Part 2 out of 5
and afterwards they proceeded with their lunch, talking of the slight
things of the moment. Littleson, in that little group of millionaires,
represented youth, and to a certain extent fashion. He came from one of
the better-known families in New York. He had rooms and connections in
London and Paris. He was fairly good looking, and always irreproachably
dressed. Stella looked at him more than once approvingly. He was
certainly a desirable companion. For the rest, she had little vanity,
and she knew well enough that he had some purpose of his own in seeking
her out. She had only known of him as one of her father's allies, and
she was puzzled to know the meaning of that first question of his.
He seemed in no hurry, however, to satisfy her curiosity. He had
ordered a wonderful lunch, and not until they had reached its final
stage did he refer again to anything approaching serious conversation.
Then he leaned a little across the table towards her, and she felt the
change in his expression and tone, as he began to speak in lowered
"Miss Duge," he said, "I dare say you were surprised at my question to
you. Let me explain. Your father and several others of us have been
allies for some time in some very important matters connected with
finance. For the last few months, however, we have all felt a sort of
vague uneasiness one with the other. Apparently we were all still
pulling the same way, yet I think that each one of us had the feeling
that there was something wrong. We all began to distrust one another. To
come to an end quickly, I hope I do not offend you, Miss Duge, when I
say that it is my belief that your father has been and is trying to
deceive us for his own benefit."
Stella nodded assent.
"Well," she said, "I don't know why you should imagine that it could
offend me to hear you say that. I understood that amongst you who
control the money-markets there is no friendship, nor any right and
wrong. At least if there is, it is the man who succeeds who is right,
and the man who fails who is wrong."
"To a certain extent you are right, Miss Duge," he answered, "but you
must remember that there is an old adage, 'Honour amongst thieves!'"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Well," she said, "we won't discuss that. You have got so far in your
story as to tell me that you believe my father is trying to get the best
of you all, and you seem to be a little nervous about it. Well, I know
my father, and I don't mind telling you that I should not be in the
least surprised if you were right."
He lit a cigarette and passed the box across the table to her.
"Good!" he said. "It is a pleasure to talk to you, Miss Duge. You grasp
everything so quickly. Now you understand the position, then. There are
three or four of us, including myself, on one side, and your father on
the other. Supposing it was in your power to help either, and your
interests lay with us," he added, speaking with a certain meaning in his
tone--"well, to cut it short, how should you feel about it?"
"You mean," she said slowly, "would my filial devotion outweigh--other
He looked at her admiringly.
"You are a marvel, Miss Duge," he said. "That is exactly what I do
She leaned back in her chair for a moment, and looked thoughtfully
through the little cloud of cigarette smoke into the face of the man
opposite to her.
"You have probably heard," she said, "that my father turned me out of
"There was a rumour--" he began hesitatingly.
"Oh! it was no rumour," she interrupted. "He took care that every one
knew that I had given Norris Vine some information about his doings in
Canadian Pacifies. If I were back at home, which I never shall be, I
would do the same thing again. I have lived with my father since I came
back from Europe, and I know what manner of a man he is. I think," she
continued, looking away from him, and speaking more thoughtfully, "that
I was just like the average girl when I came back to New York. I lived
with my father for two or three years, and--well--it would be a severe
lesson for any one. However, this doesn't matter. And I am not
over-sensitive. If you have anything to say to me, say it."
"I will," he answered. "We have an idea that at any moment there may be
war between us and your father. I think that the odds would be very much
in our favour but for one thing. Your father has a paper which we
foolishly enough all signed one night, which places us practically in
his power. If that paper were given to the Press, we should all of us be
ruined men--I mean so far as prestige and position are concerned.
Further, I am not sure that we should not have to leave the country
She looked at him in wonder. "Whatever made you sign such a paper?" she
He shook his head.
"Heaven knows!" he answered. "We were a little mad. We did not mean to
leave it in your father's charge, however. That is why this illness of
his is so embarrassing to us. We can't help an idea that it is to keep
out of our way for a few days, and to retain possession of that wretched
document, that he is lying by. If, on the other hand, his illness is
genuine, and he were, to put it bluntly, to die, that paper would be
discovered by his lawyer, and Heaven knows what he would do with it!"
"I am beginning to understand," Stella said. "Now please tell me where I
"We are willing," Littleson said quietly, "to give a hundred thousand
dollars to the person who places that paper in our charge. To any one
who knew your father's house, and where he keeps his important
documents, the task would not be an impossible one."
She looked at him fixedly for several moments. He was half afraid that
she was going to get up and leave him. Instead, however, she broke into
a hard little laugh, and helped herself to another cigarette.
"You forget," she said, "that I have no longer the entree to my father's
"It would be perfectly easy for you," he answered, "to go there,
especially with your father out of the way upstairs. I presume that you
know where he keeps his important papers?"
"Yes! I know that," she answered. "It is a pity," she added, with a
faint smile upon her lips, "that those burglars didn't, isn't it?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"A clumsy effort that, of course," he admitted, "especially when your
father has a detective always round the place. He is well guarded, but I
think that you could do better than that if you would, Miss Duge."
"About the paper?" she asked.
"It is simply," he answered, "a sheet of foolscap. I will not tell you
exactly what is written upon it, but it contains a proposal with
reference to raising a certain sum of money, to remove from office
certain prominent politicians who are supporting this Anti-Trust Bill.
Our names are all there, Bardsley's, Weiss', Seth Higgins', and my own.
Your father's should have been there, but I believe he was too
clever for us."
She began drawing on her gloves.
"Well," she said, "I have had a delightful morning, thanks to you, and
these roses are lovely. Supposing I should feel that my gratitude still
requires some expression, where could I write you?"
He handed her a card, which she tucked into her muff. They left the
restaurant together, talking again of the people whom they passed, of
the play at the theatre, of which they were reminded by the sight of a
popular actress, and other indifferent matters. He offered his
automobile, which she declined.
"I am going to make a call quite close to here," she said. "Good-bye!"
"I hope that I shall hear from you soon," he said, bowing over her hand.
"You may," she answered, smiling, as she turned away.
MR. NORRIS VINE
Stella walked briskly down Fifth Avenue and turned into Broadway. Here
she took a car down town, and presented herself in the space of twenty
minutes or so before the offices of Mr. Norris Vine, at the top of a
great flight of stairs in a building near Madison Square. Vine himself
opened the door, and led her through the clerk's office into his own
small but luxurious apartment.
"You were just going out?" she asked.
"It is no matter," he answered. "I have at least half an hour that I can
He led her to his easy-chair, and seated himself in the chair before his
desk. The sunshine fell upon his thin, somewhat hard face, and she
looked at him thoughtfully.
"Are you getting older, Norris?" she asked, "or are things going the
wrong way with you just now?"
He raised his eyebrows.
"It is a very strenuous life this," he remarked. "One has to crush all
one's nervous instincts, and when one has succeeded in doing that, one
finds oneself a little aged."
"You look like that," she said. "You look as though a good many of the
fires had burned out, and left you--well, something of a machine. Is it
"I don't know," he answered listlessly.
"You ought to go to Europe more often," she said softly. "I do not
understand how men can make the slaves of themselves that you do here.
Don't you long sometimes to feel your feet off the treadmill?"
"Perhaps," he answered; "but the life here becomes like one of those
pernicious habits of cigarette smoking, or morphia taking. It grips hold
of you--grips hold very tight," he added in a lower tone.
"I wonder," she said, "whether there is anything in the world which
would tempt you to break away from it."
He struck the desk at which he was sitting, suddenly, with his clenched
fist. His face was still colourless, but his black eyes held a touch
"Don't!" he said. "I am not such a slave, after all, as to love my
chains; but don't you understand that one gets into this morass, and one
can keep a foothold only by struggling."
"Is that how it is with you, Norris?" she asked.
"Yes!" he answered, with a sudden fierceness. "Six months ago I think
that I might have freed myself. I shouldn't have been a rich man, but
over there in Europe, where people have learned how to live, wealth
isn't in the least necessary. I had enough for Italy, for a season in
Paris, for a little sport in Hungary, even for a month or two at Melton.
I hesitated, and while I hesitated the thing closed in upon me again.
Then your father and I came up against one another once more, and I
began it all over again."
"Am I right," she asked softly, "in imagining that just now things are
going a little wrong?"
"I am fighting for my life," he said tersely. "Wherever I have turned
during the last few months I seem to have encountered the opposition of
your father's millions. Our sales are going down day by day. The great
advertisers are practically ignoring us. We are losing money fast. That
is what happens to any one who dares to raise a finger against the
accursed idols of this country. Three of the greatest advertisement
contractors have given us notice that they have struck off our paper
from their list. It is your father's doings, Stella. I had hoped
something from this illness of his, but the thing goes on. Do you know
whether he is really laid up, or whether this is part of a scheme?"
"I am not sure," she answered. "I have been told to-day that it is part
of a scheme."
"Who told you?" he asked quickly.
"Peter Littleson," she answered. "I have been lunching with him."
"Peter Littleson!" he interrupted. "But he is one of your father's
allies! He and Bardsley and Weiss and your father are what they call
here 'The Invincibles!'"
"I am not sure," she answered, "but I fancy there is going to be a
He was interested now, almost eager.
"Tell me what you know!" he begged.
"I know this," she answered; "that Littleson asked me to lunch to-day to
find out whether my father's illness was genuine or not, and he gave me
to understand that they suspected him of playing them false. I believe
that as usual my father has the best of it. Peter Littleson admitted to
me that just now, at any rate, he held them all in the hollow of
Norris Vine looked out of the window for a moment. His face was haggard.
"I have begun," he said slowly, "to lose faith in myself, and when one
does that here the end is not far off. I believe that Littleson is
right, Stella. I believe that your father, if it pleased him, could take
them one by one and break them, as he is doing me."
"Supposing, on the other hand," she said, "something were to happen so
that they were in a position to break him?"
"Then," he answered coolly, "it would be the very best thing that could
happen for the country and for me. There's no morality about
speculation, of course, and the finance of this country is one of the
most ghastly things in the world. All the same, there are degrees of
rascality, and there is no one who has sinned against every law of
decency and respect for his fellows like Phineas Duge. What are you
doing to-night, Stella? Will you dine with me?"
She shook her head.
"Not to-night, Norris," she said. "I have something else to do; but
before I go I want you to answer me a question. Once before, when my
father had you in a corner, I helped you out, and you know the price
He leaned toward her, but she waved him away.
"No!" she said, "I am not reminding you of that because I want anything
from you, but listen. Supposing I could help you out again? Supposing I
could give you something for your paper which would produce the greatest
sensation which New York has ever known? Would you promise to realize at
any loss, and give it up? Leave America altogether and go to Europe?"
"Yes!" he said, "I think I would promise that."
She rose to her feet. He approached her a little hesitatingly, but she
waved him back.
"No, don't kiss me, Norris," she said.
He protested, but she still drew herself away.
"My dear Norris," she said, "please do not think because I show some
interest in your affairs, that you are forced to offer me this sort of
payment. There, don't say anything, because I don't want to be angry
with you. If you knew more about women, you would know that there is
nothing one resents so much in the world as affection that is offered in
the way that you were offering me your kiss just then. Please come and
put me in the elevator. I am going now. You will hear from me in a day
or two. I shall write and ask myself to dinner."
He took her outside and rang the bell for the elevator. They stood for a
moment in front of the steel gate.
"I am afraid," he said quietly, "that in your heart you must think me an
"Yes!" she answered, "I suppose I do! But then all men are ungrateful,
and there are worse things even than ingratitude."
The lift shot up and the door was swung back. There was no time for any
further adieux. Norris Vine walked slowly back into his office, with his
hands clasped behind his back.
MR. LITTLESON, FLATTERER
Once more a little luncheon was in progress at the corner table in the
millionaires' club. This time Littleson also was of the party. He had
been describing his luncheon of the day before to his friends.
"I am dead sure of one thing," he declared. "She is on our side, and I
honestly believe that she means getting that paper."
"But she hasn't even the entree to the house now," Weiss objected.
"There are plenty of the servants there," Littleson answered, "whom she
must know very well, and through whom she could get in, especially if
Phineas is really up in his room. I tell you fellows, I truly believe
we'll have that wretched document in our hands by this time to-morrow."
"The day I see it in ashes," Bardsley muttered, "I'll stand you fellows
a magnum of Pommery '92."
"I wonder," Weiss remarked, "what sort of terms she is on with her
cousin, the little girl with the big eyes."
"I wish to Heaven one of you could make friends with that child!"
Bardsley exclaimed. "I'd give a tidy lot to know whether Phineas Duge
lies there on his bed, or whether his hand is on the telephone half the
time. You are sure, Littleson, that Dick Losting is in Europe?"
"Absolutely certain," Littleson answered. "I had a letter from him dated
Paris only yesterday."
"Then who in God's name is shaking the Chicago markets like this!"
Bardsley declared, striking the newspaper which lay by his side with the
palm of his hand. "You notice, too, the stocks which are being hit are
all ours, every one of them. Damn! If Phineas should be sitting up there
in his room with that hideous little smile upon his lips, talking and
talking across the wires hour after hour, while we hang round like
idiots and play his game! It's maddening to think of."
"Oh, rot!" Littleson declared. "You can imagine everything if you try.
There are the doctor's bulletins! We've had a dozen detectives all round
the place, and there is not a single murmur of his having been seen by
any one, or known to have even dictated a letter."
"I've never known him sick for a day in my life," Bardsley said thickly.
"It must come some time," Littleson answered. "It's always these men
who've never been ill at all, who come down suddenly. I'm not going to
worry myself about nothing. Our only mistake was in the way that child
was handled. I think Weiss frightened her."
Weiss shrugged his shoulders.
"Perhaps I did," he said. "You see I'm not a fashionable young spark
like you. Why the devil don't you go and call on her? It's only a civil
thing to do. You are supposed to be one of her uncle's greatest friends,
and he's supposed to be dangerously ill. Go and call on her this
afternoon. Put on your best clothes and your Paris manners. You ought to
be able to get something out of a child from the backwoods. If you talk
to her cleverly you can at least find out whether Phineas is playing the
game or not."
"I'll call directly after lunch," he said. "Perhaps I could get her to
come out for a ride. I'll try, anyhow, and ring you fellows up
afterwards at the club."
"Don't bother her any more about the paper," Weiss said. "She'll get
suspicious at once if you do. Try and make friends with her. This thing
may drag on for a week or so."
Littleson nodded and left them soon afterwards. He went to his rooms,
changed into calling attire, and before four o'clock his automobile was
outside the mansion in Fifth Avenue, and he himself waiting in the
drawing-room for Virginia. She came to him with very little delay, and
welcomed him quite naturally.
"I am afraid," he said, "that you must look upon callers as rather a
nuisance just now, but we are all very anxious about your uncle, and I
thought I would like to hear something more than that little bulletin
outside tells us."
She motioned him to sit down.
"You are very kind," she said. "My uncle is really about the same. The
doctor thinks he may be able to get up in about a week."
"Is there any--specific disease?" he asked, hesitatingly.
"I think not," she answered. "I don't understand all that the doctor
says. It seems to me that all you men here lead such strenuous lives
that you have no time to be ill. You simply wait until you collapse."
"I'm afraid that's true, Miss Longworth," he said, "and if you will
forgive my saying so, I fancy you have been doing a little too much
yourself, worrying and looking after your uncle. Can't I tempt you out
for a little way in my automobile? It's a delightful afternoon."
She shook her head.
"You are very kind," she said, "but I seem to be the only person for
whom my uncle asks sometimes, and he is awake just now. I should not
like to be away."
"He is conscious, then?" Littleson asked.
"Perfectly," she answered.
"I suppose it is quite useless asking to see him?"
"Quite. The doctor would never allow it. He has to be kept absolutely
quiet, and free from excitement,"
"I hope," he said, "that he did not hear anything of the attempted
burglary the other night?"
Virginia smiled very faintly, and her dark eyes rested for a moment upon
"No!" she answered, "we kept that from him. You see nothing was really
stolen. As a matter of fact there was so little in that room which could
have been of any value to any one."
"Exactly!" he answered, feeling a little uncomfortable.
"There are so many lovely things all over the house," she continued,
"that it has puzzled me very much why they should have chosen to try
only to break open that desk in the library. It seems queer,
"Perhaps it does," he admitted. "On the other hand, they might have
thought that your uncle had bonds and papers worth a great deal more
than any of the ordinary treasures they could collect."
"Well," she said, "they got nothing at all. Somehow, I don't fancy," she
added, "that my uncle is the sort of man to keep valuable things where
they could possibly be stolen."
He determined to be a little daring. He raised his eyebrows, and looked
at her with a smile which was meant to be humorous.
"Fortunate for him that he doesn't," he answered, "for, frankly, if I
knew where to find it, I should certainly steal that document that Mr.
Weiss came and worried you about. We ought to have it. If it got into
any one's hands except your uncle's, it would be the most serious thing
that ever happened to any of us."
"I don't think," she said reassuringly, "that you need worry. My uncle
does not part easily with things which he believes have value."
He laughed, not quite naturally.
"I see," he said, "that you are beginning to appreciate your uncle."
"One learns all manner of things," she answered, "very quickly here."
He looked at her with more attention than he had as yet bestowed upon
her. She was very slim, but wonderfully elegant, and her clothes, though
simple, were absolutely perfect. Her eyes certainly were marvellous. Her
complexion had not altogether lost the duskiness which came from her
outdoor life. Her hair was parted in the middle, after a fashion of her
own, and coming rather low on the back of her head, gave her the
appearance of being younger even than she was. Stella's beauty was
perhaps the most pronounced, but this girl, he felt, was unique. He
looked thoughtfully into her eyes. Her whole expression and manner were
so delightfully simple and girlish, that he found it almost impossible
to believe that she was playing a part.
They talked for a little while upon purely general subjects, the Opera,
her new friends, the whole social life of the city, of which he was a
somewhat prominent part. She talked easily and naturally, and he
flattered himself that he was making a good impression. When at last he
rose to take his leave, he made one more venture.
"I don't know," he said, "whether you get bothered by your uncle's
business affairs at all while he is laid up, but I hope you will
remember that if I can be of any service, I am practically one of his
partners, and I understand all his affairs. You must please send for me
if I can be of the slightest use to you."
She had apparently listened to him for the first part of his sentence
with her usual air of polite interest. Suddenly, however, she started,
and her attention wandered. She crossed quickly toward the bell and
"Thank you so much, Mr. Littleson," she said. "I won't forget what you
have said. Do you mind excusing me? I fancy that I am wanted."
She left the room as the servant whom she had summoned arrived to show
her visitor out. Was it her fancy, or had she indeed heard the soft
ringing of the burglar alarm which she had had attached to the library
door on the other side of the hall!
Virginia crossed the hall with rapid footsteps, and entered the library.
She realized at once that she had not been deceived, but she started
back in surprise when she discovered who it was standing before the
roll-top desk and regarding it contemplatively. Stella looked up, and
the eyes of the two girls met. Stella nodded, apparently quite at
"How are you, cousin Virginia?" she said. "You see I have come back home
to play the part of the repentant daughter."
Virginia was a little distressed. She closed the door behind her and
came further into the room.
"Stella," she said, "I am very sorry, but while your father is ill he
does not like any one to come into this room."
Stella seated herself in his chair.
"Quite right," she said. "I hope you will be careful to keep them out.
He always has such a lot of secrets, and I know that he hates to have
people prying round."
Virginia felt that she had never received a more embarrassing visitor.
"Would you mind, Stella," she said, "coming into the drawing-room with
me? This room is supposed to be locked up. You knew the catch in the
door, of course, or you could not have come in."
"Yes! I know the catch," Stella answered, "and, my dear child, you must
forgive my saying so, but I have lived here for some years, and it is
still home to me. You, on the other hand, have been here a few weeks. I
know you don't mean anything unkind, but just because I have quarrelled
a little with my father, you must not tell me which rooms I may enter,
and which I may not. I am going to stay here for half an hour, and write
"You can write them in any other room in the house," Virginia declared,
"but not here. It is impossible."
Stella smiled and shrugged her shoulders as she sat down.
"I am sorry," she said, "but this is where I mean to write them. You
must remember that this house belongs to my father. You are here
temporarily in my place. I have not bothered you very much, and it is a
very simple thing that I ask. I want to make use of this room, to write
a few letters here. After that I shall go away."
The troubled frown on Virginia's face grew deeper.
"My dear Stella," she said, "although nothing would please me better
than to see your father and you friends again, you must know that he
allows no one to enter these rooms when his secretary is away. In fact,
as you know, the door was closed, and if you had not known the secret of
the catch, you could not have entered."
"Well," Stella repeated carelessly, "since I am here, I am here. Please
unlock this desk and give me some writing paper."
"I cannot unlock it," Virginia answered. "You must know that."
"But you have the keys," Stella interposed.
"If I have," Virginia declared, "it is because your father trusted me
"Perhaps," Stella said, leaning a little forward in her chair, "you have
also the keys of that wonderful little hiding place of his that he
showed me one day."
"Perhaps I have," Virginia answered, "but if so, no other person in the
world will ever know about it."
"You won't even open the desk for me, then?" Stella said.
"Certainly not," Virginia answered. "Your father's orders to me were
"You do not suppose," Stella asked, "that he meant to exclude his own
"How can I tell?" Virginia answered. "I know nothing of the trouble
there was between you two," she added more softly, "It is not my affair,
although nothing would please me more than to see you friends again. If
you will come into the drawing-room and wait, I will go upstairs and
try and persuade him to see you."
Stella shook her head.
"It would be of no use," she said. "He is frightfully obstinate, and I
shall never have a chance of making my peace with him again unless I can
come upon him unexpectedly."
"Well," Virginia said, "he is not likely to be downstairs to-day, and,
Stella, don't be angry with me, but I must really ask you to leave
"Thank you," Stella answered coldly. "I am at home here, and I mean to
stay so long as I choose. It is you who are the intruder. If you have
any sense at all, you will go away and play with your dolls. You can't
have left them very long, and I'm sure it is a more fitting amusement
for you than ordering me about my father's house."
Virginia moved up and down the room. The tears were already in her eyes;
she was utterly and completely perplexed.
"Stella," she said, "you know what sort of a man your father is. If he
learns that you have been here in this room, he will never forgive me.
He will send me home, and that would be hateful, for many, many reasons.
Do please be reasonable, and come away with me now into one of the other
rooms. I will do all that I can to bring you two together."
Stella seemed to have made up her mind to quarrel with her cousin. Her
face was white and hard. She laughed a little scornfully before
"You bring us together!" she exclaimed. "Do you think that I don't
understand you better than that? I know very well that you are much too
pleased with your position here, and you are afraid that if my father
forgave me and I came back, you would have to go home again. Don't think
that I don't understand."
Virginia walked to the window, and stood there several moments looking
out upon the avenue. Her eyes were quite dry now, and a spot of colour
was burning in her cheeks. The injustice of her cousin's words had
checked the tears, but they had also achieved their purpose. She turned
"Very well, Stella," she said, "I will not interfere with you any more,
but I am going to do exactly what is my duty. Will you leave this
room or not?"
"When I am ready," Stella answered, "not before!"
Virginia crossed the room, meaning to ring the bell. Stella, springing
quickly from her seat, caught her cousin up, and seizing her by the
shoulders, turned her round. Then she calmly locked the door of the room
in which they were, on the inside.
* * * * *
About an hour afterwards, the elder of Phineas Duge's secretaries,
Robert Smedley, entered the bedroom at the top of the house with some
precipitation, and turned a white face towards his master. Phineas Duge,
fully dressed, was entering some figures in a small memorandum book on
the table before him.
"Mr. Duge," the young man exclaimed, "forgive me for disturbing you, but
I think that if you feel strong enough you ought to come downstairs into
the library at once."
Phineas Duge did not hesitate. There was a light in his eyes which
transformed his face. He knew as though by inspiration something of what
had happened. He took the back stairs, and descending at a pace quite
extraordinary for a sick man, he was inside the library in less than a
minute. It was easy to see that Smedley's alarm had not been altogether
ill-founded. A chair was overturned; Virginia was lying face downwards
upon the floor in front of the desk. Phineas Duge dropped his cigarette,
and fell on his knees by her side. Then he saw that her hands and feet
were tied with an antimacassar torn into strips, and a rude sort of gag
was in her mouth. She opened her eyes at his touch, and moaned slightly.
In a moment or two he had released her from her bonds, and removed the
handkerchief which had been tied into her mouth.
"Fetch some brandy," he told the young man, "and keep your mouth shut
about this. You understand?"
The young man hurried away. Duge was still stooping down, with his arm
around Virginia's waist. Gradually she began to recover herself. She
looked all round the room, as though in search of some one. Her uncle
asked her no questions. He saw that she was rapidly regaining
consciousness, and he waited. Smedley returned with the brandy. Together
they forced a little between her lips, and watched the colour coming
back into her cheeks. Then Phineas Duge withdrew his arm and walked to
the other side of the desk. On the floor were the broken fragments of
Virginia's locket. The carpet had been torn up. The steel coffer, with
the keys still in it, was there half open. He slid back the lid, and
taking out a few of the topmost papers, ran them through his fingers.
There was no doubt about it. The document was missing. He returned to
the chair to which he had carried Virginia.
"Are you well enough now," he asked, "to tell me about this?"
She raised herself in her chair, and looked with fascinated eyes toward
that spot in the carpet.
"Has anything gone?" she asked.
"Yes!" her uncle answered shortly. "I want to know how it was that any
one got into this room, and who it was. Quickly, please!"
"I was in the drawing-room talking to Mr. Littleson," Virginia said,
"when I heard the small alarm bell that I had had fitted on to the
library door ring. I came in and found Stella here. She locked me in.
She is very strong. I had no idea that she was so strong," Virginia
murmured, half closing her eyes and fainting away.
He hurried to her side, and forced some more brandy between her lips.
Then he laid her flat on the floor, and began to walk up and down.
"So this is Stella's work," he muttered to himself. "That accounts for
the message I had yesterday, that she was seen driving with Littleson.
What she did for that blackguard Vine, she has done for them!"
His face, no longer an amiable one, grew sterner as he walked backwards
and forwards, his hands behind him, his eyes fixed upon the carpet. He
had staked a good deal on his possession of this hold upon the men who
had been his associates. The whole situation had to be readjusted in the
altered light of events. The first impulse of the man, to act, seemed
strangled almost at its birth by the absolute futility of any move he
could possibly make. He had no idea where to find his daughter, with
whom she was living, or how. Any publicity of any sort was of course out
of the question. No wonder that his frown grew heavier as he realized
more completely the helplessness of his position. He was a man
unaccustomed to failure, whose career through life had been one smooth
road of success and triumph. His touch seemed to have transformed the
very dust heaps into gold, and the barren wastes into prosperous cities.
The shadow of failure had never fallen across his path. Now that it had
come he was bewildered. An ordinary reverse he could have met resolutely
enough. This was something stupendous, something against which the
ordinary weapons of his will were altogether powerless. Try as he might,
he could not see his way ahead. He was too deeply involved for any one
to gauge the position accurately. A knock at the door. Phineas Duge
looked up, and paused for a moment in his restless walk. He opened it
cautiously and let in young Smedley, a tall, broad-shouldered young man.
"Come in, Smedley," he said shortly. "I have been wanting you."
The young man looked straight across at Virginia, still stretched upon
the floor, and he took a quick step in her direction.
"What did you find was the matter with Miss Longworth, sir?" he asked.
"Is she ill?"
Duge glanced carelessly towards his niece.
"She's only a little faint," he said. "There's matter enough here
"What is it, sir?" the young man demanded.
Phineas Duge looked at him for a moment in silence, while he decided how
much to tell.
"You remember my daughter Stella?" he asked abruptly.
The young man looked serious.
"I remember Miss Duge quite well," he answered.
"She has been here this afternoon. This is her work," Duge said grimly.
"We had some trouble before, you know, about that Canadian Pacific
report. It was after that, that I was obliged to send her away
The young man looked swiftly around the room.
"Has she taken anything?" he began.
"Nothing of importance," Phineas Duge answered calmly, "but that doesn't
alter the fact that she might have done so!"
BEARDING THE LION
Early the next morning, Littleson's automobile dashed up to the door of
Weiss' office. Without even waiting to be announced, its owner pushed
his way through the clerk's office and entered the private room of
"Heard the news?" he demanded quickly.
"No! What is it?" Weiss asked.
"Phineas Duge is in the city. He was going into Harrigold's as I came
out. I tried to speak to him, but he cut me dead. They say that he has
sent for all his brokers, and is coming on this market heavily!"
"Then his illness was a fake after all," Weiss declared. "We can't stand
this, though. I'll get on to his office. We must speak to him."
He gave some rapid instructions to a clerk whom he had summoned, then
took a printed sheet of prices from a machine which ticked at his elbow.
"If it's war," he muttered, "we shall have to fight hard, but what I
don't understand is why he wants to break with us."
The clerk re-entered the room.
"There is a young lady here," he said, "who wishes to speak to you,
"Name?" Weiss demanded curtly.
"Miss Virginia Longworth," he answered.
Weiss and Littleson exchanged quick glances.
"Show her in at once," Weiss ordered. "What do you suppose this means?"
he asked, turning to Littleson.
The young man had no time to reply. Almost immediately Virginia was
ushered into the office. She was very pale, and there were dark lines
under her eyes. Stephen Weiss rose at once, and Littleson hastened to
offer her a chair, but she took no notice. They could see that she was
agitated, and she seemed to find some difficulty in commencing what she
had to say.
"What can I have the pleasure of doing for you, Miss Longworth?" Weiss
asked. "I hope that you have come to tell me--"
"I have come to tell you that you are both thieves!" she interrupted.
"If you do not give me back that paper, I don't care what my uncle says,
I shall go to the police station."
The men exchanged swift glances. Littleson suddenly started. He drew
Weiss on one side.
"Stella has got it," he whispered, in a tone of triumph. "Get rid of
this girl easily. That is what she must mean."
Weiss turned round and faced her.
"My dear Miss Longworth," he said, "a thief I would have been if I could
have found the chance, and a thief I would have made of you if you would
have stolen that paper for me, because I considered that it belonged to
us, and we had a moral right to take it. But the fact remains that we
have not got it. When I heard your name announced I hoped that you had
brought it to us."
"You have not got it!" she repeated contemptuously.
"Upon my honour we have not!" Littleson declared.
"Perhaps," she said, turning to him, "you will deny that it was you who
incited my cousin Stella to come and rob her own father?"
The two men exchanged swift glances. Littleson's surmise had been
correct then. It was Stella who had succeeded where the others
"We know nothing of Miss Duge," Littleson said, "nor have we received
the paper nor any news of it. If Miss Stella has stolen it, she has not
brought it to us. That is all I can tell you."
Virginia read truth in their faces. She turned away.
"Oh, I do not understand!" she said. "Perhaps I have made a mistake. I
She hurried outside to the automobile which was waiting, and drove to
the address which Stella had given her. It was a kind of residential
hotel, and a boy in the hall took her up in the lift to the floor on
which Stella's rooms were. She knocked at the door. Stella herself
opened it. She started back when she saw who her visitor was.
"You!" she exclaimed.
Virginia stepped into the room.
"Yes!" she answered. "What have you done with the paper that you stole
from the safe?"
Stella closed the door and looked at her cousin thoughtfully. She had
evidently been busy packing. Dresses and hats lay about on the bed, and
in the next room the maid was busy emptying the cupboards. Stella closed
the communicating door.
"Why have you come here?" she said to Virginia. "You don't suppose I ran
risks like that, to possess myself of a thing which I meant to give up.
Oh! you need not look as though you were going to spring at me. I have
not got it here, I can assure you. I parted with it hours ago!"
"To whom?" Virginia demanded.
"My father will find out some day, perhaps," Stella answered. "I don't
see that it's so much his affair. The men who have to pay for their
folly are the men who deserve to pay. I see that my father was too
cunning to write his name down with theirs."
"You mean," Virginia demanded, "that you have not given it to Mr.
Littleson and his friends?"
"Not I!" Stella laughed,--"although they offered me one hundred
thousand dollars for it."
Virginia sat down on the bed. She had not slept all night, and she had
eaten no breakfast.
"Stella," she said, looking at her cousin with her big eyes full of
tears, and her voice becoming unsteady, "you have done a very, very
cruel thing. You have ruined my life. Your father had done so much for
my people, and now he is going to stop it all and send me back to them.
You can't imagine what it means to be thrown back into such poverty. It
isn't for myself I mind; it is for their sakes."
"I don't see," Stella answered, "how my father can blame you."
Virginia shook her head sadly.
"Your father is one of those men," she said, "who judges only by
results. He trusted me, and whether it was my fault or my misfortune, I
was a failure. Stella, does it mean so much to you, after all, that you
should keep that paper? Why don't you bring it back and be reconciled to
your father? I should be quite content to go away; anything so long as
he gets it back. Don't you understand that after he has been so kind, I
hate the feeling that I have been so abject a failure?"
Stella smiled a little bitterly.
"It is my turn," she said, "to tell you that you do not understand my
father. He would never forgive me, nor do I want him to. If you think
that I was the tool of these men Littleson and Weiss, you make a
mistake. What I did, I did for the sake of the only man I have ever
cared for. Never mind his name, never mind who he is. But if it makes my
father any happier, you can tell him that his friends are no nearer
safety now than they were when the paper was in his keeping."
Virginia looked around the room drearily.
"You are going away?" she said.
"I am going to Europe," Stella answered. "I hate America. I hate the
whole atmosphere here. It is a vile, unnatural life. I am going to try
and live somewhere where people are simpler, and where life is not made
up of gambling and plotting and senseless luxuries. I am tired to death
of it all!"
"You are going to be married?"
Stella turned away and hid her face.
"No!" she said, "I do not think so."
There was a short silence. Virginia rose to her feet.
"Well," she said, "I think you have been a little unkind to me, Stella.
I could have reached the bell and stopped you, only I hated to seem rude
in your father's house."
"I am sorry," Stella said simply. "You see I am like all those other
poor fools who care for a man. I put him first, and everybody else
nowhere. Don't be afraid that I shall not have to suffer for it. I dare
say if you know me, or anything about me, in five years' time, you will
feel that you have had your revenge. If you take my advice, little
girl," she added, speaking more kindly, "you will go back to your
farmhouse and take up your simpler life there. I do not fancy that you
were made for cities, or the ways of cities. I lived in the country
once, and I was a very different sort of person. Run away now. I can do
nothing for you, so it is no use staying, but if ever you need help, the
ordinary, commonplace sort of help, I mean, write to me to Baring's,
either in London or Paris. I'll do what I can."
Virginia went out again into the street and drove back home.
Mechanically she changed her clothes and dressed for dinner. At eight
o'clock she descended, shivering. Her uncle was already in his place. He
rose as she entered, gravely, and took his place again as she sank into
hers. His face was like a mask. He said nothing, and the few remarks
which he made during dinner-time were on purely ordinary topics. There
was only a minute or two, after the dessert had been placed upon the
table and the remaining man servant had gone out with a message, during
which they were alone. Then Virginia summoned up her courage to speak of
the matter which was like a nightmare in her thoughts.
"Uncle," she said, "I think you ought to know this. I went to Mr. Weiss'
office. He did not know that the paper was not still in your keeping. I
went to Stella, and she told me that she had not taken it for them. She
told me that they had offered her one hundred thousand dollars for it,
but she never had any idea of letting them have it."
If Phineas Duge was surprised, he showed no signs of it, only he looked
steadily into his niece's face for a moment or two before he replied.
"Stella," he said coldly, "has taken her goods to a poor market. Norris
Vine is on the brink of ruin. If I turn the screw to-morrow, he must
He sipped his wine for a moment thoughtfully. Then a grim, hard smile
parted his lips.
"No wonder," he said, "that my friends are still in something of a
Virginia rose in her place. It seemed as though her appearance was
woebegone enough to soften the heart of any man, but Phineas Duge looked
into her face unmoved.
"Uncle," she said, "I am no longer any use to you. I think that I had
better go home."
He took out his pocket-book, looked through its contents, and passed it
across the table to her.
"As you will," he answered. "I have a great weakness which I am always
ready to admit. I cannot bear the presence about me of people who have
failed. You have become one of them, and I do not wish you to remain
here. If," he added, speaking more slowly, and looking meditatively
into the decanter by his side, "if you saw any chance by which, with
the help of what you will find in that pocket-book, a little
application, a little ingenuity, and a good deal of perseverance, you
could undo some part of the mischief which your carelessness has caused,
then, of course, I should lose that feeling concerning you, and your
place here would be open for your return. It would probably, also, be to
the advantage of your people if any such idea as this resulted in
successful action on your part. There is enough in that pocket-book," he
added, "to take you where you will, and to enable you to live as you
will for the remainder of the year, and during that time your people
also are provided for. I leave the matter in your hands."
He turned and left the room. Virginia stood at the end of the table,
clasping the pocket-book in her hands, and watching his retreating
figure. He opened and closed the door. She sank back into her place for
a moment and covered her face with her hands. For a moment she forgot
where she was. The perfume of the roses, with which the table was laden,
had somehow reminded her of the little farmhouse with its humble garden,
far up amongst the hills.
STELLA PROVES OBSTINATE
Littleson reached the hotel where Stella lived just in time to find the
hall full of her trunks, and Stella herself, in dark travelling clothes
and heavily veiled, in the act of saying farewell to the manager. He
came up to her eagerly.
"I seem to be just in time, Miss Duge," he said. "You are going away?"
"I am certainly going away," she answered. "Did you wish to see me?"
Her manner took him a little aback. Nevertheless he reflected that there
were a good many people within hearing, and she was right to
"Can I have three words with you?" he begged, "alone, anywhere?"
She led him into a sitting-room, which was fortunately empty.
"Well," she said, continuing to draw on her gloves, "what do you want,
"You know very well what I want," he answered quickly. "I have my
cheque-book in my pocket, and I am ready to pay over the hundred
thousand dollars. I know that you have the paper. If you like to wait
for ten minutes, you can have the money in dollars."
"How do you know that I have the paper?" she asked calmly.
"Your cousin, Miss Virginia, has been to our office," he answered. "She
thought, naturally, that you had brought it straight to us. I don't know
whether she seriously expected that we would give it up again, but that
seemed to be the object of her visit. At any rate, we learnt that you
Stella was busy with the last finger of her glove.
"Yes!" she said, "I succeeded. It was a brutal action, and I shall never
quite forgive myself for it, but I got the paper."
"Well?" he said.
"Well?" she answered calmly.
A horrible misgiving came over him.
"You haven't parted with it?" he demanded anxiously. "You haven't let
your father have it back again?"
"I have not parted with it," she answered, "to my father. On the other
hand, I certainly have not got it. A hundred thousand dollars is a good
deal of money, Mr. Littleson; but I did not commit theft for the benefit
of you and your friends."
"What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely.
"Exactly what I say," she answered. "The paper is in safe keeping. You
will probably hear before long who has it."
Littleson was speechless. All manner of horrible fears oppressed him.
"You must tell me," he insisted hoarsely, "where it is, who has got it!
This is infamous! Why, if I had not told you--"
"I should not have known anything about it," she interrupted. "Quite
true! I suppose I ought to thank you. However, as I say, the paper is in
safe hands, but not my father's. You will probably hear something about
it before long."
"For God's sake, tell me who has it, Miss Duge!" he implored. "You can't
understand what this means to us. We were fools to sign it, I know; but
your father insisted, and we had, I suppose, a weak moment. After all,
there isn't anything so very terrible about it. We have a right to
protect ourselves, we of the Trusts, whether our cause be just or not."
"Exactly!" she admitted. "No doubt you will have a case. I hope you will
find, supposing the worst happens, that popular sympathy will be on your
side. Most things are bought and sold in this country. I don't quite
know how the American public will appreciate this attempted buying of
the conscience of her public men. It might perhaps make you temporarily
a little unpopular, necessitate a trip to Europe perhaps, or something
of that sort. Well, I wish you well out of it, and now I must really go.
If you do have to come across in a hurry, Mr. Littleson, I may see
something of you in Paris."
"You are going to Europe, then?" he asked breathlessly.
"By to-morrow morning's boat," she answered. "I am going to send my
trunks down to the steamer, and stay with some friends to-night."
"At least," he begged, "come down and see Bardsley and Weiss. I'll take
you down in the automobile. It shall not detain you five minutes."
She shook her head.
"I cannot see the faintest use," she answered, "in my going to visit
your friends. I have really and absolutely parted with the paper, and
the person in whose possession it is will no doubt communicate
"His name?" Littleson demanded. "I must know his name."
"That," she answered, "I decline to tell you; but I dare say, if you
hurry back to Mr. Weiss' office, you will find some news for you. Don't
look so angry. We all have our own game to play, you know, Mr.
Littleson. I dare say I have behaved a little shabbily to you, but, you
see, I had myself to consider, and in New York you know what that means.
_Au revoir!_ I have an idea that I may see something of you in Europe."
She left Littleson, who went round to the bar of the hotel and had a big
drink. Then he lit a cigarette and returned to his automobile.
"Well," he muttered, as he swung round toward the city, "I may as well
go back and face the music...!"
Weiss' offices were crowded when Littleson returned. There was
excitement upon 'Change, clerks were rushing about, telephones were
ringing. Weiss himself, with his coat off, stood in the midst of it all,
giving orders, answering the telephone, exchanging a few hurried words
with numberless callers. He had a big unlit cigar in his mouth, which he
was constantly chewing. He pushed Littleson into his private office, but
he did not follow him for some time. When at last he came in, the uproar
outside was declining. It was five o'clock, and business was over for
the day. Weiss went to a small cupboard and took out a whisky bottle and
some glasses. Before he spoke a word he had tossed off a drink.
"Big day?" Littleson asked, mechanically.
"The devil's own day!" Weiss groaned. "We are in it now thick, all of
us, you and I, Higgins and Bardsley. Do you know that every minute of
the time Phineas Duge was supposed to be lying on his back, he was
buying on the Chicago market?"
"I am not surprised," Littleson answered. "It seems to me we ought to be
able to hold our own, though."
"We may," Weiss answered, "but it's a big thing. Even if we come out
safe, we shall come out losers. Well, did you see the girl?"
"I saw her," he answered drily. "I fancy things are not moving our way
particularly just now, Weiss."
"She has not the paper after all?" Weiss exclaimed.
"She has had it and parted with it," Littleson answered.
Weiss removed his unlit cigar from his mouth, and drew a little breath.
"You d----d fool!" he said. "You bungled things, then?"
"I scarcely see where the bungling comes in," Littleson answered. "I
offered her a hundred thousand dollars for that paper. She took the tip
and got it somehow. How could I tell that she had another scheme in
"One hundred thousand dollars!" Weiss muttered. "Better have offered her
a million and made sure of it. We shall have to pay that now, I expect.
Who's got it?"
"She would not tell me," Littleson answered.
Weiss felt his forehead. It was wringing wet. He went to the cupboard,
poured out another drink, and lit his cigar.
"Did she give you any idea?" he asked.
"None at all!" Littleson answered. "Some one seems to have outbid us. I
only know that it was not Phineas."
Weiss leaned back in his chair.
"It just shows," he said under his breath, "what fools the shrewdest of
us can be sometimes. There were you and I, and Higgins and Bardsley,
four men who have held our own, and more than held our own, in the
innermost circle of this thieves' kitchen. And yet, when Phineas Duge
sprung that thing upon us, and we saw the thunderbolt coming, we were
like frightened sheep, glad to do anything he suggested, glad to sign
our names even to that d----d paper. Do you realize, Littleson, that we
may have to leave the country?"
"If we do," he answered, "we are done for--I am at least. I am in
Canadian Pacifics too deep. If I cannot keep the ball rolling here, I
can never pull through."
"It all depends," Weiss said, "into whose hands that paper has gone. A
week's grace is all I want, time enough to fight this thing out
"Has he been near you?" Littleson asked. "Has he offered any
Weiss shrugged his shoulders.
"None," he answered. "That little fool of a Leslie, the outside broker,
must have given us away. I was afraid of him from the first. He was
always Duge's man."
A clerk knocked at the door. He entered, bearing a card.
"Mr. Norris Vine wishes to see you, sir!" he announced.
Weiss and Littleson exchanged swift glances. The same thought flashed
into both their minds. Neither spoke for fully a minute. Then Weiss,
with the card crumpled up in his hand, turned to the clerk, and his
voice sounded as though it came from a great distance.
"Show him in," he said.
Littleson sank into a chair. His eyes were still fixed upon his
"God in heaven!" he muttered.
Norris Vine shook hands with neither of the two men he greeted upon
entering the room. Weiss, now that he felt that a crisis of some sort
was at hand, recovered altogether from the nervous excitement of the
last few minutes. He bowed courteously, if a little coldly, to Vine, and
motioning him to a chair, took his own place in the seat before his
desk. His manner was composed, his face was set and stern. Behind his
spectacles his eyes steadfastly watched the countenance of the man whose
coming might mean so much. Littleson, taking his cue, did his best also
to feign indifference. He leaned against a writing-table, close to where
Vine was sitting, and taking out his case, carefully selected and lit a
"Well, Mr. Vine," Weiss said, "what can we do for you? Are you too going
to join in the hustle for wealth? Have you any commissions for us? You
will forgive me if I ask you to come to the point quickly. Things are
moving about here just now, and we have little time to ourselves. By the
by, you know Littleson, I suppose? Your business with me is not so
private that you object to his remaining?"
"Certainly not," Vine answered calmly. "As a matter of fact, my business
concerns also Mr. Littleson. In fact, there are two other of your
friends whom I should have been equally glad to have seen here."
"Indeed!" Weiss answered. "You mean?"
"Mr. Bardsley and Mr. Seth Higgins," Vine replied.
"No doubt," Weiss said, "Littleson and I will be able to convey to them
anything you may have to say. Come to the point! What is it? Are you
going to write another of your sledge-hammer articles, damning us all to
hell? Perhaps you have come here for a little information as to our
methods. We will do our best to help you. There are times when we fear
enemies less than friends."
"I, certainly," Vine remarked, "do not come here as a friend, and yet,"
he added, "I am not sure that mine might not be called to some extent a
visit of friendship. I have come here to warn you."
Weiss reached out his hand for a box of cigars, and biting the end off
one, put it unlit into his mouth. He half offered the box to Vine, who,
however, shook his head.
"Come," he said, "you are a little enigmatic. There is only one sort of
business we understand here. People come to buy or to sell. Have you
anything to sell?"
Norris Vine smiled quietly, as though at some thought which was passing
through his brain. He raised his eyes to Weiss', and looked him
steadily in the face.
"I am in possession," he said, "of something which I think, Mr. Weiss,
you would give half your fortune to buy, but I have not come here to
sell. I have come here to warn you of the instant use to which I propose
to put a certain document, signed by you and Littleson, Bardsley and
Seth Higgins. It seems that you have entered into a conspiracy to remove
from their places in the Government of this country the men who are
pledged to the fight against the Trusts which you control. By chance
that document has come into my hands. I propose to let the people of
America know what sort of men you are, who have become the virtual
governors of the country."
Stephen Weiss' surprise was exceedingly well simulated.
"I presume, Mr. Vine," he said, "that you are not here to poke fun at
us. Tell me, if you please, what document it is to which you refer."
"I think," Vine answered, "that I need not enter into too close details.
It is a document which you and your friends signed at Phineas Duge's
house, not many nights ago."
Weiss rose to his feet, crossed the office, and turned the key in the
lock of the door. He was a big man, and his face was a little flushed.
Littleson, too, had slid softly from the edge of the table, and was
watching his friend's face as though for a signal. Norris Vine, long,
angular, unathletic, showed not the slightest signs of discomposure. He
was leaning back in his chair, gently twirling by its thin black ribbon
the horn-rimmed eyeglass which he usually wore.
"Mr. Vine," Weiss said, "whatever attitude we may take up afterwards,
there isn't the slightest need to play a part with you. We did sign that
document, and we have been kicking ourselves ever since for doing so. It
was Phineas Duge's idea, and we are fairly well convinced that he
pressed us for our signatures as subscribers to the fund, simply for the
purpose of having in his possession a document which might, if its
contents were known, cause us some inconvenience. Am I right in assuming
that he deceived us that night, that he himself never signed the paper?"
"His signature," Norris Vine answered, "certainly does not appear."
"Just as I thought," he remarked. "There was every indication a few
weeks ago of what has actually happened, namely a split between us and
Phineas Duge. This document was the weapon with which he had hoped to
obtain the master-hand over us. Now, instead of finding it in his hands,
we find it in yours. What are you going to do about it?"
"I am going to use it," Vine answered. "I am going to use it to strike a
blow against the abominable system of robbery and corruption which is
ruining the finest of all God's countries."
"Very well," Weiss said, "I am not going to give away our defence, of
course. We may treat the document as a forgery, concocted by you or by
Phineas Duge, either of whom would have sufficient motives. We may
insist upon it that it was an after-dinner joke. We may contest the
meaning of the text, and swear that we intended to use none but
legitimate methods in this fight. Or, to put the whole matter before
you, we may use such powers as we possess to see that you are put out of
harm's way before you have an opportunity to make use of that paper. You
see we have alternatives. We are not absolutely without hope. Now I ask
you this, as man to man. The value of that document is, after all, a
matter of speculation to you. Put a price on it, and fight us with our
Norris Vine shook his head gently.
"I think not," he said. "If you gave me half your fortunes, we should
only come into the field level."
"We are not small men," Stephen Weiss said slowly. "We represent a great
power, and a power for which we mean to fight. When I talk to you of
money, I mean it. We will raise a million dollars for you before midday
to-morrow, if you leave that paper in our hands."
"We may shorten this discussion," Norris Vine answered, "by my assuring
you solemnly that neither one nor twenty million dollars would purchase
from me this document. I have spent years, and every scrap of such
ability as I possess, in writing against, and lecturing upon, and
attacking in every way that occurred to me, your abominable methods for
collecting into the hands of a few what should be the comfort and
happiness of the many. I mean the wealth of this country. Not even at
the peril of my life would I part with the most efficient weapon which
has ever yet come into my hands."
"Then why, Mr. Vine," Littleson asked, bending over from his place,
"have you come here to see us?"
"I have come," Vine answered, "because against you personally I bear no
malice. I am not well acquainted with the laws of this country, but it
seems to me that the verbatim publication of this paper would mean for
you something more than financial ruin. It would probably mean the
inside of a prison. Personally, I have not the least doubt that every
one of you deserves to see the inside of a prison, but I am not
vindictive. I give you your chance. If a trip to Europe in the _Kaiser
Wilhelm_ to-morrow morning seems to you opportune, you will certainly
escape reading the record of your own folly in the evening papers."
Weiss threw away his half-chewed cigar, and taking another from the box,
lit it deliberately.
"Now, Mr. Vine," he said, "you are a young man whose attention has
never been turned to the practical affairs of life. You are a literary
person, and you walk a good deal with your head in the clouds. You
haven't the hard common sense of us business men to be able to determine
exactly what the result in a commonplace world is of any definite
action. I can assure you that no prison in America could ever hold me
and my friends, and that our risk is not in any way so serious as you
imagine. But, leaving out the question of our personal safety or
convenience, I want to put this to you. If you publish the contents of
that document in the evening papers to-morrow, you will produce in
America the greatest and most ruinous financial crisis that the country
has ever known."
For the first time Vine's cold, immobile face showed some signs of
interest. He abandoned his somewhat negligent attitude, and sat up with
an attentive expression.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Weiss struck the table in front of him with his open hand.
"Don't you know," he said, "that Bardsley, Littleson, Higgins, Phineas
Duge, and myself, are the blood and the muscle of this country, so far
as regards finance? Every one of the great railroad stocks is controlled
by us. Prices are more or less what we make them. Three of the greatest
industrial undertakings which the world has ever known, in which are
invested hundreds of millions of honest American capital, are still
controlled by us. If you publish that document, whatever the ultimate
results may be, there will be the worst scare in the American
money-market which the world has ever known. London and Paris were never
so ill-prepared to come to the rescue, as a glance at the morning papers
will show you. You will not find a city nor a village in this country,
or a street, I almost was going to say a house, in New York, where there
will not be a ruined man to curse you and your ill-considered action.
The shrinkage in values in a few hours, of good and honest stocks, will
come to twice as much as would pay for the Russo-Japanese war. I doubt
whether this country would ever recover from the shock. That, Mr. Vine,
is precisely what would happen if you adopt the methods of which you
have just warned us."
Weiss ceased speaking and replaced the cigar in his mouth. Littleson, a
few feet off, felt the perspiration breaking out upon his forehead. His
breath was coming fast. The slow, crushing words of his partner had
worked him into a state of excitement such as he had scarcely believed
himself capable of. And Norris Vine, the imperturbable, was obviously
impressed. Weiss had spoken almost as a man inspired. To treat his words
lightly seemed impossible.
"You have given me something," Vine said slowly, "to think over. I
should be very sorry, of course, to bring about such a state of things
as you have spoken of. At the same time, I am not, as you say, a
practical man. I cannot follow you in all you say. It seems to me that
if this immense depreciation of funds really took place, especially in
the case of undertakings of solid value, the pendulum would swing back
to its place very soon. Values always assert themselves."
"And the people who would benefit," Weiss said, leaning forward, "are
the foreigners who stepped in with their gold and bought for themselves
a share in our country at half its value."
He stopped to answer for a moment an insistent ringing of the telephone
from the outer office. As he laid the receiver down he turned to Vine.
"Look here," he said, "you doubt my statement. Outside in the office
there is waiting to see me, upon a matter of business, a man who is as
much my enemy as you are. I mean John Drayton, Governor of New York.
Would you call him an honest man?"
"Absolutely!" Vine answered.
"Would you consider him a shrewd man?"
"Certainly," Vine assented.
"Then look here," Weiss said. "I am going to ask him to come into this
office. I am going to treat this matter as an academic discussion, and
I am going to ask him then what the result would be of such a step as
"Very well," Vine answered. "I pledge myself to nothing, but I should
like to hear John Drayton's opinion."
Weiss unlocked and threw open the office door, and a moment later
returned with a tall, grey-headed man, with closely cropped beard and
gold-rimmed eyeglasses. He shook hands with Vine warmly, and nodded to
"What, you here in the lion's den, Vine?" he remarked, smiling. "Be
careful or they will eat you up."
"I am not afraid," he said, "especially now that you are here to support
"Mr. Vine," Weiss said, "shows himself possessed of our natural quality,
audacity. He is here, I frankly believe, to pick up damaging information
against us, for use the next time he issues his thunders. We have been
led into an interesting discussion, and we have a point to refer
John Drayton sat down and accepted the cigar which Weiss passed him.
"Sure," he said, "I'll be very pleased to join in; but you are a rash
man, Weiss, to refer to me, for you know very well my sympathies are
with Mr. Vine here. I hate you millionaires and your Trusts, on
principle of course, although I must admit that some of you are very
good fellows, and smoke thundering good cigars," he added, taking his
from his mouth for a moment and looking at it.
"I don't care," Weiss answered. "The point I want you to decide
scarcely calls upon your sympathies so much as your judgment. We were
imagining a case in which say half a dozen men, who held the position of
myself and Phineas Duge and Littleson here, I think I might say the
half-dozen most powerful men in America, were suddenly, without a
moment's warning, to lose in the eyes of the whole of the public every
scrap of character and stability, were to be threatened with absolute
ruin, and a term of imprisonment for misdemeanour. What would be the
effect upon this country for the next forty-eight hours or so?"
John Drayton removed his cigar from his mouth.
"The one reason," he said impressively, "why I hate your Trusts, why I
loathe to see all the power of this country gathered together in the
hands of a few men such as you have mentioned, is that, in the event of
such a happening as you have put forth, the country would have to face a
crisis that would mean ruin to hundreds of thousands of her innocent
people." Then for the first time during this interview Weiss' full round
lips receded in a smile. His spectacles could not hide the flash of
triumph that leapt out. He turned to Vine.
"You hear?" he said simply.
"Yes, I hear!" Norris Vine answered.
"Of course," John Drayton continued, "I do not know how you drifted into
a conversation such as this, but in my last article in the _North
American Review_, which Mr. Vine here will probably remember, I took the
case of even a single man controlling one of the huge mercantile Trusts
in this country, and tried to show what would happen to the small
investors in a perfectly sound undertaking should a collapse happen to a
holder of shares to this excessive extent. It is a painful thing to have
to confess, but there is no doubt that it exists. We Americans are a
great commercial people, and the dollar fever runs a little too hotly in
our blood. We stretch out our hands too far. Vine, I know, agrees
"Yes," Vine answered, "I agree with you!"
He rose to his feet. John Drayton followed his example.
"My business is really concluded," he remarked. "I had to see your
manager on behalf of a client of mine. Are you coming my way, Vine? I am
going to the club."
"I will follow you in a few minutes," Vine answered.
John Drayton went out, and once more the three men were alone.
"You see, Mr. Vine," Weiss said slowly, "this isn't the country or the
age for Don Quixotes. Fight against our Trusts and our monetary system
with all your eloquence, if you will, but don't tamper with things you
don't understand, or you may do harm where you meant to do good. Now
what can we say to you about that document?"
"I am not prepared," Vine said, rising, "to come to any definite
decision at this moment. Frankly, I want to use it so as to do you the
greatest possible amount of harm. On the other hand, I never
contemplated any such developments as you and John Drayton have
suggested. I am going to think this matter over."
"We are open enemies," Weiss said, "and there is no reason why we should
not respect one another as such. We ask you to abide by the ways of
civilized warfare. Don't strike without a word, at any rate, of warning.
It will be in the interests of others, as well as ourselves."
"Very well," Vine said. "I promise that."
He left the office without any further word, without shaking hands with
either of the two men. Weiss sat down in his seat, and Littleson, who
was trembling all over, came to his side.
"Stephen," he said, "you're a great man. Come right along out of this
and go to Parker's and have a bottle. My nerves are all on the twitch."
Weiss rose and put on his hat. The two men left the office together, and
climbed into Littleson's automobile.
* * * * *
Vine walked thoughtfully down to his club. Amongst the letters which the
hall-porter handed to him was one from Stella. He tore it open and read
it standing there.
"MY DEAR NORRIS," it began,--
"Events have been marching a little too rapidly for me lately, and I am
going away. I cannot stand New York any longer. Fifth Avenue gives me
the horrors, and I am afraid to open an American paper. Besides, there
are other things, to which I need not allude, which make me think that
it would perhaps be better for me to take a journey. You will see from
where I am writing I am on board the _Kaiser Wilhelm_. Where I shall go
to in Europe, or what I shall do, I am not sure. I am not sure either
that it would interest you to know. You are very absorbed in your
profession, and I do not think that the things outside it mean much to
you. I suppose that is the usual fate of us women. We are always willing
to give, and we make no bargains. Don't think that I am reproaching you,
only I have made America an impossible place for me just now. I could
not bear to see that poor little cousin of mine, with her big
reproachful eyes. Nor if you fill your purpose, and the storm comes, do
I care to feel that I am responsible for the trouble which must
"Good-bye, Norris! I wish you every sort of good fortune, and if I
dared I would say that I wish you a little more heart, a little more
understanding, and a little more gratitude!
He folded the letter up and placed it carefully in his coat pocket. Then
he went off into the reading-room in search of John Drayton. Life did
not seem to him so absolutely simple a thing now, as a few hours ago.
MY NAME IS MILDMAY
"I am quite sure," Virginia protested, a little shyly, "that you will
want it yourself before long."
The young man laughed pleasantly.
"I am going to run that risk, anyhow," he said. "Please let me wrap it
round you properly, so."
He did not wait for her consent, but after all she was scarcely prepared
to withhold it, for it was a very cold morning, and the young man who
had been sitting on the next chair, with an unused rug by his side, was
wearing a particularly heavy fur coat.
"I think," he said, "that it is quite plucky of you to stay up on deck a
morning like this. I suppose your people are all below?"
She shook her head.
"My people," she said, "are a very long way away."
"Your maid, then," he suggested. "Useless creatures maids, at a time
like this. They are nearly always seasick, especially the first
Again she shook her head.
"I am travelling quite alone," she said.
He looked at her in astonishment.
"Alone!" he repeated. "Why, you seem to me much too young. Forgive me,
please," he added, apologetically, "I did not mean to be impertinent. I
suppose you are an American?"
"I am," she admitted.
"Ah! that explains everything," he remarked with a little gesture of
relief. "You belong, then, to the most wonderful race on earth, to the
only race who have dared to cross swords with Mrs. Grundy and disarm
"On the contrary," she declared, "Mrs. Grundy of New York is quite as
formidable as Mrs. Grundy of London, only we don't invoke her quite so
often. Still, I will admit that, strictly speaking, I ought not to be
travelling alone. The circumstances are very exceptional."
"I hope," he said earnestly, "that you will give me the opportunity of
looking after you some of the time. I am quite alone, too, and I know no
one on board."
She let her eyes rest for a moment or two upon his face. He was very
fair, young, certainly not more than seven or eight and twenty, and
reasonably good-looking; but apart from these things, he had eyes which
she liked, a voice which was indubitable, and manners which left no
possible room for doubt as to his status. She bowed her head alittle
"You are very kind indeed," she said. "I have never crossed before, and
I am quite sure that if you have the time to spare, you can be ever so
useful to me."
He smiled reassuringly.
"That's settled then," he said. "I can assure you that I feel very much
more interested in the voyage already. By the by, my name is Mildmay."
"And mine," she replied, after a moment's hesitation, "is Virginia
"Virginia," he repeated with a smile. "I think that is one of the most
delightful of your American names."
"You are English, aren't you?" she asked.
"I," he said, "am returning from my first visit to the States. I have
been to stay with a cousin who has a ranch out West. We had ever such a
She looked at his sunburnt skin, and smiled to herself.
"Did you stay in New York?" she asked.
"Only two days," he answered. "Somehow or other those big places are
rather terrifying. I had no friends there, and I wandered about as
though I were in a wilderness."
"What a pity!" she murmured. "Americans are so hospitable. Surely you
could have found some friends if you had wished to!"
He smiled a little whimsically.
"Yes!" he said, "I dare say I could, but I hadn't the time to spare to
look them up. Now tell me about your visit to England. Where are you
going to stay? In the country or in London?"
"I am not sure," she answered, "but I think in London, at first at any
"You have relations there, of course?" he asked.
"None," she answered.
She turned her dark eyes upon him. He felt himself suddenly embarrassed.
"I am awfully sorry," he said. "I've no right to ask you all these
questions. The fact is, I was only trying to make sure that I should be
able to see something of you after we had landed."
"I am afraid," she said, "that that will be scarcely possible, but, if
you don't mind, you mustn't ask me any questions about my journey. I
will admit that it is rather a peculiar one, that I have no friends in
England, that I made up my mind to come all of a sudden. My journey has
an object, of course, but I cannot tell you what it is, and you must
not ask me."
"Of course I will not," he answered, "but I shall talk to you again
about this before we land. I mean to say that you must let me give you
my card, and you will know, at any rate, that there is some one in
England to whom you can send if you are in need of a friend."
She smiled at him delightfully.
"And I have always been told," she said, "that Englishmen were so slow!
Why, I have known you scarcely a quarter of an hour."
"But I have watched you," he answered, "for two days."
"Well," she declared, "I like impulsive people, so I dare say I'll ask
you for the card before we land. Do you live in London?"
"I have a house there," he answered. "I am there for about two months in
the year, and odd week-ends during the hunting season."
"Tell me about London, please," she said.
"Historically," he began, a little doubtfully. "I am afraid--"
She interrupted him, shaking her head. "No!" she said, "tell me about
the best restaurants and theatres, and how the people live." "That's a
large order," he answered, "but I'll try."
They talked for an hour or more; neither, in fact, took an exact account
of the time. Suddenly they looked up to see a dark-faced,
correct-looking servant standing before them.
"The luncheon gong has gone, your Grace," he said. "Shall I take the
They made their way into the saloon together. Virginia looked up at him
"You said that your name was Mildmay," she remarked. "What did your
servant mean by calling you 'your Grace'?"
"Oh! I haven't had the fellow very long," he said, "and he came straight
to me from some Italian duke, or nobleman of some sort. I suppose he
hasn't got out of the habit yet. I wonder whether I can arrange to come
and sit at your table. The purser seems rather a decent fellow."
"I haven't been in the saloon at all yet," Virginia said, "but it would
be very nice if you could sit somewhere near me."
Mr. Mildmay found it an easy matter to arrange. His seat at the
captain's table was exchanged for one at the purser's, and the two were
side by side. Then Virginia, looking around, received a little shock.
She heard her name spoken across the table, and, looking up, found that
she was exactly opposite Mr. Littleson.
"How do you do, Miss Longworth?" he said. "I had no idea that we were to
be fellow passengers."
She was almost too surprised to answer him coherently, but she faltered
out something about an unexpected journey. Afterwards, on the way to her
stateroom, she overtook him near one of the companion-ways, and laid her
hand upon his arm.
"Mr. Littleson," she said, "would you do me a favour?"
"Why, I should say so," he answered. "Nothing I'd like better."
"Don't tell anybody anything about me," she begged, "I mean about my
uncle, or anything of that sort at all. I am going over to England on a
very foolish errand, I think, and I wish to keep it to myself."
Littleson became a trifle grave. He was not a bad sort of a fellow, and
Virginia seemed little more than a charming child as she stood in the
passage, looking up at him with appealing eyes and slightly parted lips.
"Do you mean," he asked, "that you have run away from your uncle?"
"Not exactly that," she answered. "My uncle was quite willing to have me
leave him, but he does not know exactly where I am, nor do my people.
Will you keep my secret, please?"
"Certainly!" he answered.
"From every one on board, as well as from your letters if you write from
"Well, I'll try to do as you say," he answered, "but I should like to
have a talk with you before we land."
He went to his stateroom a little thoughtfully. It had not yet occurred
to him that Virginia's errand to London and his might possibly have
something in common.
Littleson, before many hours of their voyage had passed, became
conscious that Virginia was showing a slight but unmistakable desire to
avoid his society. Being a Harvard graduate, something of an athlete,
and a young man of fashion and popularity, he did not for a moment
entertain the idea that there could be anything personal in her feeling.
He came to the conclusion, therefore, that she had either discovered his
connection with Stella's behaviour, or that the object of her visit to
Europe was one that she desired to conceal from him. On the afternoon of
the day when he had received his first but distinct snub, he made a
point of drawing his chair over to hers.
"I am not going to bother you very much, Miss Longworth," he said, "but
I feel that I must ask you a question. I don't want you to break any
confidences, and I haven't much to tell you myself, but I should like to
know whether your visit to England has anything to do with what happened
one night in the library of your uncle's house?"
"So you know about that then, do you?" she asked quietly.
"I do," he answered. "I know that a paper was stolen by your cousin, and
handed over to a person whom we will not name, but who is now in Europe.
I will tell you this much--I am going across so as to keep in touch with
that person. It seems odd that you, who are involved in the same
affair, should be going over by the same steamer."
"The object of my journey," Virginia said, looking out seaward,
"concerns nobody but myself."
The young man nodded.
"I expected that you would say that," he remarked coolly. "Still, our
meeting like this induced me to ask you the question. If I can be of any
service to you in London, I hope you will not fail to let me know. Your
uncle would never forgive me if I did not do everything I could in the
way of looking after you."
Virginia smiled a little bitterly.
"My uncle," she said, "is not likely to trouble his head about me. He
has dispensed with my services for the future. When I go home, I am
going back to my own people."
Littleson was genuinely sorry. To a certain extent he felt that this was
"That's just like Phineas," he said. "Hard as nails, and without a
dime's worth of consideration. I don't see how you could help what
happened. You gave nothing up voluntarily. You told nobody anything."
"My uncle," Virginia said, "judges only by results. After all, it is the
only infallible way. I am going to read a little now. Do you mind?
Talking makes my head ache."
He bowed and went his way. For an hour or more he paced up and down on
the other side of the deck, thinking. It was, of course, impossible that
this child should have come across with the hope of wresting from Norris
Vine the paper which all their offers and eloquence had failed to entice
him to give up. And yet he did not understand her journey. He knew very
well that Phineas Duge had neither connections nor relatives in England.
Only a few weeks ago, in talking to Virginia at dinner-time, she had
told him that she had no hope, at present at any rate, of visiting
Europe. Later in the day he sent a marconigram back to New York. Perhaps
Weiss would see something suggestive in the presence of this child upon
* * * * *
"So you have found one friend on board," Mildmay remarked, pausing
before her chair.
"He is not a friend," she answered, "and I do not like him. That is why
I told him that it made my head ache to talk."
"Then I suppose--" he began.
"You are to suppose nothing, but to sit down," she said. "Talk to me
about London, please, or anything, or any place. I am a little tired
to-day. I suppose I should say really a little depressed. I cannot read,
and I don't like my thoughts."
"You are such a child," he said softly, "to talk like that."
"I am nineteen," she answered, "and sometimes I feel thirty-nine."
"Nineteen!" he repeated, "and coming across to a strange country all by
yourself. The American spirit is a wonderful thing."
She shook her head.
"It isn't the American spirit," she said simply. "It is necessity. I
think that any girl, English or American, would prefer having some one
to take care of her, to going about alone."
"You make one feel inclined--" he began, bending forward and looking
into her eyes.