THE LADY AT HIS DOOR

BARKER SHELTON March 1 1921

THE LADY AT HIS DOOR

BARKER SHELTON March 1 1921

THE LADY AT HIS DOOR

BARKER SHELTON

A MELIA O'CONNOR was not one of those weaklings who evade unpleasant issues or compromise with them. If she had been such a person she would never have held down her job in Mel Ordway’s legal office for a week. She summoned to her aid all those qualities that had hitherto been devoted to the driving forth of unwelcome callers into the outer darkness, and tapped in determined fashion upon the door of Mr. Ordway’s private inner office.

The cadenea of the typewriter ceased abruptly. A chair on casters rumbled as it was pushed back. Mel Ordway opened the door suddenly and with great impatience. He was scowling and the rumpled state of his reddish-brown hair added to the general discomfort of the glare he shot at Miss O’Connor.

He was a tall young man. The slight stoop to his shoulders and the way his arms sagged from them gave the effect of loose-jointedness. His face was hardly the accepted visage of a Solon. Too much of the dreamer, of the idealist about it. And yet it was not without a hint of strength and patience, of persistence and stubborn courage. Scowls looked out of place upon it. It was a face made for smiles. Even the glare he now turned upon Amelia looked as if it might melt into a smile upon the slightest excuse.

Miss O’Connor’s attitude was that one which sounded the retreat for unwelcome invaders of the bailiwick, that of forcing herself to meet something wholly unpleasant, but with no intent of backing down.

“I’m fearfully sorry to intrude like this,” said Amelia. Her employer looked as if he felt the same way about it. He remembered that yesterday he had flung perhaps toogenerous praise to his hand-maiden for the manner in which she guarded his privacy. It struck him that perhaps she had digested this duly and was about to touch him for a raise. If so, she had picked an inopportune moment. He would have been inclined off-hand to credit her with more common-sense and judgment. Her next words told him the inspiration of the suspected request for an increase of wages was a bad guess.

“There's something I think you ought to know right away,” said Amelia. “There’s a lady watching this place for some reason or other. I’ve seen her out in the hall

I

different times for more than two weeks now. She’s checking up the people I send away when you’re busy. She was out there just now and I passed her as I came

T F MEL ORDWAY A had been inclined to pre-judge Amelia harshly for this interruption, and such seemed to be the case when he first opened the door, he plainly underwent a change of heart. The scowl did not leave his face; in fact, it grew more pronounced. But the glare now was directed beyond Miss O’Connor, in the direction of the door that opened into the corridor of the eleventh floor of the Union Bank Building.

“H’m! Yes!” Mel said under his breath after a moment's silence. “What sort of a lady, Miss O’Connor?

Old or young?”

“Youngish.”

“Checking up the people who leave here, you say. You’re quite sure of that?”

Sets em down on a slip of paper she carries.”

Has she seen you watching her?”

has not. The first time I saw her was when I was cmsmgthe door after a party named Benson that had been particularly anxious to see you at once, one day when you were busy in here. He left the door open. I went to shut itThere she was. She was setting down something on the paper. I didn’t think much about it that time; but when I’d happened to see her doing the same thing twice after that, I took to watching her—through a little crack in

the door; cautiously, so I could see her, but she couldn’t

“She’s here quite a bit, you say?”

“Most of the time lately.”

“Does she speak to any of the people who leave here?”

“Just checks ’em up on her paper.”

“Is she out there now?”

Miss O’Connor crossed the room. Gingerly, noiselessly, she opened the door for the barest crack. Miss O’Connor doing anything overcautiously reminded one of an elephant trying to walk on bubbles. The excuse being at hand, that scowl on Mel’s face melted into a smile, transformed his features. It was a boyish, likeable face with a smile upon it. But he pulled the scowl back as Amelia closed the door again and turned away from it.

“She’s not there just now,” said Miss O’Connor.

Mel leaned against the side of the door. He looked fixedly at the toe of one shoe, with which he prodded aimlessly a nail working out of the threshold. “Thank you, Miss O’Connor,” he said at length. “Thank you very much for your interest in this matter and for mentioning it to me. If you see the lady there in the hall again just speak to me, please.”

“Even if you’re busy?”

“The very next time you see her at it, no matter what I’m doing.” He turned away. As he was closing the door he spoke once more to his feminine Cerberus.

“The lady was young, you said.”

“Youngish,” Miss O’Connor qualified this statement. “She looks as if she’d cut her eye-teeth, though.”

The door of the inner office closed and Amelia went back to her desk. She built romances that were as wild as they were trite. Here was a man who shut himself up, turned away clients and was watched by some sort of a spy. Amelia was too a-flutter wdth delightful speculation to knit. To read of things of this sort had always been her hobby. To live them, to be a part of them, was infin-

itely better. She thus day-dreamed and gave her imagination full scope.

Mel, once his door was again closed, returned to his desk. It was littered with books and papers which had nothing whatever to do with law. He looked at the sheet of paper in the typewriter, the last sentence broken off short where it had been interrupted by Amelia’s tap on the door. That sentence had been a particularly good one,

expressing his meaning in a ticklish place as no other combination of words could have expressed it. The typewriter clicked out a couple of words and then went dead under his fingers. He had lost the wording of that all-important sentence. He tried it again—but couldn’t get it.

Tilting back in his chair, he gazed dreamily at the ceiling. The lady Miss O’Connor had mentioned claimed the center of the stage to the exclusion of sentences that had been going particularly big that morning. It was annoying, but, since she was here, it was best to come to some decision about her. He put his hands behind his head and tilted farther back in the chair, until he had to hook his toes under the desk to keep his balance.

Perhaps, much as he hated the thought of it with things going as smoothly as they had been for more than a week, he’d better let in prospective clients between nine and eleven regularly each morning. That depended on the lady who checked up the people Miss O’Connor so ably shooed away. He’d see the lady in question, size her up and act accordingly.

And he might as well begin now, this very morning. He heard Miss O’Connor telling some one in the outer office that Mr. Ordway was very busy. He got up to refute this statement, but was too late. The outer door was closing behind the party Amelia had so effectively blocked and Amelia herself was looking through the barest crack in the door. She closed it very softly as she saw Ordway come out of the private office.

“She’s out there again. Just made a mark for the party who went out,” she whispered.

Mel opened the hall door and stepped out.

A lady was standing very near that door. So near, in fact, that Mel nearly ran into her. She was a youngish lady. Miss O’Connor’s description of her, in so far as it concerned “cutting her eye-teeth,” Mel put down as wholly wrong. She did not look at all as he had expected her to look. His second glance told him she was distinctly young and not youngish. There was a difference.

She seemed to have been on the point of opening his door when he had forestalled her. She looked at once timid and brave and altogether pretty, there in the wide corridor of

pretty, there in the wide corridor of the eleventh floor of the Union Bank Building, which is noted for the beauty of the sienna marble of its corridors.

Mel said; “Good morning!” and said it like a man who was trying to think of what he wanted to say, but couldn’t do so at the moment.

The lady replied: “Good morning!” saying it aggressively, yet at the same time defensively, boldly yet apologetically.

' I 'HEY looked at each other for a -*■ space. The space bade fair to become embarrassing if one or the other of them did not speak again~ Mel pulled the stoop out of his shoulders. He fancied that, when he lifted them to their fullest height, it lent him dignity and severity. In reality it only made him stiff and uncomfortable-looking.

“I think—I cannot help thinking,” said Mel in tones as stiff as his pose, “that you are taking a great deal of interest in my—my—office.” He had meant to say “affairs.” Something about the little lady before him, who looked as if she wanted to run away, yet would not run away at any cost, made him choose the less pointed word.

“I am,” she admitted promptly. “Why?”

“You are turning away so many clients. They come; I hear the young lady in your office telling them you are very busy; they come out again in a moment or two. So many of them. Forty-three different ones during the last three weeks.

ones during the last three weeks. Some of them looked like people with money, who wouldn’t be afraid to spend it—-really ideal clients. Yet you turned them away and continue to turn them away. It seemed such a great pity to lose them.”

Mel looked at her closely. The more he looked at her the better he liked to keep on looking. He glanced up and down the hall, which was empty at the moment save for themselves. He knew it would not be thus empty for any length of time.

“Will you step into the office for a moment?” he asked.

She nodded her head in assent.

“I was just coming in anyway. I hrd just got my courage up to the point to take me n. It really took courage, you know.”

“Very possibly,” said he, intending to make the accent grim, but finding it instead m -,ely politely acquiescent.

He opened the door and bowed her in. Miss O’Connor stared. As he ushered her i ’ to his private office, Amelia caught her breath. lie closed the door. The large young lady who w is uardian of his privacy clenched her hands tigh y in her lap and leaned eagerly forward to catch t e sound of angry voices, shrieks, even the era k ng of gunplay. Thus far had her home-mc !e romancing taken her. But nothing of the sort occurred.

Mel Ordway offered the lady his desk-chair, which was very comfortable, and took the only other chair in the room, which was not comfortable at all. His cue, as he saw it, his best bet, the most effective way to wind up this affair, was to tell the lady at once with no beating about the bush that he knew her errand and that it was a futile one. He proceeded to do so, looking at her there in his deskchair, ever so much prettier in the stronger light of the room than she had been in the dimness of the corridor.

“You are wasting your time,” said he. “I am not much of a lawyer, but I am at least sufficiently versed in its technicalities to know that I am well within the limits of safety. I am practising law.

There are no stipulations as to what extent I shall practise law. Therefore, if I practise even a little each year, I am quite safe. Tell this to the people who sent you—”

The lady looked bewildered.

“Nobody sent me,” said she.

Mel looked at her as if he considered it a great pity that a face so frank and open should cover such duplicity.

The lady frowned slightly and flushed a little.

“If you are expecting somebody to send some one to you, all I can say is I am not the ‘some one.’ must be a tangle of some sort.”

“There seems to be.”

“Let me straighten out my side of it. I have noticed, as I say, that you are turning clients away. You might have as many as you wish of. them, but you simply don’t want them, you don’t want any more than you already have. I am interested because I want clients; I need them; I need them desperately. I thought, perhaps—it’s a mighty cheeky proposition, no doubt—but I thought if you were turning so many away—”

ÇHE hesitated. She seemed to realize that she was ^ getting ahead of herself. She sat frowning as she formulated in her mind the necessary explanation.

Then, smiling at him, she voiced it;

“I have a sheepskin from Osgoode Hall. I have passed my bar examinations creditably. I have an office on the same floor of this building, just down the corridor, but I haven’t any clients; they simply pass me up. And the game is getting to the stage where things are pretty desperate. When the next payment on the lease of my office comes due they’ll be worse. And that time is too uncomfortably near. I saw them turned away from your office—” Again she paused.

“I see,” said Mel. “Those that I don’t want you’d like me to turn over to you. Glad to do it, I’m sure, Miss—er —Miss—”

“Holland. Cora Holland,” she introduced herself. “But that isn’t quite it, either. They wouldn’t come, if you recommended me. You see, your name stands for a whole lot. It is Melvin H. Ordway. There was a Melvin H. Ordway whose name stood for a great deal in the world of jurisprudence. That was your father?”

“My uncle.”

“It must be the drawing-power of that name which brings so many possibilities, and such splendid possibilities, to you—to send away so prodigally. No, they would

not come to me, if you recommended it. But I thought, perhaps—at least, I was desperate enough to think, to

“What did you plan, Miss Holland?”

“It occurred to me that perhaps you might give me a corner of this office and turn over to me the clients you have no time to handle and let me look after them on commission. I am very sure I could do it, if I had the chance. I am very sure I could make money for you and for myself out of what you are throwing overboard.” '

Mel stared at her.

She flushed rather more. It didn’t hurt her appearance in the least to flush. “You see I am pretty genuinely desperate,” she said.

“Desperate or not,” said he. “I am not at all sure there isn’t something in this proposition you have made.”

She looked as if the bare thought of the possibility of her scheme being favorably considered all but overcame her.

“Let me tell you why,” he went on. He shot out a question or two.

She answered them promptly. More followed.

Mel smiled. “You know more law in ten minutes than I ever shall in ten centuries. I believe we can make a deal. You mentioned the other Melvin H. Ordway. That was my uncle, as I have told you. One ill-starred day when I was a little shaver—it was the year after he died—my aunt Julia stood me up beside his picture—oil painting in a gilt frame that looked like the gates of a temple, in a gloomy old parlor of a gloomy old house on St. George street, you know the kind.

“And Aunt Julia found in me a remarkable likeness to her dead husband. No one else ever saw it. I presume the fact that I bore his name sharpened Aunt Julia’s imagination wonderfully. She was that kind, Anyway, that day she made up her mind I must be a lawyer like my Uncle Mel. She died shortly after that. The will she left stipulated that the bulk of her property was to go to me if I practised law. Otherwise it went to four or five distant cousins. There were no children of her own.

“There wasn’t much ‘wherewithal’ in our branch of the family. My chance was held up to me, dinned into me; until I could see nothing else in the world. You can see what followed. A Political Science course for my B.A., during which I spent over much time on English and specialized on those courses which dealt with pre-Elizabethan dramatists. They fascinated me. Afterwards— the usual course at Osgoode, interrupted by two years in the R.A.F. But Blackstone and I never had much in common. I hated those years in the law school. I lightened them by delving into everything I could find about the pre-Elizabethan dramatists that had claimed most of my time in college. Then, while convalescing in England, and after the Armistice, I studied further at Oxford. I got by somehow, when I returned to Canada and passed my exams by an equally narrow margin.”

HE LOOKED out of the window across roofs and chimney-pots to the Bay and to the Island beyond. The little lady in his desk-chair was leaning forward. “That’s why, then—” she said half under her breath. He nodded. He drew his chair nearer the desk. “I knew I should never live up to the spirit of Aunt Julia’s bequest to me. But I felt she owed me something for those black years I slaved at the law school. I had the material for a bully book on ‘The Pre-Elizabethan Dramatists and Our Debt to Them.’ I wanted to get it out of my system at once, after I returned from England and donned ‘civvies.’ I was all on fire to get at it. It wouldn’t be postponed.

“Surely, Aunt Julia had given me enough misery to help me out a little. I planned to use the income of the property until I got the book done, and then turn it over to the four cousins named as alternate legatees. I didn't care much what I did, if I got the book done.

“But I had to practise law to connect with that property. So I took this office and told clients things between nine

and eleven in the morning.

I thought there’d only be a few of them. They came in floods—the mantle of Uncle Mel’s reputation falling upon me when I didn’t want it. Hence Miss O’Connor in the outer office to shoo ’em off when they came too thick. She’s a bird at that game, worth her -weight in rubies. And here I am with the book going strong. And I am getting more and more tied up with it, neglecting to practise my necessary law even the two hours in the morning.”

He grinned at her boy-

“So you see when I learned from the invaluable Miss O’Connor that you were checking up the thrownouts, I imagined those four cousins of Aunt Julia’s were trying ‘to pin something on me’ and had set you to watch me.”

“Do I look like that sort of a person?”

“Frankly, you don’t—not at all. Equally frankly, you didn’t when I stepped out into the corridor to tax you with it just now. I was flabbergasted to find you the sort of person you are. You didn’t look your part—or, rather the part I’d ascribed

She said, nervously, a trifle too anxiously: “And the suggestion I made. Will you think it over?”

“No,” he said; “not for a minute. I’ll decide right here and now without thinking it over at all. The office next door is vacant. It can be added to this suite. I’ll rent it to-day. It will be yours and I’ll turn ’em over to you, every last one of ’em. That will leave me free. It’s a great little old arrangement. Providence must have sent you.”

“Maybe. But I’d lay it to sheer desperate nerve on my part, I think. Now, about the commission part; we’ll have to arrange that.”

They proceeded to arrange it and as Miss Holland took her departure Mel saw her to the door. His manner of doing it knocked Miss O’Connor’s dark plots galley west.

“The lady who just went out,” said Mel, stopping at Amelia’s desk, “is to come here to-morrow morning as a member of the firm. She will look after most of the clients. Turn ’em over to her.”

“Huh?” said Amelia in a bewilderment that was very pardonable.

“Knows more law than all the bunch on this floor put together,” said Mel.

The inner office swallowed him. Fortune had smiled upon him broadly. He was free to go ahead with his work with never a disturbing thought now. He arranged his papers, sighed, and poised a finger over the keys of the typewriter. Presently he unpoised it and settled back in his chair. Instead of ripping off sentences one after another he was busy with the picture of a little lady in his desk chair with the morning sunlight full upon her.

He was still busy with it when Miss O’Connor went, home that night. He was busy with it long after the office was dark, and the building still, with an uncanny quiet, and even the late lingerers on that floor had gone down the corridor.

At half-past ten o’clock he realized he was very hungry and that the “Pre-Elizabethan Dramatists and Our Debt to Them” was exactly where it had been at half-past nine o’clock that morning—that sentence which Miss O’Connor had interrupted still hanging in the air.

MEL made arrangements for the office next door and added it to his own suite. Adding it to his suite was a simple operation, consisting of unlocking a door between his outer office and his new acquisition. A firm down the street, which dealt in office furnishings, agreed to have the fittings in before nine o’clock in the morning and proceeded to do so.

Miss Cora Holland appeared promptly at nine. She looked very trim and very determined to make good in her new quarters. Mel showed her the little office he had added to his outfit.

“Why, I was intending to have my own equipment moved in here from down the hall,” said she.

“I wasn’t sure of your furnishings,” said he.

He was sure of them. Going out the night before, he had

Continued on page 55

The Lady at His Door

Continued from page 15

hunted up the head janitor who, for a consideration, had let him have a peep at Miss Holland’s little two-by-four hole-inthe-wall.

She sat down at her desk. “Let ’em come now,” she said, looking as if she were quite ready for any intricacies of the law that might be thrust at her. “I’ll take care of them. And you can go on with your book without any interruptions what-

There seemed to be some subtle suggestion in her words that he might put on his chosen work this time he was spending in lingering in her office.

On the way to his own sanctum he paused at Miss O’Connor’s observation-

“Now anyone who comes here, send ’em in to me first and let me give ’em the once over,” he instructed her.

“What if you’re busy?” she asked.

“Bring ’em in just the same,” said he. “All right,” said Amelia. But she quite plainly had a viewpoint in the matter beyond her mere words.

THE first interruption to the preElizabethan dramatists that morning was named Tobin. Mel knew him of old. He had had his little experience with Mr. Tobin before now, in those morning hours between nine and eleven. Mel’s uncle had pulled Mr. Tobin through many a legal difficulty, and Mr. Tobin had pinned his faith on the Ordway name. A contractor, his work seamed to be forever getting him into such misfortunes as undermining somebody else’s walls or inadvertently breaking and entering gas or water-mains. Then he hunted up Mel to see how much of the resulting damages brought against him he could evade.

A very gruff party, this Mr. Tobin; grizzled; uncouth; profane when he was excited. No party to turn over to a girl like Miss Holland. Certainly not!

The second caller was a new one. Mel had never seen him before. But through his open door—strangely enough, Mel had left his door open this morning; bad for the dramatists who flourished before the great Elizabeth’s time, but an excellent method of getting a line on the people who came into the office—he saw this latest arrival trying to flirt with Miss O’Connor, and anyone who would try to flirt with Miss O’Connor— His name proved to be Crandall. He wanted a will drawn up. Mel drew it up personally.

There was nothing apparently at fault with the third caller of the morning, save on general principles Mel did not like his looks. This one, too, was closeted with Mel in his own office.

But it wouldn’t do, he realized, to leave Miss Holland idle. She wasn’t the sort to suffer idleness in silence. A bright little idea struck him, inspired by the visit of that second and flirtatious old gentleman that morning. He asked Miss Holland to draw up a half-dozen wills. They were decidedly complicated wills. Afterwards he set her looking up deeds that were of no interest to him whatever and probably never would be.

MEL ORDWAY one day woke up to the fact that he was establishing himself as a rising light in the legal world; that he was on the way to a most comforting sort of an income; that he was working hard; that “The Pre-Elizabethan Dramatists and Our Debt to Them” had been tucked away in an under drawer of his desk for weeks, untouched by him and accumulating dust; that he was withal a very happy man laying his plans well to be a yet happier one.

He was contemplating all this in a lull between clients when his door, which was ajar, as it always was these days when he was alone in his office, opened farther and Miss Holland came in. She closed the door cárefully behind her.

She spoke in tones guarded against the ears of Amelia at the desk in the outer

“Mr. Ordway, we can’t go on with this

deal we made. I’m finished; I’m leaving at once—to-day.”

Ordway looked as if a charge of TNT had sneaked in under his chair and gone off as soon as it got there. “Leaving? Finished?” he echoed. “I don’t understand.”

“You should understand.”

He looked at her as if he besought tolerance and pity until he could get over this blow and secure a sufficient grip on himself to argue back about it.

“Each month you have been'giving me a check for commissions on the total business done in this office, and you do all that business yourself.”

“No. Oh, no,” he hastened to deny this. “You are invaluable.”

Miss Cora Holland sniffed scornfully. “Invaluable, indeed! What have I done? I have made out wills and chased deeds and filled in certain forms. Let me say I have my suspicions of those wills and those deeds, Mr. Ordway. I think I see through them. And, even if they were real wills or deeds that you found it necessary to have looked up, any clerk could do it for you quite as well as I could—and do it for a clerk’s wages. I am not taking any more commissions unless I earn them.”

“You certainly do earn them. You’ve earned them by spurring me on and getting me going—”

“You haven’t turned over to me a single, solitary client. Why haven’t you?”

MEL ORDWAY looked very uncomfortable. He fidgeted with an inkwell and wasn’t satisfied until he upset it.

“Well, you see—that first morning—■ the first man that came in was a tough old bird, gruff, cusses like a trooper when he gets going, no sort of a party for a woman to be trying to handle. And the second one was sixty-two and had perfume on his handkerchief and made eyes at Miss O’Connor. And I didn’t like the looks of the next one—”

“What was the matter with all the others?”

“Messy. Just couldn’t bring myself to run them in to you.”

Miss Holland frowned. Her lips began to curl. “I see you have a lot of antediluvian stuff in your head about ‘woman’s true sphere,’ ” said she.

“I think quite possibly I have,” Mel admitted promptly. “But that wasn’t all. I found myself in the game. I liked it. And I wanted your respect. I wanted it very much. I didn’t see how I could ever have your respect if I didn’t do my own work, but foisted it on to you instead.”

“I thought your ‘real work’ was the book about the pre-Elizabethan dramatists?” “Oh, shoot the pre-Elizabethan playmongers! They’re dead ones!”

Miss Holland tried hard not to smile. Her success was only partial.

“Besides which,” Mel rattled on, “Aunt Julia’s stuff she left me isn’t so very much, anyway. Not a drop in the bucket of what I want now. It wouldn’t let me do half what I want to do for you; no, not a tenth of what I want to do. I’ve simply been forced to make good.”

“I thought you said you wanted my respect,” she said very quietly.

“You must know I’ve been playing for a whole lot more than your respect. I hope you have known it»for weeks. I like, to think you’ve known it since the first day you came here.”

Miss Holland backed towards the door. Her head was bent. She put her hand on the knob, but she did not turn it. Mel got up hurriedly from the desk.

Miss O’Connor’s deep tones interrupted them. Someone had come in and was asking for Mel. Amelia, stepping to the door of the private office and about to tap upon it, was halted by twin shadows merging into one upon the ground-glass

“Mr. Ordway is busy just at present,” said Amelia’s lower-register voice.

And for once she was quite right.

He was.