MRS. WILSON WOODROW
PARK AVENUE is the least dramatic of the thoroughfares that run like longitudinal wires through the giant gridiron which is upper New York. It lacks the incandescent glam our of Broadway, the sordidness and color of the lower East Side, the fly-specked secre tiveness of Sixth and Eighth Avenues, the splendor and commercialism of Fifth. So new that the smell of mortar lingers in the air, it is the city's Spotless Town-wide, spick-an d-s pan boulevard where the traffic rolls decorously on pneumatic-tired wheels, and behind the featureless fronts of the tall, buff apartment houses luxury is stan -dardized to incomes of twenty-five thousand dollars and upward-a Mecca for "people of the better-sort."
Yet even into this swept and denatured close intrudes the eternal human comedy— the fabric of mystery, the mask of intrigue, the texture of romance —like a lace mantilla in a sale of union suits, a rose of Shiraz at the window of a clinic—for this is the story of Constance Lee.
In one of the most and exclusive
austere and exclusive of those huge modern apartment-buildings rising mQuntamous above Park Avenue’s unvexed current, the house-superintendent sat at his desk in a small office.
“Hello, Chief!” A voice saluted him from the doorway, causing him to look up, and, as he did so, to experience a slight shock. The-superintendent of a New York apartment-house specializes in types. He divides the sheep from the goats unerringly. This caller was a private detective—no doubt of it. His glance had merely flicked over the stranger, but it had taken in every detail of his personality—the stocky figure, the expressionless moon-face, the dark business suit, the carefully cultivated unobtrusiveness of both manner and appearance. Somewhere far back in the superintendent’s brain there was a glimmer of recollection. His eye swept the card the man laid on his desk. The name, John Bell, meant nothing to him. Following the tiail of his obscure remembrance, his mind went back several years to the “old days,” as he called them, when as the steward of a large restaurant he had, in his off hours, frequently yielded to a weakness for games of chance. “John Bell?” he murmured, and then, as his subconscious brain supplied the link of recognition: “I remember you. You were on the district-attorney’s staff. You’re the fellow who used to pla> yid so as to get into the pool-rooms, scrunch down and pull your hat over your ears, and edge up to the doorkeeper and--” John Bell, without a change in the gravity of his expression, had in a second gone through the transformation described. “Meester!” He cringed at the superintendent’s elbow, looked imploringly from under the rim of his draggeddown derby hat. “Meester! Plee-ase! I vant to place a bet.” The superintendent laughed heartily at his old friend.
“The old trick!” He nodded reminiscently. “And you’d keep up such a buzzing that nine times out of ten the doorman would let you by. Sit down.” He pushed forward a chair. Bell dropped into it and leaned back comfortably. “Them was the happy days,” he said. “You took long chances.” The superintendent looked at him thoughtfully; 't required actual knowledge to picture this stolid, inconspicuous person taking any
chances at all; mere imagination wouldn’t compass it. “Yes; you took long chances, going into those places to get evidence.” “Oh, I don’t know.” There was a slight drawl in Bell’s colorless voice. “Sports were sports then—everything according to Hoyle. Many’s the ice-box door I’ve battered down in the eight years I was with Jerome; but the next day I’d meet the same boys on the street and ’twould be: ‘Hello, Bill. You put one over on us last night, didn’t you? Come in and have a cigar.’ Nowadays I’d get bumped off in less than a week. This new crowd’ll pull anything on you. The old spirit’s all gone.” “How come, I wonder?” At first, the superintendent’s manner had been a little abstracted, his thoughts restlessly and uncomfortably busy with the purpose of Bell’s visit. Something to do with one of the tenants, ho doubt, and that meant unpleasantness, possibly publicity. But now, his interest roused, he settled down to enjoy a chat about the unregenerate days. “How come?” “Hop-heads,” answered Bell laconically: “that, and women mixing in. It’s got so the skirts just about run the show. And they bar nothing. By the way”—he broke off abruptly—“what do you know about Mrs. Constance Lee?” The superintendent, taken by surprise, could only gape at him. “Mrs. Lee?” he stammered. “Good Lord, man! Naturally, I knew you were after a line on some of my tenants; but—Mrs. Lee! Why, you must be crazy!” Recovering, he looked at Bell with patronizing amusement and slowly shook his head. “Some mistake. Y ou may be looking upo Mrs. Lee, but not this one. I guess there are a good many of that name in Greater New York.” “I don’t make mistakes.” The detective’s voice was
'T'HIS is a story of romance and adventure, involving prinA cipally a clever “boy judge” and the supposed widow of a British officer who, scandal-mongers and the police thought, was trying to “involve” Judge Clay Jeffries. The changing of the course of a Kentucky creek starts a drama that affects many lives. Is Mrs. Lee blackmailer or angel?
crisp. “But there’s no need to get upset. I’m not in the old line. Mercantile work’s my specialty now— investigating parties that want charge-accounts and such like. You know how it is with those big firms—even with the best of bankreferences and all that they want a little private dope on folks before they trust ’em too far.” “Well”—the superintendent looked relieved—“there’s nothing to find out about my Mrs. Lee. She’s the real thing.” He suddenly squinted through the window into the hall. “Talk about angels—there she goes nowd” The detective bent forward, and as he gazed an odd change came over his face. His pale-blue eyes widened; his lips parted; his jaw dropped. OUTSIDE it was a raw, murky day in late February. A chill, searching wind from the north had caused Bell to button his greatcoat and pull up the collar. The gras s-plots up and down the center of the avenue were covered with tumbled heaps of grimy snow. And yet, as Constance Lee went
the moment that April was here. She had stopped for a word with the doorman, and her face was turned toward the office so that he saw her fully. Beauty is always sure of its tribute, but hers was
the loveliness that casts a spell over the most commonplace beholder. The red gold of her hair gleamed under her small hat; her blue eyes held that final appeal to the heart of man, an enchaining touch of wistfulness, but there was spirit underlying that soft pensiveness—spirit and fire. Her face was as delicately fair as a white narcissus. “Mrs. Constance Lee?” John Bell breathed. “Gosh! Why, that’s only a girl!” Automatically he noted the richness of her furs as she stepped quickly out to her little town car, the trim cut of her skirt, her hat, her shoes, her bearing. “Class, too!” he muttered. “Class, every inch of her. And I thought she’d be a night-club vamp!” “We don’t have that kind here.” said the superintendent witheringly. “You’ll have to look for that over on the West Side.” Bell sat in silence. His thoughts, whatever they might be, were impossible to read. Finally, he leaned over and tapped the superintendent on the knee. “Chief, I’m in deep water. I’d better come clean with you. Question is: Are you open to doing a little business on the side?” The other man eyed him reflectively. “What’s in it?”—bluntly. “Well, maybe up to five hundred, if you can give me what I want.” “Hm. Pretty high for a credit-rating, ain't it?” “Yes—for a credit-rating.” The superintendent again squinted his eyes at the ceiling and considered. “I won’t do anything to harm her,” he said decisively. “Truth never harmed anybody, did it? And that's All I ask of
is a straight answer to a few questions.” “Ye-es,” the superintendent jeered cynically. “I see you slipping me five hundred for that. Like fun, you would!” “On the level. I’m putting my cards right down on the table. Here—let me sketch you the layout. I’m with a big law firm down-town now—Kent, Hulsberg and Greeley; you’ve heard of them, of course. And we’ve got a client who’s been black-mailed. He’s put the matter in our
hands, ami wt're out to got the bunch that stung him. Not the go-betweens that part can be handled easy enough—but the man or woman higher up, the one who doped out the play and stacked the cards. And. Chief, every way we figure it, the only person who had the information used was—Mrs Constance Lee!"
The superintendent threw away his cigar.
“Nothing to it!”
‘ No? Then, how about this? There are two other rich men who have had the same game played on them. And tn each case we find that they had talked not wisely but too well to Mrs Lee."
“I don’t care how many there were”—doggedly. “And what does that prove, anyhow? There’s an old saying about telling a secret to a woman: she’ll whisper it to her best friend and the best friend to ten others, and so on m an endless chain. No. sir; if there was any gouging done on the strength of something said to Mrs. Lee, 111 ay odds she wasn’t in on it."
The detective gave a perplexed laugh.
That’s the way our client talker! at first, too," he said, (lood Lord’ What sort of a comether does the woman put over you all? Hulsberg finally got him to agree to an investigation of her: but 1 still believe he’d willingly kiss his money good-by just to be certain that she is O. K. And he thinks more of a dollar than you or I do at that. There you have it*’— he spread out his hands—"words and music No reason why you shouldn’t string in with me and get your bit of the plunder, is there? My word!”—impatiently. "If you’re so dead sure the lady’s all right, what's the harm in telling what you know?”
Well, 1 wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt her, the superintendent still harped.
"Hurt her?” Bell spoke testily. “Haven’t I told you that she's under suspicion? Pretty grave suspicion, too.
It' we can establish her innocence we’ll be doing her a darned big favor, man. Not to mention the jack that’s in it for yourself."
The superintendent’s resolution gave away.
All right, then. I don’t like it; but—shoot!”
13 ELL consulted a note-book which he took from his pocket, and. flipping over the pages, read from a series of short-hand entries:
Mrs. Constance Lee, age twenty to twenty-four, supposed to lie American-born but has lived for some years in Europe. Represents herself as the widow of Captain Norman Lee. British army, who was killed near Cambrai, May. 19IS. There is no available record of this alleged marriage, and no information obtainable regarding Mrs. Lee prior to her appearance in New York about November. 1920. So far as can be learned, she never discusses her past. Captain Lee had no resources beyond his pay and »»as heavily in debt. Mrs. Lee has no ostensible means of support, but lives at the rate of about fifty thousand a year and maintains a racing-stable which is known to be far from profitable. She makes large bank-deposits at irregular intervals, and these are invariably in cash. Is much admired by men, but seems to prefer those of middle age with solid wealth and social position. Mrs. Hugo Wendell acts as her social sponsor. Mrs. Lee is said to have an extremely magnetic personality' and a way of attracting confidences without seeming to invite them. Her only business associates, so far as can be discovered, are her ?fahle-manager. James DeVries, and her attorney, Louis K Beachey. who has twice narrowly escaped disbarment.” The detective closed his note-book.
Not so good, eh?” he drawled.
“Oh, I don't know.” The superintendent’s face was puckered, but he stood his ground. “Nothing there but a lot of question-marks.”
Let's see if we can’t answer some of those questionmarks." Bell smiled. “To begin with, how' did Mrs. Lee
get in here?"
"She gave references, of course, both social and financial. We require that of everybody, and no tenant ever had any better— the National Trust Company and all sorts of prominent people.”
Yes: she could do that,” assented the detective. ‘‘The crowd she trains with. And how long has she been with you?”
"Since last October. Came here from the Ritz and took a two years’ lease.”
How much of an apartment has she?”
"Twelve rooms and four baths on the eighth floor.”
"Select it herself?”
No; her maid, Delia Clark, looked after all the preliminaries. Said she had been so long with Mrs. Lee that she knew exactly what would suit her.”
'Hm. This Delia, I suppose, is one of those middleaged battle-axes that you couldn’t pry anything out of with a crow-bar.”
“She is not. She’s not much older than Mrs. Lee, if any. And if you think she can’t talk, you ought to tackle her once when she’s a bit stirred up.”
"How many other servants are there?”
"Let’s see. There’s a butler and a cook and one—two maids. They' were all taken on when Mrs. Lee moved, in here. Delia w-&s the only one who had been with her before.”
"Who hired the others? Delia?”
"And how are they? Close-mouthed, keep to themselves?”
"Not that I’ve ever noticed,” the superintendent said shortly. "Just about as gabby and fresh as most help nowadays. That is, all except the butler. He’s a pompous crab—goes in and out without a word to anybody.
He don’t stay here at nights, you understand. Leaves about half-past nine or ten unless there’s a party on.”
Bell sat up and showed fresh interest.
"Oh, yes; I wanted to ask you about that. What about those parties—pretty gay, eh?”
The superintendent looked at him scornfully.
“Say; what do you think this is—a roadhouse? If you’ve got a picture of one of those movie blowouts where they throw confetti and roll the bones and go swimming in a fountain, forget it! Once or twice a week Mrs. Lee has a few friends in to dinner or bridge. Millionaires? Sure! But not all of them. And don’t forget that those boys bring their own wives with them. It’s all regular—regular as a church.”
Bell tapped his teeth reflectively with the edge of his note-book.
“And yet,” he observed significantly, “three of Mrs. Lee’s guests have been separated from something like fifty thousand dollars apiece.” He stood up. “I want to look over that twelve-room nest. What’s the best way to manage it?”
The superintendent required some persuasion, but he finally agreed to introduce Bell as an electrical expert, making a general inspection of the wiring throughout the building. ’ And, accordingly, the two presented themselves at Mrs. Lee’s door.
BELL had come upon his errand with a theory already worked out in his mind. This had been slightly jostled by the impression he had received of Mrs, Lee. But, being an obstinate, tenacious man, he still clung to his original idea in the hope that it might be justified by other circumstances.
The servants in a menage not perfectly correct are apt to reflect the atmosphere of the place, and he was quite prepared to find some old acquaintance of the crookworld masquerading as an employee.
It was therefore another shock to him to contemplate the impeccable figure that opened the door. This was an English butler—a butler, nothing more, nothing less. Then and there Bell definitely dismissed him from further consideration.
“May we come in and look over the wiring?” asked the superintendent. “There’s a short circuit somewhere in the building, and we’re trying to locate it.”
The man hesitated and sent an uncertain glance back of him toward a door which stood slightly ajar. It opened, and a young woman in a maid’s dress came out.
At the sight of her Bell recovered from his disappointment over the butler. This must be Delia Clark, and Delia, he decided at once, was worth study. Yes; considerable study. A cryptogram not easy to read—the perfect maid, and something more.
“What is it, Dolby?” She spoke quietly and yet with obvious authority; then, recognizing the superintendent, she came forward.
The superintendent repeated his request, and in the moment it took him to do so her quick eyes had given his companion so comprehensive a survey that, as Bell expressed it afterward, he was sure she had counted all the prongs of his backbone.
“Certainly.” She stood aside to let them enter, and then conducted them from room to room. In each Bell went through the motions of examining the electric fixtures. He might have to come again on a similar pretext; what he wanted now was to get the “feel” of the place.
But again Mrs. Lee was upsetting his preconception. He had pictured a richly sensuous interior with curtained windows and dim, rose-shaded lights. There would be intimate, luxurious nooks, the ghost of cigarette smoke mingled with the faded sweetness of last night’s roses.
But if a place can be said to have an air of candor, these rooms expressed it. There was beauty, but beauty achieved by simplicity. It was the environment of a woman of taste and cultivation.
In the kitchen he saw the cook, and discarded her with the butler from his calculations also the two pretty, freshcolored maids.
“I think the trouble must be in the library,” he said. “I’ll go back there and take another look.”
THIS was certainly the room which Mrs. Lee most frequently used—large, with low bookcases round the walls, a wood fire burning on the hearth, tables with books and magazines, bowls of hyacinths and jonquils. But what interested him most was a capacious desk near a window.
As they returned hither, Delia in the lead, Bell gave the superintendent a nudge to signify that he wished to be left alone. The superintendent turned to Delia.
“You were telling me the other day about some diffi-
culty with one of the radiators in the dining-room. Do you mind showing me what is wrong with it?”
Delia led him down the hall, apparently indifferent to the fact that Bell remained behind. The detective’s eyes were everywhere at once, looking for a possible dictograph. There were few places where one might be concealed. He lifted out a picture from the wall and peered behind it,, examined the bookcases and ran his glance along the wainscoting and over the molding. No hidden wires—not a thing to excite suspicion.
Convinced of this, he turned his attention to the desk.
A hurried scrutiny of the contents of its pigeonholes showed him nothing but household bills and receipts. The two drawers underneath were locked; but this did not delay him long. With a wire attached to his key-ring he deftly picked their locks and drew them open.
But again disappointment. The upper one held only a collection of old racing-scores, clippings of turf news and photographs of horses. In the lower was merely a batch of newspapers.
He rummaged under these, searching for letters or memoranda that might be of service to him, but there was nothing in the drawer except the newspapers.
Then as he started to straighten them out and cover up the traces of his intrusion, he struck the first semblance of a clue; for his eyes, trained to observe trifles, noted that the papers all bore the same heading and, as near as he could tell, ran in consecutive issues— a complete file for a month or so back of a country-town journal, the Daily Star, of Bainbridge, Kentucky.
But before he could investigate further he heard the voices of Delia and the superintendent in the hall, and precipitately closing and relocking the drawer, he darted to the other side of the room. He was testing one of the wall brackets when the two appeared.
“Trouble isn’t on this floor, Chief,” he announced. “We’ll have to look for it lower down.” And the two men took their leave.
Outside in the hall, Bell shook his head.
“You win,” he said. “The man who could find anything suspicious there would see green in the American
But even as he spoke his mind was busy with the question: What interest did the cosmopolitan Mrs. Lee have in Bainbridge, Kentucky, or any person there, that she should so carefully preserve a file of its little daily paper?
As Bell and his companion went down in one elevator, Mrs. Lee passed them in another, going up. She stopped at the door for a word or two with the butler, and then went on into the library.
Delia Clark immediately and noiselessly appeared with a pair of house slippers in her hand, and, kneeling before Mrs. Lee’s chair, began to unfasten her street shoes.
“Delia, I’ve gone against you and DeVries,” she said gaily. “I’ve bought Joybells; he’s my horse now. I closed with Freeman this morning.”
Delia looked grimly resigned.
“It’s not my place to say anything, but I can still think. DeVries’ll be happy; they’ll probably hold a celebration out at the stable.”
Mrs. Lee’s lips tightened.
“DeVries is going to do what I tell him. Joybells ís an outcast, simply because he’s never been understood. With proper handling he can be made the sensation of the year. If DeVries is too prejudiced to believe that, I’ll get some one who will.”
Delia said nothing, but, rising, gathered up her mistress’s coat and furs and lifted the hat and gloves from the table. Mrs. Lee smiled mischievously at the girl’s obvious dissatisfaction and dropped the subject.
“Oh, by the way,” she went on, “Dolby says the superintendent has been here with an electrician. I hope there’s nothing wrong with the lights.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the lights.” Something in Delia’s tone made Constance Lee raise her head and look at her.
“What do you mean?” she said quickly.
Delia’s mouth twisted.
“That man with the superintendent wasn’t an electrician. He was looking for information.”
“A detective?” The color had left Constance’s face. “What did he want? Do you suppose some one has gathered a hint—pieced things together?”
Delia threw the wraps she was carrying on a couch and squared about.
“There’s no one in the world smart enough to do that. Who could ever connect you, or me, either, with—” She stopped and, slipping to the door, glanced down the hall. “I’ve heard that walls have ears,” she said, coming back. “Now, don’t let this snooping flatfoot worry you. You have everything in your own hands.”
Mrs. Lee had stood up; the color was returning to her
“You are a good bracer, Delia,” she said gratefully. “And, as usual, perfectly right, But how do you suppose that man got the superintendent to bring him here?"
“Slipped him something, probably. Oh, that man was a detective, all right.”
“What did he do after he got in?”
“Went through the house, pretending to look for defective wiring. I didn’t want to seem to be watching him, so I let him have his head. There was nothing for him to find, anyhow.”
“That is true.” Mrs. Lee walked over to the desk and looked over it. “Everything seems to be just as I left it,” she said. “You may be wrong about the whole thing. Delia; you are terribly suspicious. Anyhow, I am going to take your advice and not worry. Our rule has always been to meet things as they come. Did Mrs. Wendell call up? No? And no letters?”
“Nothing except your paper, ma’am.”
“Oh, let me have it, please!”
She dropped into a chair and, tearing off the wrapper, unfolded the newspaper which the maid had brought her. It was a copy of the Bainbridge Daily Star of the day before.
SUDDENLY, as her eye ran over the chronicle of small-town happenings, she paused at an item:
Judge Clay Jefferies, famed throughout Kentucky as her most brilliant counselor, has been notified that the celebrated case of the Stony Creek Coal Corporation and Clay Jeffries vs. the Estate of Woodson Logan et ál, will be up for argument in the United States Supreme Court on June 16th. In anticipation of this, Judge Jeffries will leave for the East on Thursday to consult with his associates in the proceeding, and en route will stop off for a two weeks’ stay at the Hotel Funchal, in Atlantic City.”
She glanced up quickly, then stepping across the room, called the office of her attorney on the telephone.
“Mr. Beachey,” she said, when she had secured the connection, “I have news for you. I have just seen in that little paper I take—”
“One moment!” The lawyer, suave yet peremptory, interrupted her. “I understand perfectly. Don’t discuss it further over the telephone. Suppose you come down to my office at once. Or, better still, let me come to you. You are at home, are you not? I can be there in no time.”
He was almost as good as his word.
Twenty minutes later Dolby, at the library door, intoned, “Mr. Beachey!” But before he had finished the last syllable Beachey was smiling at Mis. Lee from the hearth-rug. He moved so quickly, he was so spare, his clothes so somber in color that she had a momentary impression it was not a man standing there but a shadow that had dimmed the brightness of her room.
He bowed low and ceremoniously over her hand, and then drew back his narrow, iron-gray head. His fine, ascetic face was faintly tinged with color. His eyes, which he could make at will as dull and glassy as a lizard’s, held, as he gazed at her, a burning glow in them, a moment only; then he became professional, again an embodiment of the law—the letter of the law—as formal and precise as the orderly rows of digests and reports on the shelves of his library, but, like them, it was said, concealing many a dark quirk and shift under his decorous exterior.
Mrs. Wendell, Constance Lee’s most intimate friend, always called him “Old Treason, Stratagem and Spoils,” and professed herself unable to understand how Constance dared trust him with her affairs. Possibly Mrs. Lee felt that as long as she herself was the object of his devotion, she had nothing to fear from his machinations. Possibly there was a bond between them which Mrs. Wendell did not suspect.
She handed him the newspaper, pointing out the item that had attracted her attention, and he read it through carefully twice.
“This is important,” he said, with more animation than he usually showed. He sat gazing into the fire.
Presently he transferred his glance to her, and, as he did so, the little sardonic wrinkles about his mouth began to twitch.
“My dear lady, you look pale. Too many parties. You need change and rest. I prescribe a fortnight—in Atlantic City.”
His first words were prophetic; for she grew pale indeed and shrank back.
“No!” She repudiated the suggestion. “Not I! You can send some one else. I will not go. Not after—”
He lifted his hand.
“Don’t say it—even here. Never say the things you want to; it is always dángerous. Has all my training gone for nothing?” He dropped his tone of half-bitter, halftender jesting. “And as for Atlantic City, you are the only person to go. We can’t afford to indulge in whims and fancies; this is business. It means a fortune to us. We’ve got to know certain things. No man can get them
out of Jefferies.. But you, my dear”—again the saturnine wrinkles creased his cheek—“why, I’ll lay odds now that within two days all his secrets will be in your keeping.” She bit her lip, her face obdurately set.
“I will not go. Anyway, how do you expect me to meet him? I don’t know who is or who is not in Atlantic City now, or whether we have any mutual friends.”
“Bosh!” He shook his head at her. “That is your affair. You will have to manage it; for go you must, my dear.” Constance still protested vigorously, mutinously, but he overruled each fresh objection. Finally she consented to go.
“Better make your arrangements at once, then,” he suggested. “You’ll be on the ground first. So much the better.”
She pressed a button, her face showing concern.
“Delia,” she said, when the maid appeared, “we are going to Atlantic City for a fortnight. Have Dolby see about tickets for this afternoon, and telephone for hotelreservations, will you? We shall go to the Hotel Funchal.”
She did not remember until afterward—not until she was on the train—that she had failed to mention to Beachey the visit of the electrician who had roused Delia’s suspicions.
That the man had been a detective seemed improbable. Delia was imaginative. Still, it might be just as well to let Beachey know. She would write to him that night.
A TLANTIC CITY! The naihe calls up a vision of a T*blue, sunlit ocean spreading its lace-edged mantle up a white crescent of wide, sandy beach; jutting, bedizened piers; an aeroplane skittering above the waves; the sails of fishing-boats out at sea; the board walk, like a stage five miles long, with its flat back drop of towering, gold-domed hotel-fronts, low, yellow-painted shacks and endless, elbowing shop windows, and its holiday crowds forever passing—a play-boy atmosphere of laughter and light-heartedness and damn-the-expense.
But February weather is capricious. As the six-twenty evening train pulled in across the marshes, it was snowing, and the damp, raw air of the drafty train-shed caused alighting passengers to draw their wraps together shiveringly and lose no time in getting to their conveyances.
The porters, as it happened had all been seized upon by the time Mrs. Lee and her maid emerged from the parlour car, and the two women picked up their suitcases and started down the platform.
But they had gone only a few steps when a sweeping gust of wind sent Constance staggering backward. It tore her fur coat open and flung her against a tall man.
“Sorry!” He swept off his hat with the exaggerated courtesy of a Southerner. His voice had the slurred softness of the blue-grass country. “A regular baby cyclone, isn’t it?” he added pleasantly, and then, seeing that the two women were alone, “Let me help you.” He relieved Delia of two encumbering bags and Constance of one before she could protest.
She thanked him as she drew her coat together.
“But there must be a porter somewhere.” She glanced about her. “We are going to the Funchal, and—see!—its coach is almost at the end of the row”—pointing to the long line of signs indicating the cab-stations of the various hotels.
“I am going to the Funchal myself,” he said, and leading the way, he pushed on down the platform.
A S THEY reached the omnibus Mrs. Lee again mur-, ^ mured her thanks. The vehicle was already well filled and in order to find seats she and Delia went forward, while he took a vacant place near the door. An electric bulb was just over his head, and the light fell clearly on his face as he lifted his hat and brushed back his hair. It was a little mannerism of his, and he was rarely conscious of it. Constance Lee was glancing idly over the other occupants of the omnibus, and his customary, absent-minded gesture caught her eye. Her gaze remained ■riveted on his face.
The coach started, and he looked at her again. But there was no answering glance. The gracious smile with which she had rewarded his service was gone. Her face was set straight before her, the eyelids lowered. The dark fur of her coat, the startling vividness of her hair brought out the whiteness of her face. It seemed carved in marble, as cold as that of a statue.
Perplexed but fascinated, he could not keep his eyes from constantly straying to her; but throughout the short drive to the hotel she maintained that frozen repose.
When they stopped he loitered behind and managed to reach the hotel door at the same time that she did; but she passed him as if he had not been there.
The blood rushed to his face; he had a sudden tingling sense of anger and humiliation. It was not that he expected any further recognition of his courtesy; but they had exchanged a word or two as they made their way down the platform, and she had thanked him charmingly at the omnibus. If she now had given the slightest of bows, he would have asked nothing more. But this was as affronting as a direct cut. She seemed to convict him of an unwarranted presumption, which she rebuked with an icy hostility.
It caught him on the raw, and he followed slowly into the hotel, putting as much distance as possible between them, and insensible to the warmth and welcome that emanated from the Funchal’s cheerful red-carpeted lobbies.
As he approached the desk to register he saw’ that Mrs. Lee still lingered there, making some inquiries. He looked stiffly past her and spoke to a clerk.
“You have a reservation for me, I believe—Clay Jeffries, of Bainbridge, Kentucky?”
Mrs. Lee immediately closed her colloquy w’ith the clerk and turned to the elevator.
Two or three minutes later she walked into the room where Delia was busy opening the luggage. Throwing aside her hat and coat, she moved to a mirror and stood studying her reflection with a minute and moody intensity.
“Delia,” she said, “that man who helped us at the station it was he! I suspected it when I saw him in the omnibus; but to make sure I waited at the desk and heard him give his name.”
Delia looked at her incredulously.
“That man?” she questioned. “He’s too young to have been a judge—how long back did you say—ten, eleven years ago? And besides our man isn’t due to show up here until to-morrow. This must be just somebody of the same name—maybe a nephew or— But you are all of a tremble,” she interrupted herself solicitously. “What is the matter with you? You mustn’t let this upset you, honey”—putting an arm round her. “Come and lie down.”
Constance shook herself free.
It is the man himself,” she deolared impatiently. “Don’t you think I know? He’s not changed much. And he’s not so young as he looks—thirty-five, anyway. They called him the ‘boy judge.’ Oh, I winder”—her hands
flew to her cheeks, and she turned to the glass again_“if
he could possibly have recognized me. He kept looking at me, and looking.”
Delia shook her head.
“I noticed that, too,” she said dryly. “But it wrasn’ because he thought he knew you; it was because he thought he didn’t. I’ve seen that look before.”
QHE busied herself again with her unpacking, stopping U from time to time to cast a thoughtful glance at Constance, who was sitting with her elbow on the dressing table, her head laid dejectedly against her palm.
At last she tightened her lips, let some frocks fall from her arms to the floor and came over and stood beside her mistress.
“Buck up!” The roughness of her tone was softened by a note of pleading. “You never give in, you know
Continued on pane 26
Continued from page 21
That’s put you where you are. Look at it straight. He fell for you to-night—all in a heap—just like that. I had my eyes open. I saw it. You’ve got the chance you’ve been aiming for—maybe more than
you’ve been aiming for. Got it without having to turn your hand over. He’s good-looking, and you’ve told me he’s rich and single. Why, think of it! You can take him or break him as you please.”
If she had meant to rouse Mrs. Lee from her inert depression, she succeeded. Constance, flaming, surveyed her from immeasurable distances.
“Take him! Don’t say, don’t dream such a thing!” Her voice was husky with anger. Then she fell back in her chair and began to laugh hysterically. “Oh, what a fool you are, Delia—what a fool! Take him? Evidently you don’t understand what it means out in Kentucky to be a Jeffries of Beechlands. ‘Victorian’ doesn’t express them. They are soaked, steeped, pickled in family pride. They would tell you, among other things, that their wives have to have as immaculate a pedigree as their race-horses. And what idea do you have of me? Take him? Him? Why, if he were to—” She left the vehement disclaimer unfinished. Her gust of anger had spent itself. “And yet what a retaliation!” she muttered. The gale shook the heavy window-casings, and Constance shivered. “Listen to that storm! No wonder I feel things to-night. Do you ever have premonitions, Delia? I can’t breathe. I feel as if my arms were tied down, as if some net were slowly, surely tightening round me. Oh”—impatiently—“I can’t give
way to such nonsense! It’s probably because I am tired and hungry. Order some dinner up here—will you?—and get me into something easy.”
“You are staying in this evening?”
“Yes;«i have some letters to write. A long one to Mr. Beachey, and some stableinstructions to DeVries. Also, I want to think.”
“You say,” she asked, as Delia, after telephoning the dinner-order, was helping her out of her traveling dress and into a long-sleeved Chinese coat of pale-blue silk, “that he seemed interested in me?”
“Interested!” Delia gave a short, derisive laugh. “Why, when you passed him up there at the door of the hotel, I almost felt sorry for the poor fish. He couldn’t have looked worse if he’d been sentenced to be hanged.”
Constance made’no answer to this, but,
dropping back into her chair, sat silent and abstracted, brooding darkly, while from outside came the heavy booming of the sea and the spatter of sleet against the windows.
“Delia,” she began again abruptly and without preface, “there was a judge in England once of the same name, who on the slightest pretext condemned women to be burned and children to be beheaded; but, allowing for the difference in time, this Jeffries isn’t much less ruthless.” She was leaning forward, her clasped hands on her knees, looking far beyond the walls of the room. “And I’m going to be just as ruthless as he is!” The ring in her voice now was not of passion, but cold determination. “I’m here for only one purpose—to get the better of him—and I’m not going to wince at the means I employ. I’ll play whatever cards fall to my hand, and I’ll be just as unfair and implacable as he is
A knock at the door interrupted her. It was the waiter, bringing up the dinner.
Jeffries, meanwhile, had gone to his room and, after a bath and donning fresh clothes, came down to dinner. Meals were served at the Funchal, he knew, only in the main dining-room; there was no grill. Consequently he had a reasonable expectation of seeing “her” again.
The clock had ticked away his resentment, and by the time he finished dressing he had exonerated her of intentional rudeness. It was merely natural, and, under the circumstances, commendable reserve on her part. Of course a girl traveling alone would be on guard against the advances of an absolute stranger. There could be no other explanation of her coldness after the enchanting smile she had given him when he surrendered her luggage to the hotel porter. It simply meant that he must contrive some way of meeting her formally.
Eagerly he swept his eye over the big dining-room as he stood in the doorway. Among the diners there was no one who resembled her.
He took a table near the door, where he could keep an eye on whomsoever passed in or out. He ordered he hardly knew what. The cuisine of the Funcha is justly commended; but the food that was placed before him might have been chaff so far as he was concerned. He hurried through a course or two, then, waving aside the menu, loitered interminably over his coffee.
At last the doors of the dining-room were closed. No longer a chance that, hitherto overlooked, she might be among the thinning ranks of the diners. He rose and went out to prowl uneasily through the lounges. Finally, after exhausting all the possibilities of these, he became disgusted with himself and sternly decided to put the distracting unknown definitely out of his mind.
He was at Atlantic City for rest and amusement, not to moon about like a lovesick cub of twenty. Therefore he got his hat and coat and went out to join the merrymakers.
But the spirit of carnival was not abroad. The board walk was deserted.
He dropped into various resorts. The lights flared; the jazz bands brayed their noisy syncopations, but the mirrors reflected only vacant tables and idly yawning waiters. It was emphatically an off night.
Jeffries gave up his quest for diversion and went back to the hotel. Once more he sauntered through the public rooms, but with no success. He felt lonely and dispirited, irritated at his inability to exorcise her image. In the absence of any other interest she dominated his thoughts. Who was she? He had looked over the arrivals for the day on the hotel register, but was unable to pick her out.
The idea came that she might have gone somewhere for the evening. So, buying a magazine, he took a seat which commanded a view of the elevators and waited on.
A little string of guests arriving on a late train trickled in. One of them, a square-shouldered, moon-faced man in a black overcoat and derby hat, lingered at the desk to examine the names on the register. He ran his finger down the list and stopped, addressing a question to the clerk.
The clerk glanced across the room, and Jeffries, if he had been watching, would have seen him nod in his direction. The moon-faced man turned and bestowed on the Kentucky lawyer an intensive scrutiny and then disappeared into a telephonebooth.
But at the moment Jeffries’ attention had been hopefully concentrated on some people who were coming in, and he missed the incident. Disappointed again, he gave up his futile vigil. The door-man had quit his station and was going about, turning off superfluous lights. Only one elevator was running.
So he went to his room to sit and smoke and dream of the most beautiful face in the world, while the breakers boomed outside and the wind roared a hoarse accompaniment.
YOU can get anything you want in New York, it is said, if you know where to go for it.
John Bell, constantly shopping for information, had various sources of supply mentally pigeon-holed and card-indexed. After his visit to Mrs. Lee’s apartment he had lost no time in securing from a friend of his in a clipping-bureau a number of recent copies of the little Kentucky paper he had found on file in her desk. But, although he went through these exhaustively, he could discover nothing that tended to explain her interest in the sheet or the community it represented.
While he was still puzzling over this, the superintendent of the apartment-house called him up to inform him that Mrs. Lee, accompanied by Delia, had left for Atlantic City and the Hotel Funchal.
This might, of course, mean nothing more than the whim of an idle woman seeking recreation and change of scene, but Bell, with a flash of that sixth sense on which detectives rely more than upon reason or deduction, was inclined to attach a deeper significance to the move. And, acting upon this intuition, he followed on a later train.
W7HEN he scanned the hotel register W he found, two or three lines below the name of Mrs. Lee, that of a man from Bainbridge, Kentucky. The town where the newspaper was published! The coincidence was too striking to be overlooked.
Logically, the next step was to get a line on this Clay Jeffries—to learn something about him and the nature of the link, if any, between him and Mrs. Lee.
A casual inquiry of the hotel clerk resulted in the identification of Jeffries as the lone sitter in the lobby.
Turning, Bell saw a tall, loose-jointed man with an air of both breeding and
authority. He had an Indian profile, a thin, humorous mouth and piercing dark eyes. A wave of black hair was brushed back from his forehead.
“The kind that a he person could never fool, but that’d be a come-on for any woman if he happened to fall for her,” the detective diagnosed shrewdly. “The only question is: whether he’s worth the lady’s while?”
But on that score the hotel clerk either could not or would not furnish any data.
“All I know about him is that.” He pointed to the entry on the register, yawned and retired behind his screen.
Bell stared at the signature on the book. “Clay Jeffries, Bainbridge, Kentucky,” he read, and one of the little shutters of his mental switchboard clicked down. “Kentucky,” he said to himself, “is populated almost entirely by‘cousins.' Maybe that’s the reason they call it the ‘dark and bloody ground.’ Scratch a genuine Kentuckian and you’ll get a flow of genealogy that makes those ‘begat’ chapters in the Bible look like the efforts of an amateur. So the thing to do is to tap a colonel.”
As it happened, Bell knew just the man to serve his purpose—a resident of New York for many years and the holder of a minor political job at the customhouse, but professionally Southern, even to the wearing of a graying goatee and boasting as his proud guerdon that he was a native of Lexington.
Late as it was, the detective called him up by long distance, and, as he had expected, succeeded in locating him at his club, pleasantly if unconstitutionally mellow.
“Do I know a Clay Jeffries, of Bainbridge?” He repeated • Bell’s question.
“Judge Jeffries? Why, suh--”
“No, no!” Bell interrupted. “This is a young fellow. Probably you’re thinking of his father or uncle.”
“Father or uncle?” The colonel gave a thin, amused chuckle. “So you all think a man can’t be a judge until he’s gray-headed, eh? Let me tell you, suh, that the gentleman I refer to can’t be over thirty-five.”
“A tall, thin chap—might pass for Tecumseh if he were in moccasins and a blanket?”
“He, he! The Overton look.”
“The Overton look?”
“Yes, suh. His mother, you must understand, was Millie Overton, which in a way makes him related to me, she being the daughter of William E. Overton, who was own second cousin to my maternal grandmother, Susan McDowell. I remember well the wedding of Millie Overton to Major Cash Jeffries—Hello! Hello! Are you still there? ... Yes, suh; that boy has some of the best blood in Kentucky in his veins. And it tells, suh; it tells. He’s a worthy scion of a noble line.”
But Bell was less interested in the sang azur of Clay Jeffries than in more material considerations.
“That is very interesting, Colonel,” he said patiently. “But how is he fixed?” “You mean financially?”
“Certainly. Is it all ancestors with him, or is there anything to back it up?” “The owner of Beechlands, suh? Why, that’s patrimony enough in itself—the finest stock farm in the blue grass, the home of the famous Ben Adhem II of the past and of Bonny Bells to-day. And it came down to Clay absolutely unencumbered. Sholy, suh, if you know anything of racing you have heard of the Beechlands Stable?”
“Oh!” Bell drew a long breath. “Is this Jeffries the owner of that?”
“As 1 tell you. And that’s only a part
of it. Clay Jeffries, suh, is--”
“Here, I’m talking, central! Don’t cut me off,” pleaded Bell agonizedly. “Oh, hello, Colonel! Are you still there? You were saying?”
“That Judge Jeffries, suh, is not only by inheritance one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky but, in addition, I understand, has materially increased his fortune by his own efforts. Since retiring from the bench he has become perhaps the most prominent lawyer in the state. He has acquired in his own right all the disputed claims to the Stony Creek coalregion, and by advancing a new contention has succeeded in establishing a title up as far as the Supreme Court with almost a certainty of winning there. And that will mean millions for him— millions, suh. On top of all that he is being widely mentioned as a candidate for the United States Senate.”
A few further inquiries, and Bell, closing the conversation, withdrew, satisfied, From the booth. Giving all due allowance for the exuberance of his informant. Clay Jeffries seemed a ven,' likely subject for an adventuress to pick cm—wealthy, ambitious and at the dangerous age—if Mrs. Constance Lee were an adventuress.
BY THE next morning there was a change in the weather, but it was a change for the worse. The snow had given way to a rain that pattered smartly on the board walk. Fog lay over a sullen, slaty ocean.
After breakfast Jeffries again took a seat near the elevators and dawdled over the morning paper, far more intent upon the ascending and descending cars than upon the news he was pretending to read. But the lifts took on and disgorged only squads of utterly unessential people. No flash of red-gold hair illumined the dull grayness of his morning.
5he had not been in the dining-room; there was tittle likelihood that she would venture out on such a day. Yet still he held his post railing at his puerile folly even while he persisted in it. She couldn t stay immured forever.
If he had known that with Constance l.ee there was equal speculation regarding him and that Delia had already been Juwnstairs twice to reconnoiter and report upon his movements, if he liad twren aware that not only to the lovely iady of his thoughts but to an alert Sherlock Holmes as well he was an object of vita! interest, he would have felt that life at the Funchal was offering him the worth of his money. But without chis knowledge he couldn t flatter himself chat a single soul in Atlantic City had bestowed a second look upon him.
To himself he was a castaway on strange shores, a human island entirely surrounded by loneliness. His bored gaze roamed over the other guests, and he decided that the Funchal must be a magnet for senility in decay and jaundiced invalids. And yet she, with all her 'sdiance, was somewhere within those walls.
His distrait, querulous mood was so foreign to him that he did not know’ howto analyze or combat it. At home, although he had many friends and a Southerner's fondness for companionship, he was yet a hard worker, jealously guarding his time from encroachments. But here he was embarked on a holiday. He had put business and all thoughts of it away from him, and wanted to dance and sing and play with the children of men. Again his glance swept the dull, cataleptic company about him. If this were a holiday, give him drudgeryand a funeral.
And what earthly use had it been to sweep and garnish his mind if it were going to be entered and possessed in this way by the image of a bright-haired girl who had unmercifully snubbed him?
After waiting another hour, his discontent and mortification mounting every moment, he impatiently got up and went out for a long tramp in the rain. By the rime he returned he felt that he was once more the captain of his soul. He would stop pottering about in this desert, take the afternoon train to New York and the first boat to Bermuda, and there in the sunshine enjoy his vacation.
At luncheon the waiter said to him, with a glance at the window,
"We'll have a bright afternoon, sir.” "Some time no doubt, but not to-day,” Jeffries replied grumpily.
"Oh, yes, sir! The wind has changed. The sun will be out in less than an hour.” ■Jeffries mentally consigned the optimist to the spot destined for all amateur weather-prophets.
And then an electric shiver darted through hi3 being. She was coming through the door, and with her—were there still miracles?—wa3 Nannie Wendell, his own fifth cousin only three times removed. To master the emotions rioting within him he hastily bent his head over his plate.
He lifted his eyes and threw a casual glance over the room. They were not four tables from him, and Nannie wa3 looking straight at him in delighted amazement, bobbing her head, smiling, signaling for him to come to her. He tried to be leisurely in his response, but his feet carried him faster than he intended.
Mrs. Wendell, not pretty, but vivacious, with inimitable “go” in her, stretched out both hands.
"Clay, old dear! What luck and what a surprise! You haven't met Mrs. Lee, have you? Constance, this is my long-lost Kentucky cousin, Judge Jeffries.” *
Constance smiled as sweetly and frankly as when she had thanked him the night before. But that “Mrs.” Ah! Bermuda was a certainty now.
"1 have already met Judge Jeffries—in a way,” she said. "He saved the lives of a lone widow and her orphan maid last night. We might have been swept out to sea if he hadn’t rescued us from the howlling blast.”
A widow! Bermuda faded from his horizon,
"Really?” said Mrs. Wendell. “I’ve noticed, darling, that you always choose the time to be rescued when some awfully nice man is about.” She had a funny, infectious laugh, and now she gurgled over her riposte. "But seriously, Clay, this is the slickest thing that has happened to me in years. Constance telephoned n:e last night that she was here and begged me to come down. It sounded like a lark to me; so I left a note on my pincushion for Hugo—he’s out of town—and caught the morning train.”
“Sporting of her, wasn’t it?” said Constance, "considering the weather.”
"The weather is going to change!” cried Jeffries gaily. “I have a hot tip that this afternoon will be bright and fair.”
And, as if to bear out his words, a pale burst of sunshine fell through the window at that moment to bring out the golden sparkles of her hair. He could not drag his eyes away from her.
"You, I suppose”—Nannie claimed his attention again—“are the tired business man here to recuperate.”
“The tiredest business man you know,” he declared. “Failing fast. Nothing can save me but woman’s solicitude and tenderness.”
Mrs. Wendell twinkled her eyes at him.
“If you talk that way you must have those coal-claims of yours practically sewed up,” she said knowingly. “Only the opulent suffer from nervous breakdown. As if he were not rich enough already, Constance, he’s trying to lay grasping hands on a lot of coal property that belongs by right to some humble tillers of the soil.”
“Well, if it does, I am giving the other fellow every chance to prove it. The case comes up for decision before the Supreme Court in June.”
He was again looking at Constance as he spoke. There was an odd glitter in her eyes. She rose.
“Let us go out on the board walk,” she said. “The rain is over.”
THEY left the dining-room, and Jeffries waited while the women got their wraps. He had felt old, and now he was young again. The sun was out; the unexpected had happened. He was going for a walk with Nannie Wendell and Constance Lee!
“Mr. Jeffries! Mr. Jeffries!”—the voice of a page.
He beckoned the boy, who approached a telegram in his hand. Jeffries opened it, and as he read his face showed that it contained disquieting news. His racingstable had sustained a calamity that might necessitate a change in his plans for the season. He studied the message, serious over its contents, and then crumpled the paper and thrust it in his pocket.
The elevator door opened and the two women came out, coated and hatted. He smiled and flicked away the fly in his amber. He joined them, and they walked toward an ocean as blue as a sapphire under the clearing sky. The hotels were emptying upon the board walk. The sunshine was bringing out all the human butterflies, grubs, wasps and snails.
Mrs. Wendell, native Kentuckian that she was, began at once to talk horse. She recalled that for five successive seasons the Beechlands Stable had captured the Wideawake Stakes, the classic for twoyear-olds at Latonia.
“You have a candidate, Clay, this year of course?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied, but without enthusiasm. “We always make it a point to show our colors in the Wide-awake. This year I have entered Bonny Bells colt, Sleighbells, out of Fawnette.”
“Why, that’s the same breeding as Joybells!” Nannie exclaimed.
“Exactly!” Jeffries nodded. “They are full brothers, and as like as two peas— the same golden-chestnut color, the same aristocratic lines, the same dancing-step.
The only difference is that Joybells has four white stockings and Sleighbells three. And this colt is rounding into the same sensational two-year-old form that Joybells showed If anything, he’ll be bigger and speedier. It looks like a case of history repeating itself.” But he spoke glumly.
“Surely that’s nothing to draw a long face over!” cried Nannie. “Most owners would be jumping out of their shoes at the prospect of duplicating Joybells’ 1919 record. Seven wins out of eleven starts, wasn’t it? Will you ever forget that afternoon at Saratoga, Clay, when he was left flat-footed at the post, and then sailed out and spread-eagled the entire field? Ah, there was a two-year-old!”
“Yes,” he assented somberly; “and— one of the greatest disappointments of my life. Oh, well”—he shrugged his shoulders philosophically—“I am not the first owner to dream of having a world-beater, only to wake up and find he had a false alarm. With two-year-olds skim milk often masquerades as cream. The history of the turf is full of great youngsters who failed to carry on; although I must admit that Joybells rather tops the list.”
Mrs. Lee began to laugh and glanced past Nannie Wendell at Jeffries. She looked like a child up to some mischief, but she spoke demurely.
“Then you wouldn’t recommend him as a purchase, Judge Jeffries?”
“I certainly would not!” he said. “The race-track term of ‘dog’ is the only thing that applies to him. My trainer, Ed. Thornhill, used to swear that he’d heard him bark. Why, after Thornhill had done everything he knew how, Jim Shelby bought him, believing that the old rogue still had the making of a race-horse in him, only to get so swearing mad that in three months he sold him to the Elliott crowd. Since then he has changed stables so often I really couldn’t tell who owns him now.”
“That’s easy,” Mrs. Lee said audaciously. “I do.”
“You?” Mrs. Wendell stopped short. “Constance, you’re joking!”
“Not I. I bought him yesterday, just before I came down here.”
“But why?” cried Nannie. “Simply to add to your feed-bills? Don’t you know you poor child, that Joybells hasn’t been inside the money for three years? Of all the utterly fool things!”
Jeffries looked solicitous.
“I am afraid you’ve been imposed on, Mrs. Lee. Joybells would be dear at any price. Why did you do it?”
“Oh, call it a woman’s intuition, faith in the strain, sentiment, perhaps,” Constance said lightly, |but her eyes had grown soft and pensive.
IN MEMORY she had gone back to a little red-haired girl in a ragged frock who day after day, had crept to the fence on the other side of which was a big and reputedly vicious stallion. At last, daringly, she had climbed the rails and, indifferent to his snorts and pawings and menacing shakes of the head, had held out an apple and coaxed him until at last he had come up and condescended to take the apple and finally nuzzled his nose against her thin, little bare arm. Thereafter the two had been friends; for gameness always recognizes gameness, and a thoroughbred is loyal to those he loves.
“I always thought,” she said, and there was a suspicion of a catch in her voice, “that old Bonny Bells was the greatest horse that ever lived.”
Clay Jeffries swept off his hat and bowed with the grace and deference of one of his Cavalier ancestors. She had quickened his admiration immeasurably.
“Thank you, Mrs. Lee. You don’t know what that means to me.”
“I would have you know that, in spite of this recent break of hers, Constance owns a very nice little string,” said Nannie Wendell proudly. “She enters under the name of George Leigh. Her colors are scarlet and black, gold stars.” “Ah!”—-with pleased interest. “I might have known—I think I did know subconsciously—that you were a horsewoman, Mrs. Lee.”
“And let me tell you,” Nannie wept an, “I’m a sort of spiritual partner in her stable. Hugo won’t let me be a financial one, but he can’t prevent my rooting. Now, I ask you, Clay; can you imagine me married to a man who doesn’t know a horse from a plesiosaurus and would rather look at a new motor than at the best Derby ever run. Well, such is the power of love.”
“Love?” Jeffries scoffed. “A man who
could make you care for him under such circumstances is using black art.”
“But what would you say is the matter with Joybells, Judge Jeffries?” Constance reverted to the subject of her purchase.
“He’s like some men I know. They have breeding, education, every advantage in life. Often in their early years they show flashes of promise. But there’s a soft spot in them. They just won’t try. And as they grow older they try less and less. There’s no particular harm in them—they’re simply congenital dubs. And so they drift back to the ruck. That is Joybells, a horse that might have been another Man-o-War, but now will never be anything better than a third-rate selling-plater.”
She shook her head obstinately.
“They may be down, but they’re never out,” she quoted. “I believe he can come back. No one who has had him has ever understood him or used the right method.”
“Who is your trainer?” he asked.
“Oh!” His eyebrows went up. He seemed about to say something, but checked himself. “Well”—non-committally—“he has had plenty of experience. Let us hope that your faith in the Bonny Bells strain may be justified.”
Nannie Wendell was always quick to grasp a situation. She quite understood that Jeffries, talking across her, had unconsciously relegated her to that minority of the third, which is trumpery when two are company. Her steps lagged. She put up her hand to cover a yawn, and came to a stop before a rolling-chair stand.
“This air makes me sleepy,” she said. “I am going back to the hotel. Stay out, whether you want to or not, Connie; for if you come back with me we will talk, and I need rest.”
She stepped into a waiting chair and rolled away, waving her hand back to them.
“I think,” said Constance, “that I, too, would like to be wheeled along. It is deliciously mild, and my coat is heavy.”
Jeffries felt that his last wish was gratified. He would be alone with her under a soft spring sky, beside a smiling ocean. He had nothing more to ask of fate.
“And only this morning I had decided to leave here,” he said wonderingly, as they rolled the hard-wood track. “I was planning to take the afternoon train for New York and the earliest boat to Bermuda.”
“One is so apt to pursue a vacation,” she said. “The things one requires of it always seem just ahead at the next place.”
“I am quite content with Atlantic City now.” It was a statement of fact and not a compliment. He did not look at her; his eyes were on the sea. He spoke laconically and without emotion. A man of great natural reserve and of judicial training, he could not tell her that it was the day of his life.
They drifted inconsequently from one topic to another. She let him take the lead, but she followed so easily and with such discrimination that he felt as if some inhibitory restraint had fallen away from him.
Mrs. Lee’s responses seemed equally effortless, and he soon discovered that her beauty was only a small part of her equipment.
Plain, she would still have been a fascinating woman. She had a mind and knew how to use it. Her rich, full voice was like music. She possessed in a rare degree the subtle and entrancing quality of charm.
HE HAD just finished a succession of darky stories that sent her into fits of laughter when John Bell passed them in the crowd. The detective walked on a few steps and then, turning about indifferently, fell in behind their chair. He did not appear to take the slightest notice of them. But he managed to overhear occasional snatches of their conversation.
“A fast worker, that little lady! he mentally applauded her. "Darned if she hasn’t got him hung up and out on the line already. She can have ironing-day to-morrow if she wants it.”
When they reached the end of the narrow, polished track for the rolling chairs and Jeffries still directed his man to keep on, Bell reluctantly turned back. There were fewer people here, and his presence might more readily be noted.
He did not want his face to become too familiar to them.
THE sun was setting now, and as they rolled slowly onward Constance poined out the lovely lights on the water. Jeffries had slightly shifted his position in the chair and was leaning forward, his elbow on his knee, his chin in his hand. He was looking not at the ocean but at her, the lines of her profile, the poise of her head. And, becoming conscious of his steady gaze, she suddenly stiffened as she had in the omnibus the night before. Her face assumed something of the same marble-statue expression.
“Forgive me,” he said confusedly. “I was staring at you unpardonably. I had what seemed a stirring of memory, an idea-”
With an involuntary shiver she drew her fur wrap closer about her to muffle the quick beating of her heart. He had recognized her, then! Or, at least, suspected.
For a moment panic seized her. But fear was something to which she never surrendered. Frightened the most, she dared the most.
Turning her face to his, she lifted it so that the evening light fell full upon it.
“An idea of what?” she asked, forcing herself to draw her breath evenly as she waited for his answer.
“That somewhere I had seen you before, and I was wondering where it could possibly have been.”
“At some race-meeting perhaps,” she said carelessly.
“No”—with an impatient shake of the head—“I could not have forgotten. And the suggestion, whatever it was, is gone now.” The mention of a race-meeting, though, recalled the telegram he had received at the hotel and he frowned. “I had some bad news just before you and Nannie came down-stairs,” he confided. “Thornhill, my trainer, is out of it. He’s really been a sick man for a good while, carrying on chiefly on his nerve, but at last he’s had to give in and go to the hospital.’*
“Oh, how unfortunate! I understand how you must feel.”
“Yes; aside from my sympathy for poor old Ed it hits me pretty hard. I don’t know how I can fill his place— especially just at this season, for he’s a master at schooling the young ’uns. Take Sleighbells, for instance; no one else could have brought that colt out as he has done. He seems to have a genius for dealing with that peculiar temperament that shows in all of Bonny Bells’ get. I saw him give Sleighbells a workout the day before I left home, and I felt, if anything is certain in racing, that we had the Wide-awake as good as won. Now”-—his mouth twisted wryly—“it’ll be something of a question.”
“Don’t be downhearted.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Something tells me that this is a winning year for the Bonny Bells blood. I believe, in spite of all you say, that my poor, discredited Joybells will come back; you must believe that your trainerless colt will come on. Beechlands forever!”
Beechlands! Perhaps it was a telepathic reflection from her mind to his, but as she spoke a picture of his home rose before him. Beechlands in the waking spring, the gray-green mist of budding leaves against a pale sky and wild flowers starring the grass. He saw the old gray house set back upon its knoll, the lush pastures, the colts in the paddock. And to the picture imagination added the figure of Constance Lee, standing in the checkered sunshine, the rosy petals of blossoming fruit-trees falling about her.
Romance, always with him just around the corner, but gone when he tried to catch up with it, came near and touched him with a golden wand. He followed the leading with the heart of a boy.
“I wish”—the words came eagerly— “that you and Nannie would run out to my farm next month. You would like it, I’m sure. Somehow, you seem to belong down in Kentucky—I keep seeing you there. And the spring—it’s beautiful! I’m crazy to have you come; so crazy”— he laughed unsteadily—“that I’ll probably go about declaiming for all the world to hear,
“Whenever a March wind sighs,
He sets the jewel-print of your feet In violets blue as your eyes.
“And it would all be true.” He looked at her. “You will come, won’t you?”
I I E RENEWED his invitation that I I evening at dinner, and Nannie Wendell immediately accepted it. Constance evaded a definite answer on the plea that it would necessitate a change in some of her arrangements. So Jeffries left the matter open until she could make a decision, and remained at the Funchal, according to his original plan. And Constance, having stayed over the end of the month, also lingered on.
February stepped back into the ranks of forgotten days. And March, belying his reputation, came on as a dreamer, not a blusterer. The sea basked lazily in the sunshine. The winds dropped their loud voices to a mannerly whispering. The ocean-front hotels were filled with seekers for the spring. Easter was at hand.
Among the gathering crowds, though not lost in them, was a man whose arrival at any resort from Palm Beach to Banff was always featured by the New York correspondents—Mr. Perry Gabriel.
Money is a magnet that inevitably draws the public eye. And Gabriel had money, a great deal of it—inherited, of course; otherwise he would not have possessed it.
At college he had been known as “Stringbean,” and the nickname still clung to him. It so aptly expressed his physical and mental characteristics—his languid, attenuated length, his tendency to yellowness, his thin filament of backbone, his coarseness of fibre and thickskinned stubbornness.
The colonel to whom John Bell had telephoned for a condensed biography of Clay Jeffries had once at his club voiced his unexpurgated opinion of Gabriel to a group of members—and it was neither contradicted nor amended.
“He calls himself a sportsman. Him!” The gray goatee wagged indignantly. “Why, sir, there is no obligation on which that fellow would not welsh. Socially, he is a pest; ethically, a crook; intellectually, a moron, and personally, a pup. All that his money can do for him is to surround him with a crowd of sycophants and permit him to gratify his vapid whims and petty revenges. He hasn’t a third of one per cent, sportingblood in him.”
The colonel would not even have credited him with the one whole-hearted emotion Gabriel had ever known—his passion for Constánce Lee. She had captured his imagination and stirred his sluggish heart; and her invariable discouragement of him, the indifference she never tried to conceal only strengthened his obstinate determination to win her.
In an effort to rouse her admiration for his finesse and daring he had boasted to her of certain business transactions which would not bear a legal investigation, and later, when this knowledge was used to extort money from him, he could think of no one else who could be in such entire possession of the facts.
It was the desire to verify these suspicions—suspicions he accepted one moment and scouted as incredible the next —as well as to protect himself from further blackmailing demands that had taken him to Kent, Hulsberg & Greeley. He was the firm’s unnamed client of whom the detective had spoken in his talk with the apartment-house superintendent.
Yet, as Bell had soon divined, Gabriel was never quite certain he wanted his doubts of Mrs. Lee confirmed or not. He had set his heart on marrying her, and, in spite of his sense of injury, her fascination still persisted. Sometimes he would argue that he might use the proof of her guilt as a threat to coerce her; then he would realize fretfully the impossibility of bestowing his name upon an adventuress. So, torn by conflicting impulses—resentment, infatuation, fear and parsimony—he decided, on the advice of his lawyers, to leave the issue to the facts, to institute a searching but impartial investigation of the lady and abide by the result, whatever it might be. Accordingly, Bell had been detailed to the matter, with instructions to spare neither pains not expense in getting at the truth.
But it was not in Gabriel’s distrustful nature to give any agent a free hand or to leave him long unhampered. Not only the lure of Constance’s presence there but a second and more exorbitant demand from the blackmailers had brought him to Atlantic City, and shortly after his
arrival he sent word to the detective that he wished to see him.
HE WAS not in an agreeable mood when Bell appeared, as he had just called up Mrs. Lee at her hotel and been told that she was out, and he longed for a victim on whom to vent his irritation.
"It seems to me, my man,” he began at once, “that you’re not accomplishing much here except to spend money.” He picked up Bell’s latest report and ran a captious eye over its various items. “Eight dollars a day, hotel bill! Pretty high living for a chap of your sort— what?”
Bell eyed him owlishly.
“If you want to shadow a party you have to go where your party does,” he said. “And I understand from Mr. Hulsberg that this is to be a thorough job.”
"It is I who am paying, not Hulsberg,” Gabriel reminded him petulantly. “Couldn’t you stop at a cheaper hotel?” “No,” said Bell. “Not, and get any results.”
“Results?”—sneeríngly. “I don’t see that you’ve shown any as it is. About all I get from you is this staggering expense-account.” He glanced down at the report again. “Aeroplane trip, twenty-five dollars. Now, what the devil was that for?”
“The party was taking a flight, and I thought at such close quarters I might pick up something.”
“And did you?”
“No. The engine made too much noise to hear, even if anything had been said.”
Gabriel scattered profanity on the air. “Twenty - five dollars” — hoarsely. “Chucked away! Just for you to fly round the sky and survey the landscape!” He called his valet. “Give me a cocktail, you!” he ordered.
It was characteristic of him that he did not offer one to the detective, or even a cigar. He gulped the drink down and again turned to Bell.
“Now, look here,” he said hectoringly; “I’m not at all satisfied with the way things are going. I told Hulsberg that I’d stand for the cost of an investigation; but that doesn’t mean that I’ll let myself be played for a mark. I know how you grafters string a case along to keep a man paying, and I won’t stand for it. If you want to hold your place on my pay-roll you’ve got to show something.” “But suppose there is nothing to show,” Bell returned quietly. “My instructions are to get the straight facts, remember. Suppose the lady is innocent?”
“Innocent?” Gabriel was on the edge of his chair, his eyes shining hopefully. “You got any proof of that? No?”— the peevish lines deepening in his face. “I thought so! You’re just trying to work an alibi because you’re too boneheaded or too lazy to find out anything. You’ve got to demonstrate that this leak came through some one else before I’ll believe her innocent. ’¡The long and short of it is that you’ve been fooling round down here, blowing money like a bootlegger, and haven’t done a damn thing.”
“No.” Bell was still placid. “I hardly think that is fair. As I wrote to you, I have made progress.”
Gabriel made an exasperated gesture. “That’s a hot sketch to pull on a man like me! Never think you are going to get by with any glittering generalities of that sort here. Is this ‘progress’ of yours some more aeroplane flights at twentyfive dollars a throw—or what? I want to know.”
“Well,” said Bell reflectively, “to go into that I’ll have to explain to some extent my theory of the case.” He glanced toward the open door of the other room, where the valet was folding some clothes.
“Oh, he’s all right.” Gabriel nodded impatiently. “Just as well, though, to duck names.”
“I understand. To begin, then, it seemed to me at the start a waste of time to try and get any evidence bearing directly on your affair. That would have been too well covered up, and the people concerned too strongly on guard. The chances were, however, that the party you suspected would be after other game, and my idea was to get onto any move of the sort and follow it up to the finish. Then, with the goods on her, we could force her to come clean in regard to your matter.”
Gabriel’s expression was more agree-
able. This indirect, surreptitious method appealed to him.
“I searched the party’s apartment,” Bell went on, “and found in her desk a file of newspapers from a little town in another state, showing that she was keeping close tab on some person or event in that place. I got some of the same papers, but, with no clue to guide me, I couldn’t make anything of them. Then I learned that she and that maid of hers had left rather suddenly for Atlantic City. I followed at once, and found on the register of the Funchal the name of a man from the town where that newspaper is published.
“That looked like a lead—the more so when, on reading over the copies of the paper that I had, I found that this man was mentioned in almost every issue, and that his intention to come to Atlantic City had been announced and the name of the hotel where he was going to stop. And, by the way, Mrs.—our suspect, I mean—doesn’t usually stop at the Funchal.
“Well, I looked up the man in question, and everything I learned only served to strengthen the theory that she is after him. He’s a prominent citizen, all right, and, according to reports, worth the picking.
“But she didn’t make a move that first night, nor the next morning, although he was hanging round, ready to be scooped in; and she must have known it, because I caught her maid, Delia, piping him off. I began to get puzzled. Then a thought struck me, and I decided to buzz the telephone operator. Sure enough; the party had sent a telephone-call the night before to Mrs. W., of New York—you know who I mean, I guess—begging the lady to come down and join her.
“Do you get the foxiness of that? She was going to be properly introduced, and by some one who definitely settled her social position.”
“And did Nan--Did this Mrs. W.
come?” asked Gabriel.
“She did. And the introduction was pulled, just as I expected. In fact, everything has gone along per schedule. The judge has fallen for her hand. They’re together morning, noon and night, and by this time I imagine she must have the complete history of his life—probably including those little details that might be used to put the screws on him. There is no man, however straight, who wants all the little things he might confide to a woman exposed to the pitiless glare of publicity.”
Gabriel looked at him quickly, as if he suspected an insinuation in this. But the detective’s round face was blandly innocent.
“Yes,” Bell observed thoughtfully; “I guess the judge is elected—if that’s her game.”
“If?” repeated Gabriel harshly. “Of course that’s her game! It’s as plain as print. What did you mean by hinting round to me that she might be straight?”
“Well”—the detective rose—“if you don’t mind taking a little stroll with me, maybe I can show you better than I can tell you.”
CURIOSITY conquered Gabriel’s momentary hesitation. He called for his cap, and the two set off together along the board walk—an odd pair. With Gabriel’s weak, pointed face, and his long legs in tweed knickerbockers, he was grotesquely like a greyhound; while Bell, with his shorter figure and square jaw, padded beside him like a bulldog. They had covered about half a mile when Bell suddenly paused.
“There!” he said. “I saw the two of them starting for the inlet when I set out for your place, and I figured they’d just about be coming back.”
Following the direction of the detective’s glance, Gabriel saw Constance Lee with a tall man unknown to him at her side. The two had stopped and were leaning on the railing, looking out over the sea. There was in their manner something of intimacy, of understanding that stirred all the green devils of jealousy in Gabriel’s nature.
“Isn’t any question about where he stands,” Bell remarked. "She’s got him right. Only question is—and that’s the ‘if’ I was speaking to you about—hasn’t he got her, too? Looks to me like it might be wedding-bells.”
At that moment Constance raised her head and looked up into Jeffries’ face. And whether she were acting or not. Gabriel knew that she never had, never
would look at him in just that way. His hand clamped down on his companion’s arm. His face was crisscrossed with scowling lines.
“Listen to me!” he muttered thickly.
“You get that woman. We’ll drop'this ‘straight facts’ business. Get her! Money’s no object. Frame her if you have to, but—get her!”
To be Continued on August 15