When, at noon, Martha left her, with a caressing pat of the hand, promising to be back in time for supper, the anxious, weary woman picked up her needle again, her fingers darting in and out like shuttles, her shoulders aching with the strain, her mind still intent on the problems which had tortured her all night, and only rousing herself when the clock in a neighboring tower struck four. Then she gathered up her work, wrapped the whole in the same sheet of tissue-paper in which the several pieces had been packed, and, adjusting her hat and cloak, started for Rosenthal's.
Mangan, who was in charge of the department, had been waiting for her in a small room off the repair shop, and as he caught sight of her frail figure making her way toward him, rose to greet her. "Well, I'm glad you've come," he began, as she reached his desk. "Brought that Spanish piece, didn't you? Ought to have had it last night."
She tried to smile, but his face was too forbidding. "No, I am sorry to say that—"
"You didn't! What have you done with it?"
"I could not finish it. I have brought everything else. I will have it for you in the morning."
Mangan looked at her curiously, a smirk of suspicion crossing his narrow fox face. "Oh! You'll bring it to-morrow, will you?" he sneered. "Well, do you know that to-morrow's New Year's Eve and that this mantilla's got to be delivered to-night? They have been telephoning all day for it. To-morrow, eh? Well, don't that make you tired! It does me."
An indignant protest quivered through her, but she dared not show resentment. Only within the last few months had she been subjected to these insults, and only her helplessness had compelled her to bear them.
"I am very sorry," she answered simply, and with a certain dignity. "I have not been very well. I have done all I could. The damage was greater than I expected. Some of the threads must be entirely restored."
"What time to-morrow?" Every kind of excuse known to the shop-worker had been poured into his ears. Very few of them contained a particle of truth.
"Before noon, if I can; certainly by four o'clock."
"Four o'clock?" he roared. He had already made up his mind that she was lying, but there was no use in his telling her so, nor would any time be gained by taking the work from her and handing it over to another employee.
"Four means eight, I guess. What's the matter with ten o'clock? I got to have that sure, and no monkeying. Can't you brace up and jam it through?"
"I will try." Her cheeks were burning under the sting of his coarse lashes.
"Try! You bet you'll try! Better get home right away. Give me that bundle—I'll have it checked up, so you won't lose no time."
She bit her lip, her whole nature in revolt, but she made no reply. Too much was at stake for her to show anger at such coarseness. She had no rights that he was bound to respect. She was only one of his work-girls, and her short experience had shown her that but few of her associates received better treatment from him.
"Thank you," was all she said as, with downcast eyes, she picked her way through the crowded workroom, down the long, steep staircase reserved for employees and so on to the street. There she caught a Third Avenue car and sank into a seat near the door, encroaching upon her small reserve of pennies to reach home the sooner. She saw but too clearly that not only did her present position depend on her returning the mantilla at the earliest possible moment, but that, exhausted as she was, she must utilize the few remaining minutes of daylight as well as the earlier hours of the morning to keep her promise. To work long at night she knew was impossible. She had not the eyes to follow the intricacies of the meshes with no other light than that afforded by Martha's kerosene lamp. She had tried it before, and had been forced to stop.
When she reached the cross street leading to Martha's door, she hurried from the car, caught her skirts in her hand, a habit of hers when nervously hurried, and, summoning up all her strength, sped on, mounting the narrow, rickety steps with but a pause for breath on the last landing. Once there, she took her latch-key from her pocket and unlocked the door, leaving it on the jar, as she knew Martha might come in at any moment.
As she entered the humble apartment, its restful seclusion, after her experience with Mangan, sent a thrill of thankfulness through her. One after another the several objects passed in review—the kettle singing on the stove, its ample bed of coals warming the room; her own tiny chamber, leading out of the one large room, with its small iron bedstead and white cotton quilt; the table with its lamp; the pine shelves with the few pieces of china, and even the big paper box in which her work was delivered and later returned to the shop, either by wagon or special messenger, and which Martha, before she had gone out, had placed on a chair near the door to keep it out of the dust. All told her of peace and warmth and comfort.
She lighted the lamp, picked up the box containing the mantilla, and half raised the lid, intending to place the contents on her sewing-table, but, catching sight of the kettle again, she let the box lid drop from her hands. She was chilled from the ride in the car, the water was boiling, and it would take but a minute to make herself a cup of tea. This would give her renewed strength for her task. Hardly had she drained her cup when she became conscious of a step on the stairs—a steady, firm step. Not Martha's nor that of the boy. Nor that of the expressman who often sought Martha's apartment.
As it approached the landing, a sickening faintness assailed her.
She had heard that step before.
It was Felix!
Her hour of trial had come!
He would find the door ajar, stride into the room with that quiet, self-contained manner of his; and she must face him and stand ashamed!
For a brief instant she wavered, her resolution of the morning, to throw herself at his feet, put to flight by a sense of some impending terror. Should she spring forward and shut the door before he reached it, refusing to admit him until Martha came, or should she creep noiselessly into her room and lock herself in, remaining silent until he should leave the premises, believing no one at home? While she stood, half paralyzed with fear, the door moved gently, almost stealthily, swinging back half its width, and a man in cape-coat, and slouch hat drawn dose over his eyes, stepped into the room.
Lady Barbara gave a piercing shriek, sprang from her seat, and staggered back, grasping a chair to keep her from falling. "How dare you, Guy Dalton, to—"
The intruder loosened the top button of his cape, watching, meanwhile, the terrified woman, and, with a sneer, said: "Oh, stop that, will you? I've had enough of it. You thought you could get away, did you? Well, you can't, and the sooner you find that out the better for you." He glanced coolly around the room. "So this is where you are, is it?—a rotten hole, anyhow. You might better have stayed where you were. Does Rosenthal pay you enough to keep this up, or is somebody else footing the bills? Now, you get your things on and be quick about it."
She had been edging toward her bedroom door all this time, her eyes glaring into his with the fierceness of a cornered animal, muttering as she stepped—one word at a time:
"I haven't, haven't I? I'd like to know who has a better right?" he returned angrily.
"No, you have not." She was moving an inch at a time, keeping a chair between herself and Dalton, her eyes watching his every expression, her right hand stretched along the wall.
"Still at it, are you? Well, get through, and hurry up. I'll go where I please, and you'll come when I want you. Everybody is inquiring for you down at the house, and I promised them you would be back to-night, and you will. You were a fool to leave. It's a lot better than this. From what I heard last night, from one of Rosenthal's girls, I thought you had moved into something palatial."
She had reached the bedroom door now, and her hand was on the knob.
"Yes—that's right," he said, mistaking her purpose, "get into your wraps, and—"
The door closed with a sudden bang, and the inside bolt was pushed tight.
Dalton stood with his hands in his pockets. "Oh, that's the game, is it?" he called, in a loud voice. He saw he had been outwitted, and an oath escaped him. He saw, too, that the door was a heavy one, and the effort to force it might bring in the neighbors. "Well, there's no hurry. I can wait," he added savagely, "but if you know what's good for you, you'll come out now."
She had sunk down on her bed, hardly daring to breathe. Her only hope now lay in Martha, and she might not come back for an hour.
Dalton sauntered away from the door and began an inspection of the room. The box on the chair came first. He lifted the lid and drew out the mantilla. "Rather good, this—wonder how she got hold of it—Oh, yes, I see, she must be repairing it. There are her work-basket and the spools of black silk."
He turned to the box again and read the name of "Rosenthal" stencilled on the bottom. "So that is what she is doing—they did not tell me what she worked at." He spread out the mantilla again and looked it over carefully. Then a smile of cunning crossed his face. "Just what I want," he said, folding it up and tucking it inside his capacious cape.
He now made a tour of the room, his tread like that of a cat, lifted the plates on the dresser as if in search of something behind them, rummaged through the work-basket, opening and turning the leaves of a book lying on the table. So occupied was he that he did not hear Martha's noiseless step nor know that she had entered the room.
For a moment she stood watching his every movement. The man she saw was well-knit and rather handsome, not much over thirty, with clean-shaven face, drooping eyelids, and a hard-set lower jaw. She had a suspicion that it might be Dalton, but was not sure, never having seen him but once, when he was much younger.
"Who do you want to see?" she asked at last, in a firm voice.
Dalton wheeled sharply, and took her in with one comprehensive glance. He had always prided himself on never having been outwitted or taken unawares, and that Lady Barbara could lock herself in her room, and that this woman could creep up behind him unobserved, rather nettled him.
"I don't know that it is any of your business, my good woman," he answered, his insolence increasing as he noticed how mild and inoffensive she appeared to be; "but if it makes any difference to you, I will tell you that I am waiting for my wife."
"Where is she?" Martha's voice was clear and incisive, with a ring of determination through it that, for the moment, disconcerted him.
Dalton pointed to the bedroom door.
Martha stepped across the room and tried the knob. "Open the door, Lady Barbara. It's Martha. Who is this man?"
The bolt shot back and Barbara's frightened face peered out. "Oh, thank God you have come!" she moaned, her teeth chattering. "It is Mr. Dalton. I ordered him from the room, and he would not go, and—"
"Oh, it's Mr. Guy Dalton, is it?" Martha cried, facing him. "The man who's been a curse to you ever since you met him. I know every crook and turn of you—you ought to be ashamed of yourself to treat a woman as you have treated Lady Barbara O'Day. Now, sir, this is my room and you can't stay in it a minute longer. There's the door!"
Dalton laughed a dry, crackling laugh. "You are a regular virago, are you not, my dear woman?" he said. "Quite refreshing to hear your defense of a woman on whom I have spent every shilling I had. Now, do not get excited—cool down a bit, and we will talk it over—and while we are at it, please make me a cup of tea. It is about my hour. When my wife comes to her senses, as she will in a minute, she will get over her tantrums and think better of it."
Martha strode straight toward him until her capacious body was within a few inches of his shirt-front, her hands tightly clinched. "Don't make any mistake, Mr. Dalton. Your airs won't go here. My brother Stephen looks after me and after Lady O'Day, and he and another man you wouldn't care to meet are looking after you."
She called to her mistress: "Lock and bolt that door on you, and don't open it until I tell you."
Again she confronted Dalton, her contempt for him increasing as she caught the wave of anxiety that swept his face at her reference to the men who would help her. "Now, you can have just one minute to leave this room, Mr. Dalton," she cried, throwing back the door. "If you're over that time, the policeman on the block will help you down-stairs."
Dalton hesitated. The allusion to Stephen, whoever he might be, and to the other man, disturbed him. That the woman knew more of his history than she was willing at that time to tell was evident. That she was entirely in earnest, and meant what she said, and that it would be more than dangerous for him to defy her, should she appeal to the police for help, were equally evident.
"Of course, my dear woman," he said, with assumed humility, his eyes glistening with anger, "if you do not want me to stay, I suppose I shall have to go. I did not come to make any fuss; I only came to take my wife home where I can take care of her. She seems to think she can get along without me. All right—I am willing she should try it for a while. She has my address, which is more than I had when she left me without a word of any kind."
He slid his hand under his cape to assure himself that the mantilla was safe and out of sight, picked up his hat, and stepped jauntily out, saying as he went down the staircase: "Next time, she will come to me. Do you hear? Tell her so, will you?"
Sometimes on life's highway we meet a man who reminds us of one of those high-priced pears seen in fruiterers' windows: wholesome, good to look at, without a speck or stain on their smooth, round, rosy skins—until we bite into them. Then, close to their hearts, we uncover a greedy, conscienceless worm, gnawing away in the dark—and consign the whole to the waste-barrel.
Dalton, despite his alluring exterior, had been rotten at heart from the time he was sixteen years of age, when he had lied to his father about his school remittances, which the old man had duplicated at once.
That none of his associates had discovered this was owing to the fact that no one had probed deeper than the skin of his attractiveness—and with good reason: it was clean, good to look at, bright in color, a most welcome addition to any dinner-table. But when the drop came—and very few fruits can stand being bumped on the sidewalk—the revelation followed all the quicker, simply because bruised fruit rots in a day, as even the least qualified among us can tell.
And the bruises showed clearer as time went on. The lines in his once well-rounded, almost boyish face grew deeper and more strongly marked, the eyes shrank far back beneath the brows, the lips became thinner and less mobile, the hair was streaked with gray, and the feet lacked their old-time spring.
With these there had come other changes. The smile which had won many a woman was replaced by a self-conscious smirk; the debonair manner which had charmed all who met him was now a mere bravado. His dress, too, showed the strain. While his collar and neckwear were properly looked after, and his face was clean-shaven, other parts of his make-up, especially his shoes and hat, were much the worse for wear.
This, then, was the man who, with thoughts intent on his last and most degrading makeshift, was forging his way up Second Avenue, the mantilla—the veriest film of old Salamanca lace—pressed into a small wad and stuffed in his inside pocket.
And now, while we follow him on his way up-town, it may be just as well for us to note that up to this precise moment our devil-may-care, still rather handsome Mr. Dalton, with the drooping eyelids and cold, hard lips, had entirely failed to grasp the idea that, in so far as public and private morals were concerned, he had in the last thirty minutes fallen to the level of a common sneak-thief.
His own reasoning, in disproof of this theory, was entirely characteristic of the man. While the pawning of one's things was of course unfortunate and might occasion many misunderstandings and much obloquy, such an act was not necessarily dishonest, because many gentlemen, some of high social position, had been compelled to do the same thing. He himself, yielding to force of circumstances, had already pawned a good many things—his wife's first, and then his own—and would do it again under similar conditions. That the article carefully hidden in his pocket belonged to neither one of them, did not strike him as altering the situation in the slightest. The mantilla was of no value to him, nor, for that matter, to Lady Barbara. He would pawn it not alone for the sake of the money it would bring him, to tide him over his troubles until he could recover his losses—only a question of days, perhaps hours—but because, by means of the transaction, he would be enabled to restore harmony to a home which, through the obstinacy of a woman on whom he had squandered every penny he possessed in the world, had been temporarily broken up.
Should she rebel and refuse to join him—and she unquestionably had that right—he would carry out a plan which had come to him in a flash when he first picked it up. He would pawn it for what it would bring and, watching his chance some day when Lady Barbara was out at work, force his way into the apartment, slip the pawn-ticket where it could easily be found—behind the china or in among her sewing materials—and with that as proof, charge her with having stolen the lace, threatening her with exposure unless she yielded. If she relented, he would destroy the ticket and let the matter drop; if she continued obstinate, he would charge her companion with being an accessory. The woman was evidently befriending Lady Barbara for what she could get out of her. Neither of them was seeking trouble. Between the two he could accomplish his purpose.
What would happen in the meanwhile, when she tried to account for its loss to Rosenthal, never caused him the slightest concern. She, of course, could concoct some story which they would finally believe. If not, they could deduct the value of the lace from her earnings.
He had the best of motives for his action. Their board bill was overdue. He was harassed by the want of even the small sums of money needed for car-fare, and of late it had become very evident that if they were to keep their present quarters—and he was afraid to try for any others—he must yield at once to the proprietor's pressing suggestion to "patch up his differences with his wife," and have her come home and once more take charge of the suite of rooms; the owner arguing that as Mr. and Mrs. Stanton were known to be "family people," a profitable little game free from police interruption might be carried on, the surplus to be divided between the "house and Mrs. Stanton's husband."
That she should decline again to be party to any such plan seemed to him altogether improbable, since all she had to do to insure them both comfort was to return home like a sensible woman, put on the best clothes she possessed—the more attractive the better, and she certainly was fetching in that wrapper—and be reasonably polite to such of his friends as chose to drop in evenings for a quiet game of cards.
Moreover, she owed him something. He had made every sacrifice for her, shared with her his every shilling, making himself an exile, if not a fugitive, for her sake, and it was time she recognized it.
With the recall of these incidents in his checkered career a new thought blazed up in his mind—rather a blinding thought. As its rays brightened he halted in his course, and stood gazing across the street as if uncertain as to his next move. Perhaps, after all, it would be best NOT to pawn the mantilla. An outright sale would be much better. If this were impossible, it would be just as well to destroy the ticket and postpone his scheme for regaining possession of her person. While something certainly was due him—and she of all women in the world should supply it—forcing her to carry out the landlord's plan, now that he thought it over, might result in a certain kind of publicity, which, if his own antecedents were looked into, would be particularly embarrassing. She might—and here a slight shiver passed through him—she might, in her obstinacy, threaten him with the forged certificates, a result hardly possible, for no letters of any kind had reached her, none so far as he knew; neither had he ever discussed the incident with her, for the simple reason that women, as a rule, never understood such things. And yet how could he, as a financier, have tided over an accounting which, if allowed to go on, would have wiped out the savings of hundreds who had trusted him and whom he could not desert in their hour of need, except by some such desperate means? Of course, if he had to do it all over again, he would never have locked up the stock-book in his own safe. That was a mistake. He ought to have left it with the treasurer. Then he could have shifted the responsibility.
Just here, oddly enough, he began to think of Felix—that cold-blooded, unimaginative man, who knew absolutely nothing about how to treat a woman, and, for that matter, knew nothing about anything else in so far as the practical side of life was concerned. The fool—here his brow knit—had not only broken up the final deal, in which everything had been fixed with Mullhallsen, the German banker, for an additional loan, but he had unearthed and compared certain certificates, in his fight to protect an obstinate old father. Worse still, he had taken himself off to Australia to starve, instead of saving what he could out of the wreck. Had he only listened to advice, the whole catastrophe might have been averted.
And this fool would have ruined his wife as well, had not he—Dalton—stepped in and saved her from burying herself in the wilderness.
As the memory of the scene with Felix when the stock-book was unearthed passed through his mind, his hand instinctively sought the bulge in his coat-pocket. He must get rid of it and at once. Just as the certificates had proved to be dangerous, so might this lace.
With this idea of his own peril possessing his mind his whole manner changed. The air of triumph shown in his step and bearing when he left Marta's door, due to his discovery of the fugitive and the terror his presence had inspired, was gone. The old spectre always pursuing him stepped again to his side and linked arms. His slinking, furtive air returned, and a certain well-defined fear, as if he dreaded being followed, showed itself in every glance.
Suddenly he caught sight of a well-patronized retreat, owned and operated by a Mrs. Blobbs, the Polish wife of an English cheap John, and with a quick sliding movement, he paused in front of the narrow door. He had already taken in, from under his hat, the single gas-jet lighting up its collection of pinchbeck jewelry, watches, revolvers, satin shoes, fans, and other belongings of the unfortunate, and after peering up and down the street, he slipped in noiselessly, his countenance wearing that peculiar, shame-faced expression common to gentlemen on similar missions. That it was not his first experience could be seen from the way he leaned far over the counter, dropped the filmy wad, and then straightened back—the gesture meaning that if any other customer should come in while his negotiations were in progress, he was not to be connected in any way with the article.
"Something rather good," he said, pointing to the black roll.
The proprietress, a square-built woman, solid as a sack of salt, her waist-line marked by a string tightened just above a black alpaca apron, her dried-apple face surmounted by a dingy lace cap topped with a soiled red ribbon, eyed him cautiously, and remarked, after loosening out the mantilla: "Dem teater gurls only vant such tings, and dey can pay nuddin'. No, I vouldn't even gif fife tollars. Petter dake it somevares else."
Dalton hesitated, turning the matter over in his mind. The transfer would bring him the desired pawn-ticket, but the five dollars was not sufficient to help him tide over the most pressing of his difficulties. He had borrowed double that sum two nights before, from the barkeeper of a pool-room where he occasionally played, and he dared not repeat his visit until he could carry him the money.
The male Blobbs, the taller and more rotund of the two shopkeepers—especially about the middle—now strolled in, leaned over the counter, and picking up the lace, held it to the overhead light. Looked at from behind, Blobbs was all shirt-sleeves and waist-coat, the back of his flat head resting like a lid on his shoulders. Looked at from the front, Blobbs developed into a person with shoe-brush whiskers bristling against two yellow cheeks, the features being the five dots a child always insists upon when drawing a face. Dalton saw at a glance that it was Mrs. Blobbs, and not Mr. Blobbs, who was in charge of the shop, and that any discussions with him as to the price would be useless.
"You're an Hinglishnan, I take it," came from the lowest dot of the five, a blurred and uncertain mouth.
Dalton colored slightly and nodded.
"Well, what I should adwise ye to do is to take this 'ere lace to some of them hold furnitoor shops. I know what this is. I 'ate to see a chap like ye put to it like this, that's why I tell ye. 'Ard on your woman, but—there's a shop hup on Fourth Avenue where they buy such things. A Dutchman by the name of Kling, right on the corner—you can't miss it. Take it hup to 'im and tell 'im I sent ye—we often 'elps one another."
Dalton crumpled up the black wad, slid the package under his coat, and without a word of thanks left the shop.
This was not the first time Blobbs had sent Kling a customer. Indeed, there had always been more or less of a trade between the two establishments. For, while Mrs. Blobbs had a license and could advance money at reasonable rates, her principal business was in old-clothes and ready-to-wear finery. Being near "The Avenue" and well known to its denizens, many of their outgrown and out-of-fashion garments had passed across her counter. Here the young man who pounded away on Masie's piano, the night of her birthday party, borrowed, for a trifle, his evening suit. Here Codman had exchanged a three-year-old overcoat, which refused to be buttoned across his constantly increasing girth, for enough money to pay for the velvet cuffs and collar of the new one purchased on Sixth Avenue. Here Mrs. Codman bought remnants of finery with which to adorn her young daughter's skirts when she went to the ball given by the Washington chowder party. Here, too, was where the undertaker sold the clothes of the man who stepped off a ten-story building in the morning and was laid out that same night in Digwell's back room, his friends depositing a fresh suit for him to be buried in, telling the undertaker to do with the old one as he pleased. And to this old-clothes shop flocked many another denizen of side streets, who at one time or another had reached crises in their careers which nothing else could relieve.
Mrs. Blobbs's curt refusal to receive the lace only added fuel to the blazing thought that had flared up in Dalton's mind when he recalled the certificates. Holding on to them had caused one explosion. The mantilla might prove another such bomb. He dared not leave it at home and he could not carry it for an indefinite time on his person. If the man Kling would pay any decent price for it, he could have it and welcome.
With the grim spectre still linking arms with him he hurried on, making short-cuts across the streets, until he arrived at Kling's corner. At this point he paused. His terror must not betray him. Shaking himself free of the spectre, he assumed his one-time nonchalant air, entered the store and walked down the middle aisle, between the lines of sideboards, bureaus and high desks drawn up in dress parade. Over the barricade of the small office he caught the shine of Otto's bald head, the only other live occupant, except Fudge, who had crept out from behind a bureau, and bounded back with a growl. Fudge had sniffed around the legs of a good many people, and might have written their biographies, but Dalton was new to him. Few thieves had ever entered Kling's doors.
"I have just left your old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Blobbs," he began gayly, "who have advised me to bring to you rather a rare piece of lace belonging to my wife. Fine, isn't it?" He loosened the bundle and shook out the folds of the mantilla.
Otto put on his glasses, felt the texture of the piece between his fingers, and spread out the pattern for closer examination. "Yes, dot's a good piece of lace. Vot you vant to do vid it? Dere's a hole in it, you see," and he thrust a pudgy finger into the gash.
"Yes, I know," returned Dalton, who, with his eye still on the dog, had been crushing it together so that the tear might not show; "but that is easily remedied. I want to sell it. Mr. Blobbs tells me it is worth a hundred dollars."
"Is dot so? Vell—vell—a hundred tollars! Dot's a good deal of money." He had begun to wrap it up, tucking in the ends. "No—dot Fudge dog don't bite—go away, you. T'ank you for lettin' me see it, tell Mr. Blobbs, but I don't vant it at dot price. And I doan know I vant it at any price. Dey doan buy dem t'ings any more."
Dalton saw that the mantilla had favorably impressed the dealer. He had caught the look of pleasure when the lace was first unrolled, reading the man's brain as he had often read the brains of the men at home who listened to some rose-colored prospectus. These experiences had taught him that there was always a supreme moment when one must stop praising an article for sale, whether it were a rubber concession from an African chief or a pound of tea over a grocer's counter. This moment had arrived with Kling.
"I agree with you," he said smilingly. "The valuation was Mr. Blobbs's, not mine. I told him I should be glad to get half that amount—or even less."
Otto took the bundle and loosened the roll again. "I got a little girl, Beesving—dot was her dog make such foolishness—who likes dese t'ings. But dot is not business, for I doan sell it again once I gif it to her. I joost put it around her shoulders for a New Year's gift. Maybe if you—" He re-examined it closely, especially the tear, which had partly yielded to Lady Barbara's deft fingers and tired eyes. "Vell, I tell you vot I do, I gif you tventy tollars."
"That, I am afraid, will not answer my purpose," said Dalton. "Perhaps, however, you will loan me thirty dollars on it and hold the lace for a week or so, and I will pay you back thirty-five when some money that is due me comes in?"
Otto looked at him from under his bushy eyebrows. "Ve don't do dot kind of business. If I buy—I buy. If I sell—I sell. Sometimes I pay more as a t'ing is vorth. Sometimes I pay less. I have a expert vid me who knows vat dis is vorth, but he is busy vid a customer on de next floor, and I doan sent for him. If you vant de tventy tollars you can have it. If you doan, den take avay de lace. I got a lot of t'ings to do more as to talk about it. Ven you see Blobbs, you tell him vat I say."
Dalton's mind worked rapidly. To take the money would clean off his debt and leave him a margin which he might treble before midnight.
"Give me the money," he said. "It is not one-third of its value, but I see that it is all I can do."
Otto smiled—the smile of a man who had hit the thing at which he aimed—felt in his inside pocket, drew out a great flat pocketbook, and counted out the bills.
Dalton swept them up as a winner at baccarat sweeps up his coin, apparently without counting them, stuffed the crumpled bank-notes into his pocket, and started for the door.
Half-way down the long shop he halted opposite a sideboard laden with old silver and glass and, to show that he was not in a hurry, paused for an instant, picking up a cut-glass decanter with a silver top, remarking casually, as he laid it back, "Like one I have at home," continuing his inspection by holding aloft a pipe-stem glass, to see the color the better.
As he resumed his walk to the door, Felix, with Masie and a customer ahead of him, was just descending the rear stairs from the "banquet hall" above. He thus had a full view of the store below. Something in the way with which the bubble-blown glass was handled attracted O'Day's attention. He had seen a wrist with a movement like that, the poised glass firmly held in an outstretched hand. Where, he could not tell; at his own table, perhaps, or possibly at a club dinner. He remembered the quick, upward toss, the slender receptacle held high. He leaned far forward, and watched the nervous step and halting gait. Had Masie and the customer not been ahead of him, he would have hurried past them and called to the man to stop—not an unusual thing with him when his suspicions were aroused. Instead, he waited until he was well down the stairs, then strolled carelessly toward the door, intending to make some excuse to accost the man on the sidewalk. Not that he had any definite conviction regarding his likeness to the man he wanted; more to satisfy his conscience that he had permitted no clew to slip past him.
What made him hesitate was the way the slouch-hat shaded the intruder's face, the gas-jets not revealing the features. Only the end of the chin was visible, and the round of the lower cheek showing above the heavy cape-collar of the overcoat.
Dalton by this time had reached the street-door, which he closed gently behind him, holding it for an instant to prevent its making a noise. Felix lunged forward, reopened it quickly, and gazed out into the night. Dalton had vanished as completely as if the earth had swallowed him.
Another man, who had kept his eyes on O'Day as he peered into the dark, an undersized, gaunt-looking man, sidled toward Felix and pulled at his coat sleeve. "I ain't too early, am I? You said eight o'clock?"
Felix looked at him keenly. "Oh, yes, I remember—no, you are all right. How long have you been here?"
"About half an hour."
"Did you notice which way that man went who has just shut the door?"
The tramp looked about him in a helpless way. "I wasn't lookin'. I was a-watchin' you—waitin' for you to come out—but I got on to him when he went in awhile ago."
"Then you have seen him before?"
"Of course I've seen him before. He plays pool where I've been a-workin'."
Felix bent closer. "Do you know his name?"
"Sure! His name's Stanton. He's been puttin' sompin' to soak, I guess. I heard last week he was up against it. Do you know him?"
Felix remained silent a moment, checking his own disappointment, and then answered slowly: "I thought I did, but I see I am mistaken. Come inside the store where it is warmer. I have secured you a job, and will take you with me when I have finished here."
Had a spark of human feeling been left in Dalton's body, it would have been kindled into a flame of sympathy, could he have seen Lady Barbara when she opened the box early next morning, and stood trembling over the loss of the mantilla.
Her first hope was that she had inadvertently taken it to Rosenthal's with the other pieces of lace, and that Mangan had found it when he checked up her work. Then a cold chill ran through her, her anxiety increasing every moment. Had she dropped it in the street? Had the woman who jostled her on the way up the long staircase to the workroom, picked up her package when she stumbled? Perhaps some one had crept in during the night and, finding the box near the door, had caught up the mantilla and escaped without being detected? Could she herself have dragged it into her bedroom, entangled in the folds of her skirt? Was it not near the window, or in her basket, or behind the door, or—
Martha, with a shake of her head, put all these theories to flight.
"No, it isn't in your room at all, and it isn't anywhere else around here; and nobody's been in here from the outside; and they couldn't get in if they tried, for I bolted the door when we went to bed. The only person who has had the run of the place is Mr. Dalton, and he—"
"Well, I wasn't here when he first came, but when I opened the door he was peeking behind the china."
"But I had not been inside my room a minute before I heard your voice. How could he have taken it? You don't think—"
"I don't say what I think, because I don't know, but he's mean enough to do anything he could to hurt you. How long had he been talking to you when I came in?"
"Just long enough for me to run past him and lock myself in."
"And how long do you think it would take him to steal it, if he thought nobody was looking?"
"But he could not have stolen it, Martha; he was on the other side of the room. The box is by the door where I left it; you can see it for yourself. Oh what shall I do? Where could I have dropped it? It must be at the store in that bundle. Mr. Mangan said I need not wait, and I did not see him open it. He has found it by this time and he is waiting for me. I will go right away and see him. Anybody could make a mistake like that. He must—he WILL understand when I explain it all. Get my cloak and hat, please, Martha. I will take the car up and back, and you can have my coffee ready for me upon my return. I won't be half an hour. Oh! how awful it is, how awful! If I had only found it out last night! I had meant to work, but I could not after what happened. Mr. Mangan was very much put out yesterday, and I know he will be furious to-day. No, you need not come with me," and she was gone.
Martha closed the door, walked to the window, and stood looking through the panes until the slight figure had reached the street, where she caught up her skirt, to free her steps the better, and started on a run for the car line. When the fragile form was lost in the whirl of the traffic, Martha walked slowly to the table and sank into a chair, her elbows resting on its top, her face in her hand.
The next instant she was on her feet examining Lady Barbara's work-basket, wondering what Dalton had found in it, wondering, too, why he had looked through it. Crossing to the dresser, she moved the plates and cups, as he had done, searching for a possible note, or perhaps for a duplicate key of their former apartment which he might have left for Barbara, and then moved toward the door of the smaller chamber, behind which her mistress had lain shivering. Her eye now fell on the box, the lid awry. She remembered that this lid had been in that same position when she had ordered the intruder from the room, and that, at the time, she had thought it strange that Lady Barbara, always so careful, had not fastened it to keep the dust from its contents. Stooping closer, she examined the various articles. She noted that one sleeve of the lace blouse had been lifted from its place, while the other sleeve remained snug where her mistress had tucked it. In pulling out one of the upper pieces, this sleeve must have been caught in its meshes and dragged clear. This could only have been done by the mantilla which, she distinctly remembered, had been laid neatly on top the afternoon before, so as to be ready for work in the morning.
"He's got it," she exclaimed in an excited tone, replacing the lid. "I'll stake my life he stole it, the dirty cur! He's done it to get even with her. She'll be back in a little while, half distracted. There is going to be trouble, plenty of it. I'll have Stephen here right away, and we'll talk it over. I can take care of her when she's inside these rooms, but what if that man waylays her on the street and raises a row, and she goes back to him to smooth over things? This has got to stop. She won't live the month out if he gets to hounding her again, and now he's found out where she is, I shan't have a moment's peace. What a hang-dog face he's got on him! And he's a coward, too, or he wouldn't have slunk out when I ordered him. And he had it on him all the time! I wonder what he'll do with it. Hold it over her, I expect; maybe take it to Rosenthal's with some lie about her, so they will discharge her and she come back to him.
"Maybe—" Here she stopped, and grew suddenly grave. "Maybe he'll—No, I don't think he'd dare do that, but I've got to get Stephen, and I'll go for him this minute. Going's quicker than a letter, and I'll leave word down-stairs where I'm gone, so she'll know when she comes in, and I'll fix her coffee so she can get it."
Hurrying into her own room, she began changing her dress, putting on her shoes, taking her night cloak and big, flare bonnet from the hook behind the door, talking to herself as she moved.
"It's getting worse all the time, instead of getting better. God knows what's to become of her! She's most beat out now, and can't stand much more; and she's the best of the lot, except Mr. Felix, for she's clean inside of her, and only her heart is to blame—and that father of hers, Lord Carnavon, with his dirty pride, and this scoundrel she's wrecking her life on, and all the fine ladies at home who turned up their noses at her when half of them are twice as bad—oh, I know 'em—you can't fool Martha Munger! I've been too long with 'em. And this poor child who—Oh! I tell you this is a bad business, and it's getting worse—yes, it's getting worse. Rosenthal isn't going to stand losing that piece of lace, without its costing somebody some money. Stephen's got to come and be around evenings while I'm out. And I'll go with her to Rosenthal's and fetch her back home, so that man Dalton can't frighten the life out of her."
She put the coffee-pot where it would keep hot, and laid the cups and saucers ready for her mistress. This done, she shut the door, and made her way down-stairs. "Tell Mrs. Stanton when she comes in," she said to the old woman who acted as janitor, "that I've gone to see my brother, and that I'll be back just as soon as I can."
All hopes which had cheered Lady Barbara on her way to Rosenthal's, even when she climbed the long stairs and was ushered into Mangan's small office, died out of her heart when she saw the manager's face. She had anticipated an outburst of anger, followed by a brutal tirade over her carelessness in wrapping up the mantilla with the other pieces and leaving it behind her the night before. Instead, he came forward to meet her—his lean, nervous body twitching with expectation.
"Well, this is something like! Didn't think you'd turn up for an hour. Let's have it." This with a low chuckle—the nearest he ever got to a laugh.
"Something dreadful has happened, Mr. Mangan," she began, stumbling over her words, her knees shaking under her. "I thought I had wrapped the mantilla up with the pieces I brought you last night, but I see now that—"
"You thought! Say, what are you giving me? Ain't you got it?"
"I have not, and I don't know what has become of it. It was not in the box this morning, and—"
"IT WASN'T IN THE BOX THIS MORNING!" he roared. "See here, what kind of a damn fool do you take me for?" He wheeled suddenly, caught her by the wrist, dragged her clear of the door, and shut it behind her.
"Now, Mrs. Stanton," he said, in cold, incisive tones, "let's you and I have this out, and I want to tell you right here that I believe you're lying, and I've been suspecting it for some time. Now, make a clean breast of it. You've pawned it, haven't you?"
"I—pawn it? You think I—I won't allow you to speak to me in that way. I—"
"Oh, cut that out, it won't wash here. Now, listen! I've got to get that mantilla, see? And I'm going to get it if I go through every pawn-shop in town with a fine-tooth comb. I orter to have had better sense than to let you take it out of the shop. Now open up, and I'll help you straighten out things. Where is it? Come, now—no side-tracking."
She had sunk down on the chair, her fingers tightly interlocked, his words stunning her like blows. Their full meaning she missed in her dazed condition. All she knew was that, in some way, she must defend herself.
"Mr. Mangan, will you please listen to me? I have not pawned it, and I would never dream of doing such a thing. I can only think that some one has taken it from the box—I don't know who. I came to you the moment I discovered the loss. I thought perhaps I had wrapped it up with the other pieces I brought you last night, or that I had dropped it in the street on my way here. And, yet, none of these things seemed possible when I began to think about it. I will do all I can to pay for it. You can take its value from my work until it is all paid."
Mangan, who had been pacing the floor, hearing nothing of her explanation—his mind intent upon his next move—dragged a chair next to hers.
"Now, pull yourself together for a minute, Mrs. Stanton. I'm not going to be ugly. I'm going to make this just as easy as I can for you. You've got a lot of common sense, and you're some different from the women who handle our stuff. I've seen that, and that's why I've trusted you. Now, think of me a little. That mantilla don't belong to Rosenthal's. It belongs to a big customer who lives up near the Park, and who left it here on condition we had it mended on time. It's worth $250 if it's worth a cent, and it's worth a lot more to me, because I lose my job if I don't get hold of it to-day. It's a New Year's present and has got to be sent home to-night. Now, don't that make things look a little different to you? And now, one thing more, and I'm going to put it up to you, just between ourselves, and nobody will get onto it—nobody around here. If it's a matter of ten or fifteen dollars, I've got the money right here in my clothes. And you can slip out and I'll keep close behind, and you can go in and get it, and I'll bring it back here, and that's all there will be to it. Now, be decent to me. I've been decent to you ever since you come here. Ain't that so?"
Lady Barbara had now begun to understand. This man was accusing her of lying, if not of theft, while she sat powerless before him, incapable of speech. Once, as the horror of his suspicion rose before her, she felt a wild impulse to cry out, even to throw herself on his mercy—telling him her story and Martha's suspicions. Then the recollection of the cunning of the man, his vulgarity, his insincerity, slowly steadied her. Her secret must be kept, and she must not anger him further.
"Perhaps, Mr. Mangan, if you came with me to my rooms, and saw my old—" she paused, then added softly, "the old woman I live with, and I showed you where the box is always kept and the way the door opens, perhaps you could help us to find out how it could have happened."
Mangan rose and pushed back his chair. "Well, you are the limit!" he gritted between his teeth. "I guess I'm in for it. The old man will be howling mad, and I don't blame him."
He walked to his desk, picked up his telephone, and, in a restrained voice, said: "Send Pickert up here. I'm in my office. Tell him there's something doing."
Lady Barbara rose from her chair and stood waiting. She did not know who Pickert was nor whether her pleading had moved Mangan, who had now resumed his seat at the desk, piled high with papers, one of which he was studying closely.
"And you don't think it will do any good if you come to my room?"
Mangan shook his head.
"And shall I wait any longer?" she continued. The words were barely audible. She knew her dismissal had come and that she must face another dreary hunt for new work.
Mangan did not raise his head. "Sit down. I'll tell you when I'm through."
The door opened and a thick-set man, in a brown suit and derby hat, stepped in.
Mangan wheeled his chair and fronted the two. "This woman, Pickert, is carried on our pay-roll as Mrs. Stanton. She's got a room off St. Mark's Place. Here's the number. About a week ago I gave her a lace mantilla to fix, something good—worth over $200—and every day she's been coming here with a new lie. Now she says she's lost it. She's either got it down where she lives or she's pawned it. I've done what I could to save her, but she sticks to it. Better take some one from the office, down-stairs, with you. Maybe when she thinks it over she'll come to her senses. Take her along with you. I'm through."
As the man stepped forward, Lady Barbara sprang away from his touch. "You do not mean you are going to let this man take me—Mr. Mangan, you must not, you shall not! You would not commit that outrage. Do you mean—?"
Pickert made a gesture of disgust, his fingers outspread. "Keep all that for the captain. It won't cut any ice here, and you'd better not talk. Now come along, and don't make any fuss. If it's a mistake, you can clear it up at the station-house. I ain't going to touch you. You keep ahead until you get to the street-door. I'll be right behind, and meet you on the sidewalk."
Lady Barbara drew herself up proudly. "I won't allow it!" she cried; "what I told you—"
Pickert swaggered closer. "Drop that, will you? I got my orders. You heard 'em, didn't you? Will you go easy, or shall I have to—" and he half dragged a pair of handcuffs from his side pocket. "Now, you do just as I tell you; it'll all come right, and there won't nobody know what's goin' on. You get to hollerin' and mussin' up things and there'll be trouble, see? Open that door now, and walk out just as if everything was reg'lar."
The routine of Felix's daily life had been broken this morning by the receipt of a letter. The postman had handed it to him as he crossed the street from Kitty's to Kling's, the tramp who was sweeping the sidewalk having pointed him out.
"That's him," cried the tramp. "That's Mr. O'Day. Catch him before he gets inside his place, or you'll lose him. Here, I'll take it."
"You'll take nothin'. Get out of my way."
"For me?" asked Felix, coloring slightly as the postman accosted him.
"Yes, if you're Mr. O'Day."
"I'm afraid I am. Thank you. If you have any others, bring them here to Mr. Kling's, where I can always be found during the day."
He glanced at the seal and the address, but kept it in his hands until he reached Kling's counter, where he settled into a chair, and with the greatest care slit the envelope with his knife. A year had passed since he had received a letter, nor had he expected any.
He read it through to the end, turning the pages again, rereading certain passages, his face giving no hint of the contents, folded the sheets, put them back in the envelope, and slid the whole into his inside pocket. After a little he rose, stood for a moment watching Fudge, who, now that Masie had gone to school, had taken up his customary place in the window, his nose pressed against the pane. Then, as if some sudden resolve had seized him, he walked quickly to the rear of the store in search of his employer.
Otto was poring over his books, his bald head glistening under the rays of the gas-jet, which he had lighted to assist him in his work, the morning being dark.
"I have been wanting to talk to you for some time, Mr. Kling, about Masie," he began abruptly. "I may be going home to England, perhaps for a few weeks, perhaps longer, and I should like to take her with me. I have a sister who would look after her, and the trip would do her a world of good. I have been wanting to do this for a long time, but I am a little freer now to carry out the plan I had for her. And so I have come to propose it to you."
Otto listened gravely, his fat features frozen into calm. This clerk of his had made him many startling propositions, and every surrender had brought him profit. But turning over Beesving to him meant something so different that the father in him stood aghast. Yet his old habit of deference did not desert him when at last he spoke:
"Vell, vat vill I do? You knew I don't got notin' but Beesving. Don't she get everytin' vere she is? I do all de schoolin' and de clothes and Aunty Gossburger look after her. Vhen she gets older maybe perhaps she vould like a trip. And den maybe ve both go and leave you here to mind de shop in de summer-time. But now she's notin' but jus' Beesving, vid her head full of skippin' aroun'. No, I don't tink I can do dat for you. I do most anytin' for you, but my little girl, you see, dat come pretty close. Dat make a awful hole in me if Beesving go avay. No, you mustn't ask me dot."
"Not if it were for her good?"
"Yes, vell, of course, but how do I know dot? And vot you vant to go avay for? Dot's more vorse as Beesving. Ain't I pay you enough? Maybe you vants a little interest in de business? I vas tinkin' about dat only yesterday. Ve vill talk about dot sometimes."
Felix laughed gently.
"No, I don't wish any interest in the business. You pay me quite enough for the work I do, and I am quite willing to continue to serve you as long as I can. But Masie should not be brought up in these surroundings much longer. Perhaps you would be willing to send her to a good school away from here, if I could arrange it. Either here or in England."
Otto threw up his hands; he was becoming indignant, his mind more and more set against Felix's proposition.
"Vell, but vat's de matter vid de school she has now? She is more dan on de top of all de classes. De superintendent told me so ven he vas in here last veek buying Christmas presents. I sold him dat old chair you got Hans to put a new leg on. You remember dot chair. Vell, dat vas better as a new von vhen Hans got trough. Hadn't been for you, dot old chair vould be kicking around now, and I vouldn't have de fifteen dollars he paid me for it. I vish sometimes you look around for more chairs like dot."
Felix nodded in assent, reading the Dutchman's obstinate mind in the shopkeeper's sudden return to business questions. If Masie's future was to be helped, another hand than his own must be stretched out. He turned on his heel, and was about to regain his chair, when Otto, craning his head, called out:
"Dot's Father Cruse comin' in. You ask him now vonce about dis goin' avay bizness. He tell you same as me."
The priest was now abreast of Felix, who had stepped forward to greet him, Otto watching their movements. The two stood talking in a low voice, Felix's eyes downcast as if in deep thought, the priest apparently urging some plan, which O'Day, by his manner, seemed to favor. They were too far off, and spoke too low, for Otto to catch the drift of the talk, and it was only when Felix, who had followed the priest outside the door, had returned that he called, from his high seat under the gas-jet: "Vell, vat did Father Cruse say?"
Felix drew his brows together. "Say about what?" he asked, as if the question had surprised him.
"About Beesving. Didn't you ask him?"
"No, we talked of other things," replied Felix and, turning on his heel, occupied himself about the shop.
Across the street meanwhile Kitty's own plans had also gone astray this winter's morning—so many of them, in fact, that she was at her wits' end which way to turn. A trunk had been left at the wrong address, and John had been two hours looking for it. Bobby had come home from school with a lump on his head as big as a hen's egg, where some "gas-house kid," as Bobby expressed it, "had fetched him a crack." Mike, on his way down from the Grand Central, knowing that John was away with the other horse and Kitty worrying, had urged big Jim to gallop, and, in his haste, had bowled over a ten-year-old boy astride of a bicycle, and, worse yet, the entire outfit—big Jim, wagon, Mike, boy, bicycle, and the boy's father—were at that precise moment lined up in front of the captain's desk at the 35th Street police station.
The arrest did not trouble Kitty. She knew the captain and the captain knew her. If bail were needed, there were half a dozen men within fifty yards of where she stood who would gladly furnish it. Mike was careless, anyhow, and a little overhauling would do him good.
What did trouble her was the tying up of big Jim and her wagon at a time when she needed them most. Nobody knew when John would be back, and there was the stuff piling up, and not a soul to handle it. She stood, leaning over her short counter, trying to decide what to do first. She could not ask Felix to help her. He was tired out with the holiday sales. Nor was there anybody else on whom she could put her hands. It was Porterfield's busy time, and Codman had all he could jump to. No, she could not ask them. Here she stepped out on the sidewalk to get a broader view of the situation, her mind intent on solving the problem.
At that same instant she saw Kling's door swing wide and Father Cruse step out, Felix beside him. The two shook each other's hands in parting, Felix going back into the shop, and Father Cruse taking the short-cut across the street to where Kitty stood—an invariable custom of his whenever he found himself in her neighborhood.
Instantly her anxiety vanished. "Look at it!" she cried enthusiastically. "Can you beat it? There he comes. God must 'a' sent him!" Then, as she ran to meet him: "Oh, Father, but it's better than a pair o' sore eyes to see ye! I'm all balled up wi' trouble. John's huntin' a lost trunk. Bobby's up-stairs with a slab o' raw beef on his head. Mike's locked up for runnin' over a boy. And my big Jim and my wagon is tied up outside the station, till it's all straightened out. Will ye help me?"
"I am on my way now to the police station," said the priest in his kindest voice.
"Oh, then, ye heard o' Mike?"
"Not a word. But I often drop in there of a morning. Many of the night arrests need counsel outside the law, and sometimes I can be of service. Is the boy badly hurt?"
"No, he hollered too loud when the wheel struck him, so they tell me. He's not half as bad as Bobby, I warrant, who hasn't let a squeak out o' him. Will ye please put in a word for me, Father? I can't leave here or I'd go meself. I don't care if the captain holds on to Mike for a while, so he lets me have big Jim and the wagon. John will be up to go bail as soon as he gets back, if the captain wants it, which he won't, when he finds out who Mike is. Oh, that's a good soul! I knew ye'd help me. An' how did ye find Mr. Felix?"—a new anxiety now filling her mind.
The priest's face clouded. "Oh, very well; he spent last evening with me."
"Oh, that was it, was it? An' were ye trampin' the streets with him, too? It was pretty nigh daylight when he come in. I always know, for he wakes me when he shuts his door."
The priest, evidently absorbed in some strain of thought, parried her question with another: "And so the boy was not badly hurt? Well, that is something to be thankful for. Perhaps I may know his people. I will send Mike and the wagon back to you, if I can. Good-by." And he touched his hat, passing up the street with his long, even stride, the skirt of his black cassock clinging to his knees.
The arrest, so far as could be seen from Mike's general deportment, had not troubled that gentleman in the least. He had nodded pleasantly to the captain, who, in return, had frowned severely at him while the father of the boy was making the complaint; had winked good-naturedly at him the moment the accuser had left the room; had asked after Kitty and John, motioned to him to stay around until somebody put in an appearance to go bail, and had then busied himself with more important matters. A thick-set man, in a brown suit and derby hat, accompanied by an officer and another man, had brought in a frail woman, looking as if life were slowly ebbing out of her; and the four were in a row before his desk. The usual questions were asked and answered by the detective and the clerk—the nature of the charge, the name and address of the party robbed, the name and address of the accused—and the entries properly made.
During the hearing, the frail woman had stood with bent head, dazed and benumbed. When her name was asked, she had made no answer nor did she give her residence. "I am an Englishwoman," was all she had said.
Mike, now privileged to enjoy the freedom of the room, had been watching the proceedings with increasing interest, so much so that he had edged up to the group, as close as he dared, where he could get the light full on the woman. When the words, "I am an Englishwoman," fell from her lips, he let out an oath, and slapped his thigh with the fiat of his hand. "Of course it is! I thought I know'd her when she come in. English, is she? What a lot o' lies they do be puttin' up. She never saw England. She's a dago from 'cross town. Won't Mrs. Cleary's eyes pop when I tell her!"
The group in front of the captain's desk disintegrated. The woman, still silent, was led away to the cell. Rosenthal's clerk, who had made the charge for the firm, had come round to the captain's side of the desk to sign some papers. Pickert and the officer had already disappeared through the street-door. At this juncture the priest entered. His presence was noted by every man in the room, most of whom rose to their feet, some removing their hats.
"Good-morning, captain," he said, including with his bow the other people present. "I have just left Mrs. Cleary, who tells me that one of her men is in trouble. Ah! I see him now. Is there anything that I can do for him?"
"Nothing, your reverence; the boy's not much hurt. I don't think it was Mike's fault, from the testimony, but it's a case of bail, all right."
"I am afraid, captain, she is not worrying so much about our poor Mike here as she is about the horse and wagon. These she needs, for Mr. Cleary is away, and there is no one to help her. Perhaps you would be good enough to send an officer with Mike, and let them drive back to her?"
"I guess that won't be necessary, your reverence. See here, Mike, get into your wagon and take it back to the stable, and bring somebody with you to go bail. We didn't want the wagon, only there was no place to leave it, and we knew they would send up for it sooner or later. It's outside now."
"Thank you, captain. And now, Mike, be very sure you come back," exclaimed the priest, with an admonishing finger; "do you hear?" He always liked the Irishman.
Mike grinned the width of his face, caught up his cap, and made for the door. The priest watched him until he had cleared the room, then, leaning over the desk, asked: "Anything for me this morning, captain?"
"No, your reverence, not that I can see. Two drunks come in with the first batch, and a couple of crooks who had been working the 'elevated'; and a woman, a shoplifter. Got away with a piece of lace—a mantilla, they called it, whatever that is. She's just gone down to wait for the four o'clock delivery. It's a case of grand larceny. They say the lace is worth $250. Wasn't that about it?"
Rosenthal's man bobbed his head. He had not lifted his hat to the priest, and seemed to regard him with suspicion.
"What sort of a looking woman is she?" continued the priest.
"Oh, the same old kind; they're all alike. Nothing to say—too smart for that. I guess she stole it, all right. All I could get out of her was that she was an Englishwoman, but she didn't look it."
The priest lowered his head, an expression of suddenly awakened interest on his face. "May I see her?" he asked, in an eager tone.
"Why, sure! Bunky, take Father Cruse down. He wants to talk to that Englishwoman."
To most unfortunates, whether innocent or guilty, the row of polished steel bars which open and close upon those in the grip of the law, are poised rifles awaiting the order to fire. To a woman like Lady Barbara, these guarded a dark and loathsome tomb, in which her last hope lay buried. That she had not deserved the punishment meted out to her did not soothe her agony. She had deserved none of Dalton's cruelty, and yet she had withered under its lash. This was the end; beyond, lay only a slow, lingering death, with her torture increasing as the hours crept on.
The sound of the turnkey's hand on the lock roused her to consciousness.
"Bring her outside where I can talk to her," said Father Cruse, pointing to a bench in the corridor.
She followed the guard mechanically, as a whipped spaniel follows its master, her steps dragging, her body trembling, her head bowed as if awaiting some new humiliation. She had no strength to resist. Something in the priest's quiet, in the way he trod beside her, seemed to have reassured her, for as she sank on the bench beside him, she leaned over, laid one hand on his sleeve, and asked feebly: "Are they going to let me go?"
"That I cannot say, my good woman; I can only hope so." He looked toward the guard. "Better leave us for a while, Bunky." The turnkey touched his cap and mounted the narrow iron steps to the room above.
Father Cruse waited until the footsteps had ceased to echo in the corridor, and then turned to Lady Barbara. "And now tell me something about yourself; have you no friends you can send for? I will see they get your message. The captain told me you were English. Is this true?"
She had withdrawn her hand and now sat with averted face, the faint flicker of hope his presence had enkindled extinguished by his evasive answer. Only when he repeated the question did she reply, and then in a mere whisper, without lifting her head: "Yes, I am English."
"And your people, are they where you can reach them?"
She did not answer; there was nothing to be gained by yielding to his curiosity. Nor did she intend to reply to any more of his questions. He was only one of those kind priests who looked after the poor and whose sympathy, however well meant, would be of little value. If she told him how cruel had been the wrong done her, and how unjust had been her arrest, it would make no difference; he could not help her.
"There must be somebody," he urged. He had read her indecision in the nervous play of her fingers, as he had read many another human emotion in his time. "There must be somebody," he repeated.
"There is only Martha," she answered at last, yielding to his influence. "She was my nurse when I was a child. She is as poor as I am. She will come to me if you will send word to her. They would not listen to me at Rosenthal's when I begged them to bring her to the store." She lifted her head and stared wildly about her. "Oh, the injustice of it all—and the awful horror of this place! How can men do such things? I told them the truth, Father, I told them the truth. I never stole it. How could I ever steal anything? How dared he speak to me as he did?"
She turned, straining her whole body as if in mortal anguish; then, with her shoulder against the hard, whitewashed wall, she broke at last into sobs.
The priest sat still, waiting and watching, as a surgeon does a patient slowly emerging from delirium.
"Men are seldom reasonable, my good woman, when they lose their property, and they often do things which they regret afterward. Of what were you accused?"
His tone reassured her, and, for the first time, she looked directly at him. "Of stealing a mantilla which I had taken to my rooms to repair."
"Whose was it?"
"Rosenthal's, for whom I worked."
"The large store near by here, on Third Avenue?"
Father Cruse lapsed once more into silence, absorbed in a study of certain salient points of her person—her way of sitting and of folding her hands, her thin, delicately modelled frame, the pallor of her oval face, with its mobile mouth, the singular whiteness of her teeth, and the blue of her eyes, shaded by the cheap, black-straw hat which hid her forehead. Then he glanced at her feet, one of which protruded from her coarse skirt—no larger than a child's.
When he spoke again, it was in a positive way, as if his inspection had caused him to adopt a definite course which he would now follow. "This old nurse of yours, this woman you called Martha, does she know of any one who could get bail for you? You can only stay here for a few hours, and then they will take you to the Tombs, unless some one can go bail. I know the Rosenthals, and they would, I think, listen to any reasonable proposition."
"Would they let me go home, then?"
"Yes, until your trial came off."
She shuddered, hugging herself the closer. Her mind had not gone that far. It was the present horror that had confronted her, not a trial in court.
"Martha has a brother," she said at last, "who has a business of some kind, and who might help. If you will bring her to me, she can find him."
"You don't remember what his business is?" he continued.
"I think it is something to do with fitting out ships. He was once a mate on one of my father's vessels and—"
She stopped abruptly, frightened now at her own indiscretion. She had been wrong in wanting to send for Stephen, even in referring to him. Whatever befell her, she was determined that her people at home should not suffer further on her account.
Father Cruse had caught the look, and his heart gave a bound, though no gesture betrayed him. "You have not told me your name," he said simply—as if it were a matter of routine in cases like hers.
She glanced at him quickly. "Does it make any difference?"
"It might. I do not believe you are a criminal, but if I am to help you as I want to do, I must know the truth."
She thought for a moment. Here was something she could not escape. The assumed name had so far shielded her. She would brave it out as she had done before.
"They call me Mrs. Stanton."
"Is that your true name?"
The Carnavons were imperious, unforgiving, and sometimes brutal. Many of them had been roues, gamblers, and spendthrifts, but none of them had ever been a liar.
"No!" she answered firmly.
Father Cruse settled back in his seat. The ring of sincerity in the woman's "No" had removed his last doubt. "You do very wrong, my good woman, not to tell me the whole truth," he remarked, with some emphasis. "I am a priest, as you see, and attached to the Church of St. Barnabas—not far from here. I visit this station-house almost every morning, seeing what I can do to help people just like yourself. I will go to Rosenthal, and then I will find your old nurse, and I will try to have your case delayed until your nurse can get hold of her brother. But that is really all I can do until I have your entire confidence. I am convinced that you are a woman who has been well brought up, and that this is your first experience in a place of this kind. I hope it will be the last; I hope, too, that the charge made against you will be proved false. But does not all this make you realize that you should be frank with me?"
She drew herself up with a certain dignity infinitely pathetic, yet in which, like the flavor of some old wine left in a drained glass, there lingered the aroma of her family traditions. "I am very grateful, sir, to you. I know you only want to be kind, but please do not ask me to tell you anything more. It would only make other people unhappy. There is no one but myself to blame for my poverty, and for all I have gone through. What is to become of me I do not know, but I cannot make my people suffer any more. Do not ask me."
"It might end their suffering," he replied quickly. "I have a case in point now where a man has been searching New York for months, hoping to get news of his wife, who left him nearly a year ago. He comes in to see me every few nights and we often tramp the streets together. My work takes me into places she would be apt to frequent, so he comes with me. He and I were up last night until quite late. He has nothing in his heart but pity for that poor woman, who he fears has been left stranded by the man she trusted. So far he has heard nothing of her. I left him hardly an hour ago. Now, there, you see, is a case where just a word of frankness and truth might have ended all their sufferings. I told Mr. O'Day this morning, when I left him, that—"
She had grown paler and paler during the long recital, her wide-open eyes staring into his, her bosom heaving with suppressed excitement, until at the mention of Felix's name, she staggered to her feet, and cried: "You know Felix O'Day?"
"Yes, thank God, I do, and you are his wife, Lady Barbara O'Day, Lord Carnavon's daughter."
She cowered like a trapped animal, uncertain which way to spring. In her agony she shrank against the wall, her arms outstretched. How did this man know all the secrets of her life? Then there arose a calming thought. He was a priest—a man who listened and did not betray. Perhaps, after all, he could help her. He wanted the truth. He should have it.
"Yes," she answered, her voice sinking. "I am Lord Carnavon's daughter."
"And Felix O'Day's wife?"
"And Felix O'Day's wife," came the echo, and, with the last word, her last vestige of strength seemed to leave her.
The priest rose to his full height. "I was sure of it when I first saw you," he said, a note of triumph in his voice. "And now, one last question. Are you guilty of this theft?"
"GUILTY! I guilty! How could I be?" The denial came with a lift of the head, her eyes kindling, her bosom heaving.
"I believe you. There is not a moment to be lost." The priest and father confessor were gone now; it was the man of affairs who was speaking. "I will see Rosenthal at once, and then send for your nurse. Give me her address."
When he had written it, he stepped to the foot of the stairs, and called to one of the guards. Then he slipped his hand under his cassock, drew out his watch, noted the hour, and in a firm voice—one intended to be obeyed—said:
"Go back into your cell and sit there until I come. Do not worry if I am away longer than I expect, and do not be frightened when the key is turned on you. It is best that you be locked up for a while. You should give thanks to God, my dear woman, that I have found you."
The news of Mike's arrest had been received by kitty's neighbors with varying degrees of indifference. Everybody realized that, as the run-over boy had lost nothing but his breath—and but little of that, judging from his vigorous howl when Mike picked him up—nothing would come of the affair so long as the present captain ruled the precinct. Kitty and John and all who belonged to them were too popular around the station; too many of the boys had slipped in and slipped out of a cold night, warmed up by the contents of her coffee-pot.
Indeed, between the captain and the denizens of "The Avenue," only the most friendly, amicable, and delightful personal relations prevailed. To the habitual criminal, the sneak-thief, and the hold-up, he might be a mailed despot swinging a mailed fist, but to the occasional "Monday drunk," or the man who had had the best or the worst of it in a fight, or to one like Mike who was the victim of an unavoidable accident, he was only a heathen idol of justice behind which sat a big-waisted, tightly belted man whose wife and daughters everybody knew as he himself knew everybody in return; who belonged to the same lodge, played poker in the same up-stairs room when off duty, and was as tender-hearted in time of trouble as any one of their other acquaintances. Not to have allowed Mike, a man he knew, a man who had been Kitty and John's driver for years, to hunt up his own bond, would have been as unwise and impossible as his releasing a burglar on straw bail, or a murderer because the dead man could not make a complaint.
When, therefore, Mike burst into the kitchen with the additional information that "the cap" had let him go to bring back the wagon and somebody with "cash" enough to go bail, a general movement, headed by Tim Kelsey, who happened to be passing at the time, was immediately organized—Tim to proceed at once to the station-house, take the captain on one side, and so end the matter. Locking up Mike, even threatening him, was, as the captain knew, an invasion of the rights of "The Avenue." Nobody within its confines had ever been entangled in the meshes of the law—simply because nobody had wanted to break it. It was the howling boy who should have been locked up for getting under Mike's wheels, or his father who ought to have kept his son off the street.
Mike listened impatiently to the discussion and, watching his chance, beckoned to Kitty, shut the door upon the two, and poured into her ear a full account of what he had seen and heard at the station-house.
"Well, what's that got to do with it?" Kitty demanded. "What did she have to do with the boy?"
"Nothing, don't I tell ye—she's been swipin' a department store, and they got her dead to rights."
"Who's been swipin'? What are ye talkin' about, Mike? Stop it now—I've got a lot to do, and—"
"The woman ye put to bed that night. The one ye picked up near St. Barnabas, and brought in here and dried her off. She skipped in the mornin' without sayin' 'thank ye'—why, ye must remember her! She was—"
Kitty clapped her two palms to her face, framing her bulging eyes—a favorite gesture when she was taken completely by surprise.
"That woman!" she cried, staring at Mike. "Where is she now? Tell me—"
"I don't know—but she—"
"Ye don't know, and ye come down here with this yarn? Don't ye try and fool me, Mike, or I'll break every bone in yer skin. Go on, now! How do ye know it's the same woman?"
"I'm tellin' ye no lies. Come back with me and see for yerself. The cap will let ye go down and talk to her. I heard Father Cruse tell ye to keep an eye out for her if she ever came around here agin. Ye got to hurry or they'll have her in the Black Maria on the way to the Tombs. Bunky told me so."
Kitty stood in deep meditation. She remembered that Mike had been in the kitchen when the woman sat by the stove. She remembered, too, that Father Cruse had cautioned her to send word to the rectory if the poor creature came again and, if there were not time to reach him, then to tell Mr. O'Day. That the priest had not run across the woman at the station-house was evident, or he would have sent word by Mike. She would herself find out and then act.
"But ye must have seen Father Cruse. Did he send any word?"
"Yes, he come in just as I was leavin'. It was him who told me to be sure to hurry back. See the horse gits some water, will ye? I got to go back."
"Hold on—what did the Father say about the woman?"
"Nothin', don't I tell ye?—he didn't see her. They'd locked her up before he came."
"Why didn't ye tell him who it was?"
"How was I a-goin' to tell him when the cap told me to git?"
"Go on, then, wid ye! If the Father's still there, tell him I'm a-comin' up, and will bring Mr. O'Day wid me, and to hold on till I get there."
She took her wraps from a peg behind the door, threw it wide, and joined her neighbors in the office, composing her face as best she could.
"I've got to go over to Otto Kling's," she announced bluntly, without any attempt at apologies. "Some one of ye must go up and bail Mike out—any one of ye will do. Mr. Kelsey spoke first, so maybe he'd better go. I'd go myself and sign the bond only I'm no good, for I don't own a blessed thing in the world, except the shoes I stand in—and they're half-soled and not paid for; John's got the rest. I'll be there later on, ye can tell the captain. Mr. Codman, please send over one of your boys to mind my place. John ain't turned up and won't for an hour. That trunk went to Astoria instead of the Astor House, bad 'cess to it, and that's about as far apart as it could git. And, Mike, don't stand there with yer tongue out! And don't let Toodles go with ye. Get back as quick as ye can—and tell the captain to make it easy for me, that if the boy's badly hurt I'll go and nurse him if he ain't got anybody to take care of him. Git out, ye varmint—thank ye, Tim Kelsey, I'll do as much for you next time ye have to go to jail. Good-by"—and she kept on to Kling's.
Otto's store was full of customers when Kitty strode in. Even little Masie had been pressed into service to help on with the sales, as well as one of the "Dutchies" whom Kling had brought up from the cellar. The few remaining hours of the old year were fast disappearing and the crowd of buyers, intent on securing some small remembrance for those they loved, or more important gifts with which to welcome the New Year, thronged the store and upper floor.
Kitty made straight for Felix, who was leaning over the low counter, absorbed in the sale of some old silver. His disappointment over Kling's rebuff regarding Masie's future had been greatly lightened, relieved by his talk with Father Cruse an hour before, and he had again thrown himself into his work with a determination to make the last days of the year a success for his employer,—all the more necessary when he remembered his plans for the child. The customer, an important one, was trying to make up her mind as to the choice between two pieces, and Felix was evidently intent on not hurrying her.
He had seen Kitty when she opened the door and approached the counter, had noticed her excitement when she stopped in front of him, and knew that something out of the ordinary had sent her to him at this, the busiest part of his own and her day. But his only sign of recognition was the lift of an eyelid and a slight movement of his hand, the palm turned toward her, a gesture which told as plainly as could be that, while he was glad to see her—something she was never in doubt of—the present moment was ill adapted to protracted conversation.
Kitty, however, was not built on diplomatic lines. What she wanted she wanted at once. When she had something vital to accomplish she went straight at it, and certainly nothing more vital than her present mission had come her way for weeks.
That the news she carried had something to do with O'Day's happiness, she was convinced, or Father Cruse would not have been so insistent. That the woman herself was, in some way, connected with his misfortunes, she also suspected—and had done so, in reality, ever since the night on which she gave him the sleeve-links. She had not said so to John; she had not hinted as much to Father Cruse; but she had never dismissed the possibility from her mind.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," she said, ignoring Felix and going straight to the cause of the embargo, "but couldn't ye let me have Mr. O'Day for a few minutes? I've somethin' very partic'lar to say to him."
"Why, Mistress Kitty—" began Felix, smiling at her audacity, the customer also regarding her with amused curiosity.
"Yes, Mr. O'Day, I wouldn't butt in if I could help it. Excuse me, ma'am, but there's Otto just got loose, and—Otto, come over here and take care of this lady who is goin' to let me have Mr. O'Day for half an hour. Thank ye, ma'am, you don't know me, but I'm Kitty Cleary, the expressman's wife, from across the street, and I'm always mixin' in where I don't belong and I know ye'll forgive me. Otto'll charge ye twice the price Mr. O'Day would, but he can't help it because he's Dutch. Oh, Otto, I know ye!"
Felix laughed outright. "Thank you, Mr. Kling," he said, yielding his place to his employer, "and if you will excuse me, madam," and he bowed to his customer, "I will see what it is all about—and now, Mistress Kitty, what can I do for you?"
Kitty backed away toward the door, so that a huge wardrobe shielded her from Otto and his customer.
"Come near, Mr. O'Day," she whispered, all her forced humor gone. "I've got the woman who dropped the sleeve-buttons."
Felix swayed unsteadily, and gripped a chair-back for support.
"You've got—the woman—What do you mean?" he said at last.
"Mike saw her at the police-station. They've put her in a cell."
"Yes, for stealin'."
Involuntarily his fingers brushed his throat as if he were choking, but no words came. He had been all his life accustomed to surprises, some of them appalling, but against this, for the instant, he had no power to stand.
Kitty stood watching the quivering of his lips and the drawn, strained muscles about his jaw and neck as his will power whipped them back to their normal shape. She was convinced now of the truth of her suspicions—the woman was not only interwoven with his past, but was closely identified with his present anguish.
She drew closer, her voice rising. "Ye'll go with me, won't ye, Mr. Felix?" she went on, hiding under an assumed indifference all recognition of his struggle. "Father Cruse told me if I ever come across her again, and there wasn't time to get hold of him, to let ye know."
"I will go anywhere, where Father Cruse thinks I should, Mrs. Cleary—especially in cases of this kind, where I may be of use." The words had come from between partly closed lips; his hands were still tightly clinched. "And you say she was arrested—for stealing?"
"Yes, shopliftin', they call it. Poor creatures, they get that miserable and trodden on they don't know right from wrong!"
Then, as if to give him time in which to recover himself fully, she went on, speaking rapidly: "And, after all, it may only be a put-up job or a mistake. Half the women they pinch in them big stores ain't reg'lar thieves. They get tempted, or they can't find anybody to tell 'em the price o' things, especially these holiday times, and they carry 'em round from counter to counter, and along comes a store detective and nabs 'em with the goods on 'em. They did that to me once, over at Cryder's, and I told him I'd knock him down if he put his hand on me, and somebody come along who knew me, and they was that scared when they found out who I was that they bowed and scraped like dancin' masters and wanted me to take the skirt along if I'd say nothin' about it. That might have happened to this poor child—"
"Has Father Cruse seen her?" asked Felix. No word of the recital had reached his ears.
"No—that's why I come to ye."
"And where did you say she was?" He had himself under perfect control again, and might have been a man bent only on aiding Father Cruse in some charitable work.
"Locked up in the station-house not far from here. It won't take ye ten minutes to get there."
Felix glanced at the big-faced clock, facing the side window of the store.
"Yes, of course I will go, since Father Cruse wishes it. Thank you for bringing his message. You need not wait."
"Needn't wait! Ye're not goin' one step without me. They'd chuck ye out if ye did, and that's what they won't do to me if the captain's in his office. Besides, Mike run over a boy, and Tim Kelsey is up there now standin' bail for him. There's no use goin' unless ye see her. That's what the Father wanted ye to do, and that ain't easy unless ye've got the run of the station. So, ye see, I got to go with ye whether ye want me or not, or ye won't get nowheres. I'll wait till ye get yer hat and coat."
All the way to the station-house, Kitty beside him, Felix was putting into silent words the thoughts that raced through his mind.
"Barbara arrested as a vulgar thief!" he kept saying over and over. "A woman brought up a lady—with the best blood of England in her veins—her father a man of distinction! The woman I married!"
Then, as a jagged thread of light breaks away from a centre bolt, illuminating a distant cloud, a faint ray cheered him. Perhaps the woman was not Barbara. No one had any proof. Father Cruse had never believed it, and he had only argued himself into thinking that the woman who had dropped the sleeve-link must be his wife. Until he knew definitely, saw her with his own eyes, neither would HE believe it, and a certain shame of his own suspicion swept through him like a flame.
The captain was out when the two reached the station. Nor was there any one who knew Kitty except a departing patrolman, who nodded to her pleasantly as she passed in, adding in a whisper the information that Mike and Kelsey had gone up to Magistrate Cassidy, who held court in the next block, and that she was "not to worry," as it was "all right."