A new appointee—a lieutenant she had never seen before—was temporarily in charge of the station.
"I'm Mrs. Cleary," she began, in her free, outspoken way, "and this is Mr. Felix O'Day."
The new appointee stared and said nothing.
"Ye never saw me before, but that wouldn't make any difference if the captain was around. But ye can find out about me from any one of yer men who knows me. I'm here with Mr. O'Day lookin' up a woman who was brought here this morning for stealin' some finery or whatever it was from one of these big stores—and we want to see her, if ye plaze."
The lieutenant shook his head. "Can't see no prisoner without the captain's orders."
Kitty bridled, but she kept her temper. "When will he be back?"
"Six o'clock. He's gone to headquarters."
"He'd let me see her if he was here," she retorted, with some asperity.
"No doubt—but I can't." All this time he had not changed his position—his arms on the desk, his fingers drumming idly.
Felix rested his hands on the rail fronting the desk. "May I ask if you saw the woman?"
"No. I only came on half an hour ago."
"Is there any one here who did see her?"
Something in O'Day's manner and in the incisive tones of his voice, those of command not supplication, made the lieutenant change his position. The speaker might have a "pull" somewhere. He turned to the sergeant. "You were on duty. What did she look like?"
The sergeant yawned from behind his hand. He had been up most of the previous night and was some hours behind his sleep schedule. Kitty's presence had not roused him but the self-possessed man could not be ignored.
"You mean the girl who got Rosenthal's lace?" he answered.
"You're dead right," returned the lieutenant obligingly. He had, of course, always been ready to do what he could for people in trouble, and was so now.
"Oh, about as they all look." This time the sergeant directed his remarks to Felix. "We get two or three of 'em every day, specially about Christmas and New Year's. Rather run down at the heel, this one, and—no, come to think of it, I'm wrong—she looked different. Been a corker in her time—not bad now—about thirty, I guess—maybe younger—you can't always tell. Rather slim—had on a black-straw hat and some kind of a cloak."
Kitty was about to freshen his memory with some remembrance of her own, and had got as far as, "Well, my man Mike was here and he told me that—" when Felix lifted a restraining hand, supplementing her outburst by the direct question: "Did she say nothing about herself?"
"She did not. All we could get out of her was that she was English."
Felix bent nearer. "Will you please describe her a little closer? I have a reason for knowing."
The sergeant caught the look of determination, dallied with a tin paper-cutter, bent his head on one side, and pursed a pair of thick lips. It was a strain on his memory, this recalling the features of one of a dozen prisoners, but somehow he dared not refuse.
"Well, she was one of the pocket kind of women, small and well put up but light built, you know. She had blue eyes—big ones—I noticed 'em partic'lar—and about the smallest pair of feet I ever seen on a girl. She stumbled down-stairs and caught her dress, and I remember they was about as big as a kid's. That was another thing set me to wondering how she got into a scrape like this. She could have done a lot better if she had a-wanted to," this last came with a leer.
Felix clenched his teeth, and drove his nails into the palms of his hands. He would have throttled the man had he dared.
"Did she make any defense?" he asked, when he had himself under control again.
"No—there warn't no use—she owned up to having pinched it. Not here at the desk, but to Rosenthal's man who made the charge—that is, she didn't deny it. The stuff was worth $250. That's a felony, you know."
Kitty saw Felix sway for an instant, and was about to put out a protecting hand when he turned again to the lieutenant.
"Officer, I do not ask you to break your rules, but I would consider it an especial favor if you would let me see this woman for a moment—even if you do not permit me to speak to her."
"Well, you can't see her." The reply came with some positiveness and a slight touch of irony. He had made up his mind now that if the speaker had a pull, he would meet it by keeping strictly to the regulations.
"Because she ain't here. She's in the Tombs by this time, unless somebody went her bail up at court. They had her in the patrol-wagon as I come on duty."
"The Tombs? That is the city prison, is it not?" Felix asked, hardly conscious of his own question, absorbed only in one thought—Lady Barbara's degradation.
"That's what it is," answered the lieutenant with a contemptuous glance at Felix, followed by a curl of the lip. No man had a pull who asked a question like that.
"If I went there, could I see her?"
"Nothin' doin'—too late. You might work it to-morrow. Step down to headquarters, they'll tell you. If she's up for felony it means five years and them kind ain't easy to see. Can I do anything more for you?"
"No," said Felix firmly.
"Well, then, move on, both of you—you can't block up the desk."
Felix turned and left the station-house, Kitty following in silence, her heart torn for the man beside her. Never had he seemed finer to her than at this moment; never had her own heart stirred with greater loyalty. But never since she had known him had she seen him so shaken.
"There is nothing more we can do to-day," he said, speaking evenly, almost coldly, when they reached the corner of the street. "I will see Father Cruse to-night and tell him of your kindness, and he can decide as to what is to be done. And if you do not mind, I will leave you."
She stood and watched him as he disappeared in the throng. She understood her dismissal and was not offended. It was not her secret and she had no right to interfere or even to advise. When he was ready he would tell her. Until that time she would wait with her hands held out.
Felix crossed the street, halted for an instant as if uncertain as to his course, and turned toward the river. He wanted to be alone, and the crowd gave him a greater sense of isolation. It was the first time in months that he had tramped the thoroughfares without some definite object in view. All that was now a thing of the past, never to be revived. His quest was finished. The interview with the sergeant had ended it all. Every item in his detailed account of the woman now in the Tombs tallied with Kitty's description of the woman with the sleeve-buttons and so on, in turn, with the woman who was once his wife.
With this knowledge there flamed up in his heart an uncontrollable anger, fanned to white heat by hatred of the man who had caused it all. His fingers tightened and his teeth ground together. That reckoning, he said to himself, would come later, once he got his hands on him. If she were a thief, Dalton had made her so. If she were an outcast and a menace to society, Dalton had done it. By what hellish process, he could not divine, knowing Lady Barbara as he did, but the fact was undeniable.
What then was he to do? Go back to London and leave her, or stay here and fight on in the effort to save her? SAVE HER! Who could save her? She had stolen the goods; been arrested with them in her possession; was in the Tombs; and, in a few weeks, would be lost to the world for a term of years.
He could even now see the vulgar, leering crowd; watch the jury, picked from the streets, file in and take their seats; hear the few, curt, routine words, cold as bullets, drop from the lips of the callous judge, the frail, desolate woman deserted by every soul, paying the price without murmur or protest—glad that the end had come.
And then, with one of those tricks that memory sometimes plays, he saw the altar-rail, where he had stood beside her—she in her bridal robes, her soft blue eyes turned toward his; he heard again the responses, "for better or for worse"—"until death do us part," caught the scent of flowers and the peal of the organ as they turned and walked down the aisle, past the throng of richly dressed guests.
"Great God!" he choked, worming his way through the crowd, unconscious of his course, unmindful of his steps, oblivious to passers-by—alone with an agony that scorched his very soul.
When Martha, on her return from Stephen's, had climbed the dimly lighted stairs leading to her apartment, she ran against a thick-set man, in brown clothes and derby hat, seated on the top step. He had interviewed the faded old wreck who served as janitress and, learning that Mrs. Munger would be back any minute, had taken this method of being within touching distance when the good woman unlocked her door. She might decide to leave him outside its panels while she got in her fine work of hiding the thing he had climbed up three flights of stairs to find. In that case, a twist of his foot between the door and the jamb would block the game.
"Are you the man who has been waiting for me?" she exclaimed, as the detective's big frame became discernible under the faint rays from the "Paul Pry" skylight.
"Yes, if you are the woman who is living with Mrs. Stanton." He had risen to his feet and had moved toward the door.
"I'm Mrs. Munger, if that's who you are looking for, and we live together. She's not back yet, so the woman down-stairs has just told me. Are you from Rosenthal's?"
"I am." He had edged nearer, his fingers within reach of the knob, his lids narrowing as he studied her face and movements.
"Did they find the lace—the mantilla?"
"Not as I heard," he answered, noting her anxiety. "That's what brought me down. I thought maybe you might know something about it."
"Didn't find it?" she sighed. "No, I knew they wouldn't. She was sure she had taken it up night before last, but I knew she hadn't. Where's my key?—Oh, yes—stand back and get out of my light so I can find the keyhole. It's dark enough as it is. That's right. Now come inside. You can wait for her better in here than out on these steps. Look, will you! There's her coffee just as she left it. She hasn't had a crumb to eat to-day. What do you want to see her about? The rest of the work? It's in the box there."
Pickert, with a swift, comprehensive glance, summed up the apartment and its contents: the little table by the window with Lady Barbara's work-basket; the small stove, and pine table set out with the breakfast things; the cheap chairs; the dresser with its array of china, and the two bedrooms opening out of the modest interior. Its cleanliness and order impressed him; so did Martha's unexpected frankness. If she knew anything of the theft, she was an adept at putting up a bluff.
"When do you expect Mrs. Stanton back?" he began, in an offhand way, stretching his shoulders as if the long wait on the stairs had stiffened his joints. "That's her name, ain't it?"
"I expected to find her here," she answered, ignoring his inquiry as to Lady Barbara's identity. "They are keeping her, no doubt, on some new work. She hasn't had any breakfast, and now it's long past lunch-time. And they didn't find the piece of lace? That's bad! Poor dear, she was near crazy when she found it was gone!"
Pickert had missed no one of the different expressions of anxiety and tenderness that had crossed her placid face. "No—it hadn't turned up when I left," he replied; adding, with another stretch, quite as a matter of course, "she had it all right, didn't she?"
"Had it! Why, she's been nearly a week on it. I helped her all I could, but her eyes gave out."
"Then you would know it again if you saw it?" The stretch was cut short this time.
"Of course I'd know it—don't I tell you I helped her fix it?"
The detective turned suddenly and, with a thrust of his chin, rasped out: "And if one, or both of you, pawned it somewhere round here, you could remember that, too, couldn't you?"
Martha drew back, her gentle eyes flashing: "Pawned it! What do you mean?"
The detective lunged toward her. "Just what I say. Now don't get on your ear, Mrs. Munger." He was the thorough bully now. "It won't cut any ice with me or with Mr. Mangan. It didn't this morning or he wouldn't have sent me down here. We want that mantilla and we got to have it. If we don't there'll be trouble. If you know anything about it, now's the time to say so. The woman you call Mrs. Stanton got all balled up this morning, and couldn't say what she did with it. They all do that—we get half a dozen of 'em every week. She's pawned it all right—what I want to know is WHERE. Rosenthal's in a hole if we don't get it. If you've spent the money, I've got a roll right here." And he tapped his pocket. "No questions asked, remember! All I want is the mantilla, and if it don't come she'll be in the Tombs and you'll go with her. We mean business, and don't you forget it!"
Martha turned squarely upon him—was about to speak—changed her mind—and drawing up a chair, settled down upon it.
"You're a nice young man, you are!" she exclaimed, scornfully. "A very nice young man! And you think that poor child is a thief, do you? Do you know who she is and what she's suffered? If I could tell you, you'd never get over it, you'd be that ashamed!"
She was not afraid of him; her army hospital experience had thrown her with too many kinds of men. What filled her with alarm was his reference to Lady Barbara. But for this uncertainty, and the possible consequences of such a procedure, she would have thrown open her door and ordered him out as she had done Dalton. Then, seeing that Pickert still maintained his attitude—that of a setter-dog with the bird in the line of his nose—she added testily:
"Don't stand there staring at me. Take a chair where I can talk to you better. You get on my nerves. It's pawned, is it? Yes. I believe you, and I know who pawned it. Dalton's got it—that's who. I thought so last night—now I'm sure of it." She was on her feet now, tearing at her bonnet-string as if to free her throat. "He sneaked it out of that box on the floor beside you, when she was hiding from him in her bedroom."
Pickert retreated slightly at this new development; then asked sharply: "Dalton! Who's Dalton?"
"The meanest cur that ever walked the earth—that's who he is. He's almost killed my poor lady, and now she must go to jail to please him. Not if I'm alive, she won't. He stole that mantilla! I'm just as sure of it as I am that my name is Martha Munger!"
Pickert's high tension relaxed. If this new clew had to be followed it could best be followed with the aid of this woman, who evidently hated the man she denounced. She would be of assistance, too, in identifying both the lace and the thief—and he had seen neither the one nor the other as yet. So it was the same old game, was it?—with a man at the bottom of the deal!
"Do you know the pawn-shops around here?" he asked, becoming suddenly confidential.
"Not one of them, and don't want to," came the contemptuous reply. "When I get as low down as that, I've got a brother to help me. He'll be up here himself to-night and will tell you so."
Pickert had been standing over her throughout the interview, despite her invitation to be seated. He now moved toward a seat, his hat still tilted back from his forehead.
"What makes you think this man you call Dalton stole it?" he asked, drawing a chair out from the table, as though he meant to let her lead him on a new scent.
"Come over here before you sit down and I'll tell you," she exclaimed, peremptorily. "Now take a look at that box. Now watch me lift the lid, and see what you find," and she enacted the little pantomime of the morning.
The detective stroked his chin with his forefinger. He was more interested in Martha's talk about Dalton than he was in the contents of the box. "And you want to get him, don't you?" he asked slyly.
"Me get him! I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs. What I want is for him to keep out of here—I told him that last night."
"Well, then, tell me what he looks like, so I can get him."
"Like anybody else until you catch the hang-dog droop in his eyes, as if he was afraid people would ask him some question he couldn't answer."
"One of the slick kind?"
"Yes, for he's been a gentleman—before he got down to be a dog."
"About thirty—maybe thirty two or three. You can't tell to look at him, he's that battered."
"Yes—no beard nor mustache on him. I couldn't see his clothes. His big cape-coat, buttoned up to his chin, hid them and his face, too. He had a slouch-hat on his head with the brim pulled down when he went out."
"And you say he's been living off of Mrs. Stanton since—"
"No, I didn't say it. I said he was a cur and that she wouldn't go to jail to please him—that's what I said. Now, young man, if you're through, I am. I've got to get my work done."
Pickert tilted his hat to the other side of his bullet head, felt in his side pocket for a cigar, bit off the end, and spat the crumbs of tobacco from his lips.
"You could put me on to the mantilla, couldn't you?—spot it for me once I come across it?"
"Of course I could, the minute I clapped my eyes on it."
"It's a kind of lace shawl, ain't it?"
"Yes. All black—a big one with a frill around it and a tear in one side—that's what she was mending. A good piece, I should think, because it was so fine and silky. You could squash it up in one hand, it was that soft. That's why she took such care of it, putting it back in that box every night to keep the dust out of it."
"Well, what's the matter with your coming along with me?"
"And where are you going to take me?"
"To one or two pawn-shops around here."
"Well, I'm not going with you. If I go anywhere it will be up to Rosenthal's. I'm getting worried. It's after three o'clock now. She's got no money to get anything to eat. She'll come home dead beat out if she's been hungry all this time."
"Well, it's right on the way. We'll take in a few of the small shops, and then we'll keep on up. There are two on Second Avenue, and then there's Blobbs's, one of the biggest around here. The old woman gets a lot of that kind of stuff and she'll open up when she finds out who wants to know. I've done business with her—where does this fellow, Dalton, live?"
"Up on the East Side."
"Well, then, we are all right. He will make for some fence where he is not known. Come along."
Martha hesitated for an instant, abandoned her decision, and retied her bonnet-strings; she might find her mistress the quicker if she acceded to his request. She stepped to the stove, examined the fire to see that it was all right, added a shovel of coal and, with Pickert at her heels, groped her way down the dingy stairs, her fingers following the handrail. In the front hall she stopped to say to the janitress that she was going to Rosenthal's and to tell Mrs. Stanton, when she came, that she was not to leave the apartment again, as Mr. Carlin was coming to see her.
When they reached the corner of the next block, Pickert halted outside a small loan-office, told her to wait, and disappeared inside, only to emerge five minutes later and continue his walk with her up-town. The performance was repeated twice, his last stop being in front of a gold sign notifying the indigent and the guilty that one Blobbs bought, sold, and exchanged various articles of wearing-apparel for cash or its equivalent.
Martha eyed the cluster of balls suspended above the door, and occupied herself with a cursory examination of the contents of the front window, to none of which, she said to herself, would she have given house-room had the choice of the whole collection been offered her. She was about to march into the shop and end the protracted interview when Pickert flung himself out.
"I'm on—got him down fine! Listen—see if I've got this right! He wore a black cape-coat buttoned up close-that's what you told me, wasn't it?—and a kind of a slouch-hat. Been an up-town swell before he got down and out? That kind of a man, ain't he? Smooth-shaven, with a droop in his eye—speaks like a foreigner—English. Somethin' doin'!—Do you know a man named Kling who keeps an old-furniture store up on Fourth Avenue?"
"No, I don't know Kling and I don't want to know him. It will be dark, and Rosenthal's 'll be shut up if I keep up this foolishness, and I'm going to find my mistress. If you can't find Dalton, I will, when my brother Stephen comes. Now you go your way and I'll go mine."
He waited until she had boarded a car, then wheeled quickly and dashed up Third Avenue, crossing 26th Street at an angle, forging along toward Kling's. He was through with the old woman. She was English, and so was Dalton, and so, for that matter, was a man who, Blobbs had told him, had "blown in" at Kling's about a year ago from nobody knew where. They'd all help one another—these English. No, he'd go alone.
When he reached Otto's window he slowed down, pulled himself together, and strolled into the store with the air of a man who wanted some one to help him make up his mind what to buy. The holiday crowd had thinned for a moment, and only a few men and women were wandering about the store examining the several articles. Otto at the moment was in tow of a stout lady in furs, who had changed her mind half a dozen times in the hour and would change it again, Otto thought, when, as she said, she would "return with her husband."
"Vich she von't do," he chuckled, addressing his remark to the newcomer, "and I bet you she never come back. Dot's de funny ting about some vimmins ven dey vant to talk it over vid her husbands, and de men ven dey vant to see der vives. Den you might as vell lock up de shop—ain't dot so? Vat is it you vant—one of dem tables? Dot is a Chippendale—you can see de legs and de top."
"Yes, I see 'em," replied the detective, scanning the circumference of Otto's fat body. "But I'm not buying any tables to-day, I'm on another lead—that is, if I've got it right and your name is Kling."
"Yes, you got it right," answered Otto; "dot's my name. Vat is it you vant?"
"And you own this store?"
"And I own dis store. Didn't you see de sign ven you come in?" The man's manner and cock-sure air were beginning to nettle him.
"I might, and then again, I mightn't," Pickert retorted, relaxing into his usual swaggering tone. "I'm not looking for signs. I'm looking for a piece of lace, a mantilla they call it, that disappeared a few days ago from Rosenthal's up here on Third Avenue—a kind of shawl with a frill around it—and I thought you might have run across it."
Otto looked at him over the tops of his glasses, his anger increasing as he noticed the man's scowl of suspicion. "Oh, dot's it, is it? Dot's vat you come for. You tink I am a fence, eh?"
The detective grinned derisively. "You bought a piece of lace, didn't you?"
"I buy a dozen pieces maybe—vot's dot your business?"
"My business will come later. What I want to know is whether you've got a piece with a hole in it—black, soft, and squashy—with a frill—a flounce, they call it—and I want to tell you right here that it will be a good deal better if you keep a decent tongue in your head and stop puttin' on lugs. It's business with me."
Masie had crept up and stood listening, wondering at the stranger's rough way of talking. So had the tramp, whom Kitty had loaned to Otto for a few hours to help move some of the heavier furniture. He seemed to be especially interested in what was taking place, for he kept edging up the closer, dusting the Colonial sideboard close to which Kling and the man were standing, his ears stretched to their utmost, in order to miss no word of the interview.
"Vell, if it's business, and you don't mean noddin, dot's anudder ting," replied Kling, in a milder tone, "maybe den I tell you. Run avay, Masie, I got someting private to say. Dot's right. You go talk to Mrs. Gossburger—Yes," he added, as the child disappeared, "I did buy a big lace shawl like dot."
Pickert's grin covered half his face. He could get along now without a search-warrant. "And have you got it now?"
"Yes, I got it now."
The grin broadened—the triumphant grin of a boy when he hears the click of a trap and knows the quarry is inside.
"Can I see it?"
"No, you can't see it." The man's cool persistency again irritated him. "I buy dot for a present and I—Look here vunce! Vat you come in here for an' ask dose questions? I never see you before. Dis is my busy time. Now you put yourselluf outside my place."
The detective made a step forward, turned his back on the rest of the shop, unbuttoned his outer coat, lifted the lapel of the inner one, and uncovered his shield.
"Come across," he said, in low, cutting tones, "and don't get gay. I'm not after you—but you gotter help, see! I've traced this mantilla down to this shop. Now cough it up! If you've bought it on the level, I've got a roll here will square it up with you."
Otto gave a muffled whistle. "Den dot fellow vas a tief, vas he? He didn't look like it, for sure. Vell—vell—vell—dot's funny! Vy, I vouldn't have tought dot. Look like a quiet man, and—"
"You remember the man, then?" interrupted the detective, following up his advantage, and again scraping his chin with his forefinger.
"Oh, yes. I don't forgot him. Vore a buttoned-up coat—high like up to his chin—"
"And a slouch-hat?" prompted Pickert.
"Yes, vun of dose soft hats, for I tink de light hurt his eyes ven he come close up to my desk ven I gif him de money."
"And had a sort of a catch-look, a kind of a slant in his eye, didn't he?" supplemented Pickert; "and was smooth-shaven and—on the whole—rather decent-looking chap, just getting on his uppers and not quite. Ain't that it?"
"Yes, maybe, I don't recklemember everyting about him. Vell—vell—ain't dot funny? But he vasn't a dead beat—no, I don't tink so. An' he stole it? You vud never tink dot to see him. I got it in my little office, behind dot partition, in a drawer. You come along. To-morrow is New Year's"—here he glanced up the stairs to be sure that Masie was out of hearing—"and I bought dat lace for a present for my little girl vat you saw joost now—she loves dem old tings. She has got more as a vardrobe full of dem. Vait till I untie it. Look! Ain't dot a good vun? And all I pay for it vas tventy tollars."
The detective loosened the folds, shook out the flounce, held it up to the light, and ran his thumb through the tear in the mesh.
"Of course dere's a hole—I buy him cheaper for dot hole—my little Beesving like it better for dot. If it vas new she vouldn't have it."
Pickert was now caressing the soft lace, his satisfaction complete. "A dead give-away," he said at last. "Much obliged. I'll take it along," and he began rolling it up.
"You take it—VAT?" exclaimed Otto.
"Well, of course, it's stolen goods."
Kling leaned over and caught it from his hand. "If it's stolen goods, somebody more as you must come in and tell me dot. By Jeminy, you have got a awful cheek to come in here and tell me dot! Ven I buy, I buy, and it is mine to keep. Ven I sell, I sell, and dot's nobody's business."
Pickert bit his lip. His bluff had failed. He must go about it in another way, if Rosenthal's customer, who owned the lace, was to regain possession before the New Year set in.
"Well, then, sell it to me," he snarled.
"No, I don't sell it to you. Not if you give me tventy times tventy tollars. And now you get out of here so k'vick as you can—or me and dot man over by dot sideboard and two more down-stairs vill trow you out! I don't care a tam how big a brass ting you got on your coat. So you dake it along vid you? Vell, you have got a cheek!"
Pickert's underlip curled in contempt. He had only to step to the door and blow a whistle were a row to begin. But that would neither help him to trail the thief nor to secure the mantilla.
"Now see here, Mr. Kling," he said, fingering the lapel of Otto's coat, "I've treated you white, now you treat me white. You make me tired with your hot air, and it don't go—see, not with me!—and now I'll put it to you straight. Will you sell me that mantilla? Here's the money"—and he pulled out a roll of bills.
Otto was now thoroughly angry. "NO!" he shouted, moving toward the door of his office.
"Will you help put me on to the man who sold it to you?"
"No!" roared Kling again, his Dutch blood at boiling-point. "I put you on noddin—dot's your bis'ness, dis puttin' on, not mine." He had walked out of the office and was beckoning to the tramp. "Here, you! You go down-stairs and tell Hans to come up k'vick—right avay."
The tramp slouched up—a sliding movement, led by his shoulder, his feet following.
"Maybe, boss, I kin help if you don't mind my crowdin' in." He had listened to the whole conversation and knew exactly what would happen if he carried out Kling's order. He had seen too many mix-ups in his time—most of them through resisting an officer in the discharge of his duty. Kling, the first thing he knew, would be wearing a pair of handcuffs, and he himself might lose his job.
He addressed the detective: "I saw the guy when he come in and I saw him when he went out. Mr. O'Day saw him, too, but he'd skipped afore he got on to his mug. He'll tell ye same as me."
The detective canted his head, looked the tramp over from his shoes to his unkempt head, and turned suddenly to Kling. "Who's Mr. O'Day?" he snapped.
"He's my clerk," growled Otto, his determination to get rid of the man checked by this new turn in the situation.
"Can I see him?"
"No, you can't see him, because he's gone out vid Kitty Cleary. He'll be back maybe in an hour—maybe he don't come back at all. He don't know noddin about dis bis'ness and nobody don't let him know noddin about it until to-morrow. Den my little Beesving know de first. Half de fun is in de surprise."
The detective at once lost interest in Kling, and turned to the tramp again—the two moving out of Otto's hearing. A new and fresh scent had crossed the trail—one it might be wise to follow.
"You work here?" he asked. He had taken his measure in a glance and was ready to use him.
"No, I work in John Cleary's express office," grunted the tramp. "Mr. O'Day wanted me to come over and help for New Year's."
"What's he got to do with you?"
"He got me my job."
"He's an Englishman, ain't he?"
"Yes, and the best ever."
"Oh, yes, of course," sneered the detective. "Been working here a year and knows the ropes. So you saw the man come in and O'Day, the clerk, saw him go out, did he? And O'Day sent for you to stay around in case any questions were asked? Is that it?"
The tramp's lip was lifted, showing his teeth. "No, that ain't it by a damned sight! I know who pinched the goods—knowed him for months. Know his name, just as well as I know yours. I got on to you soon as you come in."
The detective shot a quick glance at the speaker. "Me?" he returned quietly.
"Yes—YOU. Your name is Pickert—ONE of your names—you've got half a dozen. And the guy's name is Stanton. He hangs out at the Bowdoin House, and when he ain't there he's playin' pool at Steve Lipton's where I used to work. Are you on?"
The detective betrayed no surprise, neither over the mention of his own name nor that of Stanton. If the tramp's story were true he would have the bracelets on the thief before morning. He decided, however, to try the old game first.
"It may be worth something to you if you can make good," he said, with a confidential shrug of his near shoulder.
The tramp thrust out his chin with a gesture of disgust. "Nothin' doin'! You can keep your plunks. I don't want 'em. I know you fellers—I got onto your curves when I was on my uppers. When you can't get your flippers on the right man you slip 'em on the first galoot you catch, and I want to tell you right here that you can't mix Mr. O'Day in this business, for he don't know nothin' about it, nor anything else that's crooked. I'll get this man Stanton for you if the boss will let me out for an hour. Shall I ask him?"
Pickert examined his finger-nails for a brief moment—one seemed in need of immediate repairs—his mind all the while in deep thought. The tramp might help or he might not. He evidently knew him, and it was possible that he also knew Stanton, the name borne by the woman charged with the theft; or the whole yarn might be a ruse to give the real thief a tip, and thus block everything. Lipton's place he frequented, and the Bowdoin House he could find.
"No, you stay here," he broke out. "I'll get him."
He walked back to the office, the tramp following. "I say, Mr. Kling!" he called impudently.
Otto lifted his head. He had locked up the mantilla and had the key in his pocket. For him the incident was closed.
"Vell?" replied Otto dryly.
"Does this man work over at Cleary's express?"
"He does. Vy?"
"Oh, nothing. I may want him later. And, say!"
"Vell," again replied Otto.
"Git wise and surprise that little girl of yours with something else—she'll never wear that mantilla. So long," and he strode out of the store.
The short winter's day had run its course and a soft, aimless snow was falling—each flake a lazy feather, careless of its fate. The store windows were ablaze, and many of the houses on both sides of "The Avenue" were alive with newly kindled gas-jets, the street-lamps shedding their light over a broad highway blocked with slipping teams, their carts crammed to the utmost with holiday freight.
A spirit of good-fellowship and unrestrained joyousness was everywhere. When a team was stalled, two or three men put their shoulders to the wheels; when a horse slipped and fell, a dozen others helped him to his feet. Snowballs, thrown in good humor and received with a laugh, filled the air. New York was getting ready to celebrate the night before New Year's, the maddest night of all the year in old Manhattan, when groups of merrymakers, carrying tin horns and jingling cow-bells, crowd the sidewalks, singing and shouting, forming flying wedges, swooping down on other wedges—strangers all—the whole ending in roars of laughter and "Happy New Year's," repeated again and again until the next collision.
None of this roused Felix as, with heavy heart, he turned into Kitty's. Of what the morrow would bring forth he dared not think. Father Cruse, he knew, would do what he could to save Barbara, and the British consul—a man he had always avoided—might help. But nothing of all this could lighten his load or relieve his pain. She might be given her freedom for a time, or she might be turned over to one of the reformatories for a term of years—either course meant untold suffering to a woman reared as his wife had been. These mental tortures of the day had burned their way into his brain, as branding-irons burn into flesh, the agony seaming the lines of his face and deep-hollowing the eyes, forming scars that might take years to efface.
As his fingers gripped the knob of Kitty's outside office, shouts of "Happy New Year" rang out from a group of girls showering each other with snowballs.
"Pray God," he said to himself, "that it be better than the one which is passing," and stepped inside, to find Kitty in the kitchen.
"I have come to talk to you," he said, speaking as a man whose strength is far spent. "And if you do not mind, I will ask you to go into the sitting-room where we shall not be disturbed. I have something to say to you. Will you be alone?"
Kitty gave a start. She knew at once that some new development had brought him to her at this hour.
"Yes, not a soul but me. John and Bobby are up to the Grand Central, Mike's bailed out, and yer tramp just come over from Otto's. They're cleanin' out the stables. Is it some news ye have of her?"
"No—nothing more than you know. That must wait until to-morrow. Nothing can be done to-night."
She followed him into the room, dragged out a chair from against the wall, waited until he had slipped off his mackintosh, and then seated herself beside him.
"No," he repeated, passing his hand across his eyes as if to shut out some haunting vision. "There is no news. She is in a cell, I suppose. My God, what does it all mean!"
He paused, his head averted, staring straight ahead.
"You have been very kind to me, Mrs. Cleary, since I have been here—you and your husband. You may not have realized it, but I do not think I could have gone through the year without you—you and little Masie. I have come to the end now, where no one can help. I have tried to carry it through alone. I did not want to burden you with my troubles and—if I could prevent it, I would not now, but you will know it sooner or later, and I would rather tell you myself than have you hear it from strangers."
He hesitated for an instant, looked into her eyes, and said slowly: "The woman you picked up in the street and who is now in prison, is my wife, or was, until a year ago."
Kitty neither moved nor spoke. The announcement did not greatly surprise her. What absorbed her was the new, hard lines in his face, her wonder being that such suffering should have fallen upon the head of a man who so little deserved it.
"And is that what has been breakin' yer heart all these months ye lived with us?"
Felix moved uneasily. "Yes. There has been nothing else."
"And she's the same one ye've been a-trampin' the streets to find?"
Felix bowed his head in assent.
"And ye kep' all this from me?" she asked, as a mother might reproach her son.
"You could have done nothing."
"I could have comforted ye. That would have been somethin'. Did she leave ye?"
Again Felix bowed his head in answer. The spoken words would only add to his pain.
"For another man, was it?—Yes, I see—you twice her age, and she a chit of a child. Ye can't do much for that kind once they get their heads set—no matter how good ye are to them. And I suppose that when I found her that night on the door-steps and brought her into the kitchen, he'd turned her into the street. That's it, isn't it? And then she got to stealin' to keep from starvin'?"
"Yes, I suppose so—I do not know. I only know she is a criminal. That is shame enough."
"And is that all ye came to tell me?" She was going to the bottom of it now. This man was gripped in the tortures of the damned and could only be helped when he had emptied out his heart—all of it, down to the very dregs.
"No, there is something else. I wanted to speak to you about Masie. I may go back to England in a few days and I am not satisfied to leave her unprotected. She has no mother and you have no daughter—would you look after her for me? I have learned to love her very dearly—and I am greatly disturbed over her future and who is to look after her. Her father will not listen to any plans I might make for her, nor will he take proper care of her. He thinks he does, but he lets her do as she pleases. She will be a woman in a very short time, and I shudder when I think of the dangers which beset her. A shop like Kling's is no place for a child like Masie."
Kitty had turned pale when Felix announced his probable departure, something to which she had not yet given a thought, but she heard him to the end.
"I will do all I can for Masie, but that can wait. And now I'm goin' to talk to ye as if ye were my John, and ye got to be patient with me, Mr. O'Day. God knows I'd help ye in any way I could, but ye've got to help me a little so I can help ye the better. May I go on?"
"Help! How can I help?" he asked listlessly.
"By trustin' me—and I can be trusted, and so can John. I found out some months ago that ye were Sir Felix O'Day, but ye never heard me blab it to any livin' soul, nor did John either—not even to Father Cruse. I've watched ye go in and out all these months, and many a night, tired as I was, I didn't get to sleep, worryin' about ye until I'd heard ye shut yer door. Ye said nothin' to me and I could say nothin' to ye. I knew ye'd tell me when the time come and it has, with ye nigh crazy, and she on her way to Sing Sing. What she's been through since that night I brought her here, I don't know—but she'd 'a' broke your heart if ye'd seen her staggerin' weak, followin' me and John like a whipped dog. I thought then she had got the worst of it, somehow, and that she hadn't deserved what had been handed out to her, and John thought so, too. What it was I didn't know, but I've got somebody now who does know and who will tell me the truth, and I'm askin' ye to give it to me straight. If she was your wife she must be a lady, for ye wouldn't 'a' married anybody else. And if she was a lady, how has it happened that she is locked up in the Tombs, and that a gentleman like ye is working at Otto's? And before ye answer, remember that I'm not askin' for meself, but for you and the poor woman ye tried to find to-day."
His tired eyes had not left her own during the long outburst. He had never doubted her sincerity nor her kindliness, but now, as he listened, there stole over him a yearning, strange in one so habitually reticent, to share with her the secret he had hidden all these months—except from Father Cruse.
"Yes, you shall know," he answered, with a sigh of relief. "It is best that somebody should know, and best of all that it should be you. But first tell me how you found out that I could use my father's title—I have never told anybody here."
"An Englishman told me, who wanted his trunk taken to the steamer. He saw you cross the street. 'That's Sir Felix O'Day,' he said, 'and he has had more trouble than any man I ever knew.'"
"Did you check the trunk?"
"That explains how my solicitor in London, whom I have just heard from, discovered my address. He mentioned a trunk-tag as his clew; he and the Englishman evidently met. As to the title, it was of no use to me here. I may use it now, at home, for he writes that there were several hundreds of pounds sterling saved out of my own and my father's wreck, together with a small cottage and a few acres of land near London. Had I known it, however, before I came here, it would have made no difference, nor would it have altered my plan. I had come here to find my wife, for I knew that sooner or later she would be utterly stranded, without a human being to whom she could appeal; but I never expected to find her a criminal. Terrible! Terrible! I cannot yet take it in. Poor child! What is to become of her, God only knows!"
He had risen, and in his agony walked to the window, his updrawn shoulders tense, like those of a man standing by an open grave. He stood there for a moment, Kitty silently watching him, until, with a deep sigh, he came back to his chair.
"I have been a fool, no doubt, to pursue this thing as I have, but there seemed no other way. I could not have lived with myself afterward, if I had not made the effort. I knew that you and your husband often wondered at the life I led, and I have often thanked you in my heart for your loyalty. It is but another one of the things that have made this home so dear to me. I told Father Cruse what brought me to New York, so that he could help me find her, and he has been more than kind. Many a night we have tramped the streets together, or have searched haunts that either she, or the man who ruined her, might frequent, or where we should meet persons who had seen them, but so far, you are the only person who has brought us near to each other.
"I tell you now because it is better that you and I should understand each other before I sail, and because, too, you are a big, brave, true-hearted woman who can and will understand. You may not think it, but you have been a revelation to me, Mrs. Cleary—you and this home—and the neighborhood, in fact, peopled with clean, wholesome men and women. It has been a great lesson to me and a marvellous contrast to what had surrounded me at home. You were right in your surmise that my wife is a lady, and that I have been born a gentleman. And now I will tell you why we are both here."
Then, in broken words, with long pauses between, he told her the story of his own and Lady Barbara's home life, and of Dalton's perfidy with all the horror that had followed, Kitty's body bent forward, her ears drinking in every word, her plump, ruddy hands resting in her lap, her heart throbbing with sympathy for the man who sat there so calm and patient, stating his case without bitterness, his anger only rising when he recounted the incidents leading up to his wife's estrangement and denounced the man who had planned her ruin.
Only when the tale was ended did she burst out: "And I ain't surprised yer heart's broke! Ye've had enough to kill ye. The wonder to me is that ye're walkin' around with yer head up and your heart not soured. I been thinkin' and thinkin' all these months, and John and I have talked it over many a night; but we never thought it was as bad as it is. And now I'm goin' to ask ye a question and ye must tell me the truth. What are ye goin' to do next?"
"See Father Cruse to-night and tell him what I have found out. He must do the rest. I have gone as far as I dared, and can go no further. I must draw the line at crime. In spite of it all, I would have gone down-stairs to see her, had she not been sent away, but I am glad now that I did not. She comes of a proud race and that would have been the last thing she could have borne. As it is, she thinks I am in Australia, and it's better that she should. She would have thought I had come to taunt her, and no one could have undeceived her. I know her—and her wilfulness. Poor child! She has always been her own worst enemy. And so, just as soon as I learn what is to happen to her, I shall settle my account with the man who has caused her ruin, and return to England—and I can go the easier, and pick up my old life again the better, if I can be assured that you will look after little Masie, and see that no harm comes to her."
Kitty raised her hands from her lap and folded them across her bosom. "Let me talk a little, will ye, Mr. O'Day? Ye needn't worry about Masie. I'll take care of her—all that Kling will let me. I knew her mother, who died when the child was born, and a fine woman she was—ten times as good as Kling whom her father made her marry. But there's somebody else who needs me, and who needs ye more than Masie needs us, and that's yer wife. How do ye know her heart is not breakin' for somebody to say a kind word to her? Are ye goin' home and leave her like this? That's not like ye, and I don't want to hear ye say it. Do you mean that if she is put away up the river, ye won't stay here and—"
"What for, to sit for five years waiting for her to come out? And what then? Have you ever seen one reform?"
"And if she gets off, and wanders around the streets?"
"Father Cruse must answer that question."
"But ye came all these miles to New York to pull her out of the mess she had got into with that man who's ruined yer home, and ye out in the cold without a cent—and ye forgave her for that—and now that she's locked up with only herself to suffer, ye turn yer back on her and leave her to fight it out alone."
"I did not forgive HER, Mrs. Cleary," he said in deliberate tones. "I forgave her childish nature, remembering the way she had been educated; remembering, too, that I was twice her age. Nor did I forget the poverty I had brought upon her."
"And why not forgive her this?" She could hardly restrain a sob as she spoke.
His lips straightened and his brows narrowed. "This is not due to her nature," he answered coldly, "nor to her bringing up. She has now committed a crime and is beyond reclaim. Once a thief, always a thief. I must stop somewhere."
"But why not hear her story from her own lips?" she pleaded, her voice choking. "YOU hear it—not Father Cruse, nor me, nor anybody but YOU, who have loved her!"
Felix shook his head. "It is kinder for me to stay away. The very sight of me would kill her." His answer was final.
Kitty squared herself. "I don't believe it," she cried, the tears now coursing down her cheeks. "Oh, for the blessed God's sake don't say it—take it back! Listen to me, Mr. O'Day. If she ever wanted a friend it's now. I'd go meself but I'd do no good—nor nothin' I'd tell her would do her any good. It's a man she wants to lean on, not a woman. I can almost lift my John off his feet with one hand, but when I get into trouble I'm just so much putty, runnin' to him like a baby, weak as a rag, and he pattin' my cheek same as if I was a three-year-old. Go and get yer arms around her and tell her ye don't believe a word of it, and that ye'll stand by her to the end, and ye'll make a good woman of her. Turn yer back on her, and they'll have her in potter's field if she gets out of this scrape, for she can't fight long—she hasn't got the strength.
"She could hardly get up-stairs the night I put her to bed—she was that tremblin', and she's no better to-day. Don't let yer pride shut up yer heart, Mr. O'Day. You are a gentleman and ye've lived like one, and ye've got your own and yer father's name to keep clean, and that poor child has dragged it in the mud, and the papers will be full of it, and the disgrace of it all dries ye up, and ye can go no further, and so ye cut loose and let her sink. No, don't ye get angry with me—if ye were my own John I'd tell ye the same. Listen—do ye hear them horns blowin' and the children shoutin'? It's New Year's Eve—to-morrow all the slates will be wiped clean—the past rubbed out and everybody'll have a new start. Make a clean slate of yer own heart—wipe out everything ye've got against that poor child. Take her in yer arms once more—help her come back! If God didn't clean His own slate once in a while and forgive us, none of us would ever get to heaven. Hush! Quiet now! Somebody's just come into the office. I'll not let any one in to disturb ye. Stay where ye are till I see. I hear a voice. WHAT! Well, as I'm alive, it's Father Cruse—what's he come for at this hour? Shall I let him in?"
Felix lifted himself slowly to his feet, as would a man in a hospital ward who sees the doctor approaching.
"Yes, let him in; I was going to look him up." He was relieved at the interruption. Kitty's appeal had deeply stirred him, but had not swerved him from his purpose. He had done his duty—all of it, to the very last. The day's developments had ended everything. He had no right to bring a criminal into his family.
Kitty swung wide the door and Father Cruse stepped in. He wore his heavy cassock, which was flecked with snow, and his wide hat.
"My messenger told me you were here, Mr. O'Day," he cried out, in a cheery voice, "and I came at once. And, Mrs. Cleary, I am more than glad to find you here as well."
Felix stepped forward. "It was very good of you, Father. I was coming down to see you in a few minutes." They had shaken hands and the three stood together.
The priest glanced in question at Kitty, then back again at Felix. "Does Mrs. Cleary—"
"Yes, Mrs. Cleary knows," returned Felix calmly. "I have told her everything. Lady Barbara—" he paused, the words were strangling him, "has been arrested—for stealing—and is now in the Tombs prison."
Father Cruse laid his hand on O'Day's shoulder. "No, my friend, she is not in the Tombs. I took her to St. Barnabas's Home and put her in charge of the Sisters."
Felix straightened his back. "You have saved her from it."
"Yes, two hours ago. And she can stay there until the matter is settled, or just as long as you wish it." His hand was still on O'Day's shoulder, his mind intent on the drawn features, seamed with the furrows the last few hours had ploughed. He saw how he had suffered.
Felix stretched out his hand as if to steady himself, motioned the priest to a chair, and sank into his own.
"In the Sisters' Home," he repeated mechanically, after a moment's silence. Then rousing himself: "And you will see her, Father, from time to time?"
"Yes, every day. Why do you ask such a question—of me, in particular?"
"Because," replied Felix slowly, "I may be away—out of the country. I have just asked Mrs. Cleary to look after Masie and she has promised she will. And I am going to ask you to look after my poor wife. They must be very gentle with her—and they should not judge her too harshly." He seemed to be talking at random, thinking aloud rather than addressing his companions. "Since I saw you I have received a letter from my solicitor. There is some money coming to me, he says, and I shall see that she is not a burden to you."
The priest turned abruptly, and laid a firm hand on O'Day's knee. "But you will see her, of course?"
"No, it is better that you act for me. She will not want to see me in her present condition."
Kitty was about to protest, when Father Cruse waved her into silence. "You certainly cannot mean what you have just said, Mr. O'Day?"
The priest rose quickly, passed though the kitchen, and opened the door leading to the outer office. Two women stood waiting, one in a long cloak, the other clinging to her arm, her face white as chalk, her lips quivering.
"Come in," said the priest.
Martha put her arm around Lady Barbara and led her into the room.
Felix staggered to his feet.
The two stood facing each other, Lady Barbara searching his eyes, her fingers tight hold of Martha's arm.
"Don't turn away, Felix," she sobbed. "Please listen. Father Cruse said you would. He brought me here."
No answer came, nor did he move, nor had he heard her plea. It was the bent, wasted figure and sunken cheeks, the strands of her still beautiful hair in a coil about her neck, that absorbed him.
Again her eyes crept up to his.
"I'm so tired, Felix—so tired. Won't you please take me home to my father—"
He made a step forward, halted as if to recover his balance, wavered again, and stretched out his hands.
"Barbara! BARBARA!" he cried. "Your home is here." And he caught her in his arms.