By George Barr McCutcheon
I When Jane Goes Driving II The Cables III James Bansemer IV The Foundling V The Bansemer Crash VI In Sight of the Fangs VII Mrs. Cable Entertains VIII The Telegram IX The Proposal X The Four Initials XI An Evening with Droom XII James Bansemer Calls XIII Jane Sees with New Eyes XIV The Canker XV The Tragedy of the Sea Wall XVI Hours of Terror XVII David Cable's Debts XVIII The Visit of Harbert XIX The Crash XX Father and Son XXI In the Philippines XXII The Chase of Pilar XXIII The Fight in the Convent XXIV Teresa Velasquez XXV The Beautiful Nurse XXVI The Separation of Hearts XXVII "If They Don't Kill You" XXVIII Homeward Bound XXIX The Wreckage XXX The Drink of Gall XXXI The Transforming of Droom XXXII Elias Droom's Dinner Party XXXIII Droom Triumphs over Death XXXIV To-morrow
WHEN JANE GOES DRIVING
It was a bright, clear afternoon in the late fall that pretty Miss Cable drove up in her trap and waited at the curb for her father to come forth from his office in one of Chicago's tallest buildings. The crisp, caressing wind that came up the street from the lake put the pink into her smooth cheeks, but it did not disturb the brown hair that crowned her head. Well-groomed and graceful, she sat straight and sure upon the box, her gloved hand grasping the yellow reins firmly and confidently. Miss Cable looked neither to right nor to left, but at the tips of her thoroughbred's ears. Slender and tall and very aristocratic she appeared, her profile alone visible to the passers-by.
After a very few moments, waiting in her trap, the smart young woman became impatient. A severe, little pucker settled upon her brow, and not once, but many times her eyes turned to the broad entrance across the sidewalk. She had telephoned to her father earlier in the afternoon; and he had promised faithfully to be ready at four o'clock for a spin up the drive behind Spartan. At three minutes past four the pucker made its first appearance; and now, several minutes later, it was quite distressing. Never before had he kept her waiting like this. She was conscious of the fact that at least a hundred men had stared at her in the longest ten minutes she had ever known. From the bottom of a very hot heart she was beginning to resent this scrutiny, when a tall young fellow swung around a near-by corner, and came up with a smile so full of delight, that the dainty pucker left her brow, as the shadow flees from the sunshine. His hat was off and poised gallantly above his head, his right hand reaching up to clasp the warm, little tan one outstretched to meet it.
"I knew it was you long before I saw you," said he warmly.
"Truly? How interesting!" she responded, with equal warmth. "Something psychic in the atmosphere today?"
"Oh, no," he said, reluctantly releasing her hand. "I can't see through these huge buildings, you know—-it's impossible to look over their tops—I simply knew you were here, that's all."
"You're romantic, even though you are a bit silly," she cried gaily. "Pray, how could you know?"
"Simplest thing in the world. Rigby told me he had seen you, and that you seemed to be in a great rage. He dared me to venture into your presence, and—that's why I'm here."
"What a hopelessly, commonplace explanation! Why did you not leave me to think that there was really something psychic about it? Logic is so discouraging to one's conceit. I'm in a very disagreeable humour to-day," she said, in fine despair.
"I don't believe it," he disputed graciously.
"But I am," she insisted, smiling brightly. His heart was leaping high—so high, that it filled his eyes. "Everything has gone wrong with me to-day. It's pretty trying to have to wait in front of a big office building for fifteen minutes. Every instant, I expect a policeman to come up and order me to move on. Don't they arrest people for blocking the street?"
"Yes, and put them in awful, rat-swarming dungeons over in Dearborn Avenue. Poor Mr. Cable, he should be made to suffer severely for his wretched conduct. The idea of—"
"Don't you dare to say anything mean about dad," she warned.
"But he's the cause of all the trouble—he's never done anything to make you happy, or—"
"Stop!—I take it all back—I'm in a perfectly adorable humour. It was dreadfully mean of me to be half-angry with him, wasn't it? He's in there, now, working his dear old brain to pieces, and I'm out here with no brain at all," she said ruefully.
To the ingenuous youth, such an appeal to his gallantry was well-nigh irresistible, and for a moment it seemed as if he would yield to the temptation to essay a brilliant contradiction; but his wits came to his rescue, for quickly realising that not only were the frowning rocks of offence to be avoided, but likewise the danger of floundering helplessly about in the inviting quicksands of inanity, he preserved silence—wise young man that he was, and trusted to his eyes to express an eloquent refutation. At last, however, something seemed to occur to him. A smile broke on his face.
"You had a stupid time last night?" he hazarded.
"What makes you think so?"
"I know who took you in to dinner."
The eyes of the girl narrowed slightly at the corners.
"Did he tell you?"
"No, I have neither seen nor heard from anyone present." She opened her eyes wide, now.
"Well, Mr. S. Holmes, who was it?"
"That imbecile, Medford."
Miss Cable sat up very straight in the trap; her little chin went up in the air; she even went so far as to make a pretence of curbing the impatience of her horse.
"Mr. Medford was most entertaining—he was the life of the dinner," she returned somewhat severely.
"He's a professional!"
"An actor!" she cried incredulously.
"No, a professional diner-out. Wasn't that rich young Jackson there?"
"Why, yes; but do tell me how you knew?" The girl was softening a little, her curiosity aroused.
"Of course I will," he said boyishly, at once pleased with himself and his sympathetic audience. "About five-thirty I happened to be in the club. Medford was there, and as usual catering to Jackson, when the latter was called to the 'phone. Naturally, I put two and two together." He paused to more thoroughly enjoy the look of utter mystification that hovered on the girl's countenance. It was very apparent that this method of deduction through addition was unsatisfying. "What Jackson said to Medford, on his return," the young man continued, "I did not hear; but from the expression on the listener's face I could have wagered that an invitation had been extended and accepted. Oh, we boys have got it down fine! Garrison is—-"
"And who is Garrison?"
"Garrison is the head door man at the club. It's positively amazing the number of telephone calls he receives every afternoon from well-known society women!"
"What about? And what's that got to do with Mr. Medford taking me in to dinner?"
"Just this: Suppose Mrs. Rowden..."
"Mrs. Rowden!" The girl was nonplussed.
"Yes—wants to find out who's in the club? She 'phones Garrison. Instantly, after ascertaining which set—younger or older is wanted, from a small card upon which he has written a few but choice names of club members, he submits a name to her."
"Really, you don't mean to tell me that such a thing is actually done?" exclaimed Miss Cable, who as yet was socially so unsophisticated as to be horrified; "you're joking, of course!"
"But nine time out of ten," ignoring the interruption; "it is met with: 'Don't want him!' Another: 'Makes a bad combination!' A third: 'Oh, no, my dear, not a dollar to his name—hopelessly ineligible!' This last exclamation though intended solely for the visitor at her home, elicits from Garrison a low chuckle of approval of the speaker's discrimination; and presently, he hears: 'Goodness me, Garrison, there must be someone else!' Then, to her delights she is informed that Mr. Jackson has just come in; and he is requested to come to the 'phone, Garrison being dismissed with thanks and the expectation of seeing her butler in the morning."
"How perfectly delicious!" came from the girl. "I can almost hear Mrs. Rowden telling Jackson that he will be the dearest boy in the world if he will dine with her."
"And bring someone with him, as she is one man short," laughed Graydon, as he wound up lightly; "and here is where the professional comes in. We're all onto Medford! Why, Garrison has half a dozen requests a night—six times five—thirty dollars. Not bad—but then the man's a 'who's who' that never makes mistakes. I won't be positive that he does not draw pay from both ends. For, men like Medford, outside of the club, probably tip him to give them the preference. It would be good business."
There was so much self-satisfaction in the speaker's manner of uttering these last words, that it would not have required the wisdom of one older than Miss Cable to detect that he was thoroughly enjoying his pose of man of the world. He was indeed young! For, he had yet to learn that not to disillusion the girl, but to conform as much as possible to her ideals, was the surest way to win her favour; and his vanity surely would have received a blow had not David Cable at that moment come out of the doorway across the sidewalk, pausing for a moment to converse with the man who accompanied him. The girl's face lighted with pleasure and relief; but the young man regarding uneasily the countenance of the General Manager of the Pacific, Lakes & Atlantic R.R. Company, saw that he was white, tired and drawn. It was not the keen, alert expression that had been the admiration of everyone; something vital seemed to be missing, although he could not have told what it was. A flame seemed to have died somewhere in his face, leaving behind a faint suggestion of ashes; and through the young man's brain there flashed the remark of his fair companion: 'He's in there now, working his dear, old brain to pieces.'
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, Jane," said Cable, crossing to the curb. "Hello, Graydon; how are you?" His voice was sharp, crisp, and louder than the occasion seemed to demand, but it was natural with him. Years of life in an engine cab do not serve to mellow the tone of the human voice, and the habit is too strong to be overcome. There was no polish to the tones as they issued from David Cable's lips. He spoke with more than ordinary regard for the Queen's English, but it was because he never had neglected it. It was characteristic of the man to do a thing as nearly right as he knew how in the beginning, and to do it. the same way until a better method presented itself.
"Very well, thank you, Mr. Cable, except that Jane has been abusing me because you were not here to—-"
"Don't you believe a word he says, dad," she cried.
"Oh, if the truth isn't in me, I'll subside," laughed Graydon. "Nevertheless, you've kept her waiting, and it's only reasonable that she should abuse somebody."
"I am glad you were here to receive it; it saves my grey hairs."
"Rubbish!" was Miss Cable's simple comment, as her father took his place beside her.
"Oh, please drive on, Jane," said the young man, his admiring eyes on the girl who grasped the reins afresh and straightened like a soldier for inspection. "I must run around to the University Club and watch the score of the Yale-Harvard game at Cambridge. It looks like Harvard, hang it all! Great game, they say—-"
"There he goes on football. We must be off, or it will be dark before we get away from him. Good-bye!" cried Miss Cable.
"How's your father, Gray? He wasn't feeling the best in the world, yesterday," said Cable, tucking in the robe.
"A case of liver, Mr. Cable; he's all right to-day. Good-bye!"
As Jane and her father whirled away, the latter gave utterance to a remark that brought a new brightness to her eyes and a proud throbbing to her heart; but he did not observe the effect.
"Bright, clever chap—that Graydon Bansemer," he said comfortably.
The General Manager of the Pacific, Lakes & Atlantic Railroad System had had a hard struggle of it. He who begins his career with a shovel in a locomotive cab usually has something of that sort to look back upon. There are no roses along the pathway he has traversed. In the end, perhaps, he wonders if it has been worth while. David Cable was a General Manager; he had been a fireman. It had required twenty-five years of hard work on his part to break through the chrysalis. Packed away in a chest upstairs in his house there was a grimy, greasy, unwholesome suit of once-blue overalls. The garments were just as old as his railroad career, for he had worn them on his first trip with the shovel. When his wife implored him to throw away the "detestable things," he said, with characteristic humour, that he thought he would keep them for a rainy day. It was much simpler to go from General Manager to fireman than vice versa, and it might be that he would need the suit again. It pleased him to hear his wife sniff contemptuously.
David Cable had been a wayward, venturesome youth. His father and mother had built their hopes high with him as a foundation, and he had proved a decidedly insecure basis; for one night, in the winter of 1863, he stole away from his home in New York; before spring he was fighting in the far Southland, a boy of sixteen carrying a musket in the service of his country.
At the close of the Civil War Private Cable, barely eighteen, returned to his home only to find that death had destroyed its happiness: his father had died, leaving his widowed mother a dependant upon him. It was then, philosophically, he realised that labour alone could win for him; and he stuck to it with rigid integrity. In turn, he became brakeman and fireman; finally his determination and faithfulness won him a fireman's place on one of the fast New York Central "runs." If ever he was dissatisfied with the work, no one was the wiser.
Railroading in those days was not what it is in these advanced times. Then, it meant that one was possessed of all the evil habits that fall to the lot of man. David Cable was more or less contaminated by contact with his rough, ribald companions of the rail, and he glided moderately into the bad habits of his kind. He drank and "gamboled" with the rest of the boys; but by nature not being vicious and low, the influences were not hopelessly deadening to the better qualities of his character. To his mother, he was always the strong, good-hearted, manly boy, better than all the other sons in the world. She believed in him; he worshipped her; and it was not until he was well up in the twenties that he stopped to think that she was not the only good woman in the world who deserved respect.
Up in Albany lived the Widow Coleman and her two pretty daughters. Mrs. Coleman's husband died on the battlefield, and she, like many women in the North and the South, after years of moderate prosperity, was compelled to support herself and her family. She had been a pretty woman, and one readily could see where her daughters got their personal attractiveness. Not many doors from the boisterous little eating-house in which the railroad men snatched their meals as they went through, the widow opened a book and newsstand. Her home was on the floor above the stand, and it was there she brought her little girls to womanhood. Good-looking, harum-scarum Dave Cable saw Frances Coleman one evening as he dropped in to purchase a newspaper. It was at the end of June, in 1876, and the country was in the throes of excitement over the first news of the Custer massacre on the Little Big Horn River.
Cable was deeply interested, for he had seen Custer fighting at the front in the sixties. Frances Coleman, the prettiest girl he had ever seen, sold him the newspaper. After that, he seldom went through Albany without visiting the little book shop.
Tempestuous, even arrogant in love, Cable, once convinced that he cared for her, lost no time in claiming her, whether or no. In less than three months after the Custer massacre they were married.
Defeated rivals unanimously and enviously observed that the handsomest fireman on the road had conquered the mo&t outrageous little coquette between New York and Buffalo. As a matter of fact, she had loved him from the start; the others served as thorns with which she delightedly pricked his heart into subjection.
The young husband settled down, renounced all of his undesirable habits and became a new man with such surprising suddenness that his friends marvelled and—derided. A year of happiness followed. He grew accustomed to her frivolous ways, overlooked her merry whimsicalities and gave her the "full length of a free rope," as he called it. He was contented and consequently careless. She chafed under the indifference, and in her resentment believed the worst of him. Turmoil succeeded peace and contentment, and in the end, David Cable, driven to distraction, weakly abandoned the domestic battlefield and fled to the Far West, giving up home, good wages, and all for the sake of freedom, such as it was. He ignored her letters and entreaties, but in all those months that he was away from her he never ceased to regret the impulse that had defeated him. Nevertheless, he could not make up his mind to go back and resume the life of torture her jealousy had begotten.
Then, the unexpected happened. A letter was received containing the command to come home and care for his wife and baby. At once, David Cable called a halt in his demoralising career and saw the situation plainly. He forgot that she had "nagged" him to the point where endurance rebelled; he forgot everything but the fact that he cared for her in spite of all. Sobered and conscience-stricken, he knew only that she was alone and toiling; that she had suffered uncomplainingly until the babe was some months old before appealing to him for help. In abject humiliation, he hastened back to New York, reproaching himself every mile of the way. Had he but known the true situation, he would have been spared the pangs of remorse, and this narrative never would have been written.
In the City of New York there was practising, at that time, a lawyer by the name of Bansemer. His office, on the topmost floor of a dingy building in the lower section of the city, was not inviting. On leaving the elevator, one wound about through narrow halls and finally peered, with more or less uncertainty and misgiving, at the half-obliterated sign which said that James Bansemer held forth on the other side of the glass panel.
It was whispered in certain circles and openly avowed in others that Bansemer's business was not the kind which elevates the law; in plain words, his methods were construed to debase the good and honest statutes of the land. Once inside the door of his office—and a heavy spring always closed it behind one—there was quick evidence that the lawyer lamentably disregarded the virtues of prosperity, no matter how they had been courted and won. Although his transactions in and out of the courts of that great city bore the mark of dishonour, he was known to have made money during the ten years of his career as a member of the bar. Possibly he kept his office shabby and unclean that it might be in touch with the transactions which had their morbid birth inside the grimy walls. There was no spot or corner in the two small rooms that comprised his "chambers" to which he could point with pride. The floors were littered with papers; the walls were greasy and bedecked with malodorous notations, documents and pictures; the windows were smoky and useless; the clerk's desk bore every suggestion of dissoluteness.
But little less appalling to one's aesthetic sense was the clerk himself. Squatting behind his wretched desk, Elias Droom peered across the litter of papers and books with snaky but polite eyes, almost as inviting as the spider who, with wily but insidious decorum, draws the guileless into his web.
If one passed muster in the estimation of the incomprehensible Droom, he was permitted, in due season, to pass through a second oppressive-looking door and into the private office of Mr. James Bansemer, attorney-at-law and solicitor. It may be remarked at this early stage that, no matter how long or how well one may have known Droom, one seldom lingered to engage in commonplaces with him. His was the most repellent personality imaginable. When he smiled, one was conscious of a shock to the nervous system; when he so far forgot himself as to laugh aloud, there was a distinct illustration of the word "crunching"; when he spoke, one was almost sorry that he had ears.
Bansemer knew but little of this freakish individual's history; no one else had the temerity to inquire into his past—or to separate it from his future, for that matter. Once, Bansemer ironically asked him why he had never married. It was a full minute before the other lifted his eyes from the sheet of legal cap, and by that time he was in full control of his passion.
"Look at me! Would any woman marry a thing like me?"
This was said with such terrible earnestness that Bansemer took care never to broach the subject again. He saw that Droom's heart was not all steel and brass.
Droom v/as middle-aged. His lank body and cadaverous face were constructed on principles not generally accredited to nature as it applies to men. When erect, his body swayed as if it were a stubborn reed determined to maintain its dignity in the face of the wind; he did not walk, he glided. His long square chin, rarely clean-shaven, protruded far beyond its natural orbit; indeed, the attitude of the chin gave one an insight to the greedy character of the man. At first glance, one felt that Droom was reaching forth with his lower jaw to give greeting with his teeth, instead of his hand.
His neck was long and thin, and his turndown collar was at least two sizes too large. The nose was hooked and of abnormal length, the tip coming well down over the short, upper lip and broad mouth. His eyes were light blue, and so intense that he was never known to blink the lashes. Topping them were deep, wavering, black eyebrows that met above the nose, forming an ominous, cloudy line across the base of his thin, high forehead. The crown of his head, covered by long, scant strands of black hair, was of the type known as "retreating and pointed." The forehead ran upward and back from the brows almost to a point, and down from the pinnacle hung the veil of hair, just as if he had draped it there with the same care he might have used in placing his best hat upon a peg. His back was stooped, and the high, narrow shoulders were hunched forward eagerly. Long arms and ridiculously thin legs, with big hands and feet, tell the story of his extremities. When he was on his feet Droom was more than six feet tall; as he sat in the low-backed, office chair he looked to be less than five feet, over all. What became of that lank expanse of bone and cuticle when he sat down was one of the mysteries that not even James Bansemer could fathom.
The men had been classmates in an obscure law school down in Pennsylvania. Bansemer was good-looking, forceful and young; while Droom was distinctly his opposite. Where he came from no one knew and no one cared. He was past thirty-five when he entered the school-at least twelve years the senior of Bansemer.
His appearance and attire proclaimed him to be from the country; but his sophistry, his knowledge of the world and his wonderful insight into human nature contradicted his looks immeasureably. A conflict or two convinced his fellow students that he was more than a match for them in stealth and cunning, if not in dress and deportment.
Elias Droom had not succeeded as a lawyer. He repelled people, growing more and more bitter against the world as his struggles became harder. What little money he had accumulated—Heaven alone knew how: he came by it—dwindled to nothing, and he was in actual squalor when, later, Bansemer found him in an attic in Baltimore. Even as he engaged the half-starved wretch to become his confidential clerk the lawyer shuddered and almost repented of his action.
But Elias Droom was worth his weight in gold to James Bansemer from that day forth. His employer's sole aim in life was to get rich and thereby to achieve power. His ambition was laudable, if one accepts the creed of morals, but his methods were not so praise-worthy. After a year of two of starvation struggles to get on with the legitimate, he packed up his scruples and laid them away—temporarily, he said. He resorted to sharp practice, knavery, and all the forms of legal blackmail; it was not long before his bank account began to swell. His business thrived. He was so clever that not one of his shady proceedings reacted. It is safe to venture that ninety-nine per cent, of the people who were bilked through his manipulations promised, in the heat of virtuous wrath, to expose him, but he had learned to smile in security. He knew that exposure for him meant humiliation for the instigator, and he continued to rest easy while he worked hard.
"You're getting rich at this sort of thing," observed Droom one day, after the lawyer had closed a particularly nauseous deal to his own satisfaction, "but what are you going to do when the tide turns?"
Bansemer, irritated on perceiving that the other was engaged in his exasperating habit of rubbing his hands together, did not answer, but merely thundered out: "Will you stop that!"
There was a faint suggestion of the possibility of a transition of the hands to claws, as Droom abruptly desisted, but smilingly went on:
"Some day, the other shark will get the better of you and you'll have nothing to fall back on. You've been building on mighty slim foundations. There isn't a sign of support if the worst comes to the worst," he chuckled.
"It's a large world, Droom," said his employer easily.
"And small also, according to another saying," supplemented Droom. "When a man's down, everybody kicks him—I'm afraid you could not survive the kicking."
Droom grinned so diabolically as again he resumed the rubbing of his hands that the other turned away with an oath and closed the door to the inside office. Bansemer was alone and where Droom's eyes could not see him, but something told him that the grin hung outside the door for many minutes, as if waiting for a chance to pop in and tantalise him.
Bansemer was a good-looking man of the coarser mould—the kind of man that merits a second look in passing, and the second look is not always in his favour. He was thirty-five years of age, but looked older. His face was hard and deeply marked with the lines of intensity. The black eyes were fascinating in their brilliancy, but there was a cruel, savage light in their depths. The nose and mouth were clean-cut and pitiless in their very symmetry. Shortly after leaving college to hang out his shingle, he had married the daughter of a minister. For two years her sweet influence kept his efforts along the righteous path, but he writhed beneath the yoke of poverty. His pride suffered because he was unable to provide her with more of the luxuries of life; in his selfish way, he loved her. Failure to advance made him surly and ill-tempered, despite her amiable efforts to lighten the shadows around their little home. When the baby boy was born to them, and she suffered more and more from the unkindness of privation, James Bansemer, by nature an aggressor, threw off restraint and plunged into the traffic that soon made him infamously successful. She died, however, before the taint of his duplicity touched her, and he, even in his grief, felt thankful that she never was to know the truth.
At this time Bansemer lived in comfort at one of the middle-class boarding houses uptown, and the boy was just leaving the kindergarten for a private school. Bansemer's calloused heart had one tender chamber, and in it dwelt the little lad with the fair hair and grey eyes of the woman who had died.
Late one November afternoon just before Bansemer put on his light topcoat to leave the office for the day, Droom tapped on the glass panel of the door to his private office. Usually, the clerk communicated with him by signal—a floor button by which he could acquaint his master with much that he ought to know, and the visitor in the outer office would be none the wiser. The occasions were rare when he went so far as to tap on the door. Bansemer was puzzled, and stealthily listened for sounds from the other side. Suddenly, there came to his ears the voices of women, mingled with Broom's suppressed but always raucous tones.
Bansemer opened the door; looking into the outer office, he saw Droom swaying before two women, rubbing his hands and smiling. One of the women carried a small babe in her arms. Neither she nor her companion seemed quite at ease in the presence of the lank guardian of the outer office.
"Lady to see you!" announced Droom. The shrewd, fearless genius of the inner room glanced up quickly and met the prolonged, uncanny gaze of his clerk; unwillingly, his eyes fell.
"Confound it, Lias! will you ever quit looking at me like that! There's something positively creepy in that stare of yours!"
"Lady to see you!" repeated the clerk, shifting about uneasily, and then gliding away to take his customary look at the long row of books in the wall cases. He had performed this act a dozen times a day for more than five years; the habit had become so strong that chains could not have restrained him. It was what he considered a graceful way of dropping out of notice, at the same time giving the impression that he was constantly busy.
"Are you Mr. Bansemer?" asked the woman with the babe in her arms, as he crossed into the outer office.
For a moment Bansemer purposely remained absorbed in the contemplation of his finger nails; then he shot a sudden comprehensive glance which took in the young woman, her burden and all the supposed conditions. There was no doubt in his mind that here was another "paternity case," as he catalogued them in his big, black book.
"I am," he replied shortly, for he usually made short, quick work of such cases. There was not much money in them at best. They spring from the lower and poorer classes. The rich ones who are at fault in such matters never permit them to go to the point where a lawyer is consulted. "Would you mind coming in to-morrow? I'm just leaving for the day."
"It will take but a few minutes, sir, and it would be very hard for me to get away again to-morrow," said the young woman nervously. "I'm a governess in a family 'way uptown and my days are not very free."
"Is this your baby?" asked Bansemer, more interested. The word governess appealed to him; it meant that she had to do with wealthy people, at least.
"No—that is—well, not exactly," she replied confusedly. The lawyer looked at her so sharply that she flinched under his gaze. A kidnapper, thought he, with the quick cunning of one who deals in stratagems. Instinctively he looked about as if to make sure that there were no unnecessary witnesses to share the secret.
"Come into this room," said he suddenly. "Both of you. See that we are not disturbed," he added, to Droom. "I think I can give you a few minutes, madam, and perhaps some very good advice. Be seated," he went on, closing the door after them. His eyes rested on Broom's face for an instant as the door closed, and he saw a particularly irritating grin struggling on his thin lips. "Now, what is it? Be as brief as possible, please. I'm in quite a hurry."
It occurred to him at this juncture that the young woman was not particularly distressed. Instead, her rather pretty face was full of eagerness and there was a certain lightness in her manner that puzzled him for the moment. Her companion was the older of the two and quite as prepossessing. Both were neatly dressed and both looked as though they were or had been bread-winners. If they had a secret, it was now quite evident to this shrewd, quick thinker that it was not a dark one. In truth, he was beginning to feel that something mischievous lurked in the attitude of the two visitors.
"I want to ask how a person has to proceed to adopt a baby," was the blunt and surprising remark that came from the one who held the infant. Bansemer felt himself getting angry.
"Who wants to adopt it?" he asked shortly.
"I do, of course," she answered, so readily that the lawyer stared. He scanned her from head to foot, critically; her face reddened perceptibly. It surprised him to find that she was more than merely good-looking; she was positively attractive!
"Are you a married woman?" he demanded.
"Yes," she answered, with a furtive glance at her companion. "This is my sister," she added.
"I see. Where is your husband?"
"He is at home—or rather, at his mother's home. We are living there now."
"I thought you said you were a governess?"
"That doesn't prevent me from having a home, does it?" she explained easily. "I'm not a nurse, you know."
"This isn't your child, then?" he asked impatiently.
"I don't know whose child it is." There was a new softness in her voice that made him look hard at her while she passed a hand tenderly over the sleeping babe. "She comes from a foundling's home, sir."
"You cannot adopt a child unless supported by some authority," he said. "How does she happen to be in your possession; and what papers have you from the foundling's home to show that the authorities are willing that you should have her? There is a lot of red tape about such matters, madam."
"I thought perhaps you could manage it for me, Mr. Bansemer," she said, plaintively. "They say you never fail at anything you undertake." He was not sure there was a compliment in her remark, so he treated it with indifference.
"I'm afraid I can't help you." The tone was final.
"Can't you tell me how I'll have to proceed? I must adopt the child, sir, one way or another." Her manner was more subdued and there was a touch of supplication in her voice.
"Oh, you go into the proper court and make application, that's all," he volunteered carelessly. "The judge will do the rest. Does your husband approve of the plans?"
"He doesn't know anything about it?"
"I can't tell him; it would spoil everything."
"My dear madam, I don't believe I understand you quite clearly. You want to adopt the child and keep the matter dark so far as your husband is concerned? May I inquire the reason?" Bansemer, naturally, was interested by this time.
"If you have time to listen, I'd like to tell you how it all comes about. It won't take long. I want someone to tell me just what to do and I'll pay for the advice, if it isn't too expensive. I'm very poor, Mr. Bansemer; perhaps you won't care to heip me after you know that I can't afford to pay very much."
"We'll see about that later," he said brusquely; "go ahead with the story."
The young woman hesitated, glanced nervously at her sister as if for support, and finally faced the expectant lawyer with a flash of determination in her dark eyes. As she proceeded, Bansemer silently and somewhat disdainfully made a study of the speaker. He concluded that she was scarcely of common origin and was the possessor of a superficial education that had been enlarged by conceitedness; furthermore, she was a person of selfish instincts, but without the usual cruel impulses. There was little if any sign of true refinement in the features, and yet, there was a strange strength of purpose that puzzled him. As her story progressed, he solved the puzzle. She had the strength to carry out a purpose that might further her own personal interests; but not the will to endure sacrifice for the sake of another. Her sister was larger and possessed a reserve that might have been mistaken for deepness. He felt that she was hardly in sympathy with the motives of the younger, more volatile woman.
"My husband is a railroad engineer and is ten years older than I," the narrator said in the beginning. "I wasn't quite nineteen when we were married—two years ago. For some time, we got along all right; then we began to quarrel. He commenced to—-"
"Mr. Bansemer is in a hurry, Fan," broke in the older sister, sharply; and then, repeating the lawyer's words: "Be as brief as possible."
There was a world of reproach in the look which greeted the speaker. Evidently, it was a grievous disappointment not to be allowed to linger over the details.
"Well," she continued half pettishly; "it all ended by his leaving home, job and everything. I had told him that I was going to apply for a divorce. For three months I never heard from him."
"Did you apply for a divorce?" asked the lawyer, stifling a yawn.
"No, sir, I did not, although he did nothing towards my support." The woman could not resist a slightly coquettish attempt to enlist Bansemer's sympathy. "I obtained work at St. Luke's Hospital for Foundlings, and after that, as a governess. But, once a week I went back to the asylum to see the little ones. One day, they brought in a beautifully dressed baby—a girl. She was found on a doorstep, and in the basket was a note asking that she be well cared for; with it, was a hundred dollar bill. The moment I saw the little thing, I fell in love with her. I made application and they gave me the child with the understanding that I was to adopt it. You see, I was lonely—I had been living alone for nine or ten months. The authorities knew nothing of my trouble with Mr. Cable—that's my husband, David Cable. The child was about a month old when I took her to his mother, whom I hadn't seen in months. I told Mrs. Cable that she was mine. The dear old lady believed me; half the battle was won." She paused out of breath, her face full of excitement.
"And then?" he asked, once more interested.
"We both wrote to David asking him to come home to his wife and baby." She looked away guiltily. For a full minute, Bansemer did not speak.
"The result?" he demanded.
"He came back last month."
"Does he know the truth?"
"No, and with God's help, he never shall! It's my only salvation!" she exclaimed emotionally. "He thinks she is his baby and—and—-" The tears were on her cheeks, now. "I worship him, Mr. Bansemer! Oh, how good and sweet he has been to me since he came back! Now, don't you see why I must adopt this child, and why he must never know? If he learned that I had deceived him in this way, he would hate me to my dying day."
The infant was awake and staring at him with wide, blue eyes.
"And you want me to handle this matter so that your husband will be none the wiser?"
"Oh, Mr. Bansemer," she cried; "it means everything to me! All depends on this baby. I must adopt her, or the asylum people won't let me keep her. Can't it be done so quickly that he'll never find it out?"
"How many people know that the child is not yours?"
"My sister and the authorities at the asylum; not another soul."
"It is possible to arrange the adoption, Mrs. Cable, but I can't guarantee that Mr. Cable will not find it out. The records will show the fact, you know. There is but one way to avoid discovery."
"And that, please?"
"Leave New York and make your home in some distant city. That's the safe way. If you remain here, there is always a chance that he may find out. I see the position you're in and I'll help you. It can be done quite regularly and there is only one thing you'll have to fear—you own tongue," he concluded, pointedly.
"I hate New York, Mr. Bansemer. David likes the West and I'll go anywhere on earth, if it will keep him from finding out. Oh, if you knew how he adores her!" she cried, regret and ecstasy mingling in her voice. "I'd give my soul if she were only mine!" Bansemer's heart was too roughly calloused to be touched by the wistful longing in these words.
Before the end of the week the adoption of the foundling babe was a matter of record; and the unsuspecting David Cable was awaiting a reply from the train-master of a big Western railroad, to whom, at the earnest, even eager, solicitation of his wife, he had applied for work. Elias Droom made a note of the fee in the daybook at the office, but asked no questions. Bansemer had told him nothing of the transaction, but he was confident that the unspeakable Droom knew all about it, even though he had not been nearer than the outer office during any of the consultations.
THE BANSEMER CRASH
Twenty long years had passed since David and Frances Cable took their hasty departure—virtually fleeing from New York City, their migrations finally ending in that thriving Western city—Denver. Then, the grime of the engine was on Cable's hands and deep beneath his skin; the roar of iron and steel and the rush of wind was ever in his ears; the quest of danger in his eye; but there was love, pride and a new ambition in his heart. Now, in 1898, David Cable's hands were white and strong; the grime was gone; the engineer's cap had given way to the silk tile of the magnate; and the shovel was a memory.
But his case was not unique in that day and age of pluck and luck. Many another man had gone from the bottom to the top with the speed and security of the elevator car in the lofty "sky-scrapers." In the heartless revolution of a few years, he became the successor of his Western benefactor. The turn that had been kind to him, was unkind to his friend and predecessor; the path that led upward for David Cable, ran the other way for the train-master, who years afterward died in his greasy overalls and the close-fitting cap of an engineer. One night Cable read the news of the wreck with all the joy gone from his heart.
From the cheap, squalid section of town known as "railroad end," Cable's rising influence carried him to the well-earned luxury. The lines of care and toil mellowed in the face of his pretty wife, as the years rolled by; her comely figure shed the cheap raiment of "hard, old days," and took on the plumage of prosperity. Trouble, resentment, and worry disappeared as if by magic, smoothed out by the satiny touch of comfort's fingers. She went upward much faster than her husband, for her ambitions were less exacting. She longed to shine socially—he loathed the thought of it. But Cable was proud of his wife. He enjoyed the transition that lifted her up with steady strength to the plane which fitted her best—as he regarded it. She had stuck by him nobly and uncomplainingly through the vicissitudes; it delighted him to give her the pleasures.
Frances Cable was proud; but she had not been too proud to stand beside the man with the greasy overalls and to bend her fine, young strength to work in unison with his. Together, facing the task, cheerfully, they had battled and won.
There were days when it was hard to smile; but the next day always brought with it a fresh sign of hope. The rough, hard, days in the Far West culminated in his elevation to the office of General Manager of the great railroad system, whose headquarters and home were in the city of Chicago. Attaining this high place two years prior to the opening of this narrative, he was regarded now as one of the brainiest railroad men and slated to be president of the road at the next meeting.
Barely past fifty years of age, David Cable was in the prime of life and usefulness. Age and prosperity had improved him greatly. The iron grey of his hair, the keen brightness of his face, the erect, and soldierly carriage of his person made him a striking figure. His wife, ten years his junior, was one of the most attractive women in Chicago. Her girlish beauty had refined under the blasts of adversity; years had not been unkind to her. In a way, she was the leader of a certain set, but her social ambitions were not content. There was a higher altitude in fashion's realm. Money, influence and perseverance were her allies; social despotism her only adversary.
The tall, beautiful and accomplished daughter of the Cables was worshipped by her father with all the warmth and ardour of his soul. Times there were when he looked in wonder upon this arbiter of not a few manly destinies; and for his life could not help asking himself how the Creator had given him such a being for a child, commenting on the fact that she bore resemblance to neither parent.
For years, Mrs. Cable had lived in no little terror of some day being found out. As the child grew to womanhood, the fears gradually diminished and a sense of security that would not be disturbed replaced them. Then, just as she was reaching out for the chief prizes of her ambition, she came face to face with a man, whose visage she never had forgotten—Elias Droom! And Frances Cable looked again into the old and terrifying shadows!
It was late in the afternoon, and she was crossing the sidewalk to her carriage waiting near Field's, when a man brushed against her. She was conscious of a strange oppressiveness. Before she turned to look at him she knew that a pair of staring eyes were upon her face. Something seemed to have closed relentlessly upon her heart.
One glance was sufficient. The tall, angular form stood almost over her; the two, wide, blue eyes looked down in feigned surprise; the never-to-be-forgotten voice greeted her, hoarsely:
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Cable! And how is the baby?"
"The baby!" she faltered. Struggle against it as she would, a sort of fascination drew her gaze toward the remarkable face of the old clerk. "Why—why—she's very well, thank you," she finally stammered. Her face was as white as a ghost; with a shudder she started to pass him. Droom, blocked the way.
"She was such a pretty little thing, I remember;" and then, insinuatingly: "Where is her father, now?"
"He—Mr. Cable," answered Mrs. Cable, feeling very much as a bird feels when it is charmed by a snake, "why, he's at home, of course."
"Indeed!" was all that Elias Droom said; for she had fled to escape the grin that writhed in and out among the wrinkles of his face.
As her carriage struggled through crowded Washington Street, an irresistible something compelled Frances Cable to glance back. Droom stood on the curb, his eyes following her almost hungrily. Half an hour later, when she reached home, she was in a state of collapse. Although there was no physical proof of the fact, she was positive that Elias Droom had followed her to the very doorstep.
In suspense and dread, she waited for days before there was a second manifestation of Droom. There was rarely a day when she did not expect her husband to stand before her and ask her to explain the story that had been carried to him by a demon in the form of man.
But Droom did not go to David Cable. He went to James Bansemer with the news.
James Bansemer's law and loan offices were not far from the river and, it is sufficient to say, not much farther from State Street. He who knows Chicago well cannot miss the location more than three blocks, either way, if he takes City Hall as a focal point. The office building in which they were located is not a pretentious structure, but its tenants were then and still are regarded as desirable. It may be well to announce that Bansemer, on reaching Chicago, was clever enough to turn over a new leaf and begin work on a clear, white page, but it is scarcely necessary to add that the black, besmirched lines on the opposite side of the sheet could be traced through every entry that went down on the fresh white surface. Bansemer was just as nefarious in his transactions, but he was a thousandfold more cautious. Droom sarcastically reminded him that he had a reputation to protect, in his new field and, besides, as his son was "going in society" through the influence of a coterie of Yale men, it would be worse than criminal to deteriorate.
Bansemer loathed Droom, but he also feared him. He was the only living creature that inspired fear in the heart of this bold schemer. It is true that he feared the effect an exposure might have on the mind of his stalwart son, the boy with his mother's eyes; but he had succeeded so well in blinding the youth in the years gone by, that the prospects of discovery now seemed too remote for concern. The erstwhile New York "shark" was now an eel, wily and elusive, but he was an eel with a shark's teeth and a shark's voraciousness. He had grown old in the study of this particular branch of natural history. Bansemer was fifty-five years old in this year of 1898. He was thinner than in the old New York days, but the bull-like vigour had given way to the wiry strength of the leopard. The once black hair was almost white, and grew low and thick on his forehead. Immaculately dressed, ever straight and aggressive in carriage, he soon became a figure of whom all eyes took notice, even in the most crowded of Chicago thoroughfares.
Graydon Bansemer, on leaving Yale with a diploma and some of the honours of his class, urged his father to take him into his office, and ultimately to make him a partner in the business. James Bansemer never forgot the malicious grin that crossed the face of Elias Droom when the young fellow made the proposition not more than a fortnight before the Bansemer establishment picked itself up and hastily deserted New York. That grin spoke plainer than all the words in language. Take him into the office? Make this honest, grey-eyed boy a partner? It was no wonder that Droom grinned and it is no wonder that he forgot to cover his mouth with his huge hand, as was his custom.
The proposition, while sincere and earnest, was too impossible for words. For once in his life, James Bansemer was at a loss for subterfuge. He stammered, flushed and writhed in the effort to show the young man that the step would be unprofitable, and he was sorely conscious that he had not convinced the eager applicant. He even urged him to abandon the thought of becoming a lawyer, and was ably seconded by Elias Droom, whose opinion of the law, as he had come to know it, was far from flattering.
Just at this time Bansemer was engaged in the most daring as well as the most prodigious "deal" of his long career. With luck, it was bound to enrich him to the extent of $50,000. The plans had been so well prepared and the execution had been so faultless that there seemed to be no possibility of failure. To take his fair-minded son—with the mother's eyes—into the game would be suicidal. The young fellow would turn from him forever. Bansemer never went so far as to wonder whence came the honest blood in the boy's veins, nor to speculate on the origin of the unquestioned integrity. He had but to recall the woman who bore him, the woman whose love was the only good thing he ever knew, the wife he had worshipped while he sinned.
For years and years he had plied his unwholesome trade in reputations, sometimes evading exposure by the narrowest of margins, and he had come to believe that he was secure for all time to come. But it was the "big job" that brought disaster. Just when it looked as though success was assured, the crash came. He barely had time to cover his tracks, throw the figurative pepper into the eyes of his enemies, and get away from the scene of danger. But, he had been clever and resourceful enough to avoid the penalty that looked inevitable and came off with colours trailing but uncaptured.
Perhaps no other man could have escaped; but James Bansemer was cleverest when in a corner. He backed away, held them at bay until he could recover his breath, and then defied them to their teeth. Despite their proof, he baffled them, and virtue was not its own reward—at least in this instance.
In leaving New York, he hoped that Ellas Droom—who knew too much—might refuse to go into the new territory with him, but the gaunt, old clerk took an unnatural and malevolent delight in clinging to his employer. He declined to give up his place in the office, and, although he hated James Bansemer, he came like an accusing shadow into the new offices near the Chicago River, and there he toiled, grinned and scowled with the same old faithfulness.
IN SIGHT OF THE FANGS
At first, it was hard for James Bansemer to believe that his henchman had not been mistaken. Droom's description of the lady certainly did not correspond to what his memory recalled. Investigation, however, assured him that the Cables in the mansion near the lake were the people he had known in New York. Bansemer took no one into his confidence, not even Droom. Once convinced that the erstwhile fireman was now the rich and powerful magnate, he set to work upon the machinery which was to extract personal gain from the secret in his possession. He soon learned that the child was a young woman of considerable standing in society, but there was no way for him to ascertain whether Frances Cable had told the truth to her husband in those dreary Far West days.
Bansemer was rich enough, but avarice had become a habit. The flight from New York had deprived him of but little in worldly goods. His ill-gotten gains came with him; and investments were just as easy and just as safe in Chicago as in New York. Now, he saw a chance to wring a handsome sum from the rich woman whose only possession had been love when he first knew her. If the secret of Jane's origin still remained locked up in her heart, the effort would be an easy one. He learned enough of David Cable, however, to know that if he shared the secret, the plan would be profitless and dangerous.
It was this uncertainty that kept him from calling at the Cable home; likewise, from writing a note which might prove a most disastrous folly. Time and circumstance could be his only friends, and he was accustomed to the whims of both. He read of the dinners and entertainments given by the Cables, and smiled grimly. Time had worked wonders for them! Scandal, he knew, could undo all that ambition and pride had wrought. He could well afford to wait.
However, he did not have long to wait, for his opportunity came one night in Hooley's Theatre. Graydon and he occupied seats in the orchestra, near the stage and not far from the lower right-hand boxes. It was during the busy Christmas holidays, but the "star" was of sufficient consequence to pack the house. The audience was no end of a fashionable one. Time and again, some strange influence drew his gaze to the gay party in one of the lower boxes. The face of the woman nearest to him was not visible; but the two girls who sat forward, turned occasionally to look over the audience; and he saw that they were pretty, one exceptionally so. One of the men was grey-haired and strong-featured; the others were quite too insignificant to be of interest to him. The woman whose back he could see did not look out over the audience. Her indifference was so marked that it seemed deliberate.
At last, he felt that her eyes were upon him; he turned quickly. True enough, for with lips slightly parted, her whole attitude suggestive of intense restraint, Mrs. Cable was staring helplessly into the eyes of the man who could destroy her with a word.
The one thing that flashed through Bansemer's brain was the realisation that she was far more beautiful than he had expected her to be. There was a truly aristocratic loveliness in the rather piquant face, and she undeniably possessed "manner." Maturity had improved her vastly, he confessed with strange exultation; age had been kinder than youth. He forgot the play, seldom taking his eyes from the back which again had been turned to him. Calculating, he reached the conclusion that she was not more than forty years of age. More than once he made some remark to his son, only to surprise that young man glancing surreptitiously at the face of the more beautiful of the two girls. Even in this early stage, James Bansemer began to gloat over the beauty of this new-found, old acquaintance.
In the lobby of the theatre, as they were leaving, he deliberately doffed his hat and extended a pleasant hand to the wife of David Cable. She turned deathly pale and there was a startled, piteous look in her eyes that convinced him beyond all shadow of a doubt. There was nothing for her to do but introduce him to her husband. Two minutes later Graydon Bansemer and Jane Cable, strangers until then, were asking each other how they liked the play, and Fate was at work.
A few weeks after this scene at the theatre young Mr. Bansemer dashed across the hall from the elevator and entered his father's office just as Elias Droom was closing up.
"Where's the governor, Mr. Droom?" he asked, deliberately brushing past the old clerk in the outer office.
"Left some time ago," replied Droom, somewhat ungraciously, his blue eyes staring past the young man with a steadiness that suggested reproach because he was out of the direct line of vision. "It is nearly six o'clock—he's never here after five."
"I know that he—I asked you if you knew of his whereabouts. Do you—or not?" The self-confident, athletic youth did not stand in physical awe of the clerk.
"No," was the simple and sufficient answer.
"Well then—I'm off," said Graydon a trifle less airily.
Droom's overcoat was on and buttoned up to his chin; his long feet were encased in rubbers of enormous size and uncertain age. There must have been no blood in the veins of this grim old man, for the weather was far from cold and the streets were surprisingly dry for Chicago.
"I am closing the office for the day," said Droom. For no apparent reason a smile spread over the lower part of his face and Graydon, bold as he was, turned his eyes away.
"I thought I'd stop in and pick up the governor for a ride home in my motor," said he, turning to the door.
"Yours is one of the first out here, I suppose," came from the thin lips of the old clerk.
"Possibly. The company charges a nickel a ride—half a dime—Going down, sir?" Graydon had rung for the elevator and was waiting in front of the grating.
A look containing a curious compound of affectionate reproach and a certain senile gratification at being made the object of the boy's condescending raillery crossed Droom's countenance. Without, however, answering his question, he slowly and carefully closed the door, tried it vigorously, and joined Bansemer at the shaft. With Droom, words were unnecessary when actions could speak for themselves.
"Still living over in Wells Street, Mr. Droom?" went on Graydon, thoroughly at home with the man whom he had feared and despised by stages from childhood up.
"It's good enough for me," said Droom shortly. ''Tisn't Michigan Avenue, the Drive or Lincoln Park Boulevard, but it's just as swell as I am—or ever hope to be."
"There's nothing against Wells Street but—it got ashamed of itself when it crossed the river."
"They call it Fifth Avenue," sneered Droom, "but it isn't THE Avenue, is it?" Bansemer was surprised to oote a tone of affectionate pride in the question.
"Oh, there's only one, Mr. Graydon," said the old clerk, quite warmly; "our own Fifth Avenue."
"I had no idea you cared so much for swagger things, Mr. Droom," observed the other, genuinely surprised.
"Even Broadway is heaven to me," said Droom, some of the rasp gone from his voice. "Good-bye; I go this way," he said when they reached the sidewalk a little later. The young man watched his gaunt figure as it slouched away in the semi-darkness.
"By George, the old chap is actually homesick!" muttered he. "I didn't think it was in him."
Droom had rooms over a millinery shop in Wells Street. There was a bedroom at the back and a "living-room" in front, overlooking the street from the third story of the building. Of the bedchamber there is but little to say, except that it contained a bed, a washstand, a mirror, two straight-backed chairs and a clothes-press. Droom went out for his bath—every Saturday night. The "living-room," however, was queer in more ways than one. In one corner, on a chest of drawers, stood his oil stove, while in the opposite corner, a big sheet-iron heater made itself conspicuous. Firewood was piled behind the stove winter and summer, Droom lamenting that one could not safely discriminate between the seasons in Chicago. The chest of drawers contained his stock of provisions, his cooking and table utensils, his medicine and a small assortment of carpenter's tools. He had no use for an icebox.
A bookcase, old enough to warm the heart of the most ardent antiquarian, held his small and unusual collection of books. Standing side by side, on the same shelf, were French romances, unexpurgated, and the Holy Bible, much bethumbed and pencilled. There were schoolbooks alongside of sentimental love tales, Greek lexicons and quaint old fairy stories, law books and works on criminology; books on botany, geology, anatomy, and physics. In all, perhaps, there were two hundred volumes. A life of Napoleon revealed signs of almost constant usage. There were three portraits of the Corsican on the dingy green walls.
The strange character of the man was best shown by the pictures that adorned—or rather disfigured the walls. Vulgar photographs and prints were to be seen on all sides. Mingled with these cheap creations were excellent copies of famous Madonnas, quaint Scriptural drawings, engravings of the Saviour, and an allegorical coloured print which emphasised the joys of heaven. There was also a badly drawn but idealised portrait of Droom, done in crayon at the age of twenty. This portrait was one of his prized possessions. He loved it best because it was a bust and did not expose his longitudinal defects. If Droom ever had entertained a feminine visitor in his apartments, there is no record of the fact. But few men had seen the interior of his home, and they had gone away with distressed, perplexed sensibilities.
He cooked his own meals on the oil stove, and, alone, ate them from the little table that stood near the heater. Occasionally, he went out to a near-by eating house for a lonely feast. His rooms usually reeked with the odour of boiled coffee, burnt cabbage and grease, pungent chemicals and long-suffering bed linen. Of his "front" room, it may be said that it was kitchen, dining-room, parlour, library, workshop, laboratory and conservatory. Four flower-pots in which as many geraniums existed with difficulty, despite Droom's constant and unswerving care, occupied a conspicuous place on the window-sills overlooking the street. He watched aver them with all the tender solicitude of a lover, surprising as it may appear when one pauses to consider the vicious exterior of the man.
Drdom was frugal. He was, in truth, a miser. If anyone had asked him what he expected to do with the money he was putting away in the bank, he could not have answered, calculating as he was by nature. He had no relative to whom he would leave it and he had no inclination to give up the habit of active employment. His salary was small, but he managed to save more than half of it—for a "rainy day," as he said. He did his reading and experimenting by kerosene light, and went to bed by candle light, saving a few pennies a week in that way. The windows in his apartment were washed not oftener than once a year. He was seldom obliged to look through them during the day, and their only duty at night was to provide ventilation—and even that was characteristically meagre.
He was a man of habit—not habits. A pipe at night was his only form of dissipation. It was not too far for him to walk home from the office of evenings, and he invariably did so unless the weather was extremely unpleasant. So methodical was he that he never had walked over any other bridge than the one in Wells Street, coming and going.
Past sixty-five years of age. Broom's hair still was black and snaky; his teeth were as yellow and jagged as they were in the seventies, and his eyes were as blue and ugly as ever. He had not aged with James Bansemer. In truth, he looked but little older then when we made his acquaintance. The outside world knew no more of Droom's private transactions than it knew of Bansemer's. Up in the horrid little apartment in Wells Street the queer old man could do as he willed, unobserved and unannoyed. He could pursue his experiments with strange chemicals, he could construct odd devices with his kit of tools, and he could let off an endless amount of inventive energy that no one knew he possessed.
When he left Graydon Bansemer on the sidewalk in front of the office building, he swung off with his long strides towards the Wells Street bridge. His brain had laid aside everything that had occupied its attention during office hours and had given itself over to the project that hastened his steps homeward. His supper that night was a small one and hurriedly eaten in order that he might get to work on his new device. Droom grinned and cackled to himself all alone up there in the lamplight, for he was perfecting an "invention" by which the honest citizen could successfully put to rout the "hold-up" man that has made Chicago famous.
Elias Droom's inventive genius unfailingly led him toward devices that could inflict pain and discomfiture. His plan to get the better of the wretched, hard-working hold-up man was unique, if not entirely practical. He was constructing the models for two little bulbs, made of rubber and lined with a material that would resist the effects of an acid, no matter how powerful. On one end of each bulb, which was capable of holding at least an ounce of liquid, there was a thin syringe attachment, also proof against acids. These little bulbs were made so that they could be held in the palm of the hand. By squeezing them suddenly a liquid could be shot from the tube with considerable force.
The bulbs were to contain vitriol.
When the hold-up man gave the command to "hold up your hands," the victim had only to squeeze the bulb as the hands went up, and, if accurately aimed, the miscreant would get the stream of the deadly vitriolic fluid in his eyes and—here endeth the first lesson. Experience alone could do the rest.
Young Bansemer hurried to their apartments on the North Side. He found his father dressed and ready to go out to dinner.
"Well, how was everything to-day?" asked James Bansemer from his easy chair in the library. Graydon threw his hat and gloves on the table.
"Terribly dull market, governor," he said. "It's been that way for a week. How are you feeling?"
"Fit to dine with a queen," answered the older man, with a smile. "How soon can you dress for dinner, Gray?"
"That depends on who is giving the dinner."
"Some people you like. I found the note here when I came in a little after five. We have an hour in which to get over there. Can you be ready?"
"Do you go security for the affair?" asked Graydon.
"Certainly. You have been there, my boy, and I've not heard you complain."
"You mean over at—-"
"Yes, that's where I mean," said the other, breaking in quietly.
"I think I can be ready in ten minutes, father."
While he was dressing, his father sat alone and stared reflectively at the small blue gas blaze in the grate. A dark, grim smile unconsciously came over his face, the inspiration of a triumphant joy. Twice he read the dainty note that met him on his return from the office.
"What changes time can make in woman!" he mused; "and what changes a woman can make in time! For nearly a year I've waited for this note. I knew it would come—it was bound to come. Graydon has had everything up to this time, while I have waited patiently in the background. Now, it is my turn."
"All right, father," called Graydon from the hall. "The cab is at the door."
Together they went down the steps, arm in arm, strong figures.
"To Mr. David Cable's," ordered Bansemer, the father, complacently, as he stepped into the carriage after his son.
MRS. CABLE ENTERTAINS
James Bansemer had not recklessly rushed into Mrs. Cable's presence with threats of exposure; but on the contrary, he had calmly, craftily waited. It suited his purpose to let her wonder, dread and finally develop the trust that her secret was safe with him. Occasionally, he had visited the Cable box in the theatre; not infrequently he had dined with them in the downtown cafes and at the homes of mutual acquaintances; but this was the first time that James Bansemer had enjoyed the hospitality of Frances Cable's home. His son, on the best of terms with their daughter, was a frequent visitor there.
There was a rare bump of progressiveness in the character of Graydon Bansemer. He was good-looking enough beyond doubt, and there was a vast degree of personal magnetism about him. It seemed but natural that he should readily establish himself as a friend and a favourite of the fair Miss Cable. For some time, James Bansemer had watched his son's progress with the Cable family, not once allowing his personal interest to manifest itself. It was but a question of time until Mrs. Cable's suspense and anxiety would bring her to him, one way or another. Every word that fell from the lips of his son regarding the Cables held his attention, and it was not long before he saw the family history as clearly as though it were an open book—and he knew far more than the open book revealed.
Frances Cable was not deluded by his silence and aloofness; but she was unable to devise means to circumvent him. Constant fear of his power to crush lurked near her day and night. Conscious of her weakness, but eager to have done with the strife, sometimes she longed for the enemy to advance. At first, she distrusted and despised the son, but his very fairness battered down the barriers of prejudice, and real admiration succeeded. Her husband liked him immensely, and Jane was his ablest ally. David Cable regarded him as one of the brightest, young men on the Stock Exchange, and predicted that some day he would be an influential member of the great brokerage firm for which he now acted as confidential clerk. Mr. Clegg, the senior member of the firm of Clegg, Groll & Davidson, his employers, personally had commended young Bansemer to Cable, and he was properly impressed.
Graydon's devotion to Jane did not go unnoticed. This very condition should have assured Mrs. Cable that James Bansemer had kept her secret zealously. There was nothing to indicate that the young man knew the story of the foundling.
It was not until some weeks after the chance meeting in Hooley's Theatre that Mrs. Cable came into direct contact with James Bansemer's designs. She had met him at two or three formal affairs, but their conversations had been of the most conventional character; on the other hand, her husband had lunched and dined at the club with the lawyer. At first, she dreaded the outcome of these meetings, but as Cable's attitude towards her remained unchanged, she began to realise that Bansemer, whatever his purpose, was loyal.
They met at last, quite informally, at Mrs. Clegg's dinner, a small and congenial affair. When the men came into the drawing-room, after the cigars, Mrs. Cable, with not a little trepidation, motioned to Mr. Bansemer to draw up his chair beside her.
"I have been looking forward with pleasure to this opportunity, Mr. Bansemer," she said, in a courteously acidulated way. "It has been so long in coming."
"Better late than never," he returned, with marked emphasis. Fortunately, for her, the challenging significance of his words was quickly nullified by the smile with which she was almost instantly favoured. "Twenty years, I believe—it certainly came very near being 'never,'" he went on, abruptly changing from harsh to the sweetest of tones. "No one could believe that you—you're simply wonderful!" and added, pointedly, "But your daughter is even more beautiful, if such is possible, than her—her mother."
Apparently, the innuendo passed unnoticed; in reality, it required all her courage to appear calm.
"How very nice of you," she said softly; and looking him full in the face: "Her mother thanks you for the compliment."
It was a brave little speech; such bravery would have softened a man of another mould—changed his purpose. Not so with Bansemer. A sinister gleam came into his eyes and his attack became more brutally direct.
"But the husband—has he never mistrusted?"
The blow told, though her reply was given with rippling laughter and for the benefit of any chance listeners.
"For shame, Mr. Bansemer!" she cried lightly; "after flattering me so delightfully, you're surely not going to spoil it all?"
Despite his growing annoyance, admiration shone clearly from Bansemer's eyes. His memory carried him, back some twenty years to the scene in his office. Was it possible, he was thinking, that the charming woman before him exercising so cleverly all the arts of society, as if born to the purple, and the light-headed, frivolous, little wife of the Central's engineer were one and the same person? The metamorphosis seemed incredible.
Unwittingly, his manner lost some of its aggressiveness; and the woman perceiving the altered conditions, quick to take advantage, resolved to learn, if possible his intentions. Presently, going right to the point, she asked:
"Is that extraordinary looking creature you had in your office still with you, Mr. Bansemer?"
"Extraordinary!" He laughed loudly. "He is certainly that, and more. Indeed, the English language does not supply us with an adjective that adequately describes the man."
The people nearest to them, by this time, had moved away to another part of the large drawing-room; practically, the couple were by themselves. She had been thinking, for a moment, reasoning with a woman's logic that it was always well to know one's enemy. When she next spoke, it was almost in a whisper.
"How much does that terrible man know?"
"He is not supposed to know anything;" and then, with an enigmatical smile, promptly admitted: "However, I'm afraid that he does."
"You have told him? And yet, you promised nobody should know. How could—-"
"My dear Mrs. Cable, he was not told; if he has found out—I could not prevent his discovering the truth through his own efforts," he interrupted in a tone more assuaging than convincing to her; and then, hitching his chair closer, and lowering his voice a note, he continued: "The papers had to be taken out—but you must not worry about him—you can depend on me."
"Promise me that you will make him—I am so fearful of that awful—-" she broke off abruptly. Her fears were proving too much for her, and she was in imminent danger of a complete breakdown; all the veneer with which she had bravely commenced the interview had disappeared.
Bansemer endeavoured to soothe her with promises; but the poor woman saw only his teeth in the reassuring smile that he presented to her, together with the warnings that they were likely to be observed. With the hardest kind of an effort, she succeeded in pulling herself together sufficiently to bid good-night to her hostess.
When Mrs. Cable reached home that night, it was a full realisation that she was irrevocably committed into the custody of these cold-blooded men.
They met again and again at the homes of mutual friends, and she had come to loathe the pressure of his hand when it clasped hers. The undeniable caress in his low, suggestive voice disturbed her; his manner was unmistakable. One night he held her hand long and firmly in his, and while she shrank helplessly before him he even tenderly asked why she had not invited him into her home. It was what she had expected and feared. Her cup of bitterness was filling rapidly—too rapidly. His invitation to dinner a fortnight later, followed.
Jane Cable was radiant as she entered the drawing-room shortly after the arrival of the two Bansemers.
"It's quite like a family party! How splendid!" she said to Graydon with a quick glance in the direction of James Bansemer and David Cable, who stood conversing together, and withdrawing her soft, white hand, which she had put forth to meet his in friendly clasp. "It's too good to be true!" she went on in a happy, spontaneous, almost confiding manner.
The two fathers looked on in amused silence, the one full of admiration and pride for the clean, vigorous manhood of his son awaiting to receive welcome from the adorable Jane; the other, long since conscious of the splendid beauty of his daughter, mentally declaring that she never had appeared so well as when standing beside this gallant figure.
Other guests arrived before Mrs. Cable made her appearance in the drawing-room. She had taken more time than usual with her toilet. It was impossible for her to hide the fact that the strain was telling on her perceptibly. The face that looked back into her eyes from the mirror on her dressing-table was not the fresh, warm one that had needed so little care a few short months before. There was a heaviness about the eyes and there were strange, persistent lines gathering under the soft, white tissues of her skin. But when she at last stepped into the presence of her guests, with ample apologies for her tardiness, she was the picture of life and nerve. So much for the excellent resources of her will.
Bansemer was the last to present himself for her welcome, lingering in the background until the others had passed.
"I'm so glad you could come. Indeed, it's a pleasure to—-" She spoke clearly and distinctly as she extended her hand; but as she looked squarely into his eyes she thought him the ugliest man she ever had seen. Every other woman in the party was saying to herself that James Bansemer was strikingly handsome.
"Most pleasures come late in life to some of us," he returned, gallantly, and even Graydon Bansemer wished that he could have said it.
"Your father is a perfect dear," Jane said to him, softly. "It was not what he said just then that pleased me, but what he left unsaid."
"Father's no end of a good fellow, Jane. I'm glad you admire him."
"You are not a bit like him," she said reflectively.
"Thanks," he exclaimed. "You are not very flattering."
"But you are a different sort of a good fellow, that's what I mean. Don't be absurd," she cried in some little confusion.
"I'm like my mother, they say, though I don't remember her at all."
"Oh, how terrible it must be never to have known one's mother," said she tenderly.
"Or one's father," added James Bansemer, who was passing at that instant with Mrs. Cable. "Please include the father, Miss Cable," he pleaded with mock seriousness. Turning to Mrs. Cable, who had stopped beside him, he added: "You, the most charming of mothers, will defend the fathers, won't you?"
"With all my heart," she answered so steadily that he was surprised.
"I will include the father, Mr. Bansemer," said Jane, "if it is guaranteed that he possibly could be as nice and dear as one's mother. In that case, I think it would be—oh, dreadfully terrible never to have known him."
"And to think, Miss Cable, of the unfortunates who have known neither father nor mother," said Bansemer, senior, slowly, relentlessly. "How much they have missed of life and love!"
"That can be offset somewhat by the thought of the poor parents who never have known a son or a daughter," said Jane.
"How can they be parents, then?" demanded Bobby Rigby, coming up in time.
"Go away, Bobby," she said scornfully.
"That's a nice way to treat logic," he grumbled, ambling on in quest of Miss Clegg.
"The debate will become serious if you continue," said Mrs. Cable lightly. "Come along, Mr. Bansemer; Mrs. Craven is waiting."
When they were across the room and alone, she turned a white face to him and remonstrated bitterly: "Oh, that was cowardly of you after your promise to me!"
"I forgot myself," he said quietly. "Don't believe me to be utterly heartless." His hand touched her arm. Instantly her assumed calm gave way to her deep agitation, and with a swift change of manner, she turned on him, her passion alight.
"You—-!" she stammered; then her fears found voice. "What do you mean?" she demanded in smothered, alarmed tones.
He desisted savagely and shrank away, the colour flaming into his disgusted, saturnine face. He did not speak to her again until he said good-bye long afterward.
As he had expected, his place at the dinner-table was some distance from hers. He was across the table from Jane and Graydon, and several seats removed from. David Cable. He smiled grimly and knowingly when he saw that he had been cut off cleverly from the Cables.
"To-morrow night, then, Jane!" said Graydon at parting. No one was near enough to catch the tender eagerness in his voice, nor to see the happy flush in her cheek as she called after him:
Bobby Rigby and Graydon Bansemer were bosom friends in Chicago; they had been classmates at Yale. It had been a question of money with Bobby from the beginning. According to his own admission, his money was a source of great annoyance to him. He was not out of debt but once, and then, before he fully realised it. So unusual was the condition, that he could not sleep; the first thing he did in the morning was to borrow right and left for fear another attack of insomnia might interfere with his training for the football eleven.
Robertson Ray Rigby, immortalised as Bobby, had gone in for athletics, where he learned to think and act quickly. He was called one of the lightest, but headiest quarterbacks in the East. No gridiron idol ever escaped his "Jimmy," or "Toppy," or "Pop," or "Johnny." When finally, he hung out his shingle in Chicago: "Robertson R. Rigby, Attorney-at-Law," he lost his identity even among his classmates. It was weeks before the fact became generally known that it was Bobby who waited for clients behind the deceptive shingle.
The indulgent aunt who had supplied him with funds in college was rich in business blocks and apartment buildings; and now, Mr. Robertson R. Rigby was her man of affairs. When he went in for business, the old push of the football field did not desert him. He was very much alive and very vigorous, and it did not take him long to "learn the signals."
With his aunt's unfaltering prosperity, his own ready wit and unbridled versatility, he was not long in establishing himself safely in his profession and in society. Everybody liked him, though no one took him seriously except when they came to transact business with him. Then, the wittiness of the drawing-room turned into shrewdness as it crossed the office threshold.
The day after the Cable dinner, Bobby yawned and stretched through his morning mail. He had slept but little the night before, and all on account of a certain, or rather, uncertain Miss Clegg. That petite and aggravating young woman had been especially exasperating at the Cable dinner. Mr, Rigby, superbly confident of his standing with her, encountered difficulties which put him very much out of temper. For the first time, there was an apparent rift in her constancy; never before had she shown such signs of fluctuating. He could not understand it—in fact, he dared not understand it. "She was a most annoying young person," said Mr. Rigby to himself wrathfully, more than once after he went to bed that night. Anyhow, he could not see what there was about Howard Medford for any girl to countenance, much less to admire. Mr. Medford certainly had ruined the Cable dinner-party for Mr. Rigby, and he was full of resentment.
"Miss Keating!" called Mr. Rigby for the third time; "may I interrupt your conversation with Mr. Deever long enough to ask a question that has been on my mind for twenty minutes?"
Mr. Deever was the raw, young gentleman who read law in the office of Judge Smith, next door. Bobby maintained that if he read law at all, it was at night, for he wap too busy with other occupations during the day.
Miss Keating, startled, turned roundabout promptly.
"Yes, sir," at last, came from the pert, young woman near the window.
"I guess I'll be going," said Mr. Deever resentfully, rising slowly from the side of her desk on which he had been lounging.
"Wait a minute, Eddie," protested Miss Keating; "what's your hurry?" and then, she almost snapped out: "What is it, Mr. Rigby?"
"I merely wanted to ask if you have sufficient time to let me dictate a few, short letters that ought to go out to-day," said Bobby, sarcastically; and then added with mock apology: "Don't move, Mr. Deever; if you're not in Miss Keating's way, you're certainly not in mine."
"A great josher!" that young woman was heard to comment, admiringly.
"You may wake up some morning to find that I'm not," said Bobby, soberly. Whereupon, Miss Keating rose and strode to the other end of the room and took her place beside Bobby's desk.
Bobby dictated half a dozen inconsequential letters before coming to the one which troubled him most. For many minutes he stared reflectively at the typewritten message from New York. Miss Keating frowned severely and tapped her little foot somewhat impatiently on the floor; but Bobby would not be hurried. His reflections were too serious. This letter from New York had come with a force sufficient to drive out even the indignant thoughts concerning one Miss Clegg. For the life of him, Bobby Rigby could not immediately frame a reply to the startling missive. Eddie Deever stirred restlessly on the window ledge.
"Don't hurry, Eddie!" called Miss Keating, distinctly and insinuatingly.
"Oh, I guess I'll be going!" he called back, beginning to roll a cigarette. "I have some reading to do to-day." Mr. Deever was tall, awkward and homely, and a lot of other things that would have discouraged a less self-satisfied "lady's man." Judge Smith said he was hopeless, but that he might do better after he was twenty-one.
"What are you reading now, Eddie?" asked Miss Keating, complacently eyeing Mr. Rigby. "Raffles?"
"Law, you idiot!" said Eddie, scornfully, going out of the door.
"Oh! Well, the law is never in a hurry, don't you know? It's like justice—the slowest thing in town!" she called after him as his footsteps died away.
"Ready?" said Bobby, resolutely. "Take this, please; and slowly and carefully he proceeded to dictate:
"MR. DENIS HARBERT, "NEW YORK,
"DEAR DENIS: I cannot tell you how much your letter surprised me. What you say seems preposterous. There must be a mistake. It cannot be this man. I know him quite well, and seems as straight as a string and a gentleman, too. His son, you know as well as I. There isn't a better fellow in the world! Mr. B. has a fairly good business here; his transactions open and aboveboard. I'm sure I have never heard a word said against him or his methods. You are mistaken, that's all there is about it.
"You might investigate a little further and, assuring yourself, do all in your power to check such stories as you relate. Of course, I'll do as you suggest; but I'm positive I can find nothing discreditable in his dealings here.
"Keep me posted on everything.
"As ever, yours,"
Miss Keating's anxiety was aroused. After a very long silence, she took the reins into her own hands. "Is Mr. Briggs in trouble?" she asked at a venture. Mr. Briggs was the only client she could think of, whose name began with a B.
"Briggs? What Briggs?" asked Bobby, relighting his pipe for the fourth time.
"Why, our Mr. Briggs," answered Miss Keating, curtly.
"I'm sure I don't know, Miss Keating. Has he been around lately?"
"I thought you were referring to him in that letter," she said succinctly.
"Oh, dear me, no. Another party altogether, Miss Keating. Isn't the typewriter in working order this morning?" he asked, eyeing her machine innocently. She miffed and started to reply, but thought better of it. Then she began pounding the keys briskly.
"It works like a charm," she shot back, genially.
The letter that caused Bobby such perturbation came in the morning mail. His friend had laid bare some of the old stories concerning James Bansemer, and cautioned him not to become involved in transactions with the former New Yorker. Harbert's statements were positive in character, and he seemed to know his case thoroughly well. While the charges as they came to Rigby were general, Harbert had said that he was quite ready to be specific.
All day long, the letter hung like a cloud over young Mr. Rigby. He was to have lunched with Graydon, and was much relieved when young Bansemer telephoned that he could not join him. Rigby found himself in a very uncomfortable position. If the stories from New York were true, even though he knew none of the inside facts, Graydon's father was pretty much of a scalawag, to say the least. He was not well acquainted with the lawyer, but he now recalled that he never had liked the man. Bansemer had impressed him from the beginning as heartless, designing, utterly unlike his clean-hearted son.
Bobby loved Graydon Bansemer in the way that one man loves a true friend. He was certain that the son knew nothing of those shady transactions—if they really existed as Harbert painted them—but an exposure of the father would be a blow from which he could not recover.
It came at last to Rigby that he was not the only one in Chicago who held the secret. Other members of the bar had been warned long before the news came to him, and it was morally certain that if the facts were as bad as intimated, the police also were in possession of them.
At the same time, Rigby felt a certain moral responsibility involving himself. Bansemer, at any time, might apply his methods to people who were near and dear to him. The new intimacy with the Cables came to Bobby's mind. And then, there were Clegg, Groll, the Semesons and others who might easily fall into the snare if James Bansemer set it for them.
Appreciating his responsibility in the matter, now that he was prepared to hear the worst of James Bansemer, Rigby's heart stood almost still. It meant that some day he might have to expose Graydon Bansemer's father; it meant that he might have to cruelly hurt his friend; it meant that he might lose a friendship that had been one of his best treasures since the good, old college days. The mere fact that he would be compelled to watch and mistrust James Bansemer seemed like darkest treachery to Graydon, even though the son should not become aware of the situation. Later, in the afternoon, Bobby went, guiltily, into a telegraph office and sent away a carefully worded dispatch. The answer came to him at the club, that evening, while he played billiards with young Bansemer, who, even then was eager to be off to keep the promised appointment with pretty Miss Cable.