he heard the door open and close again.
"Mr. Gard," came the quiet voice of the detective, "I've a piece of
information, that, from what you told me the other day, I thought might
interest you. I have found out that Mr. Mahr is making every effort to
find out the combination of Mrs. Marteen's private safe."
"Yes. I learned it from one of the men in the Cole agency. Mr. Mahr
didn't come to us. I'm not betraying any trust, you see. It was Balling,
one of the cleverest men they've got, but he drinks. I was out with him
last night, and he let it out; he said it was the rummiest job they'd
had in a long day, and that his chief wouldn't have taken it, but he had
a lot of commissions from Mahr, and I guess, besides, he gave some
reason for wanting it that sort of squared him. Anyhow, that's how it
"Have they got it?" Gard demanded.
"No, they hadn't, but he said they expected to land it O.K. They know
the make, and they've got access to the company's books, and the
company's people, and if she hasn't changed the combination lately,
they'll land that all right. I tried to find out if they'd put anyone
into the apartment, but Balling sobered up a bit by that time and shut
down on the talk. But it's dollars to doughnuts he's after something,
and they've put a flattie around somewhere. Of course I don't know how
this frames up with what you told me about young Mahr, but I thought you
might dope it out, perhaps."
Gard sat down before his writing table, and wrote out a substantial
"There, Brencherly, that's for you. Thank you. Now I put you on this
officially. Find out for me, if you can, if they have put anyone in the
house. Find out what they're after. Anything at all that concerns this
matter is of interest to me. Put a man to shadow Balling; have a watch
put on anyone you think is acting for Mahr. I will take it upon myself
to have the combination changed. I'll send a message to Mrs. Marteen."
Brencherly shook his head. "If you do that they'll tumble to you, Mr.
Gard. It's an even chance Mr. Mahr would have any messages reported. He
could, you know; he's a pretty important stockholder in the transmission
companies. You'd better have a watchman or an alarm attachment on the
safe, if you can."
Gard sat silent. He was reasoning out the motive of Mahr's move. Did
Mrs. Marteen still retain evidence against him which he was anxious to
obtain during her absence? It seemed the obvious conclusion, and yet
there was the possibility that Mahr contemplated vengeance, that in the
safe he hoped to obtain evidence against Mrs. Marteen herself that would
put her into his hands. On the whole, that seemed the most likely
explanation, and one that offered such possibilities that he ground his
teeth. He was roused from his reverie by Brencherly's hesitating voice.
"I think, Mr. Gard, I'd better go at once. I want to get a trailer after
Balling, and if I'm a good guesser, we haven't any time to lose."
"You're right; go on. I was thinking what precautions had best be taken
at Mrs. Marteen's home. I'll plan that--you do the rest. Good-by."
Brencherly sidled to the door, bowed and disappeared.
The telephone bell on the table rang sharply. Gard took down the
receiver absently, but the voice that trembled over the wire startled
him like an electric shock. It was Dorothy's, but changed almost beyond
recognition, a frightened, uncertain little treble.
"Is this Mr. Gard?" A sigh of relief greeted his affirmative. "Please,
please, Mr. Gard, can I see you right away?"
"Where are you, Dorothy? Of course; I'm at your service always. What is
it?" he asked, conscious that his own voice betrayed his agitation.
"I'm downstairs, in the building. You don't mind, do you?"
"Mind! Come up at once--or I'll send down for you."
"No--I'm coming now; thank you so much."
The receiver clicked, and Gard, anxious and puzzled, pressed the desk
button for his man.
"Miss Marteen is coming. Show her in here."
A moment later Dorothy entered. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed
doubled in size. She sat down in the chair he advanced for her, as if no
longer able to stand erect, gave a little gasp and burst into tears.
"Dorothy, Dorothy!" begged Gard, distressed beyond measure. "Come, come,
little girl, what is the matter? Tell me!"
She continued to sob, but reaching blindly for his hand, seemed to find
encouragement and assurance in his firm clasp. At last she steadied
herself, wiped her eyes and faced him.
"This morning," she began faintly, "a messenger brought this." From an
inner pocket she took out a crumpled letter, and laid it on the table.
"I didn't know what to do. Read it--read it!" she blazed. "It's too
horrid--too cowardly--too wicked!"
He picked up the envelope. It was directed to Dorothy in typewritten
characters. The paper was of the cheapest. He withdrew the enclosure,
closely covered with typewriting, glanced over the four pages and turned
to the end. Then he read through.
Gard crushed the letter in his hand in a frenzy of fury. So this--this
was Mahr's objective, this the cowardly vengeance his despicable mind
had evolved! He would strike his enemy through the heart of a child--he
would humiliate the girl so that, with shame and horror, she would turn
away from all that life held for her! He knew that if the bolt found
lodgment in her heart she would consider herself a thing too low, too
smirched, to face her world. The marriage, that Mahr feared and hated,
would never take place. Doubtless that evidence which Mrs. Marteen had
once wielded was now in his possession and with all precautions taken he
was fearless of any retaliation. The obscurity and exile he suggested
would be sought as the only issue from intolerable conditions. No, no, a
thousand times no! Mahr had leveled his stroke at a defenseless girl,
but the weapon that should parry it would be wielded by a man's strong
arm, backed by all the resources of brain and wealth.
As these thoughts raced through his mind, he had been standing erect and
silent, his eyes staring at the paper that crackled in his clenched
fist. Dorothy's voice sounded far away repeating something. It was not
till a strange hysterical note crept into her voice that he realized
what she was saying.
"Speak to me, please! What shall I do? What ought I to do? Tell me, tell
"Do?" he exclaimed. "Do? Why, nothing, my dear. It's a damnable,
treacherous snake-in-the-grass lie! Shake it out of your pretty head,
and leave me to trace this thing and deal with the scoundrel who wrote
it; and I'll promise you, my dear, that it will be such punishment as
will satisfy _me_--and I am not easily satisfied."
Dorothy rose from the table. "Mr. Gard," she whispered, "you won't think
badly of me, will you, if I tell you something? And you will believe it
wasn't because I believed one word of that detestable thing that I did
what I did--you promise me that?"
He could feel his face grow ashen, but his voice was very gentle. "What
was it, my dear? Of course I know you couldn't have noticed such a vile
slander. What do you want to tell me?"
"I was frightened." Dorothy raised brimming eyes to his, pleading excuse