IN THE BISHOP'S CARRIAGE
When the thing was at its hottest, I bolted. Tom, like the darling he is—(Yes, you are, old fellow, you're as precious to me as—as you are to the police—if they could only get their hands on you)—well, Tom drew off the crowd, having passed the old gentleman's watch to me, and I made for the women's rooms.
The station was crowded, as it always is in the afternoon, and in a minute I was strolling into the big, square room, saying slowly to myself to keep me steady:
"Nancy, you're a college girl—just in from Bryn Mawr to meet your papa. Just see if your hat's on straight."
I did, going up to the big glass and looking beyond my excited face to the room behind me. There sat the woman who can never nurse her baby except where everybody can see her, in a railroad station. There was the woman who's always hungry, nibbling chocolates out of a box; and the woman fallen asleep, with her hat on the side, and hairpins dropping out of her hair; and the woman who's beside herself with fear that she'll miss her train; and the woman who is taking notes about the other women's rigs. And—
And I didn't like the look of that man with the cap who opened the swinging door a bit and peeped in. The women's waiting-room is no place for a man—nor for a girl who's got somebody else's watch inside her waist. Luckily, my back was toward him, but just as the door swung back he might have caught the reflection of my face in a mirror hanging opposite to the big one.
I retreated, going to an inner room where the ladies were having the maid brush their gowns, soiled from suburban travel and the dirty station.
The deuce is in it the way women stare. I took off my hat and jacket for a reason to stay there, and hung them up as leisurely as I could.
"Nance," I said under my breath, to the alert-eyed, pug-nosed girl in the mirror, who gave a quick glance about the room as I bent to wash my hands, "women stare 'cause they're women. There's no meaning in their look. If they were men, now, you might twitter."
I smoothed my hair and reached out my hand to get my hat and jacket when—when—
Oh, it was long; long enough to cover you from your chin to your heels! It was a dark, warm red, and it had a high collar of chinchilla that was fairly scrumptious. And just above it the hat hung, a red-cloth toque caught up on the side with some of the same fur.
The black maid misunderstood my involuntary gesture. I had all my best duds on, and when a lot of women stare it makes the woman they stare at peacock naturally, and—and—well, ask Tom what he thinks of my style when I'm on parade. At any rate, it was the maid's fault. She took down the coat and hat and held them for me as though they were mine. What could I do, 'cept just slip into the silk-lined beauty and set the toque on my head? The fool girl that owned them was having another maid mend a tear in her skirt, over in the corner; the little place was crowded. Anyway, I had both the coat and hat on and was out into the big anteroom in a jiffy.
What nearly wrecked me was the cut of that coat. It positively made me shiver with pleasure when I passed and saw myself in that long mirror. My, but I was great! The hang of that coat, the long, incurving sweep in the back, and the high fur collar up to one's nose—even if it is a turned-up nose—oh!
I stayed and looked a second too long, for just as I was pulling the flaring hat a bit over my face, the doors swung, as an old lady came in, and there behind her was that same curious man's face with the cap above it.
Trapped? Me? Not much! I didn't wait a minute, but threw the doors open with a gesture that might have belonged to the Queen of Spain. I almost ran into his arms. He gave an exclamation. I looked him straight in the eyes, as I hooked the collar close to my throat, and swept past him.
He weakened. That coat was too jolly much for him. It was for me, too. As I ran down the stairs, its influence so worked on me that I didn't know just which Vanderbilt I was.
I got out on the sidewalk all right, and was just about to take a car when the turnstile swung round, and there was that same man with the cap. His face was a funny mixture of doubt and determination. But it meant the Correction for me.
"Nance Olden, it's over," I said to myself.
But it wasn't. For it was then that I caught sight of the carriage. It was a fat, low, comfortable, elegant, sober carriage, wide and well-kept, with rubber-tired wheels. And the two heavy horses were fat and elegant and sober, too, and wide and well-kept. I didn't know it was the Bishop's then—I didn't care whose it was. It was empty, and it was mine. I'd rather go to the Correction—being too young to get to the place you're bound for, Tom Dorgan—in it than in the patrol wagon. At any rate, it was all the chance I had.
I slipped in, closing the door sharply behind me. The man on the box—he was wide and well-kept, too—was tired waiting, I suppose, for he continued to doze gently, his high coachman's collar up over his ears. I cursed that collar, which had prevented his hearing the door close, for then he might have driven off.
But it was great inside: soft and warm, the cushions of dark plum, the seat wide and roomy, a church paper, some notes for the Bishop's next sermon and a copy of Quo Vadis. I just snuggled down, trust me. I leaned far back and lay low. When I did peek out the window, I saw the man with the brass buttons and the cap turning to go inside again.
Victory! He had lost the scent. Who would look for Nancy Olden in the Bishop's carriage?
Now, you know how early I got up yesterday to catch the train so's Tom and I could come in with the people and be naturally mingling with them? And you remember the dance the night before? I hadn't had more than three hours' sleep, and the snug warmth of that coach was just nuts to me, after the freezing ride into town. I didn't dare get out for fear of some other man in a cap and buttons somewhere on the lookout. I knew they couldn't be on to my hiding-place or they'd have nabbed me before this. After a bit I didn't want to get out, I was so warm and comfortable—and elegant. O Tom, you should have seen your Nance in that coat and in the Bishop's carriage!
First thing I knew, I was dreaming you and I were being married, and you had brass buttons all over you, and I had the cloak all right, but it was a wedding-dress, and the chinchilla was a wormy sort of orange blossoms, and—and I waked when the handle of the door turned and the Bishop got in.
Asleep? That's what! I'd actually been asleep.
And what did I do now?
That's easy—fell asleep again. There wasn't anything else to do. Not really asleep this time, you know; just, just asleep enough to be wide awake to any chance there was in it.
The horses had started, and the carriage was half-way across the street before the Bishop noticed me.
He was a little Bishop, not big and fat and well-kept like the rig, but short and lean, with a little white beard and the softest eye—and the softest heart—and the softest head. Just listen.
"Lord bless me!" he exclaimed, hurriedly putting on his spectacles, and looking about bewildered.
I was slumbering sweetly in the corner, but I could see between my lashes that he thought he'd jumped into somebody else's carriage.
The sight of his book and his papers comforted him, though, and before he could make a resolution, I let the jolting of the carriage, as it crossed the car-track, throw me gently against him.
"Daddy," I murmured sleepily, letting my head rest on his little, prim shoulder.
That comforted him, too. Hush your laughing, Tom Dorgan; I mean calling him "daddy" seemed to kind of take the cuss off the situation.
"My child," he began very gently.
"Oh, daddy," I exclaimed, snuggling down close to him, "you kept me waiting so long I went to sleep. I thought you'd never come."
He put his arm about my shoulders in a fatherly way. You know, I found out later the Bishop never had had a daughter. I guess he thought he had one now. Such a simple, dear old soul! Just the same, Tom Dorgan, if he had been my father, I'd never be doing stunts with tipsy men's watches for you; nor if I'd had any father. Now, don't get mad. Think of the Bishop with his gentle, thin old arm about my shoulders, holding me for just a second as though I was his daughter! My, think of it! And me, Nance Olden, with that fat man's watch in my waist and some girl's beautiful long coat and hat on, all covered with chinchilla!
"There's some mistake, my little girl," he said, shaking me gently to wake me up, for I was going to sleep again, he feared.
"Oh, I knew you were kept at the office," I interrupted quickly. I preferred to be farther from the station with that girl's red coat before I got out. "We've missed our train, anyway, haven't we? After this, daddy dear, let's not take this route. If we'd go straight through on the one road, we wouldn't have this drive across town every time. I was wondering, before I fell asleep, what in the world I'd do in this big city if you didn't come."
He forgot to withdraw his arm, so occupied was he by my predicament.
"What would you do, my child, if you had—had missed your—your father?"
Wasn't it clumsy of him? He wanted to break it to me gently, and this was the best he could do.
"What would I do?" I gasped indignantly. "Why, daddy, imagine me alone, and—and without money! Why—why, how can you—"
"There! there!" he said, patting me soothingly on the shoulder.
That baby of a Bishop! The very thought of Nancy Olden out alone in the streets was too much for him.
He had put his free hand into his pocket and had just taken out a bill and was trying to plan a way to offer it to me and reveal the fact to poor, modest little Nance Olden that he was not her own daddy, when an awful thing happened.
We had got up street as far as the opera-house, when we were caught in the jam of carriages in front; the last afternoon opera of the season was just over. I was so busy thinking what would be my next move that I didn't notice much outside—and I didn't want to move, Tom, not a bit. Playing the Bishop's daughter in a trailing coat of red, trimmed with chinchilla, is just your Nancy's graft. But the dear little Bishop gave a jump that almost knocked the roof off the carriage, pulled his arm from behind me and dropped the ten-dollar bill he held as though it burned him. It fell in my lap. I jammed it into my coat pocket. Where is it now? Just you wait, Tom Dorgan, and you'll find out.
I followed the Bishop's eyes. His face was scarlet now. Right next to our carriage—mine and the Bishop's—there was another; not quite so fat and heavy and big, but smart, I tell you, with the silver harness jangling and the horses arching their backs under their blue-cloth jackets monogrammed in leather. All the same, I couldn't see anything to cause a loving father to let go his onliest daughter in such a hurry, till the old lady inside bent forward again and gave us another look.
Her face told it then. It was a big, smooth face, with accordion-plaited chins. Her hair was white and her nose was curved, and the pearls in her big ears brought out every ugly spot on her face. Her lips were thin, and her neck, hung with diamonds, looked like a bed with bolsters and pillows piled high, and her eyes—oh, Tom, her eyes! They were little and very gray, and they bored their way straight through the windows—hers and ours—and hit the Bishop plumb in the face.
My, if I could only have laughed! The Bishop, the dear, prim little Bishop in his own carriage, with his arm about a young woman in red and chinchilla, offering her a bank-note, and Mrs. Dowager Diamonds, her eyes popping out of her head at the sight, and she one of the lady pillars of his church—oh, Tom! it took all of this to make that poor innocent next to me realize how he looked in her eyes.
But you see it was over in a minute. The carriage wheels were unlocked, and the blue coupe went whirling away, and we in the plum-cushioned carriage followed slowly.
I decided that I'd had enough. Now and here in the middle of all these carriages was a bully good time and place for me to get away. I turned to the Bishop. He was blushing like a boy. I blushed, too. Yes, I did, Tom Dorgan, but it was because I was bursting with laughter.
"Oh, dear!" I exclaimed in sudden dismay. "You're not my father."
"No—no, my dear, I—I'm not," he stammered, his face purple now with embarrassment. "I was just trying to tell you, you poor little girl, of your mistake and planning a way to help you, when—"
He made a gesture of despair toward the side where the coupe had been.
I covered my face with my hands, and shrinking over into the corner, I cried:
"Let me out! let me out! You're not my father. Oh, let me out!"
"Why, certainly, child. But I'm old enough, surely, to be, and I wish—I wish I were."
The dignity and tenderness and courtesy in his voice sort of sobered me. But all at once I remembered the face of Mrs. Dowager Diamonds, and I understood.
"Oh, because of her," I said, smiling and pointing to the side where the coupe had been.
My, but it was a rotten bad move! I ought to have been strapped for it. Oh, Tom, Tom, it takes more'n a red coat with chinchilla to make a black-hearted thing like me into the girl he thought I was.
He stiffened and sat up like a prim little school-boy, his soft eyes hurt like a dog's that's been wounded.
I won't tell you what I did then. No, I won't. And you won't understand, but just that minute I cared more for what he thought of me than whether I got to the Correction or anywhere else.
It made us friends in a minute, and when he stopped the carriage to let me out, my hand was still in his. But I wouldn't go. I'd made up my mind to see him out of his part of the scrape, and first thing you know we were driving up toward the Square, if you please, to Mrs. Dowager Diamonds' house.
He thought it was his scheme, the poor lamb, to put me in her charge till my lost daddy could send for me. He'd no more idea that I was steering him toward her, that he was doing the only thing possible, the only square thing by his reputation, than he had that Nance Olden had been raised by the Cruelty, and then flung herself away on the first handsome Irish boy she met.
That'll do, Tom.
Girls, if you could have seen Mrs. Dowager Diamonds' face when she came down the stairs, the Bishop's card in her hand, and into the gorgeous parlor, it'd have been as good as a front seat at the show.
She was mad, and she was curious, and she was amazed, and she was disarmed; for the very nerve of his bringing me to her staggered her so that she could hardly believe she'd seen what she had.
"My dear Mrs. Ramsay," he began, confused a bit by his remembrance of how her face had looked fifteen minutes before, "I bring to you an unfortunate child, who mistook my carriage for her father's this afternoon at the station. She is a college girl, a stranger in town, and till her father claims her—"
Oh, the baby! the baby! She was stiffening like a rod before his very eyes. How did his words explain his having his arm round the unfortunate child? His conscience was so clean that the dear little man actually overlooked the fact that it wasn't my presence in the carriage, but his conduct there that had excited Mrs. Dowager Diamonds.
And didn't the story sound thin? I tell you, Tom, when it comes to lying to a woman you've got to think up something stronger than it takes to make a man believe in you—if you happen to be female yourself.
I didn't wait for him to finish, but waltzed right in. I danced straight up to that side of beef with the diamonds still on it, and flinging my arms about her, turned a coy eye on the Bishop.
"You said your wife was out of town, daddy," I cried gaily. "Have you got another wife besides mummy?"
The poor Bishop! Do you think he tumbled? Not a bit—not a bit. He sat there gasping like a fish, and Mrs. Dowager Diamonds, surprised by my sudden attack, stood bolt upright, about as pleasant to hug as—as you are, Tom, when you're jealous.
The trouble with the Bishop's set is that it's deadly slow. Now, if I had really been the Bishop's daughter—all right, I'll go on.
"Oh, mummy," I went on quickly. You know how I said it, Tom—the way I told you after that last row that Dan Christensen wasn't near so good-looking as you—remember? "Oh, mummy, you don't know how good it feels to get home. Out there at that awful college, studying and studying and studying, sometimes I thought I'd lose my senses. There's a girl out there now suffering from nervous prostration. She worked so hard preparing for the mid-years. What's her name? I can't think—I can't think, my head's so tired. But it sounds like mine, a lot like mine. Once—I think it was yesterday—I thought it was mine, and I made up my mind suddenly to come right home and bring it with me. But it can't be mine, can it? It can't be my name she's got. It can't be, mummy, say it can't, say it can't!"
Tom, I ought to have gone on the stage. I'll go yet, when you're sent up some day. Yes, I will. You'll be where you can't stop me.
I couldn't see the Bishop, but the Dowager—oh, I'd got her. Not so bad an old body, either, if you only take her the right way. First, she was suspicious, and then she was scared. And then, bit by bit, the stiffness melted out of her, her arms came up about me, and there I was, lying all comfy, with the diamonds on her neck boring rosettes in my cheeks, and she a-sniffling over me and patting me and telling me not to get excited, that it was all right, and now I was home mummy would take care of me, she would, that she would.
She did. She got me on to a lounge, soft as—as marshmallows, and she piled one silk pillow after another behind my back.
"Come, dear, let me help you off with your coat," she cooed, bending over me.
"Oh, mummy, it's so cold! Can't I please keep it on?"
To let that coat off me was to give the whole thing away. My rig underneath, though good enough for your girl, Tom, on a holiday, wasn't just what they wear in the Square. And, d'ye know, you'll say it's silly, but I had a conviction that with that coat I should say good-by to the nerve I'd had since I got into the Bishop's carriage,—and from there into society. I let her take the hat, though, and I could see by the way she handled it that it was all right—the thing; her kind, you know. Oh, the girl I got it from had good taste, all right.
I closed my eyes for a moment as I lay there and she stood stroking my hair. She must have thought I'd fallen asleep, for she turned to the Bishop, and holding out her hand, she said softly:
"My dear, dear Bishop, you are the best-hearted, the saintliest man on earth. Because you are so beautifully clean-souled yourself, you must pardon me. I am ashamed to say it, but I shall have no rest till I do. When I saw you in the carriage downtown, with that poor, demented child, I thought, for just a moment—oh, can you forgive me? It shows what an evil mind I have. But you, who know so well what Edward is, what my life has been with him, will see how much reason I have to be suspicious of all men!"
I shook, I laughed so hard. What a corker her Edward must be! See, Tom, poor old Mrs. Dowager up in the Square having the same devil's luck with her man as Molly Elliott down in the Alley has with hers. I wonder if you're all alike. No, for there's the Bishop. He had taken her hand sympathizingly, forgivingly, but his silence made me curious. I knew he wouldn't let the old lady believe for a moment I was luny, if once he could be sure himself that I wasn't. You lie, Tom Dorgan, he wouldn't! Well—But the poor baby, how could he expect to see through a game that had caught the Dowager herself? Still, I could hear him walking softly toward me, and I felt him looking keenly down at me long before I opened my eyes.
When I did, you should have seen him jump. Guilty he felt. I could see the blood rush up under his clear, thin old skin, soft as a baby's, to find himself caught trying to spy out my secret.
I just looked, big-eyed, up at him. You know; the way Molly's kid does, when he wakes. I looked a long, long time, as though I was puzzled.
"Daddy," I said slowly, sitting up. "You—you are my daddy, ain't you?"
"Yes—yes, of course." It was the Dowager who got between him and me, hinting heavily at him with nods and frowns. But the dear old fellow only got pinker in the effort to look a lie and not say it. Still, he looked relieved. Evidently he thought I was luny all right, but that I had lucid intervals. I heard him whisper something like this to the Dowager just before the maid came in with tea for me.
Yes, Tom Dorgan, tea for Nancy Olden off a silver salver, out of a cup like a painted eggshell. My, but that almost floored me! I was afraid I'd give myself dead away with all those little jars and jugs. So I said I wasn't hungry, though, Lord knows, I hadn't had anything to eat since early morning. But the Dowager sent the maid away and took the tray herself, operating all the jugs and pots for me, and then tried to feed me the tea. She was about as handy as Molly's little sister is with the baby—but I allowed myself to be coaxed, and drank it down.
Tea, Tom Dorgan. Ever taste tea? If you knew how to behave yourself in polite society, I'd give you a card to my friend, the Dowager, up in the Square.
How to get away! That was the thing that worried me. I'd just made up my mind to have a lucid interval, when cr-creak, the front door opened, and in walked—
Tom, you're mighty cute—so cute you'll land us both behind bars some day—but you can't guess who came in on our little family party. Yes—oh, yes, you've met him.
Well, the old duffer whose watch was ticking inside my waist that very minute! Yes, sir, the same red-faced, big-necked fellow we'd spied getting full at the little station in the country. Only, he was a bit mellower than when you grabbed his chain. Well, he was Edward.
I almost dropped the cup when I saw him. The Dowager took it from me, saying:
"There, dear, don't be nervous. It's only—only—"
She got lost. It couldn't be my daddy—the Bishop was that. But it was her husband, so who could it be?
"Evening, Bishop. Hello, Henrietta, back so soon from the opera?" roared Edward, in a big, husky voice. He'd had more since we saw him, but he walked straight as the Bishop himself, and he's a dear little ramrod. "Ah!"—his eyes lit up at sight of me—"ah, Miss—Miss—of course, I've met the young lady, Henrietta, but hang me if I haven't forgotten her name."
"Miss—Miss Murieson," lied the old lady, glibly. "A—a relative."
"Why, mummy!" I said reproachfully.
"There—there. It's only a joke. Isn't it a joke, Edward?" she demanded, laughing uneasily.
"Joke?" he repeated with a hearty bellow of laughter. "Best kind of a joke, I call it, to find so pretty a girl right in your own house, eh, Bishop?"
"Why does he call my father 'Bishop', mummy?"
I couldn't help it. The fun of hearing the Dowager lie and knowing the Bishop beside himself with the pain of deception was too much for me. I could see she didn't dare trust her Edward with my sad story.
"Ho! ho! The Bishop—that's good. No, my dear Miss Murieson, if this lady's your mother, why, I must be—at least, I ought to be, your father. As such, I'm going to have all the privileges of a parent—bless me, if I'm not."
I don't suppose he'd have done it if he'd been sober, but there's no telling, when you remember the reputation the Dowager had given him. But he'd got no further than to put his arm around me when both the Bishop and the Dowager flew to the rescue. My, but they were shocked! I couldn't help wondering what they'd have done if Edward had happened to see the Bishop in the same sort of tableau earlier in the afternoon.
But I got a lucid interval just then, and distracted their attention. I stood for a moment, my head bent as though I was thinking deeply.
"I think I'll go now," I said at length. "I—I don't understand exactly how I got here," I went on, looking from the Bishop to the Dowager and back again, "or how I happened to miss my father. I'm ever—so much obliged to you, and if you will give me my hat, I'll take the next train back to college."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said the Dowager, promptly. "My dear, you're a sweet girl that's been studying too hard. You must go to my room and rest—"
"And stay for dinner. Don't you care. Sometimes I don't know how I get here myself." Edward winked jovially.
Well, I did. While the Dowager's back was turned, I gave him the littlest one, in return for his. It made him drunker than ever.
"I think," said the Bishop, grimly, with a significant glance at the Dowager, as he turned just then and saw the old cock ogling me, "the young lady is wiser than we. I'll take her to the station—"
The station! Ugh! Not Nance Olden, with the red coat still on.
"Impossible, my dear Bishop," interrupted the Dowager. "She can't be permitted to go back on the train alone."
"Why, Miss—Miss Murieson, I'll see you back all the way to the college door. Not at all, not at all. Charmed. First, we'll have dinner—or, first I'll telephone out there and tell 'em you're with us, so that if there's any rule or anything of that sort—"
The telephone! This wretched Edward with half his wits gave me more trouble than the Bishop and the Dowager put together. She jumped at the idea, and left the room, only to come back again to whisper to me:
"What name, my dear?"
"What name? what name?" I repeated blankly. What name, indeed. I wonder how "Nance Olden" would have done.
"Don't hurry, dear, don't perplex yourself," she whispered anxiously, noting my bewilderment. "There's plenty of time, and it makes no difference—not a particle, really."
I put my hand to my head.
"I can't think—I can't think. There's one girl has nervous prostration, and her name's got mixed with mine, and I can't—"
"Hush, hush! Never mind. You shall come and lie down in my room. You'll stay with us to-night, anyway, and we'll have a doctor in, Bishop."
"That's right," assented the Bishop. "I'll go get him myself."
"You—you're not going!" I cried in dismay. It was real. I hated to see him go.
"Nonsense—'phone." It was Edward who went himself to telephone for the doctor, and I saw my time getting short.
But the Bishop had to go, anyway. He looked out at his horses shivering in front of the house, and the sight hurried him.
"My child," he said, taking my hand, "just let Mrs. Ramsay take care of you to-night. Don't bother about anything, but just rest. I'll see you in the morning," he went on, noticing that I kind of clung to him. Well, I did. "Can't you remember what I said to you in the carriage—that I wished you were my daughter. I wish you were, indeed I do, and that I could take you home with me and keep you, child."
"Then—to-night—if—when you pray—will you pray for me as if I was—your own daughter?"
Tom Dorgan, you think no prayers but a priest's are any good, you bigoted, snickering Catholic! I tell you if some day I cut loose from you and start in over again, it'll be the Bishop's prayers that'll do it.
The Dowager and I passed Edward in the ball. He gave me a look behind her back, and I gave him one to match it. Just practice, you know, Tom. A girl can never know when she'll want to be expert in these things.
She made me lie down on a couch while she turned the lamp low, and then left me alone in a big palace of a bedroom filled with things. And I wanted everything I saw. If I could, I'd have lifted everything in sight.
But every minute brought that doctor nearer. Soon as I could be really sure she was gone, I got up, and, hurrying to the long French windows that opened on the great stone piazza, I unfastened them quietly, and inch by inch I pushed them open.
There within ten feet of me stood Edward. No escape that way. He saw me, and was tiptoeing heavily toward me, when I heard the door click behind me, and in walked the Dowager back again.
I flew to her.
"I thought I heard some one out there," I said.
"It frightened me so that I got up to look. Nobody could be out there, could they?"
She walked to the window and put her head out. Her lips tightened grimly.
"No, nobody could be out there," she said, breathing hard, "but you might get nervous just thinking there might be. We'll go to a room upstairs."
And go we did, in spite of all I could plead about feeling well enough now to go alone and all the rest of it. How was I to get out of a second or third-story window?
I began to think about the Correction again as I followed her upstairs, and after she'd left me I just sat waiting for the doctor to come and send me there. I didn't much care, till I remembered the Bishop. I could almost see his face as it would look when he'd be called to testify against me, and I'd be standing in that railed-in prisoner's pen, in the middle of the court-room, where Dan Christensen stood when they tried him.
No, I couldn't bear that; not without a fight, anyway. It was for the Bishop I'd got into this part of the scrape. I'd get out of it so's he shouldn't know how bad a thing a girl can be.
While I lay thinking it over, the same maid that had brought me the tea came in. She was an ugly, thin little thing. If she's a sample of the maids in that house, the lot of them would take the kink out of your pretty hair, Thomas J. Dorgan, Esquire, late of the House of Refuge and soon of Moyamensing. Don't throw things. People in my set, mine and the Dowager's, don't.
She had been sent to help me undress, she said, and make me comfortable. The doctor lived just around the corner and would be in in a minute.
Phew! She wasn't very promising, but she was my only chance. I took her.
"I really don't need any help, thank you, Nora," I said, chipper as a sparrow, and remembering the name the Dowager had called her by. "Aunt Henrietta is too fussy, don't you think? Oh, of course, you won't say a word against her. She told me the other day that she'd never had a maid so sensible and quick-witted, too, as her Nora. Do you know, I've a mind to play a joke on the doctor when he comes. You'll help me, won't you? Oh, I know you will!" Suddenly I remembered the Bishop's bill. I took it out of my pocket. Yep, Tom, that's where it went. I had to choose between giving that skinny maid the biggest tip she ever got in her life—or Nance Olden to the Correction.
You needn't swear, Tom Dorgan. I fancy if I'd got there, you'd got worse. No, you bully, you know I wouldn't tell; but the police sort of know how to pair our kind.
In her cap and apron, I let the doctor in and myself out. And I don't regret a thing up there in the Square except that lovely red coat with the high collar and the hat with the fur on it. I'd give—Tom, get me a coat like that and I'll marry you for life.
No, there's one thing I could do better if it was to be done over again. I could make that dear little old Bishop wish harder I'd been his daughter.
What am I mooning about? Oh—nothing. There's the watch—Edward's watch. Take it.
Yes, empty-handed, Tom Dorgan. And I can't honestly say I didn't have the chance, but—if my hands are empty my head is full.
There's a girl I know with short brown hair, a turned-up nose and gray eyes, rather far apart. You know her, too? Well, she can't help that.
But this girl—oh, she makes such a pretty boy! And the ladies at the hotel over in Brooklyn, they just dote on her when she's not only a boy but a bell-boy. Her name may be Nancy when she's in petticoats, but in trousers she's Nathaniel—in short, Nat.
Now, Nat, in blue and buttons, with his nails kept better than most boys', with his curly hair parted in the middle, and with a gentle tang to his voice that makes him almost girlish—who would suspect Nat of having a stolen pass-key in his pocket and a pretty fair knowledge of the contents of almost every top bureau-drawer in the hotel?
Not Mrs. Sarah Kingdon, a widow just arrived from Philadelphia, and desperately gone on young Mr. George Moriway, also fresh from Philadelphia, and desperately gone on Mrs. Kingdon's money.
The tips that lady gave the bad boy Nat! I knew I couldn't make you believe it any other way; that's why I passed 'em on to you, Tommy-boy.
The hotel woman, you know, girls, is a hotel woman because she isn't fit to be anything else. She's lazy and selfish and little, and she's shifted all her legitimate cares on to the proprietor's shoulders. She actually—you can understand and share my indignation, can't you, Tom, as you've shared other things?—she even gives over her black tin box full of valuables to the hotel clerk to put in the safe; the coward! But her vanity—ah, there's where we get her, such speculators as you and myself. She's got to outshine the woman who sits at the next table, and so she borrows her diamonds from the clerk, wears 'em like the peacock she is, and trembles till they're back in the safe again.
In the meantime she locks them up in the tin box which she puts in her top bureau-drawer, hides the key, forgets where she hid it, and—O Tom! after searching for it for hours and making herself sick with anxiety, she ties up her head in a wet handkerchief with vinegar on it and—rings the bell for the bell-boy!
As I said, he's a prompt, gentle little bell-boy, slight, looks rather young for his job, but that very youth and innocence of his make him such a fellow to trust!
"Nat," says Mrs. Kingdon, tearfully pressing half a dollar into the nice lad's hand, "I—I've lost something and I want you to—to help me find it."
"Yes'm," says Nat. He's the soul of politeness.
"It must be here—it must be in this room," says the lady, getting wild with the terror of losing. "I'm sure—positive—that I went straight to the shoe-bag and slipped it in there. And now I can't find it, and I must have it before I go out this afternoon for—for a very special reason. My daughter Evelyn will be home to-morrow and—why don't you look for it?"
"What is it, ma'am?"
"I told you once. My key—a little flat key that locks—a box I've got," she finishes distrustfully.
"Have you looked in the shoe-bag, ma'am?"
"Why, of course I have, you little stupid. I want you to hunt other places where I can't easily get. There are other places I might have put it, but I'm positive it was in the shoe-bag."
Well, I looked for that key. Where? Where not? I looked under the rubbish in the waste-paper basket; Mrs. Kingdon often fooled thieves by dropping it there. I pulled up the corner of the carpet and looked there—it was loose; it had often been used for a hiding-place. I looked in Miss Evelyn's boot and in her ribbon box. I emptied Mrs. Kingdon's full powder box. I climbed ladders and felt along cornices. I looked through the pockets of Mrs. Kingdon's gowns—a clever bell-boy it takes to find a woman's pocket, but even the real masculine ones among 'em are half feminine; they've had so much to do with women.
I rummaged through her writing-desk, and, in searching a gold-cornered pad, found a note from Moriway hidden under the corner. I hid it again carefully—in my coat pocket. A love-letter from Moriway, to a woman twenty years older than himself—'tain't a bad lay, Tom Dorgan, but you needn't try it.
At first she watched every move I made, but later, as her headache grew worse, she got desperate. So then I put my hand down into the shoe-bag and found the key, where it had slipped under a fold of cloth.
Do you suppose that woman was grateful? She snatched it from me.
"I knew it was there. I told you it was there. If you'd had any sense you'd have looked there first. The boys in this hotel are so stupid."
"That's all, ma'am?"
She nodded. She was fitting the key into the black box she'd taken from the top drawer. Nat had got to the outside door when he heard her come shrieking after him.
"Nat—Nat—come back! My diamonds—they're not here. I know I put them back last night—I'm positive. I could swear to it. I can see myself putting them in the chamois bag, and—O my God, where can they be! This time they're gone!"
Nat could have told her—but what's the use? He felt she'd only lose 'em again if she had 'em. So he let them lie snug in his trousers pocket—where he had put the chamois bag, when his eyes lit on it, under the corner of the carpet. He might have passed it over to her then, but you see, Tom, she hadn't told him to look for a bag; it was a key she wanted. Bell-boys are so stupid.
This time she followed his every step. He could not put his hand on the smallest thing without rousing her suspicion. If he hesitated, she scolded. If he hurried, she fumed. Most unjust, I call it, because he had no thought of stealing—just then.
"Come," she said at last, "we'll go down and report it at the desk."
"Hadn't I better wait here, ma'am, and look again?"
She looked sharply at him.
"No; you'd better do just as I tell you."
So down we went. And we met Mr. Moriway there. She'd telephoned him. The chambermaid was called, the housekeeper, the electrical engineer who'd been fixing bells that morning, and, as I said, a bell-boy named Nat, who told how he'd just come on duty when Mrs. Kingdon's bell rang, found her key and returned it to her, and was out of the room when she unlocked the box. That was all he knew.
"Is he telling the truth?" Moriway asked Mrs Kingdon.
"Ye—es, I guess he is; but where are the diamonds? We must have them—you know—to-day, George," she whispered. And then she turned and went upstairs, leaving Moriway to do the rest.
"There's only one thing to do, Major," he said to the proprietor. "Search 'em all and then—"
"Search me? It's an outrage!" cried the housekeeper.
"Search me if ye loike," growled McCarthy, resentfully. "Oi wasn't there but a minute; the lady herself can tell ye that."
Katie, the chambermaid, flushed painfully, and there were indignant tears in her eyes, which, I'll tell you in confidence, made a girl named Nancy uncomfortable.
But the boy Nat; knowing that bell-boys have no rights, said nothing. But he thought. He thought, Tom Dorgan, a lot of things and a long way ahead.
The peppery old Major marched us all off to his private office.
Not much, girls, it hadn't come. For suddenly the annunciator rang out.
Out of the corner of his eye, Nat looked at the bell-boy's bench. It was empty. There was to be a ball that night, and the bells were going it over all the place.
"Number Twenty-one!" shouted the clerk at the desk.
But Number Twenty-one didn't budge. His heart was beating like a hammer, and the ting—ng—ng of that bell calling him rang in his head like a song.
"Number Twenty-one!" yelled the clerk.
Oh, he's got a devil of a temper, has that clerk. Some day, Tom, when you love me very much, go up to the hotel and break his face for me.
"You.—boy—confound you, can't you hear?" he shouted.
That time he caught the Major's ear—the one that wasn't deaf. He looked from Powers' black face to the bench and then to me. And all the time the bell kept ringing like mad.
"Git!" he said to the boy. "And come back in a hurry."
Number Twenty-one got—but leisurely. It wouldn't do for a bell-boy to hurry, particularly when he had such good cause.
Oh, girls, those stone stairs, the servants' stairs at the St. James! They're fierce. I tell you, Mag, scrubbing the floors at the Cruelty ain't so bad. But this time I was jolly glad bell-boys weren't allowed in the elevator. For there were those diamonds in my pants pocket, and I must get rid of 'em before I got down to the office again. So I climbed those stairs, and every step I took my eye was searching for a hiding-place. I could have pitched the little bag out of a window, but Nancy Olden wasn't throwing diamonds to the birds, any more than Mag here is likely to cut off the braids of red hair we used to play horse with when we drove her about the Cruelty yard.
Everything bare as stone and soap could keep it.
The third flight—my knees began to tremble, and not with climbing. The call came from this floor. But I ran up a fourth just on the chance, and there in a corner was a fire hatchet strapped to the wall. Behind that hatchet Mrs. Kingdon's diamonds might lie snug till evening. I put the ends of my fingers first in the little crack to make sure the little bag wouldn't drop to the floor, and then dived into my pocket and—
And there behind me, stealthily coming up the last turn of the stairs was Mr. George Moriway!
Don't you hate a soft-walking man, Mag? That cute fellow was cuter than the old Major himself, and had followed me every inch of the way.
"There's something loose with this hatchet, sir," I said, innocently looking down at him.
"Oh, there is? What an observing little fellow you are! Never mind the hatchet; just tell me what number you were sent to answer."
"Number?" I repeated, as though I couldn't see why he wanted to know. "Why—431."
"Not much, my boy—331."
"'Scuse me, sir, ain't you mistaken?"
He looked at me for full a minute. I stared him straight in the eye. A nasty eye he's got—black and bloodshot and cold and full of suspicion. But it wavered a bit at the end.
"I may be," he said slowly, "but not about the number. Just you turn around and get down to 331."
"All right, sir. Thank you very much. It might have got me in trouble. The ladies are so particular about having the bells answered quick—"
"I guess you'll get in trouble all right," he said and stood watching—from where he stood he could watch me every inch of the way—till I got to 331, at the end of the hall, Mrs. Kingdon's door.
And the goods still on me, Tom, mind that.
My, but Mrs. Kingdon was wrathy when she saw me!
"Why did they send you?" she cried. "Why did you keep me waiting so long? I want a chambermaid. I've rung a dozen times. The whole place is crazy about that old ball to-night, and no one can get decent attention."
"Can't I do what you want, ma'am?" I just yearned to get inside that door.
"No," she snapped. "I don't want a boy to fasten my dress in the back—"
"We often do, ma'am," I said softly.
"You do? Well—"
"Yes'm." I breathed again.
"Well—it's indecent. Go down and send me a maid."
She was just closing the door in my face—and Moriway waiting for me to watch me down again.
"Well, what do you want?"
"I want to tell you that when I get down to the office they'll search me."
She looked at me amazed.
"And—and there's something in my pocket I—you wouldn't like them to find."
"What in the world—my diamonds! You did take them, you little wretch?"
She caught hold of my coat. But Lordy! I didn't want to get away a little bit. I let her pull me in, and then I backed up against the door and shut it.
"Diamonds! Oh, no, ma'am. I hope I'm not a thief. But—but it was something you dropped—this."
I fished Moriway's letter out of my pocket and handed it to her.
The poor old lady! Being a bell-boy you know just how old ladies really are. This one at evening, after her face had been massaged for an hour, and the manicure girl and the hair-dresser had gone, wasn't so bad. But to-day, with the marks of the morning's tears on her agitated face, with the blood pounding up to her temples where the hair was thin and gray—Tom Dorgan, if I'm a vain old fool like that when I'm three times as old as I am, just tie a stone around my neck and take me down and drop me into the nearest water, won't you?
"You abominable little wretch!" she sobbed. "I suppose you've told everybody in the office."
"How could I, ma'am?"
"How could you?" She looked up, the tears on her flabby, flushed cheek.
"I didn't know myself. I can't read writing—"
It was thin, but she wanted to believe it.
She could have taken me in her arms, she was so happy.
"There! there!" she patted my shoulder and gave me a dollar bill. "I was a bit hasty, Nat. It's only a—a little business matter that Mr. Moriway's attending to for me. We—we'll finish it up this afternoon. I shouldn't like Miss Kingdon to know of it, because—because I—never like to worry her about business, you know. So don't mention it when she comes to-morrow."
"No'm. Shall I fasten your dress?" I simply had to stay in that room till I could get rid of those diamonds.
With a faded old blush—the nicest thing about her I'd ever seen—she turned her back.
"It's dark to-day, ma'am," I coaxed. "Would you mind coming nearer the window?"
No, she wouldn't mind. She backed up to the corner like a gentle little lamb. While I hooked with one hand, I dropped the little bag where the carpet was still turned up, and with the toe of my shoe spread it flat again.
"You're real handy for a boy," she said, pleased.
"Thank you, ma'am," I answered, pleased myself.
Moriway was still watching me, of course, when I came out, but I ran downstairs, he following close, and when the Major got hold of me, I pulled my pockets inside out like a little man.
Moriway was there at the time. I knew he wasn't convinced. But he couldn't watch a bell-boy all day long, and the moment I was sure his eyes were off me I was ready to get those diamonds back again.
But not a call came all that afternoon from the west side of the house, except the call of those pretty, precious things snug under the carpet calling, calling to me to come and get them and drop bell-boying for good.
At last I couldn't stand it any longer. There's only one thing to do when your chance won't come to you; that is, to go to it. At about four o'clock I lit out, climbed to the second story and there—Mag, I always was the luckiest girl at the Cruelty, wasn't I? Well, there was suite 231 all torn up, plumbers and painters in there, and nothing in the world to prevent a boy's skinning through when no one was watching, out of the window and up the fire-escape.
Just outside of Mrs. Kingdon's window I lay still a minute. I had seen her and Moriway go out together—she all gay with finery, he carrying her bag. The lace curtains in 331 were blowing in the breeze. Cautiously I parted them and looked in. Everything was lovely. From where I lay I reached down and turned back the flap of the carpet. It was too easy. Those darling diamonds seemed just to leap up into my hand. In a moment I had them tucked away in my pants pocket. Then down the fire-escape and out through 231, where I told the painter I'd been to get a toy the boy in 441 had dropped out of the window.
But he paid no attention to me. No one did, though I felt those diamonds shining like an X-ray through my very body. I got downstairs and was actually outside the door, almost in the street and off to you, when a girl called me.
"Here, boy, carry this case," she said.
Do you know who it was? Oh, yes, you do, a dear old friend of mine from Philadelphia, a young lady whose taste—well, all right, I'll tell you: it was the girl with the red coat, and the hat with the chinchilla fur.
How did they look? Oh, fairly well on a blonde! But to my taste the last girl I'd seen in the coat and hat was handsomer.
Well, I carried her suit-case and followed her back into the hotel. I didn't want to a bit, though that coat still—wonder how she got it back!
She sailed up the hall and into the elevator, and I had to follow. We got of at the third story, and she brought me right to the door of 331. And then I knew this must be Evelyn.
"Mrs. Kingdon's out, Miss. She didn't expect you till to-morrow."
"Did she tell you that? Too bad she isn't at home! She said she'd be kept busy all day to-day with a business matter, and that I'd better not get here till to-morrow. But I—"
"Wanted to get here in time for the wedding?" I suggested softly.
You should have seen her jump.
"Mrs. Kingdon and Mr. Moriway."
She turned white.
"Has that man followed her here? Quick, tell me. Has she actually married him?"
"No—not yet. It's for five o'clock at the church on the corner."
"How do you know?" She turned on me, suddenly suspicious.
"Well—I do know. And I'm the only person in the house that does."
"I don't believe you."
She took out her key and opened the door, and I followed her in with the suit-case. But before I could get it set down on the floor, she had swooped on a letter that was lying in the middle of the table, had torn it open, and then with a cry had come whirling toward me.
"Where is this church? Come, help me to get to it before five and I'll—oh, you shall have anything in the world you want!"
She flew out into the hall, I after her. And first thing you know we were down in the street, around the corner, and there in front of the church was a carriage with Moriway just helping Mrs. Kingdon out.
At that cry the old lady's knees seemed to crumble under her. Her poor old painted face looked out ghastly and ashamed from her wedding finery. But Evelyn in her red coat flew to her and took her in her arms as though she was a child. And like a child, Mrs. Kingdon sobbed and made excuses and begged to be forgiven.
I looked at Moriway. It was all the pay I wanted—particularly as I had those little diamonds.
"You're just in time, Miss Kingdon," he said uneasily, "to make your mother happy by your presence at her wedding."
"I'm just in time, Mr. Moriway, to see that my mother's not made unhappy by your presence."
"Evelyn!" Mrs. Kingdon remonstrated.
"Come, Sarah." Moriway offered his arm.
The bride shook her head.
"To-morrow," she said feebly.
Moriway breathed a swear.
Miss Kingdon laughed.
"I've come to take care of you, you silly little mother, dear.... It won't be to-morrow, Mr. Moriway."
"No—not to-morrow—next week," sighed Mrs. Kingdon.
"In fact, mother's changed her mind, Mr. Moriway. She thinks it ungenerous to accept such a sacrifice from a man who might be her son—don't you, mother?"
"Well, perhaps, George—" She looked up from her daughter's shoulder—she was crying all over that precious red coat of mine—and her eyes lit on me. "Oh—you wicked boy, you told a lie!" she gasped. "You did read my letter."
I laughed; laughed out loud, it was such a bully thing to watch Moriway's face.
But that was an unlucky laugh of mine; it turned his wrath on me. He made a dive toward me. I ducked and ran. Oh, how I ran! But if he hadn't slipped on the curb he'd have had me. As he fell, though, he let out a yell.
"Stop thief! stop thief! Thief! Thief! Thief!"
May you never hear it, Mag, behind you when you've somebody else's diamonds in your pocket. It sounds—it sounds the way the bay of the hounds must sound to the hare. It seems to fly along with the air; at the same time to be behind you, at your side, even in front of you.
I heard it bellowed in a dozen different voices, and every now and then I could hear Moriway as I pelted on—that brassy, cruel bellow of his that made my heart sick.
And then all at once I heard a policeman's whistle.
That whistle was like a signal—I saw the gates of the Correction open before me. I saw your Nance, Tom, in a neat striped dress, and she was behind bars—bars—bars! There were bars everywhere before me. In fact, I felt them against my very hands, for in my mad race I had shot up a blind alley—a street that ended in a garden behind an iron fence.
I grabbed the diamonds to throw them from me, but I couldn't—I just couldn't! I jumped the fence where the gate was low, and with that whistle flying shrill and shriller after me I ran to the house.
I might have jumped from the frying-pan? Of course, I might. But it was all fire to me. To be caught at the end is at least no worse than to be caught at the beginning. Anyhow, it was my one chance, and I took it as unhesitatingly as a rat takes a leap into a trap to escape a terrier. Only—only, it was my luck that the trap wasn't set! The room was empty. I pushed open a glass door, and fell over an open trunk that stood beside it.
It bruised my knee and tore my hand, but oh!—it was nuts to me. For it was a woman's trunk filled with women's things.
A skirt! A blessed skirt! And not a striped one. I threw off the bell-boy's jacket and I got into that dear dress so quick it made my head swim.
The jacket was a bit tight but I didn't button it, and I'd just got a stiff little hat perched on my head when I heard the tramp of men on the sidewalk, and in the dusk saw the cop's buttons at the gate.
Caught? Not much. Not yet. I threw open the glass doors and walked out into the garden.
"Miss—Omar—I wonder if it would be Miss Omar?"
You bet I didn't take time to see who it was talking before I answered. Of course I was Miss Omar. I was Miss Anybody that had a right to wear skirts and be inside those blessed gates.
"Ah—h! I fancied you might be. I've been expecting you."
It was a lazy, low voice with a laugh in it, and it came from a wheeled chair, where a young man lay. Sallow he was and slim and long, and helpless—you could see that by his white hanging hands. But his voice—it was what a woman's voice would be if she were a man. It made you perk up and pretend to be somewhere near its level. It fitted his soft, black clothes and his fine, clean face. It meant silks and velvets and—
Oh, all right, Tommy Dorgan, if you're going to get jealous of a voice!
"Excuse me, Mr. Latimer." The cop came in as he spoke, Moriway following; the rest of the hounds hung about. "There's a thieving bell-boy from the hotel that's somewhere in your grounds. Can I come in and get him?"
"In here, Sergeant? Aren't you mistaken?"
"No; Mr. Moriway here saw him jump the gate not five minutes since."
"Strange, and I here all the time! I may have dozed of, though. Certainly—certainly. Look for the little rascal. What's he stolen? Diamonds! Tut! tut! Enterprising, isn't he? ... Miss Omar, won't you kindly reach the bell yonder—no, on the table; that's it—and ring for some one to take the officer about?"
Do you know what happened? An electric light strung on the tree above the table shone out, and there I stood under it with Moriway's eyes full upon me.
"Great—!" he began.
"Just ring again—" Mr. Latimer's voice came soft as silk.
My fingers trembled so, the bell clattered out of them and fell jangling to the ground. But it rang. And the light above me went out like magic. I fell back into a garden chair.
"I beg your pardon, Mr.—was Moriway the name?—I must have interrupted you, but my eyes are troubling me this evening, and I can't bear the light. Miss Omar, I thought the housekeeper had instructed you: one ring means lights, two mean I want Burnett. Here he comes... Burnett, take Sergeant Mulhill through the place. He's looking for a thief. You will accompany the Sergeant, Mr.—Moriway?"
"Thank you—no. If you don't mind, I'll wait out here."
That meant me. I moved toward the gate.
"Not at all. Have a seat. Miss Omar, sit down, won't you?" I sat down.
"Miss Omar reads to me, Mr. Moriway. I'm an invalid, as you see, dependent on the good offices of my man. I find a woman's voice a soothing change."
"It must be. Particularly if the voice is pleasing. Miss Omar—I didn't quite catch the name—"
He waited. But Miss Omar had nothing to say that minute.
"Yes, that's the name. You've got it all right," said Latimer. "An uncommon name, isn't it?"
"I don't think I ever heard it before. Do you know, Miss Omar, as I heard your voice just before we got to the gate, it sounded singularly boyish to me."
"Mr. Latimer does not find it so—do you?" I said as sweet—as sweet as I could coax. How sweet's that, Tom Dorgan?
"Not at all." A little laugh came from Latimer as though he was enjoying a joke all by himself. But Moriway jumped with satisfaction. He knew the voice all right.
"Have you a brother, may I ask?" He leaned over and looked keenly at me.
"I am an orphan," I said sadly, "with no relatives."
"A pitiful position," sneered Moriway. "You look so much like a boy I know that—"
"Do you really think so?" So awfully polite was Latimer to such a rat as Moriway. Why? Well, wait. "I can't agree with you. Do you know, I find Miss Omar very feminine. Of course, short hair—"
"Her hair is short, then!"
"Typhoid," I murmured.
"Too bad!" Moriway sneered.
"Yes," I snapped. "I thought it was at the time. My hair was very heavy and long, and I had a chance to sit in a window at Troyon's where they were advertising a hair tonic and—"
Rotten? Of course it was. I'd no business to gabble, and just because you and your new job, Mag, came to my mind at that minute, there I went putting my foot in it.
Moriway laughed. I didn't like the sound of his laugh.
"Your reader is versatile, Mr. Latimer," he said.
"Yes." Latimer smoothed the soft silk rug that lay over him. "Poverty and that sort of versatility are often bedfellows, eh?... Tell me, Mr. Moriway, these lost diamonds are yours?"
"No. They belong to a—a friend of mine, Mrs. Kingdon."
"Oh! the old lady who was married this afternoon to a young fortune-hunter!" I couldn't resist it.
Moriway jumped out of his seat.
"She was not married," he stuttered. "She—"
"Changed her mind? How sensible of her! Did she find out what a crook the fellow was? What was his name—Morrison? No—Middleway—I have heard it."
"May I ask, Miss Omar"—I didn't have to see his face; his voice told how mad with rage he was—"how you come to be acquainted with a matter that only the contracting parties could possibly know of?"
"Why, they can't have kept it very secret, the old lady and the young rascal who was after her money, for you see we both knew of it; and I wasn't the bride and you certainly weren't the groom, were you?"
An exclamation burst from him.
"Mr. Latimer," he stormed, "may I see you a moment alone?"
Phew! That meant me. But I got up just the same.
"Just keep your seat, Miss Omar." Oh, that silken voice of Latimer's! "Mr. Moriway, I have absolutely no acquaintance with you. I never saw you till to-night. I can't imagine what you may have to say to me, that my secretary—Miss Omar acts in that capacity—may not hear."
"I want to say," burst from Moriway, "that she looks the image of the boy Nat, who stole Mrs. Kingdon's diamonds, that the voice is exactly the same, that—"
"But you have said it, Mr. Moriway—quite successfully intimated it, I assure you."
"She knows of my—of Mrs. Kingdon's marriage, that that boy Nat found out about."
"And you yourself also, as Miss Omar mentioned."
"Myself? Damn it, I'm Moriway, the man she was going to marry. Why shouldn't I—"
"Ah—h!" Latimer's shoulders shook with a gentle laugh. "Well, Mr. Moriway, gentlemen don't swear in my garden. Particularly when ladies are present. Shall we say good evening? Here comes Mulhill now.... Nothing, Sergeant? Too bad the rogue escaped, but you'll catch him. They may get away from you, but they never stay long, do they? Good evening—good evening, Mr. Moriway."
They tramped on and out, Moriway's very back showing his rage. He whispered something to the Sergeant, who turned to look at me but shook his head, and the gate clanged after them.
A long sigh escaped me.
"Warm, isn't it?" Latimer leaned forward. "Now, would you mind ringing again, Miss Omar?"
I bent and groped for the bell and rang it twice.
"How quick you are to learn!" he said. "But I really wanted the light this time.... Just light up, Burnett," he called to the man, who had come out on the porch.
The electric bulb flashed out again just over my head. Latimer turned and looked at me. When I couldn't bear it any longer, I looked defiantly up at him.
"Pardon," he said, smiling; nice teeth he has and clear eyes. "I was just looking for that boyish resemblance Mr. Moriway spoke of. I hold to my first opinion—you're very feminine, Miss Omar. Will you read to me now, if you please?" He pointed to a big open book on the table beside his couch.
"I think—if you don't mind, Mr. Latimer, I'll begin the reading to-morrow." I got up to go. I was through with that garden now.
"But I do mind!"
Silken voice? Not a bit of it! I turned on him so furious I thought I didn't care what came of it—when over by the great gate-post I saw a man crouching—Moriway.
I sat down again and pulled the book farther toward the light.
We didn't learn much poetry at the Cruelty, did we, Mag? But I know some now, just the same. When I began to read I heard only one word—Moriway—Moriway—Moriway. But I must have—forgotten him after a time, and the dark garden with the light on only one spot, and the roses smelling, and Latimer lying perfectly still, his face turned toward me, for I was reading—listen, I bet I can remember that part of it if I say it slow—
Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make, And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake: For all the sin wherewith the Face of Man Is blacken'd—Man's forgiveness give—and take!
—when all at once Mr. Latimer put his hand on the book. I looked up with a start. The shadow by the gate was gone.
Yon rising Moon that looks for us again— How oft hereafter will she wax and wane; How oft hereafter rising look for us Through this same Garden—and for ONE in vain!
Latimer was saying it without the book and with a queer smile that made me feel I hadn't quite caught on.
"Thank you, that will do," he went on. "That is enough, Miss—" He stopped.
He did not say "Omar."
I looked him square in the eye—and then I had enough.
"But what in the devil did you make believe for?" I asked.
"If ever you come to lie on your back day and night, year in and year out, and know that never in your life will it be any different, you may take pleasure in a bit of excitement and—and learn to pity the under dog, who, in this case, happened to be a boy that leaped over the gate as though his heart was in his mouth. Just as you would admire the nerve of the young lady that came out of the house a few minutes after in your housekeeper's Sunday gown."
Yes, grin, Torn Dorgan. You won't grin long.
I put down the book and got up to go.
"Good night, then, and thank you, Mr. Latimer."
"Good night.... Oh, Miss—" He didn't say "Omar"—"there is a favor you might do me."
"Sure!" I wondered what it could be.
"Those diamonds. I've got to have them, you know, to send them back to their owner. I don't mind helping a—a person who helps himself to other people's things, but I can't let him get away with his plunder without being that kind of person myself. So—"
Why didn't I lie? Because there are some people you don't lie to, Tom Dorgan. Don't talk to me, you bully, I'm savage enough. To have rings and pins and ear-rings, a whole bagful of diamonds, and to haul 'em out of your pocket and lay 'em on the table there before him!
"I wonder," he said slowly, as he put them away in his own pocket, "what a man like me could do for a girl like you?"
"Reform her!" I snarled. "Show her how to get diamonds honestly."
Say, Tom, let's go in for bigger game.
Oh, Mag, Mag, for heaven's sake, let me talk to you! No, don't say anything. You must let me tell you. No—don't call the other girls. I can't bear to tell this to anybody but you.
You know how I kicked when Tom hit on Latimer's as the place we were to scuttle. And the harder I kicked the stubborner he got, till he swore he'd do the job without me if I wouldn't come along. Well—this is the rest of it.
The house, you know, stands at the end of the street. If you could walk through the garden with the iron fence you'd come right down the bluff on to the docks and out into East River. Tom and I came up to it from the docks last night. It was dark and wet, you remember. The mud was thick on my trousers—Nance Olden's a boy every time when it comes to doing business.
"We'll blow it all in, Tom," I said, as we climbed. "We'll spend a week at the Waldorf, and then, Tom Dorgan, we'll go to Paris. I want a red coat and hat with chinchilla, like that dear one I lost, and a low-neck satin gown, and a silk petticoat with lace, and a chain with rhinestones, and—"
"Just wait, Sis, till you get out of this. And keep still."
"I can't. I'm so fidgety I must talk or I'll shriek."
"Well, you'll shut up just the same. Do you hear me?"
I shut up, but my teeth chattered so that Tom stopped at the gate.
"Look here, Nance, are you going to flunk? Say it now—yes or no."
That made me mad.
"Tom Dorgan," I said, "I'll bet your own teeth chattered the first time you went in for a thing like this. I'm all right. You'll squeal before I do."
"That's more like. Here's the gate. It's locked. Come, Nance."
With a good, strong swing he boosted me over, handed me the bag of tools and sprang over himself.... He looked kind o' handsome and fine, my Tom, as he lit square and light on his feet beside me. And because he did, I put my arm in his and gave it a squeeze.
Oh, Mag, it was so funny, going through Latimer's garden! There was the garden table where I had sat reading and thinking he took me for Miss Omar. There was the bench where that beast Moriway sat sneering at me. The wheeled chair was gone. And it was so late everything looked asleep. But something was left behind that made me think I heard Latimer's slow, silken voice, and made me feel cheap—turned inside out like an empty pocket—a dirty, ragged pocket with a seam in it.
"You'll stay here, Nancy, and watch," Tom whispered. "You'll whistle once if a cop comes inside the gate, but not before he's inside the gate. Don't whistle too soon—mind that—nor too loud. I'll hear ye all right. And I'll whistle just once if—anything happens. Then you run—hear me? Run like the devil—"
"Nothing—all right." I wanted to say good-by—but you know Tom.
Mag, were you ever where you oughtn't to be at midnight—alone? No, I know you weren't. 'Twas your ugly little face and your hair that saved you—the red hair we used to guy so at the Cruelty. I can see you now—a freckle-faced, thin little devil, with the tangled hair to the very edge of your ragged skirt, yanked in that first day to the Cruelty when the neighbors complained your crying wouldn't let 'em sleep nights. The old woman had just locked you in there, hadn't she, to starve when she lit out. Mothers are queer, ain't they, when they are queer. I never remember mine.
Yes, I'll go on.
I stood it all right for a time, out there alone in the night. But I never was one to wait patiently. I can't wait—it isn't in me. But there I had to stand and just—God!—just wait.
If I hadn't waited so hard at the very first I wouldn't 'a' given out so soon. But I stood so still and listened so terribly hard that the trees began to whisper and the bushes to crack and creep. I heard things in my head and ears that weren't sounding anywhere else. And all of a sudden—tramp, tramp, tramp—I heard the cop's footsteps.
He stopped over there by the swinging electric light above the gate. I crouched down behind the iron bench.
And my coat caught a twig on a bush and its crack—ck was like a yell.
I thought I'd die. I thought I'd scream. I thought I'd run. I thought I'd faint. But I didn't—for there, asleep on a rug that some one had forgotten to take in, was the house cat. I gave her a quick slap, and she flew out and across the path like a flash.
The cop watched her, his hand on the gate, and passed on.
Mag Monahan, if Tom had come out that minute without a bean and gone home with me, I'd been so relieved I'd never have tried again. But he didn't come. Nothing happened. Nights and nights and nights went by, and the stillness began to sound again. My throat went choking mad. I began to shiver, and I reached for the rug the cat had lain on.
Funny, how some things strike you! This was Latimer's rug. I had noticed it that evening—a warm, soft, mottled green that looked like silk and fur mixed. I could see the way his long, white hands looked on it, and as I touched it I could hear his voice—
Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make, And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake: For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man Is blacken'd—Man's forgiveness give—and take!
Ever hear a man like that say a thing like that? No? Well, it's—it's different. It's as if the river had spoken—or a tree—it's so—it's so different.
That saved me—that verse that I remembered. I said it over and over and over again to myself. I fitted it to the ferry whistles on the bay—to the cop's steps as they passed again—to the roar of the L-train and the jangling of the surface cars.
And right in the middle of it—every drop of blood in my body seemed to leak out of me, and then come rushing back to my head—I heard Tom's whistle.
Oh, it's easy to say "run," and I really meant it when I promised Tom. But you see I hadn't heard that whistle then. When it came, it changed everything. It set the devil in me loose. I felt as if the world was tearing something of mine away from me. Stand for it? Not Nance Olden.
I did run—but it was toward the house. That whistle may have meant "Go!" To me it yelled "Come!"
I got in through the window Tom had left open. The place was still quiet. Nobody inside had heard that whistle so far as I could tell.
I crept along—the carpets were thick and soft and silky as the rug I'd had my hands buried in to keep 'em warm.
Along a long hall and through a great room, whose walls were thick with books, I was making for a light I could see at the back of the house. That's where Tom Dorgan must be and where I must be to find out—to know.
With my hands out in front of me I hurried, but softly, and just as I had reached the portieres below which the light streamed, my arms closed about a thing—cold as marble, naked—I thought it was a dead body upright there, and with a cry, I pitched forward through the curtains into the lighted room.
You recognize it? Yep, it was Tom. Big Tom Dorgan, at the foot of Latimer's bed, his hands above his head, and Latimer's gun aimed right at his heart.
Think of the pluck of that cripple, will you?
His eyes turned on me for just a second, and then fixed themselves again on Tom. But his voice went straight at me, all right.
"You are something of a thankless devil, I must admit, Miss—Omar," he said.
I didn't say anything. You don't say things in answer to things like that. You feel 'em.
Ashamed? What do I care for a man with a voice like that! ... But you should have heard how Tom's growl sounded after it.
"Why the hell didn't you light out?"
"I couldn't, Tom. I just—couldn't," I sobbed.
"There seems invariably to be a misunderstanding of signals where Miss Omar is concerned. Also a disposition to use strong language in the lady's presence. Don't you, young man!"
"Don't you call me Miss Omar!" I blazed, stamping my foot.
He laughed a contemptuous laugh.
I could have killed him then, I hated him so. At least, I thought I could; but just then Tom sent a spark out of the corner of his eye to me that meant—it meant—
You know, Mag, what it would have meant to Latimer if I had done what Tom's eye said.
I thought at first I had done it—it passed through my mind so quick; the sweet words I'd say—the move I'd make—the quick knocking-up of the pistol, and then—
It was that—that sight of Tom, big Tom Dorgan, with rage in his heart and death in his hand, leaping on that cripple's body—it made me sick!
I stood there gasping—stood a moment too long. For the curtains were pushed aside, and Burnett, Latimer's servant, and the cop came in.
Tom didn't fight; he's no fool to waste himself.
But I—well, never mind about me. I caught a glimpse of a crazy white face on a boy's body in the great glass opposite and heard my own voice break into something I'd never heard before.
Tom stood at last with the handcuffs on.
"It's your own fault, you damned little chump!" he said to me, as they went out.
You lie, Mag Monahan, he's no such thing! He may be a hard man to live with, but he's mine—my Tom—my Tom!
Well, do you know, it's funny about him. He'd told the cop that I'd peached—peached on Tom! So they went off without me.
That's what he said himself when we were alone.
"In order to insure for myself another of your most interesting visits, I suppose, Miss—not Omar? All right.... Tell me, can I do nothing for you? Aren't you sick of this sort of life?"
"Get Tom out of jail."
He shook his head.
"I'm too good a friend of yours to do you such a turn."
"I don't want any friend that isn't Tom's."
He threw the pistol from him and pulled himself up, till he sat looking at me.
"In heaven's name, what can you see in a fellow like that?"
"What's that to you?" I turned to go.
"To me? Things of that sort are nothing, of course, to me—me, that 'luckless Pot He marr'd in making.' But, tell me—can a girl like you tell the truth? What made you hesitate when that fellow told you with his eyes to murder me?"
"How did you know?"
"How? The glass. See over yonder. I could watch every expression on both your faces. What was it—what was it, child, that made you—oh, if you owe me a single heart-beat of gratitude, tell me the truth!"
"You've said it yourself."
"That line we read the other night about 'the luckless Pot'."
His face went gray and he fell back on his pillows. The strenuous life we'd been leading him, Tom and I, was too much for him, I guess.
Do you know, I really felt sorry I'd said it. But he is a cripple. Did he expect me to say he was big and strong and dashing—like Tom?
I left him there and got out and away. But do you know what I saw, Mag, beside his bed, just as Burnett came to put me out?
My old blue coat with the buttons—the bell-boy's coat I'd left in the housekeeper's room when I borrowed her Sunday rig. The coat was hanging over a chair, and right by it, on a table, was that big book with a picture covering every page, still open at that verse about
Through this same Garden—and for ONE in vain!
No—no—no! No more whining from Nance Olden. Listen to what I've got to tell you, Mag, listen!
You know where I was coming from yesterday when I passed Troyon's window and grinned up at you, sitting there, framed in bottles of hair tonic, with all that red wig of yours streaming about you?
Yep, from that little, rat-eyed lawyer's office. I was glum as mud. I felt as though Tom and myself were both flies caught by the leg—he by the law and I by the lawyer—in a sticky mess; and the more we flapped our wings and struggled and pulled, the more we hurt and tore ourselves, and the sooner we'd have to give it up.
Oh, that wizen-faced little lawyer that lives on the Tom Dorgans and the Nance Oldens, who don't know which way to turn to get the money! He looks at me out of his red little eyes and measures in dollars what I'd do for Tom. And then he sets his price a notch higher than that.
When I passed the big department store, next to Troyon's, I was thinking of this, and I turned in there, just aching for some of the boodle that flaunts itself in a poor girl's face when she's desperate, from every silk and satin rag, from every lace and jewel in the place.
The funny part of it is that I didn't want it for myself, but for Tom. 'Pon my soul, Mag, though I would have filled my arms with everything I saw, I wouldn't have put on one thing of all the duds; just hiked off to soak 'em and pay the lawyer. I might have been as old and ugly and rich as the yellow-skinned woman opposite me, who was turning over laces on the middle counter, for all these things meant to me—with Tom in jail.
I was thinking this as I looked at her, when all at once I saw—
You know it takes a pretty quick touch, sharp eyes and good nerve to get away with the goods in a big shop like that. Or it takes something altogether different. It was the different way she did it. She took up the piece of lace—it was a big collar, fine like a cobweb picture in threads,—you can guess what it must have been worth if that old sinner, Mother Douty, gave me fifteen dollars for it. She took it up in a quick, eager way, as though she'd found just what she wanted. Then she took out a lace sample from her gold-linked purse and held them both up close to her blinky little eyes, looking at it through a gold lorgnette with emeralds in the handle; pulling it and feeling it with the air of one who knows a fine thing when she sees it, and just what makes it fine. Then she rustled off to the door to examine it closely in the light, and—Mag Monahan, she walked right out with it!
At least, she'd got beyond the inner doors when I tapped her on the shoulder.
"I beg pardon, madam." My best style, Mag.
She pulled herself up haughtily and blinked at me. She was a little, thin mummy of a woman, just wrapped away in silks and velvets, but on the inside of that nervous, little old body of hers there must have been some spring of good material that wasn't all unwound yet.
She stood blinking at me without a word.
"That lace. You haven't paid for it," I said.
Her short-sighted eyes fell from my face to the collar she held in her hand. Her yellow face grew ghastly.
"Oh, mercy! You—you don't—"
"I am a detective for the store, and—"
"Sh! We don't like any noise made about these things, and you yourself wouldn't enjoy—"
"Do you know who I am, young woman?" She fumbled in her satchel and passed a card to me.
Glory be! Guess, Mag. Oh, you'd never guess, you dear old Mag! Besides, you haven't got the acquaintance in high society that Nance Olden can boast.
Mrs. MILLS D. VAN WAGENEN
Oh—Mag! Shame on you not to know the name even of the Bishop of the great state of—yes, the lean, short little Bishop with a little white beard, and the softest eye and the softest heart and—my very own Bishop, Nancy Olden's Bishop. And this was his wife.
Tut—tut, Mag! Of course not. A bishop's wife may be a kleptomaniac; it's only Cruelty girls that really steal from stores.
"I've met the Bishop, Mrs. Van Wagenen." I didn't say how—she wouldn't appreciate that story.
"And he was once very kind to me. But he would be the first to tell me to do my duty now. I'll do it as quietly as I can for his sake. But you must come with me or I must arrest—"
She put up a shaking hand. Dear little old guy!
"Don't—don't say it! It's all a mistake, which can be rectified in a moment. I've been trying to match this piece of lace for years. I got it at Malta when—when Mills and I—on our honeymoon. When I saw it there on the counter I was so delighted—I never thought—I intended taking it to the light to be sure the pattern was the same, my eyesight is so wretched—and when you spoke to me it was the first inkling I had that I had really taken it without paying! You certainly understand," she pleaded in agitation. "I have no need to steal—you must know that—oh, that I wouldn't—that—I couldn't—If you will just let me pay you—"
Here now, Mag Monahan, don't you get to sneering. She was straight—right on the level, all right. You couldn't listen to that cracked little voice of hers a minute without being sure of it.
I was just about to permit her graciously to pay me the money,—for my friend? the dear Bishop's sake, of course,—when a big floor-walker happened to catch sight of us.
"If you'll come with me, Mrs. Van Wagenen, to a dressing-room, I'll arrange your collar for you," I said very loud. And then, in a whisper: "Of course, I understand, but the thing may look different to other people. And that big floor-walker there gets a commission from the newspapers every time he tells them—"
She gave a squawk for all the world like a dried-up little hen scuttling out of a yellow dog's way, and we took the elevator to the second floor.
The minute I closed the door of the little fitting-room she held out the lace to me.
"I have changed my mind," she said, "and shall give you the lace back. I will not keep it. I can not—I can not bear the sight of it. It terrifies me and shocks me. I can take no pleasure in it. Besides—besides, it will be discipline for me to do without it now that I have found it after all these years. Every day I shall look at the place in my collection which it would have occupied, and I shall say to myself: 'Maria Van Wagenen, take warning. See to what terrible straits a worldly passion may bring one; what unconscious greed may do!' I shall give the money to Mills for charity and I will never—never fill that place in my collection."
"What good will that do?" I asked, puzzled, while I folded the collar up into a very small package.
"You mean that I ought to submit to the exposure—that I deserve the lesson and the punishment—not for stealing, but for being absorbed in worldly things. Perhaps you are right. It certainly shows that you have at some time been under Mills' spiritual care, my dear. I wonder if he would insist—whether I ought—yes, I suppose he would. Oh!"
A saleswoman's head was thrust in the door. "Excuse me," she said, "I thought the room was empty."
"We've just finished trying on," I said sweetly.
"Don't go!" The Bishop's wife turned to her, her little fluttering hands held out appealingly. "And do not misunderstand me. The thing may seem wrong in your eyes, as this young woman says, but if you will listen patiently to my explanations I am sure you will see that it was a mere eager over-sight—the fault of absent-mindedness, hardly the sin of covetousness, and surely not a crime. I am making this confession—"
The tender conscience of the dear, blameless little soul! She was actually giving herself away. Worse—she was giving me away, too. But I couldn't stand that. I saw the saleswoman's puzzled face—she was a tall woman with a big bust, big hips and the big head all right, and she wore her long-train black rig for all the world like a Cruelty girl who had stolen the matron's skirt to "play lady" in. I got behind little Mrs. Bishop, and looking out over her head, I tapped my forehead significantly.
The saleswoman tumbled. That was all right. But so did the Bishop's wife; for she turned and caught me at it.
"You shall not save me from myself and what I deserve," she cried. "I am perfectly sane and you know it, and you are doing me no favor in trying to create the contrary impression. I demand an—"
"An interview with the manager," I interrupted. "I'm sure Mrs. Van Wagenen can see the manager. Just go with the lady, Mrs. Van Wagenen, and I'll follow with the goods."
She did it meek as a lamb, talking all the time, but never beginning at the beginning—luckily for me. So that I had time to slip from one dressing-room to the next, with the lace up my sleeve, out to the elevator, and down into the street.
D'ye know what heaven must be, Mag? A place where you always get away with the swag, and where it's always just the minute after you've made a killing.
Cocky? Well, I should say I was. I was drunk enough with success to take big chances. And just while I was wishing for something really big to tackle, it came along in the shape of that big floor-walker!
He was without a hat, and his eyes looked fifty ways at once. But you've got to look fifty-one if you want to catch Nance Olden. I ran up the stairs of the first flat-house and rang the bell. And as I sailed up in the elevator I saw the big floor-walker hurry past; he'd lost the scent.
The boy let me off at the top floor, and after the elevator had gone down I walked up to the roof. It was fine 'way up there, so still and high, with the lights coming out down in the town. And I took out my pretty lace collar and put it around my neck, wishing I could keep it and wishing that I had, at least, a glass to see myself in it just once, when my eye caught the window of the next house.
It would do for a mirror all right, for the dark green shade was down. But at sight of the shade blowing in the wind I forgot all about the collar.
It's this way, Mag, when they press you too far; and that little rat of a lawyer had got me most to the wall. I looked at the window, measuring the little climb it would be for me to get to it,—the house next door was just one story higher than the one where I was, so its top story was on a level with the roof nearly where I stood. And I made up my—mind to get what would let Tom off easy, or break into jail myself.
And so I didn't care much what I might fall into through that window. And perhaps because I didn't care, I slipped into a dark hall, and not a thing stirred; not a footstep creaked. I felt like the Princess—Princess Nancy Olden—come to wake the Sleeping Beauty; some dude it'd be that would have curly hair like Tom Dorgan's, and would wear clothes like my friend Latimer's, over in Brooklyn.
Can you see me there, standing on one leg like a stork, ready to lie or to fly at the first sound?
Well, the first sound didn't come. Neither did the second. In fact, none of 'em came unless I made 'em myself.
Softly as Molly goes when the baby's just dropped off to sleep, I walked toward an open door. It was a parlor, smelly with tobacco, and with lots of papers and books around. And nary a he-beauty—nor any other kind.
I tried the door of a room next to it. A bedroom. But no Beauty.
Silly! Don't you tumble yet? It was a bachelor's apartment, and the Bachelor Beauty was out, and Princess Nancy had the place all to herself.
I suppose I really ought to have left my card—or he wouldn't know who had waked him—but I hadn't intended to go calling when I left home. So I thought I'd look for one of his as a souvenir—and anything else of his I could make use of.
There were shirts I'd liked for Tom, dandy colored ones, and suits with checks in 'em and without. But I wanted something easy and small and flat, made of crackly printed yellow or green paper, with numbers on it.
How did I know he had anything like that? Why, Mag, Mag Monahan, one would think you belonged to the Bishop's set, you're so simple!
I had to turn on the electric light after a bit—it got so dark. And I don't like light in other people's houses when they're not at home, and neither am I. But there was nothing in the bedroom except some pearl studs. I got those and then went back to the parlor.
The desk caught my eye. Oh, Mag, it had the loveliest pictures on it—pictures of swell actresses and dancers. It was mahogany, with lots of little drawers and two curvy side boxes. I pulled open all the drawers. They were full of papers all right, but they were printed, cut from newspapers, and all about theaters.
"You can't feed things like this, Nance, to that shark of a lawyer," I said to myself, pushing the box on the side impatiently.
And then I giggled outright.
Just 'cause—I had pushed that side box till it swung aside on hinges I didn't know about, and there, in a little secret nest, was a pile of those same crisp, crinkly paper things I'd been looking for. 20—40—60—110—160—210—260—310!
Three hundred and ten dollars, Mag Monahan. Three hundred and ten, and Nance Olden!
"Glory be!" I whispered.
"Glory be damned!" I heard behind me.
I turned. The bills just leaked out of my hand on to the floor.
The Bachelor Beauty had come home, Mag, and nabbed the poor Princess, instead of her catching him napping.
He wasn't a beauty either—a big, stout fellow with a black mustache. His hand on my shoulder held me tight, but the look in his eyes behind his glasses held me tighter. I threw out my arms over the desk and hid my face.
Caught! Nancy Olden, with her hands dripping, and not a lie in her smart mouth!
He picked up the bills I had dropped, counted them and put them in his pocket. Then he unhooked a telephone and lifted the stand from his desk.
"Hello! Spring 3100—please. Hello! Chief's office? This is Obermuller, Standard Theater. I want an officer to take charge of a thief I've caught in my apartments here at the Bronsonia. Yes, right on the corner. Hold him till you come? Well—rather!"
He put down the 'phone. I pulled the pearl studs out of my pocket.
"You might as well take these, too," I said.
"So thoughtful of you, seeing that you'd be searched! But I'll take 'em, anyway. You intended them for—Him? You didn't get anything else?"
I shook my head as I lay there.
"Hum!" It was half a laugh, and half a sneer. I hated him for it, as he sat leaning back on the back legs of his chair, his thumbs in his arm-holes. I felt his eyes—those smart, keen eyes, burning into my miserable head. I thought of the lawyer and the deal he'd give poor Tom, and all at once—
You'd have sniffled yourself, Mag Monahan. There I was—caught. The cop'd be after me in five minutes. With Tom jugged, and me in stripes—it wasn't very jolly, and I lost my nerve.
"Ashamed—huh?" he said lightly.
I nodded. I was ashamed.
"Pity you didn't get ashamed before you broke in here."
"What the devil was there to be ashamed of?"
The sting in his voice had cured me. I never was a weeper. I sat up, my face blazing, and stared at him. He'd got me to hand over to the cop, but he hadn't got me to sneer at.
I saw by the look he gave me, that he hadn't really seen me till then.
"Well," he answered, "what the devil is there to be ashamed of now?"
"Of being caught—that's what."
He tilted back again on his chair and laughed softly.
"Then you're not ashamed of your profession?"