The Colonel's irascibility finally drove him from the game. He apologised for his wretched playing, but the Colonel did not apologise for the disagreeable things he had said.
It was one o'clock when Graydon reached his rooms. There he found a note from Elias Droom.
"I have an especial reason," he wrote, "for asking you and Miss Cable to dine with me on Monday night. We will go to Sherry's. Let me know as soon as you have seen her."
ELIAS DROOM'S DINNER PARTY
He was mystified and not a little upset by this almost peremptory summons from the old man. He hurried over to Droom's quarters the next morning, after ascertaining that the steamer would not reach the dock until two or three o'clock. Droom was at work on one of his amazing models.
"Hello," he said ungraciously. "I thought I invited you for to-night."
"I want to know something about it, Elias," said Graydon, sitting upon the end of the workbench. "She'll not get in before the middle of the afternoon, and she may not feel like going to Sherry's to-night."
"Just as she likes," said Droom pettishly. "You mean that she would not like to be seen there with me unless there is to be something in it for her, eh?"
"Nonsense. You've got something on your mind, Elias. What is it? Why do you insist on going to-night?"
"I don't. It's to-night or not at all, however. I'm not in the habit of letting people decide when I shall dine at Sherry's. If she doesn't want to come, let her say so." That was all Graydon could get out of him, so he left in a more perplexed frame of mind than before.
He was at the dock long before the steamer came to a stop after its eight days of ceaseless throbbing. She was waving to him from the rail, her face beaming with happiness. It was just as he had seen it in his dreams of this day. More than ever he arrayed his love against her principle; more than ever was he determined to overcome the obstacles which she had thrown up in her self-arraignment.
There was a cold, biting wind blowing, with the suggestion of snow in the skies. The passengers came down with rosy cheeks, coloured by the frost-laden hours on deck. After the tedious, disagreeable hour with the customs officials, the Cables were driven to the Holland House. Graydon Bansemer, sitting opposite to Jane in the carriage, was almost speechless with joy and eagerness. The old restraint was still upon him, but it was being worn down by degrees as he gathered encouragement from the clear, inviting eyes of the girl he worshipped. The love in those happy, glowing eyes could not be mistaken for loyal indifference.
She was more beautiful than ever to his hungry, patient eyes; she was more desirable, more priceless. David Cable and his wife had been immensely benefited in every way by their months abroad. Jane had found the sunshine for them and it had been her purpose in all these months to keep them free from the shadows. They had travelled Europe over and they had lived in the full warmth of pleasure.
Cable took Graydon aside as they entered the hotel. The latter had implored Jane to give him a few minutes alone at the earliest possible moment.
"Tell me about your father, Graydon," said David Cable.
"He is still in—in Joliet," replied the young man quietly.
"He has not offered to help us in clearing up the mystery?"
"I have had no word from him, Mr. Cable. He seems to be in his tomb. I am afraid he will not help us, sir. He has said he would not; that means a great deal, I am sorry to say."
He then told him of Elias Droom's strange invitation, adding that he believed the old man was ready to reveal all that he knew.
"She must go with you to-night, then," said Cable. "It is necessary. She wants to know the truth. She has said so."
"It won't matter, sir, so far as I am concerned. She—"
"She has come back, my boy, determined to go on with her plans. I am sorry, Graydon, but I am at last convinced that she means to give her life to the work."
"By Heaven, Mr. Cable, she shall not do it! I can't live without her," cried Graydon miserably. Cable smiled sadly as he shook his head.
At half past seven o'clock Jane Cable and Graydon met Droom at Sherry's. She was paler than usual and there was a queer chill in her heart. Bansemer was more nervous than he had ever been before in his life.
Elias Droom, the strangest creature in the big restaurant, arose to greet them as they entered the doors. He had been waiting inside and out for half an hour, and his welcome was quite in keeping with his character, He uttered a few gruff words of greeting to her, accompanied by a perfunctory smile that gave out no warmth; then he started off with rude haste toward the table he had reserved. Not a word concerning her welfare, her health, her return to the homeland—no sign of interest or consideration. They followed him silently, anxiously.
The old man was conspicuously repulsive in his finery. It is unnecessary to say that his clothes did not fit his lank figure: tailors cannot perform miracles. His long chin was carefully shaven, but the razor could not remove the ruts and creases that hid the thick stubble of grey and black. Not one but one hundred diners looked with curiosity upon the nervous, uncouth old man. There was a buzz of interest and a craning of necks when the crowd saw the handsome couple join him at the table in the corner.
"I wish you'd order the dinner for me, Graydon," he said, rather plaintively. "I can pay for it, Miss Cable," he added with an attempt at joviality, "but I'm no good at ordering. These young swells know all about it. Get champagne, Graydon. Order something nice for Miss Cable. Anywhere up to twenty dollars. I'm not a millionaire, Miss Cable. Tell the waiter I'll pay for it, Graydon. This is a swell place, isn't it, Miss Cable? I've never been in Europe, but they say they can't touch our restaurants over there. Get oysters, Graydon."
"By Jove, Elias, you are giving us a treat," laughed Graydon. The old man's mood had changed suddenly. He was beaming in his effort to be agreeable. A glance around the room had convinced him that the prettiest woman there was sitting at his table. He felt a new sense of pride.
"I am proud of myself," said Droom—and he meant it.
"It's very good of you to ask me to come, Mr. Droom," said Jane, her bright eyes meeting his before they could lift themselves into the customary stare above her head.
"I'm not so sure about that," said Elias. From time to time he glanced uneasily toward a table at his left. It was set for six persons, none of whom had arrived. "I trust it will not be the last time you will honour me, Miss Cable. I am getting very hospitable in my old age. If you don't mind, Graydon, I won't drink this cocktail. I may take the champagne. I'm quite a teetotaler, you see. Milk, always. By the way, Graydon," he said, turning suddenly to the young man, "I suppose you've led her to believe that I had a motive in asking her to dine to-night—I mean other than the pleasure it would give to me."
"I—I rather thought something of the sort," stammered Graydon.
"Well, there is a motive. I've decided at last to tell all I knew. Don't look like that, Miss Cable. You'll attract attention. Calm yourself. It will be some time before the story is forthcoming. Besides, I doubt very much whether you'll get any great satisfaction out of it, although it may clear things up a bit for you. If you've been hoping that your father and mother—well, we'll take our time. Here are the oysters. Oysters make me think of your father, Graydon. Don't choke, my boy," he chuckled as Graydon stiffened quickly." He had a woman arrested at her own dinner party one night—right over there in Fifth Avenue, too. Search warrant, and all that. The oysters were being served when the papers were served. Ah, he was a great man for effective revenge. She had dared him, you see. Did you ever hear of the other time when he permitted an ignorant host to invite two deadly enemies to the same dinner? One fellow had robbed the other fellow of his wife. Terrible scandal. Your father knew that they expected to kill one another on sight. And yet when the host told him whom he expected to invite he let him ask the two men. He told me about it afterward. It amused him. Everybody but the host knew of the row and there was a panic in the drawing-room."
"Good Lord," gasped Graydon, helplessly pushing the oysters away. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Oh, it was a great joke. It's a good dinner story. The joke comes in at the end. Both those fellows got tight and went home with their arms about one another. By the way, Graydon, what do you hear from your father?"
Graydon looked uncomfortably at Jane, whose face was set with distress.
"Elias, you've got no right to—" began the young man coldly.
"I beg your pardon if I've offended," said Droom abjectly. "I—I don't know the etiquette of small talk—forgive me. I was interested, that is all."
"It may interest you to know that I had a long talk with Mr. Clegg this afternoon. He says there is a movement on foot to secure a pardon for father. Father hasn't asked anyone to intercede. It is known that he will go to England to live as soon as he is released. That's an inducement, you see," he said bitterly.
Droom's face turned a frozen white; his steely eyes took on a peculiar glaze, and his hand grasped his leg as if it were a vise intended to hold him in his chair.
"I haven't told you about it, Jane," went on Graydon. "Mr. Clegg has seen father and he says he is indifferent about it. He intends to leave the country in any event. I am going to write to him to-night, asking him to let them apply for the pardon. It may save him from three years more of servitude. Mr. Clegg is sure he can get his release—what's the matter, Elias?"
The old clerk's body had stiffened and the look in his face was something horrible to behold. Terror was visible in every lineament. His companions started from their chairs in alarm. With a mighty effort the old man succeeded in regaining a semblance of self-control. His body relaxed, and his jaw dropped; his voice was trembling and weak as he responded, an apologetic grin on his face.
"Nothing—nothing at all. A momentary pain. Don't mind me. Don't mind me," he mumbled. "I have them often. I think it's my heart. What were you saying, Graydon? Oh, yes, the pardon. I-I hope you'll mention me in writing to your father. Tell him I hope to—to see him if he comes to New York."
"I don't believe he likes you, Elias," said Graydon, half jestingly.
"Wha—what has he said to you?" demanded Droom sharply.
"He rather resented your taking Jane and me to Joliet that day." The old man's grin was malicious. "He won't forgive you that."
"I shall never forget how he looked at you, Mr. Droom," said Jane with a shudder. Droom trembled with a new spasm of fear.
Attention was diverted by the arrival of the party of six. The men were distinguished in appearance, the women aristocratic but spirited. That they were well known to many of the diners in those days at Sherry's was at once apparent; they were bowing right and left to near-by acquaintances. After much ado they finally relapsed into the chairs obsequiously drawn back for them and the buzz of conversation throughout the place was resumed.
Graydon, lowering his voice, named the newcomers to Jane, who looked at them with fresh interest. The names were well known to New York and European society. For the moment Elias Droom was unnoticed. He took the opportunity to collect his nerves and to subdue his too apparent emotion. Jane was recalled from her polite scrutiny of the women at the next table by hearing her name mentioned in Droom's hoarsest voice, modified into something like a whisper.
"Miss Cable, I not only asked you to come here in order to tell you the name of your father, but to point him out to you."
There was an instant of breathless silence at the table. So startling was his announcement that every other sound in the room escaped the ears of his two listeners.
"There was a new hundred dollar bill found in the basket with you. Your grandfather's signature was on that bill. He was the president of the bank which issued it. Your mother was—" Here he leaned forward and whispered a name that fairly stunned his hearers. Graydon caught his breath and a new light appeared in his eyes. He was beginning to believe that the old man's brain was affected. Jane leaned forward in her chair, an incredulous smile on her lips.
"Don't jest, Elias," began Graydon, somewhat roughly.
"I am not jesting. It is the truth, I swear it," snapped Elias.
"But, great Heaven, man, consider what you've said. It's one of the best families in this country-it's preposterous to say—"
"Of course, her family is one of the best. She was a blue stocking. That's where Miss Cable gets most of her good blood."
"My God, Elias, I can't believe it!" cried Graydon.
Jane was staring blankly at the old man's face.
"Your father will tell you the same. For more than twenty years I have known the secret. There is no documentary proof, but this much I do know: James Bansemer received fifty thousand dollars for keeping his mouth closed. He found out the truth and he profited by it as usual. Oh, he knew that hundred dollar bills are not left with pauper babes. I don't know how he unearthed the truth about Miss—"
"Sh! Don't mention the name aloud!"
"But he did unearth it, beyond all possible chance of mistake. Your father, Miss Cable, is sitting at that table. Don't look up just yet. He is staring at you. He doesn't know you, but he does know you are a pretty woman. The gentleman with the grey hair, Graydon. See? That man is her father."
Graydon half started up in his chair, his lips apart, his eyes riveted on the man designated. Every drop of blood seemed to have frozen in his veins.
"Good God, Elias!" he whispered. "Why, that is—" The name stuck in his throat.
"The son of the man who signed the banknote. He is Jane's father. There's blue blood in him—there has been since King Henry's day—but he is a villain for all that. Now, Miss Cable, I've done my duty. I've told you the absolute truth. You could not have expected more—you could not have asked a greater climax. The name of Vanderbilt or Astor is no better known than that man's name, and no ancestry is better than that of your mother. I will now give to you one of the articles of proof that connects you with their history." He handed to her a small package. "It is the letter written to James Bansemer by your paternal grandfather, agreeing to an appointment to discuss a question of grave moment. I found the letter that same day, and I've kept it all these years. It bears your grandfather's signature. That is all. I heard part of that interview, and I stake my soul that what I've told you is true."
Jane sat looking at him as if paralysed. Her mind was quite incapable of grasping the full import of his words—the words she had craved for so many months, and yet dreaded.
"I knew he was coming here to-night. He gives a theatre party. To-morrow he goes abroad. That is all."
"He's living in Paris," muttered Graydon mechanically. Jane spoke for the first time, as in a daze.
"I—I have seen him many times in Paris. My father? Oh, oh, it can't be true."
"Jane, let me take you away from here—" began Graydon, observing her pallor.
"No. Let me stay. It can't matter, Graydon. I want to look at him again and again," she said, shrinking back as if the whole world were staring at her. By the most prodigious effort she regained control of her fleeing composure. It was a trying moment.
"He's worth millions," said Droom. "It will be worth while for YOU to—"
"No!" she exclaimed passionately. "Do you think I will present myself to him after he has cast me off! No! a thousand times, no!"
At that instant the party of six hurriedly arose to leave the place. The tall man with the grey hair—the handsomest man of all—was staring boldly at Jane's averted face, now red with consciousness. As he passed her in going out of the room, his look grew more insistent. She glanced up and a faint smile crossed his face.
"Devilish handsome girl," he remarked to the man behind him and then he passed out of her sight, perhaps forever.
"The woman with him?" cried Jane, her eyes following the beautiful creature at his side, "is she my mother?"
"No," said Graydon, averting his eyes to avoid her expression; "she is his wife."
Droom waited until the party was out of the restaurant before uttering a word.
"Inside of two years I have pointed out two fathers to their children—yours and his, Jane. Your mothers are dead. There isn't much choice as to fathers. If I were you, I'd say I had the better of the bargain. Take an old man's advice, both of you, and let bygones be bygones. Start life now, just as if nothing had happened before, and get every atom of happiness out of it that you can. Don't you two pay for the sins of your fathers."
"I couldn't live in New York if he were living here," murmured Jane.
"Hey, waiter, your bill," said Droom, with sudden harshness.
It was snowing and the wind was blowing a gale when they emerged from the place. Jane hung heavily upon Graydon's arm; he could feel that she was sobbing. He did not dare to look into her face, but he felt something cruelly triumphant surging in his heart. Elias Droom waited until their cab came up. Then he offered his hand to both, hesitatingly, even timidly.
"Good-night. Be happy. There is nothing else left for you but that. Graydon, when you jrrite to your father, give him my love."
DROOM TRIUMPHS OVER DEATH
Droom stood for a few moments in the hurtling snowstorm, abstractedly gazing toward Longacre Square. The chill in his marrow was not from the blizzard that swept down upon him; the gaunt grey look in his face was not that of hunger or want. There was fever in his brain and chill in his heart. He had forgotten Jane's trivial tragedy; his one overwhelming thought was of James Bansemer.
The heavy ulster was unbuttoned and the snowflakes pelted in against his neglected shirt front. A doorman called his attention to the oversight. He came to himself, drew the coat close about his long frame, and hurried off down Fifth Avenue. The storm was so vicious that he boarded a crosstown car at Forty-second Street. A man elbowed him in the narrow vestibule. He looked up and gasped aloud in sudden terror. An instant later he laughed at his fears; the man was not James Bansemer. A cold perspiration started out over his body, however. Through his brain there went racing the ever-revolving cry:
"He'll come straight to me-straight to me!"
The hour was not late, but the blizzard had driven the crowds from the streets. Eighth avenue sidewalks were deserted except for the people who were obliged to brave the storm. As Droom hurried south to his lodgings he became possessed of a racking belief that someone was following close upon his heels—someone who was rushing up to deal him a murderous blow in the back. The old man actually broke into a frantic run in covering the last half block.
It was not until he was in his rooms, with the door bolted that he could rid himself of the dread. The fire had gone out and the light was low. His teeth chattered and his hand shook as he raised the wick in the lamp. The palsy of inexplicable fear was upon him. Kneeling before the stove he began to rebuild the fire. His back was toward the door and he turned an anxious face in that direction from time to time. Footsteps on the stairway sent a new chill through his gaunt frame. They passed on up the next flight, but he waited breathlessly until he heard the door of the apartment above slam noisily.
For half an hour he sat huddled in front of the stove without removing his hat and ulster.
"Curse the luck," he was saying over and over again to himself, sometimes aloud. "Why should he have a pardon? What are the laws for? Curse that meddling old fool Clegg! They'll set him free, and he'll hunt me out, I know he will. He won't forgive me for that day's work. He may be free now-it may have been he who followed me. But no! That's a silly thing to think. It takes weeks and months to get a pardon. Maybe—maybe they won't get it, after all."
He tried to throw off his desperate feeling of apprehension, chattering all sorts of comforting reasons and excuses to himself as he scurried about the rooms with aimless haste. Try as he would, however, when the time came, he could not read—not even of his courage-inspiring Napoleon. The howl of the wind annoyed and appalled him; he caught himself listening intently for sounds above and not of the storm. A nervous, intermittent laugh broke from his lips as he went on cursing himself for a fool to be so disturbed by Graydon's report.
"What have I to fear from him? Why should I let that look of his unnerve me so? Why can't I forget it? It—it didn't mean anything. I'm a fool to think of it. Nearly two years ago, that was. Why, he may be—" A new thought chased the old one out before it was formed. His eyes caught sight of one of his completed models, standing in the corner. It was the model for the guillotine.
For a long time he sat staring at the thing, a hundred impressions forming and reforming in his brain.
"I wonder if I'll really die before he is liberated," he was saying dumbly to himself. "I wonder if I will. There's no sign of it now. I'm strong and well enough to live for years. Suppose he is freed inside of a month or two, what then? By Heaven, I'd be losing the dearest hope of my whole life. My last sight of him—that beautiful vision behind the bars—would be spoiled, undone, wiped out. He'd be as free as I. I won't die inside of a month, I'm sure. He'd come here and laugh at me and he'd kill me in the end. God! I know he would. He'd have the joy of seeing my pain and terror and defeat—he'd see me LAST! I'd be bloody and crushed and—"
He checked himself in the midst of these dire forebodings to rise suddenly and cross to the ghastly looking frame with the cords, the hinges, and the great broadaxe that lay harmlessly in the grooves at the top. For many minutes he stood and gazed at the axe, his flesh as cold as ice. Then he tested the cords. The axe dropped heavily to the block below. He smiled with cunning triumph at his own skill.
The odour of geranium leaves assailed his nostrils. With an ugly impulse he turned and swept the pots from the window box, scattering them over the floor.
"I'm in a devil of a humour," he laughed as he surveyed the wreck. "Something's gone wrong with me. I've never mistreated my flowers before." He lifted the broadaxe to its place, tenderly, almost lovingly. "By my soul, it's a beautiful piece of work. It's as sure as the grave itself."
Again he stood off and looked at the infernal bit of his own handiwork, his eyes glistening with dread of the thing. He turned and fled to the opposite side of the room, keeping his back toward the silent guillotine which seemed to be calling to him. with mocking yet fascinating persistency.
"Curse the thing," he groaned. "Damn it, I didn't make it for my own use. What is the matter with me?" He glanced slyly, fearfully over his shoulder and then faced the thing deliberately, his jaws set, his eyes staring.
"It is a quick way—a sure way," he muttered. "I haven't anything to live for and but a few years at most. Nobody cares whether I live or die—not even I. James Bansemer could not batter me down, as he surely will, if I—"
He crossed to an old chest and unlocked its lid with feverish haste. A bundle of papers came up in the grasp of his tense fingers. Casting dreadful glances at the insistent axe, he seated himself at the table and began looking over the papers.
"He won't take his father's rotten money, but he'll take mine. It's honest. It represents wages honestly, bitterly earned. There's more than twenty thousand to give him. He'll be surprised. Twenty thousand." He laid the first paper, his will drawn in favour of Graydon Bansemer, signed and addressed; upon the table, and then carelessly tossed the other documents into the chest. "By the Lord Harry, I'll have the best of James Bansemer yet. His boy will take my money even though he spurns his. God, I wish I could see him when he knows all this. It would be glorious."
He fingered the document for a tense moment, and then arose to remove his coat and vest. These he hung away in his closet with all his customary carefulness. In the middle of the room he stopped, his quivering face turned toward the gaunt thing of execution. His feet seemed nailed to the floor; his brain was urging him to go on with the horrid deed, his body was rebelling. The torture of terror was overpowering him.
Suddenly he found his strength of limb. With a guttural howl he clasped his hands to his eyes and fled blindly into his bedroom. Hurling his long, shivering frame upon the bed, he tried to shut out the enticing call of the thiag of death. How long he quivered there, shuddering and struggling, he could not have told. In the end—and as suddenly as he had fled—he leaped up and with a shrill laugh dashed back into the other room.
There was no hesitation in his body now. With a maniacal glee he rushed upon the devilish contrivance in the corner, tearing the axe from its place with ruthless hands. Throughout the building rang the sounds of smashing wood, furious blows of steel upon wood, and high above the din arose the laugh of Elias Droom. In two minutes, the guillotine lay in chips and splinters about the room—destroyed even as it was on the point of destroying him.
Dropping back against the wall, wet with perspiration, a triumphant grin upon his face, Elias surveyed the wreckage. His muscles relaxed and his eyes lost the dread that had filled them. The smile actually grew into an expression of sweetness and peace that his face had never known before.
As he staggered to a chair close by, a great sigh of relief broke from his lips.
"There!" he gasped. "It's over! it's over! My head is on my shoulders—it really is after all! It is not rolling into the corner—no! no! By my head—my own head, too—it was a close call for you, Elias Droom. Now, I'll take what comes. I'll wait for James Bansemer! I'll stick it out to the end. If he comes, he'll find me here. I've conquered the infernal death that stood waiting so long for me in that corner—and I never suspected it, either. God, how near it was to me! It stood there and waited for me to come. It knew that I would come sooner or later! But I've smashed it—it's gone! It's not there!"
With eager hands he gathered up the pieces of wood and cast them into the stove. As the remains of that frightful minister of death crackled and spit with defeated venom, Elias Droom calmly pulled on his worn dressing gown, lighted his pipe and cocked his feet upon the stove rail, a serene look in his eyes, a chuckle in his throat.
Jane Cable, upon entering the cab, offered no resistance when Graydon drew her head over against his shoulder. His strong right hand clasped her listless fingers and the warmth of his heart came bounding into her veins as if by magic. He did not speak to her, but she knew that he was claiming her then for all time; she knew that nothing could stand in the way of his purpose. The sobs grew less despairing, her understanding of things less vague and uncertain. A few moments before she had felt that she was no kin to the world; now there was a new appreciation of love and its greatness in her soul.
This man had loved her, and he would take her up and shield her against the hate of the world. There had not been a moment when her own love for him wavered; she worshipped him now as she had in the beginning. The revelation of Droom, the theatric scenes in the cafe, the crushing of the small hope she had cherished, all conspired in this secure moment to waken her into a realisation of what an overbalancing power love is.
Unconsciously her fingers tightened upon his and her body drew closer; she was arraying herself against the fear that she might lose this haven of rest and joy, after all—the haven she had been willing to scourge and destroy in the bitterness of her heart. A great wave of pity for herself came sweeping over her. It grew out of the dread that he might, after all, deny her the place that no one else in the world could give.
Graydon's cold face was suddenly illumined; the incomprehensible sweetness of pain rushed through his blood. He had given up his hope as blighted after the harsh hour with Droom; he could not believe his newfound success. Doubt, unbelief, enveloped him as he raised her head, a kiss crying for its kind. His arm crept behind her shoulders. She did not offer a repulse; her wet cheek touched his in submission. It was the first time his hungry arms had held her in centuries it seemed to him—and to her; it was the first time their lips had met—except in dreams—since that horrid night so long ago.
"Jane, Jane!" he was whispering in her ear; her plans, her purposes, her sacrifices, were running away from her in riotous disorder. She could not hold them in check; they fled like weaklings before the older and stronger hopes and desires.
They did not know of the blockade of cabs at the corner of Forty-second Street, nor how long they stood there. Shouting cabmen and police officers tried to rival the white blizzard in profuseness, but they did not hear them.
"Oh, Graydon, I cannot, I must not," she was crying, holding his hand with almost frenzied disdain for the words so plaintively loyal. "It is out of the question, dearest. You know it is. I love you, oh, how I love you. But I—I must not be your wife. I—I—"
"I've had enough of this, Jane," he said so firmly that she stiffened perceptibly in his arms. "It's all confounded rot. Excuse me, but it is. I know you think you're right, but you're not. Old Elias gave the best advice in the world. You know what it was. We've just got to make our own happiness. Nobody else will do it for us, and it's just as easy to be happy as it is to be the other way. I'm tired of pleading. I've waited as long as I intend to. We're going to be married to-morrow."
"Don't refuse! It's no use, dearest. We've lost a year or two. I don't intend to lose another day. What do I care about your father and mother? What did they care about you? You owe all the rest of your life to yourself and to me. Come! will you consent willingly or—" He paused. She was very still in his arms for a long time.
"I do so want to be happy," she said at last, reflectively. "No, no! don't say anything yet. I am only wondering how it will be after we've been married for a few years. When I'm growing old and plain, and you begin to tire of me as most men grow weary of their wives—what then? Ah, Graydon, I—I have thought about all that, too. You'll never reproach me openly—you couldn't do that, I know. But you may secretly nourish the scorn which—"
"Jane," he said, dropping the tone of confident authority and speaking very tenderly, "you forget that my father is a convict. You forget that he has done things which will forever keep me a beggar at your feet. I am asking YOU to forget and overlook inuch more than you could ever ask of me. Old Elias, wretch that he is, has pointed out our ways for us; they run together in spite of what may conspire to divide them. Jane, I love my soul, but I love you ten thousand times better than my soul."
"I did not believe I could ever be so happy again," she murmured, putting her hands to his face.
Graydon, rejoicing in his final victory, hurried to his rooms later in the evening. As he was about to enter the elevator he noticed a grey-suited boy in brass buttons, who stood near by, an inquiring look in his face.
"This is Mr. Bansemer," observed the laconic youth who ran the single elevator in the apartment building.
"Something for me?" demanded Graydon, turning to the boy in grey.
"Special delivery letter, sir. Sign here."
Graydon took the thick envelope from the boy's hand. With a start, he recognised his father's handwriting. Curiously he turned the letter over in his fingers as he ascended in the car, wonder growing in his brain. He did not wait to remove his overcoat on entering his rooms, but strode to the light and nervously tore open the envelope. Dread, hope, anxiety, conspired tu make his fingers tremble. There were many closely written pages. How well he remembered his father's writing!
As he read, his eyes grew wide with wonder and unbelief. They raced through the pages, wonder giving way to joy and exultation as he neared the end of the astounding message from the far-away prisoner.
A shout forged to his lips; he hugged the letter to his heart; tears came into his eyes, a sob broke in, his throat.
"Thank God!" he cried, throwing himself into a chair to eagerly read and reread the contents of the letter. Suddenly he sprang to his feet and dashed across the room to the telephone.
"She will die of joy!" he half sobbed, in the transports of exhilaration. Five minutes later he was on his way to her hotel, clutching the priceless letter in his bare fingers, deep down in his overcoat pocket. He had shouted over the 'phone that the good news would not keep till morning, and she was waiting up for him with Mr. and Mrs. Cable, consumed by curiosity.
"This letter"—he gasped, as he entered the room—"from father. He's written, Jane—everything. I knew he would. Elias didn't know it all. He knew half of the truth, that's all. Good Lord, I—I can't read it, Mr. Cable. You—please."
David Cable, white-faced and trembling, read aloud the letter from James Bansemer. It was to "My beloved son." The first appealing sentences were given to explanation and apology for the determined silence he had maintained for so many months. He spoke casually of his utter indifference to the success of certain friends who were working for his pardon. "If they secure my release," he wrote, "I shall find happiness if you clasp my hand but once before I leave America forever." Farther on he said: "I will not accept parole. It is a poor premium on virtue, and, as you know, my stock of that commodity has been miserably low."
"I may be required to serve my full term," read David Cable. "In that case, we should not see one another for years, my son. You have much to forgive and I have much more to forget. We can best see our ways to the end if we seek them apart. The dark places won't seem so black.... My sole purpose in writing this letter to you, my son, is to give back to you as much happiness as I can possibly extract from this pile of misery. I am not pleading for anything; I am simply surrendering to the good impulses that are once more coming into their own, after all these years of subjection.... I am not apologising to the Cables. I am doing this for your sake and for the girl who has wronged no one and to whom I have acted with a baseness which amazes me as I reflect upon it inside these narrow walls.
"You will recall that I would have permitted you to marry her—I mean, in the beginning. Perhaps it was spite which interposed later on. At least, be charitable enough to call it that. Clegg has been here to see me. He says you are bound to make Jane Cable your wife. I knew you would. For a long time I have held out, unreasonably, I admit, against having her as my daughter. I could not endure the thought of giving you up altogether. Don't you comprehend my thought? I cannot bring myself to look again into her eyes after what she saw in this accursed prison.... She was born in wedlock.... The story is not a long one. Elias Droom knows the names of her father and mother, but I am confident that he does not know all of the circumstances. For once, I was too shrewd for him. The story of my dealings in connection with Jane Cable is a shameful one, and I cannot hope for pardon, either from you or from her."
Here he related, as concisely as possible, the incidents attending Mrs. Cable's first visit to his office and the subsequent adoption of the babe.
"I knew that there was wealth and power behind the mystery. There was a profitable scandal in the background. Unknown to Mrs. Cable, I began investigations of my own. She had made little or no effort to discover the parents of the child. She could have had no purpose in doing so, I'll admit.... [Here he gave in detail the progress of his investigations at the Foundlings' Home, at the health office, at certain unsavory hospitals and in other channels of possibility.] ...At last, I found the doctor, and then the nurse. After that, it was easy to unearth the records of a child's birth and of a mother's death—all in New York City.... Droom can tell you the names of Jane's parents, substantiating the names I have just given to you. He did not know that they had been married nearly two years prior to the birth of the child. It was a clandestine marriage.... I went straight to the father of the foundling. He was then but little more than twenty-one years of age—a wild, ruthless, overbearing, heartless scoundrel, who had more money but a much smaller conscience than I.... To-day he is a great and, I believe, respected gentleman, for he comes of good stock.... I had him trembling on his knees before me. He told me the truth. Egad, my son, I am rather proud of that hour with him.
"It seems that this young scion of a wealthy house had lost his insecure heart to the daughter of a real aristocrat. I say real, because her father was a pure Knickerbocker of the old school. He was, naturally, as poor as poverty itself. With his beautiful daughter he was living in lower New York—barely subsisting, I may say, on the meagre income that found its way to him through the upstairs lodgers in the old home. Here lived Jane's mother, cherishing the traditions of her blood, while her father, sick and feeble, brooded over the days when he was a king in Babylon. The handsome, wayward lover came into her life when she was nineteen. They were married secretly in the city of Boston.
"The young husband imposed silence until after he had attained his majority. There was a vast fortune at stake. In plain words, his father had forbidden the marriage. He had selected another one to be the wife of his son.... Jane was born in the second year of their wedded life. It was, of course, important that the fact should be kept secret. I am inclosing a slip of paper containing the names of the minister, the doctor and the nurse who afterwards attended her, together with the record of death. It is more convenient to handle than this bulky letter—which I trust you will destroy. You will also find the name of the hospital in which Jane was born and where her mother died, ten days later. I may say, in this connection, that not one of the persons mentioned knew the true name of the young mother, nor were they sure of the fact that she was a wife. Her gravestone in the old cemetery bears the name of the maiden, not the wife. Her father never knew the truth....
"What I did in the premises need not be told. That is a part of my past. I learned how the cowardly young father, glad to be out of the affair so easily, hired the nurse to leave the baby on the doorstep. Then I went to the banker whose son he was. I had absolute proof of the marriage. He paid me well to keep the true story from reaching the public. The son was whisked abroad and he afterwards married the girl of his father's choice. I do not believe that he has ever given a thought to the whereabouts or welfare of his child. It was her heritage of caste!
"If Jane cares to claim her rights as this man's lawful daughter, proof is ample and undeniable. I fancy, however, she will find greater joy as the daughter of David Cable. Her own father has less of a heart than yours, for, after all, my son, I love you because you are mine. Love me, if you can; I have nothing else left that I care for. Remember that I am always
Your loving father,