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CHILDREN OF THE WHIRLWIND
by Leroy Scott
It was an uninspiring bit of street: narrow, paved with cobble; hot and noisy in summer, reeking with unwholesome mud during the drizzling and snow-slimed months of winter. It looked anything this May after noon except a starting-place for drama. But, then, the great dramas of life often avoid the splendid estates and trappings with which conventional romance would equip them, and have their beginnings in unlikeliest environment; and thence sweep on to a noble, consuming tragedy, or to a glorious unfolding of souls. Life is a composite of contradictions–a puzzle to the wisest of us: the lily lifting its graceful purity aloft may have its roots in a dunghill. Samson’s dead lion putrefying by a roadside is ever and again being found to be a storehouse of wild honey. We are too accustomed to the ordinary and the obvious to consider that beauty or worth may, after bitter travail, grow out of that which is ugly and unpromising.
Thus no one who looked on Maggie Carlisle and Larry Brainard at their beginnings, had even a guess what manner of persons were to develop from them or what their stories were to be.
The houses on the bit of street were all three-storied and all of a uniform, dingy, scaling redness. The house of the Duchess, on the left side as you came down the street toward the little Square which squatted beside the East River, differed from the others only in that three balls of tarnished gilt swung before it and unredeemed pledges emanated a weakly lure from behind its dirt-streaked windows, and also in that the personality of the Duchess gave the house something of a character of its own.
The street did business with her when pressed for funds, but it knew little definite about the Duchess except that she was shriveled and bent and almost wordless and was seemingly without emotions. But of course there were rumors. She was so old, and had been so long in the drab little street, that she was as much a legend as a real person. No one knew exactly how she had come by the name of “Duchess.” There were misty, unsupported stories that long, long ago she had been a shapely and royal figure in colored fleshings, and that her title had been given her in those her ruling days. Also there was a vague story that she had come by the name through an old liking for the romances of that writer who put forth her, or his, or their, prolific extravagances under the exalted pseudonym of “The Duchess.” Also there was a rumor that the title came from a former alleged habit of the Duchess of carrying beneath her shapeless dress a hoard of jewels worthy to be a duchy’s heirlooms. But all these were just stories–no more. Down in this quarter of New York nicknames come easily, and once applied they adhere to the end.
Some believed that she was now the mere ashes of a woman, in whom lived only the last flickering spark. And some believed that beneath that drab and spent appearance there smouldered a great fire, which might blaze forth upon some occasion. But no one knew. As she was now, so she had always been even in the memory of people considered old in the neighborhood.
Beside the fact that she ran a pawnshop, which was reputed to be also a fence, there were only two or three other facts that were known to her neighbors. One was that in the far past there had been a daughter, and that while still a very young girl this daughter had disappeared. It was rumored that the Duchess had placed the daughter in a convent and that later tire girl had married; but the daughter had never appeared again in the quarter. Another fact was that there was a grandson, a handsome young devil, who had come down occasionally to visit his grandmother, until he began his involuntary sojourn at Sing Sing. Another fact–this one the best known of all–was that two or three years before an impudent, willful young girl named Maggie Carlisle had come to live with her.
It was rather a meager history. People wondered and talked of mystery. But perhaps the only mystery arose from the fact that the Duchess was the kind of woman who never volunteered information about her affairs, and the kind even the boldly curious hesitate to question…
And down here it was, in this unlovely street, in the Duchess’s unlovely house, that the drama of Maggie Carlisle and Larry Brainard began its unpromising and stormy career: for, though they had thought of it little, their forebears had been sowers of the wind, they themselves had sown some of that careless seed and were to sow yet more–and there was to be the reaping of that seed’s wild crop.
When Maggie entered the studio on the Duchess’s third floor, the big, red-haired, unkempt painter roared his rebukes at her. She stiffened, and in the resentment of her proud youth did not even offer an explanation. Nodding to her father and Barney Palmer, she silently crossed to the window and stood sullenly gazing over the single mongrel tree before the house and down the narrow street and across the little Square, at the swirling black tide which raced through East River. That painter was a beast! Yes, and a fool!
But quickly the painter was forgotten, and once more her mind reverted to Larry–at last Larry was coming back!–only to have the painter, after a minute, interrupt her excited imagination with:
“What’s the matter with your tongue, Maggie? Generally you stab back with it quick enough.”
She turned, still sulky and silent, and gazed with cynical superiority at the easel. “Nuts”–it was Barney Palmer who had thus lightly rechristened the painter when he had set up his studio in the attic above the pawnshop six months before–Nuts was transferring the seamy, cunning face of her father, “Old Jimmie” Carlisle, to the canvas with swift, unhesitating strokes.
“For the lova Christ and the twelve apostles, including that piker Judas,” woefully intoned Old Jimmie from the model’s chair, “lemme get down off this platform!”
“Move and I’ll wipe my palette off on that Mardi Gras vest of yours!” grunted the big painter autocratically through his mouthful of brushes.
“O God–and I got a cramp in my back, and my neck’s gone to sleep!” groaned Old Jimmie, leaning forward on his cane. “Daughter, dear”– plaintively to Maggie–“what is the crazy gentleman doing to me?”
“It’s an awful smear, father.” Maggie spoke slightingly, but with a tone of doubt. It was not the sort of picture that eighteen has been taught to like–yet the picture did possess an intangible something that provoked doubt as to its quality. “You sure do look one old burglar!”
“Not a cheap burglar?”–hopefully.
“Naw!” exploded the man at the easel in his big voice, first taking the brushes from his mouth. “You’re a swell-looking old pirate!–ready to loot the sub-treasury and then scuttle the old craft with all hands on board! A breathing, speaking, robbing likeness!”
“Maggie’s right, and Nuts’s right,” put in Barney Palmer. “It’s sure a rotten picture, and then again it sure looks like you, Jimmie.”
The smartly dressed Barney–Barney could not keep away from Broadway tailors and haberdashers with their extravagant designs and color schemes–dismissed the insignificant matter of the portrait, and resumed the really important matter which had brought him to her.
“Are you certain, Maggie, that the Duchess hasn’t heard from Larry?”
“If she has, she hasn’t mentioned it. But why don’t you ask her yourself?”
“I did, but she wouldn’t say a thing. You can’t get a word out of the Duchess with a jimmy, unless she wants to talk–and she never wants to talk.” He turned his sharp, narrowly set eyes upon the lean old man. “It’s got me guessing, Jimmie. Larry was due out of Sing Sing yesterday, and we haven’t had a peep from him, and though she won’t talk I’m sure he hasn’t been here to see his grandmother.”
“Sure is funny,” agreed Old Jimmie. “But mebbe Larry has broke straight into a fresh game and is playing a lone hand. He’s a quick worker, Larry is–and he’s got nerve.”
“Well, whatever’s keeping him we’re tied up till Larry comes.” Barney turned back to Maggie. “I say, sister, how about robing yourself in your raiment of joy and coming with yours truly to a palace of jazz, there to dine and show the populace what real dancing is?”
“Can’t, Barney. Mr. Hunt”–the name given the painter at his original christening–“asked the Duchess and me to have dinner up here. He’s to cook it himself.”
“For your sake I hope he cooks better than he paints.” And sliding down in his chair until he rested upon a more comfortable vertebra, the elegant Barney lit a monogrammed cigarette, and with idle patience swung his bamboo stick.
“You’re half an hour late, Maggie,” Hunt began at her again in his rumbling voice. “Can’t stand for such a waste of my time!”
“How about my time?” retorted Maggie, who indeed had a grievance. “I was supposed to have the day off, but instead I had to carry that tray of cigarettes around till the last person in the Ritzmore had finished lunch. Anyhow,” she added, “I don’t see that your time’s worth so much when you spend it on such painty messes as these.”
“It’s not up to you to tell me what my time’s worth!” retorted Hunt. “I pay you–that’s enough for you!… Because you weren’t on time, I stuck Old Jimmie out there to finish off this picture. I’ll be through with the old cut-throat in ten minutes. Be ready to take his place.”
“All right,” said Maggie sulkily.
For all his roaring she was not much afraid of the painter. While his brushes flicked at, and streaked across, the canvas she stood idly watching him. He was in paint-smeared, baggy trousers and a soft shirt whose open collar gave a glimpse of a deep chest matted with hair and whose rolled-up sleeves revealed forearms that seemed absurdly large to be fiddling with those slender sticks. A crowbar would have seemed more in harmony. He was unromantically old–all of thirty-five Maggie guessed; and with his square, rough-hewn face and tousled, reddish hair he was decidedly ugly. But for the fact that he really did work– though of course his work was foolish–and the fact that he paid his way–he bought little, but no one could beat him by so much as a penny in a bargain, not even the Duchess–Maggie might have considered him as one of the many bums who floated purposelessly through that drab region.
Also, had there not been so many queer people coming and going in this neighborhood–Eads Howe, the hobo millionaire, settlement workers, people who had grown rich and old in their business and preferred to live near it–Maggie might have regarded Hunt with more curiosity, and even with suspicion; but down here one accepted queer people as a matter of course, the only fear being that secretly they might be police or government agents, which Maggie and the others knew very well Hunt was not. When Hunt had rented this attic as a studio they had accepted his explanation that he had taken it because it was cheap and he could afford to pay no more. Likewise they had accepted his explanation that he was a mechanic by trade who had roughed it all over the world and was possessed with an itch for painting, that lately he had worked in various garages, that it was his habit to hoard his money till he got a bit ahead and then go off on a painting spree. All these admissions were indubitably plausible, for his paintings seemed the unmistakable handiwork of an irresponsible, hard- fisted motor mechanic.
Maggie shifted to her other foot and glanced casually at the canvases which leaned against the walls of the shabby studio. There was the Duchess: incredibly old, the face a web of wrinkles, the lips indrawn over toothless and shrunken gums. the nose a thin, curved beak, the eyes deep-set, gleaming, inscrutable, watching; and drawn tight over the hair–even Maggie did not know whether that hair was a wig or the Duchess’s–the faded Oriental shawl which was fastened beneath her chin and which fell over her thin, bent chest. There was O’Flaherty, the good-natured policeman on the beat. There was the old watchmaker next door. There was Black Hurley, the notorious gang leader, who sometimes swaggered into the district like a dirty and evil feudal lord. There was a Jewish pushcart peddler, white-bearded and skull- capped. There was an Italian mother sitting on the curb, her feet in the gutter, smiling down at the baby that was hungrily suckling at her milk-heavy breast. And so on, and so on. Just the ordinary, uninteresting things Maggie saw around the block. There was not a single pretty picture in the lot.
Hunt swung the canvas from his easel and stood it against the wall. “That’ll be all for you, Jimmie. Beat it and make room for Maggie. Maggie, take your same pose.”
Old Jimmie ambled forward and gazed at his portrait as Hunt was settling an unfinished picture on his easel. It had rather amused Jimmie and filled in his idle time to sit for the crazy painter; and, incidentally, another picture of him would do him no particular harm since the police already had all the pictures they needed of him over at Headquarters. As he gazed at Hunt’s work Old Jimmie snickered.
“I say, Nuts, what you goin’ to do with this mess of paint?”
“Going to sell it to the Metropolitan Museum, you old sinner!” snapped Hunt.
Old Jimmie cackled at the joke. He knew pictures; that is, good pictures. He had had an invisible hand in more than one clever transaction in which handsome pictures alleged to have been smuggled in, Gainsboroughs and Romneys and such (there had been most profit for him in handling the forgeries of these particular masters), had been put, with an air of great secrecy, into the hands of divers newly rich gentlemen who believed they were getting masterpieces at bargain prices through this evasion of customs laws.
“Nuts,” chuckled Old Jimmie, “this junk wouldn’t be so funny if you didn’t seem to believe you were really painting.”
“Junk! Funny!” Hunt swung around, one big hand closed about Jimmie’s lean neck and the other seized his thin shoulder. “You grandfather of the devil and all his male progeny, you talk like that and I’ll chuck you through the window!”
Old Jimmie grinned. The grip of the big hands of the painter, though powerful, was light. They all knew that the loud ravings of the painter never presaged violence. They had grown to like him, to accept him as almost one of themselves; though of course they looked down upon him with amused pity for his imbecility regarding his paintings.
“Get out of here,” continued Hunt, “or cut out all this noise that comes from your having a brain that rattles. I’ve got to work.”
Hunt turned again to his easel, and Old Jimmie, still grinning, lowered himself into a chair, lit a cigar, and winked at Barney. Hunt, with brush poised, regarded Maggie a moment.
“You there, Maggie,” he ordered, “chin up a bit more, some flash in your eyes, more pep in your bearing–as though you were asking all the dames of the Winter Garden, and the Charity Ball, and the Horse Show, and that gang of tea-swilling women at the Ritzmore you sell cigarettes to–as though you were asking them all who the dickens they think they are … O God, can’t you do anything!”
“I’m doing the best I can, and I look more like those dames than you look like a painter!”
“Shut up! I’m paying you a dollar an hour to pose, not to talk back to me. And you’d have more respect for my money if you knew how hard I had to work to earn it: carrying a motor car around in each hand. Wash off that scowl and try to look as I said … There, that’s better. Hold it.”
He began to paint rapidly, with quick glances back and forth between the canvas and Maggie. Maggie’s dress was just the ordinary shirt- waist and skirt that the shopgirl and her sisters wear; Hunt had ordered it so. She was above the medium height, with thick black hair tinted with shadowy blue, long dark lashes, dark scimitars of eyebrows, a full, firm mouth, a nose with just the right tilt to it– all effective points for Hunt in what he wished to do. But what had attracted him most and given him his idea was her look; hardly pertness, or impudence–rather a cynical, mature, defiant certainty in herself.
Erect in her cheap shirt-waist, she gazed off into space with a smiling, confident challenge to all the world. Hunt was trying to make his picture a true portrait–and also make it a symbol of many things which still were only taking shape in his own mind: of beauty rising from the gutter to overcome beauty of more favored birth, and to reign above it; also of a lower stratum surging up and breaking through the upper stratum, becoming a part of it, or assimilating it, or conquering it. Leading families replaced by other families, classes replaced by other classes, nations replaced by other nations–such was the inevitable social process–so read the records of the fifty or sixty centuries since history began to be written. Oh, he was trying to say a lot in this portrait of a girl of ordinary birth–even less than ordinary–in her cheap shirt-waist and skirt!
And it pleased the sardonic element in Hunt’s unmoral nature that this Maggie, through whom he was trying to symbolize so much, he knew to be a petty larcenist: shoplifting and matters of similar consequence. She had been cynically frank about this to him; casual, almost boastful. Her possessing a bent toward such activities was hardly to be wondered at, with her having Old Jimmie as her father, and the Duchess as a landlady, and having for acquaintances such gentlemen as Barney Palmer and this returning prison-bird, Larry Brainard.
But petty crime, thought Hunt, would not be Maggie’s forte if she developed her possibilities. With her looks, her boldness, her cleverness, she had the makings of a magnificent adventuress. As he painted, he wondered what she was going to do, and become; and he watched her not only with a painter’s eye intent upon the present, but with keen speculation upon the future.
Presently Hunt’s mind shifted to Larry Brainard, whom Barney Palmer and Old Jimmie Carlisle had come here to see. Hunt had a mind curious about every thing and every one; and blustering, bullying creature though he was, he had the gift, possessed by but few, of audaciously thrusting himself into other people’s affairs without arousing their resentment. He was keen to learn Maggie’s attitude toward Larry; and he spoke not so much to gain knowledge of Larry as to draw her out.
“This Larry–what sort of chap is he, Maggie?” As with most artists, talking did not interfere with Hunt’s painting.
Warm color slowly tinted Maggie’s cheeks. “He’s clever,” she said positively. “You already know that. But I was only a girl when he was sent away.”
Hunt smiled at her idea of her present maturity, implied by her last sentence. “But you lived with the Duchess for a year before he was sent away. You must have seen a lot of him, and got to know him well.”
“Oh, he used to come down now and then to see his grandmother–I was only fifteen or sixteen then–just a girl, and he didn’t pay much attention to me. Father can tell you better just how smart he is.”
Old Jimmie spoke up promptly. He knew Hunt was not a police stool, and he liked the painter as much as it was in him to like any man; so he felt none of the reserve or caution that might have controlled him in other company.
“You bet Larry’s smart! Got the quickest brain of any con man in the business–and him only about twenty-seven now. Some think I’m a smooth proposition myself, but Larry puts it all over me. That’s why I’m willing to let him be my boss. He’s a wonder at thinking up new stunts, and then at working out safe new ways of putting them across.”
“But the police landed him at last,” commented Hunt.
“Yes, but that was only because another man muffed his end of the job.”
The handsome Barney Palmer had been restless during Old Jimmie’s eulogy. “Oh, Larry’s all to the good–but he’s not the only party that’s got real ideas.”
“Huh!” grunted Old Jimmie. “But you’ll remember that we haven’t put over any big ones since Larry’s been in stir.”
“That’s been because you wouldn’t listen to any of my ideas!” retorted Barney. “And I handed out some peaches.”
Even during the period of Larry’s active reign it had irked Barney to accept another man as leader, and it had irked him even more during the interregnum while Larry was guest of the State. For Barney believed in his own Napoleonic strain.
“Don’t let yourself get sore, Barney,” Old Jimmie said appeasingly. “You’ll have plenty of chances to try out your ideas as the main guy before you cash in. You know the outfit wanted to lay low for a while, anyhow. But we’ll be putting over a lot of the big stuff when Larry gets out.”
Hunt had noted a quick light come into Maggie’s dark eyes while her father praised the absent leader. He himself suddenly perceived a new possibility.
“Maggie, ever think about teaming up with Larry?” he demanded, with his audacious keenness.
She flushed, and hesitated. He did not wait for her slow-coming reply, but turned to her father.
“Jimmie, did Larry ever use women in his stunts?”
“Never. Whenever we suggested using a skirt, Larry absolutely said there was nothing doing. That’s one point where he was all wrong. Nothing helps so much, when the sucker is at all sentimental, as a clever, good-looking woman. And Larry’ll come around to it all right. He’ll see the sense of it, now that he’s older and has had two years to think things over.”
Old Jimmie nodded, showing his yellow teeth in a sly grin. “You said something a second ago: Maggie and Larry! They’ll make a wonder of a team! I mean that she’ll work under him with the rest of us. I’ve been thinking about it a long while. Mebbe you haven’t guessed it, but we’ve been coaching her for the part, and she’s just about ripe. She’s got the looks, and we can dress her right for whatever job’s on hand. Oh, Larry’ll put over some great things with Maggie!”
If Hunt felt that there was anything cynically unpaternal in this father planning for his daughter a career of crime, he gave no sign of it. His attention was just then all on Maggie. He saw her eyes grow yet more bright at these last sentences of her father: bright with the vision of approaching adventure.
“The idea suits you, Maggie?” he asked.
“Sure. It’ll be great–for Larry is a wonder!”
Barney Palmer suddenly rose, his face twisted with anger. “I’m all fed up on this Larry, Larry, Larry! Come on, Jimmie. Let’s get uptown.”
Wise Old Jimmie saw that Barney was near an outburst. “All right, Barney, all right,” he said promptly. “Not much use waiting any longer, anyhow. If Larry comes, we’ll fix it with the Duchess to meet him tomorrow.”
“Then so-long, Maggie,” Barney flung at her, and that swagger ex-jockey, gambler, and clever manipulator of the confidence of people with money, slashed aside the shabby burlap curtains with his wisp of a bamboo walking-stick, and strode out of the room.
“Good-night, daughter,” and Old Jimmie crossed and kissed her. She kissed him back–a perfunctory kiss. Maggie had never paused to think the matter out, but for some reason she felt little real affection for her father, though of course she admired his astuteness. Perhaps her unconscious lack of love was due in part to the fact that she had never lived with him. Ever since she remembered he had boarded her out, here and there, as he was now boarding her at the Duchess’s–and had only come to visit her at intervals, sometimes intervals that stretched into months.
“Barney is rather sweet on you,” remarked Hunt after the two were gone.
“I know he is,” conceded Maggie in a matter-of-fact way.
“And he seems jealous of Larry–both regarding you, and regarding the bunch.”
“He thinks he can run the bunch just as well as Larry. Barney’s clever all right, and has plenty of nerve–but he’s not in Larry’s class. Not by a million miles!”
Hunt perceived that this daring, world-defying, embryonically beautiful model of his had idealized the homecoming nephew of the Duchess into her especial hero. Hunt said no more, but painted rapidly. Night had fallen outside, and long since he had switched on the electric lights. He seemed not at all finicky in this matter of light; he had no supposedly indispensable north light, and midday or midnight were almost equally apt to find him slashing with brush or scratching with crayon.
Presently the Duchess entered. No word was spoken. The Duchess, noteworthy for her mastery of silence, sank into a chair, a bent and shrunken image, nothing seemingly alive about her but her faintly gleaming, deep-set eyes. Several minutes passed, then Hunt lifted the canvas from the easel and stood it against the wall.
“That’s all for to-day, Maggie,” he announced, pushing the easel to one side. “Duchess, you and this wild young thing spread the banquet- table while I wash up.”
He disappeared into a corner shut off by burlap curtains. From within there issued the sound of splashing water and the sputtering roar of snatches of the Toreador’s song in a very big and very bad baritone.
Maggie put out a hand, and kept the Duchess from rising. “Sit still– I’ll fix the table.”
Silently the Duchess acquiesced. Maggie had never felt any tenderness toward this strange, silent woman with whom she had lived for three years, but it was perhaps an indication of qualities within Maggie, whose existence she herself never even guessed, that she instinctively pushed the old woman aside from tasks which involved any physical effort. Maggie now swung the back of a laundry bench up to form a table-top, and upon it proceeded to spread a cloth and arrange a medley of chipped dishes. As she moved swiftly and deftly about, the Duchess watching her with immobile features, these two made a strangely contrasting pair: one seemingly spent and at life’s grayest end, the other electric with vitality and giving off the essence of life’s unknown adventures.
Hunt stepped out between the curtains, pulling on his coat. “You’ll find that chow in my fireless cooker will beat the Ritz,” he boasted. “The tenderest, fattest kind of a fatted calf for the returned prodigal.”
Maggie started. “The prodigal! You mean–Larry is coming?”
“Sure,” grinned Hunt. “That’s why we celebrate.”
Maggie wheeled upon the Duchess. “Is Larry really coming?”
“Yes,” said the old woman.
“But–but why the uncertainty about when he was coming back? Father and Barney thought he was due to get out yesterday.”
“Just a mistake we all made about his release. His time was up this afternoon.”
“But you told Barney and my father you hadn’t heard from him.”
“I had heard,” said the Duchess in her flat tone. “If they want to see him they can see him to-morrow.”
“When–when will he be here?”
“Any minute,” said the Duchess.
Without a word Maggie whirled about and the next moment she was in her room on the floor below. She did not know what prompted her, but she had a frantic desire to get out of this plain shirt-waist and skirt and into something that would be striking. She considered her scanty wardrobe; her father had recently spoken of handsome gowns and furnishings, but as yet these existed only in his words, and the pseudo-evening gowns which she had worn to restaurant dances with Barney she knew to be cheap and uneffective.
Suddenly she remembered the things Hunt had given her, or had loaned her, the evening four months earlier when he had taken her to an artists’ masquerade ball–though to her it had been a bitter disappointment when Hunt had carried her away before the unmasking at twelve o’clock. She tore off the offending waist and skirt, pulled from beneath the bed the pasteboard box containing her costume; and in five minutes of flying hands the transformation was completed. Her thick hair of burnished black was piled on top of her head in gracious disorder, and from it swayed a scarlet paper flower. About her lithe body, over a black satin skirt, swathing her in its graceful folds, clung a Spanish shawl of saffron-colored background with long brown silken fringe, and flowered all over with brown and red and peacock blue, and held in place by three huge barbaric pins jeweled with colored glass, one at either hip and upon her right shoulder, leaving her smooth shoulders bare and free. With no more than a glance to get the hasty effect, she hurried up to the studio.
Hunt whistled at sight of her, but made no remark. Flushed, she looked back at him defiantly. The Duchess gave no sign whatever of being aware of the transformation.
Maggie with excited touches tried to improve her setting of the table, aquiver with expectancy and suspense at the nearness of the meeting– every nerve of audition strained to catch the first footfall upon the stairs. Hunt, watching her, could but wonder, in case Larry was the clever, dashing person that had been described, what would be the outcome when these two natures met and perhaps joined forces.
While the preparations for dinner were going on in the studio, down below Larry turned a corner and swung up the narrow street toward the pawnshop. He halted and peered in before entering; in doing this he was obeying the caution that was his by instinct and training.
Leaning over the counter within, and chatting with his grandmother’s assistant was Casey, one of the two plain-clothesmen who had arrested him. Larry drew back. He was not afraid of Casey, or of Gavegan, Casey’s partner, or of the whole police force, or of the State of New York; they had nothing on him, he had settled accounts by having done his bit. All the same, he preferred not to meet Casey just then. So he went down the street, crossed the cobbled plaza along the water-front, and slipped through the darkness among the trucks out to the end of the pier. Under his feet the East River splashed sluggishly against the piles, but out near the river’s center he could see the tide swirling out to sea at six miles an hour, toward the great shadowy Manhattan Bridge crested with its splendid tiara of lights.
He stretched himself and breathed deeply of the warm free spring. It tasted good after two long years of the prison’s sealed air. He would have liked to shed his clothing and dive down for a brisk fight with the tingling water. Larry had always taken pleasure in keeping his body fit. He had not cared for the gymnasiums of the ward clubs where he would have been welcome; in them there had been too much rough horseplay and foulness of mouth, and such had always been offensive to him. And though he had ever looked the gentleman, he had known that the New York Athletic Club and other similar clubs were not for him; they pried a bit too much into a candidate’s social and professional standing. So he had turned to a club where really searching inquiries were rarely made; for years he had belonged to a branch of the Y.M.C.A. located just off Broadway, and had played handball and boxed with chunky, slow-footed city detectives who were struggling to retain some physical activity, and with fat playwrights, and with Jewish theatrical managers, and with the few authentic Christians who occasionally strayed into the place and seemed ill at ease therein. He had liked this club for another reason; his sense of humor had often been highly excited by the thought of his being a member of the Y.M.C.A.
Having this instinct for physical fitness, he had not greatly minded being a coal-passer during the greater part of his stay at Sing Sing; better that than working in the knitting mills; so that now, though underfed and under weight, he was active and hard-muscled.
Larry Brainard could not have told why, and just when, he had turned to devious ways. He had never put that part of his life under the microscope. But the simple facts were that he had become an orphan at fifteen and a broker’s clerk at nineteen after a course in a business college; and that experiences with wash-sales and such devious and dubious practices of brokers, his high spirits, his instinct for pleasure, his desire for big winnings–these had swept him into a wild crowd before he had been old enough to take himself seriously, and had started him upon a brilliant career of adventures and unlawful money- making in whose excitement there had been no let-up until his arrest. He had never thought about such technical and highly academic subjects as right and wrong up to the day when Casey and Gavegan had slipped the handcuffs upon him. To laugh, to dance, to plan and direct clever coups, to spend the proceeds gayly and lavishly–to challenge the police with another daring coup: that had been life to him, a game that was all excitement.
And now, after two years in which there had been plenty of time for thinking, his conscience still did not trouble him on the score of his offenses. He believed, and was largely right in this belief, that the suckers he had trimmed had all been out to secure unlawful gain and to take cunning advantage of his supposedly foolish self and of other dupes. He had been too clever for them, that was all; in desire and intent they had been as great cheats as himself. So he felt no remorse over his victims; and as for anything he may have done against that impersonal entity, the criminal statutes, why, the period in prison had squared all such matters. So he now faced life pleasantly and with care-free soul.
Larry had turned away from the dark river and had started to retrace his way, when he saw a man approaching through the darkness. Larry paused. The man drew near and halted exactly in front of Larry. By the swing of his body Larry had recognized the man, and his own figure instinctively grew tense.
“What you doin’ out here, Brainard?” The voice was peremptory and rough.
“Throwing kisses over at Brooklyn,” Larry replied coolly. “And what are you doing out here, Gavegan?”
“Following you. I wanted a quiet word with you. I’ve been right behind you ever since you hit New York.”
“I knew you would be. You and Casey. But you haven’t got anything on me.”
“I got plenty on you before!–with Casey helping,” retorted Gavegan. “And I’ll get plenty on you again!–now that I know you are the main guy of a clever outfit. You’ll be starting some smooth game–but I’m going to be right after you every minute. And I’ll get you. That’s the news I wanted to slip you.”
“So!” commented Larry drawlingly. “Casey’s a fairly decent guy, considering his line–but, Gavegan, I don’t see how Casey stands you as a partner. And, Gavegan, I don’t see why the Board of Health lets you stay around the streets–when putrefying matter causes so much disease.”
“None of your lip, young feller!” growled Gavegan. He stepped closer, bulking over Larry. “You think you are such a damned smart talker and such a damned clever schemer–but I’ll bet I’ll have you locked up in six months.”
Anger boiled up within Larry. Against all the persons connected with his arrest, trial, and imprisonment, he had no particular resentment, except against this one man. He never could forget the time he and Gavegan, he handcuffed, had been locked in a sound-proof cell, and Gavegan had given him the third degree–in this case a length of heavy rubber hose, applied with a powerful arm upon head and shoulders–in an effort to make him squeal upon his confederates. And that third degree was merely a sample of the material of which Gavegan was made.
Larry held his desire in leash. “So you bet you’ll get me. I’ll take that bet–any figure you like. I’ve already got a new game cooked up, Gavegan. Cleverer than anything I’ve ever tried before.”
“Oh, I’ll get you!” Gavegan growled again.
“Oh, no, you won’t!” And then Larry’s old anger against Gavegan got into his tongue and made it wag tauntingly. “You didn’t get me the last time; that was a slip and police stools got me. All by yourself, Gavegan, you couldn’t get anything. Your brain’s got flat tires, and its motor doesn’t fire, and its clutch is broken. The only thing about it that still works is the horn. You’ve got a hell of a horn, Gavegan, and it never stops blowing.”
A tug was nearing the dock, and by its light Larry saw the terrific swing that the enraged detective started. Larry swayed slightly aside, and as Gavegan lunged by, Larry’s right fist drove into Gavegan’s chin–drove with all the power of his dislike and all the strength of five years in a Y.M.C.A. gymnasium and a year in a prison boiler-room.
Gavegan went down and out.
Larry gazed a moment at the dim, sprawling figure, then turned and made his way off the pier and again to the door of the pawnshop. Casey was gone; he could see no one within but Old Isaac, the assistant.
Larry opened the door and entered. “Hello, Isaac. Where’s grandmother?”
It is not a desirable trait in one connected with a pawnshop, that is also reputed to be a fence, to show surprise or curiosity. So Isaac’s reply was confined to a few facts and brief direction.
Wondering, Larry mounted the stairway which opened from the confidential business room behind the pawnshop. It was common enough for his grandmother to rent out the third floor; but to a painter, and a crazy painter–that seemed strange. And yet more strange was it for her to be having dinner with the painter.
Larry knocked at the door. A big male voice within gave order:
“Be parlor-maid, Maggie, and see who’s there.”
The door opened and Larry half entered. Then he stopped, and in surprise gazed at the flushed, gleaming Maggie, slender and supple in the folds of the Spanish shawl.
“Why, Maggie!” he exclaimed, holding out his hand.
She was thrillingly confused by his surprised admiration. For a moment they stood gazing at each other, holding hands. The clothes given him on leaving prison were of course atrocious, but in all else he measured up to her dreams: lithe, well-built, handsome, a laugh ready on his lips, and the very devil of daring in his smiling, gray-blue eyes.
“How you have grown up, Maggie!” he said, still amazed.
“That’s all I’ve had to do for two years,” she returned.
“Come on in, Larry,” said the Duchess.
Larry shut the door, bowed with light grace as he had to pass in front of Maggie, and crossed to the Duchess.
“Hello, grandmother,” he said as though he had last seen her the day before. He held out his hand, the left one, and she took it in a mummified claw. In all his life he had never kissed his grandmother, nor did he remember ever having been kissed by her.
“Glad you’re back, Larry.” She dropped his hand. “The man’s name is Hunt.”
Larry turned to the painter. His laughing eyes could be sharp; they were penetratingly sharp now. And so were Hunt’s eyes.
Larry held out his hand, again the left. “And so you’re the painter?”
“They call me a painter,” responded Hunt, “but none of them believe I’m a painter.”
Larry turned again to Maggie. “And so you’re actually Maggie! Meaning no offense”–and there was a smiling audacity in his face that it would have been hard to have taken offense at–“I don’t see how Old Jimmie Carlisle’s daughter got such looks without stealing them.”
“Well, then,” retorted Maggie, “I don’t see how you got your looks unless–“
She broke off and bit her tongue. She had been about to retort with the contrast between Larry’s face and his shriveled, hook-nosed grandmother’s. They all perceived her intention, however.
Larry came instantly to her rescue with almost imperceptible ease.
“Dinner!” he exclaimed, gazing at the miscellany of dishes on the table. “Am I invited?”
“Invited?” said Hunt. “You’re the guest of honor.”
“Then might the guest of honor beg the privilege of cleaning up a bit?” Larry drew his right hand from his coat pocket, where it had been all this while, and started to unwind the handkerchief which he had wound about his knuckles as he had crossed from the pier.
“Is your hand hurt much?” Maggie inquired eagerly.
“Just skinned my knuckles.”
“They happened to connect with a flatfoot’s jaw while he was trying to make hypnotic passes at me. He’s coming to about now. Officer Gavegan.”
“Gavegan!” exclaimed Hunt. “You picked a tough bird. Young man, you’re off to a grand start–a charge of assault on an officer the very day they turn you out of jail.”
Larry smiled. “Gavegan is a dirty one, but he’ll make no charge of assault. He claims to be heavy-weight champion boxer of the Police Department. Put a fine crimp in his reputation, wouldn’t it, if he admitted in public that he’d been knocked out by a fellow, bare- handed, supposed to be weak from prison life, forty pounds lighter. He’d get the grand razoo all along the line. Oh, Gavegan will never let out a peep.”
“He’ll square things in some other way,” said Hunt.
“I suppose he’ll try,” Larry responded carelessly. “Where’s the first- aid room?”
Hunt showed him through the curtains. When he came out, Hunt, Maggie, and the Duchess were all engaged in getting the dinner upon the table. Additional help would only be interference, so Larry’s eyes wandered casually to the canvases standing in the shadows against the walls.
“Mr. Hunt,” he remarked, “you seem to have earned a very real reputation of its sort in the neighborhood. Old Isaac downstairs told me you were crazy–said they called you ‘Nuts’–said you were the worst painter that ever happened.”
“Yeh, that’s what they say,” agreed Hunt.
“They certainly are awful, Larry,” put in Maggie, coming to his side. “Father thinks they are jokes, and father certainly knows pictures. Just look at a few of them.”
“Yeh, look at ’em and have a good laugh,” invited Hunt.
Larry carried the portrait of the Duchess to beneath the swinging electric bulb and examined it closely. Maggie, at his shoulder, waited for his mirth; and Hunt regarded him with a sidelong gaze. But Larry did not laugh. He silently returned the picture, and then examined the portrait of Old Jimmie–then of Maggie–then of the Italian madonna, throned on her curbstone. He replaced this last and crossed swiftly to Hunt. Maggie watched this move in amazement.
Larry faced the big painter. His figure was tense, his features hard with suspicion. That moment one could understand why he was sometimes called “Terrible Larry”; just then he looked a devastating explosion that was still unexploded.
“What’s your game down here, Hunt?” he demanded harshly.
“My game?” repeated the big painter. “I don’t get you.”
“Yes, you do! You’re down here posing as a boob who smears up canvases!”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Only this: those are not crazy daubs. They’re real pictures!”
“Eh!” exclaimed Hunt. Maggie stared in bewilderment at the two men.
Hunt spoke again. “What the dickens do you know about pictures? Old Jimmie, who’s said to be a shark, thinks all these things are just comics.”
“Jimmie only thinks a picture’s good after a thousand press-agents have said it’s good,” Larry returned. “I studied at the Academy of Design for two years, till I learned I could never paint. But I know pictures.”
“And you think mine are good?”
“Not in the popular manner–they’re too original. But they’re great. And you’re a great painter. And I want to know–“
“Hurray!” shouted Hunt, and flung an enthusiastic arm about Larry, and began to pound his back. “Oh, boy! Oh, boy!”
Larry wrenched himself free. “Cut that out. Then you admit you’re a great painter?”
“Of course I’m a great painter!” shouted Hunt. “Who should know it better than I do?”
“Then what’s a great painter doing down here? What’s the game you’re trying to put over, posing as–“
“Listen, son,” Hunt grinned. “You’ve called me and I’ve got to show my cards. Only you mustn’t ever tell–nor must Maggie; the Duchess doesn’t talk, anyway. No need bothering you just now with a lot of details about myself. It’s enough to say that people wouldn’t pay me except when I did the usual pretty rot; no one believed in the other stuff I wanted to do. I wanted to get away from that bunch; I wanted to do real studies of human people, with their real nature showing through. So I beat it. Understand so far?”
“But why pose as a dub down here?”
“I never started the yarn that I was a dub. The people who looked at my work, and laughed, started that talk. I didn’t shout out that I was a great artist for the mighty good reason that if I had, and had been believed, the people who posed for me either wouldn’t have done it or would have been so self-conscious that they would have tried to look like some one else, and would never have shown me themselves at all. Thinking me a joke, they just acted natural. Which, young man, is about all you need to know.”
Maggie looked on breathlessly at the two men, bewildered by this new light in which Hunt was presented, and fascinated by the tense alertness of her hero, Larry.
Slowly Larry’s tensity dissipated. “I don’t know about the rest of your make-up,” he said slowly, “but as a painter you’re a whale.”
“The rest of him’s all right, too,” put in the dry, unemotional voice of the Duchess. “Dinner’s ready. Come on.”
As they moved to the table Hunt clapped a big hand on Larry’s shoulder. “And to think,” he chuckled, “it took a crook fresh from Sing Sing to discover me as a great artist! You’re clever, Larry– clever! Maggie, get the corkscrew into action and fill the glasses with the choicest vintage of H2O. A toast. Here’s to Larry!”
The dinner was simple: beef stewed with potatoes and carrots and onions, and pie, and real coffee. But it measured up to Hunt’s boast: the chef of the Ritz, limited to so simple a menu, could indeed have done no better. And Larry, after his prison fare, was dining as dine the gods.
The irrepressible Hunt, trying to read this new specimen that had come under his observation, sought to draw Larry out. “Barney Palmer and Old Jimmie were here this afternoon, wanting to see you. They’ve got something big waiting for you. I suppose you’re all ready to jump in and put it over with a wallop.”
“I’m going to put something over with a wallop–but I guess business will have to wait until Barney, Jimmie, and I have a talk. Can you spare me a little more of that stew?”
His manner of speaking was a quiet announcement to Hunt that his plans were for the present a closed subject. Hunt felt balked, for this lean, alert, much-talked-of adventurer piqued him greatly; but he switched to other subjects, and during the rest of the meal did most of the talking. The Duchess was silent, and seemingly was concerned only with her food. Larry got in a fair portion of speech, but for the most part his attention, except for that required for eating, was fixed upon Maggie.
How she had sprung up since he had last seen her! Almost a woman now– and destined to be a beauty! And more than just a beauty: she was colorful, vital, high-strung. Before he had gone away he had regarded her with something akin to the negligent affection of an older brother. But this thing which was already beginning to surge up in him was altogether different, and he knew it.
As for Maggie, when she looked at him, she flushed and her eyes grew bright. Larry was back!–the brilliant, daring Larry. She was aware that she had been successful in startling and gripping his attention. Yes, they would do great things together!
When the dinner was finished and the dishes washed, Larry gave voice to this new urge that had so quickly grown up within him.
“What do you say, Maggie, to a little walk?”
“All right,” she replied eagerly.
They went down the narrow stairway together. On the landing of the second floor, which contained only Maggie’s bedroom and the Duchess’s and a tiny kitchen, Maggie started to leave him to change into street clothes; but he caught her arm and said, “Come on.” They descended the next flight and came into the back room behind the pawnshop, which the Duchess used as a combination of sitting-room, office, and storeroom. About this musty museum hung or stood unredeemed seamen’s jackets, men and women’s evening wear, banjos, guitars, violins, umbrellas, and one huge green stuffed parrot sitting on top of the Duchess’s safe.
“I wanted to talk, not walk,” he said. “Let’s stay here.”
He took her hands and looked down on her steadily. Under the yellow gaslight her face gleamed excitedly up into his, her breath came quickly.
“Well, sir, what do you think of me?” she demanded. “Have I changed much?”
“Changed? Why, it’s magic, Maggie! I left you a schoolgirl; you’re a woman now. And a wonder!”
“You think so?” She flushed with pride and pleasure, and a wildness of spirit possessed her and demanded expression in action. She freed her left hand and slipped it over Larry’s shoulder. “Come on–let’s two- step.”
“But, Maggie, I’ve forgotten.”
Instantly she was dragging him over the scanty floor space. But after a moment he halted, protesting.
“These prison brogans were not intended by their builders for such work. If you’ve got to dance, you’ll have to work it out of your system alone.”
At once, in the midst of the dingy room, humming the music, she was doing Carmen’s dance–wild, provocative, alluring. It was not a remarkable performance in any professionally technical sense; but it had vivid personality; she was light, lithe, graceful, flashing with color and spirits.
“Maggie!” he exclaimed, when she had finished and stood before him glowing and panting. “Good! Where did you learn that?”
“In the chorus of a cabaret revue.”
“Is that what you’re doing now, working in a chorus?”
“No. Barney and father said a chorus was no place for me.” She drew nearer. “Oh, Larry, I’ve such a lot to tell you.”
“Well”–she cocked her head impishly–“I’ve been going to school.”
“Going to school! Where?”
“Lots of places. Just now I’m going to school at the Ritzmore Hotel.”
“At the Ritzmore Hotel!” He stared at her bewildered. “What are you learning there?”
“To be a lady.” She laughed at his increasing bewilderment. “A real lady, Larry,” she went on excitedly. “Oh, it’s such a wonderful idea! Father had never seemed to think much of me till the night I went to a masquerade ball with Mr. Hunt, and he and Barney saw me in these clothes. They had never seen me really dressed up before; Barney said it was an eye-opener. They saw how I could be of big use to you all. But to be that, I’ve got to be a lady–a real lady, who knows how to behave and wear real clothes. That’s what they’re doing now: making me a lady.”
“Making you a lady!” exclaimed Larry. “How?”
“By putting me where I can watch real ladies, and study them. Barney cut short my being in a chorus; Barney said a chorus girl never learned to pass for a lady. So I’ve been working in places where the swellest women come. First in a milliner shop; then as dresser to a model in the shop of a swell modiste; always watching how the ladies behave. Now I’m at the Ritzmore, and I carry a tray of cigarettes around the tables at lunch and at tea-time and during dinner and during the after-theater supper. I’m supposed to be there to sell cigarettes, but I’m really there to watch how the ladies handle their knives and forks and behave toward the men. Isn’t it all awfully clever?”
“Why, Maggie!” he exclaimed.
“And pretty soon, when I’ve learned more,” she continued rapidly, “I’m going to have swell clothes of my own–and be a lady–and get away from this dingy, stuffy, dead old place! I can’t stand for being buried down here much longer. And, oh, Larry, I’m going to begin to work with you!”
“What?” he blinked, not yet quite understanding.
“You think I’m not clever enough? But I am!” she protested. “I tell you I’ve learned a lot. And Barney and father have let me help in a lot of things–nothing really big yet, of course. They think I’m going to be a wonder. Just to-day father was saying that you and I, teamed up–Why, what’s the matter, Larry?”
“You and I–teamed up,” he repeated slowly.
“Yes. Don’t you like the idea?”
His hands suddenly gripped her bare shoulders.
“There’s nothing to it!” he exclaimed almost savagely.
“What’s that?” she cried, startled.
“I tell you there’s nothing to it!”
“You–you think I can’t put it over?”
“You can’t! And I’m not going to have it!”
Staring, she drew slowly away from him. His face, which a few moments before had been smiling, was now harsh and dominant with decision. She had heard him spoken of as “Laughing Larry”; and also as “Terrible Larry” whose aroused will none could brook. He looked this latter person now, and she could not understand.
But though she could not understand, her own defiant spirit stormed up to fight this unexpected opposition. He didn’t believe in her–that was it! He didn’t think she was equal to working with him! Her young figure stiffened in angered pride, and her mind was gathering hot phrases to fling at him when the door from the pawnshop began to creak open. Instantly Larry turned toward it, relaxed and yet alert for anything. Old Jimmie and Barney Palmer entered.
“Hello, Larry!” cried the old man, crossing. “Welcome to our city!”
“Hello, Jimmie. Hello, Barney.” And Larry shook hands with his partners of other days.
“Gee, Larry, it’s good to see you!” exclaimed the cunning-eyed old man. “Didn’t know you were back till I bumped into Gavegan on Broadway. He told me, and so Barney and I beat it over here to see you. Believe me, Larry, that flatfoot is certainly sore at you!”
Larry ignored the last sentence. “Think it exactly wise for you two to come here?”
“Gavegan, Casey, the police, may follow, thinking you’ve come to see me for some purpose. That outfit may act upon suspicion.”
Jimmie grinned cunningly. “A man can come to visit his own daughter as often as he likes. Father love, Larry.”
“I see; that’ll be your explanation.” Larry’s eyes grew keen at the new understanding. “I hadn’t thought of that before, Jimmie. So that’s why you’ve always boarded Maggie around in shady joints: so’s you could meet your pals and yet always have the excuse that you had come to meet your daughter?”
“Partly that,” smiled Old Jimmie blandly–perhaps too blandly. “Suppose we sit down.”
They did so, Maggie sitting a little apart from the men and regarding Larry with indignant, questioning eyes. She still could not understand his queer behavior when she had announced her intention of working with him. Could it be, as her father had said, because he would never work with women–not trusting them? She’d show him!
She was so occupied with this wonderment that she gave no heed to the talk about Larry’s experience in Sing Sing and Old Jimmie’s recital of what had happened among Larry’s friends during his absence. During this gossip the Duchess entered from the stairway, and without word to any one shuffled across to her desk in a corner and bent silently over her accounts: just one more grotesque and unredeemed pledge in this museum of antiquities and forgotten pawns.
Presently Barney Palmer, who had been impatient during all this, broke out with:
“Aw, let’s cut out this chatter about what used to be and get down to cases. Jimmie, will you spill the business to Larry, or want me to?”
“I’ll tell him. Listen, Larry.” Maggie pricked up her ears; the talk was now excitingly important. “We’ve got our very greatest game all planned out. Stock-selling game; going to unload the whole thing on one sucker, and we’ve got the sucker picked out. Besides you and Barney and me, there’s Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt in it–a classy bunch all right. And we think that for the woman end we’ll take in Mae Gorham. She’s clever and innocent-eyed–“
“But I thought you were going to take me in!” protested Maggie.
“Maggie’ll be just as good as Mae Gorham,” put in Barney.
“We’ll let that pass,” said Old Jimmie. “The main thing, Larry, is that everything is ready. It’s a whale of a business proposition. We’ve been waiting for you; you’re all that’s lacking–the brainy guy to sit behind the scenes and manage the thing. You’ve handled the bunch for a long time, and they want you to handle this. For you’re sure a wonder at business, Larry! None keener. Well, we’ve held this off waiting for you for a month. How about jumping right in?”
All three eyed Larry. His lean face was expressionless. He lit a cigarette, rose and leaned against the Duchess’s safe on which stood the green parrot, and, gaze on the floor, slowly exhaled smoke through his nostrils.
“Well?” demanded Barney.
Larry looked at the two men with quiet, even eyes. “Thanks to both of you. It’s a great compliment. But I’ve had time to do a little planning myself up in Sing Sing, and I’ve worked out a game that’s got this one beat a mile.”
“Hell!” ejaculated Barney in wrathful disgust. “Jimmie, I told you we were wasting time waiting for him!”
“Hold on a second, Barney. If Larry’s worked out a better game, he’ll take us into it. But, Larry, how can your game beat this one?”
“Because there’s more money in it. And because it’s safer.”
“Safe! Aw, hell!” The smouldering jealousy and hatred glared out of Barney’s greenish eyes. “I always knew you had a yellow streak! Something safe! Aw, hell!”
“Don’t blow up, Barney. What is the new game, Larry?” queried the old man.
Larry regarded the two men steadfastly. He seemed reluctant to speak.
“Well?” prompted Old Jimmie. “Is it something you don’t want to let us in on?”
“Of course I’ll let you in on it, and be glad to, if you want to come in,” Larry replied in his level tone. “As I said, I’ve thought it all out and it’s a great proposition. Here’s the game: I’m going to run straight.”
For a moment all three sat astounded by this quiet statement from their leader. Nothing he might have said could have been more unexpected, more stupefying. The Duchess alone moved; she turned her head and held her sunken eyes upon her grandson.
Simultaneously the two men and Maggie stood up.
“The hell you say!” grated Barney Palmer.
“Larry, you gone crazy?” cried Old Jimmie.
Maggie moved a pace nearer him. “Going to go straight?” she asked incredulously.
“Listen, all of you,” Larry said quietly. “No, Jimmie, I’ve not gone crazy. I’m merely going a little sane. You just said I was a wonder at business, Jimmie. I think I am myself. I thought it all over as a business proposition. Suppose we clean up fifty or a hundred thousand on a big deal. We’ve got to split it several ways, perhaps pay a big piece to the police for protection, perhaps pay a lot of lawyers, and then perhaps get sent away for a year or several years, during which we don’t take in a nickel. I figured that over a term of years my average income was mighty small. As a business man it seemed to me that I was in a poor business, with no future. So I decided to get into a new business that had a future. That’s the size of it.”
“You’re turning yellow–that’s the real size of it!” snarled Barney Palmer, half starting toward him.
“Better be a little careful, Barney,” Larry warned with tightening jaw.
“You really mean, Larry,” demanded Old Jimmie, “that you’re going to drop us after us counting on you and waiting for you so long?”
“I’m sorry about having kept you waiting, Jimmie. But we’ve parted definitely.” Then Larry added: “Unless you want to travel my road.”
“Your road! Never!” snapped Barney.
“And you, Jimmie? ” Larry inquired, his eyes on Barney’s inflamed face.
“I don’t see your proposition. And I’m too old a bird to start something new. No, thanks. I’ll stick to what I know.”
His next words, showing his long yellow teeth, were spoken slowly, but they were hard, and had a cutting edge. “You’ve got a sweet idea of what’s straight, Larry: dropping us without a leader, just when we need a leader most.”
Larry’s composed yet watchful gaze was still on Barney. “You’re not really left in such a bad way. Barney here is ready to take charge.”
“You bet I am!” Barney flamed at him, his hands clenching. “And the bunch won’t lose by the change, you bet! The bunch always thought you were an ace–and I always knew you were a two-spot. And now they’ll see I was right–that you were always yellow!”
Larry still leaned against the safe in the same posture of seeming ease, but he expected Barney to strike at any moment, and held himself in readiness for a flashing fist. Barney had been hard to hold in leash in the old days; now that all ties of partnership were broken, he saw in those small gleaming eyes a defiance and a hatred that henceforth had no reason for restraint. And he knew that Barney was shrewd, grimly tenacious, and limitless in self-confidence and ambition.
“And listen to this, too, Larry Brainard,” Barney’s temper carried him on. “Don’t you mix in and try any preaching on Maggie.” He half turned his head jealously. “Maggie, don’t you listen to any of this boob’s Salvation Army talk!”
Maggie did not at once respond, but stood gazing at the two confronting figures. To her they were an oddly dissimilar pair: Barney in the smartest clothes that an over-smart Broadway tailor could create, and Larry in the shapeless garments that were the State’s gift to him on leaving prison.
“Maggie,” he repeated, “don’t you listen to this boob’s talk!”
“I’ll do just as I please, Barney.”
“But you’re going to come our way?” he demanded.
He turned back to Larry. “You hear that? You leave Maggie alone!”
Larry did not answer, though his temper was rising. He looked over Barney’s head at Maggie’s father.
“Jimmie,” he remarked in his same even voice, “anything more you’d like to say?”
“Then,” said Larry, “better lead your new commander-in-chief out of here, or I’ll carry him out and spank him.”
“What’s that?” snarled Barney.
“Get out!” Larry ordered, in a voice suddenly like steel.
Barney’s fist swung viciously at Larry’s head. It did not land, because Larry’s head was elsewhere. Larry did not take advantage of the opening to strike back, but as the fist flashed by he seized the wrist, and in the same instant he seized the other wrist. The next moment he held Barney helpless in a twisting, torturing grip that he had learned from one of his non-Christian friends at the Y.M.C.A.
“Barney–are you going to walk out, or shall I kick you out?”
Barney’s answer came after a moment through gritted teeth: “I’ll walk out–but I’ll get you for this!”
“I know you’ll try, Barney. And I know you’ll try to get me behind my back.” Larry loosed his grip. “Good-night.”
Barney backed glowering to the door; and Old Jimmie, his gray face an expressionless mask, silently followed him out.
All this while the Duchess had looked on, motionless in her corner, a dingy, forgotten part of the dingy background–no more noticeable than one of her own dusty, bizarre pledges.
For a moment after the door had closed upon Barney and Old Jimmie, Larry stood gazing at it. Then he turned to Maggie.
She was standing slenderly upright. Her head was imperiously high, her black eyes defiant. Neither spoke at once. More than before was he impressed by her present and her potential beauty. Till this night he had thought of her only casually, as merely a young girl; he was not now consciously in love with her–her young woman-hood had burst upon him too suddenly for such a consciousness–but a warm tingling went through him as he gazed at her imperious, self-confident youth. Part of his mind was thinking much the same thought that Hunt had considered a few hours earlier: here were the makings of a magnificent adventuress.
“Maggie,” he mused, “you didn’t get your looks from your father. You must have had a fine-looking mother.”
“I don’t know–I never saw her,” she returned shortly.
“Poor kid,” Larry mused on–“and with only Old Jimmie for a father.” She did not know what to say. For a long time she had dreamed of this man as her hero; she had dreamed of splendid adventures with him in which she should win his praise. And now–and now–
He switched to another subject.
“So you have decided to string along with your father and Barney?”
“Don’t you do it, Maggie.”
“Don’t you preach, Larry.”
“I’m not preaching. I’m just talking business to you. The same as I talked business to myself. The crooked game is a poor business for a woman who can do something else–and you can do something else. I’ve known a lot of women in the crooked game. They’ve all had a rotten finish, or are headed for one. So forget it, Maggie. There’s more in the straight game.”
She had swiftly come to feel herself stronger and wiser than her ex- hero. In her tremendous pride and confidence of eighteen, she regarded him almost with pitying condescension.
“Something’s softened your brain, Larry. I know better. The people who pretend to go straight are just fakes; they’re playing a different kind of a smooth game, that’s all. Everybody is out to get his, and get it the easiest and quickest way he can. You know that’s so. And that’s just what I am going to do.”
Larry had once talked much the same way, but it seemed puzzlingly strange just now to hear such talk from a young girl. Then he understood.
“You couldn’t help having such ideas, Maggie, living among crooks ever since you were a kid. Why, Old Jimmie could not have used better methods, or got better results, if he had set out consciously to make you a crook.” Then a sudden possibility came to him. “D’you suppose he could always have had that plan–to make you into a crook?” he asked.
“What difference does that make?” she demanded shortly.
“A funny thing for a father to do with his own child,” Larry returned. “But whether Jimmie intended it or not, that’s just what he’s done.”
“What I am, I am,” she retorted with her imperious defiance. Just then she felt that she hated him; she quivered with a desire to hurt him: he had so utterly destroyed her romantic hero and her romantic dreams. Her hands clenched.
“You talk about going straight–it’s all rot!” she flamed at him. “A lot of men say they’re going straight, but no one ever does! And you won’t either!”
“You think I won’t?”
“I know you won’t! You don’t know how to do any regular work. And, besides, no one will give a crook a chance.”
She had unerringly placed her finger upon his two great problems, and Larry knew it; he had considered them often enough.
“All the same, I’m going to make good!” he declared.
“Oh, no, you’re not!”
Perhaps he was stirred chiefly by the sting of her taunting tongue, by the blaze of her dark, disdainful eyes; and perhaps by the changed feeling toward this creature whom he had left a half-grown girl and returned to find a woman. At any rate, he crossed and seized her wrists and gazed fiercely down upon her.
“I tell you, I’m going to go straight, and I’m going to make a success of it! You’ll see!” And then he added dominantly: “What’s more, I’m going to make you go straight, too!”
She made no attempt to free herself, but blazed up at him defiantly. “You’ll make me do nothing. I’m going to be just what I said, and I’m going to make a success of it. Just wait–I’ll prove to you what I can do! And you–you’ll be a failure, and will come slinking back and beg us to take you in!”
They glared at each other silently, angrily, their aroused wills defying each other. For a moment they stood so. Then something–a mixture of his desire to dominate this defiant young thing and of that growing change in him toward her–surged madly into Larry’s head. He caught Maggie in his arms and kissed her.
All the rigidity went suddenly from her figure and she hung loose in his embrace. Their gazes held for a moment. She went pale, and quivering all through she looked up at him in startled, wide-eyed silence. As for Larry, a dizzying, throbbing emotion permeated his whole astonished being.
Suddenly she pushed herself free from his relaxing arms, and backed away from him.
“What did you do that for?” she whispered huskily.
But she did not wait for his answer. She turned and hurried for the stairway. Three steps up she turned again and gazed down upon him. Her cheeks were once more flushed and her dark eyes blazing.
“It’s going to be just as I said!” she flung at him. “I’m going to succeed–you’re going to fail! You just wait and see!”
She turned and ran swiftly up the stairway and out of sight. Neither of them had been aware that the Duchess, a drab figure merged into a drab background, had regarded them fixedly during all this scene. And Larry was still unconscious that the old eyes were now watching him with their deep-set, expressionless fixity.
Motionless, Larry stood gazing at where Maggie had been. Within him was tumult; he did not yet understand the significance of that impulsive kiss . . . He began to walk the floor, his mind and will now more in control. Yes, he was going to go straight; he was going to make good, and make good in a big way! And he was going to make Maggie go straight, too. He’d show her! It wasn’t going to be easy, but he had his big plan made, and he had determination, and he knew he’d win in the end. Yes, he’d show her! . . .
Up before the mirror Maggie sat looking intently at herself. Part of her consciousness was wondering about that kiss, and part kept fiercely repeating that she’d show him–she’d show him–she’d show him! . . .
Looking thus into their futures they were both very certain of themselves and of the roads which they were to travel.
Larry was still gazing at where Maggie had stood, flashing her defiance at him, when Hunt came thumping down the stairway.
“Hello, young fellow; what you been doing to Maggie?” demanded the painter.
“Her door was open when I came by and I called to her. She didn’t answer, but, oh, what a look! What’s in the air?”
And then Hunt noted the Duchess apart in her corner. “I say, Duchess– what were Larry and Maggie rowing about?”
“Grandmother!” Larry exclaimed with a start. “I’d forgotten you were here! You must have heard it all–go ahead and tell him.”
“Tell him yourself,” returned the Duchess.
Larry and Hunt took chairs, and Larry gave the gist of what he had said about his decision to Barney and Old Jimmie and Maggie. The Duchess, still motionless at her desk as she had been all during Larry’s scene with Old Jimmie and Barney, and then his scene with Maggie, regarded her grandson with that emotionless, mummified face in which only the red-margined eyes showed life or interest.
“So you’re going to go straight, eh?” queried Hunt. The big painter sat with his long legs sprawling in front of him, a black pipe in his mouth, and looked at Larry skeptically. “You certainly did hand a jolt to your friends who’d been counting on you. And yet you’re sore because they were sore at you and didn’t believe in you.”
“Did I say that I was sore?” queried Larry.
“No, but you’re acting it. And you’re sore at Maggie because she didn’t believe that you could make good or that you’d stick it out. Well, I don’t believe you will either.”
“You’re a great painter, Hunt, and a great cook–but I don’t give a damn what you believe.”
“Keep your shirt on, young fellow,” Hunt responded, puffing imperturbably. “I say I believe you won’t win out–but that’s not saying I don’t want you to win out. If that’s what you want to do, go to it, and may luck be with you, and may the devil stay in hell. The morals of other people are out of my line–none of my business. I’m a painter, and it’s my business to paint people as I find them. But Maggie certainly did put her finger on the tough spot in your proposition: for a crook to find a job and win the confidence of people. It’s up grade all the way, and it takes ten men’s nerve to stick it out to the top. Yep, Maggie was sure right!”
And then the Duchess broke her accustomed silence with her thin croak:
“Never you mind Maggie! She thinks she knows everything, but she doesn’t know anything.”
Larry looked in surprise at his grandmother. There was a flash in her old eyes; but the next moment the spark was gone.
“Sure you’re up against it–but I’ll be rooting for you.” Hunt was grinning. “But say, young fellow, what made you decide to vote the other ticket?”
Larry was trained at reading faces; and in the rough-hewn, grinning features of Hunt he read good-fellowship. Larry swiftly responded in kind, for from the moment he had pulled the mask of being a fool from the painter and shown him to be a real artist, he had felt drawn toward this impecunious swashbuckler of the arts. So he now repeated the business motives which he had presented to Barney and Old Jimmie. As Larry talked he became more spontaneous, and after a time he was telling of the effect upon him of seeing various shrewd men locked up and unexercised in prison. And presently his reminiscence settled upon one prison acquaintance: a man past middle age, clever in his generation, who had already done some fifteen years of a long sentence. He was, said Larry, grim and he rarely spoke; but a close, wordless friendship had developed between them. Only once, in an unusually relaxed mood, had the old convict spoken of himself, but what he had then said had had a greater part in rousing Larry to his new decision than the words of any other man.
“It was a queer story Joe let out,” continued Larry. “Before he was sent away he had a kid, just a baby whose mother was dead. He told me he wanted to have his kid brought up without ever knowing anything about the kind of people he knew and the kind of life he’d lived. He wanted it to grow up among decent people. He had money put away and he had an old friend, a pal, that he’d trust with anything. So he turned over his money and his baby to his friend, and gave orders that the kid was to be brought up decent, sent to school, and that the kid was never to know anything about Joe. Of course the baby was too young then ever to remember him; and when he gets out he’s going to keep absolutely clear of the kid’s life–he wants his kid to have the best possible chance.”
“What is his whole name, and what was he sent up for?” queried the Duchess, that flickering fire of interest once more in her old eyes.
“Joe Ellison. He was an old-time confidence man. He got caught in a jam–there had been drinking–there was some shooting–and he had attempted manslaughter tacked on to the charge of swindling. But Joe said everybody had been drinking and that the shooting was accidental.”
“Joe Ellison–I knew him,” said the Duchess. “He was about the cleverest man of his day. But I never knew he had a child. Who was this best friend of his?”
“Joe Ellison didn’t mention his name,” answered Larry. “You see Joe spoke of his story only once. But he then said that he’d had letters once a month telling how fine the kid was getting on–till three or four years ago when he got word that his friend had died. The way things stand now, Joe won’t know how to find the kid when he gets out even if he should want to find it–and he wouldn’t know it even if he saw it. Up in Sing Sing when I had nothing else to do,” concluded Larry, “I tell you I thought a lot about that situation–for it certainly is some situation: Joe Ellison for fifteen years in prison with just one big idea in his life, the idea being the one thing he felt he was really doing or ever could do, his very life built on that one idea: that outside, somewhere, was his kid growing up into a fine young person–never guessing it had such a father–and Joe never intending to see it again and not being able to know it if he ever should see it. I tell you, after learning Joe’s story, it made me feel that I’d had enough of the old life.”
Again the Duchess spoke. “Did Joe ever mention its name?”
“No, he just spoke of it as ‘his kid.'”
Larry was quiet a moment. “You see,” he added, “I want to get settled before Joe comes out–his time’s up in a few months–so that I can give him some sort of place near me. He’s all right, Joe is; but he’s too old to have any show at a fresh start if he tries to make it all on his own.”
“Larry, you haven’t got such a tough piece of old brass for a heart yourself,” commented Hunt. “What are your own plans?”
“I know I’ve got the makings of a real business man–I’ve already told you that,” said Larry confidently. He had thought this out carefully during his days as a coal-passer and his long nights upon the eighteen-inch bunk in his cell. “I’ve got a lot of the finishing touches; I know the high spots. What I need are the rudiments–the fundamentals–connecting links. You see, I had part of a business college training a long time before I went to work in a broker’s office, stenography and typewriting; I’ve been a secretary in the warden’s office the last few months and I’ve brushed up on the old stuff and I’m pretty good. That ought to land me a job. Then I’m going to study nights. Of course, I’d get on faster if I could have private lessons with one of the head men of one of these real business schools. I’d mop up this stuff about organization and management mighty quick, for that business stuff comes natural to me. A bit of that sort of going to school would connect up and give a working unity to what I already know. But then I’ll find a job and work the thing out some way. I’m in this to win out, and win out big!”
Once more the rarely heard voice of the Duchess sounded, and though thin it had a positive quality:
“You’re not going to take any job at first. First thing, you’re going to give all your time to those private lessons.”
Larry gazed at the Duchess, surprised by the tone in which she spoke. “But, grandmother, these lessons cost money. And I didn’t have a thin dime left when my lawyers finished with me.”
“I’ve got plenty of money–and it’s yours. And the money you get from me will be honest money, too; the interest on loans made in my pawnshop is honest all right. It’ll be better, anyhow, for you to be out in the world a few days, getting used to it, before you take a job.”
The explanation seemed bald and inadequate, but Larry did not know what else to say, he was so taken aback. The Duchess, as far as he had been able to see, had never shown much interest in him. And now, unless he was mistaken, there was something very much like emotion quavering in her thin voice and shining in her old eyes.
“I don’t interfere with what people want to do,” she continued–“but, Larry, I’m glad you’ve decided to go straight.”
And then the Duchess went on to make the longest speech that any living person had ever heard issue from her lips, and to reveal more than had yet been heard of that unmysterious mystery which lived within her shriveled, misshapen figure:
“That’s what made me interested in Joe Ellison’s story–his wanting to get his child clear of the life he was living; though I didn’t know he had any such ideas till you told me. Larry, I couldn’t get out of this life myself; I was part of it, I belonged to it. But I felt the same as Joe Ellison, and over forty years ago I got your mother out of it, and your mother never came back to it. I did that much. After she died it made me sick when you, all I’ve got left, began to go crooked. But I had no control over you; I couldn’t do anything. So I’m glad that at last you’re going to go straight. I’m glad, Larry! “
The emotion that had given her voice a strange and increasing vibrance, was suddenly brought under control or snuffed out; and she added in her usual thin, mechanical tone: “The money will be ready for you in the morning.”
Startled and embarrassed by this outbreak of things long hidden beneath the dust in the secret chambers of her being, and wishing to avoid the further embarrassment of thanks, the Duchess turned quickly and awkwardly back to her desk, and her bent old body became fixed above her figures. In a moment the ever-alert Hunt had out the little block of drawing-paper he always carried in a pocket, and with swift, eager strokes he was sketching the outline of that bent, shrunken shape that had subsided so swiftly from emotion to the commonplace.
Larry gazed at the Duchess in silent bewilderment. He had thought he had known his grandmother. He was now realizing that perhaps he did not know his grandmother at all.
That night Larry slept on a cot set up in Hunt’s studio. Hunt had made the proposition that Larry consider the studio his headquarters for the present, and Larry had accepted. Of course the cot and the rough- and-ready furnishings of the studio were grotesquely short of the luxury of those sunny days when Larry had had plenty of easy money and had been free to gratify his taste for the best of everything; but the quarters were infinitely more luxurious and comfortable than his more recent three-by-seven room at Sing Sing with its damp and chilly stone walls.
There were many reasons why Larry was appealed to by the idea of making his home for the present in this old house in this dingy, unexciting, unromantic street. He was drawn toward this bluff, outspoken, autocratic painter, and was curious about him. And then the way his grandmother had spoken, the gleam in her old eyes, had stirred an affection for her that he had never before felt. And then there was Maggie, with her startlingly new dusky beauty, her admiration of him that had so swiftly altered to defiance, her challenge to a duel of purposes.
Yes, for the present, this dingy old house in this dingy old street was just the place he preferred to be.
It was not the part of wisdom to start forth on the beginning of his new career in his shapeless prison shoddy; so the next day Larry pottered about the studio, acting as maid-of-all-work, while the clothes in his trunk which had been stored with the Duchess were being sponged and pressed by the little tailor down the street, and while a laundress, driven by the Duchess, was preparing the rest of his outfit for his debut. In his capacity of maid, with a basket on his arm, he went out into the little street, where in his shabby clothes he was recognized by none and leaned for a time against the mongrel, underfed tree that was hesitatingly greeting the spring with a few half-hearted leaves. He bathed himself in the warm sun which seemed over-glorious for so mean a street; he filled his lungs with the tangy May air; yes, it was wonderful to be free again!
Then he strolled about the street on his business of marketing. It amused him to be buying three pounds of potatoes and a pound of chopped meat and a package of macaroni, and to be counting Hunt’s pennies–remembering those days when he had been a personage to head waiters, and had had his table reserved, and with a careless Midas’s gesture had left a dollar, or five, or twenty, for the waiter’s tip.
When he climbed back into the studio he watched Hunt slashing about with his paint. Hunt growled and roared at him, and kidded him; and Larry came back at him with the same kind of verbal horseplay, after the fashion of men. Presently a relaxation, if not actual friendship, began to develop in their attitude toward each other.
“Tell you what,” Larry remarked, standing with legs wide apart gazing at the picture of the Italian mother throned on the curb nursing her child, “if I were dolled up all proper, I bet I could take some of this stuff out and sell it for real dough.”
“Huh, nobody wants that stuff!” snorted Hunt. “It’s too good. Sell it! You’re off your bean, young fellow!”
“I can sell anything, my bucko,” Larry returned evenly. “All I need is a man who has plenty of money and a moderate willingness to listen. I’ve sold pictures of an oil derrick on a stock certificate, exact value nothing at all, for a masterpiece’s price–so I guess I could sell a real picture.”
“Aw, you shut up!”
“The real trouble with you,” commented Larry, “is that, though you can paint, as a business man, as a promoter of your own stock, the suckling infant in that picture is a J. Pierpont Morgan of multiplied capacity compared to–“
“Stop making that noise like a damned fool!”
This amiable pastime of throwing stones at each other was just then interrupted by the entrance of Maggie for an appointed sitting, before going to her business of carrying a tray of cigarettes about the Ritzmore. She gave Hunt a pleasant “good-morning,” the pleasantness purposely stressed in order to make more emphatic her curt nod to Larry and the cold hostility of her eye. During the hour she posed, Larry, moving leisurely about his kitchen duties, addressed her several times, but no remark got a word from her in response. He took his rebuffs smilingly, which irritated her all the more.
“Maggie, I’ll get my real clothes late this afternoon; how about my dropping in at the Ritzmore for a cup of tea, and letting me buy some cigarettes and talk to you when you’re not busy?” he inquired when Hunt had finished with her.
“You may buy cigarettes, but you’ll get no talk!” she snapped, and head high and dark eyes flashing contempt, she swept past him.
Hunt watched her out. As the door slammed behind her, he remarked dryly, his eyes searching Larry keenly:
“Our young queen doesn’t seem wildly enthusiastic about you or your programme.”
“She certainly is not.”
“Don’t let that worry you, young fellow. That’s a common trait of her whole tribe; women simply cannot believe in a man!”
There was an emphasis and a cynicism in this last remark which caused Larry to regard the painter searchingly. “You seem to know what it is. Don’t mean to butt in, Hunt, if there are any trespassing signs up– but there’s a woman in your case?”
“Of course there is–there’s always a woman; that’s another reason I’m here,” Hunt answered. “She didn’t believe in me–didn’t believe I could paint–didn’t believe in the things I wanted to do–so I just picked up my playthings and walked out of her existence.”
“Wife?” queried Larry.
“Thank God, no!” exclaimed Hunt emphatically. “No–‘I thank whatever gods there be, I am the captain of my soul!’ Oh, she’s all right– altogether too good for me,” he added. “Here, try this tobacco.”
Larry picked up the pouch flung him and accepted without remark this being abruptly shunted off the track. But he surmised that this woman in the background of Hunt’s life meant a great deal more to the painter than Hunt tried to indicate by his attempt to dismiss her casually–and Larry wondered what kind of woman she was, and what the story had been.
The following day, clean-shaven and in his freshened clothes–they were smart and well-tailored, though sober indeed compared with Barney’s, and two years behind the style of which Barney’s were the extreme expression–Larry passed Maggie on the stairway with a smile, who gave him no smile in return, and started forth upon his quest. He was well-dressed, he had money in his pockets, he had a plan, and the air of freedom of a new life was sweet in his nostrils. He was going to succeed!
It was easy enough, with his mind alert for what he wanted, and with the Duchess’s liberal allowance to pay for what he wanted, for Larry to find in this city of ten thousand institutes teaching business methods, the particular article which suited his especial needs. He found this article in an institute whose black-faced headline in its advertisements was, “We Make You a $50,000 Executive”; and the article which he found, by payment of a special fee, was an old man who had been the manager of a big brokerage concern until his growing addiction to drink and later to drugs had rendered him undependable. But old Bronson certainly did know the fundamentals and intricacies of the kind of big business which is straight, and it was a delight to him to pour out his knowledge to a keen intelligence.
Larry, in his own words, simply “mopped it up.” His experience had been so wide and varied that he now had only to be shown a bone of fact and almost instantly he visioned in their completeness unextinct ichthyosauri of business. By day he fairly consumed old Bronson; he read dry books far into the night. Thus he rapidly filled the holes in the walls of his knowledge, and strengthened its rather sketchy foundation. Of course he realized that what he was learning was in a sense academic; it had to be tested and developed and made flexible by experience; but then much of it became instantly a living enlargement of the things of which he was already a master.
Old Bronson was delighted; he had never had so apt a pupil. “In less than no time you’ll be the real head of that house you’re with!” he proudly declared. Larry had not seen it as needful to tell the truth about himself; his casual story was that he was there putting to use a month’s holiday granted him by a mythical firm in Chicago.
The Duchess’s statement that it would be best for him not to seek work at once was founded on wisdom. Larry was busy and interested, but he did not yet have to face the constant suspicion and hostility which are usually the disheartening lot of the ex-convict who asks for a position. In this period his confidence and his purpose expanded with new vitality.
As the busy days passed down in the little street, the bantering fellowship between Larry and Hunt took deeper root. The Duchess did not again show any of the emotion which had gleamed in her briefly when Larry had announced his new plan; but bent and silent went like an oddly revivified mummy about her affairs. And during these days he did not again see Barney or Old Jimmie; he had learned that on the day following his conference with them they had gone to Chicago on a very private matter of business.
He saw Maggie daily, but she maintained the same attitude toward him. He was now conscious that he was in love. He saw splendid qualities in her, most of them latent. Maggie had determination, high spirits, cleverness, courage, and capacity for sympathy and affection; she had head, heart, and beauty, the makings of an unusual woman, if only she could be swung into a different attitude of mind. But he realized that there was small chance indeed of his working any alteration in her, much less winning her admitted regard, until he was definitely a success, until he had definitely proven himself right. So he took her rebuffs with a smile, and waited his time.
He understood her point of view, and sympathized with her; for her point of view had once been his own. With a growing understanding he saw her as the natural product of such a fathership as Old Jimmie’s, and of the cynical environment which Old Jimmie had given her in which crime was a matter of course. In this connection one matter that had previously interested him began to engage his speculation more and more. All her life, until recently, Old Jimmie had apparently shown little more concern over Maggie than one shows over a piece of baggage which is stored in this and that warehouse–and so valueless a piece of baggage in Old Jimmie’s case that it had always been stored in the worst warehouses. What was behind Old Jimmie’s new interest in his daughter?
Old Jimmie had in late months awakened to the value to him of Maggie as a business proposition–that was Larry’s answer to his own question.
As for Maggie, during these days, the mere fact that Larry smiled at her and refused to get angry angered her all the more. Her anger at him, the manner in which he had refused her offered and long-dreamed- of partnership, would not permit her pride and self-confidence to consider any justification for him to enter her mind and argue in his behalf. The great dream she had nourished had been destroyed. And, moreover, he had proclaimed himself a fool.
Yes, despite him and all he could do, she was going to go the brilliant, exciting way she had planned!
In fairness to Maggie it must be remembered that despite her assumed maturity and self-confident wisdom, she really was only eighteen, and perhaps did not yet fully know herself, and had all the world yet to learn. And it must be remembered that she believed herself entirely in the right. This was a world where strength and cunning were the qualities that counted, and every one was trying to outwit his neighbor; and all who acted otherwise were either weak-witted fools or else pretenders who saw in their hypocrisy the keenest game of all. Living under the influence of Old Jimmie, and later of Barney, and of the environment in which she had been bred, these beliefs had come to