THE THIRD DEGREE
A Narrative of Metropolitan Life
CHARLES KLEIN and ARTHUR HORNBLOW
Authors of the novel The Lion and the Mouse
Illustrations by Clarence Rowe
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers :: New York
Copyright, 1909, by G. W. Dillingham Company
The Third Degree.
List of Illustrations
"I ACCUSE YOU OF PREJUDICING THE COMMUNITY AGAINST THE PRISONER BEFORE HE COMES TO TRIAL."
"YOU DID IT, AND YOU KNOW YOU DID IT."
"I CAN DO NOTHING FOR YOU," SAID THE JUDGE.
"WHEN THIS MYSTERIOUS WITNESS DOES COME I SHALL PLACE HER UNDER ARREST."
The Third Degree
"I'm N. G.—that's a cinch! The sooner I chuck it the better!"
Caught in the swirl of the busy city's midday rush, engulfed in Broadway's swift moving flood of hustling humanity, jostled unceremoniously by the careless, indifferent crowds, discouraged from stemming further the tide of pushing, elbowing men and women who hurried up and down the great thoroughfare, Howard Jeffries, tired and hungry and thoroughly disgusted with himself, stood still at the corner of Fulton street, cursing the luck which had brought him to his present plight.
It was the noon hour, the important time of day when nature loudly claims her due, when business affairs, no matter how pressing, must be temporarily interrupted so that the human machine may lay in a fresh store of nervous energy. From under the portals of precipitous office buildings, mammoth hives of human industry, which to right and left soared dizzily from street to sky, swarmed thousands of employees of both sexes—clerks, stenographers, shop-girls, messenger boys, all moved by a common impulse to satisfy without further delay the animal cravings of their physical natures. They strode along with quick, nervous step, each chatting and laughing with his fellow, interested for the nonce in the day's work, making plans for well-earned recreation when five o'clock should come and the up-town stampede for Harlem and home begin.
The young man sullenly watched the scene, envious of the energy and activity of all about him. Each one in these hurrying throngs, he thought bitterly to himself, was a valuable unit in the prosperity and welfare of the big town. No matter how humble his or her position, each played a part in the business life of the great city, each was an unseen, unknown, yet indispensable cog in the whirling, complicated mechanism of the vast world-metropolis. Intuitively he felt that he was not one of them, that he had no right even to consider himself their equal. He was utterly useless to anybody. He was without position or money. He was destitute even of a shred of self-respect. Hadn't he promised Annie not to touch liquor again before he found a job? Yet he had already imbibed all the whiskey which the little money left in his pocket would buy.
Involuntarily, instinctively, he shrank back into the shadow of a doorway to let the crowds pass. The pavements were now filled to overflowing and each moment newcomers from the side streets came to swell the human stream. He tried to avoid observation, fearing that some one might recognize him, thinking all could read on his face that he was a sot, a self-confessed failure, one of life's incompetents. In his painful self-consciousness he believed himself the cynosure of every eye and he winced as he thought he detected on certain faces side glances of curiosity, commiseration and contempt.
Nor was he altogether mistaken. More than one passer-by turned to look in his direction, attracted by his peculiar appearance. His was a type not seen every day in the commercial district—the post-graduate college man out at elbows. He was smooth-faced and apparently about twenty-five years of age. His complexion was fair and his face refined. It would have been handsome but for a drooping, irresolute mouth, which denoted more than average weakness of character. The face was thin, chalk-like in its lack of color and deeply seamed with the tell-tale lines of dissipation. Dark circles under his eyes and a peculiar watery look suggested late hours and over-fondness for alcoholic refreshment. His clothes had the cut of expensive tailors, but they were shabby and needed pressing. His linen was soiled and his necktie disarranged. His whole appearance was careless and suggested that recklessness of mind which comes of general demoralization.
Howard Jeffries knew that he was a failure, yet like most young men mentally weak, he insisted that he could not be held altogether to blame. Secretly, too, he despised these sober, industrious people who seemed contented with the crumbs of comfort thrown to them. What, he wondered idly, was their secret of getting on? How were they able to lead such well regulated lives when he, starting out with far greater advantages, had failed? Oh, he knew well where the trouble lay—in his damnable weakness of character, his love for drink. That was responsible for everything. But was it his fault if he were born weak? These people who behaved themselves and got on, he sneered, were calm, commonplace temperaments who found no difficulty in controlling their baser instincts. They did right simply because they found it easier than to do wrong. Their virtue was nothing to brag about. It was easy to be good when not exposed to temptation. But for those born with the devil in them it came hard. It was all a matter of heredity and influence. One's vices as well as one's virtues are handed down to us ready made. He had no doubt that in the Jeffries family somewhere in the unsavory past there had been a weak, vicious ancestor from whom he had inherited all the traits which barred his way to success.
The crowds of hungry workers grew bigger every minute. Every one was elbowing his way into neighboring restaurants, crowding the tables and buffets, all eating voraciously as they talked and laughed. Howard was rudely reminded by inward pangs that he, too, was famished. Not a thing had passed his lips since he had left home in Harlem at eight o'clock that morning and he had told Annie that he would be home for lunch. There was no use staying downtown any longer. For three weary hours he had trudged from office to office seeking employment, answering advertisements, asking for work of any kind, ready to do no matter what, but all to no purpose. Nobody wanted him at any price. What was the good of a man being willing to work if there was no one to employ him? A nice look-out certainly. Hardly a dollar left and no prospect of getting any more. He hardly had the courage to return home and face Annie. With a muttered exclamation of impatience he spat from his mouth the half-consumed cigarette which was hanging from his lip, and crossing Broadway, walked listlessly in the direction of Park Place.
He had certainly made a mess of things, yet at one time, not so long ago, what a brilliant future life seemed to have in store for him! No boy had ever been given a better start. He remembered the day he left home to go to Yale; he recalled his father's kind words of encouragement, his mother's tears. Ah, if his mother had only lived! Then, maybe, everything would have been different. But she died during his freshman year, carried off suddenly by heart failure. His father married again, a young woman twenty years his junior, and that had started everything off wrong. The old home life had gone forever. He had felt like an intruder the first time he went home and from that day his father's roof had been distasteful to him. Yes, that was the beginning of his hard luck. He could trace all his misfortunes back to that. He couldn't stand for mother-in-law, a haughty, selfish, supercilious, ambitious creature who had little sympathy for her predecessor's child, and no scruple in showing it.
Then, at college, he had met Robert Underwood, the popular upper-class man, who had professed to take a great fancy to him. He, a timid young freshman, was naturally flattered by the friendship of the dashing, fascinating sophomore and thus commenced that unfortunate intimacy which had brought about the climax to his troubles. The suave, amiable Underwood, whom he soon discovered to be a gentlemanly scoundrel, borrowed his money and introduced him into the "sporty" set, an exclusive circle into which, thanks to his liberal allowance from home, he was welcomed with open arms. With a youth of his proclivities and inherent weakness the outcome was inevitable. At no time overfond of study, he regarded residence in college as a most desirable emancipation from the restraint of home life. The love of books he considered a pose and he scoffed at the men who took their reading seriously. The university attracted him mostly by its most undesirable features, its sports, its secret societies, its petty cliques, and its rowdyism. The broad spirit and the dignity of the alma mater he ignored completely. Directly he went to Yale he started in to enjoy himself and with the sophisticated Underwood as guide, went to the devil faster than any man before him in the entire history of the university.
Reading, attendance at lectures, became only a convenient cloak to conceal his turpitudes. Poker playing, automobile joy rides, hard drinking became the daily curriculum. In town rows and orgies of every description he was soon a recognized leader. Scandal followed scandal until he was threatened with expulsion. Then his father heard of it and there was a terrible scene. Jeffries, Sr., went immediately to New Haven and there followed a stormy interview in which Howard promised to reform, but once the parent's back was turned things went on pretty much as before. There were fresh scandals, the smoke of which reached as far as New York. This time Mr. Jeffries tried the plan of cutting down the money supply and Howard found himself financially embarrassed. But this had not quite the effect desired by the father, for, rendered desperate by his inability to secure funds with which to carry on his sprees, the young man started in to gamble heavily, giving notes for his losses and pocketing the ready money when he won.
Then came the supreme scandal which turned his father's heart to steel. Jeffries, Sr., could forgive much in a young man. He had been young himself once. None knew better than he how difficult it is when the blood is rich and red to keep oneself in control. But there was one offence which a man proud of his descent could not condone. He would never forgive the staining of the family name by a degrading marriage. The news came to the unhappy father like a thunder-clap. Howard, probably in a drunken spree, had married secretly a waitress employed in one of the "sporty" restaurants in New Haven, and to make the mesalliance worse, the girl was not even of respectable parents. Her father, Billy Delmore, the pool-room king, was a notorious gambler and had died in convict stripes. Fine sensation that for the yellow press. "Banker's Son Weds Convict's Daughter." So ran the "scare heads" in the newspapers. That was the last straw for Mr. Jeffries, Sr. He sternly told his son that he never wanted to look upon his face again. Howard bowed his head to the decree and he had never seen his father since.
All this the young man was reviewing in his mind when suddenly his reflections were disturbed by a friendly hail.
"Hello, Jeffries, old sport! Don't you know a fellow frat when you see him?"
He looked up. A young man of athletic build, with a pleasant, frank face, was standing at the news stand under the Park Place elevated station. Quickly Howard extended his hand.
"Hello, Coxe!" he exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing in New York? Whoever would have expected to meet you in this howling wilderness? How's everything at Yale?"
The athlete grinned.
"Yale be hanged! I don't care a d——. You know I graduated last June. I'm in business now—in a broker's office in Wall Street. Say, it's great! We had a semi-panic last week. Prices went to the devil. Stocks broke twenty points. You should have seen the excitement on the Exchange floor. Our football rushes were nothing to it. I tell you, it's great. It's got college beaten to a frazzle!" Quickly he added: "What are you doing?"
Howard averted his eyes and hung his head.
"Nothing," he answered gloomily.
Coxe had quickly taken note of his former classmate's shabby appearance. He had also heard of his escapades.
"Didn't you hear?" muttered Howard. "Row with governor, marriage and all that sort of thing?
"Of course," he went on, "father's damnably unjust, actuated by absurd prejudice. Annie's a good girl and a good wife, no matter what her father was. D——n it, this is a free country! A man can marry whom he likes. All these ideas about family pride and family honor are old-world notions, foreign to this soil. I'm not going to give up Annie to please any one. I'm as fond of her now as ever. I haven't regretted a moment that I married her. Of course, it has been hard. Father at once shut down money supplies, making my further stay at Yale impossible, and I was forced to come to New York to seek employment. We've managed to fix up a small flat in Harlem and now, like Micawber, I'm waiting for something to turn up."
Coxe nodded sympathetically.
"Come and have a drink," he said cheerily.
Howard hesitated. Once more he remembered his promise to Annie, but as long as he had broken it once he would get no credit for refusing now. He was horribly thirsty and depressed. Another drink would cheer him up. It seemed even wicked to decline when it wouldn't cost him anything.
They entered a bar conveniently close at hand, and with a tremulous hand Howard carried greedily to his lips the insidious liquor which had undermined his health and stolen away his manhood.
"Have another?" said Coxe with a smile as he saw the glass emptied at a gulp.
"I don't care if I do," replied Howard. Secretly ashamed of his weakness, he shuffled uneasily on his feet.
"Well, what are you going to do, old man?" demanded Coxe as he pushed the whiskey bottle over.
"I'm looking for a job," stammered Howard awkwardly. Hastily he went on: "It isn't so easy. If it was only myself I wouldn't mind. I'd get along somehow. But there's the little girl. She wants to go to work, and I won't hear of it. I couldn't stand for that, you know."
Coxe feared a "touch." Awkwardly he said:
"I wish I could help you, old man. As it is, my own salary barely serves to keep me in neckwear. Wall Street's great fun, but it doesn't pay much; that is, not unless you play the game yourself."
Howard smiled feebly as he replied:
"Nonsense—I wouldn't accept help of that sort. I'm not reduced to soliciting charity yet. I guess I'd prefer the river to that. But if you hear of anything, keep me in mind."
The athlete made no response. He was apparently lost in thought when suddenly he blurted out:
"Say, Jeffries, you haven't got any money, have you—say a couple of thousand dollars?"
Howard stared at the questioner as if he doubted his sanity.
"Two thousand dollars!" he gasped. "Do you suppose that I'd be wearing out shoe leather looking for a job, if I had two thousand dollars?"
Coxe looked disappointed as he replied:
"Oh, of course, I understand you haven't it on you, only I thought you might be able to raise it."
"Why do you ask?" inquired Howard, his curiosity aroused.
Coxe looked around to see if any one was listening. Then in a whisper he said:
"It's a cinch. If you had $2,000, you and I could make a snug little fortune. Don't you understand? In my office I get tips. I'm on the inside. I know in advance what the big men are going to do. When they start to move a certain stock up, I'm on the job. Understand? If you had $2,000, I could raise as much, and we'd pool our capital, starting in the business ourselves—on a small scale, of course. If we hit it right we might make a nice income."
Howard's mouth watered. Certainly that was the kind of life he liked best. The feverish excitement of gambling, the close association with rich men, the promise of a luxurious style of living—all this appealed to him strongly. But what was the use? Where could he get $2,000? He couldn't go to his father. He shook his head.
"I'm afraid not, old sport," he said as they left the saloon and he held out his hand to say good-by. "But I'll bear it in mind, and if things improve, I'll look you up. So long!"
Climbing wearily up the dirty stairs of the elevated railroad, he bought a ticket with one of the few nickels remaining in his pocket, and taking a seat in a northbound train started on his trip back to Harlem.
The day was overcast, rain threatened. A pall of mingled smoke and mist hung over the entire city. From the car window as the train wound its serpentine course in and out the maze of grimy offices, shops and tenements, everything appeared drab, dirty and squalid. New York was seen at its ugliest. Ensconced in a cross-seat, his chin leaning heavily on his hand, Howard gazed dejectedly out of the window. The depressing outlook was in keeping with his own state of mind.
How would the adventure end? Reconciliation with his father was out of the question. Letters sent home remained without response. He wasn't surprised. He knew his pater too well to expect that he would relent so soon. Besides, if the old man were so infernally proud, he'd show him he had some pride too. He'd drown himself before he'd go down on his knees, whining to be forgiven. His father was dead wrong, anyway. His marriage might have been foolish; Annie might be beneath him socially. She was not educated and her father wasn't any better than he ought to be. She did not talk correctly, her manners left much to be desired, at times he was secretly ashamed of her. But her bringing up was her misfortune, not her fault. The girl herself was straight as a die. She had a heart of gold. She was far more intelligent, far more likely to make him a happy home than some stuck-up, idle society girl who had no thought for anything save money, dress and show. Perhaps if he had been less honorable and not married her, his father would have thought more highly of him. If he'd ruined the girl, no doubt he would have been welcomed home with open arms. Pshaw! He might be a poor, weak fool, but, thank God, they couldn't reproach him with that. Annie had been loyal to him throughout. He'd stick to her through thick and thin.
As the train swept round the curve at 53d Street and started on its long, straight run up the West Side, his mind reverted to Robert Underwood. He had seen his old associate only once since leaving college. He ran across him one day on Fifth Avenue. Underwood was coming out of a curio shop. He explained hurriedly that he had left Yale and when asked about his future plans talked vaguely of going in for art. His manner was frigid and nervous—the attitude of the man who fears he may be approached for a small loan. He was evidently well aware of the change in his old associate's fortunes and having squeezed all he could out of him, had no further use for him. It was only when he had disappeared that Howard suddenly remembered a loan of $250 which Underwood had never repaid. Some time later Howard learned that he occupied apartments at the exclusive and expensive Astruria where he was living in great style. He went there determined to see him and demand his money, but the card always came back "not at home."
Underwood had always been a mystery to Howard. He knew him to be an inveterate gambler and a man entirely without principle. No one knew who his family were or where he came from. His source of income, too, was always a puzzle. At college he was always hard up, borrowing right and left and forgetting to pay, yet he always succeeded in living on the fat of the land. His apartments in the Astruria cost a small fortune; he dressed well, drove a smart turnout and entertained lavishly. He was not identified with any particular business or profession. On leaving college he became interested in art. He frequented the important art sales and soon got his name in the newspapers as an authority on art matters. His apartment was literally a museum of European and Oriental art. On all sides were paintings by old masters, beautiful rugs, priceless tapestries, rare ceramics, enamels, statuary, antique furniture, bronzes, etc. He passed for a man of wealth, and mothers with marriageable daughters, considering him an eligible young bachelor, hastened to invite him to their homes, none of them conscious of the danger of letting the wolf slip into the lambs' fold.
What a strange power of fascination, mused Howard as the train jogged along, men of Underwood's bold and reckless type wield, especially over women. Their very daring and unscrupulousness seems to render them more attractive. He himself at college had fallen entirely under the man's spell. There was no doubt that he was responsible for all his troubles. Underwood possessed the uncanny gift of being able to bend people to his will. What a fool he had made of him at the university! He had been his evil genius, there was no question of that. But for meeting Underwood he might have applied himself to serious study, left the university with honors and be now a respectable member of the community. He remembered with a smile that it was through Underwood that he had met his wife. Some of the fellows hinted that Underwood had known her more intimately than he had pretended and had only passed her on to him because he was tired of her. He had nailed that as a lie. Annie, he could swear, was as good a girl as ever breathed.
He couldn't explain Underwood's influence over him. He had done with him what he chose. He wondered why he had been so weak, why he had not tried to resist. The truth was Underwood exercised a strange, subtle power over him. He had the power to make him do everything he wanted him to do, no matter how foolish or unreasonable the request. Every one at college used to talk about it. One night Underwood invited all his classmates to his rooms and made him cut up all kinds of capers. He at first refused, point blank—but Underwood got up and, standing directly in front of him, gazed steadily into his eyes. Again he commanded him to do these ridiculous, degrading things. Howard felt himself weakening. He was suddenly seized with the feeling that he must obey. Amid roars of laughter he recited the entire alphabet standing on one leg, he crowed like a rooster, he hopped like a toad, and he crawled abjectly on his belly like a snake. One of the fellows told him afterward that he had been hypnotized. He had laughed at it then as a good joke, but now he came to think of it, perhaps it was true. Possibly he was a subject. Anyway he was glad to be rid of Underwood and his uncanny influence.
The train stopped with a jerk at his station and Howard rode down in the elevator to the street Crossing Eighth Avenue, he was going straight home when suddenly he halted. The glitter and tempting array of bottles in a corner saloon window tempted him. He suddenly felt that if there was one thing he needed in the world above all others it was another drink. True, he had had more than enough already. But that was Coxe's fault. He had invited him and made him drink. There couldn't be any harm in taking another. He might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. By the time he emerged from the saloon his speech was thick and his step uncertain. A few minutes later he was painfully climbing up the rickety stairs of a cheap-looking flat house. As he reached the top floor a cheerful voice called out:
"Is that you, Howard, dear?"
A young woman hurried out of one of the apartments to greet Howard. She was a vivacious brunette of medium height, intelligent looking, with good features and fine teeth. It was not a doll face, but the face of a woman who had experienced early the hard knocks of the world, yet in whom adversity had not succeeded in wholly subduing a naturally buoyant, amiable disposition. There was determination in the lines above her mouth. It was a face full of character, the face of a woman who by sheer dint of dogged perseverance might accomplish any task she cared to set herself. A smile of welcome gleamed in her eyes as she inquired eagerly:
"Well, dear, anything doing?"
Howard shook his head for all response and a look of disappointment crossed the young wife's face.
"Say, that's tough, ain't it?" she exclaimed. "The janitor was here again for the rent. He says they'll serve us with a dispossess. I told him to chase himself, I was that mad."
Annie's vocabulary was emphatic, rather than choice. Entirely without education, she made no pretense at being what she was not and therein perhaps lay her chief charm. As Howard stooped to kiss her, she said reproachfully:
"You've been drinking again, Howard. You promised me you wouldn't."
The young man made no reply. With an impatient gesture he passed on into the flat and flung himself down in a chair in the dining room. From the adjoining kitchen came a welcome odor of cooking.
"Dinner ready?" he demanded. "I'm devilish hungry."
"Yes, dear, just a minute," replied his wife from the kitchen. "There's some nice Irish stew, just what you like."
The box-like hole where Howard sat awaiting his meal was the largest room in a flat which boasted of "five and bath." There was a bedroom of equally diminutive proportions and a parlor with wall paper so loud that it talked. There was scarcely enough room to swing a cat around. The thin walls were cracked, the rooms were carpetless. Yet it showed the care of a good housekeeper. Floors and windows were clean, the cover on the table spotless. The furnishings were as meagre as they were ingenious. With their slender purse they had been able to purchase only the bare necessities—a bed, a chair or two, a dining-room table, a few kitchen utensils. When they wanted to sit in the parlor they had to carry a chair from the dining room; when meal times came the chairs had to travel back again. A soap box turned upside down and neatly covered with chintz did duty as a dresser in the bedroom, and with a few photographs and tacks they had managed to impart an aesthetic appearance to the parlor. This place cost the huge sum of $25 a month. It might just as well have cost $100 for all Howard's ability to pay it. The past month's rent was long overdue and the janitor looked more insolent every day. But they did not care. They were young and life was still before them.
Presently Annie came in carrying a steaming dish of stew, which she laid on the table. As she helped Howard to a plate full she said: "So you had no luck again this morning?"
Howard was too busy eating to answer. As he gulped down a huge piece of bread, he growled:
"Nothing, as usual—same old story, nothing doing."
Annie sighed. She had been given this answer so often that it would have surprised her to hear anything else. It meant that their hard hand-to-mouth struggle must go on. She said nothing. What was the use? It would never do to discourage Howard. She tried to make light of it.
"Of course it isn't easy, I quite understand that. Never mind, dear. Something will turn up soon. Where did you go? Whom did you see? Why didn't you let drink alone when you promised me you would?"
"That was Coxe's fault," blurted out Howard, always ready to blame others for his own shortcomings. "You remember Coxe! He was at Yale when I was. A big, fair fellow with blue eyes. He pulled stroke in the 'varsity boat race, you remember?"
"I think I do," replied his wife, indifferently, as she helped him to more stew. "What did he want? What's he doing in New York?"
"He's got a fine place in a broker's office in Wall Street. I felt ashamed to let him see me low down like this. He said that I could make a good deal of money if only I had a little capital. He knows everything going on in Wall Street. If I went in with him I'd be on Easy Street."
"How much would it require?"
"Two thousand dollars."
The young wife gave a sigh as she answered:
"I'm afraid that's a day dream. Only your father could give you such an amount and you wouldn't go to him, would you?"
"Not if we hadn't another crust in the house," snapped Howard savagely. "You don't want me to, do you?" he asked looking up at her quickly.
"No, dear," she answered calmly. "I have certainly no wish that you should humble yourself. At the same time I am not selfish enough to want to stand in the way of your future. Your father and stepmother hate me, I know that. I am the cause of your separation from your folks. No doubt your father would be very willing to help you if you would consent to leave me."
Howard laughed as he replied:
"Well, if that's the price for the $2,000 I guess I'll go without it. I wouldn't give you up for a million times $2,000!"
Annie stretched her hand across the table.
"Really," she said.
"You know I wouldn't Annie," he said earnestly. "Not one second have I ever regretted marrying you—that's honest to God!"
A faint flush of pleasure lit up the young wife's face. For all her assumed lightheartedness she was badly in need of this reassurance. If she thought Howard nourished secret regrets it would break her heart. She could stand anything, any hardship, but not that. She would leave him at once.
In a way she held herself responsible for his present predicament. She had felt a deep sense of guilt ever since that afternoon in New Haven when, listening to Howard's importunities and obeying an impulse she was powerless to resist, she had flung aside her waitress's apron, furtively left the restaurant and hurried with him to the minister who declared them man and wife.
Their marriage was a mistake, of course. Howard was in no position to marry. They should have waited. They both realized their folly now. But what was done could not be undone. She realized, too, that it was worse for Howard than it was for her. It had ruined his prospects at the outset of his career and threatened to be an irreparable blight on his entire life. She realized that she was largely to blame. She had done wrong to marry him and at times she reproached herself bitterly. There were days when their union assumed in her eyes the enormity of a crime. She should have seen what a social gulf lay between them. All these taunts and insults from his family which she now endured she had foolishly brought upon her own head. But she had not been able to resist the temptation. Howard came into her life when the outlook was dreary and hopeless. He had offered to her what seemed a haven against the cruelty and selfishness of the world. Happiness for the first time in her life seemed within reach and she had not the moral courage to say "No."
If Annie had no education she was not without brains. She had sense enough to realize that her bringing up or the lack of it was an unsurmountable barrier to her ever being admitted to the inner circle of Howard's family. If her husband's father had not married again the breach might have been crossed in time, but his new wife was a prominent member of the smart set, a woman full of aristocratic notions who recoiled with horror at having anything to do with a girl guilty of the enormity of earning her own living. Individual merit, inherent nobility of character, amiability of disposition, and a personal reputation untouched by scandal—all this went for nothing—because unaccompanied by wealth or social position. Annie had neither wealth or position. She had not even education. They considered her common, impossible. They were even ready to lend an ear to certain ugly stories regarding her past, none of which were true. After their marriage, Mr. Jeffries, Sr., and his wife absolutely refused to receive her or have any communication with her whatsoever. As long, therefore, as Howard remained faithful to her, the breach with his family could never be healed.
"Have some more stew, dear," she said, extending her hand for her husband's plate.
Howard shook his head and threw down his knife and fork.
"I've had enough," he said despondently. "I haven't much appetite."
She looked at him with concern.
"Poor boy, you're tired out!"
As she noted how pale and dejected he appeared, her eyes filled with sympathetic tears. She forgot the appalling number of cigarettes he smoked a day, nor did she realize how abuse of alcohol had spoiled his stomach for solid food.
"I wish I knew where to go and get that $2,000," muttered Howard, his mind still preoccupied with Coxe's proposition. Lighting another cigarette, he leaned back in his chair and lapsed into silence.
Annie sat and watched him, wishing she could suggest some way to solve the problem that troubled him. She loved her husband with all her heart and soul. His very weakness of character endeared him the more to her. She was not blind to his faults, but she excused them. His vices, his drinking, cigarette smoking and general shiftlessness were, she argued, the result of bad associates. He was self-indulgent. He made good resolutions and broke them. But he was not really vicious. He had a good heart. With some one to watch him and keep him in the straight path, he would still give a good account of himself to the world. She was confident of that. She recognized many excellent qualities in him. They only wanted fostering and bringing out. That was why she married him. She was a few years his senior; she felt that she was the stronger mentally. She considered it was her duty to devote her life to him, to protect him from himself and make a man of him.
It was not her fault, she mused, if she were not a lady. Literally brought up in the gutter, what advantages had she had? Her mother died in childbirth and her father, a professional gambler, abandoned the little girl to the tender mercies of an indifferent neighbor. When she was about eight years old her father was arrested. He refused to pay police blackmail, was indicted, railroaded to prison and died soon after in convict stripes. There was no provision for Annie's maintenance, so at the age of nine she found herself toiling in a factory, a helpless victim of the brutalizing system of child slavery which in spite of prohibiting laws still disgraces the United States. Ever since that time she had earned her own living. The road had often been hard, there were times when she thought she would have to give up the fight, other girls she had met had hinted at an easier way of earning one's living, but she had kept her courage, refused to listen to evil counsel and always managed to keep her name unsullied. She left the factory to work behind the counter in a New York dry goods store. Then about a year ago she drifted to New Haven and took the position of waitress at the restaurant which the college boys patronized.
Robert Underwood was among the students who came almost every day. He made love to her from the start, and one day attempted liberties which she was prompt to resent in a way he did not relish. After that he let her alone. She never liked the man. She knew him to be unprincipled as well as vicious. One night he brought Howard Jeffries to the restaurant. They seemed the closest of cronies and she was sorry to see what bad influence the elder sophomore had over the young freshman, to whom she was at once attracted. Every time they came she watched them and she noticed how under his mentor Howard became more hardened. He drank more and more and became a reckless gambler. Underwood seemed to exercise a baneful spell over him. She saw that he would soon be ruined with such a man as Underwood for a constant companion. Her interest in the young student grew. They became acquainted and Howard, not realizing that she was older than he, was immediately captivated by her vivacious charm and her common-sense views. They saw each other more frequently and their friendship grew until one day Howard asked her to marry him.
While she sometimes blamed herself for having listened too willingly to Howard's pleadings, she did not altogether regret the step she had taken. It was most unfortunate that there must be this rupture with his family, yet something within told her that she was doing God's work—saving a man's soul. Without her, Howard would have gone swiftly to ruin, there was little doubt of that. His affection for her had partly, if not wholly, redeemed him and was keeping him straight. He had been good to her ever since their marriage and done everything to make her comfortable. Once he took a position as guard on the elevated road, but caught cold and was forced to give it up. She wanted to go to work again, but he angrily refused. That alone showed that he was not entirely devoid of character. He was unfortunate at present and they were poor, but by dint of perseverance he would win out and make a position for himself without his father's help. These were their darkest days, but light was ahead. As long as they loved each other and had their health what more was necessary?
"Say, Annie, I have an idea," suddenly blurted out Howard.
"What is it, dear?" she asked, her reveries thus abruptly interrupted.
"I mean regarding that $2,000. You know all about that $250 which I once lent Underwood. I never got it back, although I've been after him many times for it. He's a slippery customer. But under the circumstances I think it's worth another determined effort. He seems to be better fixed now than he ever was. He's living at the Astruria, making a social splurge and all that sort of thing. He must have money. I'll try to borrow the $2,000 from him."
"He certainly appears to be prosperous," replied Annie. "I see his name in the newspapers all the time. There is hardly an affair at which he is not present."
"Yes," growled Howard; "I don't see how he does it. He travels on his cheek, principally, I guess. His name was among those present at my stepmother's musicale the other night." Bitterly he added: "That's how the world goes. There is no place for me under my father's roof, but that blackguard is welcomed with open arms!"
"I thought your father was such a proud man," interrupted Annie. "How does he come to associate with people like Underwood?"
"Oh, pater's an old dolt!" exclaimed Howard impatiently. "There's no fool like an old fool. Of course, he's sensible enough in business matters. He wouldn't be where he is to-day if he weren't. But when it comes to the woman question he's as blind as a bat. What right had a man of his age to go and marry a woman twenty years his junior? Of course she only married him for his money. Everybody knows that except he. People laugh at him behind his back. Instead of enjoying a quiet, peaceful home in the declining years of his life, he is compelled to keep open house and entertain people who are personally obnoxious to him, simply because that sort of life pleases his young wife."
"Who was she, anyway, before their marriage?" interrupted Annie.
"Oh, a nobody," he replied. "She was very attractive looking, dressed well and was clever enough to get introductions to good people. She managed to make herself popular in the smart set and she needed money to carry out her social ambitions. Dad—wealthy widower—came along and she caught him in her net, that's all!"
Annie listened with interest. She was human enough to feel a certain sense of satisfaction on hearing that this woman who treated her with such contempt was herself something of an intriguer.
"How did your stepmother come to know Robert Underwood?" she asked. "He was never in society."
"No," replied Howard with a grin. "It was my stepmother who gave him the entree. You know she was once engaged to him, but broke it off so she could marry Dad. He felt very sore over it at the time, but after her marriage he was seemingly as friendly with her as ever—to serve his own ends, of course. It is simply wonderful what influence he has with her. He exercises over her the same fascination that he did over me at college. He has sort of hypnotized her. I don't think it's a case of love or anything like that, but he simply holds her under his thumb and gets her to do anything he wants. She invites him to her house, introduces him right and left, got people to take him up. Everybody laughs about it in society. Underwood is known as Mrs. Howard Jeffries' pet. Such a thing soon gets talked about. That is the secret of his successful career in New York. As far as I know, she's as much infatuated with him as ever."
A look of surprise came into Annie's face. To this young woman, whose one idea of matrimony was steadfast loyalty to the man whose life she shared and whose name she bore, there was something repellent and nauseating in a woman permitting herself to be talked about in that way.
"Doesn't your father object?" she asked.
"Pshaw!" laughed Howard. "He doesn't see what's going on under his very nose. He's too proud a man, too sure of his own good judgment, to believe for a moment that the woman to whom he gave his name would be guilty of the slightest indiscretion of that kind."
Annie was silent for a minute. Then she said:
"What makes you think that Underwood would let you have the money?"
"Because I think he's got it. I obliged him once in the same way myself. I would explain to him what I want it for. He will see at once that it is a good thing. I'll offer him a good rate of interest, and he might be very glad to let me have it. Anyhow, there's no harm trying."
Annie said nothing. She did not entirely approve this idea of her husband trying to borrow money of a man in whom his stepmother was so much interested. On the other hand starvation stared them in the face. If Howard could get hold of this $2,000 and start in the brokerage business it might be the beginning of a new life for them.
"Well, do as you like, dear," she said. "When will you go to him?"
"The best time to catch him would be in the evening," replied Howard.
"Well, then, go to-night," she suggested.
Howard shook his head.
"No, not to-night. I don't think I should find him in. He's out every night somewhere. To-night there's another big reception at my father's house. He'll probably be there. I think I'll wait till to-morrow night. I'm nearly sure to catch him at home then."
Annie rose and began to remove the dishes from the table. Howard nonchalantly lighted another cigarette and, leaving the table, took up the evening newspaper. Sitting down comfortably in a rocker by the window, he blew a cloud of blue smoke up in the air and said:
"Yes, that's it—I'll go to-morrow night to the Astruria and strike Bob Underwood for that $2,000."
The handsome town house of Howard Jeffries, the well-known banker, on Riverside Drive, was one of the most striking among the many imposing millionaire homes that line the city's splendid water front. Houses there were in the immediate proximity which were more showy and had cost more money, but none as completely satisfying from the art lover's standpoint. It was the home of a man who studied and loved the beautiful for its own sake and not because he wanted to astonish people with what miracles his money could work. Occupying a large plot on slightly elevated ground, the house commanded a fine view of the broad Hudson. Directly opposite, across the river, busy with steam and sailing craft, smiled the green slopes of New Jersey; in the purplish north frowned the jagged cliffs of the precipitous Palisades.
The elder Jeffries, aristocratic descendant of an old Knickerbocker family, was proud of his home and had spent large sums of money in beautifying it. Built in colonial style of pure white marble with long French windows and lofty columns supporting a flat, rounded roof, surrounded by broad lawns, wide-spreading shade trees and splashing fountains, it was a conspicuous landmark for miles. The interior was full of architectural beauty. The stately entrance hall, hung with ancestral portraits, was of noble proportions and a superb staircase, decorated with statuary led off to tastefully decorated reception rooms above. To-night the house was brilliantly illuminated and there was considerable activity at the front entrance, where a footman in smart livery stood opening the doors of the carriages as they drove up in quick succession.
Mrs. Jeffries' musicales were always largely attended because she knew the secret of making them interesting. Her husband's wealth and her fine house enabled her to entertain on a liberal scale, and she was a tactful and diplomatic hostess as well. She not only cultivated the right kind of people who were congenial to each other, but she always managed to have some guest of special distinction whom every one was eager to meet. Her own wide acquaintance among the prominent operatic artists and her husband's influential position in the world of finance made this policy an easy way of furthering her social ambitions. She would always invite some one whom she could present as the lion of the evening. One week it would be a tenor from the opera house, another time a famous violinist. In this way she managed to create a little artistic salon on the lines of the famous political salons in which the brilliant women of the eighteenth century moulded public opinion in France.
Alicia knew she was clever and as she stood admiring herself in front of a full length mirror while awaiting the arrival of her guests she congratulated herself that she had made a success of her life. She had won those things which most women hold dear—wealth and social position. She had married a man she did not love, it was true, but other women had done that before her. If she had not brought her husband love she at least was not a wife he need be ashamed of. In her Paquin gown of gold cloth with sweeping train and a jeweled tiara in her hair, she considered herself handsome enough to grace any man's home. It was indeed a beauty which she saw in the mirror—the face of a woman not yet thirty with the features regular and refined. The eyes were large and dark and the mouth and nose delicately moulded. The face seemed academically perfect, all but the expression. She had a cold, calculating look, and a cynic might have charged her with being heartless, of stopping at nothing to gain her own ends.
To-night Alicia had every reason to feel jubilant. She had secured a social lion that all New York would talk about—no less a person than Dr. Bernstein, the celebrated psychologist, the originator of the theory of scientific psychology. Everything seemed to go the way she wished; her musicales were the talk of the town; her husband had just presented her with the jeweled tiara which now graced her head; there seemed to be nothing in the world that she could not enjoy.
Yet she was not happy, and as she gazed at the face reflected before her in the glass she wondered if the world guessed how unhappy she was. She knew that by her own indiscretion she was in danger of losing all she had won, her position in society, her place in the affections of her husband, everything.
When she married Mr. Jeffries it was with deliberate calculation. She did not love him, but, being ambitious, she did not hesitate to deceive him. He was rich, he could give her that prominent position in society for which she yearned. The fact that she was already engaged to a man for whom she did care did not deter her for a moment from her set purpose. She had met Robert Underwood years before. He was then a college boy, tall, handsome, clever. She fell in love with him and they became engaged. As she grew more sophisticated she saw the folly of their youthful infatuation. Underwood was without fortune, his future uncertain. What position could she possibly have as his wife? While in this uncertain state of mind she met Mr. Jeffries, then a widower, at a reception. The banker was attracted to her and being a business man he did things quickly. He proposed and was accepted, all in the brief time of—five minutes. Robert Underwood and the romance of her girlhood were sacrificed without question when it came to reaching a prompt decision. She wrote Underwood a brief letter of farewell, telling him that the action she had taken was really for the best interests of them both. Underwood made no reply and for months did not attempt to go near her. Then he met her in public. There was a reconciliation. He exerted the old spell—on the married woman. Cold and indifferent to her husband, Alicia found it amusing to have her old lover paying her court and the danger of discovery only gave the intrigue additional zest and charm. She did not lead Underwood to believe that he could induce her to forget her duty to Mr. Jeffries, but she was foolish enough to encourage a dangerous intimacy. She thought she was strong enough to be able to call a halt whenever she would be so disposed, but as is often the case she overestimated her powers. The intimacy grew. Underwood became bolder, claiming and obtaining special privileges. He soon realized that he had the upper hand and he traded on it. Under her patronage he was invited everywhere. He practically lived on her friends. He borrowed their money and cheated them at cards. His real character was soon known to all, but no one dared expose him for fear of offending the influential Mrs. Jeffries. Realizing this, Underwood continued his depredations until he became a sort of social highwayman. He had no legitimate source of income, but he took a suite of apartments at the expensive Astruria and on credit furnished them so gorgeously that they became the talk of the town. The magazines and newspapers devoted columns to the magnificence of their furnishings and the art treasures they contained. Art dealers all over the country offered him liberal commissions if he would dispose of expensive objets d'art to his friends. He entered in business relation with several firms and soon his rooms became a veritable bazaar for art curios of all kinds. Mrs. Jeffries' friends paid exorbitant prices for some of the stuff and Underwood pocketed the money, forgetting to account to the owners for the sums they brought. The dealers demanded restitution or a settlement and Underwood, dreading exposure, had to hustle around to raise enough money to make up the deficiency in order to avoid prosecution. In this way he lived from day to day borrowing from Peter to settle with Paul, and on one or two occasions he had not been ashamed to borrow from Mrs. Jeffries herself.
Alicia lent the money more because she feared ridicule than from any real desire to oblige Underwood. She had long since become disgusted with him. The man's real character was now plainly revealed to her. He was an adventurer, little better than a common crook. She congratulated herself on her narrow escape. Suppose she had married him—the horror of it! Yet the next instant she was filled with consternation. She had allowed him to become so intimate that it was difficult to break off with him all at once. She realized that with a man of that character the inevitable must come. There would be a disgraceful scandal. She would be mixed up in it, her husband's eyes would be opened to her folly, it might ruin her entire life. She must end it now—once for all. She had already given him to understand that their intimacy must cease. Now he must stop his visits to her house and desist from trapping her friends into his many schemes. She had written him that morning forbidding him to come to the house this evening. She was done with him forever.
These thoughts were responsible for the frown on the beautiful Mrs. Jeffries' bejeweled brow that particular Saturday evening. Alicia gave a sigh and was drawing on her long kid gloves before the glass, when suddenly a maid entered and tendered her mistress a note. Alicia knew the handwriting only too well. She tore the letter open and read:
DEAR MRS. JEFFRIES: I received your letter telling me that my presence at your house to-night would be distasteful to you. As you can imagine, it was a great shock. Don't you understand the harm this will do me? Everybody will notice my absence. They will jump to the conclusion that there has been a rupture, and my credit will suffer immediately with your friends. I cannot afford to let this happen now. My affairs are in such condition that it will be fatal to me. I need your support and friendship more than ever. I have noticed for some time that your manner to me has changed. Perhaps you have believed some of the stories my enemies have circulated about me. For the sake of our old friendship, Alicia, don't desert me now. Remember what I once was to you and let me come to your reception to-night. There's a reason why I must be seen in your house.
Yours devotedly, ROBERT UNDERWOOD.
Alicia's face flushed with anger. Turning to the maid, she said: "There's no answer."
The girl was about to close the door when her mistress suddenly recalled her.
"Wait a minute," she said; "I'll write a line."
Taking from her dainty escritoire a sheet of perfumed notepaper, she wrote hurriedly as follows:
"If you dare to come near my house to-night, I will have you put out by the servants."
Quickly folding the note, she crushed it into an envelope, sealed it, handed it to the girl, and said:
"Give that to the messenger."
The servant disappeared and Alicia resumed her work of drawing on her gloves in front of her mirror. How dare he write her such a letter? Was her house to be made the headquarters for his swindling schemes? Did he want to cheat more of her friends? The more she thought of all he had done, the angrier she became. Her eyes flashed and her bosom heaved with indignation. She wondered what her husband, the soul of honor, would say if he suspected that she had permitted a man of Underwood's character to use his home for his dishonest practices. She was glad she had ended it now, before it was too late. There might have been a scandal, and that she must avoid at any cost. Mr. Jeffries, she felt certain, would not tolerate a scandal of any kind.
All at once she felt something brush her cheek. She turned quickly. It was her husband, who had entered the room quietly.
"Oh, Howard," she exclaimed peevishly; "how you frightened me! You shouldn't startle me like that."
A tall, distinguished-looking man with white mustache and pointed beard stood admiring her in silence. His erect figure, admirably set off in a well-cut dress coat suggested the soldier.
"What are doing alone here, dear?" he said. "I hear carriages outside. Our guests are arriving."
"Just thinking, that's all," she replied evasively.
He noticed her preoccupied look and, with some concern, he demanded:
"There's nothing to worry you, is there?"
"Oh, no—nothing like that," she said hastily.
He looked at her closely and she averted her eyes. Mr. Jeffries often wondered if he had made a mistake. He felt that this woman to whom he had given his name did not love him, but his vanity as much as his pride prevented him from acknowledging it, even to himself. After all, what did he care? She was a companion, she graced his home and looked after his creature comforts. Perhaps no reasonable man should expect anything more. Carelessly, he asked:
"Whom do you expect to-night?"
"Oh, the usual crowd," replied Alicia languidly. "Dr. Bernstein is coming—you know he's quite the rage just now. He has to do with psychology and all that sort of thing."
"So, he's your lion to-night, is he?" smiled the banker. Then he went on:
"By the bye, I met Brewster at the club to-night. He promised to drop in."
Now it was Alicia's turn to smile. It was not everybody who could boast of having such a distinguished lawyer as Judge Brewster on their calling lists. To-night would certainly be a success—two lions instead of one. For the moment she forgot her worry.
"I am delighted that the judge is coming," she exclaimed, her face beaming. "Every one is talking about him since his brilliant speech for the defense in that murder case."
The banker noted his wife's beautiful hair and the white transparency of her skin. His gaze lingered on the graceful lines of her neck and bosom, glittering with precious stones. An exquisite aroma exuding from her person reached where he stood. His eyes grew more ardent and, passing his arm affectionately around her slender waist, he asked:
"How does my little girl like her tiara?"
"It's very nice. Don't you see I'm wearing it to-night?" she replied almost impatiently and drawing herself away.
Before Mr. Jeffries had time to reply there was a commotion at the other end of the reception room, where rich tapestries screened off the main entrance hall. The butler drew the curtains aside.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cortwright," he announced loudly.
Alicia went forward, followed by her husband, to greet her guests.
The richly decorated reception rooms, brilliantly illuminated with soft incandescent lights artistically arranged behind banks of flowers, were filled with people. In the air was the familiar buzz always present in a room where each person is trying to speak at the same time. On all sides one heard fragments of inept conversation.
"So good of you to come! How well you're looking, my dear."
"My husband? Oh, he's at the club, playing poker, as usual. He hates music."
"I've such a terrible cold!"
"Trouble with servants? I should say so. I bounced my cook this morning."
"Aren't these affairs awefully tiresome?"
"I was so glad to come. I always enjoy your musicales."
"Dr. Bernstein coming? How perfectly delightful. I'll ask him for his autograph."
"Something to do with religion, I think."
"Haven't we been having dreadful weather?"
"I saw you at the opera."
"Doesn't she look sweet?"
"Oh, I think it's just lovely."
People now arrived in quick succession and, forming little groups, the room soon presented an animated scene. The women in their smart gowns and the men in their black coats made a pleasing picture.
"My dear Mrs. Jeffries, how do you do this evening?" exclaimed a rich, deep voice.
The hostess turned to greet an elderly and distinguished-looking man who had just entered. Directly he came in voices were hushed, and on every side one heard the whisper:
"There's Judge Brewster, the famous lawyer."
There was a general craning of necks to catch a glimpse of the eminent jurist whose brilliant address to the jury in a recent cause celebre had saved an innocent man from the electric chair.
Richard Brewster was a fine example of the old school statesman-lawyer of the Henry Clay type. He belonged to that small class of public men who are independent of all coteries, whose only ambition is to serve their country well, who know no other duty than that dictated by their oath and conscience. A brilliant and forceful orator, there was no office in the gift of the nation that might not have been his for the asking, but he had no taste for politics. After serving with honor for some years on the bench he retired into private practice, and thereafter his name became one to conjure with in the law courts. By sheer power of his matchless oratory and unanswerable logic he won case after case for his clients and it is a tribute to his name to record the plain fact that in all his career he never championed a cause of which he need be ashamed. Powerful financial interests had attempted to secure his services by offers of princely retainers, but without success. He fought the trusts bitterly every time he found them oppressing the people. He preferred to remain comparatively poor rather than enrich himself at the price of prostituting his profession.
Alicia advanced with extended hand.
"This is indeed kind, Judge," she exclaimed with a gracious smile. "I hardly dared hope that my poor musicale would be so honored."
The old lawyer smiled good-humoredly as he replied gallantly:
"I don't know much about music, m'm; I came to see you." Looking around he added: "You've got a nice place here."
He spoke in his characteristic manner—short, nervous, explosive sentences, which had often terrified his opponents in court.
"Lawyers are such flatterers," laughed Alicia as she nervously fanned herself, and looked around to see if her guests were watching.
"Lawyers only flatter when they want to," interrupted grimly Mr. Jeffries, who had just joined the group.
Alicia turned to greet a new arrival and the lawyer continued chatting with his host.
"I suppose you'll take a rest now, after your splendid victory," said the banker.
Judge Brewster shook his head dubiously.
"No, sir, we lawyers never rest. We can't. No sooner is one case disposed of than another crops up to claim our attention. The trouble with this country is that we have too much law. If I were to be guilty of an epigram I would say that the country has so much law that it is practically lawless."
"So you're preparing another case, eh?" said Mr. Jeffries, interested. "What is it—a secret?"
"Oh, no!" answered the lawyer, "the newspapers will be full of it in a day or two. We are going to bring suit against the city. It's really a test case that should interest every citizen; a protest against the high-handed actions of the police."
The banker elevated his eyebrows.
"Indeed," he exclaimed. "What have the police been doing now?"
The lawyer looked at his client in surprise.
"Why, my dear sir, you must have seen by the papers what's been going on in our city of late. The papers have been full of it. Police brutality, illegal arrests, assaults in station houses, star-chamber methods that would disgrace the middle ages. A state of affairs exists to-day in the city of New York which is inconceivable. Here we are living in a civilized country, every man's liberty is guaranteed by the Constitution, yet citizens, as they walk our streets, are in greater peril than the inhabitants of terror-stricken Russia. Take a police official of Captain Clinton's type. His only notion of the law is brute force and the night stick. A bully by nature, a man of the coarsest instincts and enormous physical strength, he loves to play the tyrant. In his precinct he poses as a kind of czar and fondly imagines he has the power to administer the law itself. By his brow-beating tactics, intolerable under Anglo-Saxon government, he is turning our police force into a gang of ruffians who have the city terror-stricken. In order to further his political ambitions he stops at nothing. He lets the guilty escape when influence he can't resist is brought to bear, but in order to keep up his record with the department he makes arrests without the slightest justification. To secure convictions he manufactures, with the aid of his detectives, all kinds of perjured evidence. To paraphrase a well-known saying, his motto is: 'Convict—honestly, if you can—but convict.'"
"It is outrageous," said Mr. Jeffries. "No one can approve such methods. Of course, in dealing with the criminal population of a great city, they cannot wear kid gloves, but Captain Clinton certainly goes too far. What is the specific complaint on which the suit is based?"
"Captain Clinton," replied the judge, "made the mistake of persecuting a young woman who happened to be the daughter of a wealthy client of mine. One of his detectives arrested her on a charge of shoplifting. The girl, mind you, is of excellent family and irreproachable character. My client and his lawyer tried to show Captain Clinton that he had made a serious blunder, but he brazened it out, claiming on the stand that the girl was an old offender. Of course, he was forced at last to admit his mistake and the girl went free, but think of the humiliation and mental anguish she underwent! It was simply a repetition of his old tactics. A conviction, no matter at what cost."
"What do you hope to bring about by this suit?"
"Arouse public indignation, and if possible get Captain Clinton dismissed from the force. His record is none too savory. Charges of graft have been made against him time and time again, but so far nothing has been proved. To-day he is a man of wealth on a comparatively small salary. Do you suppose his money could have come to him honestly?"
In another corner of the salon stood Dr. Bernstein, the celebrated psychologist, the centre of an excited crowd of enthusiastic admirers.
Alicia approached a group of chattering women. Each was more elaborately dressed than her neighbor, and loaded down with rare gems. They at once stopped talking as their hostess came up.
"It was so good of you to come!" said Alicia effusively to a fat woman with impossible blond hair and a rouged face. "I want to introduce Dr. Bernstein to you."
"Oh, I shall be delighted," smiled the blonde. Gushingly she added: "How perfectly exquisite you look to-night, my dear."
"Do you think so?" said Alicia, pleased at the clumsy flattery.
"Your dress is stunning and your tiara simply gorgeous," raved another.
"Your musicales are always so delightful," exclaimed a third.
At that moment Mr. Jeffries caught his wife by the arm and drew her attention to some newcomers. With a laugh she left the group and hurried toward the door. Directly she was out of earshot, the three women began whispering:
"Isn't she terribly overdressed?" exclaimed the blonde. "The cheek of such a parvenue to wear that tiara."
"Her face is all made up, too," said another.
"These affairs of hers are awfully stupid, don't you think so?" piped the third.
"Yes, they bore everybody to death," said the blonde. "She's ambitious and likes to think she is a social leader. I only come here because it amuses me to see what a fool she makes of herself. Fancy a woman of her age marrying a man old enough to be her father. By the bye, I don't see her beau here to-night."
"You mean that scamp, Robert Underwood?"
"Isn't it perfectly scandalous, the way he dances after her? I'm surprised Mr. Jeffries allows him to come to the house."
"Maybe there's been a row. Perhaps that explains why he's not here to-night. It's the first time I've known him absent from one of her musicales."
"He's conspicuous by his absence. Do you know what I heard the other day? I was told that Underwood had again been caught cheating at cards and summarily expelled from the club—kicked out, so to speak."
"I'm not at all surprised. I always had my doubts about him. He induced a friend of mine to buy a picture, and got a tremendous price for it on the false representation that it was a genuine Corot. My friend found out afterward that he had been duped. Proceedings were threatened, but Underwood managed to hush the affair by returning part of the money."
In another part of the room a couple were discussing Mr. Jeffries as he stood talking with Judge Brewster.
"Did you notice how Mr. Jeffries has aged recently? He no longer seems the same man."
"No wonder, after all the trouble he's had. Of course you know what a disappointment his son turned out?"
"A scamp, I understand. Married a chorus girl and all that sort of thing."
"Not exactly, but almost as bad. The girl was a waitress or something like that in a restaurant. She's very common; her father died in prison. You can imagine the blow to old Jeffries. He turned the boy adrift and left him to shift for himself."
Alicia approached her husband, who was still talking with Judge Brewster. She was leaning on the arm of a tall, handsome man with a dark Van Dyke beard.
"Who are you discussing with such interest?" she demanded, as she came up with her escort.
"We were talking of Captain Clinton and his detestable police methods," said the banker.
"Judge," said Alicia, turning to the lawyer, "allow me to introduce Dr. Bernstein. Doctor, this is Judge Brewster."
The stranger bowed low, as he replied courteously:
"The fame of Judge Brewster has spread to every State in the Union."
A faint smile spread over the face of the famous lawyer as he extended his hand:
"I've often heard of you, too, doctor. I've been reading with great interest your book, 'Experimental Psychology.' Do you know," he went on earnestly, "there's a lot in that. We have still much to learn in that direction."
"I think," said Dr. Bernstein quietly, "that we're only on the threshold of wonderful discoveries."
Pleased to find that her two distinguished guests were congenial, Alicia left them to themselves and joined her other guests.
"Yes," said the lawyer musingly, "man has studied for centuries the mechanism of the body, but he has neglected entirely the mechanism of the mind."
Dr. Bernstein smiled approvingly.
"We are just waking up," he replied quickly. "People are beginning to look upon psychology seriously. Up to comparatively recently the layman has regarded psychology as the domain of the philosopher and the dreamer. It did not seem possible that it could ever be applied to our practical everyday life, but of late we have made remarkable strides. Although it is a comparatively new science, you will probably be astonished to learn that there are to-day in the United States fifty psychological laboratories. That is to say, workshops fully equipped with every device known for the probing of the human brain. In my laboratory in California alone I have as many as twenty rooms hung with electric wires and equipped with all the necessary instruments—chronoscopes, kymographs, tachistoscopes, and ergographs, instruments which enable us to measure and record the human brain as accurately as the Bertillon system."
"Really, you astonish me!" exclaimed the judge. "This is most interesting. Think of laboratories solely devoted to delving into mysteries of the human brain! It is wonderful!"
He was silent for a moment, then he said:
"It is quite plain, I think, that psychology can prove most useful in medicine. It is, I take it, the very foundation of mental healing, but what else would it do for humanity? For instance, can it help me, the lawyer?"
Dr. Bernstein smiled.
"You gentlemen of the law have always scoffed at the very suggestion of bringing psychology to your aid, but just think, sir, how enormously it might aid you in cross-examining a witness. You can tell with almost scientific accuracy if the witness is telling lies or the truth, and the same would be clear to the judge and the jury. Just think how your powers would be increased if by your skill in psychological observation you could convince the jury that your client, who was about to be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, was really innocent of the crime of which he was charged. Why, sir, the road which psychology opens up to the lawyer is well-nigh boundless. Don't you use the Bertillon system to measure the body? Don't you rely on thumb prints to identify the hand? How do you know that we psychologists are not able to-day to test the individual differences of men?"
"In a word," laughed the judge, "you mean that any one trained to read my mind can tell just what's passing in my brain?"
"Precisely," replied the doctor with a smile; "the psychologist can tell with almost mathematical accuracy just how your mental mechanism is working. I admit it sounds uncanny, but it can be proved. In fact, it has been proved, time and time again."
Alicia came up and took the doctor's arm.
"Oh, Dr. Bernstein," she protested, "I can't allow the judge to monopolize you in this way. Come with me. I want to introduce you to a most charming woman who is dying to meet you. She is perfectly crazy on psychology."
"Don't introduce me to her," laughed the judge. "I see enough crazy people in the law courts."
Dr. Bernstein smiled and followed his hostess. Judge Brewster turned to chat with the banker. From the distant music room came the sound of a piano and a beautiful soprano voice. The rooms were now crowded and newcomers were arriving each minute. Servants passed in and out serving iced delicacies and champagne.
Suddenly the butler entered the salon and, quietly approaching Alicia, handed her a letter. In a low tone, he said:
"This letter has just come, m'm. The messenger said it was very important and I should deliver it at once."
Alicia turned pale. She instantly recognized the handwriting. It was from Robert Underwood. Was not her last message enough? How dare he address her again and at such a time? Retiring to an inner room, she tore open the envelope and read as follows:
DEAR MRS. JEFFRIES: This is the last time I shall ever bore you with my letters. You have forbidden me to see you again. Practically you have sentenced me to a living death, but as I prefer death shall not be partial, but full and complete oblivion, I take this means of letting you know that unless you revoke your cruel sentence of banishment, I shall make an end of it all. I shall be found dead, Monday morning, and you will know who is responsible. Yours devotedly,
An angry exclamation escaped Alicia's lips, and crushing the note up in her hand, she bit her lips till the blood came. It was just as she feared. The man was desperate. He was not to be got rid of so easily. How dare he—how dare he? The coward—to think that she could be frightened by such a threat. What did she care if he killed himself? It would be good riddance. Yet suppose he was in earnest, suppose he did carry out his threat? There would be a terrible scandal, an investigation, people would talk, her name would be mentioned. No—no—that must be prevented at all costs.
Distracted, not knowing what course to pursue, she paced the floor of the room. Through the closed door she could hear the music and the chatter of her guests. She must go to see Underwood at once, that was certain, and her visit must be a secret one. There was already enough talk. If her enemies could hear of her visiting him alone in his apartment that would be the end.
"Yes—I must see him at once. To-morrow is Sunday. He's sure to be home in the evening. He mentions Monday morning. There will still be time. I'll go and see him to-morrow."
The door opened and Mr. Jeffries put his head in.
"What are you doing here, my dear?" he asked. "I was looking everywhere for you. Judge Brewster wishes to say good night."
"I was fixing my hair, that's all," replied Alicia with perfect composure.
Among the many huge caravansaries that of recent years have sprung up in New York to provide luxurious quarters regardless of cost for those who can afford to pay for the best, none could rival the Astruria in size and magnificence. Occupying an entire block in the very heart of the residential district, it took precedence over all the other apartment hotels of the metropolis as the biggest and most splendidly appointed hostelry of its kind in the world. It was, indeed, a small city in itself. It was not necessary for its fortunate tenants to leave it unless they were so minded. Everything for their comfort and pleasure was to be had without taking the trouble to go out of doors. On the ground floor were shops of all kinds, which catered only to the Astruria's patrons. There were also on the premises a bank, a broker's office, a hairdresser, and a postal-telegraph office. A special feature was the garden court, containing over 30,000 square feet of open space, and tastefully laid out with plants and flowers. Here fountains splashed and an orchestra played while the patrons lounged on comfortable rattan chairs or gossiped with their friends. Up on the sixteenth floor was the cool roof garden, an exquisite bower of palms and roses artificially painted by a famous French artist, with its recherche restaurant, its picturesque tziganes, and its superb view of all Manhattan Island.
The Astruria was the last word in expensive apartment hotel building. Architects declared that it was as far as modern lavishness and extravagance could go. Its interior arrangements were in keeping with its external splendor. Its apartments were of noble dimensions, richly decorated, and equipped with every device, new and old, that modern science and builders' ingenuity could suggest. That the rents were on a scale with the grandeur of the establishment goes without saying. Only long purses could stand the strain. It was a favorite headquarters for Westerners who had "struck it rich," wealthy bachelors, and successful actors and opera singers who loved the limelight on and off the stage.
Sunday evening was usually exceedingly quiet at the Astruria. Most of the tenants were out of town over the week-end, and as the restaurant and roof garden were only slimly patronized, the elevators ran less frequently, making less chatter and bustle in corridors and stairways. Stillness reigned everywhere as if the sobering influence of the Sabbath had invaded even this exclusive domain of the unholy rich. The uniformed attendants, having nothing to do, yawned lazily in the deserted halls. Some even indulged in surreptitious naps in corners, confident that they would not be disturbed. Callers were so rare that when some one did enter from the street, he was looked upon with suspicion.
It was shortly after seven o'clock the day following Mrs. Jeffries' reception when a man came in by the main entrance from Broadway, and approaching one of the hall boys, inquired for Mr. Robert Underwood.
The boy gave his interlocutor an impudent stare. There was something about the caller's dress and manner which told him instinctively that he was not dealing with a visitor whom he must treat respectfully. No one divines a man's or woman's social status quicker or more unerringly than a servant. The attendant saw at once that the man did not belong to the class which paid social visits to tenants in the Astruria. He was rather seedy-looking, his collar was not immaculate, his boots were thick and clumsy, his clothes cheap and ill-fitting.
"Is Mr. Underwood in?" he demanded.
"Not home," replied the attendant insolently, after a pause. Like most hall boys, he took a savage pleasure in saying that the tenants were out.
The caller looked annoyed.
"He must be in," he said with a frown. "I have an appointment with him."
This was not strictly true, but the bluff had the desired effect.
"Got an appointment! Why didn't you say so at once?"
Reaching lazily over the telephone switchboard, and without rising from his seat, he asked surlily:
"What's the name?"
The boy took the transmitter and spoke into it:
"A party called to see Mr. Underwood."
There was a brief pause, as if the person upstairs was in doubt whether to admit that he was home or not. Then came the answer. The boy looked up.
"He says you should go up. Apartment 165. Take the elevator."
* * * * *
In his luxuriously appointed rooms on the fourteenth floor, Robert Underwood sat before the fire puffing nervously at a strong cigar. All around him was a litter of objets d'art, such as would have filled the heart of any connoisseur with joy. Oil paintings in heavy gilt frames, of every period and school, Rembrandts, Cuyps, Ruysdaels, Reynoldses, Corots, Henners, some on easels, some resting on the floor; handsome French bronzes, dainty china on Japanese teakwood tables, antique furniture, gold-embroidered clerical vestments, hand-painted screens, costly Oriental rugs, rare ceramics—all were confusedly jumbled together. On a grand piano in a corner of the room stood two tall cloisonne vases of almost inestimable value. On a desk close by were piled miniatures and rare ivories. The walls were covered with tapestries, armor, and trophies of arms. More like a museum than a sitting room, it was the home of a man who made a business of art or made of art a business.
Underwood stared moodily at the glowing logs in the open chimneyplace. His face was pale and determined. After coming in from the restaurant he had changed his tuxedo for the more comfortable house coat. Nothing called him away that particular Sunday evening, and no one was likely to disturb him. Ferris, his man-servant, had taken his usual Sunday off and would not return until midnight. The apartment was still as the grave. It was so high above the street that not a sound reached up from the noisy Broadway below. Underwood liked the quiet so that he could think, and he was thinking hard. On the flat desk at his elbow stood a dainty demi-tasse of black coffee—untasted. There were glasses and decanters of whiskey and cordial, but the stimulants did not tempt him.
He wondered if Alicia would ignore his letter or if she would come to him. Surely she could not be so heartless as to throw him over at such a moment. Crushed in his left hand was a copy of the New York Herald containing an elaborate account of the brilliant reception and musicale given the previous evening at her home. With an exclamation of impatience he rose from his seat, threw the paper from him, and began to pace the floor.
Was this the end of everything? Had he reached the end of his rope? He must pay the reckoning, if not to-day, to-morrow. As his eyes wandered around the room and he took mental inventory of each costly object, he experienced a sudden shock as he recalled the things that were missing. How could he explain their absence? The art dealers were already suspicious. They were not to be put off any longer with excuses. Any moment they might insist either on the immediate return of their property or on payment in full. He was in the position to do neither. The articles had been sold and the money lost gambling. Curse the luck! Everything had gone against him of late. The dealers would begin criminal proceedings, disgrace and prison stripes would follow. There was no way out of it. He had no one to whom he could turn in this crisis.
And now even Alicia had deserted him. This was the last straw. While he was still able to boast of the friendship and patronage of the aristocratic Mrs. Howard Jeffries he could still hold his head high in the world. No one would dare question his integrity, but now she had abandoned him to his fate, people would begin to talk. There was no use keeping up a hopeless fight—suicide was the only way out!
He stopped in front of a mirror, startled at what he saw there. It was the face of a man not yet thirty, but apparently much older. The features were drawn and haggard, and his dark hair was plentifully streaked with gray. He looked like a man who had lived two lives in one. To-night his face frightened him. His eyes had a fixed stare like those of a man he had once seen in a madhouse. He wondered if men looked like that when they were about to be executed. Was not his own hour close at hand? He wondered why the clock was so noisy; it seemed to him that the ticks were louder than usual. He started suddenly and looked around fearfully. He thought he had heard a sound outside. He shuddered as he glanced toward the little drawer on the right-hand side of his desk, in which he knew there was a loaded revolver.
If Alicia would only relent escape might yet be possible. If he did not hear from her it must be for to-night. One slight little pressure on the trigger and all would be over.
Suddenly the bell of the telephone connecting the apartment with the main hall downstairs rang violently. Interrupted thus abruptly in the midst of his reflections, Underwood jumped forward, startled. His nerves were so unstrung that he was ever apprehensive of danger. With a tremulous hand, he took hold of the receiver and placed it to his ear. As he listened, his already pallid face turned whiter and the lines about his mouth tightened. He hesitated a moment before replying. Then, with an effort, he said:
"Send him up."
Dropping the receiver, he began to walk nervously up and down the room. The crisis had come sooner than he expected—exposure was at hand. This man Bennington was the manager of the firm of dealers whose goods he disposed of. He could not make restitution. Prosecution was inevitable. Disgrace and prison would follow. He could not stand it; he would rather kill himself. Trouble was very close at hand, that was certain. How could he get out of it? Pacing the floor, he bit his lips till the blood came.
There was a sharp ring at the front door. Underwood opened it. As he recognized his visitor on the threshold, he exclaimed:
"Why, Bennington, this is a surprise!"
The manager entered awkwardly. He had the constrained air of a man who has come on an unpleasant errand, but wants to be as amiable as the circumstances will permit.
"You didn't expect me, did you?" he began.
Shutting the front door, Underwood led the way back into the sitting room, and making an effort to control his nerves, said:
"Sit down, won't you?"
But Mr. Bennington merely bowed stiffly. It was evident that he did not wish his call to be mistaken for a social visit.
"I haven't time, thank you. To be frank, my mission is rather a delicate one, Mr. Underwood."
Underwood laughed nervously. Affecting to misinterpret the other's meaning, he said:
"Yes, you're right. The art and antique business is a delicate business. God knows it's a precarious one!" Reaching for the decanter, he added: "Have a drink."
But Mr. Bennington refused to unbend. The proffer of refreshment did not tempt him to swerve from the object of his mission. While Underwood was talking, trying to gain time, his eyes were taking in the contents of the apartment.
"Come, take a drink," urged Underwood again.
"No, thanks," replied Mr. Bennington curtly.
Suddenly he turned square around.
"Let's get down to business, Mr. Underwood," he exclaimed. "My firm insists on the immediate return of their property." Pointing around the room, he added: "Everything, do you understand?"
Underwood was standing in the shadow of the lamp so his visitor did not notice that he had grown suddenly very white, and that his mouth twitched painfully.
"Why, what's the trouble?" he stammered. "Haven't you done a lot of business through me? Haven't I got prices for your people that they would never have gotten?"
"Yes—we know all that," replied Mr. Bennington impatiently. "To be frank, Mr. Underwood, we've received information that you've sold many of the valuable articles entrusted to you for which you've made no accounting at all."
"That's not true," exclaimed Underwood hotly. "I have accounted for almost everything. The rest of the things are here. Of course, there may be a few things——"
Taking a box of cigars from the desk, he offered it to his visitor.
"No, thanks," replied Bennington coldly, pushing back the proffered box.
Underwood was fast losing his self-control. Throwing away his cigar with an angry exclamation, he began to walk up and down.
"I can account for everything if you give me time. You must give me time. I'm hard pressed by my creditors. My expenses are enormous and collections exceedingly difficult. I have a large amount of money outstanding. After our pleasant business relations it seems absurd and most unfair that your firm should take this stand with me." He halted suddenly and faced Bennington. "Of course, I'm much obliged to you, personally, for this friendly tip."