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Out of the Ashes
by Ethel Watts Mumford
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"Is this Mr. Gard?" A sigh of relief greeted his affirmative. "Please, please, Mr. Gard, can I see you right away?"

"Where are you, Dorothy? Of course; I'm at your service always. What is it?" he asked, conscious that his own voice betrayed his agitation.

"I'm downstairs, in the building. You don't mind, do you?"

"Mind! Come up at once—or I'll send down for you."

"No—I'm coming now; thank you so much."

The receiver clicked, and Gard, anxious and puzzled, pressed the desk button for his man.

"Miss Marteen is coming. Show her in here."

A moment later Dorothy entered. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed doubled in size. She sat down in the chair he advanced for her, as if no longer able to stand erect, gave a little gasp and burst into tears.

"Dorothy, Dorothy!" begged Gard, distressed beyond measure. "Come, come, little girl, what is the matter? Tell me!"

She continued to sob, but reaching blindly for his hand, seemed to find encouragement and assurance in his firm clasp. At last she steadied herself, wiped her eyes and faced him.

"This morning," she began faintly, "a messenger brought this." From an inner pocket she took out a crumpled letter, and laid it on the table. "I didn't know what to do. Read it—read it!" she blazed. "It's too horrid—too cowardly—too wicked!"

He picked up the envelope. It was directed to Dorothy in typewritten characters. The paper was of the cheapest. He withdrew the enclosure, closely covered with typewriting, glanced over the four pages and turned to the end. Then he read through.

Gard crushed the letter in his hand in a frenzy of fury. So this—this was Mahr's objective, this the cowardly vengeance his despicable mind had evolved! He would strike his enemy through the heart of a child—he would humiliate the girl so that, with shame and horror, she would turn away from all that life held for her! He knew that if the bolt found lodgment in her heart she would consider herself a thing too low, too smirched, to face her world. The marriage, that Mahr feared and hated, would never take place. Doubtless that evidence which Mrs. Marteen had once wielded was now in his possession and with all precautions taken he was fearless of any retaliation. The obscurity and exile he suggested would be sought as the only issue from intolerable conditions. No, no, a thousand times no! Mahr had leveled his stroke at a defenseless girl, but the weapon that should parry it would be wielded by a man's strong arm, backed by all the resources of brain and wealth.

As these thoughts raced through his mind, he had been standing erect and silent, his eyes staring at the paper that crackled in his clenched fist. Dorothy's voice sounded far away repeating something. It was not till a strange hysterical note crept into her voice that he realized what she was saying.

"Speak to me, please! What shall I do? What ought I to do? Tell me, tell me!"

"Do?" he exclaimed. "Do? Why, nothing, my dear. It's a damnable, treacherous snake-in-the-grass lie! Shake it out of your pretty head, and leave me to trace this thing and deal with the scoundrel who wrote it; and I'll promise you, my dear, that it will be such punishment as will satisfy me—and I am not easily satisfied."

Dorothy rose from the table. "Mr. Gard," she whispered, "you won't think badly of me, will you, if I tell you something? And you will believe it wasn't because I believed one word of that detestable thing that I did what I did—you promise me that?"

He could feel his face grow ashen, but his voice was very gentle. "What was it, my dear? Of course I know you couldn't have noticed such a vile slander. What do you want to tell me?"

"I was frightened." Dorothy raised brimming eyes to his, pleading excuse for what she felt must seem lack of faith. "I felt as if the house were filled with dangerous people. I wanted to see how much they really knew. I never heard mother speak of the safe in the library. I didn't want to speak to Tante Lydia. I—"

Gard's heart stood still. "You went to the library and located the safe—and then?"

"The combination they give is the right one—I opened it with that. Then I was so terrified that anyone—a wicked person like that—could know so much about things in our house—I slammed it shut and ran away. I could not stay in the house another minute. I felt as if I were suffocating."

The sigh that he drew was one of immeasurable relief. "Well, you are awake now, my dear, and the goblin sha'n't chase you any more. But I'm greatly troubled about what you tell me, about your having opened the safe. I want you to come with me now. Is your aunt home? Yes? Well, I'll telephone my sister to call for her and take her out somewhere. Then we'll return, and I will take all the responsibility of what I think it's best to do. One thing is quite evident: your mother's valuables are not safe, if they haven't already been tampered with and stolen. You see—well, I'll explain as we go. I'll get rid of Mrs. Mellows first."

A few telephone calls arranged matters, and a message brought his motor from its neighboring waiting place. "You see," he continued, as the machine throbbed its way northward, "there are several possibilities. One is, that this anonymous person is mad. In that case, we can't take too many precautions. The ingenuity of the insane is proverbial. Then, this may be a vicious vengeance; someone who hates your splendid mother, and would hurt her through you. You can see that if you had believed this detestable story it would have broken her heart. Now such a person, hoping that you would investigate, would have been quite capable of stocking your mother's secret compartment with stuff that at the first glance would have seemed to substantiate the story. You see, they knew all about the combination and the inner compartment, and they must have had access to your home. They probably took you for a silly little fool, full of curiosity, and counted on the shock of falling into their trap being so great that you would be in no condition to reason matters out; that you and your mother would be hopelessly estranged, or at least that you would so hurt and distress her that they could gloat over her unhappiness. You know you are the one thing she loves in all the world, Dorothy."

He had talked looking straight ahead of him, striving to give his words judicial weight. Now he glanced down at Dorothy's face. It was calm, and a little color was returning to her cheeks. She pressed his hand fervently.

"But it's so wicked!" she repeated. "It frightens me to think of such viciousness so near to us, and we don't know and can't guess who it is."

"We'll find a clew. I'll have detectives to watch the house, and to trace the messenger who brought that letter, if possible. Say nothing to anyone, not even to Tante Lydia. Perhaps it would be best not to worry your mother at all about it. She's not well, you see. In the meantime, I'm going to take everything out of the safe, and transfer it to my own. I'll make a list. Then we'll change the combination."

"Oh, I wish I'd come to you the very first minute," sighed Dorothy. "You're such a tower of strength, and you make everything so easy and simple. I'm ashamed of my fright, and my crying like a baby. You are so good to me—I—I just love you."

For a second she rested her head on his shoulder with an abandon of childlike confidence, and his heart thrilled. His inner consciousness, however, warned him that a deeper motive than his desire to save Dorothy actuated him—he must shield the mother from the danger that had threatened the one vulnerable point in her armor of indifference, the love and respect of her child.

At the apartment, inquiry for Aunt Lydia elicited the information that the lady had that moment left in company with Miss Gard, and the two conspirators proceeded alone to the library.

Gard closed the door, drew the heavy leather curtain, and turned questioningly to Dorothy. With slow, reluctant movements she approached the wall, released the panel and exposed the front of the safe. With inexpert fingers, she set the combination and pulled back the door.

"Where is the spring?" demanded Gard. He could not bear to have her touch what might lie behind the second partition. "Here, dear, take out these jewel cases and see if they are all right." He swept the velvet and morocco boxes into her hands, and felt better as he heard their clattering fall upon the table. He paused, listening for an instant to the beating of his own heart. He pressed the spring, and with swimming eyes looked at what the shelves revealed. "Dorothy," he called, and his voice was brittle as thin glass, "take a pencil and make a list as I dictate: One package of government bonds; a sheaf of bills, marked $2,000; two small boxes, wrapped and sealed; three large envelopes, sealed; two vouchers pinned together. Have you got that? I'll take possession for the present. Make a copy of that list for me." He snapped fast the inner door, and turned as he thrust the last of the packets into an inner pocket. "Now, thank you, my dear; and how about the valuables?"

"There's nothing missing," said Dorothy, handing him a written slip, "except things I know mother took with her. So robbery wasn't the motive. I think you must be right. It's some crank. But, oh, if you only knew how afraid I am to stay here! I'm afraid of my own shadow; I'm afraid of the clock chimes; when the telephone rings I'm in a panic. Don't you think I could go away somewhere, with Tante Lydia—just go away?"

Gard grasped at the suggestion. He could be sure that she would be beyond the reach of Mahr and his poisonous vengeance until he had time to crush him once and for all.

"Yes," he nodded, "you should go away. This crank may be dangerous. We know he is cunning. You should go with your chaperon—say nothing about where to anyone, not to a soul, mind; not to the servants here, not even to Teddy Mahr. Just run down incognito to Atlantic City or Lakewood, or better still, to some little place where you are not known. Write your polite little notes, and say your first season has been too strenuous, and run away. When can you go? To-night? To-morrow morning?"

"Yes, I could be ready to-night; but what shall we say to Tante Lydia?"

"Half the truth," he answered. "I'll take the responsibility. I'll tell her I've been informed by my private people that an anonymous person has been threatening you; that they are trying to locate him; and that as he is known to be dangerous, I've advised your leaving at once and quietly. I'll tell her a few of my experiences in that line, that will make her believe that 'discretion is the better part of valor.'" He laughed bitterly. "The kind attentions I've had in the way of infernal machines and threats by telephone and letter. And I see only a few, you know. What my secretaries stop and the police get on to besides would exhaust one. It's the penalty of the limelight, my dear. But don't take this too seriously. I'll have everything in hand in a day or two. Now I'm off to put your mother's valuables in a place of safety. Let's stow those jewel cases in a handbag. Can you lend me one?" She left the room and returned presently with a traveling case, into which Gard tossed the elaborate boxes without ceremony. "I've been thinking," he said presently, "that my sister's place in Westchester is open. She goes down often for week ends. There's a train at eight that will get you in by nine-thirty, and I can telephone instructions to meet you and have everything ready. If you motored down, you see, the chauffeur would know and you must be quite incognito. It'll be dead quiet, my dear, but you need a rest, and we can keep in touch with one another so easily."

Dorothy leaned forward and gazed at him with burning eyes. "You are so good," she murmured. "Of course I'll go. I know mother would want me to—don't you think so?"

He smiled grimly. "I'm certain she would. Now here are your directions; I'll attend to all the rest. All you have to do is pack. I'll send for you." He wrote for a moment, handed Dorothy the slip and began a note of explanation for Mrs. Mellows. "There," he said, as he handed over the missive for Dorothy's approval, "that covers the case. And now, my dear, the rest is my affair, and whoever he is—may God have mercy on his soul!"

* * * * *



VIII

Early on the morning following Dorothy's hurried departure, Marcus Gard, having dismissed his valet, was finishing his dressing in the presence of Brencherly.

"I tried to get you last night," he rasped; "anyhow, you're here. What have you to report to me?"

Brencherly shook his head. "As far as I can learn, sir, there's nobody slipped in the Marteen place, sir. All the information about the safe they have they got from the manufacturers and the people who installed it—only a short time ago."

Gard frowned. "Well, I happen to know they got what they were after in the way of information. But I took the liberty of being custodian of the contents of that strong box—with Miss Marteen's permission, of course—so there is nothing more to be done in that direction. Now, have you had a man trailing Mahr? What I want is an interview with him in informal and quiet surroundings, with a view to clearing the matter up, you understand. But I'd rather not ask him for a meeting. All I know about his mode of life is: Metropolitan Club after five, usually; the Opera Monday nights. Neither of these habits will assist me in the least. I want by to-morrow a pretty good list of his engagements and a general map of his day—or perhaps you know enough now to oblige me with that information."

Brencherly cast an inquisitive look at Gard. He had never accepted Gard's explanation of his interest in Mahr's affairs.

"Well," he began slowly, "I put our men on the other end of the case—Balling, the Essex Safe Company and all that, and I went after Mahr myself. I think I can give you a fair idea of his daily life. He's at the office early—before nine, usually—and by twelve he's off, unless something unusual happens. He lunches with a club of men, as I guess you know. He goes for an hour to Tim McCurdy's, the ex-pugilist, for training. Then he's home for an hour with his secretary, going over private business and correspondence. Then he goes to the club for bridge, and in the evening he's usually out somewhere—any place that's A1 with the crowd. His son he has tied as tight to the office as any tenpenny clerk; doesn't get off till after five, and then he makes a beeline for the Marteens' or goes wherever he'll find the girl. I think—but, perhaps you know best." He paused, with one of his characteristic shuffles.

Gard noted the sign and interpreted it correctly.

"If you've got a good idea, it's worth your while," he said shortly.

Brencherly blushed as guilelessly as a girl. "Oh, it's nothing, only I think—perhaps if you want to see him alone, you might pretend some business and go to his house about the time he's there every afternoon."

"And discuss our affairs before a secretary?" sneered Gard. "You can bet Mahr'd have him in the office—I know his way."

"Well, his den is pretty near sound-proof, like yours, sir. And besides, I could arrange with Mr. Long, the secretary, to have a headache, or a bad fall, or any little thing, the day you might mention—he's a personal friend of mine."

"Well, just now I don't much care how you manage it. What I want is that interview. Is your friend, Mr. Long, a confidential secretary?"

"I don't think," said Brencherly demurely, "that Mr. Mahr is very confidential even to himself."

"Could you reach him—Mr. Long, I mean—at any time?" asked Gard—he was planning rapidly.

The detective nodded toward the telephone.

"Well," growled his employer, "could your man suggest to Mahr that he had had wind of something in Cosmopolitan Telephone? I'll see that there's a move to corroborate it by noon to-day, if Long gets in his tip early. And suggest, too, that I'm sore because he bought the Heim Vandyke; but that if he asked me to come and see it, I'd go, and he might have a chance to pump me. I happen to know that Mahr is in the telephone pool up to his eyes, and he'd do anything to get into quick communication with me. He is probably going to the club to-day, and I'll not be there—see?"

Brencherly shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, if things turn out—um—fishy, Long loses his job. But he's a good man to have well placed. I guess we could land him a berth."

Gard sickened. He could read the detective's secret satisfaction in the association of that "we" in a shady transaction. Naturally, to have a man on whom they "had something" in a place of trust might be a great asset.

"Long will be taken care of," he snapped, replacing his scarf pin for the twentieth time, and making an unspoken promise to himself to send the secretary so far away from the scene of Brencherly's activities that he would at least have a chance to begin life anew without fear of the past.

"May I?" queried Brencherly, with a jerk of his head toward the telephone.

"Rather you didn't—from here. Go out, get your man and tell me when he will tip Mahr. That means my orders in the Street. Tell him there is news of federal action. I drop out enough stock to sink the quotations a few points—it's the truth, too, hang it! But it won't get very far."

A crafty smile curled the detective's lips as he rose to go. "Very good, sir. We'll pull it off all right. I suppose the office will find you?"

"Yes," said Gard. "And I see you intend to take a flier on your inside information. Well, all I say is, don't hang on too long. Get busy now; there's no time to waste."

He rang for his valet to show the man out, descended to the dining room, dispatched his simple breakfast and turned his face and thoughts officeward. With that move came the thought of Washington. He cast it from him angrily, yet when the swirl of business affairs closed around him he experienced a certain pleasure and relief in stemming its tides and battling with its current. True, the current was swift and boded the whirlpool, but the rage that was in him seemed to give him added strength, added foresight. At least in this struggle he was gaining, mastering the flood and directing it to his will. Would his mastery be proven in this other and more personal affair? He set his teeth and redoubled his efforts, intent on proving his own power to himself. Even as Napoleon believed in his star, Gard trusted in his luck, and it was with a smothered laugh of sardonic satisfaction that news of the first move in his campaign came over the wire.

"My man has tipped his hand," came Brencherly's voice. "The other one is more than interested—excited. Make your cast and you get a bite on your picture bait."

Gard telephoned his orders to several brokers to sell and sell quickly and make no secret of it, then returned to work with a laugh upon his lips.

Contrary to his habit he remained in his office during the luncheon hour, having a tray sent in. He was to remain invisible. Mahr would doubtless make every effort to find him by what might appear accident. Later a message, asking him to join a bridge game at the Metropolitan Club, caused him to chuckle. His would-be host was a friend of Mahr's. He answered curtly that he was sick of wasting his time at cards, and had decided to drop it for a while, hanging up the receiver so abruptly that the conversation ceased in the midst of a word. An hour later Mahr addressed him over the wire.

"Ah, Gard, is that you? I called you up to tell you the Heim Vandyke has just been sent up to me. I hear you were interested in it yourself, though you saw only the photograph. Don't you want to stop in on your way uptown and see it? It's a gem. You'll be sorry you didn't bid on it. But, joking aside, you're the connoisseur whose opinion I want. I don't give a continental about the dealers; they'll fill you up with anything." Gard growled a brief acceptance. "I'll be glad to see you. Good-by."

Abruptly he terminated his interviews and conferences, adjourning all business till the following day. Mentioning an hour when, if necessary, he might be found in his home, he dismissed his officials, slipped into his overcoat, secured his hat, turned at the door of his private office, muttering something about his stick, and, quickly crossing the room, opened a drawer of his writing table and drew forth a small, snub-nosed revolver. He hesitated a moment, tossed it back, and squaring his shoulders strode from the room.

Half an hour later he entered the spacious lobby of Victor Mahr's ostentatious dwelling.

"Mr. Mahr is expecting you, sir," said the solemn servant, who conducted him to a vast anteroom, hung with trophies of armor, and bowed him into a second room, book-lined and businesslike, evidently the secretary's private office, deserted now and in some confusion, as if the occupant had left in haste. The servant crossed to a door opposite, and having discreetly knocked and announced the distinguished visitor, bowed and retired. The lackey would have taken Gard's overcoat and hat, but he retained his hold upon them, as if determined that his stay should be short.

Mahr rose to greet him, his hand extended. Gard's impedimenta seemed to preclude the handshake, and the host hastened to insist upon his guest being relieved.

Gard shook his head. "I have only a moment to inspect your picture, Mahr," he said coldly.

"Oh, no, don't say that. Have a highball; you will find everything on the table. What can I give you? This Scotch is excellent."

"No," said Gard sternly. "Excuse me; I am here for one purpose."

Mahr was chagrined, but switched on the electric lights above the canvas occupying the place of honor on the crowded wall. The portrait stood revealed, a jewel of color, rich as a ruby, mysterious as an autumn night, vivid in its humanity, divine in its art, palpitating with life, yet remote as death itself. The marvelous canvas glowed before them—a thing to quell anger, to stifle love, to still hate itself in an impulse of admiration.

Suddenly Marcus Gard began to laugh, as he had laughed that day long ago, at his own discomfiture.

"What is it?" stuttered Mahr, amazed. "Don't you think it genuine?" There was panic in his tone.

Gard laughed again, then broke off as suddenly as he had begun; and passion thrilled in his voice as he turned fierce eyes upon his enemy.

"I am laughing at the singular role this painting has played in my life. We have met before—the Heim Vandyke and I. If Fate chooses to turn painter, we must grind his colors, I suppose. But what I intend to grind first, is you, Victor Mahr! You—you cowardly hound! No—stand where you are; don't go near that bell. It's hard enough for me to keep my hands off you as it is!"

The attack had been so unexpected that Mahr was honestly at a loss to account for it. He looked anxiously toward the door, remembered the absence of his secretary and gasped in fear. He was at the mercy of the madman. With an effort he mastered his terror.

"Don't be angry," he stammered. "Don't be annoyed with me; it's all a mistake, you know. Are you—are you feeling quite well? Do let me give you something—a—a glass of champagne, perhaps. I'll call a servant."

Gard's smile was so cruel that Mahr's worst fears were confirmed. But the torrent of accusation that burst from Gard's lips bore him down with the consciousness of the other's knowledge.

"You scoundrel!" roared the enraged man. "You squirming, poisonous snake! You would strike at a woman through her daughter, would you! You would send anonymous letters to a child about her mother! You would hire sneaks for your sneaking vileness!—coward, brute that you are! Well, I know it all—all, I say. And as true as I live, if ever you make one move in that direction again, I shall find it out, and I will kill you! But first I'll go to your boy, Victor Mahr, and I shall tell him: 'Your father is a criminal—a bigamist. Your mother never was his wife. Sneak and beast from first to last, he found it easier to desert and deceive. You are the nameless child of an outcast father, the whelp of a cur.' I'll say in your own words, Victor Mahr: 'Obscurity is best, perhaps, even exile.' Do you remember those words? Well, never forget them again as long as you live, or, by God, you'll have no time on earth to make your peace!"

Mahr's face was gray; his hands trembled. He looked at that moment as if the death the other threatened was already come upon him. There was a moment of silence, intense, charged with the electricity of emotions—a silence more sinister than the noise of battles. Twice Mahr attempted to speak, but no sound came from his contracted throat. Slowly he pulled himself together. A look awful, inhuman, flashed over his convulsed features. Words came at last, high, cackling and cracked, like the voice of senility.

"It's you—it's you!" he quavered. "So she told you everything, did she? So you and she—"

The sentence ended in a hoarse gasp, as Mahr launched himself at Gard with the spring of an animal goaded beyond endurance.

Gard was the larger man, and his wrath had been long demanding expression. They closed with a jar that rocked the electric lamp on the desk. There was a second of straining and uncertainty. Then with a jerk Gard lifted his adversary clear off his feet, and shook him, shook him with the fury of a bulldog, and as relentlessly. Then, as if the temptation to murder was more than he could longer resist, he flung him from him.

Mahr fell full length upon the heavy rug, limp and inert, yet conscious.

Gard stooped, picked up his hat and gloves from where they had fallen and turned upon his heel.

At that moment the outside door of the secretary's office opened and closed, and footsteps sounded in the room beyond.

"Get up," said Gard quietly, "unless you care to have them see you there."

The sound had acted like magic upon the prostrate man. He did not need the admonition. He had already dragged his shaking body to an upright position, ere he slowly sank down into the embrace of one of the huge armchairs.

A quick knock was followed by the appearance of Teddy Mahr. The room was in darkness save for the light on the table and the clustered radiance concentrated upon the glowing portrait, that had smiled down remote and serene upon the scene just enacted, as it had doubtless gazed upon many another as strange.

"Father!" exclaimed the boy, and as he came within the ring of light, his face showed pale and anxious.

Gard did not give him time for a reply. "Good evening," he said. "I have been admiring the Vandyke. A wonderful canvas, and one thing that your father may well be proud of."

At the sound of the voice the young man turned and advanced with an exclamation of welcome. "Mr. Gard, the very one I most wanted to see. Tell me—what is the matter? Where has Dorothy gone? I've been to the house, and either they don't know or they won't tell me. She didn't let me know. I can't understand it. For heaven's sake, tell me! Nothing is wrong, is there?"

"Why, of course, you should know, Teddy." For the first time he used the familiar term. "I quite forgot about you young people. You see, Dorothy received threatening letters from some crank, and as we weren't sure what might occur I sent her off. Mahr, shall I tell your son?"

He turned to where the limp figure showed huddled in the depths of red upholstery. There was a question and a threat in the measured words.

"Of course, tell him Miss Marteen's address," and in that answer there was a prayer.

"Then here." Gard wrote a few words on his card and gave it into the boy's eager hand. "Run up and see her. She's with her aunt. I can bring her home any time now, however. We've located the trouble and got the man under restraint. Good-night."

* * * * *



IX

Though the heat in the Pullman was intense the tall woman in the first seat was heavily veiled. She had come out from the drawing room to allow more freedom to her maid, who was packing a dressing-case and rolling up steamer rugs. Her fellow travelers eyed her with curiosity. She was doubtless some great and exclusive personage, for she had not appeared in public, not even in the diner. She sank into the vacant seat with an air of hopeless weariness, yet her restless hands never ceased their groping, her slim fingers slipped in and out, in and out of the loop of her long neck chain, or nervously twined one with another in endless intertouch.

The long journey north was over at last. The weary days and nights of hurried travel. Only a moment more and the familiar sights and sounds of the great city would greet her once again. She was going home—to what? Mrs. Marteen did not dare to picture the future. Pursued, as if by the Furies themselves, she had been driven, madly, blind with suffering, back to the scene of disaster—to know—to know—the worst, perhaps—but to know!

Day and night, night and day, her iron will had fought the fever that burned in her veins. Silent, self-controlled, she had given no sign of her suffering and her terror, though her eyes were ringed with sleeplessness and her mouth had grown stiff with its effort to command. The tension was torture. Her heart strings were drawn to the snapping point; her mind was a bowstring never relaxed, till every fiber of her resistant body ached for relief.

At last they had arrived. At last the hollow rumble of the train in the vast echoing station warned her of her journey's end. Instinctively she gave her orders, thrusting her baggage checks into the hands of her maid.

"I'm going on at once," she said. "Attend to everything. Give me my little necessaire. I don't feel quite well, and I want to get home as quickly as possible."

She hurried away before the servant could ask a question, and was directed to the open cab stand. As she stepped in, she reeled. Trepidation took hold upon her, but with enforced calm, she seated herself, and gave the address to the starter. As the motor drew away from the great buildings, she threw back her veil for the first time, and opened a window. The rush of cool air revived her somewhat, but her heart beat spasmodically, her blood seemed a thin, unliving stream. Street after street slipped by like a panorama on a screen, familiar, yet unreal. The world, her world, had changed in its essence, in its every manifestation.

At last the taxi drew up before the door of her home—was it home still? she wondered. Her hand trembled so she could not unfasten the latch, and the chauffeur, descending from his seat, came to her assistance.

"Wait," she said in a strangled voice. "Wait; I may want you."

At the door of her apartment she had to pause, before she rang, to gather courage, to obtain control of her whirling brain. At last the ornate door swung inward and her butler faced her with welcoming eye.

"Mrs. Marteen! Pray pardon the undress livery! No word had been received."

She took note of the darkened rooms. Only one switch, whose glow she had seen turned on as the servant came to the door, gave light. The place was hollow and unlived in as an outworn shell.

"Miss Dorothy?" she said, striving to give her voice a natural tone.

The butler h'mmed. "Miss Dorothy has gone, Madam, with Madam's sister—since yesterday. They left no address, and said nothing about when they might be expected. Mr. Gard had been with Miss Dorothy in the afternoon."

Mrs. Marteen caught hold of the broad and solid back of a carved hall chair and stood motionless, leaning her full weight on its ancient oak for support.

"That's all right, Stevens," she said at length. "You needn't notify the other servants that I have returned—for the present. I'm going right out again. I just stopped in for some important papers I may have need of. Just light the hall and the library, will you?"

With the falling of the sword that severed her last hope a new self-possession came to her—the quiet of despair. Her brain cleared, her fevered pulse became normal, the weariness that had racked her frame passed from her. She only asked to be alone for a little—alone with her love and her memories. She quarreled no more with Fate.

The butler preceded her, lighting the way. At the door of the library, she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. Calmly she entered and softly closed the door behind her. In the blaze of the electrics she saw every nook and corner of the room—photographically—every tone and color, every glint and gleam, but her mind fastened itself with remorseless logic to one thing only—the sliding panel. In her distracted vision it seemed to move, to slip back even as she gazed. The grain of the wood appeared to writhe, to creep up and down and ripple as if with the evil life of what lay behind. She forced herself to walk across the room to lay her weakened fingers, from which all sense of touch seemed to have withdrawn, upon that vibrating panel. The face of the safe stood revealed. Slowly with growing fear she turned the numbers of the combination and paused—she could not face the ordeal, but with the releasing of the clutch, the weight of the door caused it to open slowly, as if an invisible force drew it outward and Mrs. Marteen saw before her the empty shelves within. As if in a dream she pressed the spring, and realized that the carefully planned hiding place, was hiding place no more. She stood still with outstretched arms, as if crucified. The mute evidence of that opened door was not to be refuted. Her enemy had triumphed; her own sin had found her out. No self-pity eased the awful moments. Hot pity poured in upon her heart, but not for herself in this hour of misery—but for her daughter, for the innocent sweet soul of truth, whose faith had been shattered, whose deepest love had been betrayed, whose belief in honor had been destroyed. Where had she fled? Into whose heart had she poured the torrent of her grief and shame? Could there be one thought of love, of forgiveness? Ah, she was a mother no longer. She had sold her sacred trust. She had no rights, no privileges. She must go—go quickly, efface herself forever. That was her duty, that was the only way. Like a mortally wounded creature, she thought only of some small, cramped, sheltered corner, some lair wherein to die.

With an effort she turned from the room, closed the door, and stood uncertain where to turn. Down the corridor, at its far end, was Dorothy's room. The thought drew her. She turned the knob, found the switch, and hesitated on the thresh-hold. Should she go in? Should she, the sin-stained soul, dare profane the sanctuary, the virginal altar of the pure in heart! Yes—ah, yes!—for this last time! She was a mother still.

She entered, and cast herself on her knees by the little pink and white bed. She had no tears—the springs of relief were dried in the flame of her heart's hell. She found Dorothy's pillow, a mass of dainty embroidery and foolish frills. She laid her hot cheek on its cool linen surface. In a passion of loss she kissed each leaf and rose of its needlework garland.

Then she rose to her feet. She must go, she must disappear—now, and forever from the world that had known her. She would send one message when the time came—one message—to the one man she trusted, to the one man who would fulfill her wish—that in the years to come, his watchful care should guard her child from further harm. But that, too, must wait. She rose to her feet, and crossed to the dressing-table. There was Dorothy's picture—her little girl's picture, the one she preferred to all the others. She slipped it from its silver frame, and clasped it to her breast. She could not bear to look upon the room as she left it. She turned off the light, and crept away like a thief. She was trembling now. The calmness that had been hers as she heard her death sentence, was gone. Her overtaxed body and mind rebelled. It was with difficulty that she made her way through the deserted rooms and stumbled to the street and the waiting cab.

"Where to?" the chauffeur asked.

She gave the name of one of the large hotels. Yes, once in some such caravanserai, she might elude all pursuit. In one door and out of another—and who was to find her trace in the seething mass of the city's life? The simple transaction of paying her fare, and entering the hotel became strangely difficult. Words eluded her, she was conscious that the chauffeur eyed her oddly as he handed her her bag.

Then came a blank. She found herself once more out-of-doors, in an unfamiliar cross street. She saw a number on a lamppost, and realized that she had walked many blocks. She imagined that she was pursued—someone was lurking behind her in the shadow of an area—someone had peeped at her from behind drawn blinds. She started to run, but her bursting heart restrained her. She tried to still its beating; it seemed loud, clamorous as a drum; everyone must hear it and wonder what consciousness of guilt could make a heart beat so loudly in one's breast. She began walking again as rapidly as she dared. She must not attract attention. She must not let the shadows that followed her know that she feared them. If they guessed her panic they would lurk no longer; they would crowd close, rush upon her in vaporous throngs, stifling her like hot smoke.

She paused for breath in her painful flight. The glare from the entrance of a moving picture show fell upon her. Somehow, in that light she felt safe. The shadows could not cross its yellow glare. She breathed more easily for a moment, then became tense. A man was coming out of the white and gold ginger-bread entrance, like a maggot from some huge cake. The man was small, middle-aged, dark, with unwieldy movements and evil, predatory eyes—"Like Victor Mahr!" she said aloud; "like Victor Mahr!" The man passed before her and was gone from the circle of light into the darkness of the outer street. She gave a gasp, and her mad eyes dilated. The suggestion had gripped her. Sudden furious hate entered her soul. Victor Mahr—her enemy! The cause of all her heart break. She had forgotten how or why this was the case; but she knew herself the victim—he, the torturer. She wanted vengeance, she wanted relief from her own torment. It was he who held the key to the whole trouble. She must find him out. She must tear it from him. She strove to think clearly, to remember where she might find him. She started walking again; standing still would not find him, that was certain. Unconsciously she followed the directions her subconscious mind offered. As she walked, there came a sense of approval. She was on the right track now. Her footfalls became less dragging and aimless. She was going somewhere—to a definite place, where she would find something vastly necessary, imperative to her very life.

She neared a church; passed it. Yes, that was right. It was a landmark on her road. A white archway loomed before her in the gloom. Her journey's end—her journey's end! With that realization fatigue mastered her. She must rest before making any further effort, or she could not accomplish anything. Her limbs refused to do her bidding. The weight of her traveling case had become a crushing burden. But before she rested she must find something important that she had come so far to see—a house, a large house—what house?

She looked about her at the stately mansions fronting the square. Then recognition leaped into her eyes, and she sank upon a bench facing the familiar entrance. Now she could afford to wait. Her enemy could not escape while she sat watching. He—could—not—escape—

* * * * *



X

As Marcus Gard stood upon the steps of Mahr's residence, and heard the soft closing of its door behind him, he shut his eyes, drew himself erect and breathed deep of the keen, cold air. A rush of youth expanded every vein and artery. He experienced the physical and mental exultation of the strong man who has met and conquered his enemy. The mere personal expression of his anger had relieved him. He felt strong, alert, almost happy. He descended to the street and turned his steps homeward. At last something was accomplished. The serpent's fangs were drawn. He experienced a cynical amusement in the thought that the path of true love had been smoothed by such equivocal means. Neither of the children would ever know of the shadows that had gathered so closely around them.

But, Mrs. Marteen—what of her? Again the longing came upon him—to know her awake to herself and to her own soul; to know the predatory instinct forever quieted, that upsurging of some remote inconscience of the race's history of rapine in the open, and acquisition by stealth, forever conquered; to know her spirit triumphant. The momentary joy of successful battle passed, leaving him deeply troubled. All his fears returned. The sense of impending disaster, that had withdrawn for the moment, overwhelmed him once more.

He entered his own home absently, listened, abstracted, to the various items Saunders thought important enough to mention, dismissed him, and turned wearily to a pile of personal mail. His eye caught a familiar handwriting on a thick envelope.

From Mrs. Marteen evidently—postmarked St. Augustine. He broke the seal, wondering how her letter came to bear that mark. What change had been made in her plans? He hesitated, panic-stricken, like a woman before an unexpected telegram. He withdrew the enclosure, noting at a glance a variety of papers—the appearance of a diary.

"Dear, dear friend," it began, "I must write—I must, and to you, because you know—you know, and yet you have made me your friend—to you, because you love my little girl. They are killing me, killing me through her. I'm coming home, as fast as I can; I don't yet know how, for I'm heading the other way, and I can't stop the steamer, but I'm coming. I received a message, the second day out. It had been given to the purser for delivery and marked with the date—that's nothing unusual; I've had steamer letters delivered, one each day, during a whole crossing. I never gave it a thought when he handed it to me, I never divined. It seems to me now that I should have sensed it. I read it, and—but how to tell you? I have it here; I'll send it to you."

A sheet of notepaper was pinned to the letter. Sick at heart, Gard unfastened it. Mahr's name appeared at the bottom. Gard read: "Dear lady, you forgot to give your daughter the combination of the jewel safe and its inner compartment before you sailed. I am attending to that for you, and have no doubt that she will at once inventory the contents. We are always glad to return favors conferred upon us."

Gard's heart stood still. A sweeping regret invaded him that he had not slain the man when his hands were upon him. He threw the note aside and turned again to Mrs. Marteen's letter.

"You see," he read, "there is nothing for me to do. A wireless to Dorothy? She has doubtless had the information since the hour of my departure. What can I do? I have thought of you; but how make you, who know nothing of Victor Mahr, understand anything in a message that would not reveal all to everyone who must aid in its transmission? That at least mustn't happen. I am praying every minute that she will go to you—you, who know and have tolerated me. I can't bear for her to know—I can't—it's killing me! My heart contracts and stops when I think of it."

Further down the page, in another ink, evidently written later, was a single note:

"I've left a message with the wireless operator, a sort of desperate hope that it may be of some use—to Dorothy, telling her to consult you on all matters of importance. I've written one to you, telling you to find her. The man says he'll send them out as soon as he gets into touch with anyone."

A still later entry:

"Two P.M.—I'm in my cabin all the time. I think that I shall go mad. That sounds conventional, doesn't it—reminiscent of melodrama! I assure you it's worse than real. I feel as if for years and years I've been asleep, and now've wakened up into a nightmare. I can write to you; that's the one thing that gives me relief. Your kindness seems a shield behind which I can crawl. I can't sleep; I can only—not think—no, it isn't thinking I do—it's realizing—and everything is terrible. The sunlight makes ripples on my cabin ceiling; they weave and part and wrinkle. I try to fix my attention on them, and hypnotize myself into lethargy. Sometimes I almost succeed, and then I begin realizing again. And in the night I stare at the electric light till my eyes ache, and try to numb my thoughts. Must my little girl know what I am? Can't that be averted? I know it can't—I know, and yet I pray and pray—I—pray!"

Another sheet, evidently torn from a pad: "The wireless is out of order; they couldn't send my messages. You don't know the despair that has taken hold of me. My mind feels white—that's the only way I can describe it—cold and white—frozen, a blank. My body is that way, too. I hold my hands to the light, and it doesn't seem as if there was even the faintest red. They are the hands of a dead person—I wish they were! But I must know—must know. We are due in Havana to-morrow. I shall take the first boat out—to anywhere, where I can get a train, that's the quickest. Oh, you, who have so often told me I must stop and think and realize things! Did you know what it was you wanted me to do? Have you any idea what torture is? You couldn't! I don't believe even Mahr would have done this to me—if he had known; nobody could—nobody could. Now, all sorts of things are assailing me; not only the horror that Dorothy should know, but the horror of having done such things. I can't feel that it was I; it must have been somebody else. Why, I couldn't have; it's impossible; and yet I did, I did, I did! Sometimes I laugh, and then I am frightened at myself—I did it just then; it was at the thought that here am I, writing letters—I, who have always thought letters that incriminate were the weakness of fools, the blind spot of intelligence—I, who have profited by letters—written in anger, in love, in the passion of money-getting—everything—I'm writing—writing from my bursting heart. Ah, you wanted me to realize; I'm fulfilling your wish. Oh, good, kind soul that you are, forgive me! I'm clinging to the thought of you to save me; I'm trusting in you blindly. It's five days since I left."

The sheet that followed was on beflagged yachting paper:

"What luck! I happened on the Detmores the moment I landed. They were just sailing. I transferred to them. I'm on board and homeward bound. We reach St. Augustine to-morrow night; then I'm coming through as fast as I can. I've thought it all over now. Since the wireless messages weren't sent, I shall send no cable or telegram. I shall find out what the situation is, and perhaps it will be better for me just to disappear. It may be best that Dorothy shall never see me again. I shall go straight home. I'm posting this in St. Augustine; it will probably go on the same train with me. When you receive this and have read it, come to me. I shall need you, I know—but perhaps you won't care to; perhaps you won't want to be mixed up in an affair that may already be the talk of the town. It's one thing to know a criminal who goes unquestioned and another to befriend one revealed and convicted. Don't come, then. I am at the very end of my endurance now. What sort of a wreck will walk into that disgraced home of mine? And still I pray and pray—"

Gard stood up. A sudden dizziness seized him. Go to her! Of course he must, at once, at once; there was not a moment to be lost. He calculated the length of time the letter had taken to reach him since its delivery in the city—hours at least. And she had returned home to find—what? He almost cried out in his anguish—to find Dorothy gone, no one at the house knew where. What must she think?

He snatched up the telephone and called her number, his voice shaking in spite of his effort to control it.

The butler answered. Yes; madam had returned suddenly; had gone to the library for something; had asked for Miss Dorothy, and when she heard she was away, had made no comment, and left shortly afterwards. Yes, she appeared ill, very ill.

"I'm coming over," Gard cut in. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

He rang, ordered the servant to stop the first taxi, seized his coat and hat, left a peremptory order to his physician not to be beyond call, tumbled into his outer garments and made for the street. The taxi sputtered at the curb, but just as he dashed down the steps a limousine drew up, and Denning sprang from its opened door. His hand fell heavily upon Gard's shoulder as he stooped to enter the cab. Gard turned, his overwrought nerves stinging with the shock of the other's restraining touch.

Denning's hand fell, for the face of his friend was distorted beyond recognition. The words his lips had framed to speak died upon his tongue, as with a furious heave Gard shook him off, entered the cab and slammed the door. Denning stood for a moment surprised into inaction, then, with an order to follow, he leaped into his own car and started in pursuit.

When Gard reached the familiar entrance, his anxiety had grown, like physical pain, almost to the point where human endurance ceases and becomes brute suffering. He felt cornered and helpless. At the door of Mrs. Marteen's apartment a sort of unreasoning rage filled him. To ring; the bell seemed a futility; he wanted to break in the painted glass and batter down the door. The calm expression of the butler who answered his summons was like a personal insult. Were they all mad that they did not realize?

"Where is Mrs. Marteen?" he demanded hoarsely.

The servant shook his head. "She left two hours ago, at least," he answered, with a glance toward the hall clock.

"What did she say—what message did she leave?" Gard pushed by him impatiently, making for the stairs leading to the upper floor and the library.

The butler stared. "Why, nothing, sir. She asked for Miss Dorothy, and when none of us could tell her where she went, or why—which we all thought queer enough, sir—she didn't seem surprised; so I suppose she knows, sir. Madam just went upstairs to the library first, and then to Miss Dorothy's room—the maid saw her, sir—and then she came down and went out. She had on a heavy veil, but she looked scarce fit to stand for all that, and she went—never said a word about her baggage or anything—just went out to the cab that was waiting. Then about a half hour later, Mary, her maid, came in with the boxes. I hope there's nothing wrong, sir?"

Gard listened, his heart tightening with apprehension. "Call White Plains, 56," he ordered sharply. "Tell Miss Dorothy to come at once and then send for me, quick, now!" he commanded; and as the wondering flunky turned toward the telephone, he sprang up the stairs, threw open the library door and entered. The electric lights were blazing in the heat and silence of the closed room. The odor of violets hung reminiscent in the stale air. The panel by the mantelpiece was thrust back, and the door of the safe, so uselessly concealed, hung open, revealing the empty shelves within and the deep shadow of the inner compartment. He saw it all in a flash of understanding; the frantic woman's rush to the place of concealment,—the ravaged hiding place. What could she argue, but that all that her enemy had planned had befallen? Her child knew all, and had gone—fled from her and the horror of her life, leaving no sign of forgiveness or pity.

Sick, and faint, Gard turned away. One door in the corridor stood open, left so, he divined, by the hurried passing of the mother from the empty nest, Dorothy's room, all pink and white and girlish in its simplicity. One fragrant pillow, with its dainty embroidered cover, was dented, as if still warm from the burning cheek that had pressed it in an agony of loss. Nothing about the chamber was displaced; only an empty photograph frame lying upon the dressing table told of the trembling, pale hands that had bereft it of its jewel. She had taken her little girl's picture with the heartbroken conviction that never again would she see its original, or that those girlish eyes would look upon her again save in fear and loathing. The empty case dropped from his hands to the silver-crowded, lace-covered table; he was startled to see in the mirror, hung with its frivolous load of cotillion favors and dance cards, his own face convulsed with grief, and turned, appalled, from his own image. His resourceful brain refused its functions. He could not guess her movements after that silent, definitive leave taking. He could but picture her tall, erect figure, outwardly composed and nonchalant, as she must have stood, facing the outer world, looking out to what—to what? A mad hope rose in his breast. Would she turn to him? Would her instinctive steps lead her to seek his protection.

Yes. He must be where she could find him; he must be within reach. It could not be that she would pass thus silently into some unknown life—or— He would not concede the other possibility.

Turning blindly from the room, he descended to the lower floor, where the butler, with difficulty suppressing his curiosity, informed him that Miss Dorothy had answered that she would return to town at once.

Gard hesitated, then turned sharply upon the servant. "Your mistress has been ill, as you know. We have reason to believe that she is not quite herself. If you learn anything of her, notify me at once. No matter what orders she may give, you understand, or no matter how slight the clew—send for me."

Once again in the street, he paused, uncertain. His eye fell upon Denning's limousine drawn up behind his waiting cab. Fury at this espionage sent him toward it. Thrusting his face In at the open window, he glared at his pursuer.

"What are you here for?" he snarled.

Denning looked at him coldly. "To see that you keep faith, that's all. Your personal concerns must wait. Have you forgotten that you are to take the midnight train to Washington? I'm here to see that you do it."

Gard wrenched open the door of the car. "You are, are you? Let the whole damned thing go!" he cried. "Send your proxies. This is a matter of life and death!"

"I know it," said Denning; "it is—to a lot of people who trust you; and you are going to do your duty if I have to kidnap you to do it. You have two hours before your train leaves. My private car is waiting for you. Make what plans you like till then; but I'll not leave you; neither will Langley—he's following you, too. Come, buck up. Are you mad that you desert in the face of shipwreck?"

Gard turned suddenly, ordered his taxi to follow and got in beside Denning. His mood and voice were changed. "I've got to think. Don't speak to me. Get me home as soon as you can."

He leaned back, closed his eyes and concentrated all his energies. In the first place, Denning was right—he must not desert, even with his own disaster close upon him. He owed his public his life, if necessary. As a king must go to the defense of his people in spite of every private grief or necessity, so he must go now. The very form of his decision surprised him. He realized that his yearning for another soul's awakening had awakened his own soul. He had willed her a conscience and developed one himself. But, his decision reached with that sudden precision characteristic of him, his anxious fears demanded that every possible precaution be taken, every effort made that could tend to save or relieve the desperate situation he must leave behind him. First of all his physician—to him he must speak the truth, and to him alone. Brencherly should be his active tool. Mahr must be impressed.

Springing from the motor at his own door, he snapped an order to his butler, and sent him with the cab to bring the doctor instantly. Once in the library, he telephoned for the detective. He then called up Victor Mahr, requested that however late he might call, a visitor be admitted at once, on a matter of the first importance and received the assurance that his wishes would be complied with; he asked Denning, who had followed him, to wait in another room, thrust back the papers on his table and settled himself to write.

"No one knows anything," he scrawled, "neither Dorothy nor anyone else." With succinct directness he covered the whole story—explained, elucidated. Through every word the golden thread of his deep devotion glowed steadily. Would the letter ever reach her? Would her eyes ever see the reassuring lines? He refused to believe his efforts useless. She must come. He sealed and directed the letter, as Brencherly was admitted. Gard turned and eyed the young man sharply, wondering how much, how little he dared tell him.

"Brencherly," he said slowly, "I'm giving you the biggest commission of your life. You've got to take my place here, for I'm going to the front. I've got to rely on you, and if you fail me, well, you know me—that's enough. Now, I want discretion first, last and all the time. Then I want foresight, tact, genius—everything in you that can think and plan. Here are the facts: Mrs. Marteen has come back—suddenly. She's been ill. Her mind, from all I can learn, is affected. She has delusions; she may have suicidal mania. She has disappeared, and she must be found—as secretly as possible. Her delusions and illness must not become a newspaper headline. I needn't tell you it would make 'a story.' There's one chance in fifty that she may come here, or telephone for me. You are not to leave this room. Answer that telephone—you know her voice, don't you? You are to tell her that I have her letter and she has nothing to worry about; that I have had charge of all her affairs in her absence; that her daughter knows of her return and wants her at once. Tell her that I have left a letter for her—this one. When Miss Marteen calls up, tell her to go to her home; that her mother has come back, but has left again, and is ill; that I'm doing all in my power to find her. Tell her to call me at once on the long distance telephone to Washington, at the New Willard. Wherever I have to be I'll arrange that I can be called at once. Do you understand?

"Dr. Balys will be here in a few moments. He will have the hospitals canvassed. If you locate her, Brencherly, send my doctor to her at once. Get her to her own apartment, and don't let her talk. I want you to pick a man to watch the morgue; to look up every case of reported suicide that by any chance might be Mrs. Marteen—here or in other cities." Gard felt the blood leave his heart as he said the words, though there was no quaver in his voice. "If they should find her, don't let her identity be known if there is any chance of concealing it, not until you reach me. Don't let Miss Marteen know. Put another man on the hotel arrivals. She left St. Augustine—Here—" He—jotted down times and dates on a slip. "Work on that. Keep the police off. I'll have Balys stay here, unless he locates her in any of the hospitals. My secretary is yours; and there are half a dozen telephones in the house; you can keep 'em all going. But, mind, there must be no leak. Watch her apartment, too. Question her maid up there. Of course that letter on the table there might interest you, but I think I had better trust you, since I make you my deputy. This is no small matter, Brencherly. Honesty is the best policy—and there are rewards and punishments."

The strain of grief and anxiety had set its mark on Gard's face. His deadly earnestness and evident effort at self-control sent a thrill of pitying admiration through the detective's hardened indifference. A rush of loyalty filled his heart; he wanted to help, without thought of reward or punishment. He felt hot shame that his calling had deserved the suspicion his employer cast upon it.

"I'll do my honest best," he said with such dear-eyed sincerity that Gard smiled wanly and held out his hand.

"Thank you," he said simply.

The interview with the doctor lasted another half-hour. Time seemed to fly. Another hour and he must leave to others the quest that his soul demanded. Unquestioning and determined, Denning took him once more in the limousine. They were silent during the drive to Victor Mahr's address. Gard descended before the house, leaving Denning in the car.

"Don't worry," he said as he closed the door of the automobile. "I'll not be long; I give you my word."

Denning smiled. "That's all that's wanted in Washington, old man. You've got a quarter of an hour to spare."

Denning switched on the electric light and, taking a bundle of papers from his inside pocket, began to pencil swift annotation.

Gard ran lightly up the steps. It was quite on the cards that Mrs. Marteen in her anguish and despair might make an effort to see and upbraid the man whose hatred and vengeance had wrecked her life. Mahr must be warned of all that had taken place, and schooled to meet the situation—to confess at once that his plans had been thwarted, that his tongue was forever bound to silence and that his intended victim was free. He, Marcus Gard, must dictate every word that might be said, foresee every possible form in which a meeting might come, and dictate the terms of Mahr's surrender. Words and sentences formed and shifted in his mind as he waited impatiently for his summons to be answered. The butler bowed, murmuring that Mr. Mahr was expecting Mr. Gard, and preceded him across the anteroom to the well-remembered door of the inner sanctum, which he threw open before the guest, and retired silently.

Closing the door securely behind him, Gard turned toward the sole occupant of the room. Mahr did not heed his coming nor rise to greet him. The ticking of the carved Louis XV clock on the mantel seemed preternaturally loud in the oppressive silence.

Suddenly and unreasonably Gard choked with fear. In one bound he crossed the room and stood staring down at the face of his host. For an instant he stood paralyzed with amazement and horror. Then, as always, when in the heart of the tempest, he became calm, and his mind, as if acting under some heroic stimulant, became intensely clarified. Mahr was dead. He leaned forward and lifted the head; the body was still warm, and it fell forward, limp and heavy. On the left temple was a large contusion and a slight cut. The cause was not far to seek. On the table lay an ancient flintlock pistol, somewhat apart from a heap of small arms belonging to an eighteenth century trophy.

Murder! Murder—and Mrs. Marteen! His imagination pictured her beautiful still face suddenly becoming maniacal with fury and pain. Gard suppressed an exclamation. Well, he would swear Mahr was alive at half after eleven, when he had seen him. If anyone knew of her coming before that, she would be cleared. No one knew of his own feud with Mahr; no one suspected it. His word would be accepted.

Mahr's face, repulsive in life, was hideous in death—a mask of selfishness, duplicity and venomous cunning from which departing life had taken its one charm of intelligence. He looked at the wound again. The blow must have been sudden and of great force. Acting on an impulse, he tiptoed to one of the curtained windows, unlocked the fastening and raised it slightly. A robbery—why not? Silently moving back into the room, he approached the corpse and with nervous rapidity looted the dead man of everything of value, leaving the torn wallet, a wornout crumpled affair, lying on the floor. He opened and emptied the table drawers, as if a hurried search had been made. Slipping the compromising jewels into his overcoat pocket, he turned about and faced the room like a stage manager judging of a play's setting. The luxurious furnishings, the long mahogany table warmly reflecting the lights of the heavily shaded lamp; the wide, gaping fireplace; the lurking shadows of the corners; the curtain by the opened window bellying slightly in the draught; above, in the soft radiance of the hooded electrics, the glowing, living, radiant personality of the Vandyke; below, the stark, evil face of the dead, with its blue bruised temple and blood-clotted hair.

Gard strove to reconstruct the crime as the next entrant would judge it—the thief gliding in by the window; the collector busy over the examination of his curios; the blow, probably only intended to stun; the hasty theft and stealthy exit.

His heart pounded in his breast, but it was with outward calm that he crossed the threshold, calling back a "Good-night," whose grim irony was not lost upon him. In the hall, as he put on his hat, he addressed the servant casually:

"Mr. Mahr says you may lock up and go. He does not want to be disturbed, as he has some papers that will keep him late. Remind Mr. Mahr to call me at the New Willard in the morning; I may have some news."

As he left the house he staggered; he felt his knees shaking. With a superhuman effort he steadied himself—Denning must not suspect anything unusual. He descended the steps with a firm tread, and pausing at the last step, twisted as if to reach an uncomfortably settled coat collar—his quick glance taking in the contour of the house and the probability of access by the window. The glimpse was reassuring. By means of the iron railing a man might readily gain the ledge below the first floor windows. He entered the limousine and nodded to Denning.

"All right," he said. "On to Washington."

* * * * *



XI

Through the long, hours of the night Gard lay awake, living over the gruesome moments spent in the ill-omened house on Washington Square. The ghastly face of the dead man seemed to stare at him from every corner of the luxurious room.

Had he done wisely, Gard wondered, in setting the scene of robbery? Had he done it convincingly? That he could become involved in the case in another character than that of witness, occurred to him, but he dismissed it with a shrug. He was able, he felt, to cope with any situation. Nevertheless, the valuables he had taken from the corpse seemed to take on bulk. He thanked his stars that his valet was not with him—at least he would not have to consider the ever present danger of discovery. He had hoped to dispose of the compromising articles while crossing the ferry, but when, on his suggestion of the benefits of cool night air, he had descended from the motor and advanced to the rail, Denning had accompanied him and remained at his elbow, discussing future moves in their giant financial game. Once on board the private car, he had considered disposing of the jewels from the car window or the observation platform, but abandoned that scheme as worse than useless. The track walkers' inevitable discovery would only bring suspicion upon someone traveling along the line—and who but himself must eventually he suspected?

There was nothing for it but to break up the horde piece by piece and lose the compromising gems in unrecognizable fragments. The impulse was upon him to switch on the electrics and begin the work of destruction here in his stateroom at once. But he feared Denning; he feared Langley. Then his thoughts reverted to Mrs. Marteen. Where was she? Where was she hiding? Had she made away with herself after her desperate deed? His heart ached and yearned toward her while his senses revolted in horror of the crime. His world was torn asunder. The awful discovery he had made had once and for all precluded a change of plans. Sudden resistance on his part would have been enigmatical to Denning—or he must confess the state of affairs in the silent house he had just left. At least by his ruse he had gained time for her, perhaps even protection.

Her letter, her frantic record of pain and misery, was in his pocket. He found it, and feeling that even if he were observed to be absorbed in reading, it could only appear natural in view of his mission, he propped himself with pillows and reread the tear-blistered pages. His spirit rebelled. No, no; the woman who had written those searing, bitter lines of awakening could not be guilty of monstrous murder. He hated himself that his mind had accused her. He cursed himself that by his intervention he had perhaps thrown investigation upon the wrong scent, while the truth, he assured himself, must exonerate her and bring the real criminal to justice. What could have made him be such a fool? The next instant he thanked his stars that he had been cool enough to plan the scene. As he read the throbbing pages, tears rose to his eyes again and again; he had to lay the letter down and compose himself. Ah, he was wrong, always at fault. By his well-intended interference, he had arranged Dorothy's flight, with results he trembled to foresee. And Dorothy! What was he to tell the child? How was he to prepare her to bear the present strain and the knowledge of what might come?

The fevered hours passed slowly. It was with a wrenching effort that he forced his mind to concentrate on the business in hand for the coming day. Yet, for his own honor and the sake of his people, it must be done, and well done. Moreover, there must be no wavering on his part, nothing to let anyone infer an unusual disturbance of mind. He must be prepared to play shocked surprise when the tragic news reached him.

Utter exhaustion finally overpowered his fevered brain and he fell into a troubled sleep, from which he was aroused by Denning's voice. The car was not in motion, and he divined that it had been shunted to await their pleasure. He dressed hastily, his heart still aching with dread and uncertainty.

As he faced himself in the mirror he noted his sunken eyes and ghastly color, and Denning, entering behind him, noted it, too, with a quick thrill of sympathy. He had come to accept as fact his fear, expressed in the directors' room. Gard must be suffering from some deadly disease.

"You look all in, Gard," he said regretfully. "I'm sorry I had to drive you so." He hesitated. "Has—have the doctors been giving you a scare about yourself?"

Gard divined the other's version of his strange actions, and jumped at an excuse that explained and covered much.

"Don't talk about it," he said gruffly. "You know it won't do to have rumors about my health going round."

Denning took the remark as a tacit acquiescence. His face expressed genuine sympathy and compassion.

"I'm sorry," he said slowly.

Gard looked up and frowned, yet the kindliness extended, though it was for an imaginary reason, was grateful to him.

"Well, I can take all the extra sympathy anyone has just now," he answered in a tone that carried conviction. "I've had a good deal to struggle against recently—but I'm not whipped yet."

"Oh, you'll be all right," Denning encouraged. "You're a young man still, and you've got the energy of ten young bucks. I'll back you to win. Cheer up; you've got a hard day ahead." Gard nodded. How hard a day his friend little guessed. "We'll go on to the hotel when you are ready. Your first appointment is at nine thirty. Jim is making breakfast for us here."

"All right," said Gard; "I'll join you in a minute. Go ahead and get your coffee." Left alone, he hurriedly pocketed Mahr's jewelry, paused a moment to grind the stone of the scarf pin from its setting—among the cinders of the terminus the gem and its mangled mounting could both be easily lost. His one desire now was to put himself in telephonic communication with New York, but he did not dare to be too pressing. However, once at the hotel, he made all arrangements to have a call transferred, and opened connection with Brencherly. He was shaking with nervousness. "Any news?" he asked.

"None, Mr. Gard, I'm sorry," the detective's voice sounded over the wire, "except that I've followed your instructions with regard to the young lady. I've not left the 'phone, sir; slept right here in your armchair. The hospitals have been questioned, and there is nothing reported at police headquarters that could possibly interest you. I've looked over the morning papers carefully to see if there was anything the reporters had that might be a clew. There's nothing. I took the liberty of sending Dr. Balys over to the young lady this morning—she seemed in such a state; he'll be back any minute, though. I've got every line pulling on the quiet. I've done my best, sir."

Brencherly's voice ceased, and Gard drew a sigh of relief. At least there was no bad news, and as yet nothing in public print concerning the tragedy. The discovery had probably been made early that morning by the servant, whose duty it was to care for the master's private apartments. The first afternoon papers would contain all the details, and perhaps the ticker would have the news before. He realized that all the haggard night he had been fearing that the morning would bring him knowledge of Mrs. Marteen's death—drowned, asphyxiated, poisoned—the many shapes of the one terrible deed had presented themselves to his subconscious mind, to be thrust away by his stubborn will. Dorothy, summoned to the telephone, had nothing to add to Brencherly's information, but seemed to derive comfort and consolation from Gard's assurances that all would be well. She would call him again at noon, she said.

He came from the booth almost glad. His step was light, his troubled eyes clear once more. He was ready to play his part in every sense, grateful for the respite from his pain. His confidence in himself returned, and he went to the trying and momentous meetings of the morning with his gigantic mental grasp and convincing methods at their best.

Dorothy's message did not reach him till after midday had come and gone. Once Larkin had left the conclave and returned with his face big with consternation and surprise. Gard divined that the news of the murder was out, but nothing was brought up except the business of the corporation.

When at last he left the meeting he motored back to the hotel, refusing the hospitality cordially extended to him, his one desire to be again in touch with events transpiring in New York. He had hardly shown himself in the lobby when a page summoned him to the telephone.

It was Dorothy, her voice faint with fright.

"It's you," she cried—"it's you! Have you learned anything about mother? We haven't any news—nothing at all. Mr. Brencherly and the doctor tell me that everything's being done. But I'm almost wild—and listen; something awful has happened. It's your friend, Mr. Mahr, Teddy's father—he's been murdered!"

"What!" exclaimed Gard, thankful that she could not see his face.

"Yes, yes," she continued, "murdered in his own room—they found him this morning—they say you were the last person to see him before it was done. Oh, Mr. Gard, aren't you coming home soon? It seems as if terrible things happen all the time—and I'm frightened. Please, come back!"

The voice choked in a sob, and her hearer longed to take her in his arms and comfort her, shield her from the terrible possibilities that loomed big on their horizon.

"My darling little girl, I'm coming, just as fast as I can. I wouldn't be here, leaving you to face this anxiety alone, if I could possibly help it—you know that, dear," he pleaded. "I've one more important, unavoidable interview; then my car couples on to the first express. Give Teddy all my sympathy. I can hardly realize what you say. Why, I saw him only last night just before I took the train. Keep up your courage, and don't be frightened."

"I'll try," came the pathetic voice; "I will—but, oh, come soon!"

Gard excused himself to everyone, pleading the necessity of rest, and once alone in his room, set about ripping and smashing the incriminating evidence, until nothing but a few loose stones and crumpled bits of gold remained. He broke the monogrammed case of the watch from its fastening and crushed its face. Now to contrive to scatter the fragments would be a simple matter. He secreted them in an inner pocket, and his pressing desire of their destruction satisfied, he telephoned to Langley to join him in his private room at a hurried luncheon. Next he sent for the afternoon papers. Not a line as yet, however; and Langley and Denning having evidently decided it to be unwise to deflect his thoughts from matters in hand, did not mention Mahr. Even when he brought up the name himself with a casual mention of the possibility of acquiring the Heim Vandyke, there was nothing said to give him an opportunity to speak and he was breathless for details, to learn if his ruse had succeeded. At last he called Brencherly, both Denning and Langley endeavoring to divert him from his intention.

"Yes, yes," snapped Gard; "what's the news?"

His companions exchanged dubious glances.

"Nothing learned yet about the matter, sir, on which you engaged me, nothing at all. But—there's something else—I think you ought to know—Victor Mahr is dead!"

"Dead! How? When?" Gard feigned surprise.

"Murdered last night," came the reply. "Found this morning. Our man watching the house learned it as soon as anyone did. A case of robbery, they say—but the coroner's verdict hasn't been given yet. He was hit in the head with a pistol—but—I think, sir, they'll want you; you saw him last night, they say—after you left me. Have you any instructions to give me, sir?"

Gard reflected. "I don't know," he wavered. "Hold all the good men in your service you can for me—and remember what I told you." He turned to the two men. "Mahr's dead—murdered!" he blurted out, as if startled by the news.

They nodded. "Yes, we knew. But," Denning added, "we didn't want to upset you any further. It came out on the ticker at eleven. How are you feeling?" he asked with friendly solicitude. "I wish you'd eat something—you've not touched anything but coffee for nearly twenty-four hours."

"I can't," said Gard grimly. "Let's go to the Capitol and get it over with. Have you 'phoned Senator Ryan? I'm all right," he assured them, as he caught sight of Langley's dubious expression. "I want to get through here as quickly as possible and get back. I suppose you realize that I'll be wanted in the city in more ways than one. I was the last person, except the murderer, to see Mahr. Come on."

As they came from the Capitol at the close of their conference, Langley and Denning fell behind for a moment.

"What a wonder the man is!" exclaimed Denning with enthusiasm. "Sick as he is, and with all these other troubles on him, he's bucked up and buffaloed this whole thing into shape. He forgets nothing!"

Gard entered the motor first, and, as he leaned forward, dropped from the opposite window a fragment of twisted gold. An hour later, in the waiting room they had traversed, a woman picked up a pigeon blood ruby, but the grinding wheels of trains and engines had left no trace of the trifles they had destroyed. In the yard near the private siding, a coupling hand came upon a twisted gold watch case, so crushed that the diamond monogram it once had boasted was unrecognizable.

"At every stop, Jim," said Gard, as he threw himself wearily into a lounging chair in the saloon end of the car, "I want you to go out and get me all the latest editions of the New York papers."

The negro bowed, disappeared into the cook's galley and returned with glasses and a bottle of champagne. He poured a glass, which Gard drank gratefully.

Gard heard Langley and Denning moving about their stateroom. The noise of the terminal rang an iron chorus, accompanied by whistles and the hiss of escaping steam. The private car was attached to the express, and the return journey began. His irritated nerves would have set him tramping pantherwise, but sheer weariness kept him in his chair. Presently his fellow travelers joined him, but he took little or no heed of their conversation. Once he drank again, a toast to the successful issue of their combined efforts. He lay back, striving to control his rising anxiety. What would the story be that would greet him from the heavy leads of the newspapers?

"Baltimore—Baltimore—Baltimore"—the wheels seemed to pound the name from the steel rails; the car rocked to it. By the time they reached that city the New York afternoon editions would have been distributed. At last they glided up to the station and the porter swung off into the waiting room. Gard rose and stood waiting, chewing savagely on his unlighted cigar.

"It's Mahr," he apologized to Denning. "I want to learn the facts." His hand shook as he snatched the smudgy sheets from the negro.

In big letters across the front page he caught the headline:

MURDER OF VICTOR MAHR

FAMOUS CLUBMAN AND FINANCIER STABBED TO DEATH IN HIS OWN LIBRARY

EVIDENCE OF ROBBERY

WOMAN SUSPECTED OF THE CRIME

"Stabbed to death ... Woman suspected." His brain reeled. How "stabbed to death"? He himself had seen—"Woman suspected." Then all his despairing efforts to save her had been in vain! The train, starting suddenly, gave him ample excuse to clutch the back of the chair for support, and to fall heavily upon its cushions. He could not have held himself upright another moment. An absurd scheme flashed through his brain. He would, if necessary, take the blame upon himself—anything to shield her. He would say they had quarreled over the Vandyke.

He became aware that Denning was asking for one of the three papers he was clutching. He gave it to him, suddenly realizing that he was not alone. He knew his face was deathly, and he could feel his heart's slow pound against his ribs. If they did not believe him a sick man, they must believe him a guilty one. To control his agitation seemed impossible. The page swam before his eyes, and it was some moments before he could focus upon the finer print of the sensational article.

The gruesome discovery was made by a servant, entering the library at eight that morning. She found her master lying in the chair and thought him asleep. She knew that the night before he had dismissed the butler, declaring his intention to sit up late over some important business. He might have been overcome by weariness. She tiptoed out and went in search of the valet. His orders had been to call his master at nine and he hesitated about waking him earlier, but at last decided to do so, as it was nearing the hour. On entering the apartment he had noticed the disorder of the room. He put out the electric light from the switch by the door, drew the curtains and raised the blind. At once he realized that death confronted him. Terrified, he had rushed to the hall calling for the servants. Theodore Mahr, Victor Mahr's only son, who was on his way to breakfast, rushed at once upon the scene.

There was a cut and contusion on the temple of the victim, evidently inflicted by a weapon lying upon the table, which was believed to be the cause of death, until the arrival of the coroner and Mr. Mahr's own physician, when it was discovered that the victim's heart had been pierced by a very slender blade or stiletto. The wound was so small and the aperture closed by the head of the weapon in such a manner that no blood had issued.

An enterprising reporter had gained access to the chamber of death, and described in detail the rifling of the drawers, the partially open window; he had picked up a small gold link, evidently torn from the sleeve buttons of the deceased. Mr. Mahr was last seen alive by his friend, Marcus Gard, who called to see him on important business before taking his departure to Washington. Just prior to this, however, a strange woman, heavily veiled, had sent in a note and been admitted to Mr. Mahr. This woman was not seen to leave the house; in fact, the servant had supposed her present when Mr. Gard called, and a party to the business under discussion; it was now believed that she might have remained concealed in the outer room until after the great financier had taken his departure. Of this, however, there was no present evidence. Mahr had dismissed the butler and told him to lock up—yet the woman had not been seen to leave. Of course she could have let herself out, or Mr. Mahr could have opened the door for her—no one seemed to recall whether the chain was on in the morning or not.

Was the crime one of anger or revenge? Why, then, the robbery? The appearance of the table drawers would seem to indicate someone in search of papers, yet the dead man's valuables appeared to have been removed by force—the cuff link had been broken, the watch snatched from its pocket with such violence that the cloth had been torn. At present the mystery that surrounded the crime was impenetrable. The dead man's son was prostrated with grief.

Gard finished reading and rose, crushing the paper in his hand. "It's a horrible thing—horrible! I hope you gentlemen will excuse me. I am not well, and this—has affected me—unaccountably." He turned to his stateroom. "I'm going to rest, if I can."

The two men looked at each other in deep concern.

"I hope we don't lose him," muttered Denning.

Alone in the silence of his swaying room, Gard threw himself face down upon the bed. He could not reason any longer. His whole being gave way to a voiceless cry. He shook as if with cold, and beat his hands rhythmically on the pillows. He rolled over at last, and lay staring at the curved ceiling of the car. One thought obsessed him. She had been there, in that room, hidden—watching him, doubtless, as he committed the ghastly theft. Even in the awful situation in which she found herself, what must she think of him? Criminal, blackmailer, murderess, perhaps—but what could she think of him? The blood tingled through his veins and his waxen face flushed scarlet with vivid shame. In his weakened, overwrought condition, this aspect of the case outranked all others. He forgot the horrible publicity that threatened not only Dorothy and her mother but Victor Mahr's son—when the motive of the crime was learned. He forgot the yearning of his soul for the saving of its sister spirit. He forgot the dread vision of the chair of death in the keen personal shame of the creature she must believe him to be.

Suddenly a new angle of the case presented itself—Brencherly! He sat up gasping. Brencherly must have guessed—the inevitable logic of the situation led straight to the solution of the enigma. The detective knew of Mahr's efforts to obtain the combination of Mrs. Marteen's safe; he, himself, had told him that those efforts had been successful. Brencherly knew of Mrs. Marteen's sudden return, her visit to her home and her mysterious disappearance. The motive of the murder was supplied, the disappearance accounted for. Already the detective's trained mind had doubtless pieced together the fragments of these broken lives. It was Brencherly who had told him of Mahr's former marriage. Everything, everything was in his hands. Would the man remain true to him? What wouldn't one of the great newspapers pay for the inside story! Could Brencherly be trusted? His well seasoned dislike of the whole detective and police service made him sure of treachery. But before him rose the vision of the boyish, candid face, as the detective had taken the Great Man's proffered hand, the honesty in his voice as he had given his word—"I'll do my best, sir," and into Gard's black despair crept a pale ray of hope.

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