VERA, THE MEDIUM
By Richard Harding Davis
Happy in the hope that the news was "exclusive", the Despatch had thrown the name of Stephen Hallowell, his portrait, a picture of his house, and the words, "At Point of Death!" across three columns. The announcement was heavy, lachrymose, bristling with the melancholy self-importance of the man who "saw the deceased, just two minutes before the train hit him."
But the effect of the news fell short of the effort. Save that city editors were irritated that the presidents of certain railroads figured hastily on slips of paper, the fact that an old man and his millions would soon be parted, left New York undisturbed.
In the early 80's this would not have been so. Then, in the uplifting of the far West, Stephen Hallowell was a national figure, in the manoeuvres of the Eastern stock market an active, alert power. In those days, when a man with a few millions was still listed as rich, his fortune was considered colossal.
A patent coupling-pin, the invention of his brother-in-law, had given him his start, and, in introducing it, and in his efforts to force it upon the new railroads of the West, he had obtained a knowledge of their affairs. From that knowledge came his wealth. That was twenty years ago. Since then giants had arisen in the land; men whose wealth made the fortune of Stephen Hallowell appear a comfortable competence, his schemes and stratagems, which, in their day, had bewildered Wall Street, as simple as the trading across the counter of a cross-roads store. For years he had been out of it. He had lost count. Disuse and ill health had rendered his mind feeble, made him at times suspicious, at times childishly credulous. Without friends, along with his physician and the butler, who was also his nurse, he lived in the house that in 76, in a burst of vanity, he had built on Fifth Avenue. Then the house was a "mansion," and its front of brown sandstone the outward sign of wealth and fashion. Now, on one side, it rubbed shoulders with the shop of a man milliner, and across the street the houses had been torn down and replaced by a department store. Now, instead of a sombre jail-like facade, his outlook was a row of waxen ladies, who, before each change of season, appeared in new and gorgeous raiment, and, across the avenue, for his approval, smiled continually.
"It is time you moved, Stephen," urged his friend and lawyer, Judge Henry Gaylor. "I can get you twice as much for this lot as you paid for both it and the house."
But Mr. Hallowell always shook his head. "Where would I go, Henry?" he would ask. "What would I do with the money? No, I will live in this house until I am carried out of it."
With distaste, the irritated city editors "followed up" the three-column story of the Despatch.
"Find out if there's any truth in that," they commanded. "The old man won't see you, but get a talk out of Rainey. And see Judge Gaylor. He's close to Hallowell. Find out from him if that story didn't start as a bear yarn in Wall Street."
So, when Walsh of the Despatch was conducted by Garrett, the butler of Mr. Hallowell, upstairs to that gentlemen's library, he found a group of reporters already entrenched. At the door that opened from the library to the bedroom, the butler paused. "What paper shall I say?" he asked.
"The Despatch," Walsh told him.
The servant turned quickly and stared at Walsh.
He appeared the typical butler, an Englishman of over forty, heavily built, soft-moving, with ruddy, smooth-shaven cheeks and prematurely gray hair. But now from his face the look of perfunctory politeness had fallen; the subdued voice had changed to a snarl that carried with it the accents of the Tenderloin.
"So, you're the one, are you?" the man muttered.
For a moment he stood scowling; insolent, almost threatening, and then, once more, the servant opened the door and noiselessly closed it behind him.
The transition had been so abrupt, the revelation so unexpected, that the men laughed.
"I don't blame him!" said young Irving. "I couldn't find a single fact in the whole story. How'd your people get it—pretty straight?"
"Seemed straight to us," said Walsh.
"Well, you didn't handle it that way," returned the other. "Why didn't you quote Rainey or Gaylor? It seems to me if a man's on the point of death"—he lowered his voice and glanced toward the closed door—"that his private doctor and his lawyer might know something about it."
Standing alone with his back to the window was a reporter who had greeted no one and to whom no one had spoken.
Had he held himself erect he would have been tall, but he stood slouching lazily, his shoulders bent, his hands in his pockets. When he spoke his voice was in keeping with the indolence of his bearing. It was soft, hesitating, carrying with it the courteous deference of the South. Only his eyes showed that to what was going forward he was alert and attentive.
"Is Dr. Rainey Mr. Hallowell's family doctor?" he asked.
Irving surveyed him in amused superiority.
"He is!" he answered. "You been long in New York?" he asked.
Upon the stranger the sarcasm was lost, or he chose to ignore it, for he answered simply, "No, I'm a New Orleans boy. I've just been taken on the Republic."
"Welcome to our city," said Irving. "What do you think of our Main Street?"
From the hall a tall portly man entered the room with the assurance of one much at home here and, with an exclamation, Irving fell upon him.
"Good morning, Judge," he called. He waved at him the clipping from the Despatch. "Have you seen this?"
Judge Gaylor accepted the slip of paper gingerly, and in turn moved his fine head pompously toward each of the young men. Most of them were known to him, but for the moment he preferred to appear too deeply concerned to greet them. With an expression of shocked indignation, he recognized only Walsh.
"Yes, I have seen it," he said, "and there is not a word of truth in it! Mr. Walsh, I am surprised! You, of all people!"
"We got it on very good authority," said the reporter.
"But why not call me up and get the facts?" demanded the Judge. "I was here until twelve o'clock, and—"
"Here!" interrupted Irving. "Then he did have a collapse?"
Judge Gaylor swung upon his heel.
"Certainly not," he retorted angrily. "I was here on business, and I have never known his mind more capable, more alert." He lifted his hands with an enthusiastic gesture. "I wish you could have seen him!"
"Well," urged Irving, "how about our seeing him now?"
For a moment Judge Gaylor permitted his annoyance to appear, but he at once recovered and, murmuring cheerfully, "Certainly, certainly; I'll try to arrange it," turned to the butler who had re-entered the room.
"Garett," he inquired, "is Mr. Hallowell awake yet?" As he asked the question his eyebrows rose; with an almost imperceptible shake of the head he signaled for an answer in the negative.
"Well, there you are!" the Judge exclaimed heartily. "I can't wake him, even to oblige you. In a word, gentlemen, Stephen Hallowell has never been in better health, mentally and bodily. You can say that from me—and that's all there is to say."
"Then, we can say," persisted Irving, "that you say, that Walsh's story is a fake?"
"You can say it is not true," corrected Gaylor. "That's all, gentlemen." The audience was at an end. The young men moved toward the hall and Judge Gaylor turned to the bedroom. As he did so, he found that the new man on the Republic still held his ground.
"Could I have a word with you, sir?" the stranger asked. The reporters halted jealously. Again Gaylor showed his impatience.
"About Mr. Hallowell's health?" he demanded. "There's nothing more to say."
"No, it's not about his health," ventured the reporter.
"Well, not now. I am very late this morning." The Judge again moved to the bedroom and the reporter, as though accepting the verdict, started to follow the others. As he did so, as though in explanation or as a warning he added: "You said to always come to you for the facts." The lawyer halted, hesitated. "What facts do you want?" he asked. The reporter bowed, and waved his broad felt hat toward the listening men. In polite embarrassment he explained what he had to say could not be spoken in their presence.
Something in the manner of the stranger led Judge Gaylor to pause. He directed Garrett to accompany the reporters from the room. Then, with mock politeness, he turned to the one who remained. "I take it, you are a new comer in New York journalism. What is your name?" he asked.
"My name is Homer Lee," said the Southerner. "I am a New Orleans boy. I've been only a month in your city. Judge," he began earnestly, but in a voice which still held the drawl of the South, "I met a man from home last week on Broadway. He belonged to that spiritualistic school on Carondelet Street. He knows all that's going on in the spook world, and he tells me the ghost raisers have got their hooks into the old man pretty deep. Is that so?"
The bewilderment of Judge Gaylor was complete and, without question, genuine.
"I don't know what you mean," he said.
"My informant tells me," continued the reporter, "that Mr. Hallowell has embraced—if that's what you call it—spiritualism."
Gaylor started forward.
"What!" he roared.
Unmoved, the other regarded the Judge keenly.
"Spiritualism," he repeated, "and that a bunch of these mediums have got him so hypnotized he can't call his soul his own, or his money, either. Is that true?"
Judge Gaylor's outburst was overwhelming. That it was genuine Mr. Lee, observing him closely, was convinced.
"Of all the outrageous, ridiculous"—the judge halted, gasping for words—"and libelous statements!" he went on. "If you print that," he thundered, "Mr. Hallowell will sue your paper for half a million dollars. Can't you see the damage you would do? Can't your people see that if the idea got about that he was unable to direct his own affairs, that he was in the hands of mediums, it would invalidate everything he does? After his death, every act of his at this time, every paper he had signed, would be suspected, and—and"—stammered the Judge as his imagination pictured what might follow—"they might even attack his will!" He advanced truculently. "Do you mean to publish this libel?"
Lee moved his shoulders in deprecation. "I'm afraid we must," he said.
"You must!" demanded Gaylor. "After what I've told you? Do you think I'm lying to you?"
"No," said the reporter; "I don't think you are. Looks more like you didn't know."
"Not know? I?" Gaylor laughed hysterically. "I am his lawyer. I am his best friend! Who will you believe?" He stepped to the table and pressed an electric button, and Garrett appeared in the hall. "Tell Dr. Rainey I want to see him," Gaylor commanded, "and return with him."
As they waited, Judge Gaylor paced quickly to and fro. "I've had to deny some pretty silly stories about Mr. Hallowell," he said, "but of all the absurd, malicious—There's some enemy back of this; some one in Wall Street is doing this. But I'll find him—I'll—" he was interrupted by the entrance of the butler and Dr. Rainey, Mr. Hallowell's personal physician.
Rainey was a young man with a weak face, and knowing, shifting eyes that blinked behind a pair of eyeglasses. To conceal an indecision of character of which he was quite conscious, he assumed a manner that, according to whom he addressed, was familiar or condescending. At one of the big hospitals he had been an ambulance surgeon and resident physician, later he had started upon a somewhat doubtful career as a medical "expert." Only two years had passed since the police and the reporters of the Tenderloin had ceased calling him "Doc." In a celebrated criminal case in which Gaylor had acted as chief counsel, he had found Rainey complaisant and apparently totally without the moral sense. And when in Garrett he had discovered for Mr. Hallowell a model servant, he had also urged upon his friend, for his resident physician, his protege Rainey.
Still at white heat, the older man began abruptly: "This gentleman is from the Republic. He is going to publish a story that Mr. Hallowell has fallen under the influence of mediums, clairvoyants; that everything he does is on advice from the spirit world—" he turned sharply upon Lee. "Is that right?" The reporter nodded.
"You can see the effect of such a story. It would invalidate every act of Mr. Hallowell's!"
Dr. Rainey laughed offensively.
"It might," he said, "but who'd believe it?"
"He believes it!" cried Gaylor, "or he pretends to believe it. Tell him!" he commanded. "He won't believe me. Does Mr. Hallowell associate with mediums, and spirits—and spooks?"
Again the young doctor laughed.
"Of course not!" he exclaimed. "It's not worth answering, Judge. You ought to treat it with silent contempt." From behind his glasses he winked at the reporter with a jocular, intimate smile. He was adapting himself to what he imagined was his company. "Where did you pick up that pipe dream?" he asked.
Without answering, the Southerner regarded him steadily with inquiring, interested eyes. The doctor coughed nervously and turned to Judge Gaylor. In the manner of a cross-examination Gaylor called up his next witness.
"Garrett, does any one visit Mr. Hallowell without your knowledge?" he asked. "You may not open the door for him, but you know every one who gets in to see Mr. Hallowell, do you not?"
"Every one, sir."
"Do you admit any mediums, palm-readers, or people of that sort?"
"Certainly not," returned the butler.
"Dr. Rainey," he added, "would not permit it, sir."
Gaylor stamped his foot with impatience.
"Do you admit any one," he demanded, "without Dr. Rainey's permission?"
"No, sir!" The reply could not have rung with greater emphasis. Triumphantly, Gaylor, with a wave of the hand, as though saying, "Take the witness," turned to Lee. "There you are," he cried. "Now, are you satisfied?"
The reporter moved slowly toward the door. "I am satisfied," he said, "that the man doesn't admit any one without Dr. Rainey's permission."
Indignantly, as though to intercept him, Judge Gaylor stepped forward. Both Rainey and himself spoke together.
"What do you mean by that?" Rainey demanded.
"Are you trying to be insolent, sir?" cried the Judge.
Lee smiled pleasantly. "I had no intention of being insolent," he said. "We have the facts—I only came to give you a chance to explain them."
Gaylor lost all patience.
"What facts?" he shouted. "What facts? That mediums come here?"
"Yes," said Lee.
"When?" Gaylor cried. "Tell me that! When?"
Lee regarded the older man thoughtfully.
"Well, today is Thursday," he said. "They were here Monday morning, and Tuesday morning—and—the one they call Vera—will be here in half an hour."
Rainey ran across the room, stretching out eager, detaining hands.
"See here!" he begged. "We can fix this!"
"Fix it?" said the reporter. "Not with me, you can't." He turned to the door and found Garrett barring his exit. He halted, fell back on his heels, and straightened his shoulders. For the first time they saw how tall he was.
"Get out of my way," he said. The butler hesitated and fell back. Lee walked into the hall.
"I'll leave you gentlemen to fight it out among you," he said. "It's a better story than I thought."
As he descended to the floor below, the men remained motionless. The face of Judge Gaylor seemed to have grown older. When the front door closed, he turned and searched the countenance of each of his companions. The butler had dropped into a chair muttering and beating his fist into his open palm.
Gaylor's voice was hardly louder than a whisper. "Is this true?" he asked.
Like a cur dog pinned in a corner and forced to fight, Rainey snarled at him evilly. "Of course it's true," he said.
"You've let these people see him!" cried Gaylor. "After I forbade it? After I told you what would happen?"
"He would see them," Rainey answered hotly. "Twas better I chose them than—"
Gaylor raised his clenched hands and took a sudden step forward. The Doctor backed hastily against the library table. "Don't you come near me!" he stammered. "Don't you touch me."
"And you've lied to me!" cried Gaylor. "You've deceived me. You—you jailbirds—you idiots." His voice rose hysterically. "And do you think," he demanded fiercely, "I'll help you now?"
"No!" said the butler.
The word caught the Judge in the full rush of his anger. He turned stupidly as though he had not heard aright. "What?" he asked. From the easy chair the butler regarded him with sullen, hostile eyes.
"No!" he repeated. "We don't think you'll help us. You never meant to help us. You've never thought of any one but yourself."
The face of the older man was filled with reproach.
"Jim!" he protested.
"Don't do that!" commanded the butler sharply. "I've told you not to do that."
The Judge moved his head slowly in amazement. The tone of reproach was still in his voice.
"I thought you could understand," he said. "It doesn't matter about him. But you! You should have seen what I was doing!"
"I saw what you were doing," the butler replied. "Buying stocks, buying a country place. You didn't wait for him to die. What were we getting?"
With returning courage, Rainey nodded vigorously.
"That's right, all right," he protested. "What were we getting?"
"What were you getting?" demanded Gaylor, eagerly. "If you'd only left him to me, till he signed the new will, you'd have had everything. It only needs his signature."
"Yes," interrupted Garrett contemptuously; "that's all it needs."
"Oh, he'd have signed it!" cried Gaylor. "But what's it worth now! Nothing! Thanks to you two—nothing! They'll claim undue influence, they'll claim he signed it under the influence of mediums—of ghosts." His voice shook with anger and distress. "You've ruined me!" he cried. "You've ruined me."
He turned and paced from them, his fingers interlacing, his teeth biting upon his lower lip. The two other men glanced at each other uncomfortably; their silence seemed to assure Gaylor that already they regretted what they had done. He stood over Garrett, and for an instant laid his hand upon his shoulder. His voice now was sane and cold.
"I've worked three years for this," he said. "And for you, too, Jim. You know that. I've worked on his vanity, on his fear of death, on his damn superstition. When he talked of restitution, of giving the money to his niece, I asked Why?' I said, Leave it for a great monument to your memory. Isn't it better that ten million dollars should be spent in good works in your name than that it should go to a chit of a child to be wasted by some fortune hunter? And—then—I evolved the Hallowell Institute, university, hospital, library, all under one roof, all under one direction; and I would have been the director. We should have handled ten millions of dollars! I'd have made you both so rich," he cried savagely, "that in two years you'd have drunk yourselves into a mad-house. And you couldn't trust me! You've filled this house with fakes and palm-readers. And, now, every one will know just what he is—a senile, half-witted old man who was clay in my hands, clay in my hands—and you've robbed me of him, you've robbed me of him!" His voice, broken with anger and disappointment, rose in an hysterical wail. As though to meet it a bell rang shrilly. Gaylor started and stood with eyes fixed on the door of the bedroom. The three men eyed each other guiltily.
The butler was the first to recover. With mask-like face he hastened noiselessly across the room. In his tones of usual authority, Gaylor stopped him.
"Tell Mr. Hallowell," he directed, "that his niece and District Attorney Winthrop will be here any moment. Ask him if he wishes me to see them, or if he will talk to them himself?"
When the faithful servant had entered the bedroom Gaylor turned to Rainey.
"When do these mediums come today?" he asked.
Rainey stared sulkily at the floor.
"I think they're here now—downstairs," he answered. "Garrett generally hides them there till you're out of the house."
"Indeed," commented Gaylor dryly. "After Winthrop and Miss Coates have gone, I want to talk with your friends."
"Now, see here, Judge," whined Rainey; "don't make trouble. It isn't as bad as you think. The old man's only investigating—"
"Hush!" commanded the Judge.
From the bedroom, leaning on the butler's arm, Stephen Hallowell came stumbling toward them and, with a sigh, sank into an invalid's chair that was placed for him between the fire and the long library table.. He was a very feeble, very old man, with a white face, and thin, white hair, but with a mouth and lower jaw as hard and uncompromising as those of a skull. His eyes, which were strangely brilliant and young-looking, peered suspiciously from under ragged white eyebrows. But when they fell upon the doctor, the eyes became suddenly credulous, pleading, filled with self-pity.
"I'm a very sick man, Doctor," said Mr. Hallowell.
Judge Gaylor bustled forward cheerily. "Nonsense, Stephen, nonsense," he cried; "you look a different man this morning. Doesn't he, Doctor?"
"Sure he does!" assented Rainey. "Little sleep was all he needed." Mr. Hallowell shook his head petulantly. "Not at all!" he protested. "That was a very serious attack. This morning my head hurts—hurts me to think—"
"Perhaps," said Gaylor, "you'd prefer that I talked to your niece."
"No!" exclaimed the invalid excitedly. "I want to see her myself. I want to tell her, once and for all—" He checked himself and frowned at the Doctor. "You needn't wait," he said. "And Doctor," he added meaningly, "after these people go, you come back."
With a conscious glance at the Judge, Rainey nodded and left them.
"No," continued the old man; "I want to talk to my niece myself. But I don't want to talk to Winthrop. He's too clever a young man, Winthrop. In the merger case, you remember—had me on the stand for three hours. Made me talk too." The mind of the old man suddenly veered at a tangent. "How the devil can Helen retain him?" he demanded peevishly. "She can't retain him. She hasn't any money. And he's District Attorney too. It's against the law. Is he doing it as a speculation? Does he want to marry her?"
Judge Gaylor laughed soothingly.
"Heavens, no!" he said. "She's in his office, that's all. When she took this craze to be independent of you, he gave her a position as secretary, or as stenographer, or something. She's probably told him her story, her side of it, and he's helping her out of charity." The Judge smiled tolerantly. "He does that sort of thing, I believe."
The old man struck the library table with his palm. "I wish he'd mind his own business," he cried. "It's my money. She has no claim to it, never had any claim—"
The Judge interrupted quickly.
"That's all right, Stephen; that's all right," he said. "Don't excite yourself. Just get what you're to say straight in your mind and stick to it. Remember," he went on, as though coaching a child in a task already learned, "there never was a written agreement.
"No!" muttered Hallowell. "Never was!"
"Repeat this to yourself," commanded the Judge. "The understanding between you and your brother-in-law was that if you placed his patent on the market, for the first five years you would share the profits equally. After the five years, all rights in the patent became yours. It was unfortunate," commented the Judge dryly, "that your brother-in-law and your sister died before the five years were up, especially as the patent did not begin to make money until after five years. Remember—until after five years."
"Until after five years," echoed Mr. Hallowell. "It was over six years," he went on excitedly, "before it made a cent. And, then, it was my money—and anything I give my niece is charity. She's not entitled—"
Garrett appeared at the door. "Miss Coates," he announced, "and Mr. Winthrop." Judge Gaylor raised a hand for silence, and as Mr. Hallowell sank back in his chair, Helen Coates, the only child of Catherine Coates, his sister, and the young District Attorney of New York came into the library. Miss Coates was a woman of between twenty-five and thirty, capable, and self-reliant. She had a certain beauty of a severe type, but an harassed expression about her eyes made her appear to be always frowning. At times, in a hardening of the lower part of her face, she showed a likeness to her uncle. Like him, in speaking, also, her manner was positive and decided.
In age the young man who accompanied her was ten years her senior, but where her difficulties had made her appear older than she really was, the enthusiasm with which he had thrown himself against those of his own life, had left him young.
The rise of Winthrop had been swift and spectacular. Almost as soon as he graduated from the college in the little "up-state" town where he had been educated, and his family had always lived, he became the prosecuting attorney of that town, and later, at Albany, represented the district in the Assembly. From Albany he entered a law office in New York City, and in the cause of reform had fought so many good fights that on an independent ticket, much to his surprise, he had been lifted to the high position he now held. No more in his manner than in his appearance did Winthrop suggest the popular conception of his role. He was not professional, not mysterious. Instead, he was sane, cheerful, tolerant. It was his philosophy to believe that the world was innocent until it was proved guilty.
He was a bachelor and, except for two sisters who had married men of prominence in New York and who moved in a world of fashion into which he had not penetrated, he was alone.
When the visitors entered, Mr. Hallowell, without rising, greeted his niece cordially.
"Ah, Helen! I am glad to see you," he called, and added reproachfully, "at last."
"How do you do, sir?" returned Miss Helen stiffly. With marked disapproval she bowed to Judge Gaylor.
"And our District Attorney," cried Mr. Hallowell. "Pardon my not rising, won't you? I haven't seen you, sir, since you tried to get the Grand Jury to indict me." He chucked delightedly. "You didn't succeed," he taunted.
Winthrop shook hands with him, smiling, "Don't blame me," he said, "I did my best. I'm glad to see you in such good spirits, Mr. Hallowell. I feared, by the Despatch—"
"Lies, lies," interrupted Hallowell curtly. "You know Judge Gaylor?"
As he shook hands, Winthrop answered that the Judge and he were old friends; that they knew each other well.
"Know each other so well!" returned the Judge, "that we ought to be old enemies."
The younger man nodded appreciatively. "That's true!" he laughed, "only I didn't think you'd admit it."
With light sarcasm Mr. Hallowell inquired whether Winthrop was with them in his official capacity.
"Oh, don't suggest that!" begged Winthrop; "you'll be having me indicted next. No sir, I am here without any excuse whatsoever. I am just interfering as a friend of this young lady."
"Good," commented Hallowell. "I'd be sorry to have my niece array counsel against me—especially such distinguished counsel. Sit down, Helen."
Miss Coates balanced herself on the edge of a chair and spoke in cool, business-like tones, "Mr. Hallowell," she began, "I came."
"Mr. Hallowell?" objected her uncle.
"Uncle Stephen," Miss Coates again began, "I wish to be as brief as possible. I asked you to see me today because I hoped that by talking things over we might avoid lawsuits and litigation."
Mr. Hallowell nodded his approval. "Yes," he said encouragingly.
"I have told Mr. Winthrop what the trouble is," Miss Coates went on, "and he agrees with me that I have been very unjustly treated—"
"By whom?" interrupted Hallowell.
"By you," said his niece.
"Wait, Helen," commanded the old man. "Have you also told Mr. Winthrop," he demanded, "that I have made a will in your favor? That, were I to die tonight, you would inherit ten millions of dollars? Is that the injustice of which you complain?"
Judge Gaylor gave an exclamation of pleasure.
"Good!" he applauded. "Excellent!"
Hallowell turned indignantly to Winthrop. "And did she tell you also," he demanded, "that for three years I have urged her to make a home in this house? That I have offered her an income as large as I would give my own daughter, and that she has refused both offers. And what's more"—in his excitement his voice rose hysterically—"by working publicly for her living she has made me appear mean and uncharitable, and—"
"That's just it," interrupted Miss Coates. "It isn't a question of charity."
"Will you allow me?" said Winthrop soothingly. "Your niece contends, sir," he explained, "that this money you offered her is not yours to offer. She claims it belongs to her. That it's what should have been her father's share of the profits on the Coates-Hallowell coupling pin. But, as you have willed your niece so much money, although half of it is hers already, I advised her not to fight. Going to law is an expensive business. But she has found out—and that's what brings me uptown this morning—that you intend to make a new will, and leave all her money and your own to establish the Hallowell Institute. Now," Winthrop continued, with a propitiating smile, "Miss Coates also would like to be a philanthropist, in her own way, with her own money. And she wishes to warn you that, unless you deliver up what is due her, she will proceed against you."
Judge Gaylor was the first to answer.
"Mr. Winthrop," he said impressively, "I give you my word, there is not one dollar due Miss Coates, except what Mr. Hallowell pleases to give her."
Miss Coates contradicted him sharply. "That is not so," she said. She turned to her uncle, "You and my father," she declared, "agreed in writing you would share the profits always." Mr. Hallowell looked from his niece to his lawyer. The lawyer, eyeing him apprehensively, nodded. With the patient voice of one who tried to reason with an unreasonable child, Mr. Hallowell began. "Helen," he said, "I have told you many times there never was such an agreement. There was a verbal—"
"And I repeat, I saw it," said Miss Coates.
"When?" asked Hallowell.
"I saw it first when I was fifteen," answered the young woman steadily, "and two years later, before mother died, she showed it to me again. It was with father's papers."
"Miss Coates," asked the Judge, "where is this agreement now?"
For a moment Miss Coates hesitated. Her dislike for Gaylor was so evident that, to make it less apparent, she lowered her eyes. "My uncle should be able to tell you," she said evenly. "He was my father's executor. But, when he returned my father's papers"—she paused and then, although her voice fell to almost a whisper, continued defiantly, "the agreement was not with them."
There was a moment's silence. To assure himself the others had heard as he did, Mr. Hallowell glanced quickly from Winthrop to Gaylor. He half rose from his chair and leaned across the table.
"What!" he demanded. His niece looked at him steadily.
"You heard what I said," she answered.
The old man leaned farther forward.
"So!" he cried; "so! I am not only doing you an injustice, but I am a thief! Mr. Winthrop," he cried appealingly, "do you appreciate the seriousness of this?"
Winthrop nodded cheerfully. "It's certainly pretty serious," he assented.
"It is so serious," cried Mr. Hallowell, "that I welcome you into this matter. Now, we will settle it once and forever." He turned to his niece. "I have tried to be generous," he cried; "I have tried to be kind, and you insult me in my own house." He pressed the button that summoned the butler from the floor below. "Gentlemen, this interview is at an end. From now on this matter is in the hands of my lawyer. We will settle this in the courts."
With an exclamation of pleasure that was an acceptance of his challenge, Miss Coates rose.
"That is satisfactory to me," she said. Winthrop turned to Mr. Hallowell.
"Could I have a few minutes talk with Judge Gaylor now?" he asked. "Not as anybody's counsel," he explained; "just as an old enemy of his?"
"Well, not here," protested the old man querulously. "I'm—I'm expecting some friends here. Judge, take Mr. Winthrop to the drawing room downstairs." He turned to Garrett, who had appeared in answer to his summons, and told him to bring Dr. Rainey to the library. The butler left the room and, as Gaylor and Winthrop followed, the latter asked Miss Coates if he might expect to see her at the "Office." She told him that she was now on her way there. Without acknowledging the presence of her uncle, she had started to follow the others, when Mr. Hallowell stopped her.
After they were alone, for a moment he sat staring at her, his eyes filled with dislike and with a suggestion of childish spite. "I might as well tell you," he began, "that after what you said this morning, I will never give you a single dollar of my money."
The tone in which his niece replied to him was no more conciliatory than his own. "You cannot give it to me," she answered, "because it is not yours to give." As though to add impressiveness to what she was about to say, or to prevent his interrupting her, she raised her hand. So interested in each other were the old man and the girl that neither noticed the appearance in the door of Dr. Rainey and the butler, who halted, hesitating, waiting permission to enter.
"That money belongs to me," said Miss Coates slowly, "and as sure as my mother is in Heaven and her spirit is guiding me, that money will be given me."
In the pause that followed, a swift and singular change came over the face of Mr. Hallowell. He stared at his niece as though fascinated. His lower lip dropped in awe. The look of hostility gave way to one of intense interest. His voice was hardly louder than a whisper.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
The girl looked at him, uncomprehending. "What do I mean?" she repeated.
"When you said," he stammered eagerly, "that the spirit of your mother was guiding you, what did you mean?"
In the doorway, Rainey and the butler started. Each threw the other a quick glance of concern.
"Why," exclaimed the girl impatiently, "her influence, her example, what she taught me."
"Oh!" exclaimed the old man. He leaned back with an air almost of disappointment.
"When she was alive?" he said.
"Of course," answered the girl.
"Of course," repeated the uncle. "I thought you meant—" He looked suspiciously at her and shook his head. "Never mind," he added. "Well," he went on cynically, striving to cover up the embarrassment of the moment, "your mother's spirit will probably feel as deep an interest in her brother as in her daughter. We shall see, we shall see which of us two she is going to help." He turned to Garrett and Rainey in the hall. "Take my niece to the door, Garrett," he directed.
As soon as Miss Coates had disappeared, Hallowell turned to Rainey, his face lit with pleased and childish anticipation.
"Well," he whispered eagerly, "is she here?"
Rainey nodded and glanced in the direction opposite to the one Miss Coates had taken. "She's been waiting half an hour. And the Professor too."
"Bring them at once," commanded Mr. Hallowell excitedly. "And then shut the door—and—and tell the Judge I can't see him—tell him I'm too tired to see him. Understand?"
Rainey peered cautiously over the railing of the stairs to the first floor, and then beckoned to some one who apparently was waiting at the end of the hall.
"Miss Vera, sir," he announced, "and Professor Vance."
Although but lately established in New York, the persons Dr. Rainey introduced had already made themselves comparatively well-known. For the last six weeks as "headliners" at one of the vaudeville theatres, and as entertainers at private houses, under the firm name of "The Vances," they had been giving an exhibition of code and cipher signaling. They called it mind reading. During the day, at the house of Vance and his wife, the girl, as "Vera, the Medium," furnished to all comers memories of the past or news of the future. In their profession, in all of its branches, the man and the girl were past masters. They knew it from the A, B, C of the dream book to the post-graduate work of projecting from a cabinet the spirits of the dead. As the occasion offered and paid best, they were mind readers, clairvoyants, materializing mediums, test mediums. From them, a pack of cards, a crystal globe, the lines of the human hand, held no secrets. They found lost articles, cast horoscopes, gave advice in affairs of the heart, of business and speculation, uttered warnings of journeys over seas and against a smooth-shaven stranger. They even stooped to foretell earthquakes, or caused to drop fluttering from the ceiling a letter straight from the Himalayas. Among those who are the gypsies of the cities, they were the aristocrats of their calling, and to them that calling was as legitimate a business as is, to the roadside gypsy, the swapping of horses. The fore-parents of each had followed that same calling, and to the children it was commonplace and matter-of-fact. It held no adventure, no moral obloquy.
"Prof." Paul Vance was a young man of under forty years. He looked like a fox. He had red eyes, alert and cunning, a long, sharp-pointed nose, a pointed red beard, and red eyebrows that slanted upward. His hair, standing erect in a pompadour, and his uplifted eyebrows gave him the watchful look of the fox when he hears suddenly the hound baying in pursuit. But no one had ever successfully pursued Vance. No one had ever driven him into a corner from which, either pleasantly, or with raging indignation, he was not able to free himself. Seven years before he had disloyally married out of the "profession" and for no other reason than that he was in love with the woman he married. She had come to seek advice from the spirit world in regard to taking a second husband. After several visits the spirit world had advised Vance to advise her to marry Vance.
She did so, and though the man was still in love with his wife, he had not found her, in his work, the assistance he had hoped she might be. She still was a "believer"; in the technical vernacular of her husband—"a dope." Not even the intimate knowledge she had gained behind the scenes could persuade her that Paul, her husband, was not in constant communication with the spirit world, or that, if he wished, he could not read the thoughts that moved slowly through her pretty head.
At the time of his marriage, the girl Vera, then a child of fourteen, had written to Vance for help. She was ill, without money, and asked for work. To him she was known as the last of a long line of people who had always been professional mediums and spiritualists, and, out of charity and from a sense of noblesse oblige to one of the elect of the profession, Vance had made her his assistant. He had never regretted having done so. The bread cast upon the waters was returned a thousandfold. From the first, the girl brought in money. And his wife, the older of the two, had welcomed her as a companion. After a fashion the Vances had adopted her. In the advertisements she was described as their "ward."
Vera now was twenty-one, tall, wonderfully graceful, and of the most enchanting loveliness. Her education had been cosmopolitan. In the largest cities of America she had met persons of every class—young women, old women, mothers with married sons and daughters; women of society as it is exploited in the Sunday supplements; school girls, shop girls, factory girls—all had told her their troubles; and men of every condition had come to scoff and had remained to express, more or less offensively, their admiration. Some of the younger of these, after a first visit, returned the day following, and each begged the beautiful priestess of the occult to fly with him, to live with him, to marry him. When this happened Vera would touch a button, and "Mannie" Day, who admitted visitors, and later, in the hall, searched their hats and umbrellas for initials, came on the run and threw the infatuated one out upon a cold and unfeeling sidewalk.
So Vera had seen both the seamy side of life and, in the drawing rooms where Vance and she exhibited their mind reading tricks, had been made much of by great ladies and, for an hour as brief as Cinderella's, had looked upon a world of kind and well-bred people. Since she was fourteen, for seven years, this had been her life—a life as open to the public as the life of an actress, as easy of access as that of the stenographer in the hotel lobby. As a result, the girl had encased herself in a defensive armor of hardness and distrust, a protection which was rendered futile by the loveliness of her face, by the softness of her voice, by the deep, brooding eyes, and the fine forehead on which, like a crown, rested the black waves of her hair.
In her work Vera accepted, without question, the parts to which Vance assigned her. When in their mummeries they were successful, she neither enjoyed the credulity of those they had tricked nor was sobered with remorse. In the world Vance found a certain number of people with money who demanded to be fooled. It was his business and hers to meet that demand. If ever the conscience of either stirred restlessly, Vance soothed it by the easy answer that if they did not take the money some one else would. It was all in the day's work. It was her profession.
As she entered the library of Mr. Hallowell, which, with Vance, she already had visited several times, she looked like a child masquerading in her mother's finery. She suggested an ingenue who had been suddenly sent on in the role of the Russian adventuress. Her slight girl's figure was draped in black lace. Her face was shaded by a large picture hat, heavy with drooping ostrich feathers; around her shoulders was a necklace of jade, and on her wrists many bracelets of silver gilt. When she moved they rattled. As the girl advanced, smiling, to greet Mr. Hallowell, she suddenly stopped, shivered slightly, and threw her right arm across her eyes. Her left arm she stretched over the table.
"Give me your hand!" she commanded. Dubiously, with a watchful glance at Vance, Mr. Hallowell leaned forward and took her hand.
"You have been ill," cried the girl; "very ill—I see you—I see you in a kind of faint—very lately." Her voice rose excitedly. "Yes, last night."
Mr. Hallowell protested with indignation. "You read that in the morning paper," he said.
Vera lowered her arm from her eyes and turned them reproachfully on him.
"I don't read the Despatch," she answered.
Mr. Hallowell drew back suspiciously. "I didn't say it was the Despatch," he returned.
Vance quickly interposed. "You don't have to say it," he explained with glibness; "you thought it. And Vera read your thoughts. You were thinking of the Despatch, weren't you? Well, there you are! It's wonderful!"
"Wonderful? Nonsense!" mocked Mr. Hallowell. "She did read it in the paper or Rainey told her."
The girl shrugged her shoulders patiently. "If you would rather find out you were ill from the newspapers than from the spirit world," she inquired, "why do you ask me here?"
"I ask you here, young woman," exclaimed Hallowell, sinking back in his chair, "because I hoped you would tell me something I can't learn from the newspapers. But you haven't been able to do it yet. My dear young lady," exclaimed the old man wistfully, "I want to believe, but I must be convinced. No tricks with me! I can explain how you might have found out everything you have told me. Give me a sign!" He beat the flat of his hand upon the table. "Show me something I can't explain!"
"Mr. Hallowell is quite right, Vera," said Vance. "He is entering what is to him a new world, full of mysteries, and that caution which in this world has made him so successful—"
With an exclamation, Hallowell cut short the patter of the showman.
"Yes, yes," he interrupted petulantly; "I tell you, I want to believe. Convince me."
Considering the situation with pursed lips and thoughtful eyes, Vera gazed at the old man, frowning. Finally she asked, "Have you witnessed out demonstrations of mind reading?"
Mr. Hallowell snorted. "Certainly not," he replied; "it's a trick!"
"A trick!" cried the girl indignantly, "to read a man's mind—to see right through your forehead, through your skull, into your brain? Is that a trick?" She turned sharply to Vance. "Show him!" she commanded; "show him!" She crossed rapidly to the window and stood looking down into the street, with her back to the room.
Vance, with his back turned to Vera, stood close to the table, on the other side of which Hallowell was reclining in his arm chair. Vance picked up a pen holder.
"Think of what I have in my hand, please," he said. "What is this, Vera?" he asked. The girl, gazing from the window at the traffic in the avenue below her, answered with indifference, "A pen holder."
"Yes, what about it?" snapped Vance.
"Gold pen holder," Vera answered more rapidly. "Much engraving—initials S. H.—Mr. Hallowell's initials—"
"There is a date too. Can you—"
"December—" Vera hesitated.
"Go on," commanded Vance.
"Twenty-five, one, eight, eight, six; one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six." She moved her shoulders impatiently.
"Oh, tell him to think of something difficult," she said.
From behind Mr. Hallowell's chair Rainey signaled to Vance to take from the table a photograph frame of silver which held the picture of a woman.
Vance picked it up, holding it close to him.
"What have I here, Vera?" he asked.
Hallowell, seeing what Vance held in his hand, leaned forward. "Put that down!" he commanded. But Vera had already begun to answer.
"A picture, a picture of a young woman. Ask him to think of who it is and I will tell him."
At the words Mr. Hallowell hesitated, frowned, and then nodded.
"It is his sister," called Vera. "Her name was—I seem to get a Catherine—yes, that's it; Catherine Coates. She is no longer with us. She passed into the spirit world three years ago." The girl turned suddenly and approached the table, holding her head high, as though offended.
"How do you explain that trick?" she demanded.
Mr. Hallowell moved uneasily in his chair. "Oh, the picture's been on my desk each time you've been here," he answered dubiously. "Rainey could have told you."
"As a matter of fact, I didn't," said Rainey.
Hallowell's eyes lightened with interest. "Didn't you?" he asked. He turned to Vera. "If you can read my mind," he challenged—"you," he added, pointing at Vance, "keep out of this now—tell me of what I am thinking." As Vance drew back, Rainey and himself exchanged a quick glance of apprehension, but the girl promptly closed her eyes, and at once, in a dull, measured tone, began to speak.
"You were thinking you would like to ask a question of some one in the spirit," she recited. "But you are afraid. You do not trust me. You will wait until I give you a sign; then you will ask that question of some one dear to you, who has passed beyond, and she will answer, and your troubles will be at an end." She opened her eyes and stared at Mr. Hallowell like one coming out of a dream. "What did I say?" she asked. "Was I right?"
Hallowell slank back in his chair, shaking his head.
"Yes," he began grudgingly, "but—"
With an eagerness hardly concealed, Vance interrupted.
"What is the question you wish to ask?" he begged.
With a frown of suspicion, Hallowell turned from him to Rainey.
"I don't think I ought to let them know," he questioned; "do you?" But his attention was sharply diverted.
Vera, in a hushed and solemn voice, called for silence.
"My control," she explained—her tone was deep and awestruck—"is trying to communicate with me."
Vance gave an exclamation of concern. The prospect of the phenomena Vera promised seemed to fill him with delightful expectations. "Be very quiet," he cautioned, "do not disturb her."
Deeply impressed, Mr. Hallowell struggled from his chair. Unaided, he moved to below the table and leaning against it looked, with unwilling but fascinated interest, at Vera's uplifted face.
"Some one in the spirit," Vera chanted, in an unemotional, drugged voice, "wishes to speak to Mr. Hallowell. Give me your hand."
"Quick!" directed Vance, "give her your hand. Take her hand."
"Yes, he is here," Vera continued. "A woman has a message for you, she is standing close beside you. She is holding out her arms. And she is trying, so hard, to tell you something. What is it?" the girl questioned. "Oh, what is it? Tell me," she begged. "Can't you tell me?"
Hallowell eyed her greedily, waiting almost without breathing for her words. The hand with which he held hers crushed her rings into her fingers.
"What sort?"—whispered the old man. "What sort of a woman?"
With eyes still closed, swaying slightly and with abrupt shudders running down her body, the girl continued in dull, fateful tones.
"She is a fair woman; about forty-five. She is speaking. She calls to you, Brother, brother." Vera's voice rose excitedly. "It is the woman in the picture; your sister! Catherine! I see it written above her head—Catherine. In letters of light." She turned suddenly and fiercely. "Ask her your question!" she commanded. "Ask her your question, now!"
By the sudden swaying forward of Vance and Rainey, in the intent look in their eyes, it was evident that a crisis had approached. But Mr. Hallowell, terrified and trembling, shrank back. His voice broke hysterically. "No, no!" he pleaded. Both anger and disappointment showed in the face of Vance and Rainey; but the girl, as though detached from any human concerns, continued unmoved. "I see another figure," she recited. "A young girl, but she is of this world. I seem to get an H. Yes. Helen, in letters of fire."
"My niece, Helen!" Hallowell whispered hoarsely.
"Yes, your niece," chanted the girl. Her voice rose and thrilled. "And I see much gold," she cried. "Between the two women, heaps of gold. Everywhere I look I see gold. And, now, the other woman, your sister, is trying to speak to you. Listen! She calls to you, Brother!"
So centered was the interest of those in the room, so compelling the sound of the girl's voice, that, unnoticed, the sliding doors to the library were slipped apart. Unobserved, Judge Gaylor and Winthrop halted in the doorway. To the Judge the meaning of the scene was instantly apparent. His face flushed furiously. Winthrop, uncomprehending, gazed unconcerned over Gaylor's shoulder. The voice of Vera rose hysterically to her climax.
"She bids me tell you," Vera cried; "Tell my brother—"
Gaylor swept toward her.
"What damned farce is this?" he shouted.
The effect of the interruption was instant and startling. Mr. Hallowell, who, in the last few minutes, had believed he was listening to a voice from the dead, collapsed upon the shoulder of Rainey, who sprang to support him. Like a somnambulist wrenched from sleep, Vera gave a scream of fright, half genuine, half assumed, and swayed as though about to fall. Vance caught her in his arms. He turned on Gaylor, his cunning red eyes flashing evilly.
"You brute!" he cried, "you might have killed her."
Between her sobs, Vera, her head upon the shoulder of Vance, whispered a question. As quickly, under cover of muttered sympathy, Vance answered: "Gaylor. The Judge."
Still slightly swaying, Vera stood upright. She passed her hand vaguely before her eyes. "Where am I?" she asked feebly. "Where am I?"
Gaylor shook his fist at the girl.
"You know where you are!" he thundered; "and you know where you're going—you're going to jail!"
In the hush that followed Vera drew herself to her full height. She regarded Gaylor wonderingly, haughtily, as though he were some drunken intruder from the street.
"Are you speaking to me?" she asked.
"Yes, to you," shouted the lawyer. "You're an imposter, and a swindler, and—and—"
Winthrop pushed between them.
"Yes, and she's a woman," he said briskly. "If you want a row, talk to the man."
To this point the scene had brought to Vera no emotion save the excitement that is felt by the one who is struggling to escape. The appearance of a champion added a new interest. Through no fault of her own, she had learned by experience that to the one man who annoyed her there always were six to spring to her protection. So the glance she covertly turned upon Winthrop was one less of gratitude than curiosity.
But at the first sight of him the girl started, her eyes lit with recognition, her face flushed. And then, although the man was in no way regarding her, her eyes filled, and in mortification and dismay she blushed crimson.
His anger still unsatisfied, Gaylor turned upon Vance.
"And you," he cried; "you're going to jail too. I'll drive—"
The voice of Mr. Hallowell, shaken with pain and distress, rose feebly, beseechingly. "Henry!" he begged. "I can't stand it!"
"Judge Gaylor!" thundered Rainey, "I won't be responsible if you keep this up."
With an exclamation of remorse, Vera ran to the side of the old man. With Rainey on his other hand, she raised him upright upon his feet.
"Lean on me," begged the girl breathlessly. "I'm very strong. Lean on me."
Mr. Hallowell shook his head. "No, child," he protested, "not you." He turned to his old friend. "You help me, Henry," he begged.
With the authority of the medical man, Rainey waved Vance into the bedroom. "Close those windows," he ordered. "You help me!" he commanded of Gaylor. "Put your arm under him."
Mr. Hallowell, protesting feebly and leaning heavily upon the two men, stumbled into the bedroom, and the door was shut behind him.
For a moment the girl and the man stood in silence, and then, as though suddenly conscious of her presence, Winthrop turned and smiled.
The girl did not answer his smile. From under the shadow of the picture hat and the ostrich feathers her eyes regarded him searchingly, watchfully.
For the first time, Winthrop had the chance to observe her. He saw that she was very young, that her clothes cruelly disguised her, that she was only a child masquerading as a brigand, that her face was distractingly lovely. Having noted this, the fact that she had driven several grown men to abuse and vituperation struck him as being extremely humorous; nor did he try to conceal his amusement. But the watchfulness in the eyes of the girl did not relax.
"I'm afraid I interfered with your seance," said the District Attorney.
The girl regarded him warily, like a fencer fixing her eyes on those of her opponent. There was a pause which lasted so long that had the silence continued it would have been rude. "Well," the girl returned at last, timidly, "that's what the city expects you to do, is it not?"
Winthrop laughed. "How did you know who I was?" he asked, and then added quickly, "Of course, you're a mind reader."
For the first time the girl smiled. Winthrop found it a charming smile, wistful and confiding.
"I don't have to ask the spirit world," she said, "to tell me who is District Attorney of New York."
"Yes," said the District Attorney; "yes, I suppose you have to be pretty well acquainted with some of the laws—those about mediums?"
"If you knew as much about other laws," began Vera, "as I do about the law—" She broke off and again smiled upon him.
"Then you probably know," said Winthrop, "that what our excited friend said to you just now is legally quite true?"
The smile passed from the face of the girl. She looked at the young man with fine disdain, as a great lady might reprove with a glance the man who snapped a camera at her. "Yes?" she asked. "Well, what are you going to do about it—arrest me?" Mocking him, in a burlesque of melodrama, she held out her arms. "Don't put the handcuffs on me," she begged.
Winthrop found her impudence amusing; and, with the charm of her novelty, he was conscious of a growing conviction that, somewhere, they had met before; that already at a crisis she had come into his life.
"I won't arrest you," he said with a puzzled smile, "on one condition."
"Ah!" mocked Vera; "he is generous."
"And the condition is," Winthrop went on seriously, "that you tell me where we met before?"
The girl's expression became instantly mask-like. To learn if he suspected where it was that they had met, she searched his face quickly. She was reassured that of the event he had no real recollection.
"That's rather difficult, isn't it," she continued lightly, "when you consider I've been giving exhibitions of mind readings for the last six weeks on Broadway, and in the homes of people you probably know?"
"No," Winthrop exclaimed eagerly, "it wasn't in a theatre, and it wasn't in a private house. It was—" he shook his head helplessly, and looked at her for assistance. "You don't know, do you?"
The girl regarded him steadily. "How should I?" she said. And then, as though decided upon a course of action of the wisdom of which she was uncertain, she laughed uneasily.
"But the spirits would know," she said. "I might ask them."
"Do!" cried Winthrop, delightedly. "How much would that be?"
As though to reprove his flippancy, the girl frowned. With a nervous tremor, which this time seemed genuine enough, she threw back her head, closed her eyes, and laid her arm across her forehead.
Winthrop, unobserved, watched her with a smile, partly of amusement, partly on account of her beauty, of admiration.
"I see—a court room," said the girl. "It is very mean and bare. It is somewhere up the State; in a small town. Outside, there are trees, and the sun is shining, and people are walking in a public park. Inside, in the prisoner's dock, there is a girl. She has been arrested—for theft. She has pleaded guilty! And I see—that she has been very ill—that she is faint from shame—and fear—and lack of food. And there is a young lawyer. He is defending her; he is asking the judge to be merciful, because this is her first offence, because she stole the cloak to get money to take her where she had been promised work. Because this is his first case."
Winthrop gave a gasp of disbelief.
"You don't mean to tell me—" he cried.
"Hush!" commanded the girl. "And he persuades the judge to let her go," she continued quickly, her voice shaking, "and he and the girl walk out of the court house together. And he talks to her kindly, and gives her money to pay her way to the people who have promised her work."
Vera dropped her arm, and stepping back, faced Winthrop. Through her tears her eyes were flashing proudly, gratefully; the feeling that shook her made her voice vibrate. The girl seemed proud of her tears, proud of her debt of gratitude.
"And I've never forgotten you," she said, her voice eager and trembling, "and what you did for me. And I've watched you come to this city, and fight it, and fight it, until you made them put you where you are." She stopped to control her voice, and smiled at him. "And that's why I knew you were District Attorney," she said; "and please—" she fumbled in the mesh purse at her waist and taking a bill from it, threw it upon the table. "And please, there's the money I owe you, and—and—I thank you—and goodbye." She turned and almost ran from him toward the door to the hall.
"Stop!" cried Winthrop.
Poised for flight, the girl halted, and looked back.
"When can I see you again?" said the man. The tone made it less a question than a command.
In a manner as determined as his own, the girl shook her head.
"No!" she said.
"I must!" returned the man.
Again the girl shook her head, definitely, finally.
"It won't help you in your work," she pleaded, "to come to see me."
"I must!" repeated Winthrop simply.
The eyes of the girl met his, appealingly, defiantly.
"You'll be sorry," said the girl.
Winthrop laughed an eager, boyish laugh. When he spoke the tenseness in his voice had gone. His tone was confident, bantering.
"Then I will not come to see you," he said.
Uncertain, puzzled, Vera looked at him in distress. She thought he was mocking her.
"No?" she questioned.
"I'll come to see Vera, the medium," he explained.
Vera frowned, and then, in happy embarrassment, smiled wistfully.
"Oh, well," she stammered; "of course, if you're coming to consult me professionally—my hours are from four to six."
"I'll be there," cried the District Attorney.
Vera leaned forward eagerly.
"What day will you come?" she demanded.
"What day!" exclaimed the young man indignantly. "Why, this day!"
Vera gave a guilty, frightened laugh.
"Oh, will you?" she exclaimed delightedly. She clasped her fingers in a gesture of dismay. "Oh, I hope you won't be sorry!" she cried.
For some moments the District Attorney of New York stood looking at the door through which she had disappeared.
The home of the Vances was in Thirty-fifth Street, nearly opposite the Garrick Theatre. It was one of a row of old-fashioned brick houses with high steps. As the seeker after truth entered the front hall, he saw before him the stairs to the second story; on his right, the folding doors of the "front parlor," and at the far end of the hall, a single door that led to what was, in the old days, before this row of houses had been converted into offices, the family dining room. To Vera the Vances had given the use of this room as a "reception parlor." The visitor first entered the room on his right, from it passed through another pair of folding doors to the reception parlor, and then, when his audience was at an end, departed by the single door to the hall, and so, to the street.
The reception parlor bore but little likeness to a cave of mystery. There were no shaded lights, no stuffed alligator, no Indian draperies, no black cat. On a table, in the centre, under a heavy and hideous chandelier with bronze gas jets, was a green velvet cushion. On this nestled an innocent ball of crystal. Beside it lay the ivory knitting needle with which Vera pointed out, in the hand of the visitor, those lines that showed he would be twice married, was of an ambitious temperament, and would make a success upon the stage. In a corner stood a wooden cabinet that resembled a sentry box on wheels. It was from this, on certain evenings, before a select circle of spiritualists, that Vera projected the ghosts of the departed. Hanging inside the cabinet was a silver-gilt crown and a cloak of black velvet, lined with purple silk and covered in gold thread with signs of the zodiac.
Save that these stage properties illustrated the taste of Mabel Vance, the room was of no interest. It held a rubber plant, a red velvet rocking chair, across the back of which Mrs. Vance had draped a Neapolitan scarf; an upright piano, upon which Emmanuel Day, or, as he was known to the cross-roads of Broadway and Forty-second street, "Mannie" Day, provoked the most marvelous rag-time, an enlarged photograph in crayon, of Professor Vance, in a frock coat and lawn tie, a china bull dog, coquettishly decorated with a blue bow, and, on the mantel piece, two tall beer steins and a hand telephone. From the long windows one obtained a view of the iron shutters of the new department store in Thirty-fourth Street, and of a garden, just large enough to contain a sumach tree, a refrigerator, and the packing-case in which the piano had arrived.
After leaving Winthrop, without waiting for Vance, Vera had returned directly to the house in Thirty-fifth Street, and locked herself in her room. And although "Mannie" Day had already ushered two visitors into the front room, Vera had not yet come downstairs. In consequence, Mabel Vance was in possession of the reception parlor.
Mrs. Vance was plump, pink-and-blonde, credulous and vulgar, but at all times of the utmost good humor. Her admiration for Vera was equaled only by her awe of her. On this particular afternoon, although it already was after five o'clock, Mrs. Vance still wore a short dressing sack, open at the throat, and heavy with somewhat soiled lace. But her blonde hair was freshly "marcelled," and her nails pink and shining. In the absence of Vera, she was making a surreptitious and guilty use of the telephone. From the fact that in her left hand she held the morning telegraph open at the "previous performances" of the horses, and that the page had been cruelly lacerated by a hat pin, it was fair to suppose that whoever was at the other end of the wire, was tempting her with the closing odds at the races.
In her speculations, she was interrupted by "Mannie" Day, who entered softy through the door from the hall.
"Mannie" Day was a youth of twenty-four. It was his heart's desire to be a "Broadwayard." He wanted to know all of those, and to be known only by those, who moved between the giant pillars that New York threw into the sky to mark her progress North.
He knew the soiled White Way as the oldest inhabitant knows the single street of the village. He knew it from the Rathskellers underground, to the roof gardens in the sky; in his firmament the stars were the electric advertisements over Long Acre Square, his mother earth was asphalt, the breath of his nostrils gasolene, the telegraph was his Bible. His grief was that no one in the Tenderloin would take him seriously; would believe him wicked, wise, predatory. They might love him, they might laugh with him, they might clamor for his company, in no flat that could boast a piano, was he not, on his entrance, greeted with a shout; but the real Knights of the Highway treated him always as the questioning, wide-eyed child. In spite of his after-midnight pallor, in spite of his honorable scars of dissipation, it was his misfortune to be cursed with a smile that was a perpetual plea of "not guilty."
"What can you expect?" an outspoken friend, who made a living as a wireless wire tapper, had once pointed out to him. "That smile of yours could open a safe. It could make a show girl give up money! It's an alibi for everything from overspeeding to murder."
Mannie, as he listened, flushed with mortification. From that moment he determined that his life should be devoted to giving the lie to that smile, to that outward and visible sign of kindness, good will, and innate innocence. As yet, he had not succeeded.
He interrupted Mabel at the telephone to inquire the whereabouts of Vera. "There's two girls in there, now," he said, "waiting to have their fortunes doped."
"Let'em wait!" exclaimed Mabel. "Vera's upstairs dressing." In her eyes was the baleful glare of the plunger. "What was that you give me in the third race?"
At the first touch of the ruling passion, what interest Mannie may have felt for the impatient visitors vanished. "Not in the third," he corrected briskly. "Keene entry win the third."
Mabel appealed breathlessly to the telephone. "What price the Keene entry in the third?" She turned to Mannie with reproachful eyes. "Even money!" she complained.
"That's what I told you," retorted Mannie. He lowered his voice, and gazed apprehensively toward the front parlor. "If you want a really good thing," he whispered hoarsely, "ask Joe what Pompadour is in the fifth!" Mabel laughed scornfully, disappointedly.
"Pompadour!" she mocked.
"That's right!" cried the expert. "That's the one daily hint from Paris today. Joe will give you thirty to one."
Upon the defenseless woman he turned the full force of his accursed smile. "Put five on for me, Mabel?" he begged.
With unexpected determination of character Mabel declared sharply that she would do nothing of the sort.
"Two, then?" entreated the boy.
"Where," demanded Mabel unfeelingly, "is the twenty you owe me now?"
The abruptness of this unsportsmanlike blow below the belt caused Mannie to wince.
"How do I know where it is?" he protested. "As long as you haven't got it, why do you care where it is?" He heard the door from the hall open and, turning, saw Vera. He appealed to her. "Vera," he cried, "You'll loan me two dollars? I stand to win sixty. I'll give you thirty."
Vera looked inquiringly at Mabel. "What is it, Mabel," she asked, "a hand book?"
Mrs. Vance nodded guiltily.
"Mannie!" exclaimed Vera gently but reproachfully, "I told you I wouldn't loan you any more money till you paid Mabel what you've borrowed."
"How can I pay Mabel what I borrowed," demanded Mannie, "if I can't borrow the money from you to pay her? Only two dollars, Vera!"
Vera nodded to Mabel.
Mabel, at the phone, called, "Two dollars on Pompadour—to—win—for Mannie Day," and rang off.
"That makes thirty for you," exclaimed Mannie enthusiastically, "and twenty I owe to Mabel, and that leaves me ten."
Mrs. Vance, no longer occupied in the whirlpool of speculation, for the first time observed that Vera had changed her matronly robe of black lace for a short white skirt and a white shirtwaist. She noted also that there was a change in Vera's face and manner. She gave an impression of nervous eagerness, of unrest. Her smile seemed more appealing, wistful, girlish. She looked like a child of fourteen.
But Mabel was concerned more especially with the robe of virgin white.
For the month, which was July, the costume was appropriate, but, in the opinion of Mabel, in no way suited to the priestess of the occult and the mysterious.
"Why, Vera!" exclaimed Mrs. Vance, "whatever have you got on? Ain't you going to receive visitors? There's ten dollars waiting in there now."
In sudden apprehension, Vera looked down at her spotless garments.
"Don't I look nice?" she begged.
"Of course you look nice, dearie," Mabel assured her, "but you don't look like no fortune teller."
"If you want to know what you look like," said Mannie sternly, "you look like one of the waiter girls at Childs's—that's what you look like."
"And your crown!" exclaimed Mabel, "and your kimono. Ain't you going to wear your kimono?"
She hastened to the cabinet and produced the cloak of black velvet and spangles, and the silver-gilt crown.
"No, I am not!" declared Vera. She wore the frightened look of a mutinous child. "I—I look so—foolish in them!"
Such heresy caused Mannie to gasp aloud; "You look grand in them," he protested; "don't she, Mabel?"
"Sure she does," assented that lady.
"And your junk?" demanded Mannie, referring to the jade necklace and the gold-plated bracelets. His eyes opened in sympathy. "You haven't pawned them, have you?"
"Pawned them?" laughed Vera; "I couldn't get anything on them!" As the only masculine point of view available, she appealed to Mannie wistfully. "Don't you like me better this way, Mannie?" she begged.
But that critic protested violently.
"Not a bit like it," he cried. "Now, in the gold tiara and the spangled opera cloak," he differentiated, "you look like a picture postal card! You got Lotta Faust's blue skirt back to Levey's. But not in the white goods!" He shook his head sadly, firmly. "You look, now, like you was made up for a May-day picnic in the Bronx, and they'd picked on you to be Queen of the May."
Mabel carried the much-admired opera cloak to Vera, and held it out, tempting her. "You'll wear it, just to please me and Mannie, won't you, dearie?" she begged. Vera retreated before it as though it held the germs of contagion.
"I will not," she rebelled. "I hate it! When I have that on, I feel—mean. I feel as mean as though I were picking pennies out of a blind man's hat." Mannie roared with delight.
"Gee!" he shouted, "but that's a hot one."
"Besides," said Vera consciously, "I'm—I'm expecting some one."
The manner more than the words thrilled Mabel with the most joyful expectations.
She exclaimed excitedly. "A gentleman friend, Vera?" she asked.
That Vera shunned all young men had been to Mabel a source of wonder and of pride. Even when the young men were the friends of her husband and of herself, the preoccupied manner with which Vera received them did not provoke in Mabel any resentment. It rather increased her approbation. Although horrified at the recklessness of the girl, she had approved even when Vera rejected an offer of marriage from a wine agent.
Secretly, for a proper alliance for her, Mabel read the society columns in search of eligible, rich young men. Finding that they invariably married eligible, rich young women, she had lately determined that Vera's destiny must be an English duke.
Still if, as she hoped, Vera had chosen for herself, Mabel felt assured that the man would prove worthy, and a good match. A good match meant one who owned not only a runabout, but a touring car.
"It's a man from home," said Vera. "Home?" queried Mannie.
"From up the State," explained Vera, "from Geneva. It's—Mr. Winthrop."
With an exclamation of alarm, Mannie started upright. "Winthrop!" he cried; then with a laugh of relief he sank back. "Gee! You give me a scare," he cried. "I thought you meant the District Attorney."
Mabel laughed sympathetically.
"I thought so too," she admitted.
"I do mean the District Attorney," said the girl.
"Vera!" cried Mabel.
"Winthrop—coming here?" demanded Mannie.
"I met him at Mr. Hallowell's this morning," said Vera. "Didn't Paul tell you?"
"Paul ain't back yet," said Mannie. "I wish he was!" His lower jaw dropped in dazed bewilderment. "Winthrop—coming here?" he repeated. "And they're all coming here!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Paul just phoned me. They've taken Gaylor in with them, and we're all working together now on some game for tonight. And Winthrop's coming here!" He shook his head decidedly, importantly. As the only man of the family present, he felt he must meet this crisis. "Paul won't stand for it!" he declared.
"Well, Paul will just have to stand for it!" retorted Mrs. Vance.
With a murmur of sympathy she crossed to Vera. "I'm not going to see our Vera disappointed," she announced. "She never sees no company. Vera, if Mr. Winthrop comes when that bunch is here, I'll show him into the front parlor."
Vera sat down in front of the piano and let her fingers drop upon the keys. The look of eagerness and anticipation had left her eyes.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, "that I want to see him—now."
With complete misunderstanding, Mannie demanded truculently, "Why not?" His loyalty to Vera gave him courage, in her behalf, to face even a District Attorney. "He doesn't think he's coming here to make trouble for you, does he?"
Vera shook her head and, bending over the piano, struck a few detached chords.
"Oh, no," she said consciously; "just to see me—professionally—like everybody else."
Mabel could no longer withhold her indignation at the obtuseness of the masculine intellect.
"My gracious, Mannie!" she exclaimed, "can't you understand he's coming here to make a call on Vera—like a gentleman—not like no District Attorney."
Mannie precipitately retreated from his position as champion.
"Sure, I understand," he protested.
With the joy that a match-making mother takes in the hunt, Mabel sank into the plush rocking chair and, rocking violently, turned upon Vera an eager and excited smile.
"Think of our Vera knowing Mr. Winthrop socially?" she exclaimed. "It's grand! And they say his sisters are elegant ladies. Last winter I read about them at the opera, and it always printed what they had on. Why didn't you tell me you knowed him, Vera?" she cried reproachfully. "I tell you everything!"
"I don't know him," protested the girl. "I used to see him when he lived in the same town."
Mabel, inviting further confidences, ceased rocking and nodded encouragingly. "Up in Geneva?" she prompted.
"Yes," said Vera, "I used to see him every afternoon then, when he played ball on the college nine—"
"Who?" demanded Mannie incredulously.
"Winthrop," said Vera.
"Did he?" exclaimed Mannie. His tone suggested that he might still be persuaded that there was good in the man.
"What'd he play?" he demanded suspiciously.
"First," said Vera.
"Did he!" exclaimed Mannie. His tone now was of open approbation.
Vera had raised her eyes and turned them toward the windows. Beyond the soot-stained sumach tree, the fire escapes of the department store, she saw the sun-drenched campus, the buttressed chapel, the ancient, drooping elms; and on a canvas bag, poised like a winged Mercury, a tall straight figure in gray, dusty flannels.
"He was awfully good-looking," murmured the girl, "and awfully tall. He could stop a ball as high as—that!" She raised her arm in the air, and then, suddenly conscious, flushed, and turned to the piano.
"Go on, tell us," urged Mabel. "So you first met him in Geneva, did you?"
"No," corrected Vera, "saw him there. I—only met him once."
Mannie interrupted hilariously.
"I only saw him once, too," he cried, "that was enough for me."
Vera swiftly spun the piano stool so that she faced him. Her eyes were filled with concern.
"You, Mannie!" she demanded anxiously. "What had you done?"
"Done!" exclaimed Mannie indignantly, "nothing! What'd you think I'd done? Did you think I was a crook?"
Vera bowed her shoulders and shivered as though the boy had cursed at her. She shook her head vehemently and again swung back to the piano. Stumbling awkwardly, her fingers ran over the keys in a swift clatter of broken chords. "No," she whispered, "no, Mannie, no."
With a laugh of delighted recollection, Mannie turned to Mabel.
"He raided a poolroom I was working at," he explained. "He picked me out as a sheet writer because I had my coat off, see? I told him I had it off because it was too hot for me, and he says, Young man, if you lie to me, I'll make I a damn sight hotter!" Mannie threw back his head and shouted uproariously. "He's all right, Winthrop!" he declared.
Mabel, having already married Winthrop to Vera in Grace Church, with herself in the front pew, in a blue silk dress, received this unexpected evidence of his rare wit with delight. In ecstasy of appreciation she slapped her knees.
"Did he say that, Mannie?" she cried. "Wasn't that quick of him! Did you hear what he said to Mannie, Vera?" she demanded.
Their mirth was interrupted by the opening and closing of the front door and, in the hall, the murmur of men's voices.
Vance opened the door from the hall and entered, followed by Judge Gaylor and Rainey. With evident pride in her appearance, Vance introduced the two men to his wife, and then sent her and Mannie from the room—the latter with orders to dismiss the visitors in the front parlor and to admit no others.
At the door Mrs. Vance turned to Vera and nodded mysteriously.
"If that party calls," she said with significance, "I'll put him in the front parlor." With a look of dismay, Vera vehemently shook her head but, to forestall any opposition, Mrs. Vance hastily slammed the door behind her.
In his most courteous manner Judge Gaylor offered the chair at the head of the centre table to Vera, and at the same table seated himself. Vance took a place on the piano stool; Rainey stood with his back to the mantel piece.
"Miss Vera," Gaylor began impressively, "I desire to apologize for my language this morning. As Rainey no doubt has told you, I have opposed you and Professor Vance. But I—I know when I'm beaten. Your influence with Mr. Hallowell today—is greater than mine. It is paramount. I congratulate you." He smiled ingratiatingly. "And now," he added, "we are all working in unison."
"You've given up your idea of sending me to jail," said Vera.
"Vera!" exclaimed Vance reprovingly. "Judge Gaylor has apologized. We're all in harmony now."
"Is that door locked?" asked Gaylor. Vance told him, save Mrs. Vance, Mannie, and themselves, there was none in the house; and that he might speak freely.
"Miss Vera," began the Judge, "we left Mr. Hallowell very much impressed with the message you gave him this morning. The message from his dead sister. He wants another message from her. He wants her to decide how he shall dispose of a very large sum of money—his entire fortune."
"His entire fortune!" exclaimed Vera. "Do you imagine," she asked, "that Mr. Hallowell will take advice from the spirit world about that? I don't!"
"I do," Gaylor answered stoutly, "I know I would."
"You?" asked Vera incredulously.
"If I could believe my sister came from the dead to tell me what to do," said the lawyer, "of course, I'd do it. I'd be afraid not to. But I don't believe he does. And he believes you can bring his sister herself before him. He insists that tonight you hold a seance in his house, and that you materialize the spirit of his dead sister. So that he can see his sister, and talk with his sister. Vance says you can do that. Can you?"
From Vera's face the look of girlishness, of happy anticipation, had already disappeared.
"It is my business to do that," the girl answered. She turned to Vance and, in a matter-of-fact voice, inquired, "What does his sister look like—that photograph we used this morning?"
"No," Vance answered. "I've a better one, Rainey gave me. Taken when she was older. Has white hair and a cap and a kerchief crossed—so." He drew his hands across his shoulders. "Rainey, show Miss Vera that picture."
"Not now," Gaylor commanded. "The important thing now is that Miss Vera understands the message Mr. Hallowell is to receive from his sister."
The two other men nodded quickly in assent. Gaylor turned to Vera. He spoke slowly, earnestly.
"Miss Vera," he said, "Mr. Hallowell's present will leaves his fortune to his niece. He has made another will, which he has not signed, leaving his fortune to the Hallowell Institute. He will ask his sister to which of these he should leave his money. You will tell him—" he corrected himself instantly. "She will tell him to give it where it will be of the greatest good to the most people—to the Institute." There was a pause. "Do you understand?" he asked.
"To the Institute. Not to the niece," Vera answered. Gaylor nodded gravely.
"What," asked Vera, "are the fewest words in which that message could be delivered? I mean—should she say, You are to endow the Hallowell Institute, or Brother, you are to give—Sign the new will?" With satisfaction the girl gave a sharp shake of her head, and nodded to Vance. "Destroy the old will. Sign the new will. That is the best," she said.